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Education 'on the brain'
Mrs. A, English teacher, mother to two demanding teenage children, and wife to an even more demanding husband, is a regular feature of our pages. In this issue, Education, she uses a lot of phrases connected with the brain, the mind and wit. If you need any help understanding the idiomatic expressions in her diary, just place the mouse over the purple ball following an underlined word or phrase.
7th January, Monday, early afternoon
I came home in a positive frame of mind. Just two more weeks and we’ll have a winter break. Julka wasn’t back home yet, but Maciek seemed busy writing something in his room. Sudden brainwaves just when it’s time for final assessment at schoo,l or keeping his head down? I’d barely had enough time to put the kettle on when the phone rang. Pani Jagoda from the ground floor with a request. Could I please check Konrad’s (her son’s) English homework? If he gets ‘1’ again, he’ll be given ‘1’ as the final winter semester grade and that may mean repeating the year. I know the woman has a lot on her mind, with a husband who’s got cars on the brain and three rather slow-witted kids, so I said, ”Sure”.
Konrad appeared with a box of chocolates and a thick hard-cover notebook. It was blank but for two words carefully written in bold lettering ‘Homework: education’. The task was to write sentences illustrating the meaning of ‘new educational terms’. To my mind, not a mind-bending assignment or something requiring keen wits. Considering the fact that Konrad is 14, I didn’t expect any brain-teasers but simple vocabulary items that kids may understand, something like ‘subject’, ‘textbook’ or ‘graduate’, something surely not beyond the wit of an ordinary gimnazjum pupil. But when Konrad proudly produced a much-creased page, I needed to collect my wits.
I like curriculum.
I very like cognitive code approach.
My friend like cross-disciplinary project.
He very like mixed-ability classes.
Very interesting is continuous assessment.
Oh dear. Either his teacher is not in her right mind or she’s trying to brainstorm before a methodology exam. Either way, I’m. not going to pit my wits against hers. ”Don’t you have any others?”, I asked Konrad diplomatically. He did: vocational degree, placement tests, lower-intermediate level, integrated skills, in-service teacher training, communicative competence, needs analysis. For a split second I felt tempted to give Konrad’s teacher a piece of my mind and send the boy home with the sentence: ‘Because I’m not even at a lower intermediate level and my communicative competence is limited I find it above my cognitive abilities to express how urgently you need some thorough and comprehensive in-service training.’ But I checked myself. MYOB (mind your own business) seemed a much better policy. So, although I could see his mind was on something else, I set up Konrad with my four best English-English dictionaries and told him to find the definitions of his ‘new terms.’
7th January, Monday, late afternoon
Konrad had a brainwave and decided to write ‘sentences that will explain the new terms.’ And with some considerable help from my dictionaries and a little supervising from me he went home happy to think that the six sentences, beautifully written in his new exercise book, were actually his brainchild. Julka is still not at home, though. She should have been back from school at around one. I’m at my wits’ end. Has anything happened? And where’s Spouse? Do I feel some faint symptoms of ‘out of sight out of mind? Perhaps I’ll open Konrad’s box of chocolates.
7th January, Monday, evening
The chocolates took my mind off Julka for some time. Ten minutes later, with a guilty feeling, I carried a half-empty box to Maciek’s room. What had he been doing there anyway? Sitting behind the desk for three hours was not like him. Normally he’s not such a homework-minded person. He seemed actually pleased to see me. Not that he wanted a sweet, he was doing an assignment in English and ‘could do with some checking.’ Soon his secret leaked out. He got a ‘1’ in a recent test. Terribly unfair, of course. It was a test of students’ knowledge of prefixes. He had spent ‘half an evening’ memorizing the rules for il-, ir- and im- , turning them over in his mind, and when it came to writing the test he, very logically, produced words like ‘irreliable’, ‘illoyal’, ‘illikely’ and ‘immarginal.’ So, it’s not his fault that all the grammar ‘rules’ are so stupid, they are for brainless, narrow-minded swots who can’t use their heads. Now he has to prove he has learned the use of prefixes and could I please check if the sentence he’s written is correct. The sentence ran: ‘In our under-funded and ill-equipped school some hyper-critical semi-idiots misuse their under-sized pseudo-intellectual potential forcing over-worked students to re-member in-accurate ir-relevant out-dated and counter-productive anti-knowledge.’ I don’t think it will make him popular with his English teacher, but at least he’s got the wits to learn a couple of pre-fixes.
7th January, Monday, late evening
Julka finally arrived at 8. She had spent all that time ‘getting ready for the Olimpiada.’ I don’t know why she took it into her head to participate. She had enrolled in a special course devoted to ‘covering the cultural component.’ I think whoever invented the idea should have her/his heads examined. Now they’ll try to brainwash the kids and drum into their heads all kinds of useless facts - the names of rivers, members of the royal family, population figures, tourist attractions or maybe even the deepest lakes and the highest mountains, all that mind-numbing information that has nothing to do with culture. ”So what did you learn in 6 hours?”, I snapped, ”how many MPs sit in parliament or who owns Harrods?” I was wrong. For 6 hours they were ‘dividing the work and assigning the topics for presentations’. Kids volunteered to collect information on the most interesting aspects of life and institutions in Britain. ”Aren’t institutions a part of life?”, I asked. ”Don’t be so big-headed just because you teach English. My teacher is better than you and much much nicer”, she retorted. ”You’d better mind your manners, I wanted to say, but didn’t. Whatever useless knowledge she’ll try to commit to memory, she’ll still be exercising her brain. ”So what’s your role?” But even before she took out a list from her bag I knew it - Education. After today’s experience with Konrad the word had stuck in my mind. ”I want to know what it’s like to be a school kid in Britain.” ”Indeed why not?” I thought looking at her topics. Public schools, independent schools, state schools, elementary schools, primary schools, preparatory schools, grammar schools, comprehensive schools, endowed schools, boarding schools, grant-maintained schools, secondary modern schools. It took my breath away. ”I have to explain the difference”, Julka said with some pride. ”So is it going to be the history of education ?” She felt hurt. ”I want to know what it’s like to be a school kid in Britain”, she repeated, now visibly close to tears. But how can she? By memorizing some definitions? ”Don’t worry”, I said, ”we’ll put our heads together, but now it’s high time you ate something”.
7th January, Monday, midnight
The kids are in bed, the chocolates are gone, still no sign of Spouse. Where can he be? Does the fact that I’m thinking about him at this moment mean he’s always on my mind or he’s the last thing on my mind? The last thing before going to bed, that is. Why can’t I get him out of my mind?
PS. My dear reader at the sound of the word ‘education’ my mind goes blank, but if you feel your grey matter might benefit from knowing the difference between comprehensive schools and public schools or if you have a good head for definitions, click here.
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