(i) William Crawley on Sunday noted that his radio programme 'Sunday Sequence' had received its highest-ever number of emails and texts in response to his interview with Peter Quinn, and that approximately 95% of these were positive in their attitude to the Quinn family. Either the responses were an inside job - people had been primed by the Quinns to send in supportive responses - or there's a serious mismatch between the polls of the Sunday Indo and how people react when they hear somone on air.
(ii) A couple of months ago a reader of this blog from the US expressed bewilderment that so many people who comment on my pieces do so under a cloak of anonymity. Why was that? she wondered. Good question.
OK. A few months back, in passing, I said that I thought the education system here needed radical reform, and someone suggested I should elaborate on that general statement. So here goes.
1. The education system here should have at its heart the notion of co-operation. This happens when the school puts on a dramatic production, or when young people work in classroom groups, or when some joint project is tackled together. But when the chips are down, co-operation is forbidden and even punished. If you doubt that, check what happens if an invigilator sees two students so much as exchange a whisper during an examination. This needs change: we should be taught from the earliest point the importance of working with others rather than competing for personal ends.
2. As that great educational philosopher Paul Simon put it: "When I think back on all the crap I learnt in high school/It's a wonder I can think at all". Much of what we learn has no bearing on the real world. It's an accumulation of sometimes interesting but rarely useful facts, whether it be in Maths, Science, Geography or even History. So you know the date of the Battle of Waterloo or the Easter Rising - so what? Does it affect your life? Likewise various scientific formulae, mathematical theorems, information about different countries. Were we to use this information in some meaningful way, it would be worth learning, but 95% of the time it's so much dead mental lumber.
3. Learning should be real and problem-solving. In other words, if a teacher asks a question, it'd make more sense if s/he didn't know the answer already. Imagine trying that in real life - asking someone a question when they knew and you knew that you already knew the answer. Right - absurd and insulting. Not so in education, apparently.
4. The written examination system should be scrapped. Writing can be involved in arriving at answers in real life, but it comes mixed in with oral comment and discussion. Instead, people should be given a chance to show what they know about a topic, and what they know should have bearing on real-life situations.
5. Classroom walls, generally speaking, should be torn down. A long time ago, a man called Ivan Illich wrote a book called De-Schooling Society. He argued that young people should learn by carefully monitored engagement with the real world, learning from people who are experts and working on real tasks. The comparison he made was with a master painter and his school of students, who would often help him with the creation of a great work while at the same time learning from the master.
6. Finally, three small matters illustrative of our conservative thinking about education: (i) Learning times tables by heart should be ended. We've got machines that do that far more reliably - use them. (ii) The hours spent teaching hand-writing should be drastically reduced. In real life, beyond signature and date, most people do very little writing, and when they do, much of it is done on a word-processor (as I'm doing now). The time spent teaching 'neat handwriting' could well be spent on other matters. (iii) Our obsession with 'correctness' in spelling and grammar should end. What are regarded as spelling mistakes or grammatical faux pas very often do not interfere with our understand of what's being said. It's about time we concentrated on content and not linguistic table-manners.