26. Irregular conjugating with The Boss.

EP is on vacation this week, so this piece is being carved painstakingly onto an Android phone. I’m hoping that predictive text will take over at any moment and finish the last few paragraphs. If it works as usual the message will mutate dramatically and suddenly – for instance changing the word ‘many’ to ‘knuckle’ and ‘stifado’ to ‘Ericsson’. Most likely it will choose to finish off this piece with stock text such as Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice.

As a remedy for insomnia I watched a BBC World program about the dismantling of the German nuclear industry. Surprisingly, I found it completely fascinating. And it was then I realised that I am just about ready to start attending school.

Unfortunately, during the years I attended school, I was not ready for it. The problem seems to be this: education, work, sport and entertainment have been artificially separated and parcelled out unevenly to different age groups. So we have no entertainment at school, no work for young adults and no sport for older people.

For depressed people we recommend a mixed diet of behaviour, to include physical, mental and social stimulation. Such a mix is hard to achieve for large sections of society. Perhaps we should start by merging the goverment departments for Universities, Science, Employment, Culture and Sports to create a giant Ministry of Constructive Pastimes. Think David Willets, on a bobsleigh, playing flute.

In anticipation, universities are putting famous professors and lecturers on line, so that thousands of people can benefit, rather than just the few dozen students that can fit into a lecture theatre. The movement is called MOOC, or massive line open courses.

Educationalists have gone against the lecture as a means of communication, apparently because the average student retains only about 10% of the content. However, this figure can increase substantially in certain conditions, such as when exam questions are being ‘hinted’, when the lecturer is particularly charismatic, or by interweaving multimedia.

For instance, if Bruce Springsteen could be persuaded to lecture on irregular German verbs, strumming gently and occasionally singing a line or two, we would not be such dunces at language.

The trend toward mass market lecturing means a blurring of the traditional boundary between education and entertainment. For me, the importance of this is the prospect of a better deal for schoolchildren.

At present, children’s rights are subordinated to those of adults. For instance, chidren are compelled by law to attend school. They are forced to follow a national curriculum. Large group teaching is the norm, mainly because it is very cheap. Children endure a bargain basement approach to education that has increasingly sold out to child minding.

Adults no longer tolerate compulsory military service and cannot be compelled to work in mills. Many more are watching natural history or discovery channels and starting to enjoy finding out new information.

The coercive approach to schooling is relatively recent and followed the industrial revolution. In the UK children start school as young as age 4, so they are exposed to harshness, compulsion and judgementalism at just the wrong age. Here, for many, begin the roots of fear and helplessness that darken their perception of the world.

Children might prefer a mixture of activities, including a bit of paid employment, . It seems absurd that there are no teenagers in the house of lords and that there are no toddlers on the boards of large companies, even as non-execs.

As the managers would say, there are a lot of potential synergies in merging education and entertainment. The mind’s operating systems for music and speech seem to use different brain structures. People often remember the words of songs much more easily than prose or poetry. Some stammerers can get words out much more easily if they begin them as though singing.

We are used to opera and musical theatre, where drama can occur as a mixture of words and music. Far more people go to musicals like Les Miserables than ever read the book.

Movies like ET, Gladiator and Close Encounters attracted enough customers to support orchestral music by top composers.

So adding a musical dimension to a learning experience is likely to etch deeper and longer lasting memories.

The scale of MOOC seems to present an opportunity to incorporate a quality musical soundtrack into lectures. Whereas Horizon programs make do with incidental music, MOOC lectures could afford to have a house band at the very least, if not a full orchestra in the pit.

If it looks as though I am merely suggesting replacing school with television, something that seemed to suit me perfectly during my tonsillitis years, then my answer is this:

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as gentle rain upon the Ericsson Stifado.


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