Brian Cox, presenter of BBC 2's Wonders of the Universe
Jamie Oliver and Brian Cox are both presenters who I love. First up, last Wednesday but for me on Friday on the iPlayer, was Jamie’s Dream School in which he attempts to do for failing pupils and teachers what he did for failing parents and cooks in Jamie’s Ministry of Food. In the Ministry of Food he showed people who thought they couldn’t cook how to do so, and how to cook things that are relatively cheap, wholesome and most importantly made with your own two hands in your own kitchen.
In Jamie’s Dream School Oliver is trying to save a state education system that is creaking under the weight of great expectations and minimal or misdirected resources. He is also, I believe, trying to help young people otherwise known as pupils. Oliver or the programme makers cannot be particularly concerned with teachers, otherwise why ask a bunch of experts in different subjects to teach when all the evidence is that teaching is a profession in its own right, with rules and training and its own particular expertise not least in classroom discipline. In other words, David Starkey may be a good historian (although Ben Miller’s skit on a reverent TV presenter arsing up priceless objets d’art is much better) but on the basis of last week’s Dream School, Starkey is terrible with people and is not a good educator of half-interested teenagers. He merely insults them.
I guess education is about consensus: willingness to teach and willingness to learn. Nipping things in the bud; if the class feel they can muck about, talk amongst themselves and use mobile phones then they will do those things. If the class never feel they can do those things they won’t or not to the same extent. When I was at school we only had pens and paper and eye contact to distract us but we did muck about. We still got qualifications, though.
Which brings me to my final point about Oliver’s Dream School. Channel 4 has made the same mistake it did with Gareth Malone who started out on TV in The Choir teaching children to sing as a way of combating various frustrations in life, none of which originally had anything to do with singing. Malone ended up trying to teach boys how to read and write better and was, to my mind, out of his depth. We will see how the Dream School narrative develops but I suspect it will not directly affect average achievements levels in schools. It has got us talking more about achievement in state schools and that is partly what television is for. But with reference to a previous C4/Oliver campaign, for better quality chicken in our supermarkets, I cannot resist noticing that Tesco were selling chickens for what looked like about £1.24 last week for a whole bird. So much for the drive for organic meat reared with love and understanding. Supply still tends to meet demand.
Elsewhere, on Sunday, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe concluded with the popstar Prof’s personal theory that life represents the universe attempting to understand itself. A thought so profound that even my partner sat back momentarily in admiration. Up to this point my partner has only sneered at Cox’s looks and palpable success as a qualified professor and TV science presenter. So Prof Cox’s statement about life and the universe was pretty profound. To understand it you’ll have to watch the Wonders of the Universe programme and CONCENTRATE. I brushed against understanding and some burrs of information stuck to me on the way. I gathered that the odds in favour of disorder or things falling apart vastly outweigh those in favour of order or things magically coming back together again. But I could have told you that based on my experience of household appliances breaking in quick succession in the last few months and their inability to repair themselves without external help i.e. money.
I also learned from Cox that in a random universe that has existed for 14 billion years (long time) there comes a millisecond and a miniscule chance of something like life developing. That moment is now. We are right in the mix, folks, as the most knowing, mobile, communicative species on our planet. The nature of time and overwhelmingly chaotic odds mean we’re all moving towards apocalypse in, did he say, 6 billion years’ time. But for now – and these are my thoughts – we owe it to each other and ourselves to make the best of our lot on this craaaazy world which has been around for about 4 billion years and which can only exist while the sun still shines. Not too hotly.
In other words, our “forefathers” were onto something when they said: “Make hay while the sun shines.” Carpe diem, for those who took Latin at school.