Tales of Mosley's blackshirts - and not a lesson plan in sight

17th October 2008 at 01:00

At first it seemed like a stroll in the park. Actually the park was just one of many places that we visited. Most of the time we ambled along busy pavements or huddled on street corners.

The location was Whitechapel in London's East End. And what brought us together on that sunny September Sunday was our desire for education, elucidation, historical background - not to mention the health benefits of a long walk.

There are dozens of educational walks advertised in London and other big cities every week. Ours was on the Jewish anti-fascist movement of the 1930s - and the way it stopped Oswald Mosley's blackshirts from marching down Cable Street in 1936.

It was an uplifting experience and I was enjoying it, learning something as we moved from place to place in the autumn sunshine. But then a worm of doubt crept into my mind.

It was that word learning. I thought I was learning. But was I really? What I couldn't help but notice was the absence of almost all the paraphernalia of current learning practice. One by one I checked our walk leader against the "must have" orthodoxies. And one by one I found him wanting.

For a start, there was health and safety. Here we were, 20 or so adults - some of us not as fighting fit as we once were - exposed to the mean streets of Whitechapel. Had he, I wondered, spent two hours of his time filling out that great educational prophylactic - the risk-assessment form? Had he hell! Instead he'd recklessly spent the time devising interesting things to tell us.

As we strolled between sites, I fell in beside him. Dropping it into the conversation as naturally as I could, I asked him if he had prepared all the necessary documents to ensure a satisfactory learning experience.

"Documents," he said defensively, "like what?"

"Well, surely," I said, "you've done the basics - scheme of work, assessment schedule, class profile? And I don't see how you could possibly manage without a two-page lesson plan detailing all your aims and objectives for the walk and the methods by which each member of the group will attain them?"

"Are you taking the piss, or what?" His tone seemed to imply that the spirit of fascism might not be dead - at least not in further education.

I tried another tack. "Are they in there?" I pointed to his briefcase.

"Are what in there?"

"Your independent learning plans, of course. One for each of the group members. I presume you've ascertained what each of our preferred learning styles are?"

"Oh, come on now," he replied, "I thought learning styles had been totally discredited."

"Yes, but that won't stop them being used in further education for another five years," I countered.

He turned back to the group and began to explain about Mosley, his origins and his break with the political establishment. I started to get interested again, but stopped myself. This was absurd. How could we possibly be learning anything from a talk delivered from the front and addressed to the whole cohort? Why weren't we being split into buzz groups so we could share our ignorance and explore how little any of us actually knew?

As we moved on, I noticed our leader speeding up at my approach. But I was not to be so easily deflected. "I expect you've set yourself some pretty demanding targets for this walk," I ventured. "And I'd love to see your latest self-assessment report if you've got a copy to hand." Strangely he hadn't.

And when I asked him a few probing questions about his quality cycle, he just muttered something about this being a walk and that I'd have to join some other group if I wanted to go by bike.

By now we had arrived in Cable Street and he was giving us a dramatic account of the battle: the coming together of the disparate residents of the area; the building of the barricades; the charges of the police; the shouts, the clamour, the whinnying of the horses.

But I wasn't listening any more. I had more important things to think about. We were standing beside a huge mural of the battle, painted in the late 20th century, on the end of the local town hall. To some, no doubt, this colourful depiction would have been the ideal visual aid. But to me, it just emphasised one more area in which the event was lacking.

How many times had I been told in recent years that no learning experience worth its salt could be delivered without information and learning technology? The advice is quite unambiguous: without ILT a lesson can't expect to be graded above "satisfactory" - which we all know means "unsatisfactory" in educational newspeak.

And then there was the thorny issue of assessment. I could see no evidence of it - either in its formative or summative form. True, our leader had engaged in the occasional question and answer session. But when he had asked questions, had they been distributed around the gathering, graded in difficulty according to his perception of our abilities? They had not.

As the rest of the group gave him a resounding round of applause, I was reflecting on what a con trick it all was. How could I possibly have learnt anything when I'd hardly been able to tick a single box on the "excellent practice" check list?

Learning experience? Piffle! I might just as well have sat at home with a bag on my head.

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