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HuwG BS: UK Education:Too Many Clever People? (94* d) RE: BS: UK Education:Too Many Clever People? 12 May 09

Not being any sort of teacher (although I have been told I do well when giving any sort of presentation or briefing) I can only describe my own experiences.

I entered a grammar school in 1969. The school had been founded almost exactly fifty years earlier, and several of the staff had been some of the early pupils. We pupils suspected that they had entered the teaching profession to "dodge the column" i.e. avoid call-up during World War II, and I don't think we were far wrong. They formed a clique within the staff room which discouraged innovation or even discussion.

Some subjects were appallingly taught. One particular geography teacher was almost certainly senile, and would waffle through a lesson about the terminal moraine (a glacial feature) which ran to the south of the town centre. The school actually stood on said terminal moraine. He never once suggested going outside, or even looking out of the window, to demonstrate.

In those days, subjects (especially the fundamentals, or three Rs) too much resembled drill. Another teacher insisted that the English class repeat a grammatical exercise until every one of the class had got the somewhat archaic punctuation exactly right. Since he never provided help or hints, it took the class some time, during which we could have been doing something useful, rather than punishment drill. That said, I sometimes wonder whether fundamentals are taught at all to some people. Working in the IT industry, I far too often have to deal with Tech. Support queries from recent graduates which read, "im opening the app and im like wtf!!!!" This is expressive and concise. It is also completely uninformative cliched non-language.

When I was taking my Chemistry A Level (1976-78), my father (who had graduated in chemical engineering shortly after the war*) commented that the subject required far less knowledge to be committed to memory than in his days. For example, he and his fellow Chem. Eng. students needed to rattle off the coefficient of linear thermal expansion of brass at a moment's notice. My class knew about the principles, of course, but had nothing like such details at our fingertips.

None of my nieces and nephews have taken scientific subjects at school, but even the arts subjects they took seem to be a little shallow (to my prejudiced, Gradgrind-like eyes). That said, the eldest girl has a 2:1 in some sort of -ology, and the boy has a degree in photographic sciences, gained through dedicated practical work, and knowledge of advances in science which I struggle to keep up with.

*An anecdote from my dad, which might explain the decline of Britain's manufacturing industries. Many of his fellow students had recently been "demobbed" from the Armed Forces. As they went into one of their final examinations, one of these students who possessed a magnificent RAF handlebar moustache asked another, "I say, old man! What exactly is dy/dx?" He still graduated, whether he was joking or allowances were made for the interruption to his schooling.

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