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How to launch new ideas – The Fundamental Quest for Meaning…

Conventional education proceeds from the known to the unknown, with a
great stress on the middle phase. But experimental education operates on
the opposite premise. The classroom is a laboratory and the results are as
yet unknown. How to go ahead in the first place is the burning issue.
The need for new approaches arises from the evidence that traditional
education – in 99% of all cases – just does not deliver the intellectual
excitement and joy which is the birthright of the human mind.
I know this is true because I have had the luck to observe incandescent
lecturers as well as read some exciting books: once or twice (Heidegger by
George Steiner and District and Circle by Seamus Heaney) when the printer’s
ink was still fresh, and they had only just arrived in the bookshop…

Or, I well remember the excitement of our class when the visiting Art History
lecturer was to be Sir Ernst Gombrich; and he did not disappoint us.
Or Julian Brown, fresh from observations of early medieval illuminated
manuscripts in European libraries: who would give presentations at King’s
College, London, where you could have heard a pin drop. We all knew that
this was exciting and original and first-class scholarship; and that the
palaeographer’s methods, as well as his discoveries, were given in the spirit
of being offered to our scrutiny; but were essentially breaking new ground.

So, two entangled ideas are floating around the teaching universe like two
unidentified Higgs bosuns, hiddenly influencing all that occurs. One view
says that everything is fine in the garden, so why not just plunge in?

The other view: no, it’s not that simple. Everything needs to be looked at
afresh and collided: in the hope of finding those lurking Higgs Bosuns!

This is no less true at an elementary level than in great universities. For if
there is a nobility and profundity inherent in the quest for human
knowledege, well let’s bring that thirst and longing right down to the grass
roots, and sew the seeds of that enthusiasm wherever we may find our
classroom and our students. The chance may not come a second time.
‘Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the
woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house’,
writes Thoreau.
The origins of my own innovative adventure were more cloistered, although
they also dated from late a quiet, unnoticed morning in late March, 2014. I
had obtained several of the non-fiction Oxford ‘Bookworms’ textbooks, for
which there was also available supporting audio.

I had not had a chance to use them while at Bolnisi School No 3. These were
perhaps my ‘tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth’:

England, Scotland, Ireland, a history of English, Seasons and Celebrations.
The ‘England’ book containeed an opening text whose less obviously
pronouncable words (along with cover images) I wanted to teach; given that
a class of half a dozen early teenagers , due to run until the summer, had
just been assembled…

It was clear that students would fail to read aloud successfully (and hence
lay claim to a kind of investment in some of the words encountered) for
probably three reasons: unfamiliarity with the the less than transparent
spelling tricks of English; inability to be histrionic especially in front of one’s
peers; and lack of knowledge of the conventions of musical pitching in
oratorical delivery.
But wait a moment! Was I not a being a bit unreasonable for in expecting
them to read words perfect pitch, first time off; and then (where they failed
to do so) correct them – using the time-honoured, but ultimately deflating
– convention of English Language teaching: which is just to give something in
its correct version, apparently thus gifting the student with it; but in reality
thereby unwittingly chipping away at his or her morale; and – to add insult
to injury – also, in the process, also omiting to explain how one’s correct
version arose…
If rules for the spelling of English existed, I would not now want to know
about them. But what I thought we might do collaboratively was to look at
the first of these three stumbling-blocks – what one might call ‘letter
dynamics’ –and so collectively come up with some new theory, some new
vision, some new heuristic, for reading correctly off the page and enjoying
the process.
So I isolated some categories of letter deviancy in English – using words
mainly within our sample – and tried to come up with my own DSM-IV for
them. On the fair assumption, that was, that they might being capable of
behaving madly, or of having sleep disorders, and so on, and thus not be
functioning as sanely as one might expect…
Music 2
But to launch straight in without explanation is too hard – so I wrote this.
You might as well let the Chopin Studies come to a conclusion as you
contemplete the prospect before us. We are going to take on the full gamut
of English word systems, and that is a bit like trying to play that last, final C
Minor Study – which looks back so brilliantly to the very first and savagely
comments on it. But just as Chopin goes back to Bach and the simple scale
of C, so do all English word behaviours contain a seed of reducability and
lucency. These Studies, the last utterance of Andre Tchaikovsky that are
blowing around cosmic space somewhere, still seeking a listener. In
Hofstadter’s words, we are seeking the Eternal Golden Braid of English.
The great pianists of the recent past will guide us on our way and I can
promise that the adventure will be interesting. Au revoir!