Harry Fletcher-Wood’s top blogs of the week 16 May 2016

Shut up about Harvard

By Ben Casselman

This post could just as well be written for the British system. Ben Casselman decribes “the annual flood of stories that badly misrepresent what higher education looks like for most American students — and skew the public debate over everything from student debt to the purpose of college in the process.” He identifies a range of misconceptions: young people do not actually “spend months visiting colleges; writing essays; wrangling letters of recommendation; and practising, taking and retaking an alphabet soup of ACTs, SATs and AP exams.” For most, college does not mean “living in dorms, going to parties, studying English (or maybe pre-med) and emerging four years later with a degree and an unpaid internship”. This is “increasingly disconnected from reality” as more attend local universities, study part-time and are aged over 25. The result of this obsession, driven by journalists’ own academic histories, is that the challenges students face are overlooked: such as cuts to state funding of local colleges and very low completion rates. This tightly argued and well evidenced piece may cast our own priorities in a new light.

The transition to parenthood . . . learning to struggle, learning to be “good enough”

By Emma Kell

“If I ever had to torture someone, I would deprive them of sleep,” Kell notes, as she describes her first year back teaching after having her first child as a “blur”. “The results weren’t great that year . . . I can’t imagine quite why.” Kell’s biggest shock was learning that “after torturing myself with guilt for years at the shortest of absences, they had continued to function just fine without me”. In her second maternity leave, however, this “knowledge was actually a comfort”. Her most important realisation came when a friend introduced her to the concept of Good Enough. “It was like a liberation.” She learned to worry less about what she had left undone, but also “to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands. If I had to leave at 4 to pick up my kids, that was just the way it was. I gradually let go of what I observe to be the biggest scourge amongst many of the most talented teachers I know – perfectionism.”

But everyone else is doing it — children, cheating and SATs


This blogger recounts the biggest challenge of SATs week: the “’everyone else is doing it’ approach to barefaced cheating”. Problems began on Monday, when “I naively admitted to colleagues that, when circling the exam hall, I saw some children had made careless errors”. Suggestions of what to do ranged from “‘Just tap the table’ to ‘Put your finger on the question where there’s an error’ to ‘Crouch down and whisper to them that they’ve made a mistake on question x’. In fact, the entire senior management have separately ‘checked’ with me that I have been ‘. . . ensuring no silly errors have slipped through’ and that I have been ‘pointing out mistakes to the children’.”

At the end of the week, he/she then learned he/she was also expected to add further support to children’s writing assessments: “The expectation is that their work will be rewritten and, in the process, heavily edited by me in order that all children will pass the floor test, whether or not they have the skills and ability to pass the floor test.”

The odd mirth of failing my masters degree

By Jonny Walker

In this engaging and instructive post, Jonny Walker discusses the experience of having “actively failed in quite a profound way”. He details an academically successful career that ran right up to beginning work on his dissertation. Yet he has recently concluded: “I simply cannot get it done to the standard I would be happy with. I have barely enough time just with my regular job at school. Something’s gotta give. That something is my masters, which I have invested thousands of pounds in.” Walker takes this step wholeheartedly, however, recognising that he could continue down an academic route “gathering a range of abbreviated suffixes” that would “placate” him nicely. But this would not be “‘ultimately’ making me happy”. Ultimately, “a spoonful of failure is the best medicine”.