Saturday, 16 February 2013

Some extracts from a Hogwarts Ofstead report.

It came to me, this afternoon, that - if you think about it - Hogwarts is a bit shite.

Don't worry, I'm not going to start criticising Harry Potter. Were I to attempt that, my 13 year old self would leap up my throat and strangle me with a rope woven from pure, fanatical bile. Rest assured, I like the scar headed wizard as much as the next cynical, over-reading, novel-obsessed bitch. But, speaking as a pedagoge, I do have cause for concern.

"Despite inspirational leadership," an Ofstead report for Leadership and Management might go, "senior management appear to struggle to create a cohesive learning environment, or even an atmosphere of basic safety."

Or perhaps, "A deep-seated division regarding best practice and learning strategy appears among both staff and students. Senior management appear to have made no serious attempt to address this issue, a concerning trend if one considers that it dates back almost to the school's foundation."

Or even, "While tradition is to be encouraged, especially in an institution as respected as Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, such tradition should not be maintained if it constitutes a significant threat to the health, safety and well-being of the school's pupils. Hogwarts castle itself is an example of this. A Grade I listed building, its architectural impressiveness and historical importance are beyond doubt; however, it cannot, in conscience, be considered 'fit for purpose' for the education and accomodation of several hundred young people, many of whom will be away from home for the first time in their lives."

How about: "Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is also suffering from a staffing crises bought about by an appointments proceedure that can be characterised as, at best, erratic, if not down-right bloodyminded. Arbitrary decisions regarding a teacher's suitability and frequent interventions from the Board of Governers have done nothing to alleviate this situation. Furthermore, even when a role is proving impossible to fill, Senior Management have refused to appoint internally, even if an existing member of staff is fully qualified."

And: "Time-tabling, too, is a point of contention. At O.W.L level, it seems pupils appear to be given full choice as to the number and content of their options without the consideration of compatibility, despite the fact new subjects frequently clash with core options. Additionally, on-site inspectors feel they should make the recommendation that, while staff have access to devices which allow the progress of time to be reversed, this does not mean that use of such devices should be routine."

Or, you know, Health and Safety: "The record of pupil care presents an equally alarming picture. Injuries, both in curricular and extra curricular activities, are higher than one might expect, whilst risk assessments are non-existent. Although much is made of the stringency of the security arrangements, it should be noted that Senior Management appears unable to provide a closed campus, or even to protect students from its own security staff."

Oh, I've not finished yet. Here are some more.

From the Teaching section: 
"The quality of teaching at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry reflects the lack of unity within the staff, and the lack of reasonable direction from senior management. While in possession of impressive academic accolades, few of the teaching staff are able to supply any evidence of QTS, vocation, or even teaching experience. Many fail even the most routine of background checks. Particular attention must be drawn to one Severus Snape. While it is not in the inspector's role to question management appointment conditions of those with an established criminal record, it is important to note that extended membership of a covert, far-right organisation who have acknowledged links with many acts of assault, terrorism and several unexplained deaths, should be uncovered by even the most cursory CRB check. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable for parents to feel concerned if their children to be taught by an individual known to espouse views which promote violence against an ethnic group who comprise almost 50% of the school's intake. The appointment of such an individual suggest that the senior management have clearly, and alarming, failed in its duty to safeguarding legislation."

"While, as a selective and fee paying academy, Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizadry is not constrained by the National Curriculum, it is somewhat alarming that there is no compulsory aspect of numeracy or literacy continued after the age of eleven, especially as no cohesive alternative curriculum or set of learning goals has been forwarded. No pupil's academic journey appears to be logged, no attempt is made to engage with the material on a personal level and lesson planning is - with a few notable exceptions - entirely absent. Assessment appears as idiosyncratic as the teaching quality itself, with some subjects displaying an unreasonable bias towards either the practical or the theoretical.

Also, despite extensive grounds and resources, few pupils appear to have the opportunity to engage in any P.E. activities. One is forced to wonder, other than referee the occasional inter-house Quidditch match, quite what the dedicated teacher does to earn her pay-cheque."

Friday, 8 February 2013

Wuthering Heights: In defence of amour fou

So, I took the plunge and went to a book group. 

Wow. Socialising. With real live people-persons who had real people personalities. That's not happened in a while. The book we were talking about was Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the discussion; lots of interesting stuff raised, tangents and ideas about, not only the book in question, but about the nature of people-persons, and the way that said people-persons interact with books. It was good. Naturally, I did my usual seminar dear-God-no-wonder-you-had-no-friends-at-University routine, but that's a story for another day.

It also raised something that's been brewing in my head for quite a long time – something about the way our current society thinks about love. It may surprise none of you to learn that I agree with Angela Carter.

“Well,” my obliging hypothetical audience supply, “what do you agree with Angela Carter about, aside from 'practically-everything-with-the-notable-exception-of-clitoral-orgasm'?”

For a start, I agree with her about Wuthering Heights. And about love. There is a significant overlap between the two1

Obviously, the whole 'love' thing came up at the book group – notably the conception that Wuthering Heights is some kind of a romance novel2. We were asked, more as an opener to discussion than anything else, whether we thought Wuthering Heights was a love story. There was derisory laughter, slightly incredulous glances, and there was me, too much of a fucking coward to offer disagreement.

Which is this: 

We have a real problem with love in this country (or this society, or the English speaking bits of the world. Whatever.) We have a problem with it. So often, in the discussion, words came up to describe what Cathy and Heathcliff felt: obsession, infatuation. We are not, as a society, willing to believe that what those two experience is love. Ask people what love is, and there is a fair chance they will start quoting Corinthians 13:4 at you3.

Patient? Kind? Right... Are we even talking about the same thing, here?

No. We're not. That's one of the problems we face, just to have this discussion: there are a dearth of words in the English language to describe love. Of course, some kinds of love are patient, and kind, and they are valid, important types of love. They, however, are not what I am talking about. The Greeks have it slightly better, they have agápe, éros, philía, and storgē, but even they do not quite answer my purposes. These are different types of love used, exclusively or in combination, in different kinds of relationships. Most often, the distinction is used to separate basic human compassion from emotional love from lust. But I am not talking about physical love as opposed to emotional love, and whatever list of those one needs to build a happy relationship. I'm not, if I'm honest, talking about relationships. A relationship is an ongoing negotiation between two or more people; a relationship answers to sense, to reason, to common, human kindness.

No. I'm not talking about relationships.

There is, though, a distinction in the English language, a distinction that tells us more about ourselves than many of us would care to admit. We talk about loving and we talk about being in love.