A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: Who'd be a children's minister?
Previous entry: Encouraging parenthood by nationalising it
Sunday May 04 2008

Yesterday morning I did my first stint of teaching at the Civitas school in Hammersmith, Hammersmith Saturday.  I am not entirely sure whether my colleagues think I am making much of a contribution to their combined efforts, but no doubt a way would have been found to tell me not to come to Hammersmith had they thought it would be a nuisance.  So, I proceed on the assumption that what I am doing is appreciated.  When I helped out for a couple of mornings at a recent half term school, they gave me (as I think I may have mentioned here before) a box of chocolates, so I must be doing something right.  I could have done more at Kings Cross Supplementary, but teaching also at a different school (with all its compare-and-contrast possibilities) appealed more.

Once again I was teaching one-on-one, first with Twin Girl.  Twin Girl is identical to her identical twin sister, Twin Girl, so I am afraid I cannot tell you which Twin Girl I was teaching, but after early protestations against having been separated out, from Twin Girl and from all the other children in her group, for a scary new ordeal, the Twin Girl that I taught seemed reasonably happy about it all.  I checked out her 3R skills, trying without offence to correct all errors that I observed.  Then we did some map reading.  Twin Girl duly found here way, via the big index at the back, to the street where Hammersmith Saturday is located.  She also found Nigeria and Arizona, which are big places in her family’s history, because her family started out in Nigeria and then lived in Arizona for a while, before coming here.

More memorable for me was the second session I did, with Law Boy, whom I call Law Boy simply because, after the usual 3R ice-breaking routines, he revealed that he had in mind, perhaps, to be a lawyer.  However, he didn’t seem to have a very clear idea of what a lawyer actually does, confusing it rather with being a policeman.  So, I gave him a lecture on and around these subjects, concentrating on criminal law, because it is more dramatic.  Here are the lecture notes, which I made a point this time of photo-ing before presenting them to him, so I could show the photo to you people:

image

Click to get it bigger and more legible.

As you can see, a lot of portentous ground was raced over.  The list of ways the police might investigate a crime includes several of Law Boy’s suggestions, written down by him.  The court room dramas on the right are mostly me.

My belief about teaching is that the basic tools of our culture, alluded to with that common phrase the “Three Rs”, are often now skipped over, resulting in lasting confusion to many pupils who have been dragged towards more complicated spellings and constructions and sums before they are comfortable with the easier stuff.  But I also believe that eyes are not lifted often enough to the far horizons, to the matter of what life could and should be like, and how this or that pupil might one day make a great life as an adult.  There is rather too much obsessing in schools about intermediate matters, so to speak, like quadratic equations and possessive pronouns, and with answering questions about such things in exams.  But there is more to living a good life than merely embarking on the adult bit of it armed with some exam results.  It’s not that these things don’t matter and aren’t worth doing.  But they make a whole lot more sense if reasons for caring about and worrying about them are also alluded to from time to time.

And it really doesn’t take much in the way of 3R expertise to start scanning the far horizons.  I mean, how hard is it to spell “law”, and get a rough idea of what it means?  Or “jury”?  Or “judge”?  And why should a discussion of laws and juries and judges wait until children are teenagers and they first come up against the law when policemen, perhaps rather rudely, tell them about it.  Contrariwise, I was able to wave my finger at all that work that criminal detectives have to do, and say: “That’s full of the 3Rs.  Being a policeman isn’t just about being strong and rough and tough and courageous.  It also involves lots of reading and writing and arithmetic.” And for lawyers, life is all about getting to grips with such clevernesses.  Physical toughness and roughness has almost nothing to do with it.

Law Boy is the quiet thoughtful type, and also polite.  Towards the end I became worried that I was boring him, and that he was merely waiting in a trance for this baffling foolishness to end.  “Am I boring you?” I asked.  “Oh no”, said Law Boy.  “I’m thinking.” Such moments make it all worthwhile.  (And being able to write about it here, for me, doubles the pleasure.)

From where I sat, my central lesson to Law Boy was that it is not enough for the police to decide that somebody is guilty of a crime.  Too much hinges on whether that is true for us to take their word for it.  We can’t be sending innocent people to prison for a decade.  Thus, law courts.  Thus “BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT”.  What did Law Boy learn?  I don’t know, but I trust: something.

The Giving them the paper at the end procedure never seemed to me to make more sense than it did with these particular bits of paper, and there were several more.  It helps that there is now the Internet.  If Law Boy is inclined, he can type all those mysterious words (Solicitor?  Barrister?  Jury?  Forensic?) into the Great Filing Cabinet In The Sky and learn ten times more about it all than I could tell him.  If he is inclined.