Monday, May 14, 2007

The Auditors Are In...

I may have mentioned once or twice, that I am a big Terry Pratchett fan. Did I say big? I mean HUGE...

The guy is a living genius and should be up there with Alan Bennett et al as one of our National Treasures. I can't think of a single living author who so relentlessly and comically exposes the failures of our age (Soul Music - takes apart the pop industry; Moving Pictures - Hollywood; The Truth - the media; A Monstrous Regiment - the nature of war, with a strong empathy for the plight of the common soldier as well as a brilliant understanding of what makes women tick). He writes the most perfect satire, but because it is dressed up in the mad fantasy Discworld he's created (a world that travels through space on top four elephants supported by the great Turtle A'Ttuin), no one notices.

TP fans will know of course that at Christmas the first attempt to film a Discworld book was made by Sky. Being the season to be jolly, and everything else rhyming with olly (that line alone brings joy to my heart. Oh the sublime brilliance of the man), they not unnaturally chose The Hogfather, loosely translated as the story of how Death (who speaks in capital letters, has a horse named Binkie and tries very hard, and fails, to get humanity), saves the Discworld equivalent of Christmas.

Sadly, we don't have Sky, so we've had to wait till now to get the film on DVD. To our delight it was well worth the wait, being absolutely fabulous, incredibly true to the book, and very very funny.

The key premise to The Hogfather is that the universe is run by Auditors (that sounds familiar). They are shapeless beings (portrayed in the film in shimmering cloaks) who find humanity rather distasteful, and imagination awkward. So they hire the Guild of Assassins to kill the Hogfather, thereby destroying belief and ensuring the sun won't come up in the morning. Ultimately creating a world that is ordered and right, but without stories and heart and soul.

Terry Pratchett's big on stories, and I think he's right to be worried about the Auditors.

They've moved in to all areas of our lives, not least those of our children.

This week nos 1&3 are sitting the dreaded SATs. No 3 fortunately hasn't quite twigged what they are, but no 1 has been pressurised about the wretched things for months now. I have blogged before about how I think our current education system is just painting by numbers, so I won't go there again, but it does frustrate me that these poor kids are tested over and over again for no apparent educational purpose, but just so the Auditors can tick boxes.

I am lucky in that both my offspring are likely to do well in the tests (though quite frankly I don't honestly care if they don't), but no 1 never does as well in her writing assessments which she hates. Unfortunately THAT test is scheduled for tomorrow, which also happens to be her birthday.

Now I appreciate I am not a teacher and probably know diddly squat about education, but I was staggered a couple of years ago when one of her teachers showed me a tick box list of all the things that these kids are supposed to be able to put in their writing assessments. The list had about thirty five things in it, including use of adverbs, pronouns etc.

I'm all for them being grammatically correct and all that, but this seems to take the soul out of the bloody thing.

The main purpose of teaching our children to read and write is not so they'll all go on to read War and Peace (or even write it), but so that they can communicate with others when they eventually go out in the big bad world. So the essential points of any written work they do should be: does it make sense? Have they communicated their thoughts clearly and coherently?And if they're writing a story has it got a beginning, middle and end?

My inner editor was screaming as loud as loud can be, you're missing the bloody point here! Storytelling isn't about ticking boxes, it's about taking us some place out of ourselves into an imagined world created by a writer. Kids have the best imaginations in the world, and should be the best storytellers.

By breaking the act of writing down into so many disparate elements, the education system (I'm NOT blaming teachers here) has taken the Auditors' approach, and in doing so in my view they're destroying our kids' imaginations. No 1 regularly writes brilliant and wonderful stories at home, and yet time and time again I'm told that her writing is her weak point.

Is it her?

Or is it a system which is bleeding her imagination dry?

At the end of The Hogfather, with the help of his granddaughter Susan, and his butler Albert (gleefully played in the film by David Jason), Death defeats not only the Auditors, but Mr Teatime (pronounced Teah- tam- eh) the psychotic Assassin who's trying to kill Death just to see if he can.

He tells Susan that human beings need fantasies - or as he puts it the little lies: the Tooth Fairy, the Hogfather, so we can believe the big ones: justice, mercy, duty and so on. When Susan protests that it's not the same thing, Death points out that if you ground the Universe down through the finest of sieves you wouldn't find one atom of justice or one molecule of mercy. But we have to believe they exist to make them happen. Otherwise there's no point.

I understand that SATs are on their way out (at least in their current form), and if that's so, I certainly won't mourn their loss. Because there should be a place in education where the Auditors don't go, where children can learn to think and play and imagine. Otherwise, they'll never ever learn the big lies.

And then the sun really won't come up in the morning.


Zinnia Cyclamen said...

(a) that is a terrific post (b) I completely agree with everything you say in it (c) do you think we were separated at birth? ;-)) And thanks for the reminder about the TP movie - we don't have Sky either, and I'd forgotten about it, but I really do want to see it so it's good to know that it's out on DVD. I feel a spot of shopping coming on...

Helen said...

and it looks like the king of auditors and red tape is soon to be our next prime minister. Can't wait for that!

Jane Henry said...

Zinnia, why thank you kindly (I loved your short story btw, just to turn this into a mutual congratulation fest). We can't have been separated at birth - unless I'm not a twin at all but actually a triplet. That'll be it then... I really enjoyed the Hogfather on DVD, and though inevitably they've had to miss some stuff out it was very true to the book. David Jason is hilarious.

Helen. Sadly, I think the bloody Auditors are everywhere. They're certainly sitting over my husband's shoulder ensuring he ticks the right boxes rather then looking in his patients' mouths, and judging by the news today a policeman's lot seems a fairly audited one.

I too, am waiting for the king of auditors with much gloom.... as well as feeling deeply irritated that he has patronisingly decidedt the only way to get the girly vote is to show his touchy feely side. Grrr.... Does he really think we are so dense? Oh, no I forgot. He's an Auditor, he has no imagination!

Mad Twin said...

Sorry don't do Pratchett. But I agree SATs are bloody waste of time. The sooner they go the better.

I spent years worrying about them in advance of our number 1 doing hers last year. We were all set to boycott them,which we would had they lasted a day or two. But they last over a week and we haven't got that much holiday to take that much time off. So we had to bite our lips and let her do them. She did get a bit anxious beforehand but we told her they weren't about HER, the original purpose was to see how her teacher was doing. She was fine after that and is taking this year's round with a pinch of salt and her sister is doing likewise.

I purposefully ignored all the horrible high pressure SAT websites (there exists an online community who seems desperate to make their little darlings focus on high achievement from age zero...) But after the event, I decided to check what it all meant, as I didn't understand the grading system. At which point I discovered the highest marks,which I assumed were like an A grade for your age, were actually given against the child's age +2 years. This seems to make even more of a nonsense of it. What we are doing is testing a load of 7 year olds and giving them marks and then pushing as many as we can to be 2 YEARS ahead of themselves. If the child is naturally there that's one thing, but I suspect most aren't and those children who do phenomenally well one year in SATS because everyone has focussed on them, will struggle to keep up to that level the following year. Furthermore those that don't do that well are left feeling crap when in fact they are actually doing fine for their age. I can hear our grandmother,father and uncles, passionate teachers all, turning in their graves just contemplating this!

What a waste of time and energy and what a negative way to educate our children. Children should be encouraged to learn about the world in a variety of ways and developed each according to their own potential, not forced through a systematic standardised testing system, that teaches them how to past that type of test.

The only way to respond is to tell our children that it is the work they do throughout the year that matters, and SATs are just an irrelevant tag on at the end. And hopefully they'll go within the next 5 years. When even the HeadTeachers Union is opposed to them, you'd hope that someone in the Educational establishment might be listening!

Mad Twin

Jane Henry said...

MT waddyamean you don't do Pratchett?????? He's brilliant. You're missing out.

I defy you NOT to laugh at Reaper Man, or Witches Abroad.

I am in love with Death (and Binky) and I want to be Granny Weatherwax when I grow up...

Dumdad said...

I've only read one Pratchett book and that was Witches Abroad and I thought it brilliant. I don't know why I haven't read any others. Note to self: buy Pratchett when next in UK.

Mad Twin said...

Sorry but I did try it once on your suggestion. I thought the disc on the back of the tortoise was just daft. And yes I know it is humorous fantasy but if you don't buy into the basic premise it's hard to follow the rest..........Maybe I'll try again