“The time has come”, the Walrus said, “to talk of many things”

 

The Mad Hatter - will sanity in education ever be restored?

The Mad Hatter – will sanity in education ever be restored?

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.

That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.”

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Sara went to school today dressed as the Mad Hatter. Now let me be quite clear, this is not a daily occurrence, neither am I questioning her sanity, she normally leaves home in the conventional garb that one would associate with primary school teachers anywhere in the country. But off she went today complete with bow tie, tail coat and top hat adorned with price label reading 10/6 (52 ½ pence in today’s decimal currency). I advised her to be careful about her speed on the way in to school. Can you imagine the scene? Sara pulled over by a police officer, “good morning sir/madam, are you aware of the speed limit on this road? Let’s start with your name shall we?” Could she resist answering “Hatter, M” I wonder? I do hope so, I really don’t have time for a dash to the police station to bail her out today!

There is, of course, a perfectly rational explanation for this seemingly bizarre behaviour. You see, today is World Book Day, a great celebration of books and reading, and Sara’s school, like many others is celebrating in style. All the children and staff have been invited to attend school today dressed as one of their favourite characters from fiction. I imagine dozens of little Harry Potters storming the gates excitedly, dashing into school to weave their magic spells. Ratty and Mole arm in arm straight from the riverbank sloshing their way into class 2 and Peter Pan along with Tinkerbell singing their way into a maths lesson. Ah, the joys of literature! During the day, for twenty minutes all of the children will take part in what is termed DEAR – drop everything and read. At this point everyone in school from the head teacher to the caretaker stops what they are doing and reads a book or a magazine, or anything they like, sitting, lying on cushions or slouched in a corner in comfort. What a great way to pass the time.

If you were at school today who might you have gone dressed as? For me it might be a difficult choice between Robinson Crusoe or Max from Maurice Sendack’s Where the Wild Things Are. Kipling’s Mowgli could be fun as could Roger from Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons or Mr Tumnus from The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe. The opportunities are endless, limited only by the imagination.

I did think about trying to convince my colleagues at the university that we should follow the example of our schools and join in with the fun. Sadly too many of my “academic” colleagues have forgotten the joys of childhood. Indeed I suspect that some (though hopefully not those in the School of Education) have made a conscious effort to distance themselves from their youth. This is a shame because I have a clear picture in my mind of the characters I might assign to some of them. I have no difficulty in attributing Mr Bumble, Peter Rabbit, Captain Hook, Scrooge, Mary Poppins and the Wicked Witch of the West, I can even see the Vice Chancellor dressed as… Well perhaps we had better not go there.

Of course, all this is just a bit of fun. But after all isn’t fun an important part of learning? I sometimes look at our schools and yes, even our universities today, and wonder what we have done to childhood. The increased pressure wrought by a competitive education system in which children are expected to jump perpetually and for increasingly long hours through educational hoops gives me cause for sadness. When I hear of five year old children coming home each evening to complete a couple of hours of homework and returning to school the following day fearful that they may have got something wrong, I worry about what these children may be like when they become adults. Will they grow up to have imagination, creativity and a sense of what it is to have fun?

I hear teachers who express the same concerns as those that I feel. They too are anxious that our education systems are increasingly placing children upon treadmills of schooling from which some are destined to fall, whilst others will reach the end of this automated process as the finished item. How will this final product look I wonder?

But today at least the sanity of the Mad Hatter and his entourage prevails. – So go on then, what are you waiting for? DROP EVERYTHING AND READ!

“The time has come”, the Walrus said,

“to talk of many things:

of shoes and ships, and sealing wax,

of cabbages and kings.

and why the sea is boiling hot,

and whether pigs have wings”

from The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

Sadly I have been informed that there are those amongst us who were deprived of the wisdom of Lewis Carroll in their childhood. I therefore leave you with the opportunity to hear a reading of The Walrus and the Carpenter by clicking on the link below. Happy World Book Day.

The Walrus and The Carpenter 

20 thoughts on ““The time has come”, the Walrus said, “to talk of many things”

  1. Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye,Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
    In what distant deeps or skies,Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand, dare seize the fire?
    And what shoulder, & what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?
    What the hammer? what the chain, In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp,
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
    When the stars threw down their spears
    And water’d heaven with their tears:
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

    Tyger Tyger burning bright,In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? -Happy World Book Day..

    • Hi Neha,
      I too love the poetry of William Blake. His mixture of religious mysticism and simple imagery is often very profound, yet children often respond positively to his verse. It can be read on so many levels. Do you know his illustrations for “Songs of Innocence and Experience” from which The Tyger is taken? If ever you are near Tate Britain in London go in and see the originals along with some of Blake’s other works of art. They are mysterious and moving. In addition to his illustration for the Tyger particularly like his depiction of a crawling Nebuchadnezzar.You can see it at the Tate collection on line.
      https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/blake-nebuchadnezzar-n05059

      • Thanks for info Richard. I do read Indian, English and few other world literature. Some of my favourite poets are W. Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Tennyson, W.wordsworth, Emily Bronte and W.blake.I have been to Tate Britain long back, but i think didnt notice this one, will definitely revisit.

        • Excellent. Great to see the romantic poets still being appreciated. Just as you have found the English poets, so have I enjoyed the works of Tagore, Sarojini Naidu and Michael Madhusudan Dutt. I suspect that earlier generations knew only the literature of their own countries. Aren’t we lucky to have access to such a wealth of world literature?

          • yes, we are Richard 🙂 🙂 I do what i can and still want to do a lot towards bringing this wealth to less privileged…

  2. I am small like a mouse, I am tall like a house, I am big like a tree, and now look at me: I would have chosen Harry Potter for today:-)

  3. “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
    Just read… book/ novel/ i pad/ journal/ magazine/….Happy reading everyone 🙂

    • You have a lovely turn of phrase Maitrayee. Who says that these are the crazy ones? Perhaps they are the ones who have discovered reality!

      • “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
        “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
        – Albert Einstein
        Love all his quotes. I really need to learn to live for today,hope for tomorrow and not stop questioning, to limit my reading and use my brains 🙂 Reading has always been a favourite hobby. I enjoy reading the works of Agatha Christie, Haruki Murakami, Paulo Coelho, Colleen McCullough, Khaled Hosseini, Vikram Seth and Mitch Albom.
        Hugh Prather’s “Notes to myself” is something very close to my heart. I need to go work on the assignment now…

  4. Hi, Richard, Thanks a lot for reminding me of the World Reading Day. It is a shame that, here in China, very few people read what you have listed for pleasure any more or ever. If people are actually reading those, they must be university students reading to pass their tests. Many people read Wechat messages instead once they have a minute. I do not think our schools celebrated the day as Sara’s did. Our children simply have no time for reading anything other than their text books. People only read for test purpose.
    The sad news is that one of your education ministers came to China recently to learn how children in China (in Shanghai, to be exact) got far better PISA results than children in your country did. If he/she is really serious in urging the UK to follow our teaching approaches, then I suspect next year Sara’s school will have to skip the reading day so that the time could be used for more test-oriented teaching and learning. In other words, schools will have no time to spare for fun, even it facilitates learning.
    University colleagues in China are not imaginative (at all). Besides, they would not bother to try difference approaches in teaching, for fear that they would be considered different. ‘Who cares’, they would say…

  5. Hi Mary,
    This is a very sad posting. It was through the reading Of Lu Xun, Gao Xingian, Qian Zhongshu and through the Tang poets that I had my first real introduction to the Chinese psyche. The American Nobel prize winning novelist Pearl Buck who spent most of her life in China has much to teach us about western interpretations of China and was a great advocate for international understanding through her writings. I am sure that many Chinese people in the past have gained similar insights into my country by reading Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, George Eliot and many others. Reading is a source of pleasure, knowledge, understanding and stimulation for the imagination. Let us keep encouraging every child, whether they are 1 year old or 100 years old to explore the world through literature, poetry, history, philosophy and all the other marvellous opportunities that exist in books.

  6. Hi Richard,
    I have a very soft spot for Stig of the Dump by Clive King. This is a book about a caveman who lives in a dump near a little boy’s granny’s house, and the adventures he has with the little boy, Barney. I remember having this read to us when I was 7 or 8 (mid 60s) at primary school in Birmingham. The city at that time had lots of derelict areas and bombsites (WW2 had ended not that long before, and Birmingham was not the shiny beautiful city it is now) and the book really resonated with me. Thinking about it, I always remember Edward Ardizzone’s drawings – sometimes better than some of the story itself. I was interested that some of the other postings refer to books where illustration is also central. It is hard to think of Alice without Tenniel’s drawings, or Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience without his illustrations. In other favourite childhood books – Roger Llancelyn’s Green’s ‘Saga of Asgard’, or ‘Tales of the Greeks and Romans’ were also an essential part of the story. And even as an adult reader I found myself drawn to stories where the story is informed by the illustrations (Mervyn Peake’s illustrations for the Gormenghast books spring to mind). What do others think about the marriage of words and pictures in children’s (and adult) books

  7. Hi David,
    Great posting. I’m sure it’s true that some of our memories of books, particularly those from childhood are enhanced by the work of some great artists. Ardizonne was also one of my favourites. I also have a soft spot for the gentle colour illustrations of E.H. Shepard for Wind of the Willows and Arthur Rackham’s Peter Pan. I still think that illustration can enhance adult texts. I have a beautifully illustrated Midsummer Night’s Dream with pictures by Kevin Maddison and an edition of Orwell’s Animal Farm illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Of course the Folio Society has done much to support the work of book illustrators over the years.
    I am currently revisiting the joys of picture books with my two seven month old granddaughters. Even at this young age they are clearly getting pleasure from reading – long may it continue.
    Thanks for posting.

  8. Lovely posting! We once decided our children’s school – and the village we would move to – on the basis that the three staff in the reception class were all dressed as Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear on the day we visited!

    In haste, since I shall be teaching very soon… Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know why the Caged Bird Sings’ is ONE of my many favourite books. On every reading I have a poignant reminder of some things I generally take for granted, particularly freedom and literacy. Equally, Maya Angelou is a heroine of mine.

    I am also a tremendous fan of a children’s book that I first read in 1982 when I was a student teacher: Alan Arkin’s ‘Tony’s Hard Work Day’. Tony is three and the youngest person of all his family members who are all to busy renovating their house to take notice of him. Dismissed but undaunted Tony shows them all what he is made of: he builds his own house!

    I could go on and on. Let us never forget the unbounded value – and pleasure – of being able to read what we want to read.

  9. Thanks Jane.
    If you liked Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know why the Caged Bird Sings’ – which I agree is a very powerful read, then can I recommend Sally Morgan’s wonderful “My Place” from Australia. I’ll say no more about it as this might spoil the read – it moved me to tears on several occasions – perhaps you already know it.

  10. I have been considering this it has actually been a very good discussion with a Czech colleague over lunch. Looking at your blog you have interpreted this children’s literature. If this is the case it is relatively easy as for me it has to be Winnie the Pooh.

    But I would have to say that the task is more challenging for adult literature. I can’t pick ONE author. I was once entertaining a French friend and an English friend for dinner. The English man asked the French man if he preferred red or white wine. The Frenchman replied that this is not a useful question… Both have their place.

    It is the same for literature…. But here are a few ideas of books (or authors) which have become like old friends…

    Pride and Predudice ….Jane Austen
    Great Expectations …. Dickens
    One hundred years of solitude…. Marquez
    Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter…. Llosa
    Wyrd Sisters …. Terry Pratchett
    Captain Corelli’s mandolin …. De Berniere
    Anything by Dorothy Sayers
    The Inspector Montalbano novels… Camilierri
    Madame Bovary
    Anna Karenina
    Jo Nesbo …horribly addictive thriller
    Etc
    Etc
    Etc

    Sorry. Got to go and catch my flight back to England…. And sort my Book out to read on the flight….

  11. Thank you for this challenge Richard. I have been considering this all day and it generated a very good discussion with a Czech colleague over lunch. Looking at your blog you have interpreted this as children’s literature? If this is the case it is relatively easy, as for me it has to be Winnie the Pooh.

    But I would have to say that the task is more challenging for adult literature. I can’t pick ONE author. I was once entertaining a French friend and an English friend for dinner. The English man asked the French man if he preferred red or white wine. The Frenchman replied that this is not a useful question… Both have their place.

    It is the same for literature…. But here are a few ideas of books (or authors) which have become like old friends…

    Pride and Predudice ….Jane Austen
    Great Expectations …. Dickens
    One hundred years of solitude…. Marquez
    Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter…. Llosa
    Wyrd Sisters …. Terry Pratchett
    Captain Corelli’s mandolin …. De Berniere
    Anything by Dorothy Sayers
    The Inspector Montalbano novels… Camilierri
    Madame Bovary
    Anna Karenina
    Jo Nesbo …horribly addictive thriller
    Etc
    Etc
    Etc

    Sorry. Got to go and catch my flight back to England…. And sort my Book out to read on the flight….

    • Sheena,
      The luxury of a flight with all that time to read (even on a short flight there’s all that hanging around in airports). A wonderful list from which we can all learn.

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