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Thursday, 11 December 2008

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Who looks down on whom?

In my second post on Albert Schweitzer, The Quest I told of a discussion that arose from a painting of mine, a discussion concerning the physical appearance of Jesus, and how it could be argued that in the Biblical story of Zaccheus climbing a sycamore tree to see Jesus over the heads of the crowd, the phrase for he was a small man could be taken to refer to Christ as easily as to Zaccheus - the traditional interpretation.

Commenting on this, Hope at The Road Less Traveled, said: It's funny, I never thought of Jesus being the "short" one instead of Zaccheus. Guess it was that song I learned as a kid, "Zaccheus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see..."

Which is pretty much the general reaction when the idea is first floated.

I also had a couple of emails on the subject, including this from a very good friend of mine:
In the course of your latest blog I was prompted (& amazed to be able) to recall a ditty which I remember my mother singing to me over-&-over when I was young. ( I still remember, word for word, a number of such verses reproduced from her own childhood learning) . . .

Now Zaccheus was a very little man,
And a very little man was he.
He climbed into a sycamore tree
For the Saviour he wanted to see.
And when the Lord passed by that way
He looked into that tree,
And said “Now, Zaccheus, you come down
For I’m coming to your house for my tea!”

On googling 'climbed into a sycamore tree' I came across the verse with virtually the identical words on the 'stickykids' website. It was preceded by a longer variation of the story with a sample sound track - not the same as the one my mother used! Not of any great interest to you perhaps, but fascinating to me as it must be 60 or so years since I ever even thought of Zacchias!

Keep up the good work. Bill

Back to School

I was somewhat amused to read and hear on the TV that the people who decide these things (in this instance led by Sir Jim Rose, adviser to the government, and a man with much good work behind, one who has always had my admiration) have decided that our school curriculum is twenty years old and no longer up to the job of preparing our young people for life and work. The trouble lies in the subject boundaries, so they plan to completely modernise (even revolutionise) this twenty year old curriculum - with an idea that we were all familiar with in the 60s and 70s, a way of teaching that was highly popular when I began teaching even further back than that and which I used a great deal until (20 years ago, would you believe?) I was told by my inspector that it would have to go as it was no longer up to the job of preparing our young people for life.

Projects, are to be the great new-old thing in education. Children should follow a project which requires them to research across several traditional subject areas. They will work and learn instead, in the following areas: English, Communication and Languages : Mathematical Understanding : Scientific and Technological Understanding : Understanding Physical Health and Wellbeing : Understanding Arts and Design

Learning by project worked very well, once - well enough to show that it can work. That was when what you learnt was more important than how you were taught because that was in the days when what you learnt was more than a matter of box ticking. It is true that in its heyday it was not always well used. Sometimes the checks to ensure that the necessary ground was covered were not rigorous enough; sometimes the projects were not intrinsically related to the subjects they were supposed to be covering; sometimes the method was pushed to extremes. However, with its demise, and by the time I retired, I was beginning to think that teachers were becoming more and more like tour guides. They had their itinerary, known as a curriculum, and they behaved as tour guides traditionally are supposed to behave: they show you Buckimgham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral and Piccadilly Circus, take you on the London Eye and round The National Gallery - and that's it, x number of boxes ticked, London done, let's go and look at Wales! The concept of experiencing a subject area was fast disappearing. It has gone much further down that road in the years since.

The argument centres around the point of contention that it has always centred around: the usefulness or not of inert learning (learning that has no immediate relevance for the child, but will become relevant later). But whenever I hear that discussion being rerun it reminds me of Henry Reed's great WWII poem Naming of Parts from his Lessons of War sequence. Here are the first two verses:

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

Doesn't that put the case rather succinctly?


The Weaver of Grass said...

Hi Dave. Want to comment on your blog re Zaccheus but there is no "comment" to click on - so hope you read this.
Are you a musician? If so I can send you the tune to the Zaccheus rhyme which we used to sing at Sunday School. Things learned in early childhood stick don't they - I have a whole fund of such rhymes yet I can't always remember something I was told ten minutes ago! Can still recite large chunks of Macbeth form GCE days - my father used to be able to recite the whole of poems like The Battle of Blenheim and The Jackdaw of Rheims which he learned parrot-fashion in school in the ealry 1900s.

Shadow said...

the bean (my son, 12 year old) has been in school for the past 7 years. the curriculum has changed twice. it is again changing next year. which is good, which not is not the issue for me at the moment, but the confusion it's causing... first encouraging group work, then individual work over the year culminating in a average, next year the final exam will be the deciding one... please people, just make up your minds and then stick with it! is what i say...

Dave King said...

Weaver of Grass
I am not a musician, alas, but many thanks for the kind offer.
You did find the comment for Zaccheus. This be it! I shall have to amend the horizontal rule, it is obviously confusing. Sorry about that.
I can still recire The Jackdaw of Rheims, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Lochinvar (sp?) and quite a few of that ilk. I remeber The Battle of Blenheim - I think... is that the But what good came of it at last, asked little Peterkin. //Why, that I cannot tell, said he, but 'twas a famous victory!? If so, that is all I remember. Shakespeare? Just a few speeches and soliloquies. As you say, all the stuff we learnt parrot fashion. What did I have for breakfast? Forget it.

Dave King said...

Couldn't agree more. I do think that if policians want to make the running in education (as in health, police etc) they should say what is to be, leave it at that for a reasonable period, and let the professionals work out the how of it.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

I've learned much in just a few minutes read. Quite interesting, Dave.
Thank you for your lovely comment on Whose Role...
It was very nice meeting you, and have a wonderful day! Petra :))

Dave King said...

Welcome to my blog. Good to have you visit, and many thanks for taking the time to comment. I much enjoyed my visit.

Xav. said...

hello! Your blog is nice ....
Would you exchange a link with my site?


Ciao ciao from Italy

Sorlil said...

Hi Dave, I used to sing that song in Sunday school also, thanks for the wee trip down memory lane!

Bill Stankus said...

Seems every few years someone determines the education process needs tweaking. But I suspect ulterior motives for many of the subscribed to changes.

I subscribe to the notion that schools should teach the learning process and the topics taught are of secondary importance.

Somehow, in a historical context, we muddled through - rote memorization, different types of math processes, grinding punishments, and so on - yet what did it produce? Everything we see today.

I suspect the fiddling we do with education is based on high principles but before that's of value, young people must want to learn.

For myself, two factors drove me forward: My own curiosity and a few dynamic teachers.

hope said...

Interesting....never heard the "home for tea" line, then again I learned it in Baptist Sunday School, where it ended, "For I'm going to your house today." :)

Learning...I remember when that was my job as the kid to soak up as much as possible, then go on to find out the rest. Today's teachers seem to spend more time trying to "entertain" than teach. Sad, really.

I see no problem in trying to shape an explanation slightly differently for one child than the next because we don't all learn the same way. But to keep changing the way a subject is taught from year to year is confusing kids. One explained to me the other day she didn't understand nickles. She knew they equaled five cents, but her workbook showed an illustration of the nickle I grew up with and today in the U.S., they keep coming out with new versions. How's a kid suppose to learn when the book and the method don't even match?

Maybe the key is to put facts to music...look how many of us remember Z. and the sycamore tree. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

That poem does work –how funny. The education war perhaps? It was an eye-opener sending my kids to school in England. Americans are better at free form creativity, but the Brits are better about teaching the nuts and bolts of science, math and history.

Cloudia said...

Thanks for another thoughtful post, Dave.
Strangely, my e-mails to you get bounced back . . . just know that I appreciate your comments on my blog. Aloha-

Cloudia said...

Thanks for another thoughtful post, Dave.
Strangely, my e-mails to you get bounced back . . . just know that I appreciate your comments on my blog. Aloha-

Sepiru Chris said...

Hello Dave,

I just found you serendipitously through Cloudia's blog, and what a find you appear to be!

This is the first entry I have read, and what a pleasure to peruse.

I like the way that we meander, with purpose, and through various subject gardens as you subtly and persuasively make your point on the inherent values of projects.

I ought to be working and I shall take a break to read more.

With thanks,

Conda V. Douglas said...

Another interesting post, Dave. And it's so true there's fads and fashions in teaching--it even goes on in my day job of teaching exercise! The newest trend are "functional training" and "active stretches."

Jim Murdoch said...

I've never heard the expression 'inert learning' - I do like it but the odds are I'll forget in by lunchtime - and I do remember as a kid wondering when some of the things I was being taught would come in handy. I really could have got by with English and Arithmetic. I've heard talk of a move towards more relevant subjects but who knows when.

Dave King said...

Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting. I will gladly exchange with you, though you might prefer to add your name to my Followers bloglist.

It seems I am alone in the world as the only person living who did not know, hear or sing it! Well, we all have to have our gaps, do we not.

Bill Stankus
I suspect the fiddling we do with education is based on high principles but before that's of value, young people must want to learn. I think you have hit the nail on the head with that. I, too was driven by my own curiosity and a few dynamic - if rather odd - teachers.

Brilliant. I am not musical, but I certainly remember stuff we used to sing (or recite, for that matter). I do believe you have found the key. Seriously, though, I do very much agree with your other points.

Sarah Laurence
You remind me of a psychology lecturer at college who devoted one whole lecture to the organisation of a nut and bolt factory. I guess it was meant as a metaphor for something or other, but I never did find out what. That wasn't what you meant, though - I hope! Thanks for commenting.

My fault entirely. I have tried once to change ny email address, but it seems not to have worked. In the meantime ignore the bouce-back messages.

Sepiru Chris
Welcome Chris, and many thanks for commenting. Good to have you aboard. All feedback very welcome.

Amazing! But then I suppose you have to do something to keep ahead of the opposition.

Relevant to whom - and when? Thereby hangs the question, Jim.

Art Durkee said...

I'm with Bill Stankus on this one. It does matter very much if the children want to learn, or if the desire and need to learn has been beaten out of them. Autocratic systems have a way of stifling enthusiasm even as they promote conformity. I always worry about how schools deaden kids rather than feed their hunger To Know.

I was lucky in that I had teachers who were mentors, and taught me how to learn—how to teach myself. A lifelong skill.

Dave King said...

Art Durkee

I agree with all of that. Very worrying, I think, is the fact that the philosophy of your last paragraph is the very one which is now under threat, which to quote David Aaronovitch in The Times, is Exactly the thinking that has turned the Church of England into a soup of bisexual agnosticism! (Exclamation mark, mine.)

lusia said...

Hi Interesting blog,I like to exchange link with you.
walking my blog with A Rose.hope you'll visit my site too.

Art Durkee said...

A soup of bisexual agnosticism? Wow, what a phrase. Does that mean one has twice the chance of getting a date if one goes to church on a Saturday night? Hmn.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, I love your blog very much. Thank you for sharing with us your intelectual world!!! I wish you'll be always that way....Do not let me think different...I was bloging this morning, and I found REED'S FAMOUS PARODY "CHARD WITLOW " YOU can injoy that to...
Eves. Greatings from NY

Dave King said...

Art Durkee

Hmn, I guess it could. I hadn't thought of that one. It's the soup that bothers me, though...

Dave King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave King said...

Exchange no prob. Best if you sign on as a follower - that way I get to you more often. i.e. everytime you post.

JaneyV said...

Dave - Hi and thanks for visiting my blog Whittering On.

I'm an Individual Needs Assistant in a primary school. Your comments on the changing curriculum resonate very strongly with me as I am witnessing children who have yet to reach the developmental milestone of fine motor skills being drilled with phonics and being expected to write. These children have yet to learn the skills of listening and concentration and are already being hot-housed. The rest of the developed world does not require a child to attend school full time till the year they are seven but the politicians in this country think they know better. In my opinion this amounts to stealing the foundation stage of a child's development from them. When children are forced into formal education before their brains are ready for it the effect is of switching them off instead of on. And don't let me get started on the testing issue.

If I had my way children would attend kindergarden from rising 4- 6, primary school would begin the year a child turns seven and secondary school would start age 12.

It's interesting what you said about learning by rote. My maths teacher used to say that "Repetition is the mother of knowledge". Essentially learning something by heart internalises it and leaves the knowledge accessible for the point when understanding is reached. It worked for me but I fear the failure of the old ways of teaching is that it didn't account for the differing ways of learning.

Excellent post Dave.

david mcmahon said...

Thanks for the visit and the great comment, Dave.

I actually tried sending you an email but it bounced straight back, so I wonder if your Inbox is full.

As a little kid, I learnt a song about that sycamore tree and how Zaccheus climbed it.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hi Dave! What I usually do after someone has commented is thank them for it and announce the new script. There's one every week, if
you're so inclined. The new one is "Those Were The Days." I hope you enjoy it, and are having a wonderful weekend! Petra :))

Dave King said...

Welcome and thanks for stopping by to comment. I very much enjoyed my visit to your blog.
I haven't looked in my box, but I am sure I will have the email. I have been rying to cure this for yonks. Everyone gets the bounce-back lnotice, but I get the email okay. I am about to change to Google mail.
I sem to be the only soul on the planet who hadn't known the Zaccheus ditty!

Dave King said...

Many thanks for making the visit. I shall crtainly have a look at "Those Were the Days"!

hope said...

I thought of this post last night when we ended up watching a National Geographic documentary about the "Shroud of Turin". What jumped out at me [after having read this post] was a scholar who noted that no where is it stated how tall Jesus might have been. He went on to say the average height of a man in that era was 5'5" and that the Shroud was for a man at least six feet tall...a giant among men in that day.

The program ended with the discovery the patch of Shroud they'd tested had been patched in the 1300s. The scientists are once again at the mercy of the Vatican, who will decide if they may do further tests.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. I find the whole matter of the Turin Shroud fascinating. The logical part of my mind says it's almost bound to be a no-no, but part of me wants it to turn out genuine.

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