Learn for the hell of it week

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
After the summer holiday is over, what will you have learnt? I am writing this a week before the Steele family decant to Lake Garda. Whenever we head off on a foreign trip, I do my best to pick up a little of the language, even if it is no more than "please", "thank you" and "Sorry, I'm a complete saddo. Is there anywhere around here with internet access?"

Last year I learnt a little Spanish, picked up the rudiments of driving on the left, had my awareness of the works of Lewis Grassic Gibbon raised and gained a fairly in-depth knowledge of the Reliant Scimitar SS1's fuel system. Most of this was done for the hell of it rather than because I had to.

Learning for the hell of it was something I wrote about a few years ago. I had been lying on the floor of a disused cowshed dismantling a Triumph Spitfire. Spanners were slipping, bolts were rounding off and flakes of rust dropped into my eyes. Yet I was strangely at peace. I was doing it for fun.

There was no deadline as there might have been, had I been swapping the front discs on my day-to-day car so that it was available for use the following morning. I reflected, as you do when you are rolling around on the floor of an ex-cowshed, that so much of what we do at school is spoiled by being a "huvtae". As I played the amateur mechanic, my faithful radio announced that it was National Constipation Week. I wanted to have a National Learn for the Hell of it Week.

I have moved on since then. Changed cars, changed schools, don't even have access to the same cowshed. I still believe in learning for the hell of it.

We are wired to learn. It is natural and we will all do it over the summer holidays. My daughter will expand her encyclopaedic knowledge of the new squad at the phoenix-like Livingston Football Club. My son expresses a desire to improve his roller-blading skills - different sorts of learning for different sorts of people.

It was heartening to hear a speaker at the recent Institute of Physics conference say something I have been trying to articulate myself over the past year. Teachers are successes from a learning model that probably suits only 30 per cent of pupils. What worked for us won't necessarily work for the majority of pupils.

When the summer holiday is over, what will you have learnt? Whatever it is, I'd be willing to bet you did not learn it from a bald, tie-wearing fortysomething standing in front of a board talking for an hour.

Gregor Steele also hopes to learn more ways of shamelessly plugging his children's poetry book, King o the Midden (available at all good bookshops).

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