“On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.”
In the spirit of generosity and love for our fellow humans that even a lowly, hellbound atheist like me can appreciate and aspire to at this time of year, I’d like to share something very special with you.
When I was a wee boy, Christmas was about three things — family, presents (well I was a kid!) and the Royal Institution Christmas lectures. For those of you unfamiliar with the latter, these were accessible (but not dumbed-down beyond recogntition) science lectures, aimed principally at children and shown over the holiday period on the BBC. There were so informative, frightfully British and inspiring that I watched them well into adulthood — and this from 1991 is one of my favourites.
The above question is one I’ve been thinking about quite a lot just recently. The chapter outlines for Children of the Revolution are now complete (and, boy, am I happy with them!) and whilst there are immense similarities to my own experiences up to the age of about nineteen, and even though my protagonist possesses many Gary-like traits and attitudes, it’s still hard for me to comfortably view it as being about “me”. Even though, to a very large extent, it is.
The author John Irving once made an insightful comment. I’m quoting from memory, here, but it went something along the lines of how he was wary of/uncomfortable with the autobiographical form because he could “always remember a better version”. He was referring to that very human (and possibly very necessary) trait we have to revise our memories — to tweak them in our favour, to make ourselves the heroes of our own lives, or merely to present a more amusing story down the pub. I am very conscious of wanting to avoid this with Children of the Revolution. If Carl, my protagonist, is to be even a bit like me, I don’t want him morphing into some cape-wearing superhero — WheelchairMan, Righter of Educational Wrongs and All-round Good Egg.
To avoid this, I’m trying not to think of it in “semi-autobiographical” terms. I’m drawing on my past heavily (the school-based episodes have about a ninety percent factual base), but the emphasis in the phrase “semi-autobiographical novel” is solidly on the word “novel”. It has to be, if I’m to get the job done successfully. Carl is just another character in just another of my novels. A boy/man like any other — with faults and virtues alike. He’s not me, because if he were I might be tempted on some level to gloss over my own failings (not that there are that many, as I’m sure you know… I’ve told you often enough ;-)) and present an unbalanced view that would do no one any favours.
I might admit to the unmistakable likeness and the genetic match once the novel is written, but for now he’s someone I’ve just met — a stranger I’m learning to know and love.
The things a writer has to do!
I came across this years ago and have just managed to find it again on YouTube. It appeals to the Grinch in me.
WARNING: CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE AND OTHER MATERIAL THAT MAY OFFEND.
Well, after digesting my lunch with a quiet read of Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works, I’m not wholly convinced that it any longer does. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fascinating, informative and witty book — and by and large, I can grasp it. The whole “computational theory of mind”-thing feels, in fact, rather natural to me (but, then, I did spend my mid-teens poking away at the squishy keyboard of my ZX81.) What I find a little difficult to cope with are the arguments against it — especially Searle’s utterly ridiculous Chinese Room thought experiment (note to potential commenters: don’t even think of telling me it isn’t — you’ll only make me angry and, in the words of David Banner, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry ;-))
But that isn’t what I want to blog about today. In spite of feeling a little lacking in metal capacity, I want to bring my faithful readers up to speed with the progress of the chapter outlines for Children of the Revolution and generally… well, discuss a few of my thoughts on attitudes to “disability” in education.
The further I’ve progressed with my outlines (which are almost complete), the more I’ve seen that the integration system I experienced in the ’70s and ’80s failed on so many levels that it was, frankly, utterly ridiculous to ever call it a success (which, in my case, I’d always considered it to be.) It was new, of course, “experimental” in a most literal way (I made a bloody cute Guinea Pig, if I do say so myself!) — but that doesn’t alter the fact whilst my experience was definitely one of the better ones, it was badly applied at the outset, clearly underfunded as time progressed and enthusiasm waned, and unlikely to succeed when underlying problems in maintainstrean education (such as over-large class sizes) were not even being addressed. Examples of the failings in my particular case were:
1) I had recurring problems throughout my education with desk-height/positioning in relation to my wheelchair. Two or three teachers tried to address it, but by and large with little success (it became a more difficult problem to fix in secondary school — having to move from classroom to classroom — so I just kept quiet and made do.)
2) In sixth form college, I was assigned an auxiliary assistant. A lovely lady who became a friend. Unfortunately, “they” only employed her to work half-days. (With no one else covering the times she wasn’t there.)
3) In 1984, I was still meeting careers advisors who were happy to suggest that my career options included weaving wicker baskets. Which was just what I was studying Physics, Computing and Mathematics for!
I could go on. The more I revisit those times, the more I find in among the laughter and tears a greater sense that this novel needs to be written. I know I’ve said that before, but it remains true. It’s valid from a social history point of view but I also believe it’s valid in the contemporary sense — because I don’t see all that much evidence of improvement. Children, whatever their needs, are still being failed by our education system. And after thirty years of “integration”, that’s bloody unforgivable.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this.