Bring out the brainy side of Swots and the City

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
If there's a craze, teachers, you might as well roll with it
If there's a craze, teachers, you might as well roll with it. I am always a bit surprised when schools try to hold back these temporary tides of fashion, instead of using them to float the rickety structure of the educational process a bit further on.

During the mania for micro-scooters, when innumerable heads tried the Canute option of full-on condemnation, I greatly admired the design and technology department which promptly bought one, took it to bits, and made the pupils analyse what made it effective and what were its flaws and limitations in terms of safety and controllability.

They had previously had similar success with a snakeboard, hooking up with the biology teacher to discuss the articulation and vulnerabilities of the human knee.

The same goes for geographers, historians and RE teachers who heroically relate their sober instruction to the gold-plated nonsense of Indiana Jones, to art teachers who sighingly accept that they're going to have to analyse Banksy, and to all other ingenious pedagogues who see the writing on the wall and labour to make it joined up.

So here's another suggestion, given that schoolgirls (and a few boys) are squeaking with excitement at last week's red-carpet visit of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte to Leicester Square, and the imminent release of the Sex and the City movie this weekend. Hit them with this one: the fictional Carrie Co were swots at school.

Oh yes they were. Clues abound everywhere in the series. They may have screwed and spliffed, but they were clearly good American girls, focused on future success - but not success based on sleeping with footballers, getting on reality TV, or being trashed with Amy 'n' Pete.

There is a very grounded, hardworking vibe in the background. Miranda is a lawyer, rising to partner status. She brings homework back to the apartment nightly (rather to the annoyance of bartender Steve, who was plainly not a swot). In real life, the actress Cynthia Nixon got herself arrested - and cleared - six years ago for demonstrating against cuts in education funding in the United States.

Meanwhile, Charlotte runs an art gallery and wears heavy black specs, and Samantha is a ferociously articulate PR executive running her own business and her own accounts - at least, that's what she does when her clothes are on.

And Carrie? She is in many ways a spectacular retard. But get this: not only is her column grammatical and punctuated, Carrie can spell. Who can forget the moment in the third series when her beloved Big has married a tall, beautiful, well-connected younger woman called Natasha? Our heroine, devastated, tries to regain some sort of self-respect by dressing up to the nines for a charity event. Natasha doesn't show, but when she sends a handwritten note with a basic spelling error in it, Carrie is overjoyed. Vindicated. Thrilled. Being tall, beautiful, young and married to rich old Big counts for nothing if you give yourself away as a spelling ignoramus. Isn't America wonderful?

Tell your pupils that. In a month when we learn that most children going into secondary school can't spell rigid or corridor, role models are clearly vital.

Moreover, a client of the online work agency told us last week on Radio 4 that she chose a graphic design student for a job because his was the only application not written in txt and slang, and he used full stops. These were all university students. Does nobody tell these poor sprats that there is a professional world out there where paymasters expect a degree of un-hip formality, just in the name of understanding what you are on about?

Must we breed an Alan Sugar of basic written standards ("This week on The Amanuensis, Sir Alan asks the candidates to write a comprehensible business letter")? Or should we invite Sarah Jessica Parker to do the job?

Libby Purves, Author and presenter of 'The Learning Curve' on BBC Radio 4.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today