what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I’ve ben racing through books in the last few days – first a marvellous tale The Last Testament of Gideon Mack by one of Scotland’s up-and-coming generation of writers, James Robertson. The link gives a review by Irvine Walsh, one of the more established of our writers, who not only gives an excellent summary and commentary on the novel but also graciously asserts that Robertson is one of Britain’s best current novellists. Certainly I enjoyed his most recent book – And the Land Lay Still which Walsh also reviews very positively (google for that). Recent political events in Scotland are an important presence in both books (indeed the main character in his most recent) – but Gideon Mack had a particular resonance for me since its main character is a “son of the manse” (who, despite lack of belief, becomes a minister himself). The sense he conveys of life in the manse (the house in which the Minister lives) as Gideon is growing up and of church activities, for me, as another “son of the manse” is very well done.
At one point he has the devil say to Mack –
I like Scotland. I like the miserable weather. I like the miserable people, the fatalism, the negativity, the violence that’s always below the surface. And I oike the way you deal with religion. One century you’re up to your lugs in it, the next you’re trading the whole apparatus for Sunday superstores. Praise the Lord and thrash the bairns. Ask and ye shall have the door shut in your face. Blessed are they that shop on the Sabbath for they shall have the best bargains. Oh yesy, this is a very fine country
Norman Lewis was also admired for his writing in the second half of the last century - although he’s better known now as a travel writer. I read earlier in the year an excellent biography of Lewis and read this week the first two parts of his autobiography – I Came, I Saw; and The World, The World. Quite sublime writing! He can summons up characters and landscapes so powerfully - and is particularly strong on the loss of traditional ways of living (whether in Spain, India, Latin America or rural Essex)

In April 2010, I blogged about the sudden commitment which appeared in Conservative manifesto to permit “free schools” – based on the Swedish model There is a story today about the apparent decline of school performance in Sweden – and some backtracking in Sweden on the concept of the “free school”
Sweden's path-breaking educational reforms of the 1990s have come under question since last December when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment. This showed that Swedish students had dropped to 19th place out of 57 countries for literacy, to 24th in maths, and to 28th in science. This compared with 9th, 17th and 16th in studies done in 2000, 2003 and 2006 respectively. And Swedes, used to coming near the top of just about every human development index, were appalled. Jan Björklund, the minister of education, moved to tighten central control over schools and is soon to launch a parliamentary inquiry into competition and free schools.
Just two excerpts from the discussion thread which followed - 1.
Only 10% of Swedish students go to free schools (as of 2008) so for Sweden to have been dropping in the 2009 PISA tables must surely be a reflection on the whole system, for example even if the 10% did a fantastic job it could not make up for the other 90% if they underperformed.
2. Many Swedish free schools are not run for a profit, they are run by churches or charities, so you cannot generalise about the profit motive and all Swedish free schools
and, from one of the customers,
One of those free schools I went to, JENSEN, had half-days for all its pupils, which basically ment that you started at 8 am and left at 12ish am for 1 week, and then switched to beginning at 11 am and leaving at 4ish PM the next week. The school did this because this, basically, ment that they could have twice the amount of students in 1 school as opposed to having a full day at school which would mean less pupils = less taxpayer-money = less profit.
So they have an incentive to fill classes up with 30-40 students in tight rooms, to cut the amount of hours of teacher-led classes and to basically warehouse pupils until they are old enough to disappear

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