22 September 2007

On machines to solve crosswords

I don't often buy the "Telegraph"—honest! :-)

The paper came with a brochure for a mail-order company, one of whose products is "the world's most powerful pocket crossword solver". I'm sure it is very good at what it does. I'm not at all good at cryptic crosswords* but the last thing I want is a machine to solve the clue for me! All the fun resides in the fact that it is difficult and that it is only one's personal brainpower which solves it. It is in the process rather than the product that the enjoyment resides.

* Not the "sauce made from meat juices" clue, but the "Victory enlivens monochrome sauce!" clue. The answer to both is "gravy". If you are wondering "how?" you have got the point.

12 September 2007

On old textbooks

A correspondent (who happens to host this disturbing and important site on how schools blindly and blithely ignore pupils' rights) has been in touch about a more benign but fascinating issue.

Do you remember your school textbooks (regardless of the subject)? How they presented their subject was hugely influential on their generation of pupils, and it is a much neglected source for research today.

Most obviously, the implicit values of old textbooks on history and geography can tell us so much about the world-views of their period. Consider E H Marshall's "Our Island Story", which has been reprinted and can now be read on the web.

But what can textbooks in English, Maths, French, Latin tell us about the expectations of pupils at various ages in the past? "Deconstructionist" documentary research in education does not seem to have the profile it deserves. (I am very far from a fan of the emperor's-tailoring of postmodernism, but diluted with a nice cup of tea, the general idea that what has been written says something about the writer's world, is acceptable.)

And put that together with the exam. papers of the era... I would not wish to pre-empt the results of any research, but it's a fruitful seam to mine.

Are there any collections of old textbooks out there? Is there a research tradition of which I know nothing? Are there others interested in exploring this area of research? Get in touch!