Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A QI school

The following was forwarded to me and seemed relevant to home education. I'm an avid fan of QI and I suspect I've probably learnt and retained more general knowledge - albeit on bizarre subjects - through QI than I probably ever learnt in 16 years of formal education. Which is quite sad really. All those years sat at a desk staring out the window while trying desperately to stay awake were mostly a waste of time.

Ask a kid what he wants to learn, and he’s unlikely to say: “a broad-based curriculum that offers the core skills”. Real learning is obsessive. It happens through watching, listening and practising something that really interests you. "From The Sunday Times May 11, 2008

The QI equation for an enriched IQ. The quirky methods behind TV’s QI quiz show could lead to a revolution in how we learn, says Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson. Could an educational revolution come about as the result of a television quiz show? Unlikely, perhaps – but underneath the amiable silliness ofBBC2’s QI lurks a radical remit. And in the week after Chris Parry, the new head of the Independent Schools Council, made an outspoken attack on the state school system, it is surely worth looking at an unorthodox new approach to learning. QI – which stands for Quite Interesting and is also IQ backwards – was created about five years ago by John Lloyd, who had enjoyed great success asproducer of Spitting Image, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder. on etymology andzoology and history proves Lloyd’s other thesis: that human beings are naturally curious.Indeed, in the world of QI, boredom does not exist....

...Lloyd and Mitchinson [his writing partner] believe that there is a thirst for knowledge among allage groups that is ill served by school – which tends to turn people away from learning. Even the best schools can take a fascinating subject – such as electricity or William Blake or classical civilisation – and make it boring by turning it into facts that have to be regurgitated for exams. QI’s popularity also proves that learning takes place most effectively when it is done voluntarily. The same teenagers who will zoom happily through a QI book will sit at the back of geography class and do their utmost to resist being taught.

It was with all that in mind that I approached Lloyd and Mitchinson and asked whether they would like to expand on the ideas behind QI in a special issue of The Idler. What, I asked them, would a QI school be like?“There would be no work, for a start,” said Lloyd. “It would all be play. Plato said that education should be a form of amusement. That way you will be much better able to discover the child’s natural bent.”This approach is in direct contrast, of course, to the largely Gradgrindian approach common to most schools. As Mitchinson points out, it is actually a method of containment: “There’s that great line: you’re taught for the first five years of your life how to walk and talk; and for the next 10, you’re told to shut up and sit down.”

For Mitchinson, schools have turned into wage-slave production farms rather than places of learning. “What do you remember from school,” he asks. “Most of us would probably recall one or two good teachers, some successes and many humiliations, the ebb and flow of friendships, the torture of exams.“But what about the actual lessons? Try it: sit down and make a list of the first 10 things that loom out of the murk. Then examine the list and see whether it passes muster as either useful or interesting. Unless you are gifted with a photographic memory, you’ll be staring at a rag-bag of half-grasped theories, fragments of other people’s books and a soupy residue of ‘facts’ – many of them not even true.”Then think about that list of great men who barely went to school: Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, William Cobbett, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell. Our most independent thinkers were more or less self-educated. You will also find that the best schools – for example, Eton and Westminster –have the shortest terms and do the least teaching, a paradox that would suggest we need less formal education all round. In the QI edition of The Idler, Lloyd and Mitchinson present a five-point manifesto for educational reform.

One: play not work.
Schools should be resource centres, not prisons. Teachers should be returned to their original roles as facilitators, not bureaucrats or drillmasters.The more “work” resembles play – telling stories, making things – the more interested kids will become.

Two: follow the chain of curiosity.
Ask a kid what he wants to learn, and he’s unlikely to say: “a broad-basedcurriculum that offers the core skills”. Real learning is obsessive. It happens through watching, listening and practising something that really interests you. Encourage children to follow their own curiosity right to the end of the chain, and they will acquire the skills they need to get there.

Three: you decide.
The QI School isn’t compulsory and there are no exams: only projects or goals you set yourself with the teacher acting as a mentor. This could be making a film or building a chair. From age seven onwards, our core subjects might be: philosophy, storytelling, music, technology, nature and games.

Four: no theory without practice.
If you’re lost in wonder looking at, say, a lettuce, you will want to have ago at growing it, too.
Five: you never leave.

There is no reason why school has to stop dead at 17 or 18. The QI schoolwould be the ultimate “lifelong learning” venue – a mini-university where skills and knowledge would be pooled and young and old could indulge their curiosity.

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