“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