Category Archives: Education

Opening doors

For a short while – well, more like at least five minutes – I lost a French philosopher. I reckoned I could cope, as I had a government minister instead, and I could make up the philosophy bit, but then I found him again, where he should be, in the trolley.

I’d read about the Östersund football team, and how they dance, read, visit schools, behaving in a generally very cultural way. Apparently it has improved the soccer as well. They have a culture coach, whose favourite French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu’s thoughts are helping the team advance. (I don’t even have a philosopher, let alone French or favourite or anything.)

So, these young men act and perform and read, and I believe one of them even wrote a book. Judging by their names many are of non-Swedish origin. Many also seemed to think this culture stuff was stupid, until they discovered the benefits, like intelligence, and a better game.

Bourdieu’s thoughts on cultural capital go along the lines that education will open doors that money can’t. About how we often inherit this capital from our parents. This is both so obvious and so simple, and living in a country where people pay for ‘better’ education (without necessarily getting it) for their children, it’s encouraging to think it’s not necessary.

I mean, I knew that anyway, but sometimes you worry. (The fact that more privately educated children come to the Resident IT Consultant for extra maths lessons to help them pass their exams, could be because their parents are already used to paying [though they ought to be furious at having to pay twice], but it also proves that private schools aren’t the best.)

And then to top the philosopher, schools minister Nick Gibb last week said that ‘reading for pleasure is more important than a family’s socio-economic status in determining a child’s success at school.’ It’s very nice to hear that, but at the same time I wish his government would make this reading much more possible than it is at the moment.

We could be allowed to keep our libraries, and teachers could be given permission to spend more time on pushing reading for pleasure. But I suppose it’s going to be up to the parents to foster this love of reading, in which case they need to have this ‘capital’ to pass on, in the first place, and they need to have enough time and energy to support and engage with their children.

But at least it’s nice for someone to spout a sensible opinion, instead of the usual rubbish.

As for me, I don’t think that money would have taken me to the places and the people that books have, or that the English lessons at school helped achieve. Offspring would probably have done all right at any of the local schools. We picked ours for the rugby, and discovered by accident that it was also rare for offering two foreign languages. But no money passed hands, and the letters for private tutoring that the school was obliged to send home, went straight in the bin.

Scared off

In my past I have surprised people by not being scared of the head teacher; either my own, or Offspring’s. I have been surprised at the people who were. They were the ‘cool’ ones, and I was never cool. But how could you be scared of the head teacher? (By which I mean, scared because they are the head. If someone is really scary as a person, then that is different.)

I suppose it’s what you are used to. As a teacher’s child, I grew up with creatures such as head teachers.

Just like Lucy Hawking grew up surrounded by scientists. I recently read this very enlightening article in Vogue India, about what it’s like to be the daughter of Stephen Hawking. (I’d say that sometimes it might be nice for her to be asked about herself, and not just because of whose child she happens to be.)

One discovery Lucy made was this;  ‘I didn’t reject science because I was scared of it, because I felt nervous or afraid. I simply wanted to do something different with my life. And with what I now recognise as the lack of a wider perspective that a Cambridge and Oxford education gave me, I didn’t think other people strayed away from science for anything other than personal preference either.’

That’s what I imagined too; that you move towards something that you want, more than away from something you aren’t ‘supposed’ to be doing, like science if you are a girl. She describes how girls tell her they don’t ask questions in science lessons, in case they ‘get it wrong.’ (I was only ever nervous of talking in class in general, because I didn’t want to be noticed.)

And it wasn’t until Lucy’s article that I realised that the recent cases I’ve come across on sexual harassment at university level, where an older academic male has got involved with a female student, was anything other than poor judgement in picking a sexual partner. I hadn’t stopped to think that they might do this because deep down they don’t feel that a female student belongs in the science department.

So it’s very good indeed that Lucy talks about science, and that she writes fiction for children, about science, where the budding scientist is a clever and sassy girl. We need more of this kind of thing. I still despair that the sexes will ever be equal in science, but it’s worth a try.

(When I was 14, my then chemistry teacher was the kind of teacher who shared openly with the class who had done best. I was a little surprised to find I was one of the two – along with another girl – but I was far more surprised to discover how furious the boys were. Not because it wasn’t them as individuals, but because all the males had lost out to girls, in a science subject. I was also surprised that they had the nerve to say so out loud. Whereas the teacher simply suggested they might want to work a bit harder in that case. Whether he had an agenda, or was just tactless in letting results be public, I have no idea.)

RED 10 Book Award 2015

As I was hinting earlier, I made it to Falkirk and its 10th book award, with badge and everything (And yes, I know it says 2015. They do these things out of sync.) I rather expected to just make my way in unnoticed, and having been before, I’d know where to go. But superwoman Yvonne Manning who runs this show, was there to welcome me, give me my badge and tell me I had to have a cup of tea. (Once she’d turned her back, I was able to ignore the tea.)

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David and Lari Don

I found all four shortlisted authors – Gill Arbuthnott, Keren David, Lari Don and Ria Frances – in the lounge part of fth, and chatted to Keren and Lari, who repeatedly checked with me whether I knew the other one. Introduced myself to Gill, and we decided we had actually spoken before. I even ended up talking to the Provost, who’s at the end of his second five year stint of provosting and attending book awards. Agents Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross had braved Gertrude to be there for their authors.

When it was time, Yvonne started things off, wearing tartan tights and red skirt and a special RED 10 t-shirt. Red noses were found under chairs and prizes handed out and more prizes promised. Ten schools in nine other countries had been sent the shortlisted books to read, and some of their comments were read out.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

And then, it was time for the dramatised presentations of the books, by the schools who had taken part. This involved the accidental dropping of a baby on its head (it was ‘only’ a baby doll). Much hilarity ensued and later I witnessed the doll actually being autographed…

The prizes for the best reviews were handed out, the overall winner’s review was read aloud, Yvonne swirled round in her magic red coat and Provost Reid hitched up his trouser legs to show us his red socks. So it was all quite serious stuff.

RED awards Falkirk

We had a coffee break (you need this when the award takes all day to be awarded). We discussed lukewarm hot drinks (don’t ask!), I let Lari use my very tiny Swiss Army scissors, and I returned to my seat to find the school behind me having ‘spilled’ their drinks on my row of seats. I think we can assume a good time was being had by all.

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David

The authors’ turn to entertain came next. They each had three minutes to say something profound. Gill said she made her character Jess to act braver than she was. Keren mentioned that she’d had a completely different end in mind for Salvage. Ria’s book got written at night, when she suffered from insomnia, and she told us about Albert Göring, who was a better guy than his brother. Lari explained how surprised she was to find herself writing a YA book, which she’d never expected to do.

We had a second round of dramatised books, and I decided on the spot that the one for Mind Blind was by far the best, and it had a lovely cardboard van for kidnapping characters in. There was at least one flying potato and an amusing kelpie.

To celebrate the past nine winners of the RED award, some schools had made designs for a quilt, which was then practically singlehandedly sewn by Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High. The very beautiful quilt was held up for us to see by two extremely unreliable stagehands,  while Anne told us about the batch of 3000 books she has just packaged up for Kenya, and how helpful we’d all been. (You’re welcome.)

RED awards Falkirk, Anne Ngabia

Lunch came next, and I managed to sit with and chat to Keren and the Provost, with Lari and her agents joining us after a bit. I believe Lindsey had a dog to walk first. I learned a lot about Falkirk, and politics, from Provost Reid who, while proud of his town, could understand why my first time (in 1973) I took one look at the place and left again.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

After they’d eaten, the authors had books to sign, with long queues snaking in front of them. Even the Provost queued up.

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott and Provost Reid

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott

More prizes. Prize for best dramatisation, prizes for best red clothes. Apparently someone even wore red contact lenses. My favourite was the boy in the red tutu, but the Cat in the Hat girl was very well turned out too.

RED awards Falkirk

RED awards Falkirk

Q&A followed, with a rapid pace for questions, very ably controlled by two teachers (I think) with a nice line in comments about the pupils. Gill wants her readers sleepless as they wonder how the characters will fare, and she couldn’t give up writing. It would be like giving up eating. Ria started her career with some early praise from a teacher at school, and Lari says she absolutely must edit what she’s written. Keren reckons the first draft has to be rubbish or it can’t be edited to become really good. The beginning matters more than the ending. As for weird questions from other readers, Gill said she wants to be a cat, while Ria once went dressed as a mermaid, and Keren got asked what hair products she uses…

Getting closer to the big moment, but first Yvonne had to be thanked, so she ran away. (She is a bit crazy like that.) Provost Reid entered in his official – Father Christmas style – outfit, red all over, and flowers had to be handed over to Barbara Davidson who made the prize, and the press photographer also got flowers, and as the Provost waved the large red envelope around, he thanked the ‘shy and retiring’ Yvonne for her hard work. Organised stamping from the audience.

And a bit more stamping. And the winner is: Lari Don, for Mind Blind. (Very worthy, if I may say so.)

RED awards Falkirk, Provost Reid, Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Ria Frances and Keren David

Lari’s unprepared speech was admirably short and sweet, just the way we want it. Before the authors were spirited away, there was a lot of posing for photographs, with the prize, and the Provost, and the little red cardboard van.

RED awards Falkirk

I got on my broom and headed home.

Village character

Daughter should be on her way to a Harry Potter character. Or is that the Swiss village? You Google Grindelwald and you get the option of one, or the other. To be on the safe side, I went for both. I’m not enough of a nerd, either way.

It’s obvious that Grindelwald is a place name in the German-speaking world. You don’t have to know where. At this time of year it’s a fair guess that it will be snowy.

Because I am not all that Harry Potter-nerdy, I can’t say I remembered much about any character called Grindelwald either. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. Daughter thought it was amusing. That she was going there, not that I’m useless and forgetful.

But thanks to other Harry Potter fans it’s easy to find out. There is a whole wikia, where I assume you can look up anything at all, when you are as forgetful as I am. Which is good. I now know more about Gellert Grindelwald than I ever needed to, and what worries me is how many other characters I might have forgotten as they left the page.

I can’t help thinking how much fun J K must have had when naming her people. I have no book and no characters, but I have an urge to go through atlases and reference books to find outlandish sounding [Swiss] villages to name them after.

Travelling books

Is one book as good as another? Interchangeable, just like that?

I was surprised to find the answer to an online query from a Swede in the UK whether there’s anywhere they could order books from, which wouldn’t be quite as expensive as the standard online Swedish bookshops he’d used so far. My feeling is that you have to be ‘grateful’ they will send anything abroad at all.

Swedish companies have been pretty slow to embrace this internet thing and credit cards from foreign lands, and all that. You can’t really trust outsiders.

Anyway, the reply suggested that he could look in the local (Swedish owned) bars to see what they had in the way of books. That’s all very well if you are desperate for just one book to read in your own dear language. But anyone who is buying books online might have specific needs and wishes. Just not to pay a fortune for the pleasure.

Fortune (albeit a minor one) is what Daughter paid to shift her books to that abroad last week. For some reason she also wants to have certain, specific books to aid her in her current task, and being academice ones, they cost enough the first time round. Hence her willingness to pay for them to travel once more.

Travelling boxes

They have arrived, too, however damp they might look. And in a mere six days. On that internet thing, you can track your darlings, so we knew the boxes reached Dortmund in two days. Which isn’t bad. And they sat in the delivery vehicle by 05.45 yesterday morning, which could be why they are trying to dry out next to the radiator. Brrr.

And her credit card provider found the whole business so suspicious that they declined payment and then blocked her account. Yes, why would anyone try to pay a worldwide shipping company?

Stuff You Should Know!

There is a lot I don’t know. Like what the insides of things look like, or how those things with insides work, and any number of other similar facts.

In Stuff You Should Know! by John Farndon and Rob Beattie you can find out. I don’t remember well, either, but will admit that since looking things up, I have thought of how my mobile phone knows what my finger is doing when it dabs or ‘paints’ a line on the glass screen. It appears to be magic, but it seems there is some sensible logic behind it.

I don’t need to know these facts, but I can see that lots of readers would like to. And the younger they are, the likelier it is they will understand and remember. I’m just pleased I can use a food processor. No more is needed.

And the extra long explanation of how a letter makes its way from one end of the globe to another was probably something I did know. Maybe it’s because I’m old. And with a postal past.

John Farndon and Rob Beattie, Stuff You Should Know!

Weather, rubbish* and 3D printers all get an airing in this fascinating book of facts. I wish I was younger! (On the other hand, new-fangled ideas won’t have time to take a hold these days. Someone is bound to invent new stuff before today’s children are very much older.)

It’s still fun.

(*It says rubbish in the British version.)

The walking holiday

A working visit, really. But as I trudged once more along the road in Switzerland it struck me that it gave a whole new meaning to going on a Swiss walking holiday; your witch tramping up and down the same half mile along Lake Geneva, several times a day.

Mountain in Switzerland seen from road in Switzerland

Add to this tramping round IKEA, twice in three days. It took a while to find the shortcut between the entrance and the café, necessitating more walking. (And I know that sounds as if we did nothing but eat.) We mostly did not eat, but a witch and her accomplices do need a refuel once in a while. Which is more than can be said for the rental car. On the last day the Resident IT Consultant managed to squeeze just eight litres of diesel into the tank.

Then there was the lifting of the two million items purchased during those shopping expeditions. Out of car, into block of flats, into lift, up, out of lift, into flat. Small lift, but as the Resident IT Consultant remarked, it made a difference compared to the Scottish tenements he’s been carrying furniture in and out of during the last eight years or so.

I made tea and washed up and the Resident IT Consultant built furniture until he nearly broke. I made more tea. Then we walked down the hill to our beds. But not before placing the ‘encumbrances’ by the gate. In Switzerland you put your unwanted stuff out to be collected once a month. Very efficient. Out by seven a.m., and gone by eight.

And despite Daughter claiming she doesn’t have a lake view from her new flat, she does. In winter.