Category Archives: Education

Dumbing down?

In the pre-Google maps days it was harder to find [some] places. I well remember how Mother-of-witch and I searched for Henley. Yes, that Henley. The one with the regatta. A teacher at Mother-of-witch’s school (where she worked; not the school she attended) had told her to take me to Henley on holiday. So she booked the trip, without knowing much more than that Henley was a nice, small town and very child-friendly.

But where was it? We pored over the England page in the atlas. Oh, how we pored. And finally, one day I found a place called HenleyEton. Turned out it was only very tightly spaced print, so Henley was just to the left of Eton, making it look like the one placename.

So that was fine. Now we knew where we were going. We weren’t the only ignoramuses, though. Once actually in Henley we ran into the sister of a friend, and she had absolutely no idea where she was, straight off her coach for a brief break.

But the poring. I did that a lot, with atlases, even without any holidays planned. I loved maps and could spend hours staring at the pages of the new atlas Mother-of-witch had invested in, to replace her school atlas from the 1930s.

The more I pored, the more I learned* in a passive sort of way. That’s how I knew where Nicosia was. These days I expect a child would know it from a holiday, and not a map. Although, Daughter’s friend at school only knew her family’s holiday destination began with the letter T and was on the Mediterranean.

I’m not sure whether we ever found out if it was Tunisia or Turkey. It’s a shame, really. Unless it mattered so little to the adults that the child knew where they went that it became meaningless.

I’ve reviewed a number of children’s atlases. Most of them good in a picture book kind of way. But one that I received some time ago tipped me over the edge. They are skimpy, with bare outlines of whole continents and a few strategically placed polar bears or culturally appropriated native peoples and their traditional dress and well-known items that ‘belong’ somewhere.

It suddenly struck me that if the young Witch was capable of looking at and enjoying a real map, then so are today’s children. But their parents probably don’t think of giving them a grown-up atlas, and the publishers offer us endless polar bears. I mind less what the children don’t learn, and object more to what they do learn if they pay attention to these books. Because I could see in this recent one that my part of the world was inaccurately depicted.

And it is hard to unlearn accidental knowledge.

Here’s to more HenleyEtons!

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*When the Resident IT Consultant went to Samara for work, I was so ashamed! I didn’t know it. What was wrong with me? (No need to tell me.) It was only as I did some detecting that I discovered it was good old Kuybyshev. Which I ‘knew’ very well. Not sure why they have to keep renaming places so much. Well, I do, but…

Defenders – Killing Ground

Another football-based book from Barrington Stoke by Tom Palmer. Tom is good at writing stories about sport to tempt reluctant boy readers, and then adding something else to entertain and educate.

Tom Palmer, Defenders - Killing Ground

In Killing Ground we meet Seth, who lives with his mum in Halifax, a few minutes from the football ground. They both love going to matches, but now Seth’s mum is ill, so it’s becoming harder for her to go out.

And Seth sees things, old-fashioned looking people, sometimes scary looking. He’s not sure why or how, but it’s getting worse, and he needs to do something about it, and not just because the bad vibes in town causes Halifax to lose to Stockport (sorry about that!).

Are those Vikings he can see? Seth’s best friend Nadiya is good with books, and together they look up the facts about local history. But how to stop the Vikings from killing local, innocent people, a thousand years later?

Phonetics

Almost the moment she joined us on holiday ten days ago, I hit Daughter with Daniel Jones. Well, no, first we went and had delicious Princess pastries in white. They are usually a lurid green, and somehow tasted better in white.

But after that she made the ‘mistake’ of asking about Phonetics. Seems her French teacher is really a lecturer, or maybe professor or something, of Phonetics. So he uses it to teach his astrophysicists French. I hesitate to say ‘pearls before swine’ as that is very unkind. What I mean is that these intelligent scientists are not necessarily the best customers to make good use of his expertise with the funny upside-down letters and all the rest.

I felt fairly sure that Mother-of-witch had a copy of Daniel Jones, so went in search of this to show Daughter. And there it was, right next to some other dictionaries. His English Pronouncing Dictionary; the bible which some of us relied on when the saying of words got too difficult. In fact, I ought to go back to using Mr Jones as there are often words I prefer not to say, in case I get them wrong.

And Daughter, to give her her due, was actually interested in what the old witch had to show her, and saved the information by taking photographs of the relevant pages with her mobile phone… She even showed some interest in my old favourite, the Vowel Diagram.

Because whatever you think of Phonetics, it makes sense. The back-to-front letter e sounds the same in French as it does in English. Try it and see. Hear.

Daniel Jones, English Pronouncing Dictionary

The cover of Mother-of-witch’s copy turned out to be pretty lurid as well, like the green cake we didn’t have. It’s all stripey in pinks and yellows. A very cheerful sight when you are struggling. My own copy is just red.

Winning SWEA over

‘Who’s giving Son this money then?’ the Retired Children’s Librarian asked. On being told it was SWEA she turned out to be better informed than I’d assumed (it’s a women’s organisation) and asked if they’d made a mistake. Haha. As if male candidates can’t receive a stipend from them. They can. And Son did.

Seeing as SWEA International were to hand over his prize at a ceremony in Helsingborg last night and we were actually not too far way, the Resident IT Consultant and I decided to invite ourselves to this mingling with the Mayor, followed by speeches and the handing over of flowers and pretend cheques.

Earlier in the day I’d walked past the Town Hall and noticed that the main entrance was closed, wondering if I’d not be able to make a grand entrance after all. But by the time the mingling commenced it was open and we all trotted up those imposing stairs.

The Mayor spoke about his town and then he took selfies with the assembled ladies (and three gentlemen). From there we moved into the room where the serious town hall stuff happens, and the four recipients of the prizes were introduced.

The dentist was out first; the beautiful Iranian Nikoo Bazsefidpay who has started up a Swedish Dentists sans frontieres, if you can imagine, which made her Swedish Woman of the Year (Årets Svenska Kvinna). Young children in Zimbabwe now go to school more happily in the mornings, because they get to brush their teeth there…

Next came Son for research into the Swedish language, literature and society, and even though I’d already read his speech, I found it interesting. But then I would. Son even included a photo of our bookshelves, from before he ‘borrowed’ our Martin Beck novels. We’ve not seen them since.

Third was Sami Elin Marakatt in full national dress, who taught us to say hello in North Sami (very different from South Sami, apparently). She will use her Intercultural Relations money to study cross border movements of reindeer in Tromsø. I find the way some people feel so definitely belonging in a certain geographical spot in this world so very reassuring, somehow.

Last but not least was 16-year-old ballet dancer Agnes Rosendahl, who dances all day long, and who will go to school in Copenhagen where she will dance even more. She showed us her toe-dancing shoes which, if I understood her correctly, have concrete in the tips.

IMG_0760

After much photographing, the SWEA ladies and their winning guests walked off to Dunkers Kulturhus for a well deserved dinner. The Resident IT Consultant and I wolfed down some sandwiches in the car before driving north with Son’s flowers.

Hopefully they will not be dead when he shows up next week. Although it won’t matter; he’ll be so sleep deprived by then that he won’t see them.

The author effect

I mentioned that Teri Terry made a return visit to a school when she was in Scotland the other week. I had assumed it was because she’d made a really good impression and they wanted her back. Then I learned that she wrote a character for her new book, Contagion, who goes to that very school.

A few weeks earlier Lari Don talked about a chat with someone who was now an adult, but who remembered an author visit to his school when he was younger. It had made a great impression on him, and had got a non-reader started on reading, which he still did.

So, all was good. It’s such an encouraging story to hear; to discover that author visits to schools really can make a difference.

Lari then asked who the author was. But he couldn’t remember. And I’m with Lari on this one – it’s even more impressive that the visit made such an impact, but that it became immaterial who the visitor was. Maybe a big name, or perhaps someone virtually unknown. But they made a difference.

Maybe one day a Callander student will tell their children about the time his or her school ended up in a novel. And maybe it won’t matter if they remember it was written by Teri.

ABCs and much more

I do miss Sesame Street. We used to watch every lunchtime; me in the corner of the Klippan sofa, lunch balanced on the armrest (I think it only fell off once or twice), Daughter on my lap and Son nestled next to me.

Presumably we moved away from it gradually, or school got in the way. I can’t recall. And when I woke up missing it, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I have been thinking about Sesame Street on and off over the years, trying to convince myself I’m too old for it. That I don’t need it.

But when I read about their new autistic character, I was seized by a strong wish to start watching again. This time I researched a bit more. And it is on, but only on some pay channel I’d never heard of and that I can’t get. I mean, I suppose I can, but we don’t believe in paying for parcels of programmes that will rarely if ever be watched.

So I’m feeling a bit disappointed, to be honest.

I’m wondering, too, how it ended up on a pay channel. Is it because it is so valuable that you must pay, like for new movies and sports events, or is it because it’s so uninteresting that none of the regular channels could be bothered? Had a quick look at a typical day on CBBC and it was dire. I used to enjoy watching after school. Not everything, but quite a lot, and would have to drag myself off to cook dinner. Mornings were also good, but I could rarely fit in more than a minute here and there as we were getting ready to leave the house.

Whereas I’d actually sit down for Sesame Street. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ…

We might cry

I’ve been known to cry myself, to ‘get what I need.’ By that I don’t mean I set out to cry my way to satisfaction in every situation. But I was struck by Victoria Coren Mitchell’s tale in the Guardian of crying over 5o tiny tambourines.

(I don’t believe this has anything to do with books. But there’s something touching about weeping over tambourines. Especially if they are tiny.)

Victoria’s sudden idea of buying 50 tambourines as a statement gift not to be forgotten, is one I sympathise with. I once bought 30 sets of sturdy colouring pencils from ‘Early Learly’ (that’s how we referred to the Early Learning Centre) just so Son could hang on to his without them being borrowed. They were good pencils, which is why I’d got them for him to use at secondary school in the first place, and which is why his fellow class mates always needed to ‘borrow’ them.

Without thinking [much] I decided to give every child in his form their own set.

That was no easy task. We were able to buy a few sets in one shop and another few from some other branch of the ELC, and by the time we’d got all 30 we’d cleaned out South Manchester. But it certainly worked as a statement gift. The form teacher was astounded and the children remembered, long after I’d forgotten.

But at least I didn’t cry over them.

I did when the locum GP refused to admit Daughter to hospital once (and then it turned out it was because he didn’t know the procedure, and he’d rather pretend she wasn’t ill).

And now we have to cry to get anywhere with customer services, everywhere. It shouldn’t have to be like that. Not caring about their customers, as Victoria says, ‘exposes the relentless grind of the emotionless, profit-hungry machine. It’s frightening and alienating. It’s what happened with United Airlines and the injured doctor. If you empathise and apologise, it makes people feel less lost in that machine. It’s a really good thing to do. You should be proud, not reluctant, to say sorry; that’s your act of humanity. It doesn’t reduce your standing, any more than it reduces the standing of a skilled librarian to lead a roomful of toddlers in song.’

This is why I shop much less these days.

And I’m sorry for my bookless post.