All kinds of things I want to do today, and bottom of that list was to write something for the blog. Lucky if I get two hits a day at the moment but, then, I should appreciate those two hits and I do. Hence my sitting down and writing this instead of drawing cartoons, which is how I’ve been occupied since the long misguided Sumption piece that hardly anybody read.
I love drawing new cartoons (might post some today) but can be a bit of a struggle if my mood isn’t in the right zone. Some days, I can fill a sheet of paper with ideas which might take me a couple of weeks to draw them. Other days, I can’t even come up with a single good gag. I also need to ignore Twitter more than I do. The culture war stuff is getting to me.
It’s not that I’m particularly engaged with it but you can’t help but think about it the moment you read it. That second you hear a bad argument, it’s tough – if not impossible – to stop your brain from automatically writing a response. Or, at least, that’s how my brain works. Just having to mentally refute stupidity saps my strength.
The argument that gets to me the most at the moment is the one about schools going back in June. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the North West where the R number is still apparently high. Perhaps it’s because I’m close to teachers who tell me how unprepared their school is for reopening. Perhaps it’s just because I have some strong opinions about education. I do know it’s a ridiculous fight that’s largely being fought because people have ideological positions from which they refuse to back down.
The papers are full of stuff about militant teachers, which is as predictable as it is unhealthy. The schools I hear about aren’t planning on doing any teaching once they return. It will be about pastoral care for the students, which most could have got at home without any of the associated risks both to them and the staff. Plus are we really fizzing about a matter of four weeks? Does anybody who has experience education understand how little gets done in four weeks?
It reminds me of my own time at school when I was so badly taught that I thought revision was important. I’d tried to cram so many facts into my head in the weeks leading up to exams and I doubt if 5% ever stuck. That’s because education doesn’t work that way. I was in my twenties when it all clicked for me and I learned how to not care. I’d go into exams having done no revision, which sounds insane and/or arrogant, but it was the truth.
My secret, which isn’t much of a secret, is that I started to work all year around. You have to use knowledge (and use it regularly) for it to become that deep learning that you can access easily. If you’re a computer programmer, don’t learn how a stack works (for example) but use the stack in your code. If you’re an engineer, don’t memorise the formula but use them in your work. The best example is maths where you only succeed by solving lots and lots of maths problems. By the time you’ve used the various equations over moths of practice, you really won’t need to memorise them. Repetition is the key. You can’t beat it.
My mantra throughout my adult life has always been “just do it”. Whenever people say they’d love to write books or articles or draw cartoons: I tell them to just do it. Stop thinking about it. Start doing it. People intellectualise learning far too much when it just comes down to work. Notice, I didn’t even write “hard work” because it shouldn’t be hard if you enjoy it. Whenever people tell me to take “a day off from work”, I explain that it’s not work. Not usually.
That’s particularly true of difficult bits. Drawing hands (feet can be tricky) is the toughest bit for cartoonists so you see lots of them find ways to avoid drawing hands. I’m not exactly brilliant at it myself but I always throw myself into the things I find difficult. It prevents you resting on things you know you can do well. You always improve the most by working on the things your weakest at.
Such as writing things in as few as words as possible, which is what I’ve already failed to do today.
I should go and do something but, briefly, yes, the schools… None of what we’re seeing is about education. Politics are intruding where there should only be a concern for what’s best for the children and nobody can convince me that four weeks (maybe six) will make that much of a difference to their education. As for the ridiculous suggestion that it widens the inequality gap… Don’t make me laugh. The inequality is ingrained so deeply in our culture, a few weeks or even years won’t make a jot of difference to outcomes.