Monthly Archives: November 2017

The talking watch

My dad loves to give gifts. When he was a boy, family tradition says that one of his uncles (he had many uncles, but no cousins) used to have everyone over for Christmas dinner and enjoy himself, as host, by, every so often, appearing with another gift, much to everyone’s delight (in particular, my dad). Today, he likes to carry on the tradition, not at Christmas, but when he visits, and my children greet his appearance with great joy and anticipation, as they swarm around him like cats, winding their bodies around his legs (or at least they did when they were younger), waiting for the inevitable to appear out of one of his many pockets (my dad is a man of many pockets, which is or is not an advantage, depending on whether you are looking for your glasses or your keys or not).

Having a family of grandsons has clearly been a source of purchasing pleasure for him, the father of two daughters. In some ways he has revisited his youth, with candle steam boats that float in the bath, microscopes (complete with accidental sample of grandfatherly blood) and all manner of funny games and build-it kits heavy with meaning for him (and none at all for me, except that I just know he is itching to buy my daughter a lurid make-up set so that h he can declare in sonorous tones laced with laughter, ‘let their make-up be like clowns’ – I began experimenting with make-up around 1985; I’ll let you draw your own conclusions).

Recently though, his gift buying has hit new heights (or depths, depending on your perspective); last Christmas, he bought Sam a talking watch. Now, Sam has been hedged about by timepieces for some time. I bought him a digital watch one year, a great big chunky orange one which he wore with great pride until he lost it (it turned up again when I swapped handbags). There is a teaching clock on his bedroom wall, and for many years, day and night were marked by a light up bunny that slept at night and trotted off into the big, wide world, knapsack on its back to the tune of early morning birdsong and a cock-a-doodle-do as soon as it was day. For all his difficulties in learning, Sam is getting along well with telling the time.

He doesn’t have an obsession with punctuality. Unlike his father, his default setting is generally later, rather than early. If it were up to him, I’m sure he would be perfectly happy listening to his internal rhythms and following them, note by note. No, Sam’s familiarity with the mechanical underpinnings of the daily timetable spring from our efforts to effect change. Sam is, you see, an early riser and we are, as I am sure you understand, heartily sick of being woken up.

It’s pointless trying to change Sam. He wakes up with the sun and who can blame him? During the summer months (I never thought I’d be glad of the dark mornings), with an Easterly facing bedroom, the sun gets up – and so does he.

I’m not sure that the bunny clock ever really worked (despite my jabbing finger and hissed instruction to OBEY THE BUNNY). Asking him nicely to keep the noise down and let the rest of us sleep works up the point when he decides that he is bored, all on his lonesome, and it’s time he had some company, or some breakfast. Sam is, for his sins, a single-minded person with, understandably in the young, a personalised set of priorities.

But the talking watch. This has been a genius gift. After all those years, Sam knows that 7am is the time for getting up, even though he chooses to ignore it and either get up and crash about or stay in bed and crash about until the rest of us, red-eyed and gritty-tempered are forced up. You see, there is no arguing with the watch. It’s time is set remotely, radio controlled from Far Away, and it always tells the truth; it never changes its mind, or its tune. We finally, after all these years, have found the thing that has changed the game.

Because it’s true, you know, that you can’t change the person. Sam is not a mistake that needs to be fixed. He is not someone who can be forced to fit in, no matter how much we might want him to just do as he is told. Bawling at him might provide a temporary respite, but it never works long term. It’s never easy, figuring out what it is that needs to change – and even if you do, it might not be possible; after all, we live in a family and we have two other, younger children. Like teachers in a classroom, needs must be balanced, weighed up, and the best course measured.

Finding the thing that he understands, making subtle changes to the things that surround him, removing barriers, works.  Because it is then, and only then, that he is able to make the change, for himself.


I hate the way

I hate the way I walk in the footsteps of fatigue.
I hate the way of winter.
I hate the way life is magnified.
I hate the way that the setting is slow motion.


I hate the way I am no longer independent.
I hate the way I am rarely alone, but constantly lonely.
I hate the way it draws me to conflict.
I hate the way it feels so endless.


I hate the way I fear the future.
I hate the way the past is lost.
I hate the way it makes me cry.
I hate the way that I am not supposed to hate.


Social mobility, IQ and education

I’m getting very bored of the link up between social mobility, IQ and education, but, alongside my boredom there is disquiet and I am still trying to work out why that is (apart from the obvious). So, I’m going to take the three things, one at a time.

Social mobility

So, I’ve written about this concept before, (you can read last week’s post here) but maybe I haven’t been clear enough. I don’t think, when people talk or write about social mobility today that they actually mean what either I think the term means, or the term says.

To me, when I conjure up an image of social mobility, I think of Hyacinth Bucket or Margot Leadbetter. Caricatures of women climbing the social ladder, and being made fun of in the process. A male equivalent? Harold Steptoe, maybe. Men and women pretending to be better than they are, gardening in their yellow marigolds, playing snooker with a cue poking out of the window, ‘aping their betters’ and branding themselves as Lord and Lady Muck. No class, and certainly no breeding.

OK, so those characters are fictional, but they represent an image of social mobility that I think many of us hold in our collective imaginations, and many of us have experienced; the slow sloughing off of working class roots (although, if my own experience is anything to go by, they run deep, and they are not easily dismissed).

I don’t think that public commentators and organisations mean social mobility. I think they mean an economic ‘mobility’ whereby the individual, by dint of hard work, ‘makes good’. Instead of relying on the apparatus of the state for things such as housing, healthcare and education, they are able to earn enough to own their own homes, buy private health insurance and education for their children.

I think these are two different things.


I’m not going to spend much time writing or thinking about IQ. I’m not an expert in it but I do know this: it has been used in Western society since the day it was invented and its history is troubling and sad. People have been forcibly sterilised because of it. People have been discriminated against because of it. Lives have been undervalued and lost. To be honest, the thing I mostly think about it is when people boast about their own, or their genius child’s and, if there is anything that having a child with Down’s syndrome has taught me it is this: IQ is no guarantee of anything that matters in life. A high IQ is no guarantee of health (although I do understand the arguments about odds – to which I reply, when you have a 1 in 7000 chance of having a baby with Down’s you still could), it is no guarantee of being a decent person and it is certainly not the benchmark for love.

You can read a post about loving your disabled child here.

To me, IQ is just another one of those labels that gets in the way. As a teacher I firmly believe that we have a duty to meet the needs of the children in our classes without prejudice, and that includes notions of IQ.


Which brings me to education. The marrying of notions of social (economic) mobility to education is, to me, troubling. As a young person, I marched around the streets of Exeter (in the rain, no less) chanting ‘Education is a right, not a privilege’, in the first of the student protests about student loans. I believe that education should be free at the point of delivery, and that we have an equal right to it. I support ideas of a lifetime education; not everyone wants to go to university at 18, and that’s OK.

What I don’t support, however, is the close tying of education to economics. The getting of a good education is not directly related to the getting of a well-paid and fulfilling job. The role of teachers is not to turn out compliant, hard working citizens (who will never need public housing, healthcare or education for their children). I reject the notion of a utilitarian schooling.


This is why I feel so troubled by the current arguments that are swirling in my field. It’s difficult to disagree with declarations that every child is entitled to access ‘the best that has been thought and said’ and made. I add made because I take my children to museums, art galleries and places of cultural and historical significance regularly as I consider it their right to participate in the cultural and intellectual life of this world regardless of their age or abilities. I did so as a teacher and I do so as a parent.

And that’s it, I suppose. An education isn’t about fitting a person out to be a good little worker, and only accessible to those who conform. It’s something else entirely.