Monday 13 July 2020

back operation and new book

I see that I have not updated my medical bulletin. In case anyone is interested.

Three weeks after the operation, my back pain suddenly diminished to almost nothing, which was the object of the spinal decompression.  The crushed nerve to my right leg means that it is not working optimally, but I am doing physio to strengthen the muscles etc.  I am walking better, but not over distances of more than about 1 mile. I am determined to make progress.  My physio is Marcel Wallace, Marina Wallace’s son, who lives in Vancouver!
Major thanks to the excellent surgeon, Roy Chaudhary. He was confident that the op had gone well. He was right.

I have delivered my book, "Heavenly Visions. Dante and the Art of Divine Light", to Lund Humfries. Aiming for publication in April during Dante's 700th anniversary.  I see it as a new "paragone", the comparison of the arts. Whether the text is any good, the visuals should be spectacular.

This is a fragment from the introduction.

"The present book is in part about Dante Alighieri’s understanding of light [based on Mediaeval optics]  and the legacy of his Paradiso. This involves both the direct sense of the considerable impact of his extraordinary vision, and also the general diffusion of his literary portrayal of the extra-terrestrial realm of spiritual light. But it is also a paragone study in what poetry can do and what painting can do.  We will see Dante and the painters mutually striving to meet one of the greatest of all visual challenges. That challenge was how to describe extremities of divine light that were beyond the scope of our earth-bound sense of sight."

Universities and colleges. A radical solution

The government, such as it is, seem to be looking at tertiary education and the university/ college divide.
Three years ago I wrote a blog on this, offering a radical solution. I am copying part of it below. (This also helps a bit with my failure to write as regularly as I keep promising myself.)

Let's ask some basic questions. Why is it that at age 18 (or so) we have determined that teenagers should embark on monolithic studies of three years (or four in Scotland) in highly defined areas in a way that determines much in their future lives, and more or less ensures that they will thereafter undergo no further formal education. 

Why three or four years at this point in someone's life? There is no good basis for this "rule". If there is one single lesson I learnt over the course of my many years in the education world, it is that people develop at very different rates and ways, and have very diverse forms of intelligence and skill. Our current system cannot handle this diversity and fails most 16 to 18-year-olds to greater of lesser degrees.

My suggestion is that we think of scrapping the current assumptions about further education. 

At school leaving age (itself open to revision), each student would be given a set number of further education credits (perhaps equivalent to a 3-year course) that they could take up at any point in their lives. Each credit would be "spent" on a course in a particular area of activity, ranging from carpentry to chemistry. This might be taken immediately following school, or after some kind of work experience. Subsequent credits could be taken in a continuous batch of studies over the same kind of period as now (above all for people of an academic inclination, who might move on to post-credit, "graduate" work), or at any time and after any interval of years. Someone might, for instance, gain some work experience in the law or in the building trade immediately on leaving school, and decide that they need to to upgrade their formal qualifications (ideally in collaboration with an employer).  Or they might decide to study something different, having gained some experience and a broader perspective. Or they might study for 2 years, leaving for employment, with the equivalent of one year's credits still available for future use. Someone else might want to change direction at any point in their life, either radically or re-tooling in their present area of activity to master new directions which were not apparent during their initial training. The requirement of jobs are not static in the present age of rapid technological and other changes. Someone who missed out on schooling, not having engaged with study, would have the opportunity to re-engage and gain valuable credits. None would be cast on the rubbish heap at 16 or later. Practical intelligence would be given as much chance to flower as academic intelligence.

No-one would be obliged to take up their credits. Someone who went straight into employment may achieve what they desire without further formal study. Someone who retires with, say, a year's credits still available might seek a fulfilling direction in the many years that will remain for many retirees.

Higher education providers would need to re-think what they teach, how they attract students and the relationships of the qualifications to the worlds of employment. Students would be able assess the trajectory of their lives from a broader perspective. Schools would need to think about what diverse students need to launch themselves on worthwhile lives. Less exams and more actual teaching.

This flexible system might seem like a recipe for chaos in not knowing how many are going to be studying what. But the Open University has taught us that such numbers are forecastable on statistical basis. The system would settle down quite quickly.

The finance dimension needs thinking through. It may be that the equivalent of a year's study is met automatically by the state. Subsequently, courses could be financed by a cocktail of official and private support, the latter involving employers and perhaps direct loans. It may be that employers would contribute to a central pot of funds for later qualifications and re-tooling courses.

I have been the beneficiary of the present system. It suited a clever state-school boy of the 1950s and 1960s. There are increasingly few that it really suits over the full course of their lives. Let's seriously ask, "why three or four years in a row?'.