Thursday, July 25, 2013

"A Case of Nudity." - "The Observation of Trifles" in the Granada Holmes (3) The Final Problem.

Artist's Nude "The Final Problem" Granada TV.

This is the third in my occasional series 'The Observation of Trifles' in which I'm highlighting some of the fine detail to be found in the Granada/Brett television project.

Today's story is 'The Final Problem'  following on from 'The Red Headed League' which I looked at HERE after 'The Resident Patient'. 

Introductory Note. 

Hawkesworth's screenplay is a master class in adaptation and I would rate his work on REDH & FINA on a par with the well-known  film screenplays of du Maurier's short stories, 'The Birds' and 'Don't Look Now'. Each 'unpacks', elaborates upon hints and brief allusions found in the original, thus achieving greater fidelity to the original than would an uninspired literal script. Uniquely, the Granada writers are also just as aware that each episode must integrate with the bigger picture of Holmes' career, personality and relationships.

Basis for The Louvre Plot.

Thus (if I may remind the reader) Granada extrapolates and dramatizes the Paris scenes from but three hints in Doyle's FINA:
(1) Watson's reference to seeing news reports in the winter and early Spring of 1891 that Holmes 'had been engaged by the French Government upon a matter of supreme importance'.
(2) Holmes' mention of 'recent...assistance to the French Republic'.
(30) Moriarty's notes beginning 'You crossed my path on the 4th of January'. (With no specific reference to the foiled bank robbery in REDH or France and the Mona Lisa.)

Justification for The Louvre Plot.

(1) As it stands, much of FINA consists of Sherlock Holmes relating events to Watson in 221b. (Just imagine filming without dramatizing the events he describes).
(2) Unlike Doyle's first Strand readers, a modern audience knows both the ending of FINA and that Holmes returns in EMPT. This makes it a different story with new reactions and possibilities.
(3) Moriarty's criminal genius is barely illustrated by ACD - Eric Porter's Professor puts flesh on those gaunt bones, without being over-exposed.
(4) Jeremy Brett (at the top of his game) may be unleashed to illuminate fascinating traits of the Great Detective. I shall now focus on this.

The Fine Detail of the Artist's Studio Scene.

Please watch the whole Parisian sequence which begins about 8.10 on Youtube.


Consider. The Mona Lisa robbery could have been realised and filmed without the nude model sequence. So why is it there? It's actually risky territory with Conan Doyle, especially in a series essaying fidelity to the Canon and its period.

I think it a tribute to Granada's esteem for Jeremy Brett as an actor that the scene was written and what is achieved is a memorable illustration of precisely how three aspects of the detective's personality harmonise rather than conflict, allowing his talents full rein. I refer to his artistic sense, his analytic skills and his attitude to women. 

[It is not my object here but the reader may care to contrast this scene with the BBC Sherlock's encounter with a naked Irene Adler in A Scandal in Belgravia.]

I suspect Brett takes his cue from the line 'Now I begin to see the delicacy of the matter.' From which point we are treated to Holmes the Aesthete. It's important preparation for the nude scene, reinforced by his expressed opinion 'This one (copy of the Mona Lisa) seems well done'. Which assessment of course leads to visiting that artist's studio.

The camera segues to the studio scene thus: Mona Lisa copy in the Louvre cellar - nude body of the model - nude cartoon (see above illustration) - Holmes and studio copy of Mona Lisa.

Brett remains totally at ease, totally absorbed in the artist's method and the da Vinci copy. We look, with the Louvre official, at the nude model; Brett doesn't. She is deliberately very sexy and attractive. The Director of the Louvre is patently taken and even crosses to the far window (perchance to dream?).

"The Final Problem" Granada TV.

A long shot then establishes that she is in Holmes' line of sight but Brett betrays not a trace of interest or response.

There is the whole story in one very telling image. Men like the Director cannot resist a pretty girl. He is much more interested in her than (irony!) the Mona Lisa. One may even speculate Moriarty took advantage of similar lapses in focus and security to steal the painting. 
Between the nude and Brett's Holmes stands the easel image which 'says' Holmes notes her as merely a model for art and works as a metaphoric barrier between Holmes and a naked girl.

Brett's skill leads us to interpret the scene aright - he sees what others do not because he has trained himself to focus solely on details material to solving the case in hand. Not even such pulchritude can colour or undermine his thinking.
It is a superb example of Holmes' self-description in 'The Lion's Mane':

"Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart".

Thus does this splendid Granada team invent a scene barely suggested by Conan Doyle and throw valuable and authentic illumination on the Great Detective through the medium of film.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Of Decile Bands, Levels, Cabbages and Kings.

Sweet move, the decile banding announcement, Mr. Gove. Nice Coalition touch to package it with a Liberal-Democrat pupil premium increase. Politically generous (I mean airily self-confident and strategically agile) to give the Deputy PM & David Laws a day in the sun; to marry a welcome rise in funding with a beneficent vision of clarity, simplicity and objectivity.

Sweet timing too. On a par with the recent (optional but illustrative) packed lunch scare and the ticking off of your own department with regard to jargon (interpret: ‘I am so in control, my reforms are going so well, I even have leisure [and. of course,nota bene, the power] to muse on pupil diets and ‘educate’ my own ministry’). This juicy July bone is tossed out to be picked bare by teachers (see current blog and Twitter debate) this week, ensuring they have something to keep them preoccupied till term’’s end and well beyond.

Sweet move, sweet timing -  but neither surprising, important in itself or welcome.

TOM BENNETT and HEADGURUTEACHER have blogged valuably on the shortcomings of levels and the statistical meaning and implications of decile bands (not in themselves the as-yet-unknown assessment method). Mr. Bennett concludes that ‘Levels are the devil. Bands could be useful.’ His central theme is that decile bands are more ‘honest’ than gradings that have proven to be wide open to subjectivity. He is waiting to see just how they are used. Noting that Mr. Bennett is ‘not wedded to bands’ I was left wondering what this blogger would ideally recommend. should his advice be sought.

Not that I expect it will be. We are too far down the road.

The central problem with levels for a government committed to a compulsory National Common Core Curriculum is not merely their vulnerability to subjectivity and differing standards. It lies rather in the participation of teachers.

The logic is this. Government specifies what knowledge is most important to teach nationwide. Government specifies which parcels of that knowledge must be known ( and seen to be known) by specified ages. For this to operate it requires the simplest, most readily quantifiable, nationally consistent, teacher-free methods of delivery, assessment and reporting. This is easy and entirely possible - the narrower and more prescriptive the common core the simpler this chain appears.

Decile bands happen to be the ideal off-the-peg, objective (of teachers at least) final simplistic link. But, as Mr. Bennett rightly says, it all depends on your uses. On your motivation, I’d add.

In A PREVIOUS POST  I articulated my objection to the Common Core project:

“Sue Cowley is certainly concerned that the transmission of a circumscribed body of knowledge deemed more important than the general pool will become an end in itself, valued only for its provision of neat, but educationally suspect ‘evidence’ for assessment AND that not even this core knowledge will be learned within meaningful, relevant contexts.”

The imposition of a common core is the easiest and quickest option available to politicians set on driving change. Because I cannot believe such an approach has any real contribution to make to the benefit of general education, I can only make sense of what is happening in political terms. I fancy the Opposition is green with envy that it did not press the centralising of curriculum to assume its perfect form - a compulsory common core. I do not fancy, I know, that one of the most astute politicians of this cohort is sitting in the Department of Education blithely running rings round Parliament and country.

No, the levels/banding debate is a blind. Keep ‘em debating anything but the big picture is the strategy and it is working Oh so well.

What really matters is the inexorable assembly of a closed circuit curriculum which puts all the reins in the incumbent government’s hands: what is taught of significance, how it is taught, when it is taught, how assessed and (especially) how evaluated to secure world class reputation and continuity of power. Now there's a responsibility for you! 

Until the demise of this patronising, simplistic, impoverished excuse for a general education, I have to conclude motivation to continue its promulgation is cleverly political and altruistically void.

We need perhaps to recall that Cabbages are quite capable of growing, thank you very much, without the intervention of Kings.   

All my previous Education posts are listed with direct clickable links at the foot of THIS RECENT POST

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"The Observation of Trifles" - Fine Detail in Granada's Series with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

David Burke & Jeremy Brett in "The Dancing Men" 1984 Granada Television.


"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles." (BOSC).

I know I am not alone in often spotting some little treat I hadn't noticed before in a repeat viewing of one of Granada's classic episodes of Sherlock Holmes. They are truly evergreen.

The artistry of Jeremy Brett has much to do with this, but honours must surely be shared with some inspired screenplays and production values. Together they created what are at times masterpieces. As Holmes observes in the Epilogue to Valley of Fear: 'You can tell an old master by the sweep of his brush.' The closer you look at this series the more authentic and well-executed it appears.

With this post I am opening a place to collect some of this fine detail. I'll add to it as and when, advertising new entries.

Please feel free to contact me with contributions (especially perhaps if you don't blog). You'll retain copyright and I'll acknowledge you with the name or handle you choose.

As a working guide I'm simply looking to record little gems that are too long to deal with in tweets or on Facebook but don't warrant a full blog post. For example:

Trifle 1. The Curious Incident of the Page in The Resident Patient.

Dr. Trevelyan has sent urgently for Holmes, having found Blessington hanged in the night. Please watch on Youtube beginning about 30.00 noting Holmes' words and actions upon entering the dead man's hall.

There is no mention of the page at this point in Conan Doyle's original story. Granada has inserted a beautifully nuanced (and acted) piece of dialogue:

Brett as Holmes: 'Where is the page?'

Trevelyan: 'Nowhere to be found.'

Brett's business with the hat is crucial to the naturalness of his question. He takes it off, as is the custom, and, for an instant, holds it out, automatically expecting a page to take it. Another moment. His arm feels about for a surface on which to place the hat. Only then...realization in a fleeting sequence of superbly reproduced natural observations - his unconscious movements; the hat still in his hand; no page; why no page? Question uttered.

It's a tiny moment both of consummate acting and period authenticity. Pages were (ironically) constant invisible presences in such houses in this period. Subtly, the Granada team depart from Doyle to catch the very life of these people in this finest of detail.

The artistry of this moment lies in its sharpness of observation that mirrors perfectly a Holmes who (upstairs) will be on top detective form as, detail by 'trivial' detail, he reveals the true narrative of the night's events.


Eric Porter as Moriarty by M. Sallier Gallicher 2007 (Wikimedia Commons).

Trifle 2. The Foreshadowing in The Red-Headed League.


Of the sixteen short stories and two novels missing from Granada’s project on the Canon, the absence of STUD and LAST is especially regrettable. To have seen Jeremy Brett portray the first and last of the chronological Holmes ranks as a pipe dream with viewing William Gillette in performance.

That Granada made no version of VALL disappoints for a different reason: only in the Canonical FINA and VALL does Professor Moriarty feature in person ( face to face with Holmes only in the short story).

There is much compensation, however, in John Hawkesworth’s dramatisation of  REDH (effectively Part 1 to his FINA).

REDH was Conan Doyle’s 2nd short story (pub Strand August 1891.
FINA was his 12th (pub Strand December 1893).

Granada broadcast them as episodes 12 and 13 to close The Adventures series (1984-5).

Departing from the Canon. Hawkesworth introduces Moriarty in REDH attributing to him  John Clay’s plan to steal the French gold and forward-planning the (non-Canon) theft of Mona Lisa enacted in Granada’s FINA.

These apparent departures from the Canon (order and content) exemplify filmic adaptation at its most inspired.

The adaptation is chronologically valid. Doyle’s Holmes speaks (on April 24, 1891) of (at the very least) three months trying to track down Moriarty; REDH is set in October, 1890.

The Foreshadowing.

Eric Porter’s Moriarty is woven seamlessly into REDH. He makes five appearances, graduated to a double-climax.
1. Just his hands (like claws) grasp the bank document dropped for his henchman by the inside man.
2. In profile only we watch him receive news that the business of the Red-Headed League is concluded & watch him study a map of Paris.
3. Briefly we see him by the bird of prey statue in his window as Holmes enjoys Sarasate; then check the bank plan as Holmes examines Watson’s identical blackboard sketch.
4. His full face is lit for the first climax- the reaction to Ross’s news of failure: “It won’t do”.
5. The episode’s final shot is of Moriarty spying on Holmes. The lizard neck moves in hatred, the live image intensifying to a permanent iconic pen-drawing as background to the final credits.

BUT I maintain he ‘appears’ a 6th time -  in the bank vault.

The trifle to observe in REDH is the use of shadow by the lighting director and Jeremy Brett as Holmes, Watson, Athelney Jones & Mr. Merryweather listen for Clay.

Please view this scene on Youtube from 33.00.


We are perhaps first aware of the dramatic value of sharply defined shadows when Holmes inquires whether there might be a special reason for choosing this bank to rob. It’s ominous.

There is an amusing, yet deadly serious moment where Brett retains one gold Napoleon in his black gloved hand while he presses an ear to a pillar. We recall with a smile how (similarly) he takes private pleasure in pocketing the Blue Carbuncle and the Borgia Black Pearl - so characteristic given Holmes’ repeated boast he would have made a formidable criminal.
More seriously, the single Napoleon pre-figures the Napoleon of Crime who will be described in the next vault scene.

Watch most carefully as Brett takes up his lecturing position against the whitewashed brickwork: ‘a mastermind has been at work.’

We now see the reasoning behind Brett’s choice of costume - he is at his most Dracula-esque as he describes Professor Moriarty, the script drawing on two paragraphs from FINA and ending with a Hawkesworth invention: ‘We shall not see the Professor tonight.’

But the viewer has. Throughout Brett’s monologue in close-up Holmes’ own shadow has effectively manifested Moriarty. The two men are as inextricably connected as Holmes is with his own shadow. The detective is momentarily near possessed (the Dracula image) by his arch enemy.

Brett is completely aware of the significance of the shadow business - watch his right hand as he ends the speech, raising the watch and masking the shadow. End of wonderfully trifling moment.

 © raywilcockson 2013 All rights reserved. All Markings posts are copright raywilcockson 2012 and 2013.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Two Allegories About Education.

Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” and William Golding’s novel, “Lord of the Flies” frequently figure in ‘most significant’ and ‘top’ 10 or 100 surveys of modern ‘classic’ literature in English. As such. they are appropriate and popular texts for study in secondary and tertiary education. The former is based on historical court transcripts of the Salem witch trials; the latter is a work of imaginative fiction in the same genre of allegory, presenting, in the words of film director, Peter Brook, no less than ‘the potted history of man’.

Both works derive much of their dramatic impact from the depiction of children exercising powers generally reserved for adults in a society. In both cases the results are catastrophic and murderous.

The allegorical import of both works however creates the profoundest dimension of horror with the awful realisation that these children merely mimic and take their cue from those taller children we call adults who have temporarily lost their way. In the play, Abigail Williams only wields power because it is granted to her by Deputy Governor Danforth. She embodies what ancient Greeks would recognise as the inevitable and remorseless sentence of the Furies visited upon those whom the gods would destroy having first made mad. Head chorister, Jack Merridew, is similarly let off the leash to cause havoc once wholesome mature guidance and example are withdrawn. Both are Frankensteinian creatures brought into existence by societies that have lost true perspective. In both cases the real  children the characters represent are grown, but immature adults whose warped values necessarily infect those who look to them for education.
'The Remorse of Orestes'. Bouguereau 1863.

Writings cast as allegory are more accurately only potentially allegorical until their lessons are learned. The saddest irony is to be found in an unenlightened reading or teaching of such books. That would be a derisive, pointless activity.  

The universality of these works renders them a constant threat to the status quo (or desired) because each provides a neutral template for illuminating reflection and the clear-sighted diagnosis of social ills. It is an unfortunate reality of life that this is not always welcomed or comprehended as necessary. Great works of literature raise questions (are questions) and it is no surprise that sometimes they are burned. More often their potency is emasculated by the stifling embrace of ‘Classic’ status. Shakespeare, Dickens and Orwell have their stings sheathed by such fulsome approbation.

Those who will not or cannot see the educational relevance of MY BLOG references to ‘Lord of the Flies’ or Sue Cowley’s recent post 'THE CRUCIBLE' may ‘know’ both texts well but effectively jettison their raison d’etre. Neither of us is providing literary allusion for dramatic or decorative effect: we are finding inspiration for the most vivid expression of certain perceptions about teaching and learning for which conventional educational discourse is proving inadequate.

Their heightened awareness of its variant uses often naturally leads our best writers to treat language thematically. Orwell’s Newspeak and Burgess’ Nadsat are extreme examples of imaginative visions that required full blown invented languages to enact the invasive, thought-changing power of imposed ways of communicating. Brian Friel’s play “Translations” examines the impact of Royal Engineers on an Irish community as they lodge in a village researching the apparently innocuous task of drawing up the first Ordnance Survey. As the age-old. (largely oral) labels for local geography are formalised into either absurd ‘Irish’  or bland, unashamedly English  place names it becomes apparent we are witnessing nothing less than that most insidious invasion of all - denial of identity.

Old Francis Nurse and John Proctor would weep at Friel’s play set in 1833. It would seem to them that no one had learned the lesson of 1692.

The language of Miller’s play is unique and should not be mistaken for the mere recreation of authentic-sounding late 17th Century Massachusetts English. The religio-legal language of affidavits and court inquisition that permeates Danforth’s every sentence is a moveable prison, limiting freedom of expression to a single imposed language. The Deputy Governor is precisely right when he explains to a naive Francis Nurse:

“But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there  be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time - we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.”

Nurse’s naivety and ignominious muting are highlighted in order that an audience may experience the full impact of a central expression of Danforth’s madness that drips with irony for there is no sun in a total eclipse.

In the succeeding Act 4, John Proctor reluctantly signs a confession to witchcraft but refuses point blank to give it to Danforth to display on the church door, saying, ‘You are the high court, your word is good enough! Tell them I confessed myself’.

The representative of established power genuinely does not understand the existential anguish that climaxes in Proctor’s destruction of the signed confession and retrieval of  ‘ some shred of goodness’. Miller’s audience is more enlightened IF it understands John Proctor’s cry: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!’

Sue Cowley’s post ends with the Reverend Hale’s expression of personal rebellion against a compulsory regime he can no longer in good conscience espouse. Both denounce proceedings - Hale of a court, Cowley of a curriculum.

These regimes are alike in that they impose the singular on the plural - one approved uniform prescriptive notion with its own lingua franca that nudges to one side the native, simpler vernacular. A cursory analysis of the contrasting languages of Danforth/Hathorne with Corey/Proctor illustrates the phenomenon. Both are ‘English’ but the former promoted with such blinkered zeal that the latter is disenfranchised.

A sampling of education blogs and tweets displays this linguistic scenario. People speaking the same mother tongue, involved in a common sphere of activity, completely unsurprisingly are performing a passable impression of the Anglo-Irish pale and the territory beyond. At  times they are mutually unintelligible.I find reason for optimism in this apparent negative.

The fracturing of discourse is an early consequence of the unnatural dominance of a single imposed notion. In the current phase of curriculum change its proponents naturally invoke the authority and language of educational research for justification, explanation and application. The expression of opposition through that language (ie: traditional forms of debate and argument) proceeds at a disadvantage and is limited (by being already appropriated) to, at best, a Reverend Hale-like line of argument ( I mean before his denunciation).

This VIEW from an educational researcher seems to me to exhaust what recourse is available with which to articulate opposition to Mr. Gove’s reforms by way of academic argument. The writer’s central theme is expressed in the concluding paragraph’s wise advice that the always provisional,  ever-evolving ‘findings’ of academic research are not designed to be cherry-picked, let alone imposed as if they were mined eternal truths. This courteous, scholarly statement will go unheeded: we cannot expect research to do our (teachers’) professional work for us’.

This researcher does not delineate (but I bet realises) the logical consequences of imposing a core curriculum on the nation’s children. The imposition trains a generation of common core teachers, of common core employers, of common core parents, of common core future adults...and renders broad educational research effectively redundant. Why maintain current funding of university education departments when discarded notions are effectively of mere academic interest in the new dispensation? No wonder those very institutions have been criticised; no wonder Mr. Gove believes teachers would be better trained in schools. No wonder the very literary classics that carry the potent juice of self-determination are hugged to the body politic of the new national curriculum to be experienced only in rigorously controlled conditions.

Because the Head Gardener (I reference Shakespeare’s ‘Richard the Second ‘here) has selected, sanctioned and financed the full flowering of, as it were, one species of plant in the Garden of Education all others are crowded out or eradicated as weeds. The long-term impact on flora, fauna and land fertility are easier to appreciate than the legacy of such a poorly judged policy.

There are those who will maintain strategically or genuinely they just do not see what the fuss is about. This is why a healthy society values its writers - they see what the rest of us miss, hide or ignore.

What IS this retired English teacher gassing on about? Leftist nonsense! Conspiracy theorist! Liberal wool merchant! What’s it to do with him anyway? This isn’t an argument! Bloody presumptuous if you ask me!

If such responses to my post are factional or flippant in motivation, I have no time for you. If  honest, my thanks! I see where you are. Not a problem for me. If far better writers than I  have failed to alert you to real and present dangers, I can hardly expect success. Shakespeare might be worth a look.

30 years teaching English, almost always to A level made Shakespeare a constant presence in my interaction with students. It is my fervent prayer that the teaching of common core Shakespeare will involve exploration of the full allegorical reach of that playwright’s consideration of kingship which is not restricted to the nature of monarchy.
Henry Bolingbroke becomes Henry 4.

Something irrevocable, almost mystical, occurs when a person is crowned.. Shakespeare’s kings are not the real ones of history: they are dramatic personifications of ideas, notions. At the heart of Henry V or Richard the Second is a fascination with what happens when an idea is invested with all the powers of state - when, allegorically speaking, for example, a common core national curriculum theory about education is officially endorsed and implemented as policy.

‘Courtiers’ may mutter for or against the new king but his status has all the trappings and certainly of a fait accompli. Similarly, the state’s adoption of a theory changes its status to a political and social reality. Theoretical argument becomes academic.

So what do you do? In Shakespeare we see (sometimes as in The Winters Tale only after many years) the process of wholesome rebirth after a period of social winter in another country, on an island, in the Forest of Arden or a wood outside Athens. Nature redivivus.  The resumption of natural rights and liberties. Such was the case, eventually, in Massachusetts.

What can we do when the very language of conventional discussion falls on deaf ears? Some. like me, construct a dumb-show (like this), hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature and hope it will catch the conscience of the king.

Others I see already falling back on vernacular, abandoning the official lingua franca. Good for them! You cannot express frustration, indignation, foreboding or sadness in better language. It may make for uncomfortable reading. I say bring it on. The Danforths and Jack Merridews of 2013 will drown your voice as surely as Francis Nurse and Piggy are scorned to silence.  But ‘The Crucible’ shows in the weights piled upon Giles Corey and the execution of John Proctor that the retention of personal honour is possible, profoundly difficult and, in the long term, the most natural and democratic of victories.

Most people are not well versed in debate nor given to intellectual discourse. Nor have people always the time or energy to muster sophisticated argument. I must tell you, on my island this is no obstacle to participation. The reader will know people as I do who are readier to validate the instinct of their pet animals than human instinct or intuition. Many students, teachers, parents and educationists will be experiencing confusion and almost inexpressible personal conflicts. This is simple decency - a concern for the harmonies of everyday life.
David Bradley as Billy in 'Kes' 1969 Kestrel Films Ltd.

Billy’s astounding eloquence in Barry Hines’ novel, ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’, (don’t pass over the title too quickly), illustrates what teachers know well - that facility of expression is non-linear; that interest, enthusiasm, complete engagement, owned knowledge can overcome an intimidating setting and stream the pure waters of vernacular expression through which Nature provides us all with an unforced artistry.

I tend to see things simply these days - if something feels amiss it probably is. And in listening to the voices commenting on curriculum reform I am most attentive to those addressing the virtual assembly from a position of disadvantage most usually the case with practising teachers who feel so strongly that somehow they find the time and energy to blog after long days of complete absorption in rooms full of children. Intuitively they sense something seriously amiss. I am guessing why in identifying the compulsory nature of proposed detailed core knowledge and its attendant assessment regime.

Sue Cowley is certainly concerned that the transmission of a circumscribed body of knowledge deemed more important than the general pool will become an end in itself, valued only for its provision of neat, but educationally suspect ‘evidence’ for assessment AND that not even this core knowledge will be learned within meaningful, relevant contexts.

She is precisely right.

Jack Merridew & Ralph. Lord of the Flies 1963. Two Arts Ltd.

What I write next is devilishly difficult to word because I have to find the simplest unmissable formulation. Ralph has this problem in preparing to speak to the Assembly after the Beacon Fire was neglected for a pig hunt and a ship passed unaware of their plight:

“The thing is: we need an assembly.”

No one said anything but the faces turned to Ralph were intent. He flourished the conch. He had learnt as a practical business that fundamental statements like this had to be said at least twice, before everyone understood them. One had to sit, attracting all eyes to the conch, and drop words like heavy round stones among the little groups that crouched or squatted. He was searching his mind for simple words so that even the littluns would understand what the assembly was about. Later perhaps practised debaters—Jack, Maurice, Piggy—would use their whole art to twist the meeting: but now at the beginning the subject of the debate must be laid out clearly.
“We need an assembly. Not for fun. Not for laughing and falling off the log”—the group of littluns on the twister giggled and looked at each other—“not for making jokes, or for”—he lifted the conch in an effort to find the compelling word—“for cleverness. Not for these things. But to put things straight.”  (from Chapter Five - Beast On Water).

If I have made any new friends thus far by this post I may lose some of you now - but I have to say this.

I’ve spent long hours with teachers anxious to prepare as thoroughly as possible before teaching something to someone. At times so voluminous is the accreted paraphernalia of lesson plans, aims, objectives, strategies, good practice, interventions, targets, standards, pre-assessments, assessment points and post-assessment evaluations  that I have had to bite my tongue not to inquire: “And when do you propose to actually begin teaching a student?”

I could never have brought myself to utter what I have no compunction in saying now - “I have to conclude from your unremitting focus on the theory of teaching and learning that you find it more interesting than spending time with children.”  When such a teacher enters a classroom faith has been vested unrealistically in a paper fantasy ill -equipped to flex to the succession of living moments constituting a lesson. Far from being preparation for effective educating, such luggage dragged into class vitiates by monopolising the teacher’s attention.

You can only focus on one thing at once.If you try to drive a car while reading the handbook you’ll come a cropper.

What this barely caricatured teacher does not know is what Sue Cowley certainly does. Children of all ages AND adults of all ages warm to natural vernacular interaction. Establish that and the business in hand may proceed. If it’s not done genuinely we know it and conclude we are being patronised or ignored or simply overlooked by a teacher concerned only to honour plans and theories that should have been left outside the classroom door.I might add that most children are admirably patient and courteous in receipt of such treatment.

The saddest irony in this scenario lies in the unvalued presence of the two richest resources for meaningful educational experiences - pupils and a teacher. The first expects to be observed, considered, listened to, anticipated, understood (especially when he or she is most confused) and acknowledged (rightly here) as the centre of attention.

On the teacher’s part (we know this from improvising cover lessons at a moment’s notice) a light overnight bag containing sufficient relevant hard content for the session within a flexible framework suffices. This is actually the catalyst for learning experiences, nowhere near an end in itself. Meaningful learning is remembered because it is natural and is activated by fluid, intensive, informed, very skilful real-time assessment by the teacher of what is really happening in individual students’ minds. Based on this continuous assessment the teacher’s greater knowledge and experience has to be trusted by all present (especially the teacher) so that it may be freed to flow unforced as colours suffuse the screen (and Dorothy) in MGM’s land of Oz. Every lesson we should expect and embrace the opportunities presented by the unexpected. That’s what real people are - unique as uncollected, unpinned, unclassified, wild butterflies.

I was unconscious of that simile whilst typing just now. Absorbed teaching is thus and I miss it. If you find yourself asking a class - ‘What did I just say? I haven’t a clue. Did it make ANY sense?’ that’s just one of the shared joys - because it made so much sense even you, the speaker, was momentarily spell-bound by classroom magic.

John Proctor is hardly aware of the words that come unbidden to express his final redemptive moment. ‘Goodness’ and words melt surreally into each other: ‘Not enough (goodness) to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs’.

Blog reader! What did i just say? I haven’t a clue. Did it make ANY sense?

I shall close this post with the last words of Miller’s play. Elizabeth Proctor is speaking of her husband. Please read it twice, first with John Proctor in mind; then think of any child of your choice and pray things can be put straight  before it’s too late.

‘He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!’
Dorothy & Friends in 'The Wizard of Oz' 1939 MGM.