Friday, August 31, 2007

An English G&T (The Other Kind)

Notes from A Broad

I've been looking at the politics of schools in England over the last week, and in some ways they are very close to those in the US.

For one thing, teachers have the habit (from training) of standing up in front of kids and talking. The children listen, or don't.

There is a category for those who are seen to shine. This group is called "Gifted and Talented."

All Children Are Gifted and Talented. Period.

Richard Gilder, CAGSE's CEO, had a wonderful analogy: potential doesn't mean what we say it does. All atoms have the potential to split, but they need the right force for it to come to pass.

For the right explosion, you need the right ingredients. Gun powder on its own is just dust.

The G&T kids (as they are dubbed for short) very well might be both gifted AND talented (although the moniker seems redundant), but the real distinction between these kids and their colleagues is their level of accomplishment.

(Americans, don't get smug -- we have the same sort of system. It just doesn't sound like a cocktail.)

Why Some Kids Go Farther

Here's a shocker: It's all down to test scores. Therefore, the teachers teach to the tests, certain kids do well, and the rest are deemed less intelligent (or G. or T. or both).

The kids don't like it, and the teachers don't seem happy with it either. My research is anecdotal here rather than scientific.

However, friends in America, does this not sound familiar?

What We've Found at CAGSE

For those who just tuned in, I am now the Director of an organization called CAGSE. It stands for either Curriculum Articulation for the Global Support of Education or for the Subversion of Education.

To a certain extent, these alternatives have become the same thing.

CAGSE doesn't Support existing structures of education, unless they work. So often Subversion is the only option to support learning.

Lorna Robinson, our new Director of Latin Programs, began the Iris Project on her own. She left her independent school job teaching Classics in order to work with kids who wouldn't ordinarily get the same opportunities as wealthier children.

Lorna picked Hackney, or Hackney picked her, and off she went teaching Latin in schools considered to be some of the worst in the country.

Short Digression for Americans

In England, it must be understood; Latin is only taught to the best and the brightest. It's considered a privilege. It's considered the province of classes well above the kids Lorna teaches.

Lorna found that the Hackney kids, considered neither G nor T by anyone else, love the challenge of being stretched in a new subject. They enjoy Latin, and the skills are giving them confidence and a better understanding of English as well. English is a second language for many of these children, and their first languages are Asian, not Romance-based as in the States.

And So?

Lorna came to work for CAGSE because there were many other schools in the area that wanted Latin as well. We're raising the funds to support now 20 schools -- 20 schools from an original 1, then 5, then 12.

The politics around Latin here are fierce. Don't ask. So much that is based in academia suffers from this problem. Lots of talk, lots of meetings, and sometimes tiny territorial issues leave the work undone and factions fighting.

CAGSE is going under the radar practically (although the powers that be certainly know about us). The opportunity is here, now. Enough talk. Enough meetings. Enough lobbying for particular texts (the sales component is fierce here, too).

CAGSE's program uses no single text for teachers, and absolutely no textbook in the classroom. We're talking to the kids -- not the texts -- and certainly not the tests.

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