Ejucashun, Ejucation, Twitter…

25 03 2009

Whilst on my daily trawl through the BBC’s webpages, I found this story and was instantly dismayed. As a history scholar, I firmly believe more should be done to encourage people to question their pasts, and to connect the present with what has gone on before. The suggestions mooted in this report indicate that this is no longer a concern for governmental officials. Instead, it seems, we should be encouraging the ‘life skills’ of how to use Twitter, or how to blog.

Lets deal with this in three parts:

1. The suggestions seem to point to the idea that using Twitter is an important thing for children to learn. It is almost certainly not just Twitter but every social networking site going, but for the sake of convenience, Twitter will be used. I have a huge problem with this. The childhood stage of life is an important one in terms of building relationships with people, or at least learning how to do so. Kids learn moral and social things, you don’t pull people’s hair, you don’t hit people, you don’t bully people etc etc. They learn this through experiencing things, through doing, and through the repercussions of their actions. Kids learn how to talk to people, how to interact with others and communicate themselves. Again, they do this through actions. If we add Twitter into this, how much of a negative effect will this have on how they learn to build relationships with other people? I would suggest it would be a massive effect. No longer would it be necessary for children to talk to each other, when they can type instead. No longer would it be fun to go and play in the park with their mates because they could be interacting online instead. Twitter would begin to destroy how kids learn, rather than giving them the skills necesary. So yes, while they may learn to type, they will stop learning how to talk.

2. The report also mentions blogging. It seems to want to encourage more children to want to use blogs as a source of information, and to take up writing their own stuff. Why? Not all people are comfortable writing in the first place, never mind in a public access site. Why exacerbate things for those who do not want to write or use blogs?

Also, I’m going to throw into this Wikipedia, which is also mentioned in the report. Apparently, according to this write up of the story, “Children [are] to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information“. Great. This though assumes one very important thing. That Wikipedia is right. Which, as we all know, it is not necessarily. Indeed we have been told on countless occasions not to use Wikipedia as a credible source for work as accuracy cannot be guarenteed.

3. It was though the final point of the BBC’s first paragraph which irked me the most though. All this is come come at the expense of history. At least, that’s the impression it gave. Further reading indicates that this is not the case, although schools will have the ability to choose which periods should be taught with the goal to be:

By the end of the primary phase, children should have gained an overview which enables them to place the periods, events and changes they have studied within a chronological framework, and to understand some of the links between them.

Great. They will not be taught about possibly two of the three most important parts of modern British history, but instead whatever takes the teachers fancy at the start of the year. Now I get that the Second World War is still part of later academic life, and, to some extent, so is the Victorian era. But what else is there of significance that can be taught? The First World War? No-one understands that, let alone primary school kids. At least the Second World War had the ‘bad guy’ in Hitler. What does World War One have? Nothing, it was fighting for the sake of fighting. I would suggest it is better to sow the seeds of curiosity when children are more receptive to ideas. They can then follow this up and develop an interest later on in their academic lives.

I really do not think that further use of Twitter, Wikipedia et al should be encouraged. Many people are already moaning that there is too much exposure to the internet and computers, so surely encouraging further exposure should be frowned upon? At a period where we are frequently told of the growing obesity problem, surely placing kids in front of another screen cannot help? I’m still not sure what was wrong with classrooms and books personally.

Just as a note, reading some of the comments about this story, this one has to be my favourite:

Im sure its just a coincidence the second world war where we fought against fascism is removed from the curriculum as our government becomes more fascist and controlling,

To cynical for my own good sometimes

The writer later admits that the Second World War is not being removed at all, but the point still made me chuckle.

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Face It…

23 03 2009

So people don’t like the new Facebook layout. I don’t either. It is uncomfortable, unnecessarily busy and trying too hard to be like the rising social network Twitter. As of 10.51pm there are 1,202,743 people who dislike the new layout, with only 77,744 people actually liking it. It is good news that Mark Zuckerberg is talking to the users about the changes, but one wonders quite how much he will listen to the overwhelming tide of opinion. At least, that’s what it appears to be. According to this article there are over 175million people who use Facebook. Just over one million have voted. The rest could probably be split into two groups: the lazy and the indifferent. The indifferent ones are the people who really don’t mind the new look. They think that change has happened, and so there is no point in complaining about it.

And so I feel in a quandry about it. I have added my name to the million or so others in expressing my dislike for Twitterbook, but I realise that this is an ultimately meaningless waste of my time. I have no plans to join Twitter either, it seems odd, and slightly pointless. It also shows how we (as a whole) are becoming more addicted to social networking in cyberspace than face to face. It is seen as fine to constantly update your account, or hold conversations with other users, without it seeming sad. I disagree with this, all it shows is that the users have little or no life in that they feel they need to interact with others through the site at regular intervals. My breaking news for the evening: people still have faces, you can still talk to them. They also have telephones. You do not need to do it via Twitter in the impersonal world of cyberspace.

Anyway, back to Facebook. I use Facebook as much more than a tool to find out about others. It is a way of finding information out, planning events, and interacting with people of a like mind, without the pressure of needing to be online all the time so as to stay up-to-date with the conversation. As I said, I don’t like the way Facebook has changed recently, and genuinely thought that if enough people were against the changes, then they would either change back, or forward again. That was until I read this article. It is a really interesting piece about the real world of Facebook. By which I mean the business side of the site. About how it needs these changes to keep ahead in the business world. And about how it cannot afford to change. I for one rarely consider the financial aspect of the site before. It was simply a tool to unite people. But it is, of course, a business. One that is making Zuckerberg a fair bit of cash. However this cannot last forever, and so natural evolution of his business is inevitable. That means Facebook has to change, even if a million people disagree with the changes.





Delving Deeper…

17 03 2009

It was with interest that I read this article about the Wizard of Oz. Yes, that childhood tale of a young girl just trying to get home, aided magnificently by the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Oh, and the dog. It is always interesting to read into books rather than taking the face value for granted. Now I’m not sure that I completely agree with the theory being portrayed in the BBC’s article, but it is interesting to see an argument or theory put forward well. A considered, rationalised approach substantiated with specifics from history to contextualise the argument mean that the original proponent of the viewpoint, Henry Littlefield has a strong case. Especially when you consider that the film actually took away some of the political points through subtle changes (the Ruby slippers were actually Silver in the original book, an apparent reference to the use of silver to substantiate the American Gold Standard which was ailing at the time the book was written.

Despite this, the viewpoints put forward by readers at the bottom of the page are more in line with my thoughts. You can read whatever you want to read in things. The Wizard of Oz has, through the course of the 20th and 21st Centuries become extended metaphors for a range of things. I think that this may be a case of reading something into it that was not intended to be there in the first place. By this I mean modern observers are mapping ideas onto the film that fit with the society that they know at the moment. This isn’t unusual, it has been happening for ages, and I think that the example of the Wizard of Oz serves to indicate this further.

To link in with this idea of interpretation of films, I saw Watchmen on Sunday. I have to say I really liked it. The film looked good, the plot was substantial, considered and thought-provoking, and I would recommend going to see it, although you may wish to lose the preconceptions of a ‘super-hero’ movie that my sister apparently approached the film with. I have my own theories on the movie that I will share with you, so if you haven’t seen it, now would be a good time to stop reading.

I think that it can be argued that the film is an anti-religious one. Dr Manhatten (the big blue one) is used as an extended reference to god, with the idea being sown into our heads early on, when it is explained that he does not consider himself to be a god. Through the film we see what Manhatten is capable of, infinite knowledge, bringing death, being in many places simultaneously, being an entity for people to unite behind (the film uses Vietnam to highlight this idea). All are ideas which can be seen to be ‘god-like’. This theory is further substantied when, at the end of the film, Manhatten leaves Earth to set up life in another universe. He therefore can be seen to be both the bringer of life and death. So very god-like.

I say it is anti-religion though because by the end of the film, Manhatten has been made into the bad-guy. Through the series of events that leads to the destruction of a large part of New York, Manhatten becomes the common enemy that prevents the Russians and the Americans wiping the planet out in a nuclear war. By giving them something to hate, Manhatten saves the earth (even though strictly it wasn’t of his own design).[I’m thinking that the next Batman film will follow a similar line given the ending to the previous one]. So, in the course of the film, Manhatten is shown to be god-like in all but name, and is hounded down and almost forced to leave the planet, indeed, the universe to save mankind. It is true that he could fight back, and would almost certainly win, but it is his love of mankind which sees him disappear. To me this smacks of being anti-religion.

I think. As I’m writing this I am also considering the possibility that the film is pro-religion too, as here is this omnipotent being who has saved the world from itself and has united enemies. I suppose it is what you make of it then. Just like the Wizard of Oz.





A Grand Death…

11 03 2009

Today, I have been reliably informed by the radio, is no-smoking day. A day designed to encourage people to give up the disgusting habit so as they don’t kill themselves early. I was listening to an interview with a young man about the day. He smoked, and dismissed the day as a gimmick, something designed in absence of anything better. He also said that he didn’t care about the health effects of smoking as he wasn’t feeling the effects yet.

I was appaled by his attitude. This, apparently, is the sort of ignorant, self-harming, worthless individual we should be helping out. Right. Forgive me while I struggle to find any degree of compassion. I get that many people take up smoking due to peer pressure, and do not fully realise the risks when taking up the habit, but for someone to be so stupidly nonchalant about the whole thing is beyond me. I do not get why any full grown adult would take up the habit knowing full well the risks and consequences of smoking. I’m wondering if anyone can explain it to me.

Secondly then, the campaign seems to be the last chance saloon for anti-smoking campaigns. It has got to the stage where the only thing people will listen to is money. It is no longer about cancer, or death, or the appearance, or the anti-social aspect, or the smell. It is about money. Cold hard cash. The campaign suggests that in one week you will have saved enough to have a cheap flight abroad. In one month £176 will have been saved. In a year £2111. I sort of wish I had this sort of money to burn as quickly as smokers do. In fact, this money is only if you smoke 20 a day. There are many people who smoke much more. What sort of careers do these people have that lets them burn over two thousand pounds a year?

My final gripe is much simpler. The campaign, in Birmingham, is taking place in Victoria Square. It is a day full of fun and festivities, with one of the local radio stations offering those who turn up to try to stop smoking the chance to win £1000. I’m sorry, but what? Win a grand by giving up smoking? Seriously? It’s not even giving up, it is merely the promise of giving up. I remember Ned Flanders’ comments about ‘good intentions’ and think that this applies here. Why should anyone be rewarded for promising to kick a disgusting anti-social habit that was entirely their choice to take up in the first place? “Here you are, you were either stupid or ignorant. Let us reward this. Have a grand.” Why should there be a financial incentive? It is beyond me. All it does is seem to trivialise the issue of smoking into some form of competition where everyone has the same chance of winning.

I’m sorry, but I think smokers get what is coming to them. It serves them right. There are enough places to learn about the risks and consequences, yet still people take up this habit. This woeful lack of intelligence, or foresight, or sheer stupidity all deserve to be punished, not rewarded.





Climbing…

2 03 2009

I was, for the first time in a while, listening to Radio 1 on my way home from work this morning. The return of Jo Whiley to replace the perennially annoying Sara Cox (who cannot pronounce her own name right, never mind anything else) did much to convince me to switch the station. Anyway, Jo Whiley spoke to Chris Moyles on her show. This is the same Chris Moyles who is currently in Africa plodding his way up Mount Kilimanjaro along with other “celebrities” to raise money for Comic Relief.

As I listened to Moyles genuinely struggling his way through the interview, I thought back to my time at the top of Africa. I’m reasonably sure that I would not want to be interviewed by anyone, let alone someone in the relative comfort of a radio studio in London. More than that though, I became convinced that the some of the “celeb” team will not make it to the top. There are logical reasons I say this:

1. They did no acclimatisation. This was a fundamental part of our trip, and a hugely important part in dealing with any potential altitude related problems that might occur. I believe, through my own experience, that everyone needs to get used to the country, the weather and the heights, as well as the important combination of all three. If they don’t then they are, and indeed have, affected their chances of success.

2. The fitness of the team can be questioned. I have heard reports that some members of the team (Alesha Dixon) did little or no training for the climb. This is stupid and foolish. I did pretty much two years of training for my climb and was still barely fit enough. What matters is stamina though, and this was built up through practise climbs, both in Britain and Tanzania. The “celebs” haven’t done this to anywhere near the same extent I don’t think.

3. The altitude. It will almost certainly get someone. If it hasn’t by the dawning of the final assault, it will during it. The last climb is perhaps the sharpest and quickest of the trip. Done during the night when temperatures are near freezing, I would be very surprised if no-one was affected.

So, I repeat, I am not convinced that all will make it. But there is another gripe I have with this. Whilst I get it is for charity, I fundamentally think it is the wrong charity. “Comic” relief, it’s in the name isn’t it? The funds should be raised through comic means, shouldn’t they? Perhaps I’m being too critical here, but this ‘comic’ idea has amost gone from the event, save on the night of the show itself. It has now become a chance for the BBC to show the nation what a charitable organisation it is. I think there are other charities, which have considerably less publicity which perhaps deserve an equal chance of earning such revenues. There are plenty of charities working in Africa which get nowhere near the same help and support as Comic Relief. If you are going to undertake such a challenge, do it for something obscure, something that needs the money more. Comic Relief would have made millions anyway, regardless of this climb. So why not give the money to another charity which is working at achieving something slightly different in Africa?

Perhaps there is a reason I sound slightly bitter about this. It is because I am. I feel that the escapades of “celebrities” in the name of charity has failed to truly understand the challenge of the mountain. They are almost trivialising the challenge simply by their collective presence. Kili is something that is going to stick forever with me. My own achievements in climbing it, along with the collection of emotions that went with it are something I will never forget. My own, deeply personal thoughts as I sat at the top of Kilimanjaro will forever haunt me. The mountain is more than the “celebrities” on it. This is not appreciated by enough people.

Editors Note: As if to further prove my point, I read this on the BBC. The title alone highlights my problem.