Saturday 27 September 2014

Down With Cohorting

At The Institute we have just paired the 29 final year Biologists with 29 final year research projects. That divides them into two groups, for one of which I am to be Uncle Bob in overall avuncular control. That means that half the class are going to summit their career with us getting to grips with bioinformatics. Yesterday, I met with the B-Team (Go Bs Go) to explain to them what each project would likely entail.  I supervised 3 bioinformatics projects last year and it turned out that, to a close approximation, none (zero, nul, zonder, nix) of this year's cohort had had a sensible conversation with their predecessors or even really knew their names.  This is not like being at some megalopolis college with a year group of hundreds, it is a cosy family-sized sort of place.  I find it a little disconcerting that such a resource (last year's notes, hints about the pitfalls of particular courses, insights into the foibles of the lecturing staff) had remained untapped.  If our students were all monoglot Irish I'd be less shocked because our school system is rigidly hierarchical to a ridiculous and ultimately damaging extent. If you are in 3rd class of primary school, convention forbids you to talk to those short people in 2nd class or the ├╝ber-mensch in 4th class.

When Dau.I and Dau.II were growing up in the Home Ed community (go HEN go), they were best-friends with another girl who was about their age and also educating herself at home.  When she turned 12, this young woman elected to enroll herself in the local secondary school to see how that worked - as an only child it could be a little lonely at home and she couldn't live with us ALL the time. Before coming to live near us, she had clocked a lot of miles - born in California, she'd lived in Mexico and Budapest, on a boat, in a bamboo beach hut and in a variety of other exotic places.  Her age cohort in her rural Irish secondary school seemed limited in their vision, infantile in their musical taste, obsessed with trivial differences in clothing and altogether not worth hanging out with. Accordingly she gravitated in the play-ground to a group of black&white gothettes 4-5 years older than her. HUGE FUSS among the staff at the school. But it died away when the incomer decided that a year of not very exciting rote-learning was enough and she dis-enrolled herself before the following September

When home educated children get together there is far less horizontal stratification - 12 y.os hang out with the teens and mind the toddlers and talk to everyone just like they would in a medieval village or a group of paleolithic hunter-gatherers. In ghetto schools in America, one of the best ways to combat illiteracy is to task a barely literate teenager to help a younger child to read - both kids improve their reading skills and the benefits seep out into other aspects of school-work.  Breakfast Clubs are extending their reach across Ireland to feed the children of the dispossessed before the school day.  If they work to improve educational outcomes, it may be nothing to do with calories. It could be that, by limiting the access to this resource to the numbers which can fit in a single extra-purposed class-room, the scheme encourages mixing among age-cohorts for half an hour before every school day. Maybe youngsters learn better from kids a couple of years older than from an adult who looks to be as old as a parent and behaves like one in authority.  And sadly, as my father found in his declining years, you cannot now have a meaningful and potentially educational relationship with an unrelated adult except at school - there are no pedophile in schools.

Listening to a teacher involved in a Breakfast Club on the wireless a couple of days ago, it turns out that you can feed more than 30 kids "because some come early and have finished before the late-comers arrive in their turn". Here's a scheme which is apparently working a huge improvement in educational progress but (fire?-)regulations limit the number of kids that can be in the room at the same time.  Tell me that this isn't true!!  But it is. My pal Russ has a pal Mick who runs a Breakfast (and Lunch and Dinner) Club at a day-care centre not 100 km from here.  He thought that nutritional vegetables and cheap cuts of meat could be cooked up to feed his youthful customers a solid, hot and filling meal for half nothing. And show that such a thing was possible back home as well. But the Environmental Health Authority forbade anything like that because the cooking facilities were not up to the standard that they required for hospitals, staff-canteens, school kitchens and other public feeding stations. Only with reluctance was an electric toaster allowed.  The tail is wagging the dog.

1 comment:

  1. just an extra little insanity but on the same theme as above