Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Layer 352 . . . Gaga, Changing the World, Battle of Britain, Training Leaders, Coalition Education, Free Schools, Theorems, Gove, and Wild and Whacky


"And now, I'm just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time."

It seems Lady Gaga - Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta - has over 6 million "followers". And that doesn't include people who pay attention to her but haven't identified themselves as Gaga followers on Twitter, or whatever.

Channel 4 news has just reported that LG's been making televised speeches demanding that the laws against gays in the US military be repealed, and it seems the US legislature might well be preparing to do exactly that. Gaga seems to be turning herself into a formidable political lobbyist.

Obviously any changes in the anti-gay laws won't be entirely down to Gaga, since there's been an ongoing campaign on the issue by several different groups. But it's significant that artistes like her, thanks to the internet and to their access to the media, are able to play a major part in politics if they're so minded.

Other musicians and artists who are already well known for their support for various 'causes' include Bob Geldoff and the guys in U2. The significance of Gaga is that she's young, photogenic and extremely popular. The lady has plenty of guts - which isn't a pun on the meat dress thing, either. There are literally millions of homophobes in the US - many of them aggressively so. Millions of fruit cakes of all sorts - many of them right-wing gun-toting fully paid up loons.

Let's not forget this is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, and that he was only 40 when he was murdered.

Lennon was an artist who was best known for wanting to change the world, especially after he left the Beatles, and was a massive propagandist for world peace and universal brotherhood and love. Clearly a dangerous radical. Pretty amazing he chose to live in the USA really.


Battle of Britain

A few weeks ago, before I'd realised that 2010 is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, I took a drive along the Kent coast with my good friend K. We came across a place called Capel-le-Ferne, and just off the main road, on the clifftops, the beautiful Battle of Britain memorial. Watching a TV programme about the battle a few days ago I was delighted to see some brilliant aerial shots of the memorial.

The memorial consists of a replica Spitfire, a replica Hurricane, a curved wall on which are written the names of every pilot who took part in the battle, and a landscaped circle of grass in which a gigantic three-bladed aircraft propellor is depicted. At the centre of the circle is a sculpture of a seated pilot. You can zoom in on the site here:

(c) Oxzenpics 2010

Training Our Leaders

Oxford University is opening what it says is Europe's first school of government, with the backing of international leaders.

Funded partly by a £75m donation from Soviet-born philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik, the school will train top graduates in the skills needed for government.

It has the backing of world statesmen Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan.

The school also has Prime Minister David Cameron's support.

Mr Cameron said the school would create "a new avenue for training and research in the crucial field of good government and public policy in this country and around the world".

He added that Mr Blavatnik's gift was a "very generous act of philanthropy".

'Huge milestone'

Former UN secretary general Mr Annan said: "More than ever before, we need a new generation of leaders who understand the different dimensions of society and the economy, and its implications for governance and public policy.

"I am certain that the school of government at Oxford University will spearhead this new approach to leadership and public service."

Mr Mandela said he was delighted about the establishment of the new school.

Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of Oxford University which is contributing an extra £26m, said the development of the school represented a "huge milestone" in the university's history.

"It will give tomorrow's leaders the best of Oxford's traditional strengths alongside new and practical ways of understanding the challenges of good governance," he said.

He added that Oxford had educated 26 British prime ministers and more than 30 other world leaders, but that until now international schools of government have all been outside Europe.

The Blavatnik School of Government would develop leaders in both private and public sectors and would aim to address complex global problems in new and practical ways, Oxford said.

On the Radio 4 Today programme there was talk about 'vision' and 'ability to inspire' and 'character' and 'being informed'.

The idea is clearly that our leaders need to have an informed understanding of society's problems, and they also need to understand technical, scientific and legal advice from experts. They also need to renounce war and violence.

The big question is - can 'character' be taught? Can empathy and a determination to achieve social justice be taught? Can the ability to find innovative solutions be taught?

"The course will combine disciplines ranging from the humanities, social sciences and law, to science, technology, health, finance, energy and security policy. The school will also teach an understanding of different political systems."

Which is all very well, but doesn't guarantee we'll get wise or radical leadership instead of another generation of bullshitting administrators doing the bidding of the Establishment, Whitehall, the City, financiers and fat cats in general.


Education and the Coalition

Further to my previous blog's wondering whether Clegg and Gove have been talking to one another about education policy - Gove popped up on the Today programme and pretty much reiterated what Clegg had said about giving headteachers more control over their schools - including Primary headteachers, who must have the same freedom to direct their schools as their Secondary counterparts.

He also guaranteed that the pupil premium will shift resources to the more disadvantaged schools. He intends to extend the Teach First programme for training 'high flyers' to teach before going off on careers in the City, etc.

He also spoke about flaws is our current system, the need to 'level up' and create more aspiration. He said he was concerned with addressing inequality 'head on'. "How poorly we educate those from disadvanteged homes". He said he wants to encourage ideallistic people who want to work with the poorest children.

So far, so good.

Citing the much celebrated Mossbourne Academy on Hackney Downs, Gove said it's a genuinely comprehensive school that has a brilliant headteacher and also does brilliant things for the least able, on account of insisting on 'academic rigour' for the least able.

And it's here, of course, that he starts bullshitting. Because Mossbourne may well have a balanced and fully comprehensive intake, but the same can't be said of other schools in the area. Mossbourne appears to have gone beyond the tipping point thanks to having good teachers, good premises and facilities, good leadership, and a critical mass of focused pupils of all abilities who are eager to study and enjoy going to a good school.

But it's also oversubscribed and as such is able to pick and choose from those in its catchment area of every ability and aptitude who have the most positive attitudes and 'fit in with the ethos' of the school. The same isn't true of all schools in the poorest and most challenging parts of our inner cities. Besides which - not all of our least academically able pupils are willing to strive for academic success when what they need is an education that emphasises success in creativity, art, communication skills, emotional intelligence, practical skills and technical skills. Yes, it's possible to have all of that PLUS academic success - in ideal circumstances. The reality is that lots of kids are simply unwilling to write essays galore on obscure topics towards exams in science, history, literature, etc. A lot of kids aren't willing to write at all, because they hate writing. Whilst this is regrettable, it's simply the reality, and as such schools need to take account of it and shape their offering accordingly. Most schools are too inflexible to do so.

As John Humphries said - surely we need better teaching and a more relevant curriculum that meets the interests and needs of pupils - not 'free schools' and more 'academies'?

At which point Gove gave himself away and started spluttering about 'proper uniforms', 'strict discipline' and 'academic emphasis' instead of "wild and whacky 'theorems' ".

Theorems? Pillock.

Obviously an education that puts equal emphasis on all the intelligences, plus creativity,  imagination and the development of human values, is a wild and whacky 'theorem' in Gove's book.

'Strict discipline' sounds like an urge to get wild and whacky with the more wayward souls in our schools. Which I'm sure it is for Whacker Gove. I'm sure he'll testify that getting whacked never did HIM any harm. Obviously.

He's incapable of conceiving that self-discipline, whose development is far more important than any imposed discipline, can only come from motivated learning and engagement with a rich, diverse, relevant and enjoyable curriculum, which for some pupils will have nothing to do with traditional academic disciplines, or indeed A levels and universities.

How many times do we need to say this? Not going to university does not mean failing in life. And going to a university is far from being a guarantee that someone will learn how to live well, find fulfilment, become self-actualised, learn how to live and work creatively, and develop all of their intelligences.


Blow for Clegg as Lib Dem delegates vote down coalition's flagship 'free schools' policy

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