Monday, November 30, 2009

File under: 'You couldn't make it up'

Go on, guess who:

"Whatever faith people had in the political process is now in tatters. I’ve seen that directly, on the doorstep, where people are rightly enraged. We can reverse the decline, but it requires genuine reform, not tinkering. You can’t legislate for decency, and in any case, if there’s a will to abuse power, there will always be a way. The only solution is a combination of openness and real local democracy."

Yes, this very evening, at St James' Church, Piccadilly, you can here all about the major challenges facing us, in particular the key question: "We face huge pressures and must make big decisions. How do we spend our collective wealth?"

So who is delivering this talk?

Yup, irony of ironies, non-dom Tory boy Zac Goldsmith, in the papers today over his tax status - is due to speak about these key issues this very evening.

hattip - a post on

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Sun should be ashamed

I'm sure there will be a lot of comment about the phone call between Gordon Brown and Mrs Janes which has been published today.

Having listened to the call, an uncomfortable experience, I actually think Gordon Brown handled the call about as well as could be expected in the circumstances.

He apologised, took a lot of flak from a very distraught Mrs Janes, but remained calm throughout.

Whether the Sun should have published a private phone call is open to debate. I can see arguments both ways.

However they should be thoroughly ashamed that they deem it appropriate to precede the recording with an ad for a Family Guy DVD which includes a joke about horse sperm and follow it with an ad for the Bruno DVD.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Theme Park Auschwitz - Or Children's Views Misrepresented?

An interesting survey reported in The Telegraph suggests that one in six 9-15 year olds think that Auschwitz is a WWII theme park and that Adolf Hitler was a German football coach.

Now on first sight, and to anyone of my generation who will have studied WWII in school history lessons, this looks dreadful.

But hang on a minute - dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that our children's views have been at best badly reported and at worst misrepresented.

The full results of the survey are here - and what is obvious is that children were offered multiple choice questions.

This suggests to me that quite a lot of the children simply guessed at answers they didn't know and a proportion of them guessed wrongly.

That DOES NOT MEAN that one in six 9-15 year olds believe Auschwitz is a WWII Theme Park - but that 30% didn't know the right answer and randomly picked the wrong answer.

And given that Auschwitz is now set up as a Visitor Centre where thousands of people, including parties of UK school children, find out about WWII, is it such a bad guess anyway?

I knew about WWII from a young age because it had been a major event in my Grandparents' lives and in my Dad's formative years. I spent a lot of my younger years in the company of my Gran who talked at length about the war, and in my younger years still had an air raid shelter at the bottom of her garden. I then learnt more about the war at secondary school in history lessons.

However the average nine or ten year old nowadays will not necessarily have any living relatives who remember WWII, and even if they do it isn't talked about nearly as often as it was thirty years ago.

A large proportion of those 9-15 year olds surveyed probably haven't got to that part of their history course yet. My 11 year old happens to have just read a book about Hitler as part of his half term homework for a book review, but he has not studied WWII as part of the curriculum yet.

So it is perhaps not surprising that a proportion of 9-15 year olds don't know much detail about a conflict that ended 50-55 years before they were born.

In fact many of the answers are surprisingly good.

For example more than half the children surveyed knew the start and end years of the First World War which started 89-95 years before they were born. This is the equivalent of me knowing the dates of the Boer Wars, the Tauranga Campaign or the Bhutan War, which I didn't until I looked them up on Google for the purposes of this blog!

A massive 90% got the years of WWII right, 60% correctly identified Harry Patch as the oldest veteran of the trenches, 80% knew that the poppy is the symbol of Remembrance Day and 86% that the Blitz was the bombing of London.

For a group of children, many of whom won't have studied the subject in History yet, I don't think this is bad at all.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong about people doing more to educate children about WWII, Remembrance Day or more recent and more relevant conflicts.

But a survey like this should not be used as yet another criticism of children's knowledge or of 'modern teaching standards', particularly when the survey has been deliberately structured to produce whacky answers.