It’s been a long day. I should have seen it coming and prepared for it, but my fabled powers of observation seem to have failed me. As usual.

Every single one of my lessons today began with the end of the world. (It was nigh you know. Nigh! Allegedly.) By the fourth lesson I’d had enough.

– Miss, Miss! The world’s going to end!

– I’m sure it is, but not for many thousands of years.

– Miss, Miss! We’re all going to die!

– Indeed we are, but I’m planning on taking at least another 40 years to do that. You lot should be taking much longer.
(Actually the thing that was worrying me the most by this point was not the prediction of my imminent demise, but the fact that I couldn’t seem to stop talking in Joyce Grenfell’s voice.)

– No Miss, we’re all going to die today.

– Er, no we’re not.

– Yes we are. Mr X said so. He said the world might end today.

– No, I don’t think he did, he was probably just teasing you.
(Or trying to get them to think about what was in the news.)

– No, he was serious and he showed as video clip from YouTube.
(A video clip from YouTube! Incontrovertible proof!)

You know that point where you decide that enough is enough? This was it.
– Well he’s talking utter rubbish then, isn’t he.

That shut ’em up. After a short stunned silence, one braver than the rest spoke up.
You can’t say that Miss. You can’t say that Mr X was talking rubbish.

– Yes I can. I just did. In fact I’ll say it again. Mr X was talking rubbish. Utter tosh.
(Since I hadn’t heard what Mr X said, this was probably a wild exaggeragtion, but bear with me.)

Not for the first time today, for a moment I regretted that I hadn’t prepared something about the Hadron Collider. After all there’s plenty of good stuff sloshing around amongst the messages of doom, including a rather topical video on Teachers TV. Then I decided to take a different tack altogether. I temporarily postponed our planned voyage into the mysteries of the volumes of cuboids and embarked instead on something far more relevant to the issue in hand.

“Well,” I began, “Let’s just talk about that for a minute. Mr X and a lot of journalists have told you one thing. I’m telling you that’s rubbish. So you’ve heard two teachers totally contradict each other. Who do you believe? More importantly, how do you decide?”

That led to a rather interesting discussion. Unfortunately Mr X was teaching another class, because it would have been great to have us each putting our point of view accross, but I did my best to play Devil’s Advocate. I suspect many of them will continue to believe everything they are told by all-knowing teachers, the infallible television news and the all-seeing Internet, but maybe, just maybe, one or two more might start asking questions, considering the evidence, deciding for themselves.

I remember being taught to do just that by all of my teachers, but sometimes I feel as if my own schooldays occurred in a different world to the one I work in today. I am always disappointed by the number of students who complain when I show them why something works, then tell them that they aren’t expected to reproduce the explanation in an exam. “Oh, what did you show it to us for then?” seems to be the typical response.

Will the evident lack of an untimely demise for Life, the Universe and Everything persuade some of my students to be a little more critical, a little less unquestioning about every factoid they are offered? Sadly I doubt it, but wouldn’t it be great if that happened? That really could change the world.

4 comments to Arrghhh

  • …but if the initial experiments only produce strangelets, they’d take a while to get to a critical mass big enough to start forming dark matter.

    In other words, the effect may not be seen immediately…


  • I remember being taught to do just that by all of my teachers, but sometimes I feel as if my own schooldays occurred in a different world to the one I work in today.

    So true.

    The thing is, I think most young teachers can’t do it themselves, so how can they pass it on to others?

    Keep up the good work.

  • Education 2008 style pretends to include independence, enquiry and free-thinking but that is all a pretence. It is really about targets, rote-learning, conformity, not straying from the prescribed path. It used to be that people sought pleasure and intellectual stimulus in their learning. Increasingly it is about getting ready for a workaday world in which decent jobs are hard to come by.

  • Z

    Proof of the pudding – we didn’t all die on Wednesday and if we do in the next few weeks then there will be no one there to point the finger at you. Assuming, and it’s rather more likely, that we don’t, then you are proved right and Mr X will have to explain that he only said ‘might’ and actually he was wrong anyway.

    It’s a pity that not many children are interested in learning for its own sake nowadays, isn’t it? Or to question everything they are told?