Friday, March 5, 2010

"Christ Deliver Us"

A  new play at the Abbey Theatre written by Thomas Kilroy inspired by Inspired by German dramatist Frank Wedekind’s 1891 masterpiece Spring Awakening.
There is an archetypal story that can be found in folklore, fairytales and mythology and it recurs again and again.  It is the 'coming of age' narrative whereby the young gain wisdom, overcome adversity and become adults.  Thus, each culture reproduces.  The young learn and adapt, society is newly interpreted and modified and each generation inherits and subsequently passes on the values and norms of their parents. 

This process of 'take-over' from generation to generation is fundamental to the survival of a culture.  Hence so many stories and the high value placed on the wisdom therein. We see this in The Godfather, Harry Potter and even the story of Moses - the storyline is similar in each case - an alternative life beckons for a short while but eventually one's true nature wins out and the inherited core values are embraced.

There is a particular variation of this theme which we all find disturbing and is at the root of Kilroy's new play.  What if "there's something rotten" in society?  What if it's a monster?  Who will inherit a culture of moral cowardice, oppression and miss-shapen values?  Stories such as Sophocles' Oedipus, and Shakespeare's  Hamlet deal with this variation - they are stories of doom. Tragedies.  A rotten society, a deviant culture must not be passed on - the situation for the young is hopeless.

Christ Deliver Us is not about Ireland, the 50's or religious oppression - it is a variation of an age-old story.  It is a warning.  Each person must interpret the world and carryies a responsibility to be true to their own values.  When this is not possible, as was the case for the young characters in this play, the situation is unsustainable.  A society that hands over moral authority to others - in this case the church - cannot survive.  There is no inheritance. 

In the play we find three main characters at the boundary of adulthood.  Each in their own way experiences the stifling of ambition and the suppression of  their individuality.  We find a society in crisis where even the likeable mother (Winnie's) and father figures (the Canon) are bereft of courage that they fail to assert their moral authority.  

This is a society where the voice of reason ( Fr Seamus) is quite literally stifled - incapable of being heard.  Against these odds their is no possibility of a happy ending - the young are trapped and left with just questions unanswered and wishes unfulfilled.  Here too we are reminded of the primal reality that sits immediately below the surface of any society - hence the savagery of what we see.  This is the consequence of the malfunctioning society - the ironic price of ignoring the 'real' is that it wells up uncontrollably -  the play contains scenes of rape, masturbation and physical violence.  
Christ Deliver Us resonates long after the performance.

Congratulations to Thomas Kilroy, Wyane Jordan and the Abbey for such a superb production.



Christ Deliver Us! by Thomas Kilroy from Abbey Theatre on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Grade Inflation" Getting Everything Wrong

This is a really important issue for Ireland and for everyone in the education sector.  It is vital that get a clear understanding of what the problem is and what we need to do to rectify it.

First of all, the problem we need to solve is not "Grade Inflation" and it would be a huge mistake if we were all to get in a muddle comparing the numbers of first class honours' degrees or 600 point Leaving Certs in the past few years.

Just like all measures based on our social circumstances, such as the spending power of the average weekly wage or the average life-expectancy, over time we should expect to see a gradual improvement in similar measures of quality and achievement in our education system.

Today, we are educating more people to a higher standard than ever before and I will be surprised if the emperical evidence from the soon-to-be released study will not show this to be the case.

But I do not believe we should be congratulating ourselves - there is a problem and a new challenge and we need to get to the heart of it.

Let me use one source Dr Craig Barrett, former CEO and Chairman of Intel and a frequent visitor to Ireland:
 "Your primary and secondary schools are only average," he said. "It is no longer good enough to be average. You have to be excellent at what you do ... at the end of secondary school your young people are average. Your education system is being challenged by improvements in the rest of the world. Things have changed, the educational attainment of other countries have been increasing, and that increases competition for attracting investment."Source: http://www.examiner.ie/opinion/columnists/matt-cooper/for-ireland-to-make-the-grade-we-need-radical-education-reform-111903.html#ixzz0h0o2hsCx
Barrett is providing us with a global perspective and he, rightly in my opinion, points to the progress made by other countries.  Later in the same interview Barrett lays down the challenge:
"It is possible for Ireland to continue to be successful, but you have to worry about the capability of your workforce and what it does," he said. "Why not a race to the top? Why not have more capability and jobs where you can add value? Increased capability and education is where you increase value."
Now, let me make plea: let's not get ourselves in a flap over grade inflation or comparisons between institutions.  Let's talk about what really matters - quality of teaching and quality of assessment.

It is a not sufficient for the Department of Education and Science to look to the State Exams Commission (note "exams" not "assessment") to produce year-on-year comparisons of Leaving Cert grades - why don't we look at what the Leaving Cert is really measuring - mostly memory, recall and strategic learning.  Genuine problem-solving and creative thinking are not nurtured and not sufficiently recognised.

Similarly, in third level we are certainly guilty of over rewarding students who do not ask questions, suggest alternatives, write critically or challenge the norms of society.

This is the real threat!  In short, it's not that we are giving too many high grades in exams, it's that we are not measuring what we should be measuring.

Certain skills are more important for competitive and connected workplaces - these include inquiry, problem solving, technical and scientific skills, critical thinking, research, collaboration, presentation and good writing.
These skills need to be nurtured and measured at all levels of education.  This is the real challenge.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Help needed to set up My Learning (dot ie)

I want to make a social space for people to tell My Learning stories

I rent some server space and own a url called www.mylearning.ie   - it's a leftover from my days in business.
I think this is a useful web address especially if used to discuss and promote learning.
My interest is in adult learning and in particular, people who strive to take up learning for the first time - perhaps since their school days.
It would be great to establish an on-line community of learners - a place where people can share experiences, encourage others and tell their stories.
Central to the idea is the notion of engagement and participation - what I mean is a space where people will feel part of something and wherein everyone is encouraged to participate.
The most important characteristic is that new and novice Internet users will be especially welcome.  Often people are self-conscious when making contributions as they may feel that everyone else is more experienced.
The idea is that members of the community who have had similar experiences and well be well-placed to help the new users.  
There's nothing especially new in this idea - this is, in essence, the kind of social networking approach that is typical of web 2.0.  But what is different is that this site will focus on learning and will be very open to people of all ages.
So I'm looking for ideas and offers of help - especially welcome at this stage will be people willing to participate in the following groups:
A technical group - to specify the web design and the best technologies to promote active participation.
A marketing group - to specify how to get the message out to as many people as possible.
An activity group - to specify what people can do while participating and engaging with My Learning.
You can contact me directly at leocasey@mac.com or leave a comment for this blog (my comments are moderated).
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