What ‘The History Boys’ teaches us about education


Yesterday afternoon I went to see a wonderful performance of Alan’s Bennett’s The History Boys (now been made into a film). The play, while very comical, also asks some probing questions of the British education system. These same questions and issues are just as prevalent in every school up and down the country today, as they were in ‘80s Sheffield, where the play is set. Most of my friends have a gripe or two about their school, their teachers, etc, etc. We all have someone to blame for not getting an ‘A’ in an exam or piece of coursework. Is the current approach of focusing on exams really the best way to teach and grade our society? I’d like to explore some of the ideas Bennett presents his audience through the teachers, without giving away too much of the plot.

The play is centres around a group of schools boys, who have achieved grades good enough for them to apply to Oxbridge to study history. The headmaster, eager for his school to climb up the league tables, seizes the intelligence of these boys and enrols them in classes to prepare them to apply to Oxbridge. Other than the headmaster, the play has three teachers, each representing a different approach to teaching and education.

Firstly, Mrs Lintott, who taught the boys ‘A’level history. She represents the teaching style which has dominated schools since the introduction of national curriculum. The boys acquired the knowledge of history needed to achieve an ‘A’ grade in their examinations but did not actually engage with the material. This approach doesn’t encourage pupils to think outside of the box. They simply memorize and regurgitate the correct information. I have to admit, I remember little of what I was taught in school, even from my ‘A’ level classes, although I achieved high grades and only left school two years ago. That may have more to do with my bad memory though, the students on University Challenge seem to soak up every little bit of information around them.

Does this process of memorizing and then repeating the material actually improve intelligence? The structure of the examinations means that students can remember the material for a short time, but as soon as they leave the exam room, the knowledge just disappears- we learn just for exams and do not obtain long-term knowledge. This disadvantages pupils who find learning and working in this way difficult, because their minds do not work this way, but it does not mean they have lower intelligence. A prime example are dyslexic students, who are actually usually highly intelligent but find it difficult to express themselves in the way exams demand, and therefore achieve lower grades. Great people such as Van Gogh and Mozart would have been branded as having learning difficulties if they went through schooling today. This begs the question, does the schooling system get the best of pupils? Are intelligent pupils slipping through the cracks because they don’t fit the system, and, therefore, are branded as low-achieving pupils, leaving school with low self-esteem?

Hector very much recognises these flaws in education. He teaches the boys general knowledge, and is infuriated by the boys consistently asking, “will that be on the exam?” For him, knowledge is not repeating facts, events, etc, but “all knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use” (Housman). He teaches the boys French, poetry and hymns among others, but all of this seems pointless when you consider whether this knowledge will ever be of any use. The headmaster scheduled these lessons so that the boys will appear as cultured candidates.

Do you agree with Hector?

Irwin, however, wants the boys to harness this knowledge to present a new view of history. Irwin is hired as a temp to ensure that the boys’interviews and exams will be good enough. Unlike Irwin, none of the teachers went to Oxbridge so they don’t know how they can help the boys get in. Irwin pushes the boys to think outside of the box, and steer them away from the status quo answer. This is very much the approach to education in university. Read, read, and read some more so that you can give an informed and strong argument. The boys strive to reach Irwin’s high standards, but are frustrated when they realize they have to argue for arguing sake, and not because they agree or believe what they are saying. Irwin’s response to this is to tell the boys that they must detach themselves from history. Should students and lecturers be passionate about their subject, or does this emotion only cloud judgement and prevent proper study and argument?

Ultimately, the best system should involve all three- in Europe pupils obtain a baccalaureate, instead of ‘A’levels. Life and key skills are assessed alongside academic subjects. In 2003 the Welsh Assembly introduced a Welsh Bacc. It is not yet compulsory but my school was one of the first to trial it, and, while my former class mates would hate me for saying this, I do think it did help me develop skills, and definitely made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I love learning, and so academia and exams will always have a place for me, least not because it is essential for development, but in economically developed countries, like the UK, where old industry and manufacturing are almost non-existent, the education system must teach skills which are needed in the workforce and assess intelligence in more varied forms than written examinations, rather than waste talent because those pupils don’t fit the mould.

What do you think? Do you prefer one of the teacher’s approach over another, or disagree with all of them? What was your experience of education? And, if you’re one of my international readers, bow does the British education system compare to that of your country?

Vive la France: my journey to the crepery


One of my new favourite things to do is read blogs. Since joining the WordPress community I have found some great bloggers, lots through the coveted ‘Freshly Pressed’. As an MECFS and Fibromyalgia sufferer, I have lots of days where I am too tired to even talk, WordPress provides a view to the outside world. Something to pass the time. BUT it has also become a great source for inspiration. Through reading blogs I have become much more in-tuned with my creative side.

One of the best things I have found on ‘Freshly Pressed’ is a blog named Carbonara’s Weblog. The author is an American, and having visited both France and Italy compared the two countries’ street crepe sellers. He also oozed about Nutella, a rich hazelnut spread, perfect to lather on hot crepes. This post gave me a huge craving for crepes covered in Nutella, but, being wheat-intolerant, I could dip in to the crepery in John Lewis. What I did get from there though, was a crepe maker. It didn’t take me long to pass my craving on to my boyfriend. A few days later we casually slipped in to John Lewis, just to have a look at the crepe maker. Having located the crepe maker, we stood there, both trying to think of a reason to justify buying one.Neither of us needed much convincing.

Since we brought it home we’ve had crepes nearly everyday. We spent a lot of time dreaming up different toppings. So far my favourite has been peanut butter, Nutella, and bananas. If this post has given you a craving then check out the recipe below, you can see how I adapted it to make gluten-free crepes and/or dairy and lactose crepes too. To find somewhere to purchase a very good but reasonably priced crepe maker or pan keep scrolling. Let me know if you think of any great toppings. Happy crepe-ing!

Basic crepe recipe: makes about 8 or 9 crepes

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour or gluten-free flour, I buy Dove Farm which is available in most supermarkets, whole food stores and health shops
  • 4 eggs
  • 50g melted butter/soya butter works just as well if you’re lactose-intolerant
  • 500ml milk/dairy-free alternative, I use Lacto-free milk (available in most supermarkets too) but you could use rice, soya or oat milk too
  • 1tbs sugar

Method

Use a hand-blender to mix the flour, eggs, milk and sugar. Add  the melted butter and whisk until a fine, smooth mix is achieved. It’s best to let it the batter sit for an hour, but if you’re impatient (like me) then you can just make them straight away. Use a small amount of butter to grease the pan, you can use oil but they don’t taste as nice. Set you crepe maker to low (about 3 on mine) to make a light brown crepe, or higher if you prefer your crepe to be quite brown. Spoon the batter on the pan, starting from the centre and moving around to the crepes. Use the wooden T *see pictures* to evenly spread the batter. Use the wooden turn over to flip the crepe after about a minute (wet the turnover to prevent the crepe from sticking to them). The best thing about crepes, unlike pancakes, it’s pretty hard to mess up the turnover. Spread the filling inside the crepe, then fold over in half, repeat twice more and then enjoy!

I bought my crepe maker from John Lewis for £29.99

You can buy a crepe pan from Amazon for £7.75

Crepe pans and makers are also available on Amazon in  Europe and the USA, if you live outside of the UK, for reasonable price

Film review: Tangled


Rated PG Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi           Released 28 January 2011

IDMB rating 8.1/10                            My rating 9/10

All Disney films are good, but some of them are better, this film fits in to that category. This was the sentence I used to explain the film to one of my friends. Before I get to the plot, I want to explain this. The original director, Glen Keane, wanted the film to look like the good ol’ drawn ones. Although this film was Disney’s first fairytale CGI film, Keane went to great length to make it a work of art- literally. He was inspired by the Romantic painting, “The Swing” by Jean-Honore Fragonard. “A fairytale world has to feel romantic and lush, very painterly”, and although this sounds odd, this is exactly what was achieved. I really, really loved the all of the drawings, from the princess’ tiara, to the tower she was locked in, and, especially the flowers. By the time I left the cinema, I was dying to paint some flowers. If you’re in to art, then this film will be like a visual orgasm.

I am also a fan of 3D but I am not a fan of films which do not use 3D to enhance the film. The best scene of this film is when the King and Queen, and their kingdom, set off loads of Chinese lanterns, it’s amazing in 3D.

Ok now on to the nitty gritty. The film follows the life of Rapunzel, a girl with magic hair, who is kept captive in a tower. Her mother never lets her leave the tower because she needs to protect her special gift. Unbeknown to Rapunzel she is actually a princess. About to turn 18, Rapunzel is desperate to see the outside world when Flynn Rider drops into her life. Flynn has just stolen the princess’ tiara, and needs somewhere to lay low while his partners in crime, plus the royal guards are hot on his toes. The film is full of catchy songs, great characters and funny scenes– I’ve posted a video below for a sneak peek. I’ve found it difficult to find anything wrong with the film, there are, of course, little niggling things, but really this is a great film, that I would recommend for anyone.

The dual lead characters, Flynn and Rapunzel, make the film appeal to both girls and boys (and women and men). The Princess and the Frog didn’t do as well in the box office because the film only appealed to girls. I took my boyfriend to see this film and he loved it just as much as me.


Sport time: First Weekend of the Six Nations


Chris Ashton celebrates his first try

The first weekend of the Six Nations is over and it certainly hasn’t disappointed. Two fast paced games, and one absolute nail bitter made for good viewing, and boy did the fans make some noise in the stadiums.

England vs Wales was a fantastic opener. The result was an English win, the first in eight years at the Millennium Stadium. It was a closely fought battle, England edging it at 26-19, however, England always looked like the better team. They dominated a Welsh scrum which was left limp without two of their Lions stars, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones. England also came out on top in the backs with some very convincing performances from Toby Flood and Chris Ashton. Flood was instrumental in Ashton’s first try and, was very successful at bringing the big men around him into the game. He was deservedly named man of the match, and cemented his place at fly-half over Jonny Wilkinson. Wales showed some signs of what they could do; it never really felt like they were out of the game. Unfortunately, they failed to finish off the chances they created, which has been a massive problem for Wales for some time.

Italy put in a brave performance against a weakened Irish side, but once again failed at the final hurdle to get the victory, losing as they did 13-11. With a strong forward effort they managed to stay in the game right up to the end. They scored a try about four minutes from the end of the game giving them the lead, however, missing the conversion hurt them dearly. It meant that Ireland only needed a drop-goal or penalty to win. It was the experienced Ronan O’Gara who slotted over the last three points they needed and allowed Ireland to snatch victory away from the Italians.

Richie Gray powering through the French defence.

Defending Grand-Slam champions, France showed their class by brushing off a very strong looking Scottish side. After a quick opening try Scotland were left trailing for the rest of the match, which ended at 34-21. The French team looked very dangerous in attack, but showed some holes in defence that Scotland was able to capitalise on. Honourable mention, however, goes to Richie Gray, the young Scottish second row who was very impressive in both attack and defence.

Until next time,

Paul

Coming up: Paul will be posting some  pre-match thoughts later in the week