Are the humanities about to disappear from our universities? The question is absurd. It would be like asking whether alcohol is about to disappear from pubs, or egoism from Hollywood. Just as there cannot be a pub without alcohol, so there cannot be a university without the humanities. If history, philosophy and so on vanish from academic life, what they leave in their wake may be a technical training facility or corporate research institute. But it will not be a university in the classical sense of the term, and it would be deceptive to call it one.Terry Eagleton on the death of universities over on Comment is Free
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Nearly missed this comment piece in yesterday’s Education Guardian by Peter Mortimore, the former director of the Institute of Education, University of London. Interesting in light of the Tory love-in of Swedish Free Schools.
Our politicians, of all parties, appear fascinated by Nordic education although, up to now, it has been Sweden’s policy of school choice rather than the impressive success of Finnish comprehensives on which they have focused. If only they could free themselves from their ideologies and switch their interests, they would learn a great deal about how to improve the academic success of all pupils in all schools.
David Cameron has invited Carol Voderman (right) to help formulate a future maths strategy for the Tories, according to this morning’s Guardian.
For 10 years Carol Vorderman was also the public face of FirstPlus, a debt consolidation company and seller of loans to people already in hock. Last year an advertisement featuring her was criticised by charities. Credit Action said that an offer on one of the company’s secured loans acted like a “debt trap” that encouraged people to get into levels of unmanageable debt.
It has always been difficult to work out why such a brilliant and beautiful woman lowered herself to selling such dodgy perfectly legal loans to people already in lot of financial difficulty. It was not like she needed the money. At the time she was widely reported to be the best paid female TV presenter in Britain. Some say she was on as much as £900,000 a year from presenting Countdown alone.
Surely – with a reported IQ of 154 – she had done the maths. And worked out that the high rate of interest charged by FirstPlus would ultimately lead to further financial ruin for many of its customers. Indeed many of them are now facing bankruptcy and repossession.
Roddy Doyle’s much anticipated creative writing centre. Fighting Words, has gone online prior to its opening in Dublin in January. Taking its inspiration from David Eggers’ 826 Valencia, the centre pairs volunteer professional writers with local children. It doesn’t mention the fact explicitly, but the subtext here is that one-on-one mentoring can help revive a deprived quarter of a city.
Doyle’s centre is the first European member of the Once Upon a School movement that has swept across the deprived cities of America. It is beautifully inspiring stuff. For more on this see Eggers’ (very funny) speech at Ted Conference earlier this year.
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Today’s Guardian Link, its special supplement given over to educational technology, has my lastest report on the growing number of UK schools and universities relying on Google to manage their IT needs. I talk to several schools in the UK who are already using Google to manage their staff and pupil email accounts, as well as their internal communications and other software. Google is providing its Google Apps for free to educational establishments and its probably coming to a school near you very soon.
David Eggers, the best-selling author of a Heart-breaking work of Staggering Genius, gives this impassioned speech at Ted Conference (Technology Entertainment Design) on grassroots community tutoring.
Back in 2000, Eggers helped form a non-profit organisation helping local kids develop literacy skills. 826 Valencia in San Francisco is no ordinary after-school drop-in centre, mind. It was actually a space in the front of McSweeny’s, the literary magazine started by Eggers. What he helped coordinate was a network of volunteers, mostly writers, who could offer local kids one-on-one tutoring. It has had a massive impact in the neighbourhood and has served as an exemplar for a network of similar projects.
This being David Eggers, there is a very colourful side story to the project. To get through local planning laws, the centre had to behave as is it was a retail space. The writers decided to nominally create a pirate-supply stores (planks-by-the-yard, peg legs, hooks and bottles fit for messages etc…), this was meant to be a joke. But it has subsequently helped 826 Valencia to turn a profit. A similar project in Brooklyn masquerades as the Superhero Supply Company, one in LA “sells” gear for time travellers. This month the movement (see more here) crosses the Atlantic with the opening of Fighting Words, with the help of Booker winning author Roddy Doyle.
Why does this matter? Well apart from improving child literacy, Eggers sounds this note of optimism in the middle of the speech: “A bunch of happy families in a neighborhood is a happy community. A bunch of happy communities tied together is a happy city and a happy world, right?”