What do humour, the rings of saturn, landscape and passion have in common?


Well, they’re all books that I have read this week.  And what diversity – from an excerpt from On Humour by Simon Critchley; The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald; The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes ed D.W. Meinig; and finally The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson.

Humour takes a philosophical look at what we find funny.  Whenever you start to take apart something as seemingly spontaneous as humour, there is a very real risk of everything that makes it funny disappearing, and sometimes that is the case here, but in taking a look at something as deeply personal as what makes us laugh, chuckle, roar, or be in helpless giggles is actually very interesting.  As you might expect, there are elements that seem individual to each person but which are generic in how we respond to a joke, and I enjoyed my brief journey into the book.

It was in contrast to The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald.  This is a book set as a recounting of a walk in East Anglia, and I was never quite sure what was fiction and what was autobiographical, but it was all mixed in with a dose of history popping off at tangents.  I found myself being drawn into it and creating images in my head of the characters and histories recounted.

The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes, edited by D.W. Meinig, is a series of geographical essays, and what I expected to be dry and academic was in fact absorbing and enlightening.

The last book The Element by Ken Robinson immediately had me wanting to buy copies to send to Michael Gove (Education Secretary) and all the bigwigs who make decisions on our children’s education!  I hope that they have read it, but I doubt that they would – it makes far too much sense!!!  If they did, they’d have to re-think the whole school focus on maths, english and science and be much more inclusive, bringing the arts and vocational subjects into the same level of priority as the favoured 3! Ironically, anyone who’s an entrepreneur in business could tell them (and probably does!) that creativity in how we approach business, negotiations, daily life, is what it’s all about these days, and adaptability and imagination is the key to developing businesses and lives that are vibrant, growing, and fulfilling.  The old educational paradigms actually became defunct years ago, but the education system keeps hold of them for dear life.

I was in the position, when my son was around 9 years old, of teaching class music to 8 – 12 year olds at a middle school.  I’d never done class teaching, but they were desperate, and my knowledge of music is generally pretty good, I’d say.  I have to confess to being terrified at facing a class of 30+ youngsters who didn’t want to be doing school music, but I was blessed with colleagues in other subjects who were willing to try things out.  The curriculum stated that the children had to learn about instruments.  To me, an oboist, what better way to learn about instruments than to learn how sound is made, design your own instrument, make it and play it?  The art teacher allowed the students to design their instruments in art class, the physics teacher taught them about sound production, and the technology teacher helped them to make their own instruments.  Many children took the partially made projects home to finish off at home, and then they brought them to school and we composed little pieces that they then played on their own instruments.

It’s a simple enough approach, but one which required co-operation from other staff who had their own curriculum parameters to cover.  I was very fortunate that they were so willing to help this rooky teacher, and the kids got a tremendous amount out of the whole process.  That, to my mind, is how teaching should be – allowing teachers to work on collaborative projects which gives great enjoyment and fulfilment to them, and gives the children a holistic approach of how everything works together and also allows them to participate in a practical hands-on way also with great enthusiasm and passion for what they were learning.

One small example, but why, oh why, can’t the politicians and top educators get their act together and move into the real world with what kids need NOW to equip them for the world that needs them to be adaptable, versatile, imaginative and happy in what they do!!!!

If you haven’t read this book, do, and then go out and tell anyone in education – headteachers, governors, HM Inspectors, Michael Gove, about it.  I’m off to write that letter right now!