Category Archives: Freedom

Parental strike against school testing – hint, intimation, or flash in the pan?

Straw in the wind?  Harbinger? Hint or intimation? Dunno.

Snowball in hell? Impossible odds? Flash in the pan? Dunno.

Still, worth noting that at the time of writing 24,412 parents (or people claiming to be parents) have signed an online petition supporting a strike – yes, worth reading that again: a STRIKE – that will keep some kids out of school for a day in protest against SATs testing at an early age.

Worth noting, too, is the parental plea – or do I mean ‘demand’?

‘ We want our kids to be kids again and enjoy learning for learning’s sake not for Ofsted results or league table figures. Bring back the creativity and the fun – say goodbye to repetition and boredom!’

‘Learning for its own sake’ .  There, in the second paragraph. Unadorned and unashamed.

A Headteacher writing in support of the strike, eloquently sets out the damaging consequences of high stakes testing.   The letter ends apologising for not signing the letter, or giving the name of the school ‘because I’m afraid of repercussions’.

Not to be pursued in this short blog, but there is a wider issue here, and that is the contraction of the public space available for independent thought and action.  Areas other than education should perhaps reflect on this.

Parents refusing to send their child to school without good reason – a strike is not likely to be seen as a good reason – lay themselves open to a daily fine of £60.00 rising to £120.00 a day if not paid within 21 days.  The price of independent action?

As to the evidence that might support the value of independence, there is none. It is not susceptible to the sort of evidence that is purportedly considered persuasive.  The Good Ship Independence must proceed under its own power, aided of course by a fair wind. But then, one can also make one’s own weather.

You may wish to sign the petition.

Dehli thought

Delhi – hot, colourful, polluted, noisy, crowded.  Wonderful in it own particular way.

The roads, traffic seething: cars, three-wheeled autos, pedal rickshaws, buses – some new(ish), some distinctly rickety. Taxis, swarms of bicycles, motorbikes, some seemingly transporting entire families.

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And people, all ages – that’s ‘all’ ages – crossing the turbulent traffic sea as the mood or need takes them with what appears to be suicidal intent; though, eventually, I, too, acquire novice suicidal status, willing oncoming traffic to avoid me as I hazard to cross to the other side of the road.

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From values to counting: the apoliticisation of play (and much else)

One way of characterising the play sector, if indeed it constitutes a sector, is that it is apolitical and dependent, those two qualities interacting and exacerbating each other.

By apolitical, I mean that it has no obvious popular or voter support, nor is much attention directed towards securing it. Rather, the ‘sector’ concentrates its efforts on being persuasive within the established corridors of power. To gain leverage there the approach has been to follow the national and local state’s increasing reliance on reducing questions of value and principle into essentially technical matters, the clearest expression of this being the  reliance on suppositious ‘evidence’.

The other characteristic is dependency. By dependency I mean that the play sector is overwhelmingly reliant on national and local state funding, along with key charitable funders whose procedures and priorities so often mirror that of the state. There is a link between dependent status and the apolitical orientation of the play sector. Whilst it is the case that the sector can erupt in support of organisations and projects that are under threat, for the most part it is funded projects and organisations lobbying on behalf of projects and organisations that are structurally in the same position – dependent on external funding. A cynic might suggest that there is a strong sense of ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ pulsing beneath the surface of solidarity. However, that does not invalidate it. Continue reading

‘Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today’

To cut to the chase:  I hold that a society or culture entrapped by a perpetual need to achieve, to endlessly generate quantifiable outputs, to obsessively ‘progress’ – slippery term that – is a society most likely to exhaust and dispirit its members.  For rather too long, that’s pretty much the position that has been reached.

The emblem and motif of such a society is the treadmill, and the force that drives it, fear.  These afflictions affect adult and child alike, trapping both in a perpetual circle of unremitting striving. It continues without cease – no sooner has one goal or objective been achieved, than another looms into view demanding satisfaction.  Performance is all. Repose is nowhere allowed.  We are required to be strivers. Welcome to the club that should have no members.

The symptoms  of this malady are everywhere about us:  the child who from the earliest age must be made learning or school ‘ready’;  the sales assistant – most likely on a low or minimum wage – as well as the  classroom teacher, now both equally performance assessed; the parent frantic to get their child into a ‘good’ school, the better to ‘achieve’; the school shackled to anxiety about their place in the performance league tables; the voluntary organisation, now formally contracted to provide quantifiable outcomes that do not easily mesh with the substance and purpose  of their undertaking; the business executive tethered to work 24/7 via mobile phone or tablet and driven by targets.  And so on.  The list is long. Continue reading

The Here and Now and related matters

I was flattered to be invited to speak at Play Wales’s SPIRIT conference last week where I ended up talking  about freedom, the here and now, and democratic space.  To my mind the three ideas are inextricably connected to each other.

Part of my talk took what might be called an ‘in principle’ critical stance towards Play Streets  (whilst at the same time, perhaps paradoxically, affirming that if one was started in my street, I would happily help out).  My comments about Play Streets did not meet with universal acclaim.

I have discussed Play Streets in an earlier article, and will return to the subject shortly.  For now, I do not pursue the issue in depth. 

In this article I emphasis again, or more precisely bang the drum for, valuing the here and now of immediate experience.  Since a drum is now involved, I mean of course the HERE AND NOW! an area on which, so far as I can see, public policy is locked into silence.

This piece is something of a mixed bag, being in part drawn from the SPIRIT talk, part from previous articles notably the one on democratic space, and part further embellishments on the key themes. Let’s hope it works.

 I began the conference talk thus:

I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty determining what to say today.  In part it’s because, increasingly, I feel myself engaged in a series of repetitions – for example, about risk, about nature and play, about the Yuk Stuff, rubber IAS, and about a (wished-for)  democratic public realm –  saying again what is already known.

But my difficulty also stems from what might be called the internal rationale of so many conferences.  That is, they aspire to inspire  – that word ‘inspire’ appears in the SPIRIT publicity – and so, for example, toolkits and ‘good practice’ are promoted, examples of exemplary projects pointed at.  And of course this can be very useful.  But  I fear I will be pointing the other way, sharing with you some of my discomforts, irritations and concerns.  I sometimes describe myself as a ‘dismalist’.  This means that where you see a silver lining, I see a cloud.  I am your conference wet blanket.

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