Fun-filled gender-fluid self-curated personas at the Df-ingE

In yet another of those remarkable coincidences that somehow seem to define All Change Please!’s very existence, at the same time as the BBC is broadcasting a new series of W1A, All Change Please! has received a transcript of a recent Team Df-ingE! meeting.

Justine Greening invited Siobhan Sharpe of ‘Perfect Curve’ – now incorporated into a Dutch conglomeration known as ‘Fun Media’ – back in to talk to the team. New and regular readers might like to remind themselves of what happened last time this happened

Justine Greening (AKA Mss Piggy): “Well hello everyone and thanks for attending this meeting in the new Nicky Morgove Office Suite. In our last ‘Going Backwards to Move Forwards’ session you’ll remember that we discussed the idea of using teachers as Trained Trainers in our schools, reading from pre-written scripts, and all agreed it would save a great deal of money, even if it was a bit daft. Today we’re fortunate to welcome back Siobhan Sharpe who is going to present Fun Media’s visionary Futurability review of the future of our schools.”

Nick Glibb: “Can I just point out…

JG: “No, you can’t Nick

NG: “It’s just that…

JG: “Look I know you’re male and all the problems that involves, but how many more times do I have to remind you that I’m in charge here? Over to you Siobhan – I have to say your name is a lot easier to pronounce than it is to remember how its spelt, isn’t it?

Siobhan Sharpe: “Thanks Justine. Long live the Sisterhood! Hi everyone! So like the big news is that teachers are so over. Nobody wants teachers anymore.”

Ensemble:Yes, very strong.”

Ens: “I’m totally good with that.”

Ens: “Way cool. That’s mental.”

JG: “I’m sorry you’ll need to run that over me again.

SS:  “Ten years. That’s all teachers have got. Then they’ll be gone. Extinct. Fossilised. Like, ancient relics of a bygone age. Do-dos. Get over it and move on.”

JG: “Says who?

SS: “Well, duh, Sir Antony Seldon for a start. Like the former head of Eton. You know – where the posh boys and future PMs go. He’s just written a book about it: The Fourth Education Revolution: how Artificial Intelligence is Changing the Face of Learning, and that’s what he predicts. No more teachers. Just computers. And kids sitting at rows of PC screens doing easy assessable multiple-choice questions. This is the 21st Century – the Information Age, in case you hadn’t noticed: Pearsonalised Learning, Artificial Inattention. Machine Leering. Fragmented Reality.”

JG: “But computers are nowhere near clever enough yet to be as good as a real teacher. I mean it’s not like we’re exactly talking HAL and ‘2001′ yet are we? This Artificial Intelligence stuff isn’t really as bright as it’s made out to be is it – at least not if the ‘Recommended for you’ emails I keep getting are anything to go by? It’s not exactly on the same level as a conscious, sentient being yet. Mind you, I suppose that goes for some of our current teachers too. 

Anyway there’s a lot more to learning than just answering questions that test your knowledge, which you know can be a bit de-motivating if you’re not very good at remembering things.  Surely learning is about providing young people with the capabilities to develop their dreams and aspirations, and exploring and experimenting with others to make them happen? The problem is that these current computer systems decide what children need to know and are designed to adapt them to fit a simplistic, elitist, academic view of the world as a random predetermined set of right answers. 

And let’s face it we’ve heard all this before – educationalists have been going on about it since the 1980s – but the problem is that the content is all written by New Media company programmers who don’t know the first thing about pedagogy. Anyone remember ‘Success Maker’? That wasn’t exactly much of a success was it?”

SS:  “Yeah. Right. You still don’t get it do you? Let me spell it out for you as easily as I can. Six words. Watch my lips: Teachers Expensive. Computers Cheap. Profits Greater. There, is that simple enough for you? Deal with it. Wake up and smell the Pumpkin Spice Latte for heaven’s sake.”

Ens: “Ah yes, no, good. Very good.”

Ens: “I so love it”

JG: “OK. So what else is there to look forward to in the future?

SS: “Well there’s all these stressful tests and solitary confinement examinations we keep making children take. I mean there are some serious mental health, mindlessness, human-rights issues here that need addressing. And everyone’s had enough of experts, and particularly educational experts, so anyway, no problem, because exams are finished too. We’ve done a re-branding exercise and have come up with a completely new concept in which the kids set and assess their own exams – it’s called ‘GCSE Me!‘. And of course as children learn most from each other, they will create and share their own user-generated on-line content resources too, which let’s face it, couldn’t be much worse than the current textbooks they currently get.

Ens: “Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: “This is all going terribly well.”

JG: “I rather think Michael Gove would be turning in his grave if he were here now, although of course unfortunately he’s not actually in one yet.”

NG: “What I want to know is are the strict school uniform policies here to stay?

SS: “Hello? Have you heard from your brain lately? Or are you from a different planet or a Whovian time-warp or something? The school uniformity of the future is one that is always changing, different, divergent, inconsistent and varied. Our market research shows that Generation Z...”

NG: “Generation what?

SS: “Generation Z – children who are roughly between 12 and 19 – you know, duh, the ones currently in our secondary schools and colleges of FE that it’s your job to reach out to and engage. Gen Zs, as we call them – are a sophisticated self-confident creative force. Unlike their teachers and examiners they’ve moved on from the last century having been weaned on the internet, mobile phones and social media. They’re entrepreneurs and influencers, creating their own culture. They’re into dubbing soundscapes and performing word poetry and communicating using gifs and emojis. They’re defining themselves as their own brands. They see themselves as a gender-fluid generation in which there are no rules, no uniform, just their own self-curated persona.”

Ens: “Yeah, no worries, yeah, cool. Say again?

JG: “But hold on, you can’t exactly just go out and buy an affordable gender-fluid curated persona at Asda, can you? Anyway, let me get this straight. What you’re saying is that instead of rigidly imposing our own out-dated interests, aspirations and values on today’s children, what we should actually be doing is taking into account the way they see the world, and change our schools, the curriculum and the way we deliver it accordingly?

NG: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing for sure about the future. That’s never going to happen.

JG: “So that’s all good then…

Narrator: “And so we leave the Df-ingE in deep, earnest, concerned discussion, digging themselves further and further into a hole of their own making about the future issues that will one day face a completely different future team of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, long after they hope they have all personally in person moved on to better jobs in journalism and the City.

One thing looks certain though. Siobhan Sharpe’s future vision for fun-filled, gender-fluid, self-curated personas for our schools of the future doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun trying to implement.

Goves and Dolls

51BZN5STVRLGuys and Dolls was a Broadway musical first performed in 1950, and followed by the highly successful film version in 1955. The plot is based on a number of humorous and sentimental short stories written in the 1930s by Damon Runyon, in which the main character is often to be found eating cheesecake at Mindys in New York and trying to keep out of trouble while influencing events that usually involve gangsters, gambling or women, and often all three, from a distance.

Other regulars include characters such as Harry the Horse, Edward the Educated and Dave the Dude. An unusual and distinctive feature of the stories is that they are written in the present tense, have no contractions (e.g.’ he is’ instead of ‘he’s’) and reflect the New York underground gangland dialect of the time. This style and characterisaton is often referred to as being ‘Runyonesque’.

So All Change Please! is therefore proud to present its own Runyonesque, very short Christmas story entitled Goves and Dolls.

“One morning shortly before the end of the Christmas Term I am busy sitting in the school dining room minding my own business as usual, and reading a piece in the paper about how Big Micky Gove is still trying to influence education policy and not letting Little Missy Morgan get on with her job. Around the table with me are Duncan the Deputy, Alan the Author, Tony the Technology, and lastly Pearson the Prophet, with whom I should point out we do not regularly socialise as we do not like the future he foretells. We are very much enjoying our slices of the lovely Linda Lasagne the Dinner Lady’s cheesecake, which, this being the festive season, comes with a small sprig of holly and a merry paper napkin.

Then suddenly, and somewhat unusually for the dinner hall, everything goes quiet and I become aware of something large and red standing in front of me. I look up and to begin with I am much surprised to see a man all dressed up in a Father Christmas outfit. But I’m even more surprised when Santa removes his hood and white beard to reveal himself as none other than Big Mickey Gove.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your break-time” he says politely, because he is nothing if not polite, “but I believe you’ve been looking for me?”

Now I don’t want to be involved in any trouble, so I say “Who me? No! But I guess the person you are referring to is All Change Please!, with whom I do occasionally socialise through a certain electronic social media channel.”

But of course I do not reveal exactly how closely connected I am, for fear I will thought to be part of the infamous Blob he so despises and hates with all his heart and every bone in his body.

“Well”, says Big Mickey, “I wonder if you’d be so good to kindly inform All Change Please! that I don’t want it to start publishing any posts based on absolutely untrue and quite unbelievable stories that are recently appearing in the papers about me still trying to influence education. I’m still supposed to be in hiding behind the scenes, secretly meddling with things that are really none of my business. And then there’s my future media career to think of too. So unless it wants to find another world in which to live, please be so good as to tell it to desist its damaging diatribes.”

So I tell Big Mickey that sure I will pass on his message, but that of course I have no say in what actually gets published, and he wisely replaces his hood and beard and gets up and makes for the front door. Outside I cannot help but notice one of his little helpers sitting by his sledge looking cold and miserable, and because I see it is a character of a female persuasion, and naturally I have a certain soft spot for dolls, I find myself going over to ask if there is anything wrong and that I might be able to help with.

But here I am in for another big surprise because it turns out to be Missy Morgan herself.

“No, there’s nothing you can do.” she sobs, “All I want to do is be teacher’s friend, build bridges, mend fences, lighten their burden and many other somewhat simplistic and cliched metaphors. And I really didn’t mean to say studying the Arts was a waste of time the other day you know, it just sort of came out all wrong. And then Big Mickey is always calling me up or dropping by and putting pressure on me not to change any of his policies however silly and unworkable they are.

“Wait, maybe there is something you could do? I have heard that you have some influence with that sometimes slightly satirical All Change Please! blog? Perhaps you could ask it to write a sympathetic piece that will make me seem like a nice, kind, caring and sensitive education secretary?”

Well I can never resist a dame in distress and I am known to be a bit of a sentimentalist at times, so I tell her that next time I chance to have discourse with All Change Please! I will be sure to put in a good word for her. But as far as Big Mickey Gove is concerned he just deserves whatever is coming to him.

At that moment Gove shouts for her to get back on board, and he ascends into the sky, loudly cracking his government whip. Well he must be very busy at present as I guess he must have an awful lot of encyclopedias and King James’ Bibles to deliver to schools before Christmas. Anyone want to take a bet on exactly how many?

Any chance of some more cheesecake, Linda? After all I need to build up my strength in order to write this year’s Christmas Blogpost…”

You can download some of Damon Runyon’s short stories here, or enjoy an Old Time Radio Dramatisation below. (starts at approx 1.00 min)