Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Migration Path of the Starling is Yet to be Known

I find myself on the cusp of winter
In dark clothes, in a foreign town.
Homes are scattered, like seed torn
And I fly –
 They say of a need to ground.

Ground what?
This insatiable creeping heat?
To want to know, to feel, discover?
They throw breath like pity’s piece
And say I fled
-          I know I hover.

For cold lines are marked like framework
Metal, gravel – yet the sky
Occupies no time or distance

-          The heart is warm, this meets your eyes. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Don’t Let Schools Turn Children’s Creativity Into History

September is the start of the new academic year, therefore a time of moving up in primary school – an opportunity for new experience and leaning. Yet if children are moving onwards, we need to consider what is making them move upwards too.

 Academically speaking, the ‘upwards’ is perhaps more regimented than is healthy for children, in the form of The National Curriculum. The word ’Curriculum’ by Latin definition means ‘race’ and this is reflected in the league tables students as well as teachers are taught to aspire to.  Struggling students being pushed on by stressed teachers. It is no surprise that this can result in students prioritising looking ‘outwards; to society and standards, rather than ‘inwards’, to their own imagination and creativity. In a recent TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson reflected that ‘we grow out of rather than into creativity in schools.’[1] As children get older it as seen as desirable that they shed their imagination in favour of advancements. Evidence of this is not only in the form of the National Curriculum, but even how academies operate learning – across the board, schools seem to be killing creativity. And this must stop.

Why? Because rather than being pushed along the race-track of achievement, children should be encouraged to diverge – to be creative. Creativity is an exciting capacity within all of us. It is the process of using the imagination and originality to purposefully develop and communicate a variety of ideas. It certainly isn’t an empty activity.  Therefore creativity isn’t exclusive to the arts, or to those ‘gifted’; it is a process people can explore in their own way, seeing situations from different or ‘creative’ angles. It is no wonder that this can actually improve and enhance decision-making; and it is a skill which can be facilitated for in schools.  The environment of schools, including play equipment, the company of other children and challenging scenarios, provide an ideal opportunity for creativity when it is encouraged. And encouraging can lead to flourishing:  where creativity has an important place in the curriculum, pupils generally have very positive attitudes towards learning[2]. It does allow for achievement too, as even in key stage 1, pupils involved in Creative Partnerships activities make significantly greater progress in essential skills speaking and listening.[3] Yet we seem to be failing to learn from the past – something this article emphasizes.

Comparatively, the National Curriculum seems to so often limit creative expression for children.
In 2014, David Cameron proposed an introduction of a ‘tough and rigorous’[4] curriculum to primary schools; the kind of language which made me feel uncomfortable. It again emphasized the curriculum as some trying and exhausting race. Many predicted it would not get off to a good start.

And a desperate scramble for positions it surely was. 2014 surely gave us a lesson we needed to learn regarding schools, The National Curriculum and how creativity can be spoiled. Before it was even introduced, 100 academics  had signed a letter arguing that the draft edition of the 2014 curriculum was asking "too much, too soon" of children” – including the rote-like requirements of year 4 being able to recite their twelve times tables, and 11 year-olds mastering the subjunctive[5]. 2014 was also a year which interestingly and disturbingly found that children in the UK ranked 14th out of 15 countries for overall life satisfaction, according to research by The Children’s Society and The University of York. Primary school-age children emphasized worry especially about  confidence and self-image, which can be significantly improved by creativity. Rote-learning offers little opportunity
to express their individuality, their identity.

And still the rote, regimented learning continues.

In 2015, the National Curriculum has already come under fire.  In Maths, children are expected to learn even more at a younger age, whilst in science there is set to be a shift towards ‘hard facts’ rather than experimentation and expression. In education as a whole, there seems a pressure for children to consume as much information out there as possible – more, more and more – rather than add to it. The result? A lot of bloated unsatisfied students.

Is being full of and spewing facts more desirable than opening up appetites for exploring the past? A prime example, History,  is a subject which when taught well, comes alive and captivates children. I loved exploring eras, building history models and visiting sites; as I am sure many children would.
 However, the format of the current Curriculum seeks to introduce an even greater chronological approach to the teaching of history; with a series of facts and dates seen as useful. There is a priority placed on remembering the numbers rather than considering the reasons why. In turn, history becomes another subject where many children feel they can only do ‘right’ or ‘wrong’  - when in fact it offers opportunity for children to argue their own interpretations  and to defend their own views, when they are encouraged in creative reasoning. This is much more valuable for life than the trained ability to spout figures.  Yet in a society we are increasingly encouraged to look ‘forwards’ and ‘progress’ from an early age, history in schools seems slimmed down from valuable human experience, to little more than a status of ‘subject’.

 It is this reduction of potentially creative subjects into convenient codes for examination which kills creativity too. In history, children may be deterred from asking questions and just replicate what they have been told.  In English, children cram their writing tasks with words they have ‘remembered’ get them the best marks, so it is not really creative at all. More than 30 authors have already this year criticised the impact of the National Curriculum on children’s self-expression, as a “prescription for how to teach children to write (to pass the tests), with quite adverse effects on their writing skills.”[6] This is especially the case in  English, where objectives such as  ‘use a wide range of subordinating connectives’  places children in a position of using language to score points, rather than to be creative. Children are at risk of becoming subordinate to the methods used to ‘score’ them.

Therefore, it is this pressure placed on children  to ‘pass’ and ‘progress’  which is extensive, with the priorities still around figures and rankings seeming somewhat archaic  in itself.  It occurs in academies as well as state schools too – as our children as a whole are some of the most intensely examined in the world[7].  We socially equate scored success with job prospects, examination with resultant occupation. The old idea seems to still be imposed upon children ‘if you don’t do well in your exams, you will not do well in getting work.’

Yet the occupation which matters most in our daily lives is in our heads. We have to live in our [8] – and so on. But we can see the  evidence ourselves… creativity counts. Children typically enjoy being creative and expressing themselves in a way they are comfortable with. And it really does count too. Figures published recently reveal that the UK's Creative Industries are worth at least £76.9 billion a year to the UK economy[9] – the grown-up world youngsters are set to grow into.
heads, or imaginations.  When enriched by creativity, culture and experience, this can be exciting. When filled with the generalisations of routine, rote and worry, children can become anxious in their own minds.  We are at risk of teaching children to only be ‘progressive’, always to look ahead, instead of into those amazing capacities they have within.  In an attitude to counter this therefore, I am a strong advocate for the encouragement of The Arts in schools, as well as creative clubs for children. Science supports this too, with Dweck describing how important a growth vs. fixed mind-set is to success; Pink discussing intrinsic motivation and how it is constructed through creativity

Yet we will only grasp this value and grow as a society when the younger generation feel valued in themselves. Look beyond the numbers, the grades, and recognise creative importance; that’s the first step.

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en
[3] https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/CPAB01/CPAB01.pdf
[4] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/jul/08/new-national-curriculum-published
[5] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/apr/01/new-curriculum-teaching-concepts-younger
[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/our-children-tested-to-destruction-779790.htm
[8] http://www.edutopia.org/blog/intrinsic-motivation-growth-mindset-writing-amy-conley
[9] http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/creative-industries-worth-769-billlion-to-uk-econo_36903.html

Monday, 21 September 2015

Tell Me Why if You Don’t Like Windfarms

We need to talk more about wind; as unconventional as it is. And yes, that includes windfarms. A number of windfarms have recently been assembled close to my local area, and were notably met with – as is consistent with many public responses when turbines appear – cries of ‘eyesore’ and a  ‘look what a state  they are‘. This level of negativity towards windfarms can only be expected if they continue to be under-discussed.  We need to talk. I think it is a negative that onshore wind farms will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than expected (especially when wind is one of the cheapest sources of sustainable energy)[1]; yet the news has caused little, if any, public questioning. The same has been the case for four windfarms proposed  for mid-wales, turned down only to congratulation[2]. And so the authorities or ‘powers that be’ will continue.

Yet the public are often not given background information on the benefit of wind power, instead just Better discussion is needed, both at local and wider levels, as improved awareness of the benefits of wind and farms. This may allow more constructive agreements to be met regarding where and how they are assembled. After all, the end of subsidies marks a move to ‘give local communities the final say over new wind farms’[3]; according to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd. This could quickly become a tension between local authorities and the people  involved– because what can people say other than they are unnerved, unless they have information?
having to face windfarms being thrown up in the foreground. How can you defend something that is presented as an attack? Hostility is to be expected when wind power only ever gets into the public eye as a threat.

We can work with wind in a more constructive way, which pleases more people. It was estimated that by 2014, 9.3% of the UK’s electricity requirement was met by wind power – a sustainable process which has much more to offer.[4]

Firstly then, why wind?   Making the most of wind energy has already been helping to sustain the demand for electricity in the UK for a number of years. Turbines are typically connected to a power collection system which converts the turning of the blades into electrical energy, therefore a renewable source. A single turbine at 2.5 MW   will typically generate enough energy to meet the annual electricity requirements for 1,400 households. Or that’s 230 million cups of tea or 2,000 years at least of average computer usage – whatever you prefer.[5]

Yet what many people would prefer not to see, are the turbines themselves. Yes, they are invasive and do change the appearance of the environment. But the typical methods we are using to generate electricity are not only changing the shape of the environment at the deepest level, but are scarring it long-term. Just because we do not see a towering image of environmental damage, does not mean it isn’t taking place. According to Energy UK Most of the UK’s electricity is still produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal.[6] The burning of these releases excess gases such as carbon dioxide.  Environmental impact of this is vast, with populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles declining by up 49% due to the poisonous levels of these releases (especially CO2) since 1970, according to the WWF[7]. Wind is a step in providing an alternative to polluting methods of fuel production – especially in reducing CO2, as provisional 2013/2014 emissions showed a 15% decrease in  CO2 released, with ‘a change in the fuel mix’ given as one of the key  reasons[8]. Part of this forward-looking fuel mix is wind. Yet because we do not SEE this right in front of our eyes, it seems convenient to ignore it.

Also, the impact of burning fossil fuels we may struggle to see – because, disturbingly, where the impact hits is below vision; it is occurring inside us, already. A new consultation document, drawn up by the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), states that over 50,000 people a year die prematurely as a result of UK air pollution[9]. The government is being urged to encourage cycling over car journeys, using sustainables over pollution-causing coal, and surely another area which will be turning – are turbines. The generation of power from wind in this way releases no gas and is renewable, yet people still see them as negative - why?

Seeing the ugly truth is hard.  

 Here we return to the outraged cry that turbines look a ‘state’. Perhaps that is precisely the point. Wind farms seem to stand as a kind of statement – a statement of our guilt. We can’t just ignore them. Their appearance serves almost as a reminder of our inability, what has been our inability to keep the world clean. After all, many people are aware that they have sustainable or at  least ‘green’ benefits, yet these factors are subsumed in favour of an ‘unspoiled view’.

Yet the view of our future as a whole will be further spoiled if we continue to ignore the efforts of sustainable energies. The current main way we are generating energy, including electricity, through fossil fuels, is unsustainable – by definition it cannot last. Wind stands as an endless source of natural energy.

But it’s easy to balk and not talk.

There appears frustratingly limited/little public discussion regarding wind power – few information boards and bulletins, no public talks or programmes.  The last time I was provided with information to read about wind power was at GCSE. There are organisations  which are working admirably to provide  resources, such as http://www.renewableuk.com/en/get-involved/action-for-renewables.cfm but lack of  publicity means this has not equated to awareness.

Lack of  awareness makes wind farm plans, when they are announced, seem like a sudden – and
therefore unwelcome – imposition to people in the local area.  Discussion about wind power often does not occur until the situation where farms are being proposed by local authorities. In turn, this leads to authorities proposing the windfarms to appear forceful, whilst the local people opposing the turbines to appear adamant. In turn, applications often seem forced because plans for installation are set and opposition is unwilling to compromise. In turn, opportunities to make the most of windfarms for all involved are often being side-lined.

Yet even if you are opposed to windfarms, once you know the benefits, would you be more willing to negotiate? The most likely answer is yes. I am in strong support that the public should have more of  a say regarding where windfarms are assembled – and this can be positive. If material on the benefits of wind is made more readily available – leaflets, posters, recommended reading material – this provides a balance. After all, if we are to see the whole picture, then it is to pay attention to the implications and assembly of windfarms too; the building of roads to assemble them can be time-consuming and disruptive, so will obviously have an effect on local communities. There is the visual impact to think about too of course.  The unfortunate lack of discussion seems to have had the effect of placing people into two imaginary camps, either ‘eco-nuts’ or ‘world-destroyers’. The reality is that it is okay to take a middle-way. Compromises are more likely to be reached to suit the majority if people negotiate whilst accepting both the disadvantages and benefits.

Therefore it’s time to see the whole and not just what we want to see. By point-blanc refusing windfarms, a negative view is fuelled towards green energy all together – as in light if government windfarm cuts, headlines such as ‘Bad luck Greenies, this wind farm has bitten the dust’[10] serve little constructive use. We can’t keep living in a society where green energy is seen as the destructive and damaging party. After all,  wind could be seen as the opposite of destructive in many ways, especially when offshore - harnessing massive amounts of wind as  well as encouraging the growth of a delicate ecosystem (The Marine Institute found that wind farms provide shelter to fish and  even encourage the growth of some maritime vegetation in a recent study)[11].

 Even offshore wind capacities of up to an enormous 14.3GW is either in planning or under construction, yet it is still significantly under discussed, most likely because we don’t see them directly either[12].  Is that what we want? Is it an ideal for sustainable energy generation to be taking place but with minimal visual impact? Offshore wind could be part of the answer if so, but as long as ‘green’ and sustainable energies go under-discussed and opposed, little meaningful progress can be made. The Conservative Government has recently rejected proposals to build The Navitus Bay Wind Park – a proposal for up to 194 wind turbines off the Dorset coast – which could have brought a great deal of sustainable energy. I am not saying whether this decision is right or wrong; but what I am saying that there needs to be more information provided to the public on wind farms as a whole – so they can express their attitudes to new proposals and how they want sustainable energy choices to move forward. The public deserve more information.

To get finding out for yourself,  sites such as http://www.renewableuk.com/. Offer some important information. Where do you want to start? 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33177025
[2] http://www.itv.com/news/wales/update/2015-09-07/four-mid-wales-wind-farms-rejected/
[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/giving-local-people-the-final-say-over-onshore-wind-farms
[4] RenewableUK. "RenewableUK – RenewableUK News – Electricity needs of more than a quarter of UK homes powered by wind in 2014". renewableuk.com. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
[5] http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/
[6] http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/energy-industry/electricity-generation.html
[7] http://www.wwf.org.uk/about_wwf/press_centre/?unewsid=7673
[9] http://road.cc/content/news/164317-uk-air-pollution-killing-tens-thousands-says-defra-and-calls-upgrades-cycling
[10] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/11859814/Bad-luck-Greenies-this-wind-farm-has-bitten-the-dust.html
[11] http://www.ewea.org/blog/2012/12/offshore-wind-farms-benefit-sealife-says-study/
[12] http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/offshore-wind/

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Snobbishness in Reading and Why We Need to Stop it

What is wrong with reading?

I can’t help noticing that reading can cause a strange reaction in public places.

For example, at the workplace, or the bus stop, I sit in my free time and open a book. I have often been met with stares close to disapproval and even questions, like ‘what are you doing  that for?’
Yet I know if I was to  instead take out my mobile phone and read on that, it would be suddenly much more ‘acceptable’, no cause for difference. These days, a book-reader can be quickly characterised as ‘eccentric’ and ‘old fashioned’ which seems odd considering books are an essential basis for exploration, as well as knowledge.

Snobbishness is not necessarily a factor associated with a certain class elite. A possible definition from the OED includes ‘a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people’(1) – and reading is a prime example of an area where this behaviour occurs. Snobbery can occur at all levels, from the upper-class being assumed to ‘have all read Wodehouse’  and headlines as blatant as  ‘rich people only read self-improvement books’ , to a recent example of a  young survey correspondent saying ‘Books are for an older generation, younger people on the whole do not read books(2).’ Assumptions and separations of groups of people regarding reading as a whole I believe need to be challenged in order to make reading accessible to all.

The varying attitude to books reveals some of the prejudices we have towards reading – and something we all need to evaluate for ourselves.

Divide between 'readers' and 'watchers'

What is more acceptable about a mobile phone or screen than a book? A  screen provides us with a paradox, it is a private device often   the owner can only see at the time of use – whether they are browsing the internet, tapping away on Twitter, messaging friends, the list goes on. Yet whilst in one sense it is private, in another sense, it is a kind of public affirmation of a ‘busy’ life. People look ‘connected’ when they are using a mobile phone for example, and this can communicate an image of a larger life outside the immediate circumstance – they have so much more ‘going’ on. It is a ‘screen’ in more than one sense of the word; it can be used to project a picture, as well as  to hide behind. In contrast, a book is more insular. It doesn’t necessarily say anything about the individual’s connections, or social life. It is public in another sense though, as the spine of a book acts like a kind of confession – ‘this is what I like to read’. People might be ashamed of reading books in public, for example, there is a pervasive judgement amongst some reading circles that some kind of literature is just ‘trashy’. I don’t think this is helpful.

In the age of pressure to ‘keep connected’ are books and reading falling by the wayside? The BBC have termed the situation as a ‘divide between readers and watchers’(3) – and this a segregation which I believe needs to be stopped.

The above exploration of books and technology in contrast is just one example of where divides lie. Another is in the form of age - as older people appear less likely to engage with electronic reading material than younger people.  Not only are older people less likely than younger people to have accessed online material, they also make less frequent use of it according to research by the Nominee Trust, as whilst amongst 55-64 year olds the figure for home internet access is 69%,  this falls to 51% for 65-74 year-olds and then only 23% for those over 75.  (Ofcom, 2010)(4). This means that many older people may be in position where they are missing out on  reading material – with some publications only exclusively online. This is in contrast  to younger generations, with up to 97% of  primary school-age children  saying they have access to electronic devices and the internet at  home according to The National Literary Trust(5). In actuality, it is suggested that children were more likely to read online electronic material than print – with 68.7% reporting reading on a screen, compared to 61.8% in print. Not only do there appear divisions in the way people read according to age, but also in enjoyment of it – as more than half of the children surveyed by The National Literary Trust said they preferred to read on screen rather than paper.

Yet the state of preferring one method over the other – placing electronic print and hard print in a hierarchy - is what needs to be addressed. As may be unexpected, I am not going to start decrying e-books as a cause of unhealthy reading habits; actually they can be incredibly helpful. Want I want to uphold is an attitude to reading like endorsed attitudes to food – a balanced diet with variety. Why gorge on one form when you can try different flavours?

Age is no object

 In incorporating and encouraging a balanced, interchangeable use of electronic and hard print, research shows the potential negative impact of  screen devices on sleep, whilst books have beneficial effect(7). In this sense, reading books appears to hold a relaxing quality which is also enjoyable, and this extends to children – with children who incorporated a combination of print and electronic reading reporting greater enjoyment than screen- only users(8).
advantages are extended. For example, screens may be enjoyable, but limitations of use are recommended for health – with recent recommendations including that  Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day, whilst children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day according to Tech Advisor(6). For all who use screens, commonly cited benefits including using them in conjunction with other mediums – like books and newspapers, which could not only be seen as variety but beneficial for a healthy lifestyle. Just one example is that various 

Therefore, the benefits of reading across devices should be  celebrated across age. Because it is reading which matters – the essential method of taking in information, interacting with narratives, acquiring information and ultimately, appreciating one’s own personal space. The personal benefits appear to extend beyond too,  with  a recent online issue of the Neurology journal  highlighting that those who engaged in  reading both earlier and later in life  experienced a slower decline in memory, with improved social function and stress-reducing benefits frequently cited too.

What is essential to see, is that whether it is book or device, what we hold in our hands is a capacity to learn and explore; and this shouldn’t be undervalued. Although I am a book lover, I think it is time to stop decrying the electrification of books, but this does not mean I am supporting the decline of hard print.

That both young and older people are missing out on opportunities to read needs to be considered. For example, whilst some younger people ignore books in favour of the internet, some members of the older generation may read books, but be missing out on reading content they would find highly interesting, on a computer device. That some works are only now released in e-book format, whilst others are exclusively in print form, highlights the need for a balance here. It is enjoying both physical and electronic books which can open up opportunities for furthering reading. Encouraging people, young and old, to engage across a variety of mediums can significantly enhance the amount of information they are exposed to and can learn from. 

'When you were young / And your heart was an open book' 
As is evident, if these divides in reading behaviours continue, whether in reality or assumed, certain groups may feel dissuaded away from reading at all.  As research by Gray and Rogers indicated, reading practices have roots in social participation(9) – and in terms of the age divide – the older generation may more readily discuss books and meet at libraries, whilst young people can connect over technology. Therefore their reading behaviours can be limited by sphere not only of age, but social associates. This is not necessarily beneficial and it is through considering the advantages of a wider scope of reading that reasoning can be seen. Electronic books may offer more facilities for the elderly, such as the capacity for larger and illuminated print. On the other hand, when I attended university,  I became accustomed to some of my peers express anger that they could not find all the reading materials in an electronic format – even though we were sitting in a library where some of the works were pieces of history in themselves!

Lack of engagement with reading, or only associating with certain methods of it, can obstruct our opportunities.

Did you resent electronic library check-outs?

Libraries are potential places where the best of  print as well as electronic can be brought to the people. A library which matters a great deal to me is Manchester Central Library, re-opened in 2014 following restoration to the neo-classical building. Inside now hosts a variety of interactive technologies which quickly engage public attention, including touchscreen tables, timelines and boards. My initial reaction to this seemed, in retrospect – tainted with an element of reading snobbery – ‘screens, not books, how is this a library?’ and ‘It just isn’t the same.’ But perhaps that  is the lesson which needs to be learned – reading isn’t  going to remain ‘the same’, it is  evolving. What ultimately matters is that both books and technology are celebrated as part of that. After all, take a quick walk up the steps in The Manchester Central, to quickly encounter the beauty of the historic Wolfson Reading Room with its enigmatic domed ceiling. Around the dome reads an inscription from the book of Proverbs, part of which in translation is ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore
get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding.’ Therefore, appreciate reading for what it can bring – rather than just the method of bringing it. Last time I visited, the reading room was filled; some people reading books with piles beside them, others using their tablets and laptops.  In the case of Manchester, the library highlighted a fusion of technology and hard print which I feel should be encouraged, if that is what it takes to get people truly enjoying reading and the ‘wisdom’ it can yield.
But the snobbishness can emerge  even when we don’t like to admit it.

Were you one of the people who decried the bringing of electronic methods of ‘stamping’ books at the library – ‘Why it is all machines now?’: or something along those lines (?) – I know I was. The reduction of staff contact and instead mechanisation is a personal loss, and obviously sad. But with libraries under increasing pressure, and the technological check-outs potentially saving time and money, I would rather have these new features in libraries than no libraries at all. This loss of the personal can be regained in other ways through the right means – placing emphasis on how a range of material can enhance the individual as well as their interaction with others.

After all, a recent YouGov survey highlighted that almost half the population, approximately 47%, have used a public library within the past year(10). This figure holds great promise and could be even higher if the sense of accessibility is increased. The acceptance of new ways of reading is part of this, and something I have paid more attention to myself.  With at least 400 libraries potentially threatened by a 10% cut in budgets for local government between 2015/16(11) – it is essential that those open can encourage people to use them; and if this is through a cost-effective combination of books with technological investment then let it be so. In libraries, the older generation can encounter the new too, and vice-versa for the young. In my family alone, I know many older people who have gained experience in using and reading on computers in the local library, whilst a library space provides an environment where books are perhaps more of a ready prospect for young people too; as when displayed and free to borrow, their accessibility is enhanced.

Reading into the issue of class

I also think one of the reasons why ‘displays’ of reading, therefore often books, can create  such a negative response, is the unfortunate social assumption that the reader is making some kind of statement. They are gaining knowledge, and in some cases, seen as making a gain on others.  The research on apparent class divides in reading books (thus another divide) shows why this may be the case too - 62% of ABs read daily or weekly (upper and middle classes, according to NRS social grading system)  compared with 42% of DE’s (categorised as lower in the class spectrum)(12). Therefore, you are potentially more likely to see  a person of greater class status reading than someone of lesser class status(13). It is interesting to consider how this may colour perceptions on those who read, and may even discourage some from  reading  as they have come to associate it with a certain stereotype.  This suggests that reading is at risk of becoming not only an age and tech-segregated activity, but also subject to class segregation. Whilst 85% of ABs  cited reading as making them feel good, only 69% of DEs reported a similar benefit;  emphasizing differing class perspectives on the enjoyment of reading.  Therefore it is important that the different  methods of reading (and the enjoyment they bring) is advocated across society – and a combination of print and electronic surely enhances the accessibility of reading  material.  Whilst it was found  in the same  DJS Research for Booktrust that ABs on average  own double the amount of books than DEs, the  encouragement of reading across a range of material surely makes ‘ownership’ less of an issue and  not as acquisition-orientated, which can cause further socio-economic tensions in the class divide.

There are so many ways to view the text, but we don’t know how to view reading - it is full of divisions.

In turn, prejudice and divides seem to run through our reading behaviour. I have been guilty of a kind of prejudice myself, especially towards e books. It is easy to resent change, especially in the way we take in information, and reading is our personal method of doing so. Yet accepting this change is possibly one of the best things we can do – as technology changes, workplace demand changes, the internet evolves, writer emerge with new views, the ways we are expected to take in information for people to succeed will change too. I want to celebrate the range of ways people can read, and encourage variety within that.

So although we may be quick to blame electronic books, perhaps the real problem and unfortunate tension, is that many still do not read at all.  It is estimated that nearly a fifth (18%)  of people never read physical books, and 71% never read e-books (14) – so it is not the case either of ‘e-books  killing reading’ as is argued by some. However, the accessibility of hard print does need to be addressed, with  A fifth (20%) of these involved in the survey saying that they never buy physical books at all (in a shop or online).  Reading  seem quashed by the ‘connected’ life, not that in electronics kill print, but that reading is superfluous – or more of a challenge, a slow-burner, compared to the instant information we so often expect. Whilst television, video and games for example are fast-moving, reading is a gradual process,  the unfolding of events – but this  is often more accurate to life, where concentration is a highly-valued asset.

It's not The End

That 36% of people often take up a book but get bored and a similar percentage say they cannot find the time to read, emphasizes that a revitalised social attitude to reading should be encouraged.  Rather than split between age, the camps of electronic and print – people should be made aware of the variety of reading material available, and how they can utilise a range of resources to find material they find interesting. Let us silence the type of snobbery which has pervaded reading for so long; accessible for some and not to others. I’d urge anyone to take even just to take the time to think about how they read and consider the new prospects on offer – especially through libraries. Because rather than reading as something to ‘find time’ for, it actually gives time in itself – time for self-reflection, relaxing and with a sheer number of those who read saying it improves their life and makes them feel good; it  is something we should all strive to get involved in.

(1)    http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/snob
(2)    http://www.booktrust.org.uk/usr/library/documents/main/1576-booktrust-reading-habits-report-final.pdf
(4)    https://www.nominettrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/NT%20SoA%20-%20Ageing%20and%20the%20use%20of%20the%20internet_0.pdf
(5)    http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0002/3898/Ebooks_lit_review_2014.pdf
(6)    http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/digital-home/how-much-screen-time-is-healthy-for-children-benefits-3520917/
(7)    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html
(8)    http://www.cedu.niu.edu/~smith/Unpubs/mwera94_1.pdf
(9)    http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33690904.pdf


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Being Careful

Being Careful
It’s beyond personal
she leaves the home, clings like a whisper
To advertisements. Surfaces scrubbed
Just above bone. The shhhhhh
Of the hairpiece, pulling lives back
Lining her mouth, lips
The eyes. The sensory body
Is a worthy prize
The mouth unoccupied
Bright like a tac

Pinning the red
For onlooker to ask
In concern, passion, might.
she is Careful
To stare at the different meaning
Of night, but never enter it
To ‘Watch what you are doing’.
She minds out for her own
Small movements
In the train, legs crossed

At the station, she is printed
Life an x, ex
Expanded waiting for someone
Mouth an expected ‘yes’
Always open.

She is careful
Never to emboss her name
On paper like a false confession
Initials extended like the train
Of thought, ticket, that consolation –
Prize of having got so far
They say
Derived from 'being Careful’

For the day to cross roads on my own

And not the exception told as ‘female’. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

What are adults playing at by cutting the school day?

Never such innocence again. – Philip Larkin

You left your imaginary friend in the far corner. You ran over the tarmac in tightly fastened shoes, watching the tiny cobbles of black scatter. There was somebody close to you, striving to get within touching distance – and you danced, laughing, sometimes shrieking, the adrenaline jumping in your ears. ‘Tig – you’re it!’

This is a memory seemingly shared. But for how much longer?

A recent BBC report has revealed that a number of primary schools are taking measures to shorten their school days, holding increasing power to alter timetables. This means, in some circumstances, ‘playtime’ at break and lunch becomes shortened. (1)
The adult bureaucracy may be thinking itself smart – cutting down on this ‘free’ time, perhaps to allow for more lessons, earlier finishing times and so on. Yet this appears part of a culture where what is considered ‘free time’ is equated with a lack of usefulness, even laziness. Even children   typically are taught not the importance of relaxation, but that, exclusively, of aspiration – with ever-growing focus on scores and league tables.
Yet whilst aspirations are often beyond immediate grasp, we can learn all the time to feel happy with the skin we’re in – especially essential as a young person.

Play provides an immediacy which should not be undervalued. The subjectivity of the term, suggesting that adults cannot equate it with meaningful value, leads to it being snuffed. Yet to the child, or at least I can remember, the prospect of ‘playtime’ brought with it a tingling sense of excitement. It was fun, the opportunity for fresh air and to interact with friends. At a deeper level, it fosters the exploration of the imagination, not just as a mental process (as in reading) but physically.  For ‘play’ is within the power of individual, involving free choice and personal direction. Playing games, group play with others, getting involved in imaginative scenarios – the list goes on. The environment of the playground especially, can be informative in the way of free interaction getting children to learn about others, for themselves.

In this way, play is a valuable process of self-education.

Furthermore, research gathered out by the National Children’s Bureau reveals widely acknowledged benefits of ‘playtime’ for children, especially according to that conducted by Blatchford and Baines (2006)(2). This can be categorised into areas such as physical benefits – including the opportunity to exercise and children becoming more aware of their own capabilities, as well as emotional benefits – such as providing opportunities to interact with and understand the behaviour of others. ‘Play’ allows for untrammelled thinking and encourages children to apply, as well as expand their own rationale, as is evident in the ‘invention’ of new games; some which are surprisingly complex!

Within the  all-too-typical focus  on curriculum, ‘learning’ seems to be cast as something imposed, delivered in a transaction between teacher and student. Yet whilst ‘curriculum’ may mean very little to a child, ‘play’ holds prospect and promise – and should be celebrated as a process through which children can learn themselves. They are their own teachers; they have their own authority, and this matters.  Yet in shortening school days and play with it, we are not only reducing chances for this, but perhaps even the life chances of children. For some, playtime may be their only opportunity to interact with other children and adults in a safe environment.

Further research confirms the detrimental effects of cutting playtime.  Pellegrini, for example, found that the longer the amount of time children spent on standardised tasks without a break, the less attentive they became(4). The very language involved here is interesting – in terms of ‘standardised’. This emphasizes the highly regulated structure of much of the school day. This is not necessarily negative, but it is imposed from above – whereas play, out in the yard for example – is a process through  which children can learn to regulate themselves. People ‘look out’ for each other, build dens, forts, feel excited. The anticipation of going on the school field was enough to fill me with enthusiasm for the day.
I certainly felt the difference at high school, when instead of ‘looking out’ for each other, much of ‘breaks’ consisted of ‘looking in’ to mobile phones, media updates, the television  blaring on the wall of the canteen. Even then,  in my first year, I sill attempted games of ‘tig’ – until running around outside in a more constricting uniform and under looks of disapproval by welfare staff brought it an eventual end. It was never the same as primary school anyway, where playtime was simple, acceptable, free.

Are we rationing fun to fuel the need for speed?

If we carry on as if ignoring that play matters to children, the we seem to be heading in the direction suggested by McCulloch, ‘creating a generation under stress(4)’. Both cutting play and the school day often seem advocated as a way of ‘saving time’, getting children home faster, allowing teachers to mark work and plan quicker. It is this sense of rush which is significantly fabricated by societal demands, and a pressure which should not compromise children.  And if ‘saving’ is desirable – what is wrong with ‘spending’ time? Quality time to explore one’s own thoughts and immediate surroundings is simple, yet valuable. An opportunity for children’s freedom should not be treated as an inconvenience. As worryingly revealed  research showed in The Guardian, carried out through  Children’s Society’s annual Good Childhood report  with  The University of York, the UK’s children are some of the unhappiest in school in Europe, with  11% actually in state of consistent dissatisfaction over their school experience(5).  With  concepts such as ‘play’, ‘games’ and  even ‘free time’ coming increasingly characterised as optional, a reward or even negative in some educational environments – is it any wonder? The phrase ‘that’s enough fun and games for now’, as a kind of discipline, is used with surprising frequency, for example.

Although changes are needed to address this, a number of factors suggest that cutting playtime isn’t one of them. Through play we learn the pace of life, the rate of others responses – rather than having it imposed always from above.  Research has shown that there is a strong positive correlation between ample time for play with ‘free time’ enjoyed in childhood, and adult social success too(6), so we shouldn’t jump to believe that too much ‘play’ may threaten future adult interaction.

I am writing this because I miss the concept of play, and how it is less of a reality for me now. I hope that other children have the fun like I once did, simply involving myself and others in the school playground -  no mobile phones, no fancy equipment, not even a ball. I am not deriding technology, and of course it offers extensive benefits for children, such as in the classroom, but in the playground – that is where it is possible to become connected to something else entirely.

Through play, children can connect with their childhoods, their imagination, their innocence.  The authorities’ way of ‘playing’ with school hours and times is a whole different concept – governed by ulterior motives and ‘savings’.

One notable aspect is the Ofsted banners often embossed over school railings.  It is a kind of symbolism, I sometimes think; in this way the sight of children playing is subservient to the state of educational bureaucracy plastered on top.

Play holds its own value and something which I believe still can be seen as ‘it’ – the chaser in the playground, the thundering energy, the enthusiasm for the day.  Something we need to uphold. Whatever savings are made, play can’t be bought back. And that’s a hard lesson.

(4)    http://mentalhealth.org.uk/content/assets/PDF/publications/a-generation.pdf