Appreciating Ourselves

Over the last year or so I have been able to look more and more at the questions people ask online. I see astonishing ones and I wonder whether it is down to the teachers not teaching or the children not listening and I have come to the conclusion that it is probably a combination of the two. I know that when I was teaching, I would say to my students, no matter what age they were, that if one of you doesn’t understand what I am saying then probably others don’t either! That is not their fault, it is (in my humble opinion) the fault of the teacher for not checking for understanding. Having said that, if the teacher says “do you understand?” and everyone says yes they do, then the teacher will usually accept that and move on to the next item. Except if some students didn’t understand, then the next part of the lesson probably won’t make sense to them either and they’re lost. I have said before about a time when, as part of my teacher training, I was doing support teaching and I could see how one student was struggling. It seemed simple enough, but this student needed a bit of assistance so, after a quick chat with the tutor (because it is polite to do that) I asked this particular student a few questions. Because teaching is an art, there are many who can do things but not all have the capability to then effectively share that knowledge. The problem that this student had was linking their knowledge to actual practice. Many simply ‘see’ this naturally, others have to be taught it. So show a student a pencil and teach them to write, that is great. But they have to learn that the pencil, when used, will wear out. But they must also beware of the folk who try to be ‘clever’, for example I knew one teacher (who I didn’t exactly get on with!) was teaching a group of us. I was busy writing and my pen stopped working so I put my hand up and when asked by the teacher what my problem was, I said “Please miss, my pen has run out” – meaning of course it had no ink left. But the teacher replied “Well, you had better go and chase after it then, hadn’t you…” Utterly embarrassed, I put my hand down but after a few minutes I raised my hand and was again asked what I wanted, to which I replied, “Please miss, my pen is now devoid of ink. May I be provided with a replacement pen, so that I may continue with my written work please?”. The teacher, now herself unhappy, replied sharply “Come up here and get a new one”. I did so and politely thanked her. Life in that class was never good for me and my grades suffered that particular year. Thankfully the following year I moved up to a different class and my grades improved quite a bit. My education was in a secondary modern school, unlike some others who went first to grammar school then on to university. So I left school at sixteen and went directly into working in the offices of British Telecom. It really was an education to me as when I first started there it was still part of the Post Office (GPO) and a civil service environment, to the point where folk at higher grades had the luxury of sitting on a chair with arms, but at my basic grade I had a simple wooden chair without arms. Seniority was strict, especially in one office where holiday time (annual leave) was chosen in strict order, so if you were low on the list there was little choice of when you could have your holidays! However, things did change and in time the ‘civil service’ regime became less and less, managers were not addressed as ’sir’ or ‘mr’, with first names becoming more used. Not by all, though! The company I worked for also did change, it had to. I moved around the Midlands every few years and in fact I learned later that some of my work colleagues became concerned when they found out that I was moving to work with them, as it seemed that everywhere I went, after a few years changes of staff occurred and some offices were even closed completely! I have said before about this and I assure you it was nothing to do with me!

Peterborough Telephone Exchange – much has changed since I was there.

But what I did notice was a trend, a push towards more and more ‘higher education’, with students almost pushed into wanting to go to universities. It then seemed that they would get their degrees in one subject but then go and find jobs unrelated to what they had learned. It seems to me that not all want to gain a higher education, many are far better at learning practical skills in a more ‘hands-on’ environment. My father was a schoolteacher at a few different infant/junior schools and at one parent/teacher meeting Dad told a parent that their child was quick at learning practical skills, but was not quite as quick on the academic side of things. The parent apparently told my Dad that he was proud of his son, because the lad could drive a tractor a whole lot better than some of his older brothers and that between them they were able to manage all aspects of farm work. We all have differing roles to play in this life, not everyone can be the leader of the orchestra, as without the rest they would be nothing. Having said that, I do wonder at some of the apparent lack of knowledge displayed by some people, especially those who I would expect to know more than they seem to. I enjoy watching a few different television quiz shows and as part of one excellent programme, four tv personalities were given a map of the United Kingdom and asked to point out where certain places were. I was amazed when they seemed to know almost nothing from a geographical point of view, for example they did not know where Hadrian’s Wall was, or where certain cheeses came from such as Stilton or Cheddar. I could appreciate them perhaps not knowing where some places in the U.S.A. were, but here in the U.K.? That was a surprise. As many will know, I am a fan of the science-fiction series ’Star Trek’. There have been a few different series, with different life-forms appearing and one group are the Borg, aliens that appear as recurring antagonists in the Star Trek fictional universe. The Borg are cybernetic organisms (cyborgs) linked in a hive mind called “the Collective”. They co-opt the technology and knowledge of other alien species to the Collective through the process of ‘assimilation’, forcibly transforming individual beings into drones by injecting nano-probes into their bodies and surgically augmenting them with cybernetic components. The Borg’s ultimate goal is ‘achieving perfection’, by becoming almost one single ‘being’, with no individual thought for themselves. We are not all the same, far from it, but what I do notice in our world today is how very large companies seem to be taking over the smaller ones and using that money to maintain their industrial strength. To my mind this is having an adverse effect on life as a whole, by some people controlling what is done in the world, therefore selfishly enabling greater profits for themselves with no thought for the greater good of the world as a whole, along with all that is in it. In this day and age the Borg are portrayed as science fiction, but I do wonder if the writers of Star Trek are trying to get a point across to us. I really do wonder if some are trying to make us all behave and act the same! I am sure they are not, but we must surely make sure that we remember the skills that made us who we are today. I hear in the news of the potential for power cuts, I hope we do not get to that stage but I consider how so much of our lives is governed by electricity. At present I live in a Care Home, so how would us inmates (as I like to call us) manage if the power were to be turned off for just a few hours? I remember those days, back in the 1970’s.

Slide Rule.

So as I have said, it seems to me that more and more folk are being led towards educational qualifications and that is all very good, yet I still see questions on the internet on such things as how the Universe was formed. I realise many of us learn in a somewhat different way now to when I was at school, as in my day we had libraries with books and not computers, we used slide rules, we did not have pocket calculators. I’ve said before when I was learning mathematics and innocently questioned the need for me to know Pythagoras’s Theorem. The teacher told me “one day, you will”. The teacher was correct, although it took twenty years! I was working for British Telecom at the time and was learning how we calculated the radial distances between different telephone exchanges (an aspect we needed to know at the time) and I realised that it was indeed Pythagoras’s Theorem we used to do that. My mathematics teacher would have had a sly grin on his face had he known! But we still need to learn these skills, whether they be practical or not. I really like a particular television programme which is being shown at the moment on BBC1 called The Repair Workshop”, where people bring in different items, some large, some small, but they all require practical skills and happily these people at the workshop know them. But I also know that by their own admissions, they too are still learning, seeing how others have built and designed things, combining each others skills and knowledge. One lovely surprise for me was to see a recent episode where a man I actually knew brought in a small item to be repaired. I did not recognise him immediately, but I knew his voice. When I was a child, I was talking to our local vicar about how I was learning how big this world is. I was considering how many years us humans had been on Earth, that we all die after a time and so I said to the vicar, “With so many people dying, Heaven must be a very big place!” The vicar said to me, in his own, kindly way, “Andrew, you are considering spiritual things in Earthly terms”. At the time, I remember saying to him “Vicar, I don’t understand.”, to which he replied “In time my son, one day you will.” It took a few years to realise the difference between Earthly things and the spirit. The Internet has brought us access to information, yet still folk ask basic questions such as how the universe was formed. There was a recent one, asking about how it is that our universe is expanding. The answer given was that the universe is not itself expanding, but it is the elements within the universe which are going further and further from each other, unless they are close enough for gravity to affect them. But even then, the global elements such as our own galaxy is moving away from other galaxies. But that will take an extremely long time! I also saw an item about the ‘observable’ universe, meaning that there are stars that we will never see, no matter how long we or our descendants might live. It is impossible to imagine, but it is fascinating! So even if there are other life-forms out there that have learned to travel into space, the chances of us or our descendants meeting them is pretty small! Remember too that we are carbon-based life-forms, but why should life on other planets be like us, or have developed as we have? Not only that, our Sun is four and a half billion years old. Astronomers estimate that the sun has about 7 billion to 8 billion years left before it sputters out and dies. Before that, it will have expanded and life on Earth will be no more. Will we have learned to travel to other places by then? Perhaps. Either way, there’s time for another cuppa tea…

This week…
For me it is a time of remembrance. Not just for Remembrance Day, but also remembering my parents and grandparents, as well as all the help and support I have had following my heart attack in 2010. For all those we have loved and lost, both friends and family, we will remember them.

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