Posts Tagged Britain

government officials and ministers involved, have already shown a lack of foresight and judgment…

From a 1947 speech by British former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, some excerpts that seem relevant to Japan today:

In our immense administrative difficulty, the Prime Minister and his colleagues should have concentrated upon their immediate practical tasks, and left the fulfillment of party ambition and the satisfaction of party appetites, at least until we… stood on firmer and safer

the state, that is to say the government officials and ministers involved, have already shown a lack of foresight and judgment which plainly reveals their incapacity as compared with private traders competing with one another, animated by the profit motive, and corrected constantly by the fear of loss and by the continual elimination of the inefficient. That is a general principle.

via “Winston Churchill’s England Now: Excerpts from his bitter speech in the House of Commons on the economic situation” in American Affairs, Vol. IX, No. 3, July 1947. (pdf)

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Initial London riots / UK riots – Google マップ

At-a-glance map of where the rioting is in London. Tho it’s been superceded, apparently, see the links below. M/T to Ryuichi Kino.

Initial London riots / UK riotsVerified affected areas from Saturday 6 August until 06:00 Tuesday 9 August.

HIS IS NO LONGER BEING UPDATED. A continually updated map of verified incidents is being run by The Guardian, at:

via Initial London riots / UK riots – Google マップ.

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The Teens’ speech – UK teens get uplugged, raw and real

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Zemanta is a blog plugin that supplies a list of online articles related to the content of one’s blog entry. About one minute after starting to write this blog entry, Zemanta should have enough input to work on and start making suggestions (it also suggests photos).

One of Zemanta’s suggested articles was Global Youth: UK Teens Get Unplugged, Raw & Real, a 17-minute YouTube video which interviews a number of British teenagers about being a teenager.

(Privacy-enhanced mode enabled: YouTube won’t collect cookies from you just for visiting, only if you actually play the above video. Click here for more details.)

The present state of overall disorder and low achievement in some British schools is the direct result of certain beliefs and ideologies, as the British blog Scenes from the Battleground points out. While I am lucky in that I don’t teach in an environment beset by discipline problems, many of those beliefs and ideologies are either already popular or are gaining ground; therefore, what is happening in some British schools (and that seems to be a microcosm of what is happening in British society at large), may well start happening here in the near future – the ideological ground for it is being prepared.

What are some of those beliefs and ideologies?

Unfortunately, I had a difficult time following what the narrator (and some of those interviewed) was saying; I think they might have chosen someone with clearer diction.

I did catch the narrator reciting the following: “Now we don’t hear them when they speak”, and one girl in the video says, “Teenagers have difficulties sharing what they really feel”. The following was posted on the Teens’ Speech website: (my emphasis)

The Teens’ Speech was predicated on the belief that if we gave young people an avenue to express themselves, they would reward us with a genuine insight into a section of society that is, as one contributor in the film states, a ‘taboo’.

And so they did.

Actually, they were already doing it – on YouTube, mainly. We just cut a rip in the curtain and had a peek inside.

Somewhat undermines the video commentary. Nonetheless, the video is a fascinating peek into the minds of some young Britons today and what they think about being a teenager.

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“The students will not tolerate the teacher having power in the classroom”

This is a reply to a comment kindly left by OldAndrew of Scenes from the Battleground blog, which was a reply to this blog entry. I originally just replied to OldAndrew’s comment in a comment, but my reply got too long for a comment.

if students object to the very idea of the teacher being in charge, then there is nothing the teacher can do and still teach. You can make all the points you like about how the teacher is “responsible”, the point is that in that situation the teacher has responsibility without power.
Quite right. The situation is worse than I thought and I have edited my comment here from my original, flippant response. Obviously, little learning or teaching can take place in chaos.

You’re caught between a rock and hard place: you are denied the power (or authority) to act responsibly, and yet blamed for not acting responsibly or authoritatively. It seems a Catch-22 situation. The problem seems to be largely a legal and political one, yet also an ideological one in that a few teachers are not enough to make a difference, and if the school as a whole from the Head downwards is not backing up a serious attempt to impose order in the chaos (e.g. by recognizing, as OldAndrew says, that appeasement does not lead to increased order but the reverse; that some of the dearly held beliefs about children, their nature, and human behaviour may well be not only wrong but contributing to the problem), then most attempts will fail and the efforts of OldAndrew and his ilk will be limited. (I’m thinking of the example of Marie Stubbs, who was headmistress and managed to either bring around most of the staff to her way of thinking or hire her own replacements.)

I have found OldAndrew’s blog to be a fascinating source of information about British secondary school education. I especially recommend his Guide to Scenes from the Battleground

I recall reading about an incident earlier in 2009 in a British school, when a teacher was fired for forcibly removing an obstreperous student from a classroom: he physically grabbed the boy by the collar and the seat of his pants and pushed him out of the classroom. The police were called, and I don’t know what happened to the young man (15 or16, I can’t recall exactly), but the teacher had the book thrown at him: defrocked, disrobed, you name it. The poor guy was approaching retirement age, but I doubt if this is the way he had imagined leaving the profession. (I wish I could find the link).

(I’m reminded of the entrepreneurs and industrialists in Atlas Shrugged, forced to somehow continue inventing and producing despite a plethora of laws and regulations that effectively demotivate and prevent them from making a profit.)

“if the teacher were to slap anyone’s face the teacher would be suspended, fired and probably prosecuted.” I realize that times have changed since I went to school.

“the change in the law prohibiting this and all forms of corporal punishment in state schools was passed by Mrs Thatcher’s government, so I’m not sure where the “dominant socialist” thing came from.”
I interpreted the push for group work and mixed ability classes as coming from an ideology that said elitism is bad, ranking and streaming students is bad, hence (by implication) achievement is bad (or at least should be downplayed), in other words egalitarianism or socialism. I don’t equate socialism only with the left wing, or the Labour party (Hitler’s party was the National Socialists). I had not realized Thatcher’s specific responsibility, but it does not surprise me.

Thanks for commenting.

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Scenes from the Battleground – a secondary school teacher reveals the horrors of British classrooms

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I’ve just spent the last few hours reading the Scenes from the Battleground blog. Andrew Old is old-school: a believer in teaching facts and knowledge, in the importance of effective discipline, and he does not believe in progressive education.

He writes well, with zest and humour. Here’s a good example: someone sent him an email asking him to review the trailer of a documentary about education called We are the People We’ve been Waiting For.

After copying the original emailed request into his blog entry, Andrew provides his review:
Why Lord Puttnam Can Stick His Stupid Documentary Up His Arse

Andrew is not going for shock value here, he is genuinely furious:

But it takes the insanity of the zealot to blame educational failure on the academic focus of the education system, when anybody familiar with our schools can see that there is no academic focus for these children. This is a rant against authority in education, by the kind of people who do have authority in education. This is an argument for failed orthodoxy by presenting it as a radical departure. This is a polemic against academic standards by the kind of people who have already lowered the standards to nothing. This is an attack on the curriculum by the people who gave us the curriculum we have. This is an attempt to blame the failure of the educational system on the very values the system has already abandoned. This is a prolonged assault on a strawman education system that not only doesn’t exist, but would be far better than what we have now if it did exist. This is shameful lies combined with self-righteous sermons.

OldAndrew is intelligent and eloquent and knowledgeable (I’ve bookmarked his brief history of British education since WWII), but his blog entries pall after a while: it’s all rather negative – there are no success stories. It may be that success stories are impossible, given the kind of environment he describes (few serious consequences for children who misbehave, for instance, little or no backup from administration, and a steady stream it seems of arrogant, snivelling, rude young people who are never held responsible for their actions), yet I can’t help responding, “If you’re so clever, why can’t you make your approach work?” Maybe it does, but Andrew doesn’t seem interested in telling us the things that work. It’s more fun slagging off the students, or the staff, or the administrators, or the parents (everyone gets some stick at some time or other on his blog, including commenters).

He does a service, I think, to blow the lid off the “phony” approaches, such as Brain Gym and others that might be lumped together under the heading Snake Oil. (Here are similarly critical examinations of Learning Styles. The dominant philosophy of the times is in favour of such approaches, so it comes as a bit of a (healthy) shock to read a contrary opinion.)

A fairly frequent commenter on Andrew’s blog is Newsisgood. Here’s a question posed by Newsisgood to Andrew, with Andrew’s response:

Is it at all possible that a students’ misbehaviour could be down to unfair punishments from the teacher, or unfair discipline from the system?
If it is possible, would you still blame the student anyway? (You have said before that you must presume that the teacher is always correct when a teacher and student disagree). by Newsisgood June 4, 2007 at 10:11 am

“Is it at all possible that a students’ misbehaviour could be down to unfair punishments from the teacher, or unfair discipline from the system?”


Strangely enough a student’s misbehaviour is down to the student. (The clue was in the word “student’s”.)

by oldandrew June 4, 2007 at 10:29 am

Andrew seems a mite intransigent. I don’t think the situation is as black-and-white as he sees it. For a start, he’s dealing with children, who by definition are not fully formed adults. In other words, it seems non-productive to insist that young people take full responsibility for their behaviours and choices as one might expect of adults. A lot of children’s behaviour, particularly in school, is a playing out of child/parent roles, in other words it is often a response to adult behaviour (tho the adult in question may not be in the classroom).

Andrew has repeatedly stated on his blog that he considers the bad students as people who bring their bad behaviours with them to school: he recounts experiences of students being rude and abusive to him or to other teachers whom they did not know. He feels stung by the (apparently) often repeated suggestion that teachers whose students behave badly are responsible, and that the solution lies in a better relationship with the students. Andrew dismisses this out of hand: “there IS no relationship” and yet students behave badly.

I feel Andrew is stuck in his situation. His attitude seems to preclude any satisfactory solution. I haveto admire his fortitude in staying instead of giving up. He sounds more intelligent than most of his fellow-teachers, which must make it increasingly galling when he is called to account by some dippy higher-up.

Update: here is another example of Andrew’s negativity andclosed-mindedness. What would be more helpful, then? “Focus on the negatives! Let the buggers get you down!” perhaps?

I think we all struggle with the attitudes of students and SMT alike. The trick is NOT to let it affect you. Life becomes a lot easier in schools if you can go around with a smile on your face and attempt to focus on the positives…after all, most kids are great.

It seems rather self defeating to allow the misery of a few morons to determine your own mood.

Who are the adults here?

     by treeman December 7, 2007 at 10:43 am


“The trick is NOT to let it affect you. Life becomes a lot easier in schools if you can go around with a smile on your face and attempt to focus on the positives…after all, most kids are great.”

Thanks, I forgot to mention that one.

That’s definitely one of the most unhelpful things you could ever say to somebody working in a stressful environment and only somebody who really didn’t get it could ever say it.

     by oldandrew December 7, 2007 at 2:32 pm

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Work till you drop… it’ll stave off Alzheimer’s!

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Well, well. First we get this reminder from the Telegraph (reminding us of who is really working for whom) and then barely two weeks later, this from the BBC:

Keeping the brain active by working later in life may be an effective way to ward off Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.

There’s a silver lining to every cloud, and the populace must be told about it.

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University students, part-time jobs, and talking about Japan in English

Last Student Loan

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In my basic EFL Writing class last week, students created simple questionnaires, then asked each other, collated the results and made a brief report. A couple of students chose part-time jobs as their topic.They then posted their reports on their blogs.

One of the purposes of having students write in English on public blogs is to

  • encourage them to think of their audience, and
  • create a potential audience that is not necessarily familiar with Japan or Japanese.

Japan is a high-context culture, which means one where people are almost always talking to an in-group or other; their “nakama” 仲間. They are not used to explaining the context of what they are talking about to others who do not share that context; there’s hardly ever any need. So this is one area where I, as “gaijin” (foreign) teacher, can play an important and valuable role: I offer a point of comparison which is outside their frame of reference, outside their in-group. I do this mainly by pretending not to know what they are talking about.

The course is entitled Talking About Japan, and the premise is that the students imagine they are on a homestay in an English-speaking country. They create conversations between the visiting foreigner (themselves) and the host family on a number of different topics, selected by me (so far), starting with their name. I call them out to a quiet corner of the classroom, two by two, and they have a conversation in front of me, which I grade, and towards the end, I join in e.g.:

“You go to a what university? A private university! Are all universities private in Japan? No? Half? The majority? A minority? What percentage, would you say? What other kinds of universities are there in Japan? What kind of students go to a private university in Japan?”


“What’s that in your pocket? Manga? What’s manga? Oh, a comic! But you’re 19! Surely you’re too old to be reading comics! Do all Japanese 19-year-olds still read comics? Really!? Why? Most people in this (the host family’s) country stop reading comics after the age of about 10!”

Cat among the pigeons.

It’s fun. And it has a serious purpose: to give them a broader or different context from the one they are used to. The one they are used to is one where everyone shares the same context so there is no need to explain (and hence also little need to question or examine) the terms or concepts. “Everyone knows there are both private and public universities in Japan; everyone knows the national universities are harder to get into than the private ones (except perhaps for the very top private ones); everyone knows that undergraduate programs in Japan run for 4 years”, etc., etc. So, because “everyone knows” this background, this context, it goes without saying; it does not need to be said. But, in a different context, e.g. in a different culture or country, it does need to be said because the context is not the same.

In addition, they assume that the norm in Japan is the norm everywhere else, too. (In Britain, for example, most undergraduate programs run for three years, not four.) They have no point of comparison. They have never had to explain these kinds of things before, and perhaps consequently, rarely had to think about these kinds of things before. Despite the Internet, “kokusaika” 国際化 (that’s not a rude word – it means “internationalization”, whatever that means), globalization, etc., my students (at least; can’t speak for others) are still remarkably parochial and insular in their thinking. This is the main purpose of the class: for them to learn to see their own culture in a different perspective, in a different context, and my role is to provide the different context, the reference point of comparison which is outside their context.

All of which is a very long-winded way of introducing an article I found online today about a survey of British university students. It’s mainly about student loans, but it puts the subject of part-time jobs into an interesting context: financial survival! It also includes some interesting statistics, which I plan to use in my classes, in order to provide a badly needed point of comparison. Here’s a sample:

Three quarters of students have jobs. They spend, on average, almost the same number of hours being taught per week (15 hours) as they do at work (14 hours)… While a quarter of those who work spend up to eight hours a week doing so, almost half spend nine to sixteen hours in their jobs. Another fifth spend 17 to 24 hours at work each week, and 5 per cent work between 25 and 32 hours. About 40,000 students (3 per cent) work more than 33 hours a week.

(The Flickr photo I used above includes some comments which reveal just what a big issue student loans are now for British students. When I was a student, tuition was free. See Wikipedia for more details.)

Another reason I want to use this article in class is to help give them a clearer idea of what I mean by an “interesting subject”, and to wean them away from childish ways of thinking and towards more adult (i.e. more conceptual) ways of thinking. However, that topic deserves its own blog entry.

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British news: migration

“It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder,”

said a UK immigration minister, according to this BBC news article. The article contains a link to an interesting map showing “total numbers of Eastern European migrants in each local authority who registered for work between May 2004 and December 2007.”

The issue seems to be getting a lot of play in various newspapers and media. I wonder what’s behind this? The obvious answer is the recession (digression: a recession is when your neighbour loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours). It could certainly not be that there are others at work behind the scenes, taking advantage of the present situation to further an agenda of increased border controls and more rigid surveillance of the population. No, siree!

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