I’d like to tell you about a book. What book it is! It’s one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.
“Sunday Times”: During times of momentous change, men of letters are driven to produce works that fictionalize the state of the nation, linking individuals with historic events. The 19th century gave us Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend and Trollope”s The Way We Live Now; the 21st has given us Sebastian Faulks’s A Week in December.
“Independent”: Often edgily satirical, sometimes deeply affecting, A Week in December grasps its headline motifs with the strong and supple hands of a master…
And these voices are absolutely true, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the book hasn’t been translated into Russian yet and it’s not quite easy reading in the original for children so I’ve been thinking what to do for rather a long time…
After some reflection I decided to share my joy and pleasure from reading this book with my students and with everybody fond of reading, thinking, arguing. I chose just one extract – a conversation between the two of seven main characters: a young lawyer and his client, a Tube driver. The whole conversation is devoted to education, education nowadays and before, and, as I’m a teacher, it appeals to me greatly. So, I offer it to your attention.
Sebastian Faulks. A Week in December.
… I suppose I was lucky to be educated at time when teachers still thought children could handle knowledge. They trusted us. Then there came a time when they decided that because not every kid in the class could understand or remember those things, they wouldn’t teach them anymore because it wasn’t fair on the less good ones. So they withheld knowledge. Then I suppose the next lot of the teachers didn’t have the knowledge to withhold. Was it like that at your school?
- My school was pretty shit. You didn’t really think about learning, you just thought about getting through it, - she said.
- Where I went there was still this assumption that each generation would know everything its predecessors knew – and more. So school was to bring you up to on past them. But when you come to think of it – when you come to think of how much people already know – that’s very ambitious. Also very modern.
Jenny wanted Gabriel to tell her more about himself, but if he wanted to talk about learning in general, she would have to go with it and wait for an opening.
- What do you mean by modern? – she said.
- Well, I think that in pre-modern societies the aim of people was simply to preserve what had been learned, not to lose it. It would have taken far too much training and money and infrastructure in, say, Iran in AD 1300 to bring all children up to speed and then push them on further. If they could feel they’d had no net loss of knowledge from one generation to the next, that they hadn’t actually gone backwards, they thought that was a good result.
- But wouldn’t kids find out new things anyway?
- In agrarian Iran? I doubt it. And they would have been strongly discouraged from doing so by their elders. In Muslim societies, they learned the Koran by rote and that was it. There was no printing, and few people could read. Just to keep hold of knowledge at a steady level was a success.
- And what happened here?
- We had more money, and not such an overpowering religion. Avenues were open. But it was only the twentieth century in Europe that had universal education and the belief in progress – a net gain of knowledge among all. And that’s now been abandoned as a goal.
- It was too difficult. People weren’t prepared to put in the hours on the donkey work – you know, dates and facts and so on. I think in retrospect my generation will be seen as a turning point. From now on there’ll be a net loss of knowledge in Europe. The difference between a peasant community in fourteenth-century Iran and modern London, though, is that if with their meager resources the villagers occasionally slipped backwards, it was not for lack of trying. But with us, here in England, it was a positive choice. We chose to know less.
Jenni laughed. – You sound like a dinosaur. An old guy in a cave.
- I think so. – Gabriel laughed too. – Imagine him. He knew his main subjects at school and then his degree and then his professional thing. But he would have expected as of right to have knowledge of art, music, French kings, all the Bible and so on. He wouldn’t necessary love music, but he could tell you within twelve bars if it was Brahms or Mendelssohn. The difference between Tintoretto and Titian. Maybe he didn’t care much for either, but he could tell you because he was required to know. He’s probably still alive somewhere.
- You could sell tickets to him, - said Jenni. – In his cave.
- I think you could. I suppose it was a dream that lasted really about fifty years. By the time universal education had begun to work properly, say, 1925, and the time the first teachers started to hold back information, say 1975. So a fifty-year dream.
- But does it really matter? – said Jenni. – As long as somebody knows these things. There’s always going to be a geek somewhere who understands.
- Yes. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I think what’s happened is that because they themselves know less than their predecessors, innovators and leaders today have remade the world in their own image. Spell checks. Search engines. They’ve remodeled the world so that ignorance is not really a disadvantage. And I should think that increasingly they’ll carry on reshaping the world to accommodate a net loss of knowledge.
- Though that in itself is quite clever. Isn’t it?
So, now when you have read this extract from Faulks’s novel I want you to think about it, what you have understood of it, if there is a difference between the aurhor’s and your personal opinion on the matter. And I want you to try to express your thoughts. Please, answer these questions.
What do you know about Russian educational system in general?
What do you know about the history of education in our country? Before October revolution (1917), in Soviet period, today?
Have you understood that the author’s theory is more like an artistic expression of his thoughts than factual analysis?
If you were a Minister of Education what steps would you take?
Краткое описание документа:
В этой беседе, предназначенной для школьников старших классов, я рассказываю о замечательной книге Себастьяна Фокса "Неделя в декабре", которую, на мой взгляд, можно с полным основанием назвать энциклопедией лондонской жизни в наши дни. Книга эта была впервые опубликована издательством Hutchinson в Великобритании в 2009 году, но на русский язык, к сожалению, не переведена, хотя, безусловно, заслуживает перевода больше многих и многих. Для беседы я выбрала небольшой отрывок - разговор двух из семи главных героев об образовании, начиная с 16 века и до наших дней. Мысли, выраженные в этом разговоре, мне очень импонируют. отрывка я задаю детям
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