Soft Machinations

Image:  The cover of The Soft Machine Volume Two (1969). Design by Byron Goto, Henry Epstein.

It’s not often that All Change Please! reads something about a politician and thinks: ‘Yes, by Jove, I think he’s got it’, but that’s exactly what happened in response to a recent piece about Ed Milliband in the Guardian when he was reported to state: “We need to ensure vocational education is seen as just as much of a gold standard as academic education.”

Obviously he’s been reading ‘Going For Gold‘!

At the same time All Change Please! also felt a smug sense of anti-Govian satisfaction when it read a report alerting everyone to the fact that what employers really, really want is not so much evidence of academic potential, but more experience of so-called ‘soft skills’.

Now All Change Please! has already written about so-called ‘soft subjects’, which, while assumed by the popular media to describe any subject with work-related content rather than so-called harder academic so-called  ‘deep thought’ subjects, is in fact simply a reference to any subject not on the Russell Group’s list as being appropriate for entrance to one of the small, elite group of universities they represent.

So what of so-called ‘soft skills’? According to Wikipedia:

‘Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.

[They…] include proficiencies such as communication skills, conflict resolution and negotiation, personal effectiveness, creative problem solving, strategic thinking, team building, influencing skills and selling skills, to name a few.’

Now one could be forgiven for supposing that it is the so-called soft subjects that deliver so-called soft-skills, but that does not necessarily follow. Just as it’s possible to teach academic subjects in non-academic ways, so it is also possible to teach soft subjects without giving enough emphasis to the development of soft skills.

Some serious machinations are therefore going to be needed to resolve the issue of how best to deliver soft skils.

Meanwhile the title of this post, ‘Soft Machinations’ is of course in the first instance a corruption of ‘Soft Machine’, a band that All Change Please! followed devotedly in the late 1960s when it should possibly (or more probably not) have been spending more time on its homework, and then in later life went on to teach in the school in Canterbury that the main members of the original band had first met at some years earlier – but that’s another story. The band’s name was taken from the book of the same name by William S. Burroughs, first published in 1961, in which the ‘Soft Machine’ is a name used for the human body. The main theme of the book concerns how external control mechanisms invade the body.

But what’s more interesting is that the book was written using the literary ‘cut up’ technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. Most commonly, cut-ups are used to offer a non-linear alternative to traditional reading and writing, invented in the 1920s by the Dadaists and popularised by Burroughs and others in the 1960s.

Again, according to Wikipedia:

‘The ‘cut-up’ and the closely associated ‘fold-in’ are the two main techniques:
Cut-up is performed by taking a finished and fully linear text and cutting it in pieces with a few or single words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged into a new text. Fold-in is the technique of taking two sheets of linear text (with the same linespacing), folding each sheet in half vertically and combining with the other, then reading across the resulting page.’

Now, given the sense they make, I reckon this must very probably be the way that most government education policies and National Curriculum documents are put together?

Think do you what?