Thursday, 24 October 2013

Confessions of a Harry Potter virgin

I've managed to avoid Harry Potter until now. Not intentionally you know, it just has never crossed my path. Now there are many (in geekdom and further) who find that incredible. How on earth could I have not seen Harry Potter.

Well, I haven't. Actually, let me clarify, I've seen bits of the films on TV occasionally, usually as the wallpaper to a skull-splitting hangover or a family christmas gathering, but I've never seen the first film, and never sat down to watch any in their entirety.

So here we go. I've got the Blu Ray boxset and will be watching them all, from the outset, and posting my thoughts here, because it helps to talk about this, and why I've utterly failed as a geek. Well, not failed, but while Potter was busy becoming a globe-spanning behemoth, I was obsessed with the Lord of the Rings films, and re-reading the books. I had been waiting for them since I was little. Then children came, and they were too little for the wee wizard. 

So... Greetings to Harry, and Hermione, and Ron, and the rest. Now to find out more about all these half-heard, little understood concepts that keep invading my consciousness. Muggles, hufflepuff, Tom Riddle, Horcruxes.

I'll chart my thoughts about the films, (this may take some time, as I have two young children, and that does not afford much time for watching!) and what I think about the world. I may even read the books. We'll see. Until then...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Can you hear me Mr Gove?

Michael Gove, the nations favourite know-nothing Government Minister has been out opining in public about subjects he knows nothing about.

Well, I say public, I mean the Daily Mail. The non-thinking man’s daily newspaper.

Plus ca change plus ca la meme chose. And again he’s criticising stuff that he seriously knows nothing about. It’s all to do with a history exercise, in which students have to take the knowledge they have about the rise of Hitler and assimilate it into a ‘Mr Men’ style book.

Now Gove is holding this up as evidence of the infantalising of children and the dumbing down of education. Yet again, he so spectacularly misses the point that it’s almost comical. In fact, speaking of comics, there’s a particularly good cartoon, drawn by Steven Collins, reimagining Gove as the hero of Independence Day… It doesn’t end well, and with every public pronouncement, becomes more and more true.

At the same time as this is happening, Commander Chris Hadfield of the International Space Station tweeted a link to a video he’s recorded while on the station. It’s him singing Bowie’s Space Oddity, and it really is rather beautiful.

I defy any ten year old to watch that video and not want to become an astronaut. And in many ways this is what this is all about. The distillation of knowledge, which allows someone to communicate with others in an elegant way and invoke a sense of wonder is a very rare gift.

Chris Hadfield has spent his time on the space station engaging with people on social media, and communicating his research findings in a very simple, yet effective way. This study into the way water behaves when you squeeze a flannel is enthralling.

The students who’ve created their Mr Men books have taken an incredibly complex subject, learnt about it, and taken all that information, and communicated it in a simple way. That isn’t infantilizing. It’s actually incredibly hard.

To take a complex subject, like the rise of national socialism, or the behaviour of water in zero gravity and make it engaging to kids is what teachers across the country do every single day. It is this that Gove seems to want to replace with the dry, by-rote learning that he treasures so much from his schooldays.

The simple fact is times move on. Things get better, people learn when given examples that they can relate to. For example, the use of a Mr Men format can be used to make a point quite beautifully, quite elegantly, and far more effectively than a long key-point referenced piece. See?

Research and by-rote learning has impact. When people can see that impact, they are more likely to support the things that cause those effects. Meaning more money being put into sciences, or universities, or the NHS. When people see those effects, they (hopefully) won't then vote for short-term policies like the reduction of funding to schools, hospitals and universities across the country. This may save the country money in the short term, but an investment in the minds and futures of the young people of this country is an investment in the future of this country.

Major Tom vs Mr Gove. I know who I’d choose.