This month has seen me take delivery not only of a new cat, Mr Freddy, as the SSPCA christened him – I am calling him Fred the Shred as he has very sharp claws – but also of a new (well, second-hand) computer, which belonged to my late brother. I am trying to write this on the new PC, which is not easy as I can't find the text delete button, so until my IT literate son can enlighten me, I had better not make mistakes! I can only assume my late brother was a very accurate typist…
My granddaughter has a favourite phrase: 'I'm too scared!' when she doesn't want to do something, and that was my excuse for not using the new PC until my son bullied me into it. I have no excuse really, as my 85-year-old friend Sadie is far more confident than me at any IT task from online banking to Whatsapp. I have lost my confidence over the years. When working in academia, folk used to ask me how to do things, but I had the support of a Help Desk chap, whose usual advice was 'turn it off and turn it on again'. It did seem to work, however.
Much as it grieves me to say so, my fear of new things that I don't altogether understand can sort of enable me to empathise with the (misguided) folk who don't want independence – as it's scary because it will be different. But as I keep saying to such scaredy cats, if you are really scared of change, don't stay in a Union which is imposing an awful lot of very frightening changes. Independence will mean hanging on to the Scottish values that make us different in a good way.
Meanwhile, Freddy is the opposite of a scaredy cat. My daughter in law, an unreconstructed arachnophobe, will be impressed with his spider killing skills. The late Sir Ernest would watch them scuttle over the carpet and ignore them, while Freddy has a lethal pounce.
Being only six, my granddaughter does not have to worry about exams quite yet – although she claims to be 'too scared', I suspect she will find ways of ignoring conventional education. But why, whenever the exam results are publicised, is there always such a stushie about how the young people of today are less intelligent than they were in 'our day'?
I see that the new EIS president shares my long-standing view that there are more suitable ways of assessing intelligence than exam passes, which really only measure the ability to pass exams. For someone who is an Oxford classics graduate and has a PhD, people often find it surprising that I don't care for exams and never shone at many of them – often because I didn't understand the question or decided to answer it differently from the 'model answer'.
When I was teaching students, I was able to help them in ways that would have benefitted me, like only answer what the question asks you, set it out neatly and sum it up at the end. In short, everything you can think of that will help the marker. I also used to give them very strong hints about what the questions would be, but some of my students were so exam-phobic that all that went out the window when faced with the paper. But we should not be scaring people like this.
What's wrong with giving students the questions a week before the exam, so they can research the material, and – why not – ask other people, for that's what would happen in a work situation? Why not follow the SVQ route of assessing students as competent/not yet competent? There could possibly be another status like 'competent plus', for those who had really impressed the assessor. In my experience, most people like and value learning new things, and we shouldn't fall into the trap of 'credentialism' where exam passes are used, not as a means of furthering knowledge, but as commercial currency.
What ho, Jeeves?
In need of something vaguely humorous to read, I've recently tried again with P G Wodehouse, with very mixed feelings. He has always seemed to me to be a bit like Evelyn Waugh, or the chap who came up with Downton Abbey
after the much darker – and better in my view – Gosford Park
. All of them were not exactly 'upper crust' but seemed to think they could gain entry to this 'elite' group by writing about them. (John Buchan has been similarly accused but he was different as he had a heck of a lot more talent.)
There's no doubt that some of the antics of Bertie Wooster and his chums are amusing, but to read about them is a guilty pleasure rather like eating too many cream cakes. Especially at a time when the great and bad of the Tory Party are literally partying, while those of us who must earn a living are going hungry, cold or both, the idea of these wastrels having nothing else to do other than steal policemen's helmets or throw bread rolls in restaurants gives way to some queasiness.
Interestingly, the best Jeeves and Wooster novel I've read wasn't by Wodehouse at all, but a sort of pastiche – or homage as he calls it – by Sebastian Faulks: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
. Faulks gives us more of Wooster's back story and shows his good points – that he's a genuinely nice guy who doesn't trade on his 'aristocrat' credentials and goes out of his way to help his friends. Not least he's actually a whizz with numbers. I've never been able to decide what he actually studied at Magdalen College but maybe it was maths. The character created by Faulks is certainly more sympathetic to a different age than the silly ass created by Wodehouse, a potentially good writer who could have done a much better job of satirising the 'Gentry'.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant