Sunday, 22 May 2016

A test with no good purpose

I've just taken a quiz based on the KS2 Standard Test (SAT). Thanks to the Enfield Independent for producing this. I got eight out of 10; I guessed three answers!

Now I'm an author and member of the society of authors. In 30 years as a writer and editor I have never needed to know most of this grammar and I'm sure that knowing it would not have improved my writing. We all need to know how to write correctly but no-one except a researcher in linguistics needs to know this kind of stuff. It's a gross waste of time for both pupils and teachers. Worse, it drives out things that do matter like comprehension, creative writing and critical thinking.

Even worse, it creates huge anxieties amongst pupils and teachers.  My wife, who teaches KS1 and 2, has seen children in tears due to the pressures these tests create.

Their main purpose seems to be to allow ministers to claim to be improving standards. What rot!

Let's give teachers more control. Let's keep ministers and their obsessive grammatical compulsions out of our classrooms!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Was Livingstone right?

As widely reported Ken Livingstone said
“Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” 
Was this true?

There's a technical denial: "No, as Israel didn't then exist" but this is a quibble. The land now occupied by Israel certainly existed (roughly - the British Mandate of Palestine) and many Jews moved there in that period.

So did Hitler support the movement of Jews to Palestine? The answer, oddly, is yes. Here's Peter Beaumont in the Guardian admitting reluctantly that:
The "Haavara (transfer) Agreement [of] 1933 [was] an agreement between Germany and German Zionists to facilitate the emigration of Jews to British Mandate Palestine ... by ensuring would-be Jewish emigrants could transfer part of their property."
But Livingstone's use of the anachronistic term Israel links with his claim that Hitler supported Zionism, and that's not true. Zionism wanted a Jewish state as well as the transfer of people and Hitler did not want that. His support for the transfer was essentially tactical - he wanted to defuse the Jewish boycott of Germany.

So much for the rather partial truth of Livingstone's words (for truth matters). But words say more than their literal meanings. They are said in a context and the context here was Naz Shah's remarks in 2014 suggesting that Israeli Jews should go to the US.

And in that context there are at least three objections to Livingstone's comments:
  1. Hitler's policies in the 1930 are completely irrelevant to the current state of Israel. Those who condemn many of its policies (me for one) must base their criticisms on its recent behaviour.
  2. Linking Hitler and Zionism was bound to be highly offensive to many Jews. Now it may sometimes be necessary to give offence by telling a truth if the issue is important and the truth cogent. But it's otherwise merely rude. Gratuitous rudeness has no place in civilised politics. and this was gratuitous.
  3. Making this point was bound to reflect badly on his party and to distract attention from the many serious issues - from air pollution to security - raised by the London elections.
 (And, actually, I thought discrediting the Labour Party was my job!)

So in a few words Livingstone has introduced a very smelly red herring (or possibly a gefilte fish), discredited his party and offended an influential minority community. He has provided the Tory Party, and especially Zac Goldsmith, with an electoral boost whilst raising his own profile.

I don't know if Livingstone is an anti-semite - though his words surely point that way. I do know that his words were offensive and stupid.

Perhaps his friends (there are doubtless some left) should remind him that he is no longer standing to be Mayor of London. His relentless self-promotion has become tiresome.,