Monday, March 14, 2016

Livestock,Dumbledore and I...

It suddenly hit me.

It was this morning at approximately 11 o'clock am.

The spell broke.

I was listening to a university professor speaking of new innovations at the university in the training (formation. fr.) of students in digital literacies.

There's a new acronym:  DIGICOMP. [digital competences]

There's a new automatised grading system of the students digital competences.

We were reassured that such a testing system would be based on something like the:

TOEIC [a brand which guarantees market leading excellence].

Click on the link!

Ideal for your head of students.


I sighed.

I heard the aforesaid master [Maître de Conférences no less] say the following:

"The students will be learning to use these tools - blah, blah."

"We have three levels of competence." [in French]...

"There will be diplomas for each level so that employers can understand their level of competences."

(He could have said, badges, blockchain credits, get the drift.)

"If you look up here..."

He showed us a reassuring diagram.

Hearing no mention of an ounce of critical reflection to accompany this brave new scheme...

I asked for a microphone.

"What about developing critical reflection as to the use of digital tools?"

Then came the answer:

"We don't believe that students in the second year of university are able to think.  We leave thinking until we get to third year or masters level."

"Are you serious?" I replied.

"Are you suggesting that a twenty year old is incapable of critical thinking?" I went on.

I was met with a blank look.

I thought that I should shut up before it got nasty.

Livestock, Dumbledore, and I...

Well all that got me thinking.

Maybe I have misunderstood what we are doing in education in France.

And then it struck me...right between the eyes.

I have been thinking that I am working in education.


We are working in livestock husbandry.

The spell shattered.

What do I do?

I thought: "I teach."

Non. "J'enseigne."

I fell upon the noun [non. Fr]  ENSEIGNE

Latin. Insignia. 
Sign constituted by an emblem. 
An symbolic object to signal an establishment of commerce. 

Symbol of the power and the command. 

In French Higher Education is:


It is about transferring [feeding] 'savoir' information/knowledge to the head of students. (cattle)

I thought that I had been doing EDUCATION
Que Nenni! [not]

We are not the slightest bit interested in education, or thinking.

We will let the elite do that - the "free rangers".

I did a quick image search with the word enseigne.

I thought of the signs of trades, of guilds.

I did a quick image search.

I thought of brands, of branding.

I did a quick image search.

I thought of grading.

I did a quick image search.

I thought of diplomas.

I did a quick image search.


There they are trussed up to the nines with sashes, robes and ridiculous hats.

They might as well be wizards in Hogwarts.

That's it.

I am in livestock husbandry.

Why on earth would we want cattle to think?

We close the door.

We wouldn't want the poor dumb animals to realise their fate.

It would be upsetting.

I immediately felt depressed.

I am a bloody meat processor.

I suppose I might go and work in a free range farm.

The animals suffer less.

It is more costly.

You have to let the cows wander around longer.

Only the richest can afford the premium beef.

I suppose that would be better.

It is better than factory farming for hamburgers.

There's all that automation and no free roaming.

I have tried to make my farm more humane.

We have tried to enable the students to think.

Is that cruelty?

Back to Hogwarts...

A couple of students had chosen to perform a scene from Harry Potter.

They had skimped on the special effects for the burning wardrobe.

They had put a crudely drawn paper poster on a PC tower.

Mélanie posed with her lighter next to the PC.

The sign read:

"Wardrobe is on fire."

Then I heard her say:

"There's something in the wardrobe Tom. 
There's something in the wardrobe."

It clicked in my head.

"It's Mark Zuckerberg, Mélanie," I said.

"He's after your data."

"You're living on a data farm."

I told her the story of the man and the DIGICOMP lecture.

I told her how he thought she couldn't think.

She laughed.

I told her I would write a blog post with her photo to illustrate it.

I spoke with other students about why we insisted on reflection in their classes in English.

Why learn English?

Who are we learning English for?

What's a certification for?

What's a degree for?

Why are we using digital tools?

Why do we create digitally?

What lies in Facebook's wardrobe...

It didn't make me feel much better about my role.

I Googled some cow comics to make me feel better.

They didn't make me feel any better.

These are dark times I thought to myself.

I wondered what Dumbledore would say...

This is a feeble light.

Post Script

I received an unexpected sign of life from a student last night.

That made me happy that I had written this.

“Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 


  1. Not a feeble light -- it is a febrile plight
    in which we find ourselves
    or not

    1. Hi Fred. The flame may burn fiercer when febrile.

  2. This is a really powerful piece Simon. I am still trying to get the message out that not every use of technology is a creative or critical use. I'm still seeing lots of folks just lumping in all technology use as innovative. I'm still learning myself too though.

    Thank you for the post

    1. Thank you Autumm. Don't get me started on bloody innovation :-)

  3. Wow. Absolutely amazing. I got to the end then had to stop and think for a moment before re reading it. Brilliantly put. We live in a time where people's lives are saturated with mind numbing TV and advertisement yet we also live in a world where heutagogy, self efficacy and self introspection are everywhere. Sounds like you have some fantastic stufents who do you credit

    1. Hi Dan. The students keep me sane. I am fortunate that we have more freedom than many. We had to fight for that. Comments like yours help us have courage for the days ahead.

      Thank you.

  4. Haha, I'm laughing out loud at school because you said you google cow comics to make you feel better. Me too, of sorts. It's your critical thinking that causes you pain - tension between your perceived role as coordinator of livestock husbandry and your struggle to make sense of teaching and learning. Do you really want your students to feel that pain. You know it would be better for them to take their place in the field of cows. If only teachers had that power; young people think critically despite their education!

  5. You are right that young people think critically. I generally don't feel pain, I have a very resilient sense of humour :-)

  6. Thanks for re-posting this on Twitter today. Had to use my Google translator to fully understand the last video. It's strong statement. "but never our brains"

    1. You're welcome Daniel! Glad you spent time in French :-)