Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Layer 384 . . . Finding A Voice, Teaching Writing, Education, Traditions, Enlightenment, Zen Socialism, Ed Miliband and the Labour Party

Personal Voice

So why are some of us keen to write, whilst others run a mile from the idea? The esteem we have for 'proper' writers is both a magnet and a deterrent. We grow up thinking and believing that novelists, playwrights, biographers, journalists, columnists and writers of learned tomes are all special people. Some people have large enough egos to see themselves  as potential and future members of the writers club. Others just think they have no voice worth listening to.

Teachers and educators like Harold Rosen pioneered the idea that every single one of us has stories to tell, thoughts worth sharing and a voice worth listening to. What's more, children should discover their personal voice as soon as they are able to talk, and write.

Such radical ideas were starting to gain some traction in schools in England in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, and then along came the New Labour national literacy strategy with its glib prescriptions, and which, in its stupidity, turned the clock back decades - thereby pretty much eliminating all ideas about young people finding a personal voice, writing for their own purposes, writing for audiences and writing for 'publication' - and enjoying writing as a thing that had personal meaning and utility.

We now have a generation of young people who have rarely completed an entire piece of writing which they chose to write as an expression of their own thoughts, memories, feelings and ideas. Or indeed any piece of writing. We have thousands of young people who know how to construct long sentences full of 'connectives', adverbial phrases and "wow words", but they can't actually write well, and on the whole they choose not to. Lacking motivation to write, they don't do it unless they have to.

Wow words? Don't even ask.

I probably feel more angry about the way the  teaching of writing has been perverted by the NLS (New Labour Shitheads) than about anything else in the crazy world of schools and education. The harm that's been caused is immeasurable.

And why did this happen? Because schools were pressurised into doing it - in order to improve test scores and achieve government targets. Because school managers were desperate to improve test results - tests that awarded marks to pupils  for . . . guess what? Scatterings of connectives. Fistfuls of adjectival and adverbial phrases. Shitloads of wow words.

Oops - non-standard English. Short sentences. Must try harder.

After all, this is what proper writers do - innit? Write in long sentences, fill them with subordinate clauses, and use lots of flowery language. Brilliant.

What a stupid culture. What a mean, ridiculous, hopeless society. What a pathetic, ignorant, uncaring system.

Pity the poor kids who now have to unlearn all that bullshit about what good writing consists of. Poor bloody kids who've been bored to tears by meaningless coaching for pointless tests. Poor kids who've never enjoyed writing a single word in their entire lives, let alone enjoyed sharing their thoughts, their ideas and their imagination, in written form.


How do we expect kids to articulate their thoughts competently when they rarely, if ever, have either opportunity or encouragement to do so? Let alone individual coaching and mentoring in how to express themselves in their personal voice.  All of which takes time, and empathy, with proper attention being paid to what the child is trying to say - not 'all eyes on the teacher and on the whiteboard' methodology, and exhortations to write in longer sentences and use more flowery language. Because that's what adults do, n'est-ce pas?

In order to say something, there ought to be something worth saying. Most of the writing assignments handed out in schools have no meaning whatsoever for the kids who are forced to carry them out. And the pupils aren't fools either - they know that the writing tasks are not genuine or useful, except in terms of preparation for tests. They're well aware they're just pawns in adults' political and professional games. And they're right to feel bloody resentful about that, even as they beaver away at their exercises and worksheets.


Keeping Up Traditions

"You need to conserve your traditions in this country", said David Ginola, a decent and thoughtful man, and a sometimes brilliant former footballer, speaking on TV this week.

Is that really so? I can think of quite a few traditions we could happily lose. Too many to mention, really.

But what David was talking about was 'foreign' ownership of football clubs, and 'foreign' managers.

Since football's now just a business, and a branch of the entertainment industry, I guess we could say the same about any other business. Maybe we should be hankering after the distinctively British type of management that brought our major industries to their knees, and for that matter collapsed the banking and finance system. What a triumph for Anglo-Saxon ownership, leadership and management that turned out to be.

If you're a European by birth, is someone from another part of Europe a 'foreigner'? When will people learn that it's not the nationality of people and businesses that matter - it's the degree of enlightenment, creativity and imagination that's important. Worldwide we can all learn from one another in order to make a better planet.

The amusing thing at the end of the Ginola discussion was seeing the people who were taking part in it realise that Ginola is, well, foreign. And the gimp who presents the programme is Irish.


Right now, the Labour party needs Ed Miliband's Zen socialism

Labour's leader should not listen to the goading of the coalition and media. He needs thinking time to plan the fightback


by Jackie Ashley

What is the Labour party for?

That's the question being flung at Ed Miliband by almost every newspaper and by many of his own MPs.

Look around at the political reporting of Labour just now. It's as if a spew of lava has buried the landscape – a molten river of anger, burning lakes of score-settling and an ash-cloud of bitterness under which everything else has vanished.

Miliband's first job is to make sure that the angry, self-destructive mood of the moment does not wreck his leadership too. He attempted to put a line under the past, to give New Labour a decent burial and proclaim a new generation.

Miliband, I can report, is almost surreally relaxed, displaying the sang-froid that has so struck people in the Commons. He simply won't engage. He won't take sides, align himself with old quarrels or even listen to passionate explanations of what when wrong before.

They need to return to the party in the country, and the many who deserted Labour – and really listen to them.

They need to get inside the banking system and try to understand it from within.

They need to discover how to get more good people into local government, and how to strike a better balance between targets and bureaucracy.

They need to go back, rather humbly, to Labour councillors and party workers who felt snubbed and ignored during the years of New Labour, and discover how hard it became to mobilise and enthuse people. And then they need to rebuild policies from the bottom up, not simply watch what the coalition does, and say the opposite.

I hope Miliband holds his nerve. I suspect he will – some kind of Zen socialism we haven't come across before.


Ed Miliband sets out 'profound' changes to Labour party

Exclusive: Labour leader reveals plans to review organisation and policies in first full interview since winning leadership contest


Ed Miliband today launches his party on "the hard road back to power", saying it has to move beyond New Labour and commit to changes in policy and organisation as profound as those introduced by Tony Blair in 1994.

He also appears to clash with the shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, by saying a 50p tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 should be permanent, as a way of creating greater equality in Britain. Making the country more equal, he says, is one of the issues that gets him out of bed in the morning.

He warns his party not to expect a quiet life, saying: "I am talking about change as profound as the change New Labour brought because the world itself has changed massively, and we did not really change fundamentally as a party, or come to terms with the changes, and have not done so since 1994."

Miliband dismisses suggestions he has been too low-profile since becoming party leader, saying: "It's about digging in, and it's not about short-term fixes, nor shortcuts to success. There is a long, hard road for us to travel." He does not accept that the deficit is the product of over-spending by Labour, but says British politics has not come to terms with the 2008 banking crisis and the economy's over- exposure to financial services.

He appears to disagree with Johnson, who has described the 50p top rate as only "right for now". Asked if the 50p rate was simply necessary to cut the deficit, Miliband says: "No, it's about statement about values and fairness and about the kind of society you believe in and it's important to me."

He sticks with Labour's plan to halve, as oppose to eradicate, the deficit by the end of the parliament, insisting he will not concede that the Labour government overspent before the 2010 election.

"I don't agree with what the Tories say about us overspending. They are on a mission and we know what their mission is and we have got to take them on. Their mission is to say 'This deficit is not the result of an international banking crisis, it is the result of a crisis in government'."

He also rejects suggestions he has been shifting to the centre since becoming leader in September, arguing: "I said during the election I was the person who would take us beyond New Labour. That's the way I ran as a candidate and that is the way I am going to run the party. We've got to recognise that in terms of who we stand up for – we as New Labour lost touch of people's hopes and aspirations."

The overarching task, he says, is to examine "how you can create greater social justice in the economy without having to rely only on redistribution and the welfare state.


The Labour party can count itself itself extremely fortunate to have elected a leader who has some of his father's socialism in his soul, and is prepared to speak out for the founding principles of the Labour party. This is in contrast to brother David who sold his soul to New Labour and its scheming, triangulating, mealy-mouthed creatures of the night, most of whom were 'intensely relaxed' about the filthy rich getting even richer. Talking of which, there's a documentary on Mandelson being screened on TV this week - The Real PM. I do hope it focuses on his desire to become as filthy rich as his already filthy rich friends.

All power to Brother Ed, therefore, and his principled efforts to create a credible progressive party whose main aim is to transform society into a proper social democracy - a party that cares about social justice and creating greater equality, and isn't merely hungry for power for power's sake. For Britain to become more like Denmark, for example, would be extremely beneficial.

I'm beginning to think that Ed decided to try for the leadership of the party when he realised that it would otherwise fall into the hands of his NuLab brother, and hated to think what keeping on the New Labour path would do to Britain and to British politics.

He can take a lot of comfort from the fact that under his leadership Labour is already ahead in the polls . . . and things can only get better.

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