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Three reasons to revitalise, reinvent and revolutionise education

Ken Robinson: On education … and a fix for the huge drop-out rate in American Schools.

An excellent TED lecture. Worth taking notes. These are mine.

Offered by fellow student Marshall Anderson on the H818: The networked practitioner journey.

Worth listening to a couple of times (as I have just done).

Music to my ears, though I am not a teacher and have given too much of my career to the mechanised teaching he knocks … digital and interactive learning is and has been, surely, a product of the mechanised approach? But you don’t question the legitimacy of e-learning in an e-learning agency and suggest that a blended approach would be better.

They have one product on the shelf.

Which puts me at odds with the hand that has fed me for the last couple of decades. Next stop Finland? There is of course an answer here and that is recognising, please, that children, whilst deserving a better education system and approach, are NOT always at school … this curiosity and motivation can be developed at home if and where a family have parents with the time and inclination and where, ideally, they also have contact with grandparents and even cousins, and especially friends.

FIG.2. TED Lecture with Ken Robinson

Ken Robinson is right to celebrate the human side of the child, that:

  1. human beings are naturally different and diverse
  2. that ‘lighting the light of curiosity’ is key and that
  3. human life is inherently creative.

For the moment my interest is with my 17 year old daughter and 15 year old son … hoping and helping them to find and know what motivates them. It is this that will get them through school, a worthwhile goal beyond the barriers that exist in formal education – you still have to satisfy the standardised tests in order to get a place at university. Which is another schooling environment Ken Robinson doesn’t touch upon – you can give us human beings too much freedom. Parameters are stimulating, both the negative and positive ones.

A struggle makes something worthwhile.

It helps to create a common memory too. Fundamentally this reminds me that any learning and especially e-learning needs to be seen in context – an e-learning platform or project is never exclusive, it is always part of what else is going on in the participant’s life.

Blended, rather than pure e-learning is surely therefore the way forward?

Wise words put succinctly and with wit. Common sentiments that we struggle to realise. Privately educate? Home educate? Or move to Finland, Canada or Singapore?

The spoken word is crucial to understanding.

The spoken word is crucial to understanding.

Fig.1. Meeting face to face to talk about e-learning – sometimes a webinar wont’t do, though more often you have no choice. 

‘I don’t know what I mean until I have heard myself say it, Said Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift

Conversation plays a crucial element of socialised learning.

Courtesy of a Google Hangout we can record and share such interactions such as in this conversation on and around ‘personal knowledge management’. Here we can both see and hear why the spoken word is so important.

Trying to understand the historical nature of this, how and when the written word, or other symbols began to impinge on the spoken word requires investigating the earliest forms of the written word and trying to extrapolate the evidence of this important oral tradition, the impact it had on society and the transition that occurred, after all, it is this transition that fascinates us today as we embrace the Internet.

Humans have been around for between 100,000 and 200,000 years. (Encyclopedia Britannica).

There are pigments and cave painting have been found that are 350,000 years old. (Barham 2013), while here are cave paintings as old as 40,000 years (New Scientist).

Stone Age man’s first forays into art were taking place at the same time as the development of more efficient hunting equipment, including tools that combined both wooden handles and stone implements. (BBC, 2012). Art and technology therefore go hand in hand – implying that the new tools of the Internet will spawn flourishing new wave of creation, which I believe to be the case. This era will be as remarkable for the development of the Web into every aspect of our lives as it will be for a epoch identifying renaissance – a new way of seeing things.

We’ve been seeking ways to communicate beyond the transience of the spoken word for millennia.

McLuhan takes us to the spoken word memorised in song and poetry (Lord, 1960 p. 3) while a contemporary writer, Viktor Mayer-Schonbeger, (2009. p. 25) also talks about how rhyme and meter facilitated remembering. McLuhan draws on 1950s scholarship on Shakespeare and asks us to understand that Lear tells us of shifting political views in the Tudor era as a consequence of a burgeoning mechanical age and the growth of print publishing. (Cruttwell, 1955)  McLuhan suggests that the left-wing Machiavellianism in Lear who submits to ‘a darker purpose’ to subdivide of his kingdom is indicative of how society say itself developing at a time of change in Tudor times. Was Shakespeare clairvoyant? Did audiences hang on his words as other generations harken the thoughts of  H G Wells and Karl Popper, perhaps as we do with the likes Alan de Bouton and Malcolm Gladwell?

‘The Word as spoken or sung, together with a visual image of the speaker or singer, has meanwhile been regaining its hold through electrical engineering’.xii. Wrote Prof. Harry Levin to the preface of The Singer of Tales.

Was a revolution caused by the development of and use of the phonetic alphabet?

Or from the use of barter to the use of money?

Was the ‘technological revolution’ of which McLuhan speaks quoting Peter Drucker, the product of a change in society or did society change because of the ‘technological revolution’? (Drucker, 1961) Was it ever a revolution?

We need to be careful in our choice of words – a development in the way cave paintings are done may be called a ‘revolution’ but something that took thousands of years to come about is hardly that.

Similarly periods in modern history are rarely so revolutionary when we stand back and plot the diffusion of an innovation (Rogers, 2005) which Rogers defines as “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. (Rogers, 2005. p. 12). To my thinking, ‘diffusion’ appears to be a better way to consider what has been occurring over the last few decades in relation to ‘technology enhanced communications’, the Internet and the World Wide Web. But to my ears ‘diffusion’ sounds like ‘transfusion’ or ‘infusion’ – something that melts into the fabric of our existence. If we think of society as a complex tapestry of interwoven systems then the Web is a phenomenon that has been absorbed into what already exists – this sounds like an evolving process rather than any revolution. In context of course, this is a ‘revolution’ that is only apparent as such by those who have lived through the change; just as baby boomers grew up with television and may not relate to the perspective that McLuhan gives it and those born in the last decade or so take mobile phones and the Internet as part of their reality with no sense of what came before.

Clay tablets, papyri and the printing press evolved. We are often surprised at just how long the transition took.

To use socio-political terms that evoke conflict and battle is a mistake. Neither the printing press, nor radio, nor television, nor the Internet have been ‘revolutions’ with events to spark them akin to the storming of the Bastille in 1789 or the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 – they have been evolutionary.

Are we living in ‘two forms of contrasted forms of society and experience’ as Marshall McLuhan suggested occurred in the Elizabethan Age between the typographical and the mechanical ages? Then occurred between in the 1960s  between the industrial and electrical ages? ‘Rendering individualism obsolete’. (McLuhan 1962. p. 1)

Individualism requires definition. Did it come with the universal adult suffrage?

Was it bestowed on people, or is it a personality trait? Are we not all at some point alone and individual, as well as part of a family, community or wider culture and society? We are surely both a part and part of humanity at the same time?

Edward Hall (1959), tells us that ‘all man–made material things can be treated asextensions of what man once did with his body or some specialized part of his body. The Internet can therefore become and is already an extension of our minds. A diarist since 1975 I have blogged since 1999 and have put portions of the handwritten diary online too – tagging it so that it can be searched by theme and incident, often charting my progress through subjects as diverse as English Literature, British History, Geography, Anthropology and Remote Sensing from Space, Sports Coaching (swimming, water-polo and sailing). This aide memoire has a new level of sophistication when I can refer to and even read text books I had to use in my teens. It is an extension of my mind as the moments I write about are from my personal experience – there is already a record in my mind.

What is the Internet doing to society? What role has it played in the ‘Arab Spring’? McLuhan considered the work of Karl Popper on the detribalization of Greece in the ancient world). Was an oral tradition manifesting itself in the written word the cause of conflict between Athens and Sparta? McLuhan talks of ‘the Open Society’ in the era of television the way we do with the Internet. We talked about the ‘Global Village’ in the 1980s and 1990s so what do we have now? Karl Popper developed an idea that from closed societies  (1965) through speech, drum and ear we came to  our open societies functioning by way of abstract relations such as exchange or co–operation. – to the entire human family into a single global tribe.

The Global kitchen counter (where I work, on my feet, all day), or the global ‘desk’ if we are sharing from a workspace …

or even the ‘global pocket’ when I think of how an Open University Business School MBA student described doing an MBA using an iPad and a smartphone as a ‘university in my pocket’. You join a webinar or Google Hangout and find yourself in another person’s kitchen, study or even their bed. (Enjoying one such hangout with a group of postgraduate students of the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education – MAODE – we agreed for one session to treat it as a pyjama party. Odd, but representative of the age we live in – fellow students were joining from the UK, Germany, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates). I have been part of such a group with people in New Zealand and California – with people half asleep because it is either very late at night, or very early in the morning.

McLuhan  (1965. p. 7) concludes that the ‘open society’ was affected by phonetic literacy …

and is now threatened with eradication by electric media. Writing fifty years ago is it not time we re-appraised McLuhan’s work and put it in context. We need to take his thesis of its pedestal. Whilst it drew attention at the time it is wrong to suggest that what he had to say in relation to the mass media (radio and TV) if even correct then, others insight in the era of the Internet.  This process of creating an open society has a far broader brief and with a far finer grain today – , the TV of the sitting room viewed by a family, is now a smart device in your pocket that goes with you to the lavatory, to bed, as you commute between work and in coffee and lunch breaks. It will soon be wearable, not only always on, but always attached as goggles, glasses, ear-piece, strap or badge.

If ‘technology extended senses’ McLuhan, 1965. p.8 then the technology we hold, pocket and wear today, are a prosthesis to our senses and to the manner in which the product of these senses is stored, labelled, interpreted, shared, re-lived, and reflected upon.

If Mercators maps and cartography altered 16th century mentality what do Google Maps and Street View do for ours?

Did  the world of sound gives way to the world of vision? (McLuhan, 1965 p.19). What could we learn from anthropologists who looked at non–literate natives with literate natives, the non–literate man with the Western man.

Synchronous conversation online is bringing us back to the power and value of the spoken word – even if it can be recorded, visualised with video and transcripted to form text. The power, nuance and understanding from an interchange is clear.

REFERENCE

Barham, L (2013) From Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution

Carpenter, E and H M McLuhan (19xx) ‘Explorations in communications’. Acoustic Space

Cruttwell, P (1955) The Shakespearean Moment (New York; Columbia) New York. Random House.

Hall, E.T. (1959) The Silent Langauge

Lord, A.A. (1960) The Singer of the Tales (Cambridge. M.A. Harvard University Press)

Drucker, Peter F. “The technological revolution: notes on the relationship of technology, science, and culture.” Technology and Culture 2.4 (1961): 342-351.

Mayer-Schönberger, V (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Popper, K. (1945)  The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume One. Routledge (1945, reprint 2006)

Rogers, E.E. (1962) The Diffusion of Innovations.

 

Franz and Sophie – the tragic love story that will forever be considered the opening shots of World War One

Franz and Sophie – the tragic love story that will forever be considered the opening shots of World War One.

My fascination with the First War will only grow as we approach the 100th Anniversary – here is one day to remember


Fig 1.  The Archduke Francis Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife the Duchess Sofia with his daughter Sophie and son Max. c1907

I plan to select a few hundred days that to my mind mark key moments running up to, through and beyond the First Word War – in each case looking for how events still touch our lives today. Reading this I think of how the Serbs a hundred years ago were fighting to create a national identity free of both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires – I wonder where the similarities lie with with the Kurds having any national ambitions for a people divided between Turkey, Syria and Iran and Iraq?

Researching events such as this I am shocked at how much passes as truth and how little is told of what was going on.

I have some questions

  • Why were they in an right hand drive car ?
  • Were the streets cleared of other traffic that morning?
  • It was a Sunday so had this Roman Catholic family attended mass?
  • After one attempt on his life did the Archduke not question the risk of going back out onto the street?
  • How many people knew what was going on even after this first attempt on the Archduke’s life and willed the assassins to have a second attempt?
  • There were many opportunities to step back from the abyss in the following weeks but the sides seemed to will it to happen – having put the pieces on the board it was as if the powers wanted to let the game go into play.
  • What lessons have we learnt a century on? That human nature condemns us to repeat this kind of folly?

SUMMARY

At 10.10am on the morning of 28th June 1914 on the way to the Sarjevo Town Hall from the railway station, would-be assassin and Bosnian-Serb nationalist, Nedeljko Čabrinović hurls a bomb at the car carrying the 51 year old Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir  to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The bomb bounces off the open hood of the right-hand drive 1911 Gräf & Stift and blows up under the vehicle behind wounding several.

Less than an hour later, and back in this open top chauffeur-driven tourer, the Archduke wants a change to their planned itinerary in order to visit the injured from the earlier bomb explosion.

Simply being in Sarajevo was a provocation that the Archduke had been warned about so to carry on after the first assassination attempt appears like folly.

As the entourage leaves the Town Hall, the car’s owner, Count Harrack, gets up on the running board by the Archduke as if to offer a modicum of protection, though what protection this affords to a hand-thrown bomb or gun-shots from determined assassins is doubtful. The chauffeur turns off the Quay D’Appel following other vehicles into Franz Josef Street as per the original itinerary but is advised, presumably by the front seat passenger Count Potoirek and perhaps Count Harrac or the Archduke himself to stop the car and reverse back onto the Quay D’Appel to go to the hospital.

It is 10.55am.

19 year old Gavrilo Princip, one of the seven armed assassins spread out on the route that morning, sees his opportunity, pulls out a pistol, steps forward from the pavement to the driver-side of the vehicle, aims and shoots at point-blank range. The first bullet hits the Archduke in the neck piercing one of his jugular veins and presumably exiting  the other side of his neck and missing the spine while the second bullet hits his wife the Duchess, Sofia of Hohenberg in the abdomen.

Had Princip meant to shot both to kill? Probably – there was a pattern of established regicide in the group he belonged to.

The car stops.

Men grab the assailant.

The car carrying the Archduke and Duchess heads off again, this time to the safety of the Governor’s House and we assume as part of the convoy of three.

En route the Archduke’s mouth falls open and blood squirts onto Count Harrack’s right cheek.

The Duchess Sofia asks her husband  ‘Was ist mist dir passiert?’

As the Archduke turns his head it topples forward and his plumed hat falls into the car-well; he sees that the Duchess has been hit too and implores that she stay alive for the sake of their three children.

‘Sofia, Für unsere Kinder sterben nicht’.

Sofia dies before they reach the Governor’s house while Franz Ferdinand dies ten minutes later.

Fig.2.  On the right,  Dragutin Dimitrijević with associates – the mind behind this and other successful as well as failed assassinations of royals that got in the way of the creation of a Greater Serb Nation that had support from a pan-slavic notion of shared ‘nationhood’ that took in Russia – their ally in the World War these machinations provoked.

EXTENDED COMMENTARY ON THE EVENTS

To provoke war not only had Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary to die on the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 but it had to be seen to be the act of a people, not just a lone assassin. This was the case, there was a desire by nationalist Serbs to extricate all Serb land from the Austro–Hungarian Empire just as they had successfully ceded land from the Ottoman Empire in the previous five years. The aim was to create a Greater Serbia – for some violence was the only way to achieve this. Even an assassination attempt, whether successful or not, could have been enough to oblige the Austro-Hungarian Empire to mobilise and send an army into Serbia. The danger was how this would be perceived and interpreted amongst the ‘Great Powers’ of the day given the accords they had troubled over and signed between each other over the previous couple of decades.

The planned itinerary through Sarajevo from the station to the Town Hall was common knowledge.

To increase the odds in favour of success the leadership of the assassination-attempt placed several trained and armed men along the route ready to take their best chance.  Six of the seven armed men : Mehmedbasic, Cabrincvic, Cubrilovic, Princip, Grabez and Illic positioned themselves along the Appel Quay by the River Miljacka, as if planning to hit their target on the way to the Town Hall, while Popovic was on the other side of the road. Any one of them would take a chance from their position if and as it arose whether using a hand thrown bomb with a ten second fuse or a revolver. One of them, Illic, had a roving brief to reposition himself as he felt appropriate. There would be crowds. Movement on the street might be restricted by a throng of people. Traffic, other than the entourage of four vehicles, is likely to have been restricted on the morning. Each of them also had a cyanide pill so that they could, to evade capture and giving away details of the network of their support, commit suicide. This was a conspiracy, never the lone work of a single assassin, it was a well planned plot, involving a network of Serbian support, not least by the Serb Chief of Police,

A convoy of four vehicles left the station at around 10.oo am  – the Archduke and his wife the Duchess Sofia in the third vehicle, an open top tourer.

The streets were busy with onlookers but perhaps not such a throng as to slow the vehicles down and so offer an opportunity for someone to push, then jump forward with a bomb or pointed revolver. Mehmedbasic, the first would–be assassin did nothing as the entourage approached the Cumburja Bridge, then Cabrinovic, the second took armed Serb nationalist assassin took his chance – pushing forward he hurtled a bomb into the open topped tourer – it missed, bouncing off the canopy cover and ending up under the car behind where it exploded, badly wounding the occupants. Cabrinovic tried to evade capture by taking a cyanide pill and jumping into the River Maljacka. The lack of thorough preparation is telling – at the height of summer the river is only a few inches deep and the cyanide pill only made him ill. He was easily caught. Informed of this outcome did the party representing the Austro–Hungarian Empire believe the actions of a lone assassin had been foiled? Little action was taken to indicate that anyone thought there was any further risk. In age of assassination of Royals there is a stubborn inability to accept that circumstances have changed or are changing. Here as we see in the World War that follows, there is considerable inertia that requires things to be done in a certain, prescribed way rather than responding flexibly to changing circumstances.

At 10.10 the Archduke and his wife the Duchess reached the Town Hall as planned.

Not in the mood for pleasantries from dignitaries the Archduke interrupted the Mayor to say that having a bomb thrown at him was hardly what he’d call a friendly welcome. The Duchess pressed her husband to allow the man to go on. Before they left the Town Hall the Archduke demanded a change to his itinerary so that he could visit the wounded from the bomb attack in hospital.

Leaving the Town Hall at around 10.40 the revised route to the hospital should have taken the Imperial visitors straight along the Quay D’Appel

As perhaps the instructions had not been passed down the chain of command further along the Quay D’Appel instead of continuing on the entire entourage turned instead onto the Rue Franz Joseph opposite the Latina Bridge as originally intended. Quickly corrected the chauffeur stopped to reverse back onto the Quay d’Appel – by chance this was exactly the spot where the would-be assassin Princip was standing having crossed from one side of the Quay D’Appel to the other – in position, as planned.

Had he crossed the road to take up a second position expecting the entourage to come this way as per the original plan? It looks like it.

He happens to be outside a pastry store – Schiller’s. It is artistic licence put into a TV drama reconstruction in 2008 that suggests that Princip, knowing he had a good half-hour to go that he went in to for refreshment and sat down to eat, of all things, a sandwich. After the earlier failed attempt on the Archduke’s life it would also be reasonable however to consider the view that the six remaining would–be assassins believed that their chances had now gone – that heightened security or a change in the route back through town would mean that they would have no second chance. On the other hand, knowing how officials behaved, they may have understood that plans once set in motion are rarely altered. In any case, Princip and the  others were acting on orders –  with the Serbian government and security forces tangential to their enterprise.

Fig. 3.  Map of Assassination attempt and assassination of  Archduke Francis Ferdinand and Duchess Sofia 24 June 1914

It is now 10.45 am.

Princip sees the Archduke for the second time, his vehicle static or reversing slowly back onto the Quay d’Appel from Rue Franz Joseph – Princip takes the opportunity that presents itself and acts – he takes out a revolver, steps forward and aims at the Archduke. Nerves, lack of skill with a handgun or the vehicle being put into reverse means that even at less than 6ft a bullet meant for the Archduke’s head hits him in the neck while a second shot, almost certainly meant for the Archduke, hits the Duchess Sofia in the abdomen. Perhaps someone has already grabbed Princip forcing his arm down as he fires the second shot.

As Princip is bundled away, another change is hastily made to the itinerary – this time instead of the hospital, which under the circumstances would have been the better choice, the vehicle heads for the known safety Governor’s mansion.

Still sitting bolt upright in the back of the tourer no one is immediately aware that both the Archduke and Duchess are mortally wounded.

Count Harrac, who still riding on the running board at the Archduke’s side, feels warm, wet blood on his right cheek. Turning to the Archduke he sees that blood is spurting from the Archduke’s open mouth. The Count reaches for a handkerchief which he places on the Archduke’s neck. Sofia speaks to her husband to ask in horror what is wrong. The Archduke turns to his wife and as he slumps forward is shocked to see that she too has been hit. He mutters something about her staying alive for the children.

Princip and the cell or cells acting on the 24th June 1914 did not act alone.

They were part of a secret Serbian military liberation movement that had been formed out of a group calling themselves the ‘Unification of Death’ that had been founded on 6 September 1901 with the aim of shaking off the yolk of the Austro–Hungarian Empire to create a Greater Serbia that united Serb speaking people – assassinating heads of state at a time and in a part of the world where monarchs ruled – was the modus operandi.

Fig.4.  King Alexander of Serbia and Queen Draga

A royal assassination was the aim of the ‘Unification of Death’ from the outset, indeed with such a name results through violence were clearly how they expected to achieve their aims.

For example, one of the group’s founding members, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known as ‘Apis’ – possibly funded from Russia, broke into the Serbian Royal Palace on 11th June 1903 with some junior officers, found the autocratic 26 year old King of Serbia, Alexander and his wife Queen Draga and took part in their murder – if there is any substance to the suggestion that the bodies were mutilated and disemboweled then ‘Apis’ already had more than just royal blood on his hands when a little over ten years later he plotted the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Duchess Sofia. At the time of the murders of Alexander and Draga the Serbian parliament hailed Apis as their saviour and appointed him Professor of Tactics at the Military Academy.

There followed in 1980 a  failed attempt by the same group to assassinate the Montenegrin King  and in 1909 to overthrow the Montenegrin government.

Around this time, ‘The Black Hand’ formed as the group within the ‘Unification of Death’ that would continue to seek an end to Austro-Hungarian rule of Serb people through violent means as others began to think of a slower, negotiated solution. In 1911 Apis plotted the assassination of Emperor Franz Josef, when this failed he turned his attentions to his successor Archduke Francis Ferdinand, not least because he planned to make concessions to Slavs living in the south of the Austro–Hungarian Empire which may have appeased their desires for separation.

When at the start of 1914 Apis turned his attention to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he began by recruiting three young Bosnian–Serbs as would–be assassins and had them trained.

Not all got behind this plot, knowing that these actions could invite war between Austria and Serbia at a time when Russian support wasn’t as yet a certainty. The Black Hand had supporters in the army and government. They used murder against opponents. Vocal or actual opposition was minimal. In any case, Apis was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence. Several people in authority in the Serb government, not least the prime minister Nikola Pasic and in the army knew that would–be assassins were in Sarajevo for a full month awaiting the visit of the Archduke – no efforts were made to apprehend them or alert the Austrians of their presence.

Fig. 6. The Archduke and Duchess left three orphaned children, Sophie age 13, Max age 10 and Ernst age 7.

Shunned by their family, as their mother had been shunned by the court during the lifetime of Sophia, the children were  care for by a close friend of Franz Ferdinand. Their properties were confiscated at the end of WW1 and they moved to Austria. A staunch Austria nationalist and against the Nazi’s Max and Ernst were sent to the concentration camp Dachau. Sophie had three sons and a daughter – one son died on the Eastern Front towards the end of the Second World War, while a second died in a Soviet POW camp in 1949.

In 2000 a granddaughter of the Archduke filed to have their ancestral home returned.

 

Notes on a history of England’s first school for the blind

This is part of the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE)  module H810 (Access to online learning for students with a disability) Activity 12.1 History

Braille provided a way to read material that could be reused by blind people and reduced the pressure on readers.

Worcester College

The attitude to blindness pioneered by those who founded Worcester College is, I think, best exemplified by Samuel Forster when he asserted that ‘the blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark…blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark…’, an attitude which much later became embodied in the school’s motto, “Possunt quia posse videntur”, They can, because they think they can.

Is preparedness for employment of greater value than an ‘education’?

  • The debate rumbles on in relation to all secondary and tertiary education, whether ‘academic’ or vocational.
  • Thomas Anderson, manager of the Edinburgh Asylum before he went to York, was a great advocate of the utilitarian approach, and censured the English organisations for concentrating on schooling rather than employment.
  • Why educate the blind student if they have no gainful employment or means of supporting themselves afterwards? What indeed is the point in education if nothing follows for anyone? In developing the frustration takes young people onto the streets to protest.

As Ritchie says, ‘education was the attainment of a certain degree of factual awareness and the acquisition of a quantum of information—the names of the kings of Israel, the lengths of the chief rivers of the globe and several other categories of facts all equally unconnected with the growing and developing nature of the young’.

Of what use is this to the young blind student? Or should it be in addition to the practicalities of living beyond their school?

  • The prevalent view a century ago was that knowing stuff equated to intelligence. In 1918 on applying to join the fledgling RAF my late grandfather told me how he was asked to name the six most northern counties of England.
  • A challenge the blind could do without and that was met most readily by those families with the means.

Higher education for blind children was confined to those fortunate enough to be born into families with the means and the will to provide this privately.

  • Something that across provision for disabled students hasn’t changed, for example, the specialist Northease School charges annual fees of £25,000 p.a. which, usually after a tribunal, local authorities may pay – while of course the well off have no such hoops to go through.
  • Inspiration from those who make it:

Blind Jack of Knaresborough, the road-builder, Nicholas Saunderson, the Cambridge mathematician, Thomas Blacklock, writer, teacher and philosopher,
James Gale, inventor, and Elizabeth Gilbert, a major figure in nineteenth-century blind welfare.

It would be wrong to suppose that blindness, like other handicaps, necessarily acts as a stimulating challenge.

Blindness may act as a challenge, but only under favourable circumstances. The exceptions emphasize how grim were the prospects of blind children before education for the blind became an accepted fact of life: conditions were too bad for the handicap to stimulate.

Discriminatory:

They were (says its 1872 report) ‘to bestow a sound and liberal education upon persons of the male sex afflicted with total or partial blindness, and belonging, by birth or kinship, to the upper, the professional, or the middle classes of society.

These unctuous and somewhat naive sentiments were, fortunately for his pupils, not characteristic of Forster. His attitude towards the education of the blind was unusually realistic and forward-looking. In 1883 he read a paper at the York Conference entitled “A plea for the higher culture of the blind”.

‘The blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark. The mysterious effects of this constant living in the dark have always exercised the imagination and sentiment of tender-hearted persons; but teachers of the blind prefer to disregard it, and come in time to forget it. To them blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark…. needing the special aids and ingenious contrivances required by the circumstances.’

Presume nothing, ask the end user:

  • Forster wisely consulted some of his older pupils, and they advised adapting braille for the purpose.
  • Flexible, adaptable, accommodating and building on past experience and successes – so motivational and supportive rather than prescriptive.
  • Since braille was the only system which could feasibly be written, the boys learnt to write braille.

‘Teaching to write with a pen and pencil is now generally abandoned as a waste of time’: but those boys who could write before they went blind were encouraged to keep it up. Forster admitted that much teaching was still oral, but not to the extent it was ten years before.

Can’t start young enough, so perhaps schools can introduce tools and software.

Forster was very keen to get his pupils at as early an age as possible, preferably seven or eight, for no kindergarten was then in existence, and the later the pupils arrived, the harder it was to teach them.

Ingenious and inventive:

Mr Marston has been ingeniously endeavouring to apply these games to the use of “our” boys, by means of the principle of localisation of sound.

The difficulties of those boys (roughly one in five) who went on to university are worth elaborating. The student’s main need was for an intelligent sighted reader, for he had few textbooks with which to follow lectures.

‘Daily shewing how the same visitation is robbed of its severity, and overruled to practical good.’

Vincent work station:

The software which accompanies the workstation makes it a versatile aid, but its uses might be grouped roughly into three main areas. First, and most obvious, it is a method of communication with non-braillists. Second, it is a valuable teaching aid. Third – it’s fun!

(Bignall and Brown, 1985)

Bell, D. (ed.) (1967) The History of Worcester College for the Blind 1866–1966, London, Hutchinson & Co.
Bignall, R. and Brown, E. (1985) ‘Vincent Workstation’, The British Journal of Visual Impairment, vol. 3, pp. 17–19.

100% Polish, 100% British – the life of Zbigniew Pelczynski

Zbigniew Pelczynski listens as former students remark on his life as a Pembroke Fellow, Hegelian Scholar, founder of the School of Leaders, Warsaw. And as the author, David MacAvoy listens too having authored the biography ‘A life remembered’ in which we learn how Zbyshek grew up in Warsaw in the 1930s, took part in the Warsaw Uprising and came to Britain where he studied Philosophy at St.Andrews, then wrote his D.Phil at Oxford where he remained teaching at Trinity, Balliol and Merton before a long stay at Pembroke. Never one to retire, he established the School for Leaders, Warsaw twenty years ago.

Dr Pelczynski remained in London after his presentation to fly out to Warsaw for a second book launch and attend meetings at the School of Leaders – Zbyshek is in his 88th year.

Copies of the biography can be obtained from Pembroke College at the following address:

Pembroke College
Oxford
OX1 1DW

The main College switchboard number is:

Tel: 01865 276444
Fax: 01865 276418

The politics of accessibility and opportunity

In week one we H810ers (a module on accessibility in e-learning for Open University postgrads in the Masters in Open and Distance Education) have been trying to get our collective heads around the meanings of ‘accessibility’ and ‘disability’ – courtesy of the Paralympics and the US Presidential Elections there is a wealth of contemporary opinion.

I don’t follow the US Presidential Election at all, but sometimes you catch something. This I believe gives us a political model for ‘accessibility’ and any interpretation and response to disability.

“When we vote in this election, we’ll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in. If you want a winner-take-all ‘you’re-on-your-own-society’ you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility – a ‘we’re-in-it-together’ society – you should vote for Barrack Obama and Joe Biden’.

And what The OU means:

 

Moments that define Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski OBE

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Fig 1. Chapter Three: A Life Remembered

For all the technology – I am writing on an iPad – the book I am reading (‘A Life Remembered’ is only available in print) is on a rather rusty, heavy-duty iron book stand. Out of shot I have a lamp on an upturned waste-paper bin – an eBook would be the light, the stand and the content. It allows me to take notes, picking out moments and ideas from mini PostIts.

In some respects I feel like a Talk Show Host preparing for an interview, though many of these stories and their significance to Zbigniew Pelczynski I have heard before – I’ll be in his company this weekend so can ask questions, record the interview highlights and post the results here.

What defines him as an academic, inspirational educator and Polish patriot? How might others have behaved given the extraordinary life choices he had to make as the Second World War came to a close?

What is it about Oxford University that held him in its spell and kept him from the opportunities and temptations of other universities in the UK and abroad?

How can the oath he made to God that defines his life come from someone with no faith in religion?

Is it not ironic that despite being alive and well and mentally alert and agile in his 86th year that publication of his life story isn’t the end at all, but another mile stone as he drives on to yet more commitments and projects later this year and next including a two-day conference on Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli, the book launch at the Polish Embassy then Meetings at his School fo Leaders in Warsaw.

With Zbszyek it isn’t even a case of ‘what next?’ rather it is a case of what he plans to do still beyond that.

My Notes So far :

Learning in extremis

Three Reformers Jacques Maritain
– an exegesis of the works of Luther, Calvin and Rousseau.

Zbig studied while part of the Polish Resistance in Warsaw, developing early ideas and an interest in:

  • man
  • society
  • state

McAvoy (2012:19)

KEY MOMENTS: Events that make the person

Saying good-bye to his mother Irena in August 1944 age 18 and lying about what he was up to as he went off to join his company B1 of the Basta Regiment. He saw his mother again in December 1956. (p 24)

PERSONALITIES

Jerzy Kloczowski, known as Piotrus

HORROR

The German campaign of mass murder in Warsaw in response to the foolhardy uprising killing, between 5th and 7th August 1944 more than 50,000 men, women and children. Perhaps 200,000 killed over the next two months.

KEY MOMENT

The life defining oath Zbigniew made when rubble pinned the 19-year-old in a cellar after an attack by a Stuka.

He made a pack with God: if he got out alive, then somehow, someday, he would do something for Poland in return. McAvoy (2012:27)

DEFINING MOMENT – Traumatised

Appearance of political prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp who fought over every scrap of food. McAvoy (2012:36)

HORROR – POLISH FARMHAND – what people will do to survive and for love.

Condemned for a ‘race crime’ with a German girl and put in a forced labour camp on starvation rations he joined the Offen Kommando whose job it was to collect and burn the bodies of dead inmates. McAvoy (2012:39) There they had witnessed systematic cannibalism.

(Though I suspect hours of cooking rather than 15 minutes would have been required).

DEFINING MOMENT

Two lessons: the story itself and from the way it was told. Cured of social snobbery for life. McAvoy (2012:39)

A very different war defined a quite different man – my grandfather, working class and a machine-gunner in the First War, humble, conscientious and hardworking, dedicated his life to his wife and child.

What is of greater significance?

Our genetic make-up or the events in our life? People respond very differently to events and circumstances, yet the decisions they take define them. We cannot all be the same.

What am I coming to understand about education and the motivation to learn?

What bearing does this have on the struggles and wars that continue around the world and the politics that are both the cause and cure of the mess in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond to Korea and elsewhere?

REFERENCE

McAvoy, D (2012) Zbigwniew Pelczynski: A life remembered. Grosvenor House Publishing.

Turning thoughts into action – the life of Z A Pelczynski remembered

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Read cover to cover yesterday, into the evening and small hours. I’m now onto the second read, with various notes to add, references to pursue and further research to undertake.

Yet to be published, I’ll give detials in due course of how to get your hands on a copy.

Why read ‘A Life Remembered’ ?

It’s a fascinating life story from surving the Warsaw Uprising as a teenager to achieving as an Academic and educator in England, Scotland then at various leading universities around the world while pursing various interests and causes with passion and dogged determination. A life lesson? I think so.

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