17 June 2011

On learning by naming

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
          And to-day we have naming of parts.
Reed, Henry. "Naming of Parts." New Statesman and Nation 24, no. 598 (8 August 1942)

(Do read the rest of this very funny, but also cutting and sometimes beautiful, long poem about the absurdity of war, from the link above.)

I was reminded of this as I drove back from another teaching observation this morning, (the same circumstances as this earlier one). I'm happy to report that the student is making good progress, but she is still stuck with another hopeless course. The Wolf Report on vocational qualifications makes no bones that the quality of many of those qualifications is dubious, they are not fit for purpose, and effectively deceive young people into believing that they are going to lead somewhere. What I observed this morning clearly met those criteria. It was a Level 3 National Diploma in "Sports Development and Football"--a spurious concoction of a curriculum, even by vocational education standards, clearly not well understood by students or even the tutor. (To be fair, I must concede that today's lesson on planning activity sessions for children did have some practical merit--despite being enirely classroom-based.)

Its recurrent theme was matching up all activities with "the" four Benefits of Exercise. Not three, not five, not twenty-two, but four. It appeared that these were so doctrinally significant that they had to be taught dogmatically; they could not be discussed and discovered. And then they had to be written down and incorporated into the (written) assignment. (Without attribution--despite this being Level 3, which is just one level below first-year undergraduate level, the question, "Who says?" was never raised. No wonder freshers are thrown by their university experience...)

And there was no Japonica in a garden outside, but it came to me as I drove back that I had sat in on a session about naming of parts. At this level, it appears (on the basis of the previous observation and class discussions) that most of the learning is about attaching an approved label to a concept or experience. Rather like the magical belief in the potency of naming as a means of gaining power over an object, the assumption is that to name is to know, and that is all that is needful.

At least in Reed's case, the naming was clear labelling of concrete objects, even if one of them "you have not got"...
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
          Which in our case we have not got.

1 comment:

  1. "In recognition we fall back, as upon a stereotype, upon some previously formed scheme. Some detail or arrangement of details serves as a cue for bare identification. It suffices in recognition to apply this bare outline as a stencil to the present object. [...] Even a dog that barks and wags his tail is more fully alive in his reception of his friend than is a human being who is content with mere recognition." -John Dewey


Comments welcome, but I am afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I shall process them as soon as I can.