October 15th, 2010

breaking bad

Not dumbing down but something more subtle

I think the criticism of the British exam system by Mick Waters is largely accurate. But I think it's obscured by the use of the inaccurate term 'dumbing down'. I don't think exams have dumbed down, but they have been systematised.

So, for example, pick a subject, let's say a modern language. The old fashioned exams were not so systematic. You answered questions as well as you could using the language, and the examiner marked you impressionistically on your overall grasp of the language. In the modern system there are stock phrases and sentence forms you are marked on, and students are encouraged to learn these as boilerplate (that's how my kids were taught, and they did well in the exams). This type of exam is cheaper to mark, and easier to teach to. It is also financially lucrative for the examiners, who can create text books which concentrate not on mastering the subject but satisfying the marking system.

This is why increasing proportions of pupils get high grades. It's not dumbing down as such: it's improved technique, combined with a system which increasingly rewards technique. This is common where there is any system of grading or evaluation - if you set people hoops, they will get good at jumping through hoops. And as I say, the exam boards have a triple financial motive: the new type of exam is cheaper to administer, it's more attractive to the purchaser (schools, because they can get more grade As), and it provides a second source of income to the examiners (who are generally freelance) in creating exam guides and text books which schools must buy to learn the marking triggers.

What it doesn't do, in my opinion, is improve the quality of learning. I personally think this is quite a big problem, but when journalists call it dumbing down it makes people defensive.
breaking bad

SF by women

There's been an interesting series of posts at Torque Control about women and SF, with spinoffs on other blogs.

Here is a place to start

Niall asked people to pick their top ten SF stories by women of the past decade.
I invite you all to email me your top ten sf novels by women from the last ten years (2001–2010), before 23.59 on Sunday 5 December. Again, science fiction, although I leave it up to your conscience to decide which, if any, books that excludes... The books can have been published anywhere. I’ll collate all the votes, and announce an overall top ten.
I tried this and came unstuck.

In the 1980s almost all the SF I read was by women, perhaps because a lot of what was written by men seemed to exclude or belittle me. But over the nineties I think SF by men became more inclusive to female readers but perhaps the overall industry became less welcoming to female writers. In the 2000s I have read very little SF by women. I think it's a real problem.

I think the only two outstanding SF novels I have read by women written in this decade, are
The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
I have read some other outstanding non-realist novels by women, which would jostle for a place in any top ten of the decade, regardless of genre or gender. But unfortunately I would not call them SF. They are:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (this is a novella, but I think it's wonderful)
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
Lavinia by Ursula le Guin (and the Gifts trilogy which I think goes with it conceptually)
Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Am I guilty of classifying these as 'not SF' because of the gender of the author? Possibly, but I feel that calling any of these SF would be a real stretch.

There is a post about replies to this question on Torque Control.

I think I must read something by Liz Williams.
eric and ern


You must watch this. 'I'm proud of the BBC' by Mitch Benn (link from watervole and altariel). OMG there is is much here that I love. Great to see mentions of lots of stuff I love. I forget other people like the same things I do. The Goodies! Red Dwarf! Eric and Ernie! Blakes 7! this is what we do best.

PS can you tell I am at home 'writing' or rather doing displacement activities

PPS I would do a good/bad poll of all the things he mentioned but there are too many and a preponderance of GOOD
sepia vila

That Mitch Benn list in full

I did in fact get a draft book plan written today, but I was deep into displacement space. I feel a bit of an idiot putting up a fourth post today, but here you go, because some people might like to borrow this, and it saves you retyping.

I have made a list of everything mentioned in Mitch Benn's song (I didn't include the bit at the end without signage). There are 148 TV and radio shows and people.

I've crossed out the ones I have never watched, and bolded the ones I really like and/or have seen all of (or whatever according to context).
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I'll probably kick myself but I'm not sure what 'Me and You' is?

Anyway, of the 148 I have seen 130. Good god. I pick out 56 as 'watch a lot' (or have watched, I saw a lot of Trumpton when I was a kid).

I've got a feeling I have blogged about 30 or 40 of these over the years.