Saturday, September 22, 2007

Correction, and more thoughts...

Just a correction in my last comment to Geoff, concerning the "What is education?" post. Among other things, I said: "If we wait to remove motes from our own eyes, nobody would do anything, for we are never going to achieve a state of motelessness, any of us, individually or culturally." That "culturally" should of course have been "collectively." Sorry. It's been a long, arduous week! I was just visiting jdid's blog, and saw some comments on how much students spend, and how much one "stylist" thought they ought to spend, on clothes. I was heartened to see people agreeing that spending $300.00 on one outfit was ridiculous, and to know that uniforms were being suggested as a great idea. One of the ways that people get to enjoy what they are doing is by paying attention to it. Like, if you don't stop to look at the world, you won't see the good things that are there. If you don't stop to savour your food, you won't enjoy what you are eating. If everybody's preoccupied with what everybody else in class is wearing, it's really difficult to attract anyone's attention. Actually, some very forceful, animated, dramatic teachers may succeed, but not every teacher is going to be forceful, animated, and dramatic – nor should they have to be. In one of today's newspapers, there's a front page article on Islamic schools. The students wear uniforms, and as a matter of religious protocol, boys and girls sit on opposite sides of the classroom, with space (lots) left in between. I'd be interested in observing the dynamics in such a classroom. I went to a girls' school myself, and I know that there is some research that suggests that both boys and girls achieve more in single sex schools. These aren't single sex classrooms, just spaces in which the sexes are segregated. One featured headmaster pointed out that the girls were treated no less well than the boys. I'd be glad to hear from anyone who has taught or observed teaching in such a classroom. Also, I'd be happy to hear any thoughts on the virtues, or otherwise, of keeping the sexes entirely or partially separate – in school, I mean...

Friday, September 21, 2007

So what is education for?

What's education for? Fragano Ledgister, in a recent comment on this blog, says its central purposes are: “(a) the preparing of children and youth for adulthood; (b) their integration into society as active, thoughtful citizens.” Fair enough, but hardly news. He explains, however – and here's the nitty-gritty – that: “the model of education we're using sees 'adulthood' as equivalent to 'employment', and 'citizenship' as identical with 'obedience to constituted authority'.” In other words, as it is presently operated, the primary purpose of education is to ensure that we are employed and law-abiding. Child workers all over the world are both these things. Many women all over the world are both these things as well. Yet of that vast number of working, law-abiding international citizens, one group female, the other not yet of voting age, many, if not most, are illiterate and innumerate, and therefore not educated. So education has to offer us something more than a skill of some sort and the opportunity to cower inside our coffles. (Exaggerating, I know – but cut me some slack here.) It may help to distinguish between process and product, one being the teaching and learning thing that we say goes on in the classroom, and the other being what is achieved by that ongoing process, that is, the gain, the knowledge, the skills, the values and habits – those things reported on in the end-of-term report cards that we dreaded as children. What our conversation on this blog (thanks again, jdid, and Geoff and Fragano, and, indeed, Sir Vidia) highlights is how much these two are related. We seem to be missing the significance of that relatedness. Is school meant to be a pleasure? Geoff says, “Perish the thought!” jdid says he didn’t do History, because he feared that classes at school would lead him to hate a subject he loved. Fragano says he’s glad he met T.S. Eliot elsewhere. My contribution is that if I am a writer – and that’s how I’ve been employed for more than twenty years – it perhaps has less to do with school and more to do with the fact that my father read us a poem every night before we went to bed, and I took part in the All Island Speech and Drama Festival Competitions, and I encountered Louise Bennett’s poetry and her work on stage and on radio very early on in life, and I read lots and lots of story books. So I’m proposing two new purposes for education – in fact, I’m thinking of writing a book about them! Education is to make us happy: whatever we are learning should be a source of pleasure, joy, delight, while we are learning it. Teachers should be certified conjurers of that enjoyment. And education is to help us to become who we were meant to be – simple as that. Some thoughts on how we do these things in posts to come – when I’ll get sex in there, Geoff, I promise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

When the Best Golfer is Black...

When the best golfer is black, the best rapper is white, and a Nobel Laureate in Literature admits that he cannot appreciate poetry, it must be the end of the world. To quote the great man: "English prose was the object of my writing ambition, and such limited feeling as I HAVE NOW FOR THE POETRY came to me later, came through the practice of prose." The Laureate is of course Sir Vidia Naipaul (I use both the 'of course' and the 'Sir' advisedly) and so one should perhaps be on one's guard. There have been various commentators on "Caribbean Odyssey", Naipaul's article in The Guardian of August 25th. (BTW, Kwame, it's Francis Palgrave's GOLDEN TREASURY that PUT Naipaul OFF of his early love of "the rollicking children's verses in the junior reading books at school". Palgrave, a historian and lawyer, not a poet, edited the collection in 1861. It was limited to works by poets who were dead. There have been newer editions since.) It's a sad little piece, and not because of Naipaul's comments on Walcott, who hardly needs defending. I not only write poetry, including poetry for children, and publish poetry (Sandberry Press's Caribbean Poetry Series) but I'm a teacher passionate about how much poetry can do when it is taught well, and how much it can destroy when it is badly taught. QED. I am thinking of sending a copy of the SUNSONG anthologies to Sir Vidia, who imagines that he should be able to "manage" the "argument" of poetry. I fear Sir Vidia, that poems are like sex: abandon is the necessary condition. More on this anon.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Picture or no picture?

I am a fan of detective stories, crime novels, mysteries. Indeed, I enjoy various kinds of "genre fiction" and am at a loss to see why some critics (see Camille Paglia's interview with Margaret Wente in the GLOBE AND MAIL for interesting comment on the state of the art) consider these kinds of writing not quite literature. Ergo, magic realism is in, while speculative fiction is out. (If you don't know the difference, go check your theory book!) Happily, in the hands of writers like Nalo Hopkinson, those boundaries are already giving. I have just read, in pretty quick succession, THE DARLING by Russell Banks (real literature) and Philip Kerr's THE ONE FROM THE OTHER, a detective story, described, not as a Bernie Gunther mystery, Bernie being the protagonist, but as "A Bernie Gunther novel", Mr Kerr's editors being clearly familiar with the runnings. I'm not sure how Kerr, or, say, Mosley, or Simenon end up not being writers of plain old literature – not that they care, for any writers making a living out of scribbling can afford to thumb their noses at the critics. (Stephen King's book, ON WRITING is standard fare in many a writing course. QED) I find the approaches taken by Banks and Kerr by no means dissimilar. Both tales are set in recent historical time, Kerr's novel in Germany, Austria, Palestine and Egypt of the Second World War and the immediate post-war years, and Banks's in the radical underground of the 60s and 70s in the US, and in Liberia in the period of the civil war – "real times" of extraordinary violence. Both tales include characters who are historical figures, central characters who perpetrate the violence. Though Banks is telling Hannah Musgrave's story straightforwardly, so to speak, and Kerr is concerned to have us follow Bernie Gunther as he unravels sinister webs-within-webs, there is considerable converegence in their purposes. Identifying each writer's goal, and considering how successfully each story achieves that goal, and the extent to which these goals overlap, would make for interesting discussion – as literature, in my humble opinion.