Saturday 2 September 2017

The Elephant

I have a friend who lives in deepest rural Ireland but chooses to get all his News through Al-Jazeera rather than trusting the standard TLAs in the field ABC BBC CBC CBS Fox NBC RTE. I suffer the News on RTE [which is disproportionately about car-crashes and empty promises from politicians] rather than seek it out and I'm not going to make an extra effort to get the Qatari view on whatever-you're-having-yourself. Nevertheless, I do occasionally get to view a story through Al-Jaz such as the recent collision of USS John S Cain, an invisible USN destroyer, and an oil tanker, in the super busy waters off Singapore.

The side bar took me to a cartoon summary of a 2015 interview of Sir Ken Robinson. I've had occasion to mention Ken Robinson, the radical education guru on The Blob before. And if you haven't seen his laconic and inspiring TED talks, then you should stop reading this Now and go forthwith there [2007] and "as I was saying" [2010] and there-abouts [2013].  I could leave it there . . . if I had confidence that you'd spend the next 90 minutes watching yer man Robinson.

Although I've seen those vids multiple times, I didn't realise that Robinson contracted polio aged 4 [in 1954 the year I was born], when polio was scything through the Western World. That bright fast and nimble small child wasn't going to play soccer for his local club after that; so he had to walk (eventually) a different path. In the Al-Jaz piece he talks about interviewing fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney which was recorded in his book The Elephant.  It instantly brought to mind the old parable of the blind-men and the elephant: who variously think the beast is a wall, a fan, a snake, a rope, a tree-trunk, and a spear. All on a superficial assessment with less-than-perfect instruments.

I thought that The Elephant was a great name for a book about shoe-horning people into bins which only partially describe them. Like all of Robinson's pals in the School for the Physically Handicapped who were generally dismissed as, well, handicapped. Whereas young Ken recognised them as funny or kind or good at maths: he wasn't going to tolerate them or himself being written off as that pore crippled chil'. But it turned out that I had misheard. His 2010 book, which inter alia  asks McCartney how he got where he finished up, is called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything; which you can get quite cheap on Amazon.

Robinson's fundamental problem with education is that every child, every person, is different but we spend a huge proportion of the budget for schools dulling down the differences to generate a more uniform product. The minor problem is that we only value what we can measure and so another large chunk of money goes towards devising, administering and collating tests of achievement, especially in the 3 Rs: reading, writing and 'rithmetic.  Being great at soccer or Grand Theft Auto or cutting hair or soldering electronics or making cup-cakes or fixing lawn-mowers is, if not utterly irrelevant in school, of marginal importance at best. That's a shame and failing to nurture these handy talents costs the state fantastical amounts of money later in missed opportunities and remedial work with the disaffected. The unwillingness to consider a revolution in education is the elephant in the room. There, I knew there was an elephant hereabouts - I could smell his greyness.

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