Richard Pierce

Richard Pierce – author, poet, painter

Education, Life, Politics, Reading

Day 27

A change in routine today. For the past week I’ve felt like I’ve made no progress at all with work, so what I’ve done this morning is to put in 45 minutes work, have breakfast, and now sit down to write this. After all, this is an experiment in harnessing creativity rather than anything else. Although my working day isn’t meant to start until 09:30, I like to get up and get straight to work – I always have. Maybe there’s still something in me from when I spent my life in a private sector corporate environment, that macho corporate way of working from very early till very late, maybe just for the sake of it, maybe just for the sake of proving to everybody else that I’m working hard(er than anyone else). When I was running my own business, I used to get up at 04:30, and catch the first bus (05:15) into town (Luton) to be at my desk by 06:15 and getting at least two hours work under my belt before the others started coming in. And even before that I worked crazy hours; M may gladly tell you of a mad week (before we were even official) when I worked very long days to get a business information database reformatted on 30 machines at the office, walking from one machine to the other and working a cycle of reformatting and then copying the reformat onto tape (yes, that long ago), and she’d come to the office late in the evening with food for me to keep me going. Home at midnightish, and then back at it by 7 the next morning. Ah, the energy and immortality of youth.

So, back in the present, I think this may be a better order of things, even if it’s just a placebo effect of feeling like I’ve done something productive before I turn my mind to creating something new. Some might say it’s the wrong order of things, that I’m subjugating my creativity to the requirements of my day job. Some might ay it makes sense. Others might just not give a damn about how I structure my days. For me, it’s a question of making sure my head stays in the right place. Like I said, this is an experiment. It should be noted that I’ve not added anything to The Mortality Code for over a week, so it could be said I’m channelling all my energy into creating this one piece every day rather than letting my mind roam free over the unresolved stories in the novel I’m writing, rather than gestating those other stories in all the books in my head that haven’t even been born yet.

Loud planes overhead again that fragment my thoughts. Despite the crisis in Ukraine, there’s no need to be flying training missions over a densely-populated city, a city that used to be the second city in England, where kings came and look and saw and went away again (read Tombland by CJ Sansom for an insight into Norwich at the time of Kett’s Rebellion; it’s primarily the ghosts from that time that populate Mousehold Heath just up the road from here, that hide in the cold sunlight between the trees in the dips between hillocks and horizon; but that’s another story for another time).

Those of you who’ve read my blogs from the start know how often and how vociferously I’ve railed against how the education system in England has become far too science-heavy, forcing children to study all three sciences (or at least two) up to the age of 16, and not making a foreign language compulsory to age 18, and neglecting the fact that 25% of the population (and of children leaving primary school) are functionally illiterate. Last night, I watched the first episode of Jay Blades: Learning To Read at 51, Jay Blades being the lead presenter of Repair Shop (bear with me; this is not as twee as you might think), who, it turns out, left school not being able to read, did a university degree in Criminology and Philosophy without being able to read, and who blagged his way to being a presenter because of his determination and banter, and kept his functional illiteracy hidden until he’d been presenting the show for over 3 years. England has never had the compulsory repeating of years if certain attainment hasn’t been reached, unlike many countries on the Continent. I’ve always seen a repeating of a year not as a stigma, but as another chance to effectively educate a child. The problem in England (and now with many other countries, unfortunately) is that successive governments have used education as a political football or as a means to indoctrination, and have for decades seriously underfunded schools and universities (guess why there are tuition fees).

Last night, Blades said “no kid should leave primary school without being able to read,” and he’s absolutely right of course. And the fact that 25% of kids have done and still do is not down to teachers; it’s down to the system that’s forcing them to work with over 30 kids in a class, a system that makes them jump through bureaucratic hoops, that doesn’t allow them time to support children with problems, to care for those children, to make those children feel a heightened sense of self-worth which will improve their progress, give them better life chances. And if anyone says to me that they managed fine in classes of 50 kids after the Second World War etc, I’ll just ask them back why functional illiteracy has been a problem in this country back to way before then. What no-one says, of course, in answer to Blades’ question, is that it’s in government’s interests to have a significant proportion of its population functionally illiterate; poorly-educated people are those most likely to support populist policies, xenophobic policies, policies which exclude rather than exclude; and they’re less likely to be critical of any government, less likely to take to the streets. And a ready supply of fodder for menial jobs that no-one else wants to do. If you’ve not watched Blades’ programme, go do it now.

How we get governments to invest more in education is beyond me – there is no sign of any change to the politicisation of education, nor any will to change things.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a good education, even though my parents were carrot and stick merchants, and were cross and worried I couldn’t read when I was about seven or eight. It turned out I was just being too lazy (or something else) at home to read for them while I was top of the class at school.

And now for a full extended day’s work – you know I love it.

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