Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A bit of politics

I haven't done politics here before and I don't intend to make a habit of it, but this is something I feel strongly enough about:

As they say:

On Wednesday October 8th, the British Government invoked anti-terrorist legislation, which was in effect aimed at the people of Iceland. This devastating attack on our society was received with disbelief here in Iceland, where it turned a grave economic situation into a national disaster. The people of Iceland have always considered themselves great friends of the United Kingdom. Our nations have a long history of mutually beneficial trade and have been close allies in NATO and Europe.

Hour by hour and day by day the actions of the British government are indiscriminately obliterating Icelandic interests all over the world and, in so doing, diminishing the assets that could be used to reimburse depositors with Icelandic banks in the United Kingdom and Iceland. The government's actions are also endangering the future of nearly all Icelandic companies and of the entire nation, in addition to over 100.000 employees of British companies with Icelandic connections. In this regard we would like to stress that the Icelandic authorities have always maintained their intention to honour their obligations in this matter, contrary to claims made by Chancellor Alistair Darling and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In these trying times, it is vital that we all work together to meet the troubles that lie ahead. We cannot let leaders, like Gordon Brown, destroy the long-term relations of our nations for their own short-term political gain. Mr. Brown would never have reacted to the collapse of a bank from a larger and more powerful nation by tarnishing its people as terrorists and criminals.

We, the people of Iceland, ask you, our British friends, to join us in the common cause of ending diplomatic hostilities between our governments. It is our hope that this will stop the unnecessary economic damage on both sides, so that we can start to rebuild and make amends

Or, to put it another way:

Presiding over a debt-fuelled boom is one thing, but when it all goes (predictably) bust, going to war against the smallest country you can find is hardly a constructive way to address the problem, is it?

Hat-tip: Iain Dale

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Those who can't spell, teach

If it seems odd that I have to help undergraduates - people who have all got into university - with their English, then read this story. Of course, these tests are for trainee teachers: I don't mean to imply that all schoolchildren are being taught by illiterates. But I do worry when I find basic errors in letters that come home from my son's school. I've lost count of the times I've seen "practice" and "practise" transposed, for instance.

Mind you, the most memorable error I can recall seeing was in maths rather than English. It was a homework assignment some years ago when Isaac was asked to make 18 pence out of three coins. He got extremely frustrated, and I couldn't blame him - it's mathematically impossible! Well, almost - as I took great delight in pointing out to his teacher, it can be done but only in old money - with three tanners or a shilling and two thrupenny bits - but I don't think that was what they had in mind!

Friday, 10 October 2008

How to Write an Essay

No, this is not an article on how to write an essay. There are plenty of those around - in fact there are several on the RLF website - and I don't see any need to add to the number. Besides, it's not a subject I actually know very much about!

It seems to me that I harp on about this a bit, but that's one of the oddities of this job. I'm here to teach people how to do something that I'm not sure I know how to do myself.

Of course that's not entirely true. I can write essays, and I know that because I have a degree which means I must have done it well enough to get through. But I can't say that I ever approached the subject with any real thought to developing an academic style. I just tried to answer the question as it was put.

Now I mentioned all the guides to writing essays that the RLF has published and I have read some of them, but I can't say there's much in there to alter my view of how to do it. It's not that I don't recognise that there is a distinct academic manner of putting things or that there are some technical aspects to academic writing that must be learned, such as referencing. I can draw a student's attention to these things, of course, but beyond that I run into what I think is an inescapable limitation.

I can't ask a student to write something that I can't understand! Which means I have to approach the subject in very concrete terms. I tell them to start by explaining the thing they are writing about, and then discuss it - hoping that a conclusion will flow logically from what precedes it and so almost write itself.

Now, this may be all back to front. I know some tutors suggest writing the essay backwards, so that the introduction comes last, as a kind of preview of what follows, but I'm not convinced that's such a good idea. Of course if a tutor insists you could always summarise the whole essay in a paragraph or two at the beginning (though I as a mere non-academic don't really see the point) but how does that help get an essay started? It seems to me that you have to have something concrete to base your argument on, as otherwise all you'll end up with is waffle.

I suppose I shall change my mind when a posse of angry lecturers appears outside my office!