Vespers

Crows take vespers among silent skies.

-Job

#Flashfiction

School Behaviour Report
17.9.2015

Today during class Paddy told Thomas he had big ears. 

I told Paddy it wasn’t a nice thing to say but it was actually true. 

I told Paddy to say sorry. He refused. 

Paddy then tried to break Thomas’s green pen because Thomas kept poking him with it. 

He tried but was too weak to snap it.

-Job 

#Flashfiction

School Behaviour Report

17.9.2015

Today during class Thomas poked Paddy with a green pen. 

He then attempted to draw on Paddy’s head. 

I told him to stop. 

He didn’t stop so I asked him to move to another seat. 

He refused to move. 

-Job

Pilgrimage to Stratford-Upon Avon

On the Twenty-First of February 2015, (thanks to a gift from my wife), I fulfilled a long-held ambition and did my pilgrimage to William Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a short visit, a night and a day but it was enough to take in a fascinating and historic town. Here are some photos:

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Question to myself

I often wonder, can I cut
myself into my many interests and passions
to create good work?
Are they not one?
Yes.
All belong to the same stream.
I am that stream.
So as I write, I teach and philosophize.
As I teach, I write and philosophize.
And as I philosophize, I write and teach.
All belong to the same stream.
I am that stream.

-J.O’Brien

Literature and Class Consciousness

 

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Who controls literature?

This question has been humming in my mind lately. It relates to power structures and class in Ireland. I can only speak of the Irish experience as that is what I’m familiar with but what I’m thinking of probably applies to most modern capitalist cultures.

In Ireland we rarely speak about class, it seems a very British idea, but there are different classes.
There is an upper class of the ultra rich. They control wealth and land. This is a relatively small class but very powerful.
There is a large middle class of educated professionals, doctors, solicitors, teachers, academics, politicians, journalists, etc.
There is a large working class of farmers, tradesmen, shop and industrial workers.
There is a small underclass of people who exist in a liminal space, they have almost no voice in our society.

In my experience it is the middle class who control literature and therefore literature reflects their interests. Most editors are from this class. Most publishers are run by people from the middle class. The news and media are run by people from the middle class. Politics is run by the middle class. Are most writers from this class too?

Now, I’m not calling this a conspiracy or saying that there is any ulterior motive behind it by people working in literature, however there is a downside to this. That is groupthink.

If all of the people who decide on what is ‘good’ literature come from the same class then we get a very narrow view of what literature is. Their interests and needs will dominate what’s published. If they write about the life experience of another class they do so from the outside and there will always be a judgement made about the lives of the other class.

For example, in literary magazines in Ireland at the moment there seems to be a strong interest in stories about the underclass; criminals, outlaws, and scumbags. They are ‘characters’ to feel sorry for or to laugh at. Rarely are their lives seen from the inside, without judgment. I suppose they are of interest because they live in the moment, acting out emotions in violent and sudden bursts. A sort of grotesque spectacle, a deformed human drama.

But where are the stories from the working class perspective? The upperclass? The underclass? What if a working class story came to an editor that did not fit with their view of ‘good’ literature? Would it be rejected?

This domination of literature by the middle class has a dangerous downside that I often see. When I’m not writing I teach in a secondary school and I see students who feel alienated from books and literature. They (mostly boys) tell me that they don’t read. I would argue that this is because they don’t see their own lives reflected in literature in a positive way. They see literature as something ‘posh’ that middle/upper class types are into but isn’t for them. So they prefer film, football and TV, places where their lives are reflected without as much judgement. They ignore literature altogether.

In conclusion…

If this were an essay I would have to reach a conclusion, prove my thesis, but I’m not interested in proving a point. I’m more interested in raising a question. If a literary scene is controlled by a particular class then their interests will surely dominate and every other class will be seen from the outside. This can only be bad for literature in the long run.

Does school stifle creativity?

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Too much school?

As a teacher and writer I am very interested in the intersection between school and creativity. Surely we all want creative children who can think outside the box? Who are creative and critical thinkers?

But is this what they learn in school at present?

I think the education system actually turns children off learning. One reason this happens is because of the way we model the school day around the working day.

Mini Workplace

School has become a mini-workplace where you clock-in and clock-out, five days a week. But quantity of learning does not equate to quality learning.

Less Formal

Actually less time spent on formal learning and more time off exploring their own interests would be of more benefit. But our culture fears the idea of young people, especially teenagers, having too much time to themselves. The devil makes work for idle hands, we are told. And also having children in school all week suits the workplace. Schools look after children while parents are busy at work.

Boredom

But by accepting this logic we turn children off learning. As a teacher I know I could achieve just as much learning with my students in a shorter day, or shorter week. If school was four days a week I would build that into how I structured my lessons. If school finished at one o’clock I’d make that work too. There is too much wasted time and repetition in the school day. But the system is afraid to admit this. And the end result of forcing children to stay in school and repeat the same things over and over is that they lose interest in learning.

Forced to learn

No one likes being forced to do anything. The only reason we do things we don’t like is due to some extrinsic motivation: money, necessity, love. But the things we do for intrinsic reasons we devote our entire lives to. Think of passions and hobbies. There’s no need to coerce or punish a person to get them to follow their passions.

A different model

This provides a model for how we should approach education into the future. Beyond the necessary skills that are required to negotiate the modern world, children, I think, should be allowed time to explore learning. We need them to feel excited about things. Excited about life. We can’t force them to learn what we as educators think they should learn. We can guide, introduce and suggest ideas to them but we need to allow space for their interest and passions to ignite within them. This will eventually lead to better learning, more quality rather than quantity.

This however, cannot happen without a rethink of how we structure the school system. We need to give young people a little more time to themselves so that they can explore. This means a shorter school day, and a shorter school week. And less homework too.