The People’s Republic of China has the same birthday as me - September 30th, 1949. Not a lot of people know that.
I suppose it was always going to be difficult to avoid the craziness of the Olympics, and it’s been very easy to get sucked into watching the games, given all the circumstances, which include a decision not to go away for a holiday this August, the crap weather outside making staying inside a good option, and the fact that live TV coverage of the various sports is spread right across the day from pre-breakfast to suppertime. Getting hooked into watching the whole of the opening ceremony, thanks to that fabulous drumming spectacle, was also a big factor.
The other key element was the fact that, for once, ‘Team GB’ has actually been very successful, at least in a small number of sports that require a heavy investment in incredibly expensive equipment and facilities, lots of very expensive and elitist coaching, and in which there are relatively few other nations taking part. To whit - cycling, rowing and sailing. All of which has been very intriguing and thought-provoking, and which made for some compelling viewing.
There’s also the China factor - the fact that the games are being held in a country that’s intriguing, fascinating and astounding, for all sorts of reasons. It’s not that long ago that China was a completely closed society, and very few of us knew anything about the place. Now, thanks to a plethora of documentaries, and thanks to China becoming a global economic powerhouse that can’t be ignored, we are starting to take notice.
Amidst all the chatter amongst the commentariat about China’s record on freedom, democracy and human rights there’s the undeniable fact that the political leadership have done a remarkable job in transforming the country from a peasant economy with a doctrinaire Marxist culture into a socio-economic system that’s rapidly gone from strength to strength because they didn’t do the stupid things that Russia and its satellites did when the Soviet system collapsed.
Much to the frustration of the neo-conservatives in the US and elsewhere, communism in China didn’t collapse or capitulate to capitalism like the Soviets. They haven’t privatized their state-owned assets, and they haven’t allowed robber billionaires to strip wealth from the public realm. On the other hand, they have allowed foreign investment to flow inwards, and to expand their productive capacity hugely. *
Needless to say, the current Russian leadership are now very angry indeed that their political predecessors, like Boris Yeltzin, sold out, became virtual puppets of the West, and allowed their professed socialist ideals to be kicked into touch. The Russian state became a virtual bystander as oligarchs and billionaires took over control of the commanding heights of the economy.
The inexorable rise of China has been reflected in Olympic success - they are the country with the most gold medals by far . They are now successful even in events that require power and stamina as well as finesse and strategy. And we in the West are now aware that the Chinese are as ethnically and physically diverse as anywhere on earth, and given some hefty levels of investment in facilities, equipment and coaching, they are able to succeed in sports that were once the preserve of the USA and the Soviets. Money = power = dominance. As even we in Team GB have discovered, it’s not rocket science, it’s bloody obvious, and it’s about money and investment.
Meanwhile, here at home people are starting to realise that in these days of sports science and intensive training regimes most of the successful British competitors come from elite school backgrounds and from homes that can afford private coaching and training. Kids from council estates generally don’t have decent access to either facilities or coaches. Therefore the Olympics are not about competition to establish who are the best athletes on the planet, merely about which of the most privileged young people are the fittest, fastest, most skilful, etc.
This is one of the reasons why it was so delightful watching the unaffected young spirits of Jamaica doing so well in the 100 metres sprints. Just to prove the point that young people from a relatively small and impoverished Caribbean island can be the equals, and indeed betters, of anyone on earth - at least when it’s mainly a matter of tearing down a running track at incredible speed.
And well done Becky Addlington from Mansfield, The Midlands, for two brilliant victories!
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s starting to feel very angry that our sodding stupid government have set TARGETS for Olympic medals! On what basis? Where’s the need for it? They’ve even hinted at dire consequences if the targets aren’t met. How dare these bastards attempt to take ownership of even our sportsmen and women? The money for funding sports development comes, for the most part, from the Lottery, which means that it’s OUR money, not theirs. And even if it came from taxes then it’s still OUR money.
These politician bastards don’t even realise that they’re not doing this stuff in OUR name! They don’t represent US! Nobody wants them to set stupid fucking targets. Leave sports, education, health, etc to people who know what they’re talking about and know what they’re doing. As if these people aren’t already doing their best to be successful and need oppressive targets to motivate them. Everybody just wants this government to fuck off and die.
Two more excellent contributions to the achievement/attainment debate:
The news that A-level gradeshave risen yet again comes as no surprise to teachers like me. We've become much better at teaching to the tests, and pupils are much more proficient at passing them. But does this mean that our students are genuinely becoming cleverer?
Worryingly, I think not. My experience suggests that precisely the opposite is happening. When I think back to when I first started teaching A-level 15 years ago, I realise that my lessons were a great deal more creative and exploratory and, as a result, fostered more intelligent, original and crafted responses.
The emphasis was upon "exploration" rather than teaching to the exam.
In my quest for good exam grades I (now) encourage pupils to slap down the material that will enable them to meet the assessment objective rather than painstakingly help them craft essays – like I used to. Since teachers are now judged solely on results by their students, parents and line managers, and their pay is dependent upon this, they would be foolish to teach like they used to. The net result is that exam grades have risen, but standards have declined.
Our poor teenagers have just spent two miserable years in the most thankless task of learning how to pass exams. Francis Gilbert's teacher's perspective precisely mirrors the experience of my own daughter. During her last two years at school there has been no room for open-minded inquiry, the excitement of the unexpected discovery or serendipitous connection. Instead she can recite how many marks each question is worth and what arguments she needs to spew out in order to score them. Teachers are judged on their results, and their pupils are desperate to get the grades. Together they conspire in a miserably impoverished academic schedule that leaves them unready -– as the universities now complain – to move on.
Just look at Michael Phelps' diet and his sad comment that all he's good for is eating, sleeping and swimming and you get a feel for how A-level students feel at the end of their courses. When you have to get to a target, that target is going to be all you want to get to. But at least no one tells Phelps he's wasting his time.
Confucius “wanted his disciples to think deeply for themselves and relentlessly study the outside world”.
"His moral teachings emphasise self-cultivation, emulation of moral exemplars, and the attainment of skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules, etc”.
He believed that pursuing one's own self-interest is not necessarily bad, but one would be a better, more righteous person if one based one's life upon following a path designed to enhance the greater good.
He believed in the virtue of perfectly fulfilling one's responsibilities toward others, most often translated as "benevolence" or "humaneness".
Wikipedia also says, “Confucius's moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. To develop one's spontaneous responses of rén so that these could guide action intuitively was even better than living by the rules of yì. To cultivate one's attentiveness to rén one used another Confucian version of the Golden Rule: one must always treat others just as one would want others to treat oneself. Virtue, in this Confucian view, is based upon harmony with other people, produced through this type of ethical practice by a growing identification of the interests of self and others."
I wonder what Confucius would have to say about British education in the 21st Century.
* For the record, Wikipedia says this about China, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Republic_of_China :
After Mao's death in 1976 and the arrest of the Gang of Four, blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping quickly wrestled power from Mao's anointed successor Hua Guofeng. Although Deng never became the head of the Party or State himself, his influence within the Party led the country to economic reforms of significant magnitude. The Communist Party subsequently loosened governmental control over citizens' personal lives and the communes were disbanded with many peasants receiving multiple land leases, which greatly increased incentives and agricultural production. This turn of events marked China's transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy with an increasingly open market environment, a system termed by many "market socialism”.
President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, both former mayors of Shanghai, led post-Tiananmen China in the 1990s. Under Jiang Zemin's ten years of administration, China's economic performance pulled an estimated 150 million peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual GDP growth rate of 11.2%. The country formally joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001.
Although China needs economic growth to spur its development, the government has begun to worry that rapid economic growth has negatively impacted the country's resources and environment. Another concern is that certain sectors of society are not sufficiently benefiting from China's economic development. As a result, under current President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the PRC have initiated policies to address these issues of equitable distribution of resources, but the outcome remains to be seen. For much of China's population, living standards have seen extremely large improvements, and freedom continues to expand, but political controls remain tight.