Saturday, July 24, 2010

Don’t regret the error

I’ve always preferred the films of Terry Gilliam to those of Martin Scorsese. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the former is in some objective sense a better director than the latter; it’s just that while Scorsese’s films often deal with characters who are teetering between sanity and insanity, triumph and disaster, with Gilliam you’re aware that the whole production is doing that, with the director balanced precariously on top of the whole edifice.

So I have an instinctive sympathy towards the notion of a ‘festival of errors’, of the sort being staged in Paris this weekend. The French education system, in common with so many others around the world, has become so fixated on targets and examination results and serving the needs of business that students have become pathologically averse to making mistakes, and as such they’re unable to make intellectual discoveries of their own. The moment a teacher says “He’s a nice kid, but he asks too many questions”, you know there’s a problem, and it’s not with the kid. The only permissible query now seems to be “Will this come up in the exam?”

Paradoxically, by encouraging children to experiment with failure, we’re actually raising our expectations of what they can achieve, what they can cope with. The alternative is that they’re unable to deal with ideas that exist outside the parameters of the syllabus, the phenomenon of “we haven’t done that”. Although maybe it’s too late, when we get to the stage that books have to be written because 21st-century children can’t understand the antiquated language. Not Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton, mind you, or even Dickens or the Brontës; they need help with the Famous Five novels of Enid Blyton, the first of which was published less than 70 years ago.


Annie said...

A festival of errors, that sounds nice.

Of course if it happened in our school, they'd need to quantify exactly how much the children had increased their creativity, give them each a target and a level, stick the levels on a spreadsheet, & send the data up to the borough...

Rog said...

I can see why a child of today may think that "lashings of Ginger beer" is some kind of bizarre sexual depravity involving Danny Alexander

Robert Swipe said...

"Honour your mistake as a hidden intention"

That was the first Oblique Strategy card Eno ever showed me.

(I was only making him a cup of tea! He might be able to completely recontextualise a moving piece of instrumental music with a canny relocation of the sonic parameters, but he's no use *whatsoever* in the kitchen...)

Have a grand weekend Timster,


Tim Footman said...

Annie, would funding be cut if students didn't make enough errors?

Don't say things like that here, Rog. You know how search engines work.

Good point, Bob. Can just see Eno rewriting Blyton, with Ferry as all the villains combined.

Anonymous said...

Cor, a festival of errors sounds like a ripping wheeze. I'm going to swipe the idea and recontextualise it for my school. In other words take out all the Frenchy nonsense ;)

And incidentally, no-one I knew spoke like characters in the Famous Five when i was a lad. And gosh, wasn't that part of the appeal of the books?! *shakes head in disbelief, wonders if he's becoming an old codger*

Tim Footman said...

Yes, I’m wondering whether Harry Potter will need to be rewritten because kids today don't cast spells.

Annie said...

Which Famous Five character were you Tim? I'm thinking "Julian".

Needless to say, I was George.

Anonymous said...

@ Rog - good one.
Moving on from the suppression of questions, you get to the suppression of doubt.
Like when the vicar tells the assembled children that the sun is not a star.
What is the etiquette for such occasions? (Keeping in mind that I don't want them to be constantly in trouble.)
That last question is one that comes up quite a bit when my beloveds return from primary school - so I'm genuinely interested in your answers.

Tim Footman said...

I'm sorry, I'm not the person to ask. When I was eight, I faced down a teacher who declared that Napoleon Bonaparte was a naval commander who fought at Trafalgar. And a few years before, my dad got into trouble for telling his headmaster's wife that MCC stands for Marylebone Cricket Club, not Middlesex.

I think the proper response to the good reverend is "I see you're still persecuting Galileo, padre."