The GCSE and A-Level exams aren’t going to happen in May/June thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and at the time of writing there is no plan as to whether they’ll be postponed to later in the year or replaced with a teacher/school assessment. Some students at school today were pleased, others were upset, but most seemed to be feeling a mixture of frustrations at the lack of clarity in what would happen instead, and that they wouldn’t be able to show what they have learned over the last two or more years. I’m not sure any stress was relieved in the announcement at all, though perphaps in the long term once the situation is clearer students will be able to relax.
However, the talk of imminent parties and gatherings also worried me as it doesn’t seem in keeping with the purpose of shutting schools to maximise physical isolation and minimise the spread of the virus. Would we have been better off holding back on cancelling exams a bit, keeping students at their desks a little longer to stop sixteen and eighteen year olds spreading the disease in party mode?
One student said to me that he was annoyed “What’s been the point of learning all this stuff?” he asked?
Inspired by a tweet I’d read the previous lunchtime by Laura McInerney I replied “Learning is never wasted. Exams are a single day, the point of learning this stuff is so much bigger than exams.” However, was not as easily convinced as I was by Laura’s argument. “The only time I’m ever going to use Pythagoras’ Theory is in a Maths exam” he said, “and now I might not sit that exam and I’ve learned something pointless.”
But Laura is right, learning isn’t pointless, students should carry on learning anyway. Revise for exams that in all likihood wont happen, because it’s the right thing to do. Because knowing stuff and learning stuff is part of what makes us human, and the body of knowledge that we teach kids for GCSE is an important part of our collective cultural capital whether it’s useful in the future or not. The lyrics of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and the rhythym to Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance aren’t useful in any meaningful way to anyone, but they should be known by everybody because they are part of the fabric of our culture and society. Like watching Indiana Jones and Star Wars, things we learn at school such as Pythagoras’ Theorem, the causes of The Second World War, Metal Reactivity Series and how Oxbow Lakes are formed should just be things we know because they represent the best of humanities achievements in each field…..
“I’ve never seen Star Wars.” the student iterruped me.
“I’ve never seen Star Wars. And I’ve never even heard of Dave Brubeck.”
“Well, we’ve found a couple of gaps in your cultural capital which need filling this summer during your physical isolation from each other.” So instead of Partying and spreading a virus, in between topping up their revision for exams that probably wont happen I suggest you plug some gaps in your cultural capital…
But like searching for knowledge on the internet that you haven’t been taught about, students can’t plug gaps they don’t know are there. So here are some recommended cultural capital for my students for this summer.
Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list, but a few of my personal favourites from a range of genres for a teenager to get their teeth into during a summer of physical isolaton but social connection. So here we go kids… With your fancy internet connections and devices you should be able to sort this lot without leaving the house and should kill a week or so of boredom. Happy to be pointed towards gaps of my own in the comments…
Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits
David Bowie – Station to Station
Lauren Hill – Miseducation Of…
The Roots – Things Fall Apart
Pulp – Different Class
Led Zepplin – IV
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
1984 – George Orwell
Killing Floor – Lee Child
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
What If…? – Randall Monroe
Life of Brian
Withnail & I
La Vite E Bella
Big Hero 6
Star Trek TNG