Saturday, 26 March 2011

Those who cannot, teach

Recently I re-read Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. I say re-read, because I know I had read it before, and I refer to it in my PhD thesis, but apparently I had read one of those many child-friendly adapted versions because I didn't remember all his caustic remarks about British education system. Or maybe I found it irrelevant then and skipped it, as we often do. I remember I found the book rather boring. This time, I couldn't help laughing. It is such a brilliantly funny book! Here is a sample:

So she made Sir John write to the Times to command the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being to put a tax on long words; —
A light tax on words over three syllables, which are necessary evils, like rats: but, like them, must be kept down judiciously.
A heavy tax on words over four syllables, as heterodoxy, spontaneity, spiritualism, spuriosity, etc.
And on words over five syllables (of which I hope no one will wish to see any examples), a totally prohibitory tax.
And a similar prohibitory tax on words derived from three or more languages at once; words derived from two languages having become so common that there was no more hope of rooting out them than of rooting out peth-winds. (from this site)

My thoughts return to Kingsley after I've listened to the many talks at the two-day symposium at the Faculty, devoted to teacher education. A century and a half later, we seem to be going exactly in the direction Kingsley was so sarcastic about: sending young men and women to schools to learn how to be teachers. Government pupil-teachers was what they were called then. The modern term is practice-based education. The idea is just as absurd to me as it was to Kingsley: instead of providing future teachers with solid academic knowledge, as well as critical minds, you send them straight into the snake pit and hope that somehow they will learn how to deal with it. Assisted by other frustrated men and women who in their turn were sent to schools without proper training.

I am not particularly interested in theoretical aspects of teacher education, but I signed up for this symposium for my professional development: if I happen to be in Education, I can just as well learn what it is all about. I am glad I did, although my newly acquired knowledge makes me sad. I wonder whether the ghost of Charles Kingsley laughs or cries if he by any chance is reading The White Paper.

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