Thursday, 12 April 2012

Choosing a political subject

If you remember the early days of 'That's Life' with Esther Rantzen then you may just remember a singer called Jake Thackray who supplied the musical interlude. He played guitar in a similar style to me (or should that be the other way round) and one of his great influences was a French singer, Georges Brassens. I have also been inspired by Georges and although I am not keen on singing in English, I do manage to sing in French and in a broad Yorkshire accent à la Jake.

Both of these singers were raconteurs and both were politically aware and Jake even translated one of Georges' songs about opposition to the class system which is called Le Gorille or in English Brother Gorilla. It is not the sort of song that you would sing to your mother because of its quite obvious innuendo (if that is not a contradiction in terms) and because of their use of strong language.

What they were both doing was challenging the Mary Whitehouse brigade. They wanted their songs to be crude and shocking because they wanted to show that there were much worse things in life. How could people complain about the use of a rude word but not complain about going to war or the class system or capital punishment? They were presuming that the listener held the same views but even if they didn't then the singers would still get noticed.

I think we should hold strong views about things that are important to us. It is easy to get involved with subjects like a new link road or how often the bins go out or how often the grass gets cut but there are many other subjects that are significantly more important. However let's not forget the little things like bypasses even if my guitar heroes prefer more significant subjects.

Change the world

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Does anyone support Trenton?

I don't particularly like sports in which the winner is decided in the first few minutes, e.g. motor racing, but I can appreciate that there are many who do not share this opinion. The boat race is fairly similar, in that the only action is in the first minute or two and then the race is over - except for yesterday.

Why would Trenton Oldfield, or anyone else for that matter, decide to put themselves at risk and stop the race? Well Trenton tells us that he was protesting against elitism. I suppose there is something in that. I have read that Oxford and Cambridge are not the best teams in the country but they get all the publicity. It may be that these two universities have the best two teams this year, I don't know, but this race isn't between the best two teams. Every year the race is between the same two elite universities.

Is it worth complaining? Well some would say yes but I say no. Accept the race for what it is and then watch it if you wish. On the other hand, if you believe it is worth protesting illegally then what is your defence if somebody wants to protest against you? The answer of course is the rule of law but Trenton has decided to break the law to make his point. However I also read that he was researching a book. Maybe it was a publicity stunt. However you view it Trenton doesn't come out in a good light.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

More Stretching Required

This morning I was listening to an interesting debate on Radio 5 about the standard of education relating to A level results. Some listeners were saying that university students only had a basic knowledge of English and they struggled to write essays. Some were a lot more derisive. As with all good debates, there were those who supported the students too. They were brilliant at writing essays and did not lack a basic knowledge of English. These listeners should know because they marked the essays.

The subject came up because Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had expressed concerns that A levels did not stretch students and he suggests that universities should decide the content of A level courses. Well students aren't stretched are they? Every year we hear of more and more of them are getting top marks in everything and if this is the case then it will be hard to differentiate between students who are all getting equally good marks. Also, if there are many who get top marks then how do they improve?

It is easy to say that no system is perfect and improvements could be made. My anecdotal evidence suggests that our students do struggle with English and few people know the difference between who and whom. I see errors everywhere including blogs written by A level students. Lynne Truss is definitely in the reform camp. Do you still see supermarkets with signs for ten items or less, or is it now ten items or fewer? Which is correct? You can find the answer in her book "eats, shoots and leaves". Have I written the title correctly? If you are not sure on either of these points then you can safely say that you agree with Michael (Gove and Gradwell) and Lynne.

I have A levels, a degree and quite a few other qualifications, but it was only as an adult that someone told me how to write essays, and that was while I happened to be studying French. So it may well be the case that there are many at university who do not know how to write essays and it is definitely the case that more stretching needs to occur. But how can those who mark the good essays be wrong? Maybe their vested interest means they have to say that their students are good. Maybe they are lucky. Maybe their students are good. I am sure that the debate will continue.

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