“a furball coughed up by a supervillain’s cat”

Frankie Boyle on the British government:

Boris Johnson, flapping about like a poorly-tethered bouncy castle, is supposed to serve as a distraction, a furball coughed up by a supervillain’s cat. He isn’t supposed to actually lead us through anything. We have a government that has no interest in governing up against an opposition uninterested in opposing. It feels like we’ve got Owen Jones, graffiti, and breakfast news against a ruling class, media, and virus that are broadly in agreement.

“this weird thing of hyper-normalness”

Mark Fisher in an old interview:

“What we have got with this digital culture now is this weird thing of hyper-ordinariness. You have got people who are done up to the nines but it isn’t like David Bowie where you are playing with some abstract aestheticisation. We have got people who have this uber ordinariness – it is a normative model: perfect teeth, right skin tone. An utterly conservative artificiality.”

Discover, with a deflating quotidian horror

Mark Fisher on Doctor Who:

“To look at the old Doctor; Who is not only to fail to recover a lost moment; it is to discover, with a deflating quotidian horror, that this moment never existed in the first place. An experience of awe and wonder dissolves into a pile of dressing up clothes and cheap special effects.”

As much as I’m enjoying the Twin Peaks anniversary stuff, UK-based newspapers seem to have forgotten - or decided it wasn’t important - that those of us in UK didn’t see the first episode until October. By then the big reveals were already being spoiled…

Surely it’s time to start imagining something better.

Frankie Boyle: Did you ever wonder what you’d be doing during an apocalypse?

Indeed, you have to wonder if the virus is so very different from extractive capitalism. It commandeers the manufacturing elements of its hosts, gets them to make stuff for it; kills a fair few, but not enough to stop it spreading. There is no normal for us to go back to. People sleeping in the streets wasn’t normal; children living in poverty wasn’t normal; neither was our taxes helping to bomb the people of Yemen. Using other people’s lives to pile up objects wasn’t normal, the whole thing was absurd. Governments are currently busy pouring money into propping up existing inequalities, and bailing out businesses that have made their shareholders rich. The world’s worst people think that everybody is going to come out of this in a few months and go willingly back into a kind of numbing servitude. Surely it’s time to start imagining something better.

“democracies are always going to start off behind the curve of a disease like this one”

David Runciman on what the Covina-19 crisis reveals about democracy, politics, power and order:

Under a lockdown, democracies reveal what they have in common with other political regimes: here too politics is ultimately about power and order. But we are also getting to see some of the fundamental differences. It is not that democracies are nicer, kinder, gentler places. They may try to be, but in the end that doesn’t last. Democracies do, though, find it harder to make the really tough choices. Pre-emption – the ability to tackle a problem before it becomes acute – has never been a democratic strength. We wait until we have no choice and then we adapt. That means democracies are always going to start off behind the curve of a disease like this one, though some are better at playing catch-up than others.

May 29th. Bioshock Trilogy. Switch. I will be returning to Rapture!

“This coronavirus reminds us that we belong to the material world.”

George Monbiot on the Covid-19 wake-up call:

…this could be the moment when we begin to see ourselves, once more, as governed by biology and physics, and dependent on a habitable planet. Never again should we listen to the liars and the deniers. Never again should we allow a comforting falsehood to trounce a painful truth. No longer can we afford to be dominated by those who put money ahead of life. This coronavirus reminds us that we belong to the material world.

Boris “seemed to have totally lost the plot”

Jim Crace excellent political sketch on Boris and the boys’ performance:

It’s not just Boris Johnson’s fundamental lack of plausibility that is the problem. At Thursday evening’s daily Downing Street press conference, he seemed to have totally lost the plot. After a few days of trying to do “serious face” he had reverted to his default end-of-the-pier-show act; the Archie Rice who could no longer even entertain himself. Back were all the familiar smirks, knowing nods and third-rate gags. He sounded tonally deaf, totally at odds with the mood of the nation. When the country wants a man of substance, we get a man of straw.

Why we’ve not had more female Robins

Knowledgeable piece about Robin and - correctly - asking why there are so few female Robins:

Why we’ve not had more female Robins – or better served ones – is a symptom of a much wider problem. Of the 11 writers announced as contributing to DC’s upcoming anniversary issue for Robin, only two are women: Devin Grayson and Amy Wolfram. Between January and March last year, women accounted for 16% of the credits on comics released by DC; of writers, only 13% were women. The studio celebrated 80 years of Batman last year, but in that time not a single woman has been at the helm of Batman or Detective Comics. Aside from Grayson’s work on Nightwing and Gotham Knights, no female writer has ever written a Batman series. Given how many women are working on Batgirl, Catwoman and Batwoman, it would seem they are restricted to writing female heroes.

“If the government wants schools to stay open, we need far more support”

Heartfelt piece by headteacher Jules White in today’s Guardian

Schools need more cleaners to complete regular hygiene work and deep cleans if there is a short-term closure. So give us access to agencies who must prioritise schools… Sats tests in primary schools should be abandoned in the current circumstances. We must also consider children of real disadvantage: schools are often their place of sanctuary and constancy…. Urgent help is required for children who have to deal with disability. Schools need emergency resources to help these most vulnerable young people, and now.

“a dangerous British trait”

Nesrine Malik argues that the British government’s exceptionalist approach to the Covid-19 crisis should be scrutinised and not simply followed because of British deference:

It is a dangerous British trait to fall obediently into line behind those in power when things are uncertain. When the chips are down, a class system redux kicks in. The laws of the hierarchy must be observed. It is a sort of tyranny of politeness and deference that suspends judgment.

I’ve certainly heard and read some very odd justifications for the British government’s approach to tackling the virus. I’m not convinced “Wash your hands and carry on” is going to do anything to delay the spread of the virus.

Dan Dare. I wanted to enter a competition to design a front cover for a new Eagle number one. I really wish I could draw - or even copy - better!!!! Not sure I’ll bother.

“opportunity to build a more robust society”

Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times suggests that the Coronavirus pandemic could lead to fixes to society:

“As the coronavirus spiders across the planet, I’ve been thinking about the illness as a very expensive stress test for the global order — an acute, out-of-nowhere shock that is putting pressure on societies at their weakest points. Some nations, like Iran and perhaps Italy, are teetering under the threat; others, like South Korea, are showing remarkable resilience. The best ones will greet the crisis as an opportunity to build a more robust society, even better prepared for a future unseen danger. The worst will treat it as a temporary annoyance, refusing to consider deeper fixes even if they somehow stagger through this crisis.

… What we’re learning is that our society might be far more brittle than we had once imagined. The virus has laid bare our greatest vulnerability: We’ve got the world’s biggest economy and the world’s strongest military, but it turns out we might have built the entire edifice upon layers and layers of unaccounted-for risk, because we forgot to assign a value to the true measure of a nation’s success — the well-being of its population.”

I’m less optimistic. I think countries like Britain and America will “stagger” through this pandemic, congratulate ourselves for surviving despite the odds and then have a justification for another decade or more of austerity and further cuts to public services.

Educational Inequality. Fiona Miller in The Guardian:

The process of narrowing gaps in educational attainment due to class background is grinding to a halt and will now take 560 years to close, according to the Education Policy Institute

DC’s Three Jokers is coming: Healing right, healing wrong, and surviving.

I’m wondering how much of Three Jokers is going to be meta-commentary? By the sounds of it, quite a bit:

“It goes back to the beginning when Batman first encountered the Joker, but it’s also The Killing Joke and A Death in the Family that speak to the book and that we’re building off emotionally,” Johns says. “Barbara and Jason have gone through so much, as has Bruce, and it’s really focused on healing, on scars and wounds and what that does to somebody. If you suffer some trauma, you don’t just get over with it and move on with your life, it changes who you are. Sometimes it changes you for the better, sometimes it changes you for the worse. You can heal right, and you can heal wrong. That’s really what the book’s about: Healing right, healing wrong, and surviving.” 

Fear is an immunosuppressant

Gordon White on the Covid-19 virus:

Fear is an immunosuppressant. Sleep and fasting and cutting out alcohol and regular exercise and daily meditation and low carb/high protein all upregulate the immune system. And you can do them now. Like, right now.

But that’s less entertaining, isn’t it? It means you have to do something beyond checking a hashtag and ghoulishly firing up mainstream news sites that you know repeatedly lie to you. You like it. That is your infection. You like the fear.


John Hodgson explores “range” and “open” English classrooms. He makes a valid point about “quizzing”:

There’s a vogue for quizzing in all subjects at the moment. Quizzing might be of some use in embedding simple information that helps with learning, but it very much conforms to notions of ‘kind’ learning and ‘closed’ skills. Real learning, difficult learning, requires ‘generative’ forms of learning. Quizzing is not a desirable difficulty, even if it relates to a difficult text. Indeed, the ‘desirable difficulties’ in English that help generate new knowledge would most likely not link to ‘difficult’ texts per se, or writing in ‘difficult’ forms. Instead, they would involve students grappling with age-appropriate literature to come up with their own responses, and working out how to structure their writing and populate it with content for themselves.

14th June 1961. Flash of Two Earths. Barry explains:

Background informations as just that when teaching a text

More Barbara Bleiman. Here she challenges the approach of children being fed lots of background info before reading a text:

It seems to me that knowledge in English has its own organising principles and its own special qualities. It isn’t necessarily the same as in other subjects. Knowledge accumulates and develops across texts and over time (via a disciplinary set of conversations). Historical and other extraneous knowledge are often found within the texts themselves, or need to be offered in appropriate amounts along the way, not ladled out in advance in hefty portions. Texts need to be read and experienced, background information should be just that – background, not foreground – and students need to get well and truly soaked in a big range of texts that provide the literary context for each other.

She uses Eaglestone’s description of the reading/study of literature as a process. A “walk”.

Barbara Bleiman on what students need to know about literary texts before reading them:

Do you need to know a lot of specific things in order to study a literary text, or does the text itself teach you much of what you need to know?

Cultural Capital: “Slippery and Complex”

Another excellent piece by Barbara Bleiman. Here, she challenges the current interest in teaching “cultural capital”. For Bleiman, it’s a complex thing that - as she shows - is difficult to pin down:

cultural knowledge is almost without limit, that you can’t teach it all, that it depends on which texts you’re studying, that it doesn’t need to be exhaustive but just enough to illuminate the text, that many texts provide their own cultural knowledge – they are, in fact, the way in which students absorb that knowledge. If all of this is true, it has profound implications for how we teach this kind of knowledge. I’d advocate a ‘when it’s needed, along the way, light touch’ approach, along with giving students the judgement and tools to know when (and how) to find out more.

Teaching a novel using the “Just Reading’ approach

Andrew McCallum discusses the “Just Reading” approach to studying a novel at KS3 and what makes a challenging novel

“Meaning reveals itself gradually over an extended period of time, requiring readers to constantly think back, puzzle, make predictions, make connections, ask questions, and even change their minds. It makes sense that when this is done relatively quickly in the first instance, so that pupils can keep the whole text in mind, then overall understanding improves. Halting the reading experience too much, so that it bears little resemblance to the reading process that most of us engage in when reading a novel for pleasure, leads to the disruption of understanding itself. Such disruptions we would argue at EMC include too much time using novels to teach tangential aspects of the subject, such as vocabulary, too much detailed focus on word and sentence level analysis at an early stage, or too much attention given to social and historical context (both before and during reading). Let the novel be read as a novel, with pupils filling in gaps for themselves as the reading evolves, and assistance only being offered where it is absolutely necessary to ensure understanding. Let the pauses in the reading be about the students’ immediate responses, thoughts and ideas, allowing them to share their insights and observations, as well as their pleasure in the text. Let them focus on the important aspects of literary study, and on interrogating meaning.”

Agendas for Knowledge

Barbara Bleiman’s definition of an Agenda for learning in English, in contrast to a Knowledge Organiser seems to capture the trouble I’m having with current dominating English classroom practices:

The agenda is a working document, not a definitive, final summary of key aspects but something to be added to and developed over the course of study, with students contributing to its development. It is introduced early in the study of a text, put up on the wall, on a flipchart, or made readily available on a whiteboard, as a shared set of understandings or ideas for the whole class to refer to in the course of studying the text.

Seems to me to also go against the woeful situation I’ve experienced in a number of schools now where everyone follows a static (“Death by…”) PowerPoint where students are fed knowledge rather than becoming active participants in learning how to identify what is significant in texts.

Arthur Applebee, Curriculum as Conversation:

Arthur Applebee, Curriculum as Conversation:

If we do not structure the curricular domain so that students can actively enter the discourse, the knowledge they gain will remain decontextualized and unproductive. They may succeed on a limited spectrum of school tasks that require knowledge-out-of-context, but they will not gain the knowledge-in-action that will allow them to become active participants in the discourse of the field.