Thursday, March 30, 2017

Speaking their language*

Was it a certificate or a diploma?

I wasn't quite sure.

Nowhere on their list of accepted documents could I find it mentioned.

I couldn't tick a box.

I sighed.

I found the telephone number.

I checked the hours of opening.

Tuesday afternoon: 14:00-16:00.

Thursday morning: 9:30-11:30.

I telephoned at one of the specified times.

"Er, the Ministry of education considers that I am qualified to teach French. Will that do as proof that I can speak French?" I asked.

I was met by a sharp intake of breath, a counted silence and then a surprisingly friendly voice.

"Oh I don't know. I have never come across that question. I shall have to ask the ministry." 

"But I am speaking with you. You can hear that I can speak French."

"Yes, but if I don't have the agreement from the ministry. I can't do anything about it."

I sighed.

I waited.

After much toing and froing with the ministry a response came back.

The friendly voice telephoned me.

"The ministry has accepted that you can include a copy of your teaching of French certificate."

She saved me the 100 euros which it would have cost me to take a computerised test to get a stamped document to prove that I could speak French.

I looked at the boxes on the form.

None of the boxes corresponded to my case.

I sighed.

I telephoned the number.

I explained.

A voice replied.

"Oh I don't know. We have never come across that question. We will have to study the instructions from the ministry."

There was a pause.

"What diplomas do you have?"

"Oh, that's foreign, so you don't have any proof of equivalences for your diploma."

"Well the minstry of education seems to have accepted the equivalence of my diplomas because they have employed me to be a teacher at one of their universities for the past 18 years. Isn't that proof?"

I was met with a sharp intake of breath, and a measured silence.

"We are changing the procedures at the moment. Just complete the form and send a cv."

"Couldn't a teacher evaluate my competences?"

"No teacher will see your application if administratively you don't have the necessary documents."

I put down the phone and set about writing a cv...again.

This, it appears is the story of my life.

I am not adapted to filling in or being filled in official boxes.

I consider myself a hopeless case.

I need to improve my bloody adaptability.

I need to learn to speak their language.

I need to be uniformly square, a correct size, not foreign, easy to file.

Tick, tick, tick, tick. Happiness.

People shouldn't be expected to think.

That's stressful and waste of administrative time.

Am I a nought or a cross?

Maybe I am a goddamned asterisk?*


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mapping touches of sense.

I am getting an idea of my contours, of my connections, of my motivations, of possible directions.

Touches of Sense is one example of how I wander when left to my own devices. 

I write most often as a stream of consciousness, any learning is emergent.

I take a pause to lay down markers for myself. 

If it is to be a usable map then I need to integrate its lenses into more focused exploration.

I am being systematic in my analysis now.  

There comes a time for nature to become a template for action.

Poetry is no less a science, it is no less a map, it is no less a means to reimagine our roles.

I post a reference to Shelley here for future reflection:

For Shelley, "poets ... are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society..." Social and linguistic order are not the sole products of the rational faculty, as language is "arbitrarily produced by the imagination" and reveals "the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension" of a higher beauty and truth. Shelley's conclusive remark that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" suggests his awareness of "the profound ambiguity inherent in linguistic means, which he considers at once as an instrument of intellectual freedom and a vehicle for political and social subjugation".[6]

I note in passing two key annotated blog posts for me.

Iconoclast 101: Outsiders in Academe in Dodger.

No doubt this mapping will see it take on other forms.

I think I have a template for further work. 

The links to personal story must remain and not be severed by a disrespect for person, group or nature. 

Boxes and numbers must not replace be dumb avatars for complexity.

Between Scylla and Charybdis.

This what I love about blogging.

I learn unexpectedly.

I have been reflecting on how to spend my time.

The clocks went forward today.

There are times, many times, when I lose heart.

I get worn out, walls narrow on every side.

I think: "Simon you're an idiot."

I think: "Simon you're a fraud."

I think: "Simon you're fucking useless."

I think: "Simon you're etc."

There are times when I just want to give up.

I get fed up of thinking things through.

I get fed up of trying to do things differently.

Everything becomes too much effort.

I just want to go and take the dog for a walk.

I just want to pull the covers over my head and wait for another day.

I just want to say,

"OK, you fucking win, you bastards. Fuck you!"

Actually, I never say: "OK, you fucking win, you bastards."

I refuse to accept that there aren't means to change fucking stupid systems.

I pick myself up and limit myself to saying.

"Fuck you!"

I am forever picking myself up, finding a different way to look at things, a better way to be.

Sometimes it is enough to wait for the tide to change, for the storm to blow over.

Today is one of those days. I can feel mood change.

There is brilliant sunshine, yesterday was all torrential rain and drear.

I think of how people are pushed to fill boxes on others' spreadsheets.

I think of traders in the city who only see numbers, trends, markets, buying and selling.

I think of academics who appear more interested in their reputations, than the lot of lowlier folk.

I think of surveillance, trolling, loss of privacy, slave labour, filling boxes on others' spreadsheets.

I just want to go and take the dog for a walk.

I think of friends, teachers, academics, parents, doctors, nurses, people who face the same dilemmas every day.

We are for ever navigating between rocks and hard places, between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I think of lost friends.

Those friends could no longer accept to navigate and I feel sadness and respect for their choices.

Who will be their judges?

Blinkers and Socks.

I know that whatever the choice, we have to live between Scylla and Charybdis.

We must work together to challenge those people and their fucking spreadsheets.

We must work together to challenge those people who would condemn us because we don't fit their boxes, labels, tags, stamps.

Life is not contained in a box, the cursor winks...

Learning is messy, living is swaying along a tight-rope to uncertain destinations.

Maybe, just maybe, I should be working towards getting on and writing a thesis.

I am running out of good reasons not to.

That comes as an annoying admission.

I shall try to go about it artfully.

I leave this here quickly, before I delete it.

I leave it here, as a deliberate, nagging, presence.


Wikipedia Between Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters noted by Homer; Greek mythology sited them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was rationalized as a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as a sea hazard located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer, Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.
Because of such stories, having to navigate between the two hazards eventually entered idiomatic use. Another equivalent English seafaring phrase is, "Between a rock and a hard place".[1] The Latin line incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim (he runs into Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis) had earlier become proverbial, with a meaning much the same as jumping from the frying pan into the fireErasmus recorded it as an ancient proverb in his Adagia, although the earliest known instance is in the Alexandreis, a 12th-century Latin epic poem by Walter of Châtillon.[2]

At a time when a Classical education was common, the myth of Scylla and Charybdis was often used in political cartoons. In James Gillray's Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis (3 June 1793),[3] 'William Pitt helms the ship Constitution, containing an alarmed Britannia, between the rock of democracy (with the liberty cap on its summit) and the whirlpool of arbitrary power (in the shape of an inverted crown), to the distant haven of liberty'.[4] This was in the context of the effect of the French Revolution on politics in Britain. That the dilemma had still to be resolved in the aftermath of the revolution is suggested by Percy Bysshe Shelley's returning to the idiom in his 1820 essay A Defence of Poetry: "The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism."[5]
A later Punch caricature by John Tenniel, dated 10 October 1863, pictures the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston carefully steering the British ship of state between the perils of Scylla, a craggy rock in the form of a grim-visaged Abraham Lincoln, and Charybdis, a whirlpool which foams and froths into a likeness of Jefferson Davis. A shield emblazoned "Neutrality" hangs on the ship's thwarts, referring to how Palmerston tried to maintain a strict impartiality towards both combatants in the American Civil War.[6] American satirical magazine Puck also used the myth in a caricature by F. Graetz, dated November 26, 1884, in which the unmarried President-elect Grover Cleveland rows desperately between snarling monsters captioned "Mother-in-law" and "Office Seekers."[7]
Victor Hugo uses the equivalent French idiom (tomber de Charybde en Scylla) in his novel Les Miserables (1862), again in a political context, as a metaphor for the staging of two rebel barricades during the climactic uprising in Paris, around which the final events of the book culminate. The first chapter of the final volume is entitled "The Charybdis of the Faubourg Saint Antoine and the Scylla of the Faubourg du Temple."
By the time of Nicholas Monsarrat's 1951 war novel, The Cruel Sea, however, we find the upper-class junior officer, Morell, being teased by his middle-class—and more progressive—peer, Lockheart, for using such an old-fashioned phrase.
Nevertheless, the idiom has since taken on new life in pop lyrics. In The Police's 1983 single "Wrapped Around Your Finger," the second line uses it as a metaphor for being in a dangerous relationship; this is reinforced by a later mention of the similar idiom of "the devil and the deep blue sea."[8][9] American heavy metal band Trivium also referenced the idiom in "Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis," a track from their 2008 album Shogun, in which the lyrics are about having to choose "between death and doom."[10]

Friday, March 24, 2017

Vectors of virus.

"Mais qu'est ce que ça veut dire, la peste? C'est la vie, voilà tout."

Albert Camus. La Peste.

"Mais pour parler de tous et à tous, il faut parler de ce que tous connaissent et de la réalité qui nous est commune. La mer, les pluies, le besoin, le désir, la lutte contre la mort, voilà ce qui nous réunit tous."

Albert Camus. 

Discours de la réception du prix Nobel 1957

"I'm a rat." 

I said to the teacher between classes.

It had suddenly occurred to me that I had identified my role.

It is an image that has crossed my mind over the past few days.

I get into places where I shouldn't.

I am a carrier of  viruses.

There are positive viruses, there are negative viruses.

Those judgements depend on your values.

A virus is value neutral. 

(I write that and then I find the idea strangely troubling.)

For better and for worse the internet is a vector of infection.

Elections are vulnerable to viral fake news carried by simulacra of recognised media.

Education systems are vulnerable to global means of measurement and thereby corporate exploitation.

Societies at threatened by dangerous ideologies.

Capitalism for example, infiltrates every aspect of our lives, our food, our beliefs, our leisure, our sex lives.

Powerful images of domination, sky-scrapers, souped up tanks, fine robes, freedom to roam, to build, to convert, to massacre, to save, to escape, midas-gain, fame, groupies, harems, monastic harmony, respect, heroism, glory, promises of eternal life in paradise feed on fantasies and fears of individual and communities alike.

Is it any wonder that the title of Deleuze and Guattari's seminal work was:

A thousand plateaux: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

"There is no escaping the bloody rhizomes." He mutters...with resignation.

It is in this context that I am trying to make my way as a witness, as a carrier of values, as an educator.

Stateless, homeless, paperless...

I have been thinking about my role within my institution in a cross-disciplinary service that works with teachers and students across boundaries.

I have been thinking of how people who are stateless, transient, nomadic, struggle for the freedom to to roam or just to survive.


I think back to concepts of "freedom of movement" of "freedom of speech" , of "freedom of ideas" and then think back to  "explorers" and ensuing colonies.  

I think of a recent post:

Great explorations 

I think of how white men carried viruses that wiped out indigenous peoples:

The Impact of European Diseases on Native Americans. .

I think of this systemic racism which names the others "underdeveloped" and which underpins "our freedom".

Stateless, homeless, paperless...

Is it any wonder that Gypsies, Jews, immigrants, refugees, merchants (pirates?), have always been viewed with suspicion and yet have been vectors of trade, innovation, culture, and life?

What are the derogatory terms that have been used to talk of these people recently?




People who are in between the lines are alive, kicking, and, it seems, dangerous to the status quo.

What the hell is democracy if it is not vibrant, debated, fluid?

"Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Emma Lazarus.

What the hell is education  or learning if it is bounded by discipline(s)?

Freedom of movement is once again being restricted, walls are going up, old discourses are being mongered.

Nationalistic, patriotic, jingoistic, militaristic memes are being trotted out.

If ever there was a time for education rather than drilling or training it is now.

It feels like we are in the final death throes of a colonial body that has its arteries hardening.

In between...

And yet to move forward in my institution, in my community, I am compelled to use the language of those in power.

I am reminded of all the invisible work which goes on in homes and at work of those who feel a moral responsibility (often traditionally women) who are taken for granted, or for a ride.

I am reminded of all the invisible (to those in privilege) sacrifices which are made by people afar.

I glance up an instant to the ASUS branding on the PC I am using to write this.

To what relationships are we complicit?

Far from view, far from the heart, far from our minds.

The irony is that the only way I will ever get to speak with those people afar is via this PC.

The internet is both the plague and a potential remedy it seems.

How would I be so infected with the reflections of those friends of mine who live afar, who live in contexts where there barriers to their movement are for ever more rigorous/absurd, without these means to connect?


I am reminded of a piece written by Maha Bali and Kate Bowles:

On both sides: networked learning in a world of walls.

I fall upon a quote that Maha and Kate use at the beginning of the article:

For when you cross a border, you are not only affirming its permeability, but also changing the landscape on both sides. ~ Lina Mounzer

And then this one:

"The only way to make borders meaningless is to keep insisting on crossing them: like a refugee, without papers, without waiting to be given permission, without regard for what might be waiting on the other side. For when you cross a border, you are not only affirming its permeability, but also changing the landscape on both sides. You cross carrying what you can carry, you cross bearing witness, you cross knowing that you are damageable, that you are mortal and finite, but that language is memory, and memory lives on." Lina Mounzer

And they finish their article with:

"This time of walls and travel bans demands conviction and ingenuity from critical digital educators concerned with gestures of openness and hospitality. To change the landscape on both sides of the walls that are being built to keep us apart, we need to show up and collaborate wherever we can."

Maha Bali and Kate Bowles.

Criss-crossing borders.

As I look towards OER and VConnecting session, as I look towards my work with CLAVIER and my own boundary breaking within my institution, I am convinced of the value of this open infection that I carry from colleagues who are afar but who touch me greatly in my everyday work.

After yesterdays conversations with my colleagues in France and Finland about our roles and possibilities of collaboration across the frontiers of our institutions, I sat down to collate and to reflect on parallel conversations about pedagogy in higher education that I had on Twitter the same day with people who help me think and give me courage to continue crossing the lines...

Thursday, March 23, 2017


gerund or present participle: crisscrossing
  1. form a pattern of intersecting lines or paths on (a place).

    "the green hill was criss-crossed with a network of sheep tracks"
    • move or travel around (a place) by going back and forth repeatedly.

      "the President criss-crossed America"

We set up the meeting for 15:00 Finnish time. 

I am never quite sure whether in France we are one hour ahead or behind. 

Leena found the mistake...

It was one hour behind.

A week or so before, I had sat with a Maritta from Finland, Terry in the US, Teresa in the UK and Marcin in Poland on a smartphone and a group of French teachers talking about higher education in an age of technology and connectivity saturation.

They had talked of the lack of training in pedagogy in their context.

They had showed interest in the possibilities of continuing conversations between countries, of investigating the possibilities sharing their pedagogical practices and discovering those of others.

The days before I had been busy with facilitating exchanges between French, Polish and UK students as part of the CLAVIER project.

It was the third and fourth time that we had had physical exchanges with students from Poland and the UK.

It is these criss-crossing of paths which enable us to learn deeply and gradually to change together.

It is a slow at times pain-staking process.

I am currently reviewing and mapping out my reflection here in this blog concerning the CLAVIER.

Having written at speed, now I am going back slowly trying to get an overview, an other view.


So there we were, Christine, Leena, Maritta, and myself in a hangout.

If with Leena and Maritta we have been in contact for two or three years, the time taken to really understand each others' contexts has been limited.

I had sketched out some possibly areas of converging interests for conversation during the hangout and sought to find out whether we might find spaces to work together.

Just before the hangout, I engaged in a short Twitter conversation with Jesse Stommel who I noticed had tweeted the following:

Thereon there was a rapid exchange of tweets between the US, the UK and perhaps elsewhere.

Meanwhile we concentrated on the hangout.

Time was short, it felt, only an hour to try and explain my thinking and to attempt to find some sort of common ground.

Retrospectively that was perhaps absurd.

We need so much time to make sense of contexts that we have never lived.

I think now of all the time - the five or six years of I have spent criss-crossing the English channel, getting to know the context of the language centre in Warwick University.

As I spoke more and more, I felt more uncomfortable.

I felt that the picture that I was painting was difficult for Leena and Maritta to decode or at least to translate into their very different context.

I am becoming to realise that there is a chasm between work in an English language centred philology department and traversal foreign language service like the one in which I am employed.

As we teachers we have much in common with the librarians with whom we collaborate.

We are subject neutral, even if we get to specialise over the years within specific departments.

It is this element about my work which I enjoy, the ability to cross disciplinary boundaries.

It seems that these question of boundaries, national, institutional, social, disciplinary are at the forefront of our concerns today.

During the hangout Christine had a back-grounded telephone conversation going on in her office which with the audio system became fore-grounded at times during the hangout.

Open conversation across boundaries is not without obstacles.

And yet we are thrown together by this "internet" this global network.

If some are free, have the power to pass through boundaries with impunity, we inevitably get pulled back into the little boxes within which we are grounded.

I am looking forward to Maritta coming to France in June so that we may deepen our understanding of our contexts and to speak of possible ways forward.

I am wondering whether Maritta, Leena and Christine will share their reflections on our meeting, will meet me and others on Twitter to connnect.

I look forward to reading and hearing more of their stories.

Will their student teachers finish by working with us in Clermont Ferrand?

Will their teachers exchange what it is to work in these strangely connected times?

Will we learn to work together over time?

Time will tell.

In the meantime I will continue my reflective path.

It is when those distant voices come to people our little boxes an instant and change it for ever that we realise that we do indeed share a common and for ever shifting ground.

It is that curious attachment which brings us together despite all our differences to meet and so to learn and to grow which fascinates me.

Of all the people who might have shared their attention, it was them, then.

I went back to Storify the conversation which had happened during our hangout.

Another line of thought to follow....

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Fiction, Faction, Fact...

What counts is not what is, but what your dream is.

I have been thinking about the gravity of facts and the liquidity of fiction.

How little of our lives is governed in fact?

What percentage of human disasters are down to natural catastrophes?

What percentage of human disasters are down to the dreams of others?

A family is wiped out by greed.

"Affaire Troadec: il a tué toute une famille à cause d'un héritage."

A whole people is wiped out by fiction.
"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

"Mein Kampf"

An election is lost and won by a faction because of facts or because of fiction?

A referendum is lost and won by a faction because of facts or because of fiction?

What do facts matter if the beliefs of those in power deny your right to exist?

The "facts" that matter to you or those experiences which you consider to be "facts" will surely be determined by your beliefs.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” 
― Albert Einstein

A classroom preface.

I looked at the notes for the class, they had spent the week before learning about learning styles...

"All you need to know about 'the learning style myth' in two minutes."

A classroom.

I was sitting in the classroom last week with ten other teachers.

Six of them were sitting with me in a room in France, four of them were sitting in rooms in Finland, The USA, The UK and Poland.

What brought us together was a class and common interest in education.

What brought us together was friendship, curiosity and a desire to learn.

What brought us together were questions.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Albert Einstein

We were able to connect because of a smartphone and a Google hangout.

The phone was passed around the space so that the teachers in France could speak either individually or as a group with the distant teachers.

During the discussions, one common experience emerged - that of measurement.

We spoke of PISA, we spoke of "publish or perish".

Surely this obsession with "measurement" is grounded in belief, which if we decide so,  has little to do with education, perhaps a lot with "discipline" and "standards".

Surely the question we must ask is "whose standards are we attempting to satisfy"?

Surely the role of education is to demonstrate the weight of liquid in what appears to be solid.

As recent events in global stockmarkets have shown, economics is based on volatile liquidity.

Experts, always sound so "solid" and reliable until they are proved not to be.

Bernie Madoff 's 50 Billion Dollar Ponzi  Scheme.

When we talk of a "bottom line", it is perhaps an "economic reality" but therein lies the reality of power and a dominant ideology and the many lies which hide the manner of exploitation.

One of the teachers, Terry Elliott from Kentucky,  talked of "unschooling"  his kids which was, he termed "radical".

This fact was greeted by surprise and by interest by the other teachers present.

When I hear my kids talking of school in terms of incarceration, I wonder how crazy I am to send them there.

We spoke of the "Finnish miracle" with Maritta Riekki in Finland and learnt how "miracles" are sold.

The French teachers were particularly interested to get a first hand opinion of how Finnish education worked, as they had been sold the need to become more like the Finnish by the powers that be.

Often Maritta said, "less is more," the most important part of education is not facts but getting kids ot ask question and to think for themselves.

New dreams.

Many facts that we appear to be stuck with at the moment are the result of obsolete dreams.

There are those who will always hark back to a better time in the past and promise to take us there.

There have always been those with terrifying dreams.

There are those who will happily supply the means to achieve those dreams.
What we need are new dreams.

Education must not be about plying facts of the few, it must be about enabling new dreams for all.

Image: Trump as Gargoyle.


noun: faction; plural noun: factions
  1. a small organized dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics.

    "the left-wing faction of the party"

late 15th century (denoting the action of doing or making something): via French from Latin factio(n- ), from facere ‘do, make’.
  1. a literary and cinematic genre in which real events are used as a basis for a fictional narrative or dramatization.

    "the current vogue for faction seems about to overwhelm narrative history"
combining form
  1. in nouns of action derived from verbs ending in -fy (such as liquefaction from liquefy ).
Translate faction to
Use over time for: faction