Friday, June 26, 2009

The Best Educated Generation In History ...

The "Blair generation" will be the best educated in history, the school standards minister, David Miliband, promised yesterday.


Alas, our well-educated young people are finding that their lives are being ruined by a despotic tyranny.

STUDENTS who failed to understand the words “despotic tyranny” have been complaining about their history A-level exam.

It is claimed the question “How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?” was too confusing for some students to understand.

A protest group called Despotic Tyranny Ruined My Life has been set up on Facebook.

So far 1,151 people have joined the group, leaving comments such as “My life is DESTROYED because of this exam. Seriously” and “This exam made me sad”.

The essay question featured on an Edexcel A Level exam paper sat last week.

A number of teachers have also posted comments on an online history teachers’ discussion forum, claiming that their students would not know what the words “despotic” and “tyranny” meant.
To be fair, I'd find difficulty in describing exactly what distinguishes a despot from a tyrant (aren't despots a bit more capricious than tyrants, and tyrants more cruel than the average despot ?), but I get the general drift of the question well enough - and I imagine most people who did their A-levels more than twenty years go will get it too.

What's at once impressive, pathetic and sad are the self-righteous complaints of the students. Look and despair. These are next year's university intake. And I'm sure they have worked hard, and are no less bright than previous generations. I seem to remember that the Brave New educational world was going to be skills-based, not facts-based - that students would be 'taught to learn' and then they'd be self-powered, self-motivated learners, 'accessing and evaluating a range of sources' etc etc, instead of all that dull rote stuff, those dates and Kings and Queens. Yet here they are shouting 'it wasn't in the book'. Don't tell me that it was all a load of leftie cobblers dreamed up by the Institute of Education the month after some particularly good Colombian arrived ?


What's happened to education ?

"... in all the wider reading I did in preparation for the exam, written by leading Historians, I did not once come across the phrase "despotic tyranny" when describing Hitler's rule ..."
"This exam was not intended to test our knowledge of the English Language; it was a test of our knowledge of the Third Reich in the years 1933-45. As a higher ability student, i did a considerable amount of background reading leading upto this exam, and not once did i come across the phrase "Despotic Tyranny"."
"... in our wider reading which I assure you myself and other students at my sixth form completed, the focus was not on Hitler as a despot but on how the system of government impacted everyday life and how it operated. Perhaps if we had have been learning about tyrannical leaders whereby we drew comparisons as you describe then we would have read the necessary materials to enlighten us as to what the term despot meant in relation to Hitler. As it was we did not and it is elitist quite frankly to assume every history student is going to have come across such a term."
"I do not, however, think it is right for Edexcel to use it in a question without giving a definition. All it has achieved is the alienation of thousands of students who, despite having a more-than-adequate grasp on the history of the Third Reich, have been left helpless. I agree that marks are given for the use of specialist vocabulary, but a student's grade should not hinge on his or her understanding of one "specialist" term, which is effectively the situation Edexcel have created. Even a brief definition in brackets would have been sufficient."
"My daughter sat this Edexcel History exam last week and like most pupils in her sixth form left the exam in tears. Only a couple of students actually got the correct answer and one of those was a lucky guess. Many of these high ability students will now probably loose their places at Uni because of this one very badly worded question.
This was an exam on on Hitler and history...not on swallowing a dictionary. What is more distressing for students like my daughter is that facebook is claiming many schools were either read the meaning before the exam or were allowed to take a dictionary into the exam with them!!"
"To say that our revision was not done properly is insulting. I don't know about other colleges but in our lessons we didn't study this term or come across it in any text books. As for wider reading there was a very slim chance that we would come across this term and those who did were lucky. The exam board should consider the syllabus and text books better before writing questions and it is a shame that peoples work over the two years may not be properly awarded."
"Edexcel has a responsibility as an examining body to create an exam for the broad spectrum of students who sit the paper. The use of the term 'despotic tyranny' excludes students of a lower ability."
"I am a student who achieved 5 A grades as AS level last year (including full marks for two out of three of my history modules) and have been predicted 4 As at A2 this year. I have been offered a place at Cambridge to study English literature and I was not familiar with the word 'despotic' at all despite intensive revision and reading around the topic."

"People who say they knew the word "despotic" when they were young must be about 40 or 50. Unfortunately, schools don't place that much emphasis on learning terms anymore, exam styles change. Times change. We don't sit exams in the same style you may have done. So get off your high horse and stop criticizing younger people."

"After revising solidly for weeks before this exam i feel completely let down by the fact that my misinterpretation of an extremely confusing phrase appears to have made all off my efforts void. I understand that to be an A level history student you need to have a wide grasp of specialised vocabulary but can i realy be blamed for never hearing the word despotic before? I have never read it, let alone had it taught to me and i was under the impression that exams should be based on a student's knowledge of a topic not on their knowedge of a word."

"... having just read some of the outrageous comments above, some of which I presume are from the older generation of today, I feel totally disappointed at your lack of compassion and general attitude to this whole scenario ... The question was totally unfair, students had learnt everything from propaganda to women's roles in the Third Reich, slaving hours over textbooks and sources, all knowledge that we expected to use to our own advantage in the exam. The word despotic as said by many others has never cropped up in our textbooks - maybe if the word autocratic was used students like myself would have been able to grasp the full concept. The word tyranny is easy to comprehend yes, but there was no need for the word 'despotic' to be used - no need at all"

139 comments:

JuliaM said...

"What's at once impressive, pathetic and sad are the self-righteous complaints of the students. Look and despair. These are next year's university intake."

The next person to tell me that I'm imagining things, and in reality, education was actually worse when I was growing up, will be pointed to this post, and the extracts from the comments to that piece.

It pretty much says it all.

I'm not sure I agree that they are 'no less bright' though. I'm sure they had the ability - but growing up in this modern culture has irreversibly stunted them.

aristotle said...

I'm with the students on this. They should only be tested on what was on the reading list - which can be 'wide'. This results in fairness for students whose parents didn't go to uni and maybe don't have access to the good libraries.

Even if a student knew what tyranny meant how could they have know that 'despotic' as an adjective didn't alter it's meaning in some significant way.

JuliaM said...

"Even if a student knew what tyranny meant how could they have know that 'despotic' as an adjective didn't alter it's meaning in some significant way."

This is a joke, right?

dearieme said...

Wasn't Saddam Hussein The Despot of the Mespot? If not he should have been.

Stan said...

Leaving aside the question of understanding the term "despotic tyranny" - it wasn't a hard question to answer even if you don't know what despotic or tyranny mean.

“How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?” can be answered numerous ways such as ....

I don't agree.
I partly agree.
I half agree.
I mostly agree.
I completely agree.

..... and all are correct. What this highlights is that poorly educated pupils are sitting poorly thought out exams which are then poorly marked.

That's pretty poor.

Working Class Geezer said...

"...I have been offered a place at Cambridge to study English literature and I was not familiar with the word 'despotic' at all..."

Is this a Joke? Surely this is a joke, how low we have sunk.

Dumb, dumber, and plain fecking retarded...

JuliaM said...

"What this highlights is that poorly educated pupils are sitting poorly thought out exams which are then poorly marked."

And that when this is pointed out to them, instead of feeling ashamed that their knowledge is so poor, they feel entitled to whinge about it being somehow 'unfair' to expect them to read and understand anything that is has not been plonked directly in front of them...

TDK said...

In reply to Aristotle (shurely shum mishtake!).

One of the tasks of school is to increase the child's vocabulary. A typical adult is said to know 50,000 words. Whether "despot" appears on the reading list is absolutely irrelevant. Different parts of education are supposed to be complementary. Not knowing what "despot" means doesn't show a failing in history, it shows a failing in overall education.

Bessie said...

Perhaps the question should have read: "How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was a Bad Thing?"

That would have been just as vague and badly worded as the original, but at least no students could have complained that it used "specialist vocabulary".

"I have been offered a place at Cambridge to study English literature and I was not familiar with the word 'despotic' at all ..."

I always thought the English Tripos was a bit undemanding ...

TDK said...

As an aside, I thought a despot was an absolute ruler, whereas a tyrant was a cruel and wicked absolute ruler.

Therefore a tyrant is always a despot but a despot is only contingently a tyrant. If so that further supports Stan's comment about the silliness of the set question.

I'm also minded that in the many exams I have taken, there were dozens where questions covered topics outside the study area. Whilst we moaned about this we didn't moan about not understanding certain adjectives within the questions.

Rob said...

"I am a student who achieved 5 A grades as AS level last year (including full marks for two out of three of my history modules)"

When I sat 'A' levels and AS levels many years ago (over 20) history would be examined through a series of essays, five in three hours. The chances of getting full marks in essay writing were next to impossible, completely unknown.

This comment suggests that either we have a total genius here who didn't happen to know what the phrase "despotic tyranny" was, or these days history, like other subjects, has been dumbed down to a load of small questions which can be answered with a short, incoherent pile of 'facts'.

I would have known what 'despotic' and 'tyranny' meant when I was sixteen, let alone eighteen, and I didn't get within a thousand miles of a place at Cambridge.

Rob said...

To be fair, the use of both 'despotic' and 'tyranny' is unnecessary. Either would do.

Rob said...

One of the commenters:

"I genuinely find it remarkable that the History Students did not know the terms, 'despot' and 'tyranny'
or could relate to them in that context."

I agree. How can you study human history for at least four years and not be familiar with the words 'despot', 'despotic', 'tyranny', 'tyrant'? What the fuck are they being taught?

Anonymous said...

I took A Level Eng Lit in 1976 and did not know what the word 'fortuitous' meant in 'too much of Othello depends on fortuitous circumstances' but I could still figure out the general meaning.

Today's students are actually frightened of thinking.

Richard

Blognor Regis said...

"Would you think Stalin/Napoleon Bonaparte/Ceasar/The Kaiser/Charles I/Cromwell/etc was a bit of a meanie?"

Pupils*: "Who?"

*Remember that term?

Gallimaufry said...

When I was taking my history A Level (admittedly when there was a lot less history to remember), one tip for answering questions was to begin by teasing out what the question meant. Hence despotic = rule by an individual to whom everyone else is subordinate, and tyrrany = government backed by arbitrary punishment or violence rather than the rule of law. Thus defined, with examples, despotic tyrrany can be compared and contrasted with eg benevolent or enlightened tyrrany practised by eg Catherine The Great, Napoleon I and The British Empire. Despite this approach we never expected to get more than 70-75% for an exam essay.

JuliaM said...

"Today's students are actually frightened of thinking."

It's understandable. They've never been encouraged to do so, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Incredible! Just incredible!

In case some of the readers are English, 'incredible' means:

1. so extraordinary as to seem impossible.
2. not credible; hard to believe; unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

des·pot (dspt)
n.
1. A ruler with absolute power.
2. A person who wields power oppressively; a tyrant.


ty·rant (trnt)
n.
1. An absolute ruler who governs without restrictions.
2. A ruler who exercises power in a harsh, cruel manner.
3. An oppressive, harsh, arbitrary person.


Would agree with "despot" but not so sure about "tyrant". For most Germans he was far from tyrannical. The students have a point in that such a phrase was unlikely to be used in connection with Hitler.

Anyway, I presume the tiny minority that have taken the trouble to whinge about the "A" level history exam. are the ones that failed, i.e. they are not next years university intake! Engage brain please....

I took my A levels back in the

Blognor Regis said...

We've all had encounters with similar creatures. Monosyllabic know it alls with nought but contempt for everyone and everything around them. I can't imagine this has always been a teenage condition. It's a new development surely. Cue cries of "Teddy Boys, etc" from the scholars of moral panic, but wayward youth have never been as dire as it is today, has it?

aristotle said...

Not joking! I think the people here are looking at this from the perspective of an adult reading 'widely' for the sake of enjoyment as opposed to the 18 year old cramming for an exam - and very worried about the result.

Be fair - only test what is on the syllabus and reading list. And the reading list should be wide and of quality. Or do we want a 'History Boys' scenario where students in good schools are primed for a Oxbridge/Russell group entrance exam.

I prefer that even if the school is rubbish an intelligent pupil should have access to all the resources (books and online) in order to compete against students from independent schools and grammars. Make explicit the 'rules of the game'.

Laban's kids have the benefit of a well read parent. Lots of kids don't and will not have attended a grammar. Give those kid's a chance by making the rules explicit - even if it is - unfortunately - restrictive.

My answer - would have been no - Hitler was not a tyrant. 'Hitlers Willing Executioners' and all that. His oratory inspired the German people on some deep level. So in some ways he was a 'Fuhrer' - Leader - rather than a tyrant. Though of course a very wicked one. And i would have contrasted with Stalin who was a despotic tyrant - terror, purges, gulags. Micro-managed arbitrary vindictiveness.

Anonymous said...

Bessie said...
Perhaps the question should have read: "How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was a Bad Thing?"

Or then again:

Perhaps the question should have read: "How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was so uncool?"

pvb

JuliaM said...

"Cue cries of "Teddy Boys, etc" from the scholars of moral panic, but wayward youth have never been as dire as it is today, has it?"

I don't think so.

The one saving grace of the comments that Laban extracted is that they at least aren't written in the 'textspeak' slang so common to most forums where late/early teens hang out.

So these are quite articulate youngsters by the standards of their peers, yet react with bafflement and defensiveness at the merest suggestion that they should do any more than memorise the text put in front of them, and regurgitate it at exam time.

No researching, no comparisions, no wider learning - if it ain't on the desk, it shouldn't be on the test!

Does no-one read for pleasure any more? Or to check out whether what they are telling you in school is actually correct?

JuliaM said...

"Not joking! I think the people here are looking at this from the perspective of an adult reading 'widely' for the sake of enjoyment as opposed to the 18 year old cramming for an exam..."

Actually, I'm trying not to - I'm trying to look back at myself at a similar age as well, and yes, I would have known the words, if not their precise dictionary definition. But they certainly wouldn't have baffled me.

And I'm sorry, but when were our educational establishments turned into 'tick box factories', merely turning out people with a good memory, rather than educated thinking beings?

"I prefer that even if the school is rubbish an intelligent pupil should have access to all the resources (books and online) in order to compete against students from independent schools and grammars. Make explicit the 'rules of the game'."

Do you think they don't, then? I would venture there's every chance the pupils quoted in the extract have every opportunity to access libraries and the Internet.

They just don't, because as you put it, they are 'cramming for the test' and have been conditioned to merely regurgitate back what has been put in front of them.

"Laban's kids have the benefit of a well read parent."

Then all the more important, surely, that schools encourage something more than mere regurgitation by rote to pass a test?

Anonymous said...

Though the question is quite obvious to many of use here, the poorly worded questions gives a vague suggestion, magnified many times in the mind of an adolescent, that the question is much more complex than what it really is.

aristotle said...

JuliaM,

Ideally we want students to show creativity or 'higher order thinking'. To have the confidence to go off piste and show what they are capable of without being penalized for missing out on some 'tickbox' points. That a good essay is a work of creative art and not an act of regurgitation.

But I think they will only have the confidence to do so if they are certain that no terms and information outside the syllabus and reading list are going to pop up and flummox them as Anon 4:48 pointed out. The rules of the game should be explicit.

It would be interesting to get the input of a sixth form humanities teacher.

Anonymous said...

You think its bad in the UK. I teach university in Detroit, USA and the same question on our exam reads:

"How much props do you give to the idea that Hitler was one bad-ass mofo."

David Gillies said...

This episode does at least serve one useful function: an A-level in History can now be re-purposed as a signalling mechanism to indicate that the recipient is a complete window-licker with the intellectual curiosity of a cowpat (but chippy and self-regarding with it). CVs from such people can then be safely discarded prior to first interview, thus saving valuable effort on the part of Human Resources staff everywhere. Degrees with the word 'studies' in the title serve a similar end.

JuliaM said...

"But I think they will only have the confidence to do so if they are certain that no terms and information outside the syllabus and reading list are going to pop up and flummox them..."

We are talking about perfectly ordinary English vocabulary here, aristotle. It's not like the test paper suddenly lapsed into Swahili or Tagalog!

"I teach university in Detroit, USA and the same question on our exam reads:

"How much props do you give to the idea that Hitler was one bad-ass mofo.".."


Lol!

Blognor Regis said...

Going off-piste can be trouble I can tell you. I went to Les Arcs and, well, how was I supposed to know the French for 'avalanche'. Nobody, like, you know, told me, yea?

Blognor Regis said...

It's not like the test paper suddenly lapsed into Swahili or Tagalog!

Wouldn't necessarily a hindrance in many schools these days.

Borealis said...

Dear Lord. What a terrifying display of enfeebled intellects. Wouldn't it have been easier just to deliberately damage their brains with, say, a program of early malnutrition, rather than wasting time and money on so inefficient a method of dumbing-down as a decade-long turn in a school?

"Despotic" is an arcane descriptor, a "specialized" term? A student with a demonstrated lack of an independent reading life gets a spot at Cambridge to...read English? Students sitting for A-levels believe that an understanding of history is available to those who can't be bothered to master the vocabulary of their own tongue beyond the basics? And it is not the function of exams to "exclude students of lower ability"?

Jesus wept.

Blognor Regis said...

The one saving grace of the comments that Laban extracted is that they at least aren't written in the 'textspeak' slang so common to most forums where late/early teens hang out.

Slightly different on the Facebook Group.

Some highlights:

EVeryone should chill, thyll drop the grade boundaries and all will be good!!!!(thats my hop anyway)! + ann thing that writes in the daily exprss should fuck herself!!!!GOOD LUCK fokes

well put! dey r a bunch of wankerz. Well dun ev1 whu tried tho x

I joined this group not for myself, but for my brethrin who gave one of the best years of their lives to slaving and preparing for an exam, only to have their vast collection of knowledge slain by a nefarious title. The exam board should be cast out for their atrocities but instead sit smuggly on their high-horse, safe in the knowledge that there is nothing to stop them repeating this vile act

If you look up the definition of despot in the diction it means "tyrant" so the phrase said he was a tyranical tyrant. therefore for all those who said we know what the meaning and you should of known due to your extra reading, it doesn't make any difference because it was a grammatically incorrect phrase anyhow. furthermore i did know the meaning of tyrant, but despotic, shock horror, is not a word I had come across frequently, and although i had some idea, not enough to base an A2 History essay answer on. My question is would it have hurt to have put a definition at the bottom of the phrase explainin what the words meant, therefore the history exam remains an exam on historical knowledge and skills, not "can you learn the dictionary so you know the meaning of the words we are going to fire at you" exam. On top of all that some history students who also take english (this is not me however), said they didn't know the meaning, and they are A grade english students!! the end

Omg we dont understand one word and we are stupid and uneducated lmfao if we were uneducated then why would we be in school and if we were stupid then we would not be in A level in the first place i dont see why eople have joined a group that has nothing to do with them and the dont even care bout. O and wendy thats not the content the words were used in which shows u never sat the exam. Maybe u should sit it then see how well u do. I'll expect u would recieve full marks wouldnt u

Please don't call us poorly educated. It's insulting and untrue.

And clearly we were using our brains. We were doing exams.


Sorry students that you didn't grasp or understand the meaning of 'despot' or 'tyrannical.' Despot from the Latin 'despotus' meaning an absolute ruler, a TYRANT, an oppressor, and I quote verbatim from the The New Elizabethan Reference Dictionary. So, as you can see the two words do not need a context, they are in fact so similar as to be synonomous with each other.
I think the sad facts in this case are that many students so poorly educated and don't attempt to use their brains (unless you count Big Brother and Eastenders). Therefore the use of 'big words' are alien to them.


She's right. As is Laban. The kids aren't any thicker but they are less well educated and the system has let them down. PS I have zero A-levels. At 16 I wanted to get the hell out of school. I hated it.

Blognor Regis BSc(Hons)

Rob said...

Just for the purely intellectual exercise, there is an argument for saying Hitler wasn't a despot either, if the definition is "A ruler with absolute power.".

The Nazi State was made up of competing power bases - SS, the Civil Service, Goering's Luftwaffe, the chaotic organisations set up to exploit the conquered territories in the East - how much were they directed by Hitler, and how much were they their own agents? Also, especially towards the end, Hitler became extremely unpredictable, easily swayed by one person and then changing his mind very quickly - is this a despot?

It is quite an interesting question really. A shame as so many people didn't have the education or vocabulary to understand it in even the most basic sense, let alone its deeper meaning.

Blognor Regis said...

Many thought it meant the bus garage.

CityUnslicker said...

This is a frighening post. I did a-levels 15 years ago. I did history too which I read at university.

I remember my tutor getting us to define an eremetic hedge priest. I think a little more trying that despot.

Even if these words are not in the curriculum. perhaps they could read the papers and see what terms are used for our own unelected leader. Did not Khameni call Brown a despot just this week?

Working Class Geezer said...

I wonder what these eighteen year olds would make of this:

"...The townlands were rich, with wide tilth and many orchards, and homesteads there were with oast and garner, fold and byre, and many rills rippling through the green from the highlands down to Anduin...."

I read this first at the age of eleven, reached for my trusty dictionary, and immediately improved my vocabulary.

Blognor Regis said...

Crumbs.

Visions of Tony Hancock reading Bertrand Russell there: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arzovPRUNkc. Scoot along to 7:18.

Sam Tarran said...

Embarrassing. Read about this in the Express (I think) last week. Reading some of those student comments makes me actually consider applying to Oxbridge myself if the standards have dropped quite so low.

Sam said...

Oh dear. Maybe it's just that today's kids never played Civilization.

(Seriously - A level history candidates who claim to be "good students" but don't know what a despot or a tyrant is? I can't believe that you could possibly study Hitler at A-level without reading Bullock's book, and the word "tyranny" is in the title of that!

mexicano said...

I don´t know why the candidates are making such a fuss - these days they´ll all get A grades whatever they wrote.

Dammitall! said...

I did O-level History in 1964. Part of it concerned the vile Tudors: part of it concerned general 16th and 17th.century European history, with an emphasis on sea-born expansion.
The history master spoke of the Defenestration of Prague. We were fascinated by the strange word. The next hitherto-unknown terms we were introduced to were rhum-lines and loxodromes: we loved drawing diagrams to get the idea straight. There were other terms, too, like Benefit of Clergy, Impeachment, and the Five-Mile Act: no problems were presented by these.
Doing A-level English we studied the theory of Courtly Love; understoo the heroic couplet, and the music-loving English master introduced us to terms like "architectonic" and the writings of people as diverse as Mario Praz and Vance Packard. A lot of what we learned had nothing to do with any state-devised syllabus, it was - far more importantly - intended to give us a reasonable amount of mental furniture. I began collecting books to further my own studies when I was about 15: early purchases were Boswell,a complete Chaucer, Chesterton's 'Orthodoxy' and Aubrey's 'Brief Lives', and I bought (and still possess) as many of the old Everyman editions as I could find.
While still at primary school I graduated naturally from 'Treasure Island','Prester John' and 'Kim' to all four books of 'The Once and Future King' and the tragic sense of history that conferred on me has never left me. What I didn't understand I looked up.
I don't regard myself as particularly clever; it just seemed natural to myself and to many of my friends to increase one's stock of knowledge. And it was fun.
But then there was no television in the house: if I went to a friend's house and had to watch 'Emergency: Ward Ten' or 'Sergeant Bilko' just to be polite I felt embarrassed and horribly oppressed.
I will recommend just one film - 'The Dead Poets Society'

Thom said...

I am twenty and as such assume I fall into the 'best educated generation in history'. I am aware of what is meant by 'despotic tyranny', although it does seem somewhat tautological. Your source says that 1,151 people have joined the Facebook group mentioned. I am sure this is only a small proportion of the number of students who sat A-level History. It is unfair to use a minority to tarnish the whole.

dearieme said...

They are cretinous imbeciles, which happily they won't understand.

Shuggy said...

Ah, scary stuff Laban. Not sure if your dumbing down across the generations thesis holds though. Whoever wrote this question is also completely stupid. You can have despotism that may or may not be tyrannical but it's a tautology in the way it's been put here, as a number of people have pointed out. Bear in mind these questions are set by committee - so more than one numptie, after serious discussion and consideration, thought this was a sensible question to ask. That's pretty frightening too, don'tcha think?

Laban said...

Agreed - it wasn't a great question.

I'm just stunned by
a) the ignorance - especially our friend who's been accepted by Cambridge
b) the 'the word wasn't in the textbook' crowd. As I said, what happened to that great dream-theory of 'teaching children to learn' ?

Larry Teabag said...

I'm just stunned by
a) the ignorance - especially our friend who's been accepted by Cambridge
b) the 'the word wasn't in the textbook' crowd. As I said, what happened to that great dream-theory of 'teaching children to learn' ?


a) You don't actually know how many kids were caught out by this. 1,151 as a proportion of the number who sat the exam is statistically insignificant.

b) So you'd expect those kids who failed their exam because an unknown word was sprung on them to adopt a posture of philosophical resignation and think "ah well - that'll teach me for not being more widely read"? Have you ever met an 18 year old before?

North of Watford said...

If, at eighteen, you have been studying history for seven years and your vocabulary does not stretch to the words despotic and tyranny, where the hell have you been?

You can't have studied (not necessarily in chronological order) Rome (Monarchy, Republic & Empire), the Greeks, the Pelponesian War, the Norman Conquest, the conflict between Stephen & Matilda, the Middle Ages, the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors, the 100 Years War, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the War of American Independence, the Peninsular War, The American Civil War, the rise of the 3 British Empires, the Boer War, the Sino-Japanese War, the Russian Revolution, the War of Allied Intervention, the Chinese Revolution, the Great War, the rise of Hitler, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the Cold War.

Thirty years ago an understanding of what are, after all, fairly ordinary English words was taken for granted in those sitting A levels or University entrance exams.

Blame the changes to the system, blame the students, blame thew teachers - I don't care which.

The inescapable conclusion, however, is that the level of general knowledge and historical and literary (and thereby cultural) awareness has been traduced (look it up, if you have to) and reduced to a level such that it is unreasonable to claim that the British educational system is working in any way whatsoever.

We are creating worker drones who will obey their masters because they do not possess the intellectual arsenal to entertain a debate.

Laban said...

"You can't have studied (not necessarily in chronological order) Rome (Monarchy, Republic & Empire), the Greeks, the Pelponesian War, the Norman Conquest, the conflict between Stephen & Matilda, the Middle Ages, the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors, the 100 Years War, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the War of American Independence, the Peninsular War, The American Civil War, the rise of the 3 British Empires, the Boer War, the Sino-Japanese War, the Russian Revolution, the War of Allied Intervention, the Chinese Revolution, the Great War, the rise of Hitler, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the Cold War."

To be fair, they've studied WW2 - 'cos Hitler was in it. And they still do the Norman Conquest and English Civil War in GCSE.

As for the rest ... as Dumb Jon said 'if Hitler had been responsible for the slave trade, they'd never need to teach anything else'. No, they do important stuff like Sacco and Vanzetti, Mary Seacole, and lynch-mobs in the Deep South.

Teabag - no, I do not know and have never met any 18 year olds. Furthermore I was never 18 myself.

aristotle said...

Laban - you mentioned in a previous post that your son was checking out uni's. Did you test the question on him?

If he comprehends the phrase and is not perplexed by whether 'despotic' modifies 'tyranny' in some tricky way i will endorse the helio-centric model.

Rightwinggit said...

"...Many of these high ability students will now probably loose their places at Uni ..."

It's spelt lose, you loser.

High ability students? Fuck off!

If any of you crybabies are reading this, it isn't our fault you had a crap education, but it is your fault for not realising it, and improving yourself.

Now hurry up with my burger.

Von Spreuth. said...

My daughter sat this Edexcel History exam last week and like most pupils in her sixth form left the exam in tears. Only a couple of students actually got the correct answer and one of those was a lucky guess.

Ah.. moment, hate to be despoticaly tyranical here, and not a little pedantic, but do they not usualy have to wait at LEAST a couple of weeks for the results?

If so HOW do they know?

Von Brandenburg-Preußen.

Roue le Jour said...

It appears at first sight to be a poorly worded question, but the best way to evaluate it would be to examine the expected response and see if the question succinctly and unambiguously elicits that response.

If the expected response is that Hitler was tyrannical but not despotic, then it's a very helpful question.

BTW, are the little darlings not allowed dictionaries? Surely that's a prejudice of some kind?

Henry Crun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry Crun said...

This is what happens when you implement an "open wide and in it goes" spoon feeding, teaching to the test education system in the race to achieve the best exam results and record numbers of A and A-star grades.

Is it any wonder at all that school pupils are not taught to expand their own learning experience with extra research and reading?

Labour's education policy can be summed up as follows:

Failure is accepted, mediocrity is expected and excellence is elitist.

sobers said...

Does anyone know how much they were supposed to write on this question? Was it a full essay or just a quick half a side of A4 job?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how much they were supposed to write on this question? Was it a full essay or just a quick half a side of A4 job?

I was probably a dozen (12) multiple choice questions, complete with helpful little diagrams, and half (0.5) points awarded for 'nearly' correct answers.

Von Spreuth. said...

Anonymous said...

I was probably a dozen (12) multiple choice questions, complete with helpful little diagrams, and half (0.5) points awarded for 'nearly' correct answers.


Such as "Name?"

Von Brandenburg-Preußen.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen more insulting comments from adults who clearly have a superiority complex and believe that they are better than students.


I just find it extremely cheeky that students were expected to know what it meant, when even the majority of the History teachers were surprised when it came up.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if any other History students who actually took the exam have commented on this, as I am too busy being an under achieving, un-intelligent, spoon fed and culturally influenced student to read through all of your appalling and derogatory comments, but I get the idea.
I find it disgusting that you have taken the view point that not only we are idiotic for not knowing this phrase, but we are ridiculous for complaining about it.
I honestly believe that unless you are 17/18 years old, in this day and age, and took History A level on the edexcel exam board, you have no right whatsoever to comment on us or our ability.
It's quite amusing that you call us 'self righteous'. Have you read some of the comments you have left? Pot. Kettle. Black.
It's arrogant for you to believe that you are better and more intelligent than us, and also for you to think that your comments are appreciated or required! Of what importance is this to you? I am under the impression that you have only commented on this to make inflate your egos further and insult youth.
Regarding the wording of this question;
I can assure you, we were aware of every single other phrases of this meaning. Authoritarian, totalitarian leadership, hierarchy etc. I remember the first lesson we discussed the idea of Hitler as a strong/weak dictator, we listed all the possible words and phrases used to support this intentionalist view. No-one, either student, teacher or historian in a book used this phrase in connection to Hitler. Many adults, including history teachers (whose opinions are far more worthy on this matter than yours) were astonished at the use of this phrase and admit that it is not something that is used to describe Hitler's rule, as there are far more appropriate terms to use. The fact that a large number of History students who did a lot of wider reading into the subject did not encounter this word, shows that it is not a completey 'understandable', 'easy' or 'widely known' phrase.
If you hadnt simply selected quotes that supported your derogatory view point then you would realise that we aren't just angered by the phrasing of the question, but also the quality of the sources. We may very well have been able to interpret the meaning of the question correctly had it not been for the fact that they indicated that the question was asking if Hitler's rule was chaotic or not. Therefore many students, including myself, answered the question from this angle. Call me idiotic all you want, but none of you have the right to comment because you are not me and you did not sit the paper or teach/study the subject.
I refuse to accept adults such as you painting all teenagers with the same brush. I am more than aware that many teenagers out there are un-educated and show no interested in being so. But I, and my fellow students, are not these sort. The fact that we are in higher education and are progressing to university indicates this. You know nothing of us and our ability and intelligence. I can guess that many of you have little interaction with teenagers these days, and are only aware of the negative image of us that is portrayed (and often over exaggerated) in the media. The majority of us are not more concerned with facebook and such than our education, and we do think for ourselves and want to do well in life. You may be intelligent, but you're obviously not intelligent enough to differentiate between stereotypes and reality, and also realise when your opinions aren't required.
........

Anonymous said...

.....

'I was probably a dozen (12) multiple choice questions, complete with helpful little diagrams, and half (0.5) points awarded for 'nearly' correct answers.'

and you call us idiotic? You actually think it's okay, and appropriate, for you to make comments on something you clearly know nothing about! Do you research before you climb onto your high horse please.
We actually complete two essays in the space of 1 hour 45 mins. One is worth 20 marks, the other 40. (in this case the 'despotic tyranny' question was worth 40) The questions are worded 'How far do you agree', 'To what extent' and such, therefore independant thinking is needed, we dont simply regurtitate facts.
We are given 6 sources usually,which we quote from in order to agree/disagree with the question. It is also asked that we analyse the nature of the sources, and link them in order to make a judgement in the conclusion. And we studied this syllabus for two years, not 'at least four'.
There you go. Now you can at least be more informed when you insult us.
I've never read such ill-informed and arrogant comments such as the ones you have made. Attacking us, and our intelligence, is helping none in improving relationships between adults and young adults (as most of us are eighteen). Whether you like it or not, we are the future. You need to accept this, and rather than doubt us and our ability, encourage our progression into adult life, because soon enough, we will have more influence in the country than you will.
Call me ignorant, call me self righteous, or whatever you like. I have made my point very clear and I hope you learn from it.

Anonymous said...

If you're all so certain the education system is failing our children then instead of posting comments undermining the hardwork and effort put in by the majority, why do you not instead use your evident 'superior intelligence' to do something about it? Write a letter, an e-mail, an article, whatever! A far more intellectual and productive response perhaps than to calling them "pathetic" and "self-righteous" on web blogs. I'm quite embarrassed by the way some adults have responded - not entirely proud of our generation, who so ardently claim we were better educated, to be quite frank! After all we've not done an awful good job of things ourselves so lets not claim they're going to takeover and ruin everything just because they did not understand a terminology in an exam. I mean I, for one, believe some of the students who despite their comments being driven by upset (and rightly so), are better formed and coherent arguments than us adults who claim they are somehow less able than we were at 18, because OBVIOUSLY we would have known exactly what despotic meant at that age. To be perfectly honest I cannot remember if I would have known or not... maybe? It is beside the point anyway. By the sounds of it there was more to the problems of this exam than simply the use of the term 'despotic' in the question and I do not really think any of us in that case are in a position to comment because none of us have actually seen what the students had to face.

Best of luck to the students in the rest of their studies. I hope this exam has not ruined your chances of future successes! (I'm sure it hasn't.)

mexicano said...

God help the UK in the years to come! What we have here is absolute proof that the current generation of school-leavers is not only the worst educated of modern times, but also the one with the greatest sense of self-worth. Not a great combination.

Doomed, I tell ya! We´re all doomed!

Anonymous said...

We didn't understand a terminology therefore the country is doomed. Right... okay then. Well, we'll be careful not to lead us all into an economic depression, an unnecessary war, and allow history to repeat itself as Fascists suddenly find themselves in European parliament. ... Oh wait you've all got that covered - you don't need us and our 'stupidity' at all! Excellent.

Anonymous said...

Gosh Natalia Brownlie, did you come up with that tedious Guardian-esque boilerplate all by yourself? That's some thinking outside the box there. Please show your workings.

Anonymous said...

Sample A Level Exam Questions:

Q1
A Despot is a:
1) Bad Person
2) Good Person
3) Naughty Person
4) Wayward Person
5) I have never encountered the word Despot

Q2
A Tyrant is a:
1) Bad Person
2) Good Person
3) Naughty Person
4) Wayward Person
5) I have never encountered the word Tyrant

Q3
A Hitler is a:
1) Bad Person
2) Good Person
3) Naughty Person
4) Wayward Person
5) I have never encountered the word Hitler

Anonymous said...

Don't patronise us you conceited dickheads.

Why should we even debate with you intelligently when you can't even climb off your high horse long enough to offer a sustainable argument, not merely an egotistical comment.

Paris Hart. I'll give you it, so you dont have to check the facebook group and figure out who wrote this. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

These, dear reader, are our future surgeons/pilots/nuclear engineers. We may well be eviscerated/crash/evaporate sooner than we had hoped, but I feel sure we will at least expire howling with laughter.

Anonymous said...

'surgeons/pilots/nuclear engineers'

I can safely assume that you hold one of these occupations then?

and believe me. we are the ones laughing at you :)
please continue with your ridiculous comments, it's entertaining me in my three months off before uni.

what has happened to the elderly today? said...

Gallimaufry didnt understand the word 'fortuitous'? IDIOT!! I remember using that in a book report when I was twelve years old! To describe Othello as well, anyone that reads Othello and doesn't expect to see a question about fortune and coincidence is seriously deluded.
It is truly laughable the state of 'adults' today (although the samples of adulthood on here are undeniably questionable). Get off your high horse, stop unjustifiably complaining about students justifiably complaining. Go cry into your coffee if you want to, and move somewhere else where you won't be disappointed by the younger generation. What's that? It's not possible? Exactly the arrogant small-minded attitude I expect. In truth, even if you say it's the education system that has let the students down, it is nevertheless YOUR generation's education system by design. You aren't perfect, stop acting like you are. I realise you won't accept anything I'm saying, let alone read this far down.

Your self-righteous attitude is apalling. Surely there's an even older generation somewhere complaining about how you let them down. For the record, 6,000 students took this exam, 1,500 of them have found the facebook group and decided to join, whether it be through serious despair or to show a humourous distate of the paper, that is hardly an 'insignificant' statistic.

Congratulations on being as bad as the society you deem to hate. It won't change, Elysium is not near, there will always be something to complain about. Not knowing the entire definition of one word does not make an individual stupid, the word was used out of context, in an extremely stressful situation and no dictionaries were allowed. The outrage comes from the fac that we were blindsided by this word and the recognition that not getting the definition absolutely right would swing the balance between passing and failing, all the events, quotes and facts were learnt were rendered practically useless. Think about how your 18 year old self would have responded. Personally I got off lightly in this exam season, only 8exams in five days, over 16 hours of sitting in a sports hall and writing my heart out.

Have more compassion, please. I am sickened by some of the comments on here, maybe you should reevaluate your views before being so blatantly childish yourself. This generation is smarter than you in hundreds of ways, just as you are smarter than us in hundreds of ways. Times change, things evolve. The stone age was appalled that the bronze age did not know how to tell the difference between flint and quartz just as the bronze age were disgusted the stone age had not opened their eyes and seen no one need s to know the difference when you have shiny metal.

Anonymous said...

Capital letters 101, completely missing the point studies and advanced "you don't me" at Luton Poly is it?

Steph said...

At least leave your name or talk some sense.

North of Watford said...

The saddest thing, after reading all these comments, is that they don't have any understanding of what has been done to them in the name of "education, education, education". They are so completely imbued with the mores of the system, that they fail to see the box they are in. With apologies for the mixed metaphor.

Anonymous said...

Look, none of you are actually grasping the point of what we are complaining about here, and you are all completely il-infomed about the exam in general. We are complaining (quite rightly) that this word (despotic, NOT TYRANNY; that's a huge misquote) was used in the question, when it had not come up in any of the wider reading books we had been allocated. We have nothing against the term being used in a student's answer, but to use a word that is not widely used in the contemporary english lexicon (and is also very scantily associated with Hitler's regime in the first place) in the actual question is unjustly elitist. The exam board has an obligation to create questions which cater for all abilities, not to eliminate students completely who's vocabulary may not be as wide as others'.

Furthermore, people keep suggesting that we should have been able to work out it's meaning from it's context in the source, and even that we are "scared to think"; this is a ridiculous accusation, as the entire source described the Third Reich as a polycratic, structuralist regime; NOT a despotic tyranny. Please stop making il-informed comments about an exam paper you clearly have not even seen. We do not want it "easy", we simply want a fair assessment; for a student's grade to hinge on one word is ridiculous. Am i wrong?

Alfred Wells said...

I posted a marvellous satire mocking these students here:

http://www.corrupt.org/news/england039s_next_exam_results_an_almost_certain_success

aristotle said...

Paris, no you are not wrong. If a term wasn't on the syllabus and reading list it shouldn't have been in a question. I can see why from your description of the sources some students may have thought despotic meant chaotic. And thus they would have provided an incorrect answer. The poster Rob was probably correct on the type of answer the exam board were looking for.

So much hangs on A-level results - things are so much more competitive then when i - and i guess most of the posters here - did them. With no tuition fees and maintenance grants! I hope the exam board takes the confusion re 'despotic' into account and marks the scripts accordingly. Or at least no one's futures is messed up.

Alphonse Despot (Silient T) said...

Captain Cook spies land ho! "First mate, is this place to be found upon our charts?" "No Sir." "Oh well, leave it then."

Bois de Boulogne said...

The Theory of Labour Value lives I see. Screeds of many words does not necessarily a better argument make. Pith and moment won't bore your audience and doesn't look nearly so whiny.

Still, it could be worse.
And least they're writing verse.

Henry Crun said...

In response to Anon's various bleatings about "nasty adults not being all understanding and that, innit":

Oh boo-fucking-hoo. So students didn't understand the adjective "despotic" in an exam question, when used in the context to describe Adolf Hitler. Clue - Adolf Hitler was an evil vegetarian that didn't like the French, The Belgians, The Russians, The British, or anyone else but liked the Swiss because they let him use their banks to deposit all the gold what he stole from other people called Jews. He was kind to animals and had an Alsatian called Blondi.

You see, what happened was that some students panicked when they saw a word they didn't understand and couldn't parrot out the claptrap told them by teacher. Jeez just a little independent thought and they could have quietly crossed out the word "despotic" and still answered the question satisfactorily.

But do they do that? No. Instead they get all whiny and start a facebook group because they are too fucking stupid to read the question thoroughly.

AngryStudent said...

I've learnt from the boards I've read and posted on that unfortunately the majority of adults are hugely ignorant and stubborn. They read it in a paper and immediately take that side of the story, without hearing us out first. What it comes down to is that they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, but because they read it in a paper they now view themeselves as world experts on answering A-Level questions. And some of them have the cheek to say the country is doomed, when it is their generation who has led us into a depression. Woops!

Working Class Geezer said...

To those who claim they had never previously encountered the words 'despotic' or 'despot' have a look at the website www.wordcount.org which lists by rank the 86800 most commonly used English words (data from the British National Corpus).

Despotic comes in at 46344; above refilling, dodgers, conjectured.

Despot comes in at 40522; above extinguishers, effigies, artworks, plonk, latrine, stimulants(!) and other words that any averagely intelligent 18 yr old would have been exposed to.

Oh how we wept... said...

True or False:

The average 'A' Level History student is incapable of reading and understanding The Daily Telegraph?

Barack Obama extends his hand to Islam's despots

Or the Daily Mail

The Iranian despot who's one text away from defeat

Or The Austrialian

Jacob Zuma wants immunity for Africa despots

Discuss...

Anonymous said...

How do you study the History of the Third Reich without learning what "tyranny" or "despot" mean?

Oh, I see, what they actually studied was the role of wimmin in the Third Reich.

So not history at all then, but rather something Dr. Goebbels would have recognised all too well.

We ought to be ashamed of what we have allowed to happen in our country.

Paris said...

How do you study the History of the Third Reich without learning what "tyranny" or "despot" mean?


You tell me. this is your education system. And we are the ones that are going to lead this country into bad times? Isn't it there already, because of you? If this country was running perfectly fine then maybe you could say that we are 'doomed', even though thats an unworthy opinion, but quite frankly you've screwed this country up enough already, therefore there is not much left for us to do.

And to be honest, saying that the country is doomed simply because 1,500 students didnt understand the terminology in an exam is utterly ridiculous. Maybe instead of moaning about us, you could do something about the mess you have already made.

And for those that are saying that we are idiotic because we weren't able to interpret the term's meaning, how the hell are we meant to interpret words we have never heard before? Especially in the context they were used, which indicated that they meant chaotic.

Please all climb off your high horses for a moment and try to think about how you would have reacted had you been in this situation. It's all very well for you to say you would have known how to answer this perfectly, but what right do you have to say that in the first place?

Have some compassion please. You are really not improving the already damaged relationship between teens and adults.

Anonymous said...

Working class geezer, statistics are not always correct, try not too rely to heavily on them to back up your pathetic argument.

Just because the word is technically more common than some others, doesn't mean that we should all have definately been aware of it. Just like we are probably aware of more advanced words than that, and may still not to be aware of simpler words. It's a case of luck, and what words you encounter in your life.

Tony said...

There has been one reasonably thoughtful comment here by an 18-year old who sat for the exam. This is directed to him or her.

You are correct that generally exam questions should be engineered with the syllabus and reading list in mind. If the reading list never, ever included the word despot, then you have the beginning of a possible complaint.

However, the exam should also be engineered with the totality of cultural sources and language use in mind. Any student thinking he or she is competing for a university spot who does not read for pleasure, and read outside of the reading list, should not expect to do as well as he or she might do. "Despot" is a word frequently found in literature, newspapers, essays, and comm-boxes. The sad fact is that those who have never seen the word cannot possibly be familiar with a broad range of English literature, newspapers, etc. Therefore, although the question is less than ideally designed, it is not fundamentally unreasonable for A-level students.

It is quite typical for people who have been told all their lives that they are doing very well, and then suddenly find out that the meaning of this "very well" has been dumbed down to mean what would have been considered "not good enough" a generation ago, to be defensive about the situation. We of the older generation should not be surprised at the extent of the whining that this defensiveness has generated. Nevertheless, the objective fact is that it is indeed whining. And what is sad is that the students' anger is turned on those who point out the lack of education instead of on those responsible for the lack of education.

I leave you with a fact: my 19 year old and my 17 year old children (who have not been studying History under a devoted course of studies) understand the question and have no problem understanding how to answer it. But then, they have read at least 10 times as much outside of required reading lists as is on such lists.

Oh how we wept... said...

...Edexcel ... should ... quite simply mark down severely any nincompoop whose work reveals an inability to understand ordinary English words...

David Gillies said...

Says Anonymong:-

"Working class geezer, [this should be a colon] statistics are not always correct, [this should be a semi-colon] try not too rely to heavily on them to back up your pathetic argument. [Anonymong thinks the provenance of the British National Corpus somewhat questionable]

Just because the word is technically [meaning: in actual fact] more common than some others, doesn't mean that we should all have definately [sic] been aware of it. Just like we are probably aware of more advanced words than that, and may still not to [sic] be aware of simpler words. [Sentence fragment] It's a case of luck, and what words you encounter in your life."

Sorry, Anonymong. Go to the back of the class.

Steph said...

For those of you obsessed with suggesting we, as students, do very little or no wider reading, i would like to ask you: if you do not know us personally, how can you make such an assumption?
Truthfully, it is possible to read hundreds upon hundreds of books without coming across the word 'despot' and no, I do not speak of 'postman pat' or any other crass attempt at humour you may infer. Yet in many other books,when you come across it, it is at least in context, of which in Dietrich's source, it was most certainly not.

However, just like the flamboyant language of previous times, the current generation is subconsciously 'phasing out' arcane and unecessary words in favour for others.

The 86800'th word in the database is 'Conquistador', the 86799'th 'recrossed', the 86798'th 'workless'/ Undoubtedly all 17/18 yer old students know at least some loose definition of these words, if not use them in everyday language. Thereby your implementation of this list is unfounded and unecessary as a tool for promoting your self-righteousness.

As a footnote, do not 'make a joke' about the fact that i mentioned the word 'workless', to do so would be as tired and predictable as many of the posters on this board are.

Working Class Geezer said...

Steph:

Despot is not a rarely used, archaic, or unnecessary word. As 'Oh how we wept' pointed out the media regularly use the word despot.

PS
I, the first-person singular pronoun, is generally written as I, not i.

Fred Bloggs comprehensive said...

One could, without proper training, easily imagine that the word "despot" meant "regular user of opiates".

Hitler did indeed use opiates, as did many other, er, um, "despots". Therefore one could easily jump to entirely the wrong conclusion and write an essay on Hitler's tyrannical opiate use. I can't see the student picking up many marks for it. One could labour ones whole life under the misconception that "despot" meant "heroin addict" and never have cause to detect the discrepency.

I can understand students not understanding the word "despot" as it is rapidly passing into obsolesence. It belongs to the times when teaching students about Ghengis Khan seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Even in my time at school, some 25 years ago, history teachers rarely used it. It isn't a "technical" word, in the way that "totalitarian" is.

Of course, two generations ago we had a very different situation. We had great historians like:

Polly Toynbee (Studied history at Oxford) and not forgetting:

Gordon Brown (studied history at Edinburgh to PhD level).

One must bow to such intellectual giants of previous generations, experts in History at the highest level. They, surely, would have known what "despot" means, even if they have demonstrated by word and action THAT THEY CLEARLY KNOW FUCK-ALL ELSE!

Of course, Britain has had a long history of such giants of historical knowledge. AJP Taylor was such a man of an astonishing three generations ago - a man who believed the "National Socialists" were right-wing. Oh how I laughed....


My sympathy is with "anonymous". Not because he had a tougher history paper then he thought likely, but because he is now dealing with people of OUR generation. The defeated people of Britain. The people of Britain that let their government walk all over them and do NOTHING. The people of our generation who whinge about immigration and education and crime and blah blah blah but DO ABOSOLUTELY NOTHING about it all. "the glass is half-empty" they say - but do nothing to rectify the situation."Anonymous" is at least trying do something about the perceived injustice of his History exam. All power to him and his fellows. May his glass runneth over. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope for this defeated people of Britain after all....

Never forget that "anonymous" is a teenager. If you know your history you would be sure to realise that the "teenager" is a recent phenomena, arising about the time of Elvis Presley and James Dean. Before the Second World War the teenager didn't exist - there was only the world of work for those leaving primary school. If you concern yourselves with the apparent juvenility of the teenager please remember that the charge of infantlism applies just as much to yourselves. "Anonymous" will at least grow out of it - the rest of you are beyond any hope.

Hettie said...

"For those of you obsessed with suggesting we, as students, do very little or no wider reading, i would like to ask you: if you do not know us personally, how can you make such an assumption?"

Easily: If you haven't come across the word despot, you haven't been reading history books on a wide range of topics (including easily readable, popular history books) or newspapers since the word is used in them frequently.

Larry Teabag said...

And to be honest, saying that the country is doomed simply because 1,500 students didnt understand the terminology in an exam is utterly ridiculous.

Does Laban, or anyone, want to disagree with this?

In a debate between supposedly idiotic illiterate teenagers and all-knowing always-furious right-wing bloggers, the kids win. They may not know what 'despotic' means, but at least they have some level of self-awareness:

It's quite amusing that you call us 'self righteous'. Have you read some of the comments you have left? Pot. Kettle. Black.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

It's the 'grown-ups' (and I use that word in it's loosest sense) who are looking pretty bad in this comment thread, lacking dignity, intelligence and any sense of perspective.

The young people are currently winning 5-0.

Burger Flipper said...

Burger Flipper

For want of an understanding of the word despotic a question was lost.
For want of a question the exam was lost.
For want of an exam the A Level was lost.
For want of an A Level the university place was lost.
For want of a universtiy place the degree was lost.
For want of a degree the chance of a career as a Guardian/BBC/C4 researcher/journalist was lost.
And all for the want of an understanding of the word despotic.

Worry not; instead take inspiration from the ledgendary duo of BBC comedians: Armstrong and Miller - you can always Be(come) a teacher (though avoid becoming a History taecher as you need to know the maening of both despot and depotic to successfully teach the subject)

Burger Flipper said...

PS as I'm only a Burger Flipper my speed typing sometimes lets me down:

universtiy
ledgendary
taecher
maening
depotic

Anonymous said...

One thing I've never understood is people who draw a 'young people' vs adults distinction.
There is no group of 'young people' - there are many different groups.
Some of them understand the meaning of the word 'despotic' and others don't. (Some of them believe 'elitism' to be a bad thing, and others don't; it's to be hoped that those who do prevail.)
But the key point is that being 'young' is not the same as being black, or white, or paralysed; it is a passing condition, which fades with age, and we all suffer from it at one time or another.
We feel your pain, thickoes; even if we weren't thick ourselves, we knew people who were.

By the way, Larry and Daniel, you remind me of Bob Mills: 'I'm just a fat lad desperate for a shag.'

Larry Teabag said...

I'm thin, and I had a shag last night, oh witless one.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

What Larry said you anon coward.

Fred Bloggs comprehensive said...

" If you haven't come across the word despot, you haven't been reading history books on a wide range of topics (including easily readable, popular history books) or newspapers since the word is used in them frequently."

Ah, but take care. I frequently see the media use the word "defenstrate" to mean "ransack" which in turn is used to mean "demolish", when their meanings are quite different. Never use the media as an example of how english should be used. Consequently it may be unwise to commit oneself to answering a question when you are not entirely sure of the question being asked, especially when the question itself appears to be tautological. In any case, a teenager studying in a co-ed school really ought to have better things to do to occupy his or her time than sitting around reading the dead-tree press. I certainly did ;-)

mexicano said...

Let´s see how the "I´m-so-amazing" generation explain this then -

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196911/Trendy-teaching-producing-generation-history-numbskulls.html

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I don't think they've said that they are amazing and also by default, linking to a Daily Mail article hardly means you're going to get fair and balanced news are you?

Also, to unpick the story a little, not that it holds much water, the sample was tiny some 286 students, which is not much use at all. Also, the idea of what is basic knowledge that every 18-year-old should know is subjective at best and if you asked 286 people I'm sure you'd get 286 different takes on the query.

Also, 73 of the 286 got them right and the terible leap that: 'This implies that, all things being equal, 85 per cent of my undergraduates' age group know even less than they do.' is just that, bad maths not befitting an economics professor.

An economics professor at certainly the best univeristy in Wales but not the best in the UK by a royal mile, indeed it consistantly hovers around a median 30th place or slightly lower out of some 123 institutes.

As for economics, out of the 66 universites that teach the subject, it is 20th.

It would be very easy for a foolish Daily Mail type journalist to bandy around bad maths and percentages about how Cardiff is a poor university.

But I'm not that kind of guy.

Working Class Geezer said...

The five questions from the Daily Mail article (with the percentage of undergratuates (sic) that answered it correctly):

1) Who was the general in charge of the British army at the battle of Waterloo? (16.5%)

2)Who was the reigning monarch when the Spanish Armada attacked Britain? (34.5%)

3)What was Isambard Kingdom Brunel's profession? (40.5%)

4)Name one prime minister in the 19th century? (11.5%)

5)In what country was the Boer war of 1899 to 1902 fought? (30.6%)

(I got all five right :)

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Thanks for flagging that the journalist couldn't spell and I'm happy for you that you got all of them right.

The danger is people think that 284 students equals all students, when it don't.

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

You really should have declared your interests before commenting on this post. If you're flogging lottery tickets - commonly known as a tax on stupid people - then your defence of your future customer demographic is seen to be nothing more than naked self-enrichment.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

*cough*

I love how people who hide behind anonymous are always the ones who do research on people, like odd stalkers.

When I say love, I mean hate.

To deal with your silly point, lecture me about declaring interests when you stop being an anon coward.

Then, realise the advert was in Norway and it is for their national lottery, you'll soon see you made a terrible mistake.

*ouch*

Your ignorance must hurt.

Come and talk to me when your real ID is open and there for all to see, rather than taking terrible pot shots from the safety blanket of your lack of identity.

D-, try harder next time dolt.

Laban said...

Whatever Daniel did at Uni, it sure wasn't statistics (assuming the 284 were a random sample).

A quick look tells me that if there are 400,000 UK undergrads, and only 11% can name a nineteenth-century Prime Minister, a sample size of only 267 students will give a 95% confidence level that the true percentage is between 5% and 17% (confidence interval of 6).

Van Patten said...

To the numerous anonymous student posters taking issue with the 'Adult' posters who have the temerity to criticise them, I took a similar 'A' Level 14 years ago, and was expected to have read widely around a given subject in my own time, as well as reading a 'quality' newspaper every day.

There is no way anyone posting here can have read the Times, Telegraph or Guardian for a fortnight without encountering the term 'despot' . Any article about Robert Mugabe (amongst other African rulers) or Kim Jong-il would almost certainly have used it.

For those claiming that the 'source material' was inadequate. Even in my time, the essay questions had no source material whatsoever and you were expected to be able to advance an argument in two essay questions in a two hour exam without 'sources' being used as a crutch for inadequate revision.

Sadly, the debate here seems to be a slightly premature example of the same annual argument that surfaces around August after yet another year of record pass rates. We know that the currency of 'A' Grades is being debased in order to fulfill a quite arbitrary target that 50% of school leavers should go to University. I am afraid the phrase 'despotic tyranny' is far better directed at the creators of the current education system, who seem to think that by continously lowering standards and awarding ever higher pass rates, people are somehow being 'educated' better than in previous times. The situation would be comical were the likely consequences not so serious. If the 1,000 or so students react so emotionally to a fairly simple, if slightly tautological question, how are they going to react when their vastly better educated Chinese and Indian (amongst other nationalities) contemporaries take all the highly paid professional jobs?

'Education, Education, Education' seems like an even sicker joke now!

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Hi Laban technique!

Whatever you did at uni I have a feeling it was maninly based on running with an idea using scant evidence. Theology perhaps?

You use a small sample to jump to, a grotesque jump if you ask me: "400,000 UK undergrads, and only 11% can name a nineteenth-century Prime Minister" that isn't true, at all.

Van Patten is also guilty of using a story in the Daily Mail, not a bastion of accurate journalism, as an achor for a rant.

Never mind current education standards, by the deductive reasoning of some people here I'd say education has been fucked for some time.

xxxx

Working Class Geezer said...

"...is also guilty of using a story in the Daily Mail, not a bastion of accurate journalism, as an achor for a rant..."

Guilty? chuck him in to prison and throw away the key!

A typical left whine "...it was in the Daily Mail/The Sun/The Express or on Sky so it can't be true!...", an exceptionally weak argument.

So where should people go for the truth, don't tell me, The Guardian, The Independent, C4, or even the BBC...

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Proletariat Gentlemen:

You're pouring over my word usage perhaps best reflects how tenuous your argument is, nearly as tenuous as the Mail's argument in this case.

Lovely.

Fred Bloggs comprehensive said...

@Van Patten:

"how are they going to react when their vastly better educated Chinese and Indian (amongst other nationalities) contemporaries take all the highly paid professional jobs? " - with surprise and astonishment one imagines, since the vast majority of Chinese don't have the opportunity of going to secondary school and there are no top notch Chinese universities.

"We know that the currency of 'A' Grades is being debased in order to fulfill a quite arbitrary target that 50% of school leavers should go to University." - we know of no such thing. We only know that more children are going to university. Not all children going to university are actually studying for degrees. There is no reason to debase the "A" level to get more acceptances since universties are quite capable of simply lowering the bar themselves to achieve the required intake and finally even if the examinations might be easier, it doesn't necessarily mean that the course if easier.

I see far fewer complaints about children's education from those in industry and university teaching than I did in the 70s and 80s.

"There is no way anyone posting here can have read the Times, Telegraph or Guardian for a fortnight without encountering the term 'despot' ." - and here is the root cause of the problem. There are far too many people here taking their information from the newspapers and not finding out for themselves what is going on. I am 45, have 9 x 'O' levels and 3 x 'A' levels. I know how my children of 9 and 12 years old are being taught. It is better than the education I received and I am happy with it. I see few of my fellow parents with serious concerns about their children's education. The concerns I see are always coming from a much older generation that seem to think that education is all about conjugating Latin verbs.

Fred Bloggs comprehensive said...

"Whatever Daniel did at Uni, it sure wasn't statistics (assuming the 284 were a random sample)."

Well you certainly didn't do statistics at University, that's for sure!

What are the chances of it being a random sample suitable for such an extrapolation when:-

1] It is asking questions about essentially English history in a Welsh university?

2] The students are economics students being asked about questions from history, a subject they might quite reasonably not have studied at all from the age of 14?

3] The professor asking the questions already had a very strong opinion about the outcome?

4] The students were not obliged to give correct answers and were at liberty to put amusing responses?

5] One of the questions could have more than one correct answer - was Brunel an engineer or a businessman (an economics student might say "businessman")?

"Daniel" is 100% right - the sample is in no way indicative of the whole student population.

In any case, I can answer all 5 of the questions, but only 1 was actually taught at school and this was before the age of 14 so I might have forgotten it but didn't. I am 45 so went to school long before the John Major/Chris Woodhead/Tony Blair education reforms. The curriculum for GCE "O" Level mostly concerned:

WWII and the rise of Hitler.
The Russian revolution, Communism, and the rise of Stalin.
Women's Rights (special topic)

I would say all of these were rather more relevant than Waterloo in understanding todays world. TV was better in my day of course, and you had no choice but to watch the documentaries because there were only three channels (but blame Thatcher for the increase in choice...)

By the way, children are taught about the difference between Catholic and Protestant both in history and in RS - one of the things mentioned in the Daily Mail article. If the children subsequently forget it, then it can't be completely blamed on the children. But I think it is far more likely that the students asked simply put daft answers, or the professor ignored the correct answers because he had a message for the world and he wasn't going to allow facts to get in the way. The Daily Mail has certainly never let facts get in the way.

Finally, never forget that children can be awkward creatures. My eldest son is breezing through school but certainly doesn't "read widely". He's only interested in sport and wants to join the army - so he has no interest in history beyond what he needs to know to get the teachers of his back. Most kids are like that. Who wants to be a nerd? I have a 9 year old that is a nerd mind....

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd make sure all students weren't thought of as thick - I don't do history, and knew the term, and explained it to a few history students after the exam who had guessed right and were happy - and many knew the term themselves anyway.

Some students are still thinking for themselves after all - perhaps there is hope yeT?

Anonymous said...

For those who say they could answer the question "easily" and that A levels have been dumbed down, you have to take into consideration the sources that have to be analyzed in order to gain marks on this paper. Rambling on about how Hitler was a despot would gain you nothing, you must infer from the sources reasons that highlight that he was or was not a despotic tyrant. The sources on this paper were neither clear nor coherent, and to formulate a logical answer from them while not understanding a clear phrase in the question would have been distressing for many students.

Also, in response to what Van Patten has said, I would have preferred your history exam 14 years ago immensely to the one i sat in June. The non source paper we still sit is the easier of the two, how hard is it to learn facts and then rattle them of in chronological order, essentially you are re telling the story, while adding a few analytical statements. A source paper however forces students to make inferences and structure their argument around literature which they have never seen before. This is a key skill for history, and shows how the subject has advanced and not "dumbed down".

Anonymous said...

Times on-line

11403 references to "evil"

1297 references to "tyrant"

347 references to "despot"


The Sun on-line (last 12 months)


550 references to "evil"

38 references to "tyrant"

5 references to "despot"


Seems you are much more likely to come across the word "tyrant" than "despot", especially if you (or your parents) buy a middle-class newspaper. Seems to be a term that is dying out amongst the working class - or was until the current row gave it a new lease of life. You might have read it in the Sun if you saw the article on Robert Mugabe hoarding "Dr Who" tapes....

JuliaM said...

"Some students are still thinking for themselves after all - perhaps there is hope yeT?"

Let's hope so, anon, let's hope so.

Wih the likes of Hoffman-Gill and Teabag around to excuse failure and ignore what is in front of their very eyes, you need all the help you can get.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Excuse failure?

Good grief, you're a blinkered, small minded individual.

Anonymous said...

My son knows diddly squat, a mother writes

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

That's not proof anon, that's just bollocks, read the comment underneath it...

"

How assiduously did she track the progress of her son? What steps did she take to ensure that he was receiving a well-rounded education? Obviously, very few. So,she should not be surprised to find that we are turning out stunted, ignorant low-grade fodder for ‘media studies’ at universities throughout the UK.

I too received a very poor education in the 1950s, so this phenomenon is by no means new. The correspondent should take heart from the fact that knowledge can be acquired in later life, given a reasonably average level of intelligence and will to learn."

Anonymous said...

It's just a link my hair triggered little chum. Oh and thank you for pointing out the comment as I and others couldn't possibly see that for myself/themselves, FFS.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

EPIC LINK TO TELEGRAPH FAIL!

Anonymous said...

? I've not the slightest idea what that volley of capital letters means in English, old fruit. Matters not though. You're only hoisting yourself by your own petard with each every ejaculation anyways.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Says the coward putting a question mark at the beginning of a sentence.

You've been in the air a while old bean...

Anonymous said...

Coward? Presume that is a reference to my apparent anonymity. Au contraire. This idiosyncratic and dashing use of words and punctuation is its very own distinctive mark, instantly recognisable to countless.

Were one to adopt some frightful cliché ridden vernacular then, I fear, one would slip into the crowd regardless as to whether one's name was known or not.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Coward indeed and you presume right.

As for recognising your verbose, grandiloquent and faintly embarassing prose style, thankfully I do not and this is the first time I have encountered something so pompously vulgar, well not since I went to Iain Dale's blog by mistake anyway.

Anywho, do take care when pulling your own head out of your no doubt very tight anus.

Good luck with that darling!

Anonymous said...

You do have my genuine commiserations for happening upon Mr Dale's most ghastly outpourings. Should count your blessings you have the excuse of arriving by mistake and pray for those benighted wretches who visit on purpose.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I'm ahead of you and off to confession on their behalfs now.

Burger Flipper said...

I'd hazard a guess that one reason roughly 25% of those who took the exam claimed they had no knowledge or recollection of the word despotic is the rise of something known as Jafrican.

A debased corruption of the English language with a hugely restricted vocabulary, an almost animalistic pronunciation of the simian variety, and logic defying spelling, it seems to have taken sway of huge swaths of the areas of southern urban England at the bloody frontline of the 'muli-cult' invasion.

Reading through some of the comments from the facebook group, set up by the poor individuals who's whole future careers evaporated before their eyes when they stumbled upon the word 'despotic' for the first time in their lives, the evilly retarding and corrupting influence of 'Jafrican' can be detected:

EVeryone should chill, thyll drop the grade boundaries and all will be good!!!!(thats my hop anyway)! + ann thing that writes in the daily exprss should fuck herself!!!!GOOD LUCK fokes

well put! dey r a bunch of wankerz. Well dun ev1 whu tried tho x


(as quoted in a previous comment above)

Why close your eyes and it is almost possible to imagine yourself in the Bronx listening to a troop of crack smoking gang rapists (dressed in their best Malcolm X t-shirts).

Less listening to rap(e) music and more reading history books I say; but then what do I know, I'm only a burger flipper: "Would you like fries with that boss man?"...

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Burger Flipper, you're a terrible old racist, who is either posting an irnic comment to send-up the attitudes here or is genuinely a bigot.

For example, Jafrican doesn't exist and the idea is is some sort of universal language spoke by young people is nonsense, as is the idea that any slang use can effect grades, when in reality we all use some sort of slang and peer speech no matter what our age; it's all about terms of reference.

And the amount of black=animal assumptions made in your comment has got to be a bloody joke.

You're confusing brevity of language with stupidity of the user, the paradox of this of this is the verbosity of your language but the terrible quality of your ideas.

You top it all off by referring to hip-hop as "rap(e) music", you have got to be taking the piss.

But round these parts it is likely to be read as truth.

mexicano said...

Oh dear, the evidence doesn´t get any better ...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5929517/Bob-Geldof-discovered-gravity-say-children.html

What pathetic excuse will dear Mr Hoffmann-Gill use this time?

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I'm more interested in what pathetic excuses YOU have for taking things out of context and believing that a story in the Torygraph reflects all young people and children today.

What a bitter little axe to grind.

Ex Guardian reader said...

Comment is free...

The difference between, perhaps, your typical 'lefty' commenter, as possibly
exemplified by Mr Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, and the 'more to the right' commenter who frequents this blog may be:

Lefty Commenter: "Opinion, insult, opinion, opinion, insult, opinion, opinion, opinion, opinion, opinion, INSULT"

More to the Right Commenter: "Fact, fact, statistic, fact, years of personal experience, fact, statistic, valid observation backed up by numerous references to published data, fact, fact, humourous aside"

...but facts are sacred.

[The irony of the Guardian, of all newspapers, using this as its tag line to its comment section is somewhat stupefying.]

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

No, wrong, again.

I feel bad for you.

Really I do.

RBC said...

I'm a 16-year-old student from Sydney, Australia, and as it happens, I have encountered the word "despot" at some point during my literary wanderings. I do recall looking it up in a dictionary, but the overall impression I got was that it was fairly synonymous with "tyrant". (I say fairly because no two words have exactly the same meaning). This brings me to my first point, which is that the English language is an amorphous construct. It is continually being altered to suit the purposes of people within evolving societies. Definitions, phraseology, grammar, even spelling, they're all gradually but constantly changing. I was reading George Orwell's '1984' the other day, and one phrase that jumped out at me was 'engaged on'. Nowadays, we would say 'engaged in'. Anyway, my point is, the most effective way of dealing with this phenomenon is by knowing the generally accepted definition of a word, along with associated words and synonyms. Otherwise, you become bogged down in archaic and arcane definitions of words. To the adults who have censured us for our propensity to use our memories and not our brains, would you not agree that this is a more intelligent way of tackling the English language? And if so... Despot, tyrant, tautology anyone?

A poorly conceived question, at best. Even if one were able to formulate a 40 mark essay which made a clear distinction between the two, we're talking about History students here, not Linguists. TDK, I beg to differ with what you said about different parts of education being complementary. I do believe that education requires a sound understanding of language and a fair vocabulary, but despotic is by no means a basic word, and a History exam should assess one's competency in the field of History. It is neither fair nor advantageous for a question like "Expound on the transmogrifications observed when Meiosis occurs within the human body" to appear within a Science exam. A student's failure to understand the word "transmogrification" simply does not constitute a lack of scientific skill, knowledge or understanding.

On a somewhat related note: I have been reading The Economist for the past 5 months or so, and have come across the word "despot" perhaps once, if at all.

RBC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RBC said...

On the subject of rote learning, I have noted with some concern the general trend towards memorisation and regurgitation. In preparation for our Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams, we are encouraged to memorise an essay, and "twist it to suit the question on the day". Whilst this only applies to English, many teachers urge us to think like our markers. Marking criteria are handed out for virtually every assignment, assessment task and exam. Precision, you adults might say, is crucial. (If one is to know the difference between a tyrant and a despot, it really is crucial). So is an essay containing 15 quotations and 10 references to literary techniques necessarily going to be better than one containing less than that amount? Is a grammatically correct, impeccably punctuated short story better than one containing a punctuation error or two, and wonderfully articulated ideas? This is the dialectic upon which your arguments are built! "We want precision, we want exactitude, we want Is to be dotted and Ts to be crossed but we don't! Want! Rote! Learning!"

And the trouble is, with teachers subtly endorsing the process of rote learning, it's really difficult for their students to do otherwise. "Cover all bases," we are taught. "Give the marker what they want, even if it involves a bit of formulaic contrivance." Many adults hold us in contempt. We are unintelligent, spoilt, spoon-fed. I ask you how we are supposed to display maverick thought, when independence of mind and originality are rarely recognised or rewarded. I ask you how we are supposed to rebel, when dissension is punished. I ask you how we are supposed to initiate our own productive process of learning, when we have never been taught how to do so. Moreover, what are you achieving by pontificating like this? If indeed we are useless, teach us how to make use of ourselves.

Another thing I'd like to draw your attention to is the shocking lack of respect demonstrated by some of these comments. Surely, "intellectually superior adults" and "well-educated students" can do better than regressing into insults and generalisations like the following:
"Dumb, dumber, and plain fecking retarded...", "Monosyllabic know it alls", "cretinous imbeciles", "conceited dickheads".
To the adults who believe that today's youth are egotistical, disrespectful and self-righteous, how can you expect us to behave otherwise when you call us "crybabies" and "little darlings"?
to the teens attempting to gain some respect from disapproving adults, how can you possibly hope to achieve your goal by insulting them?

Just a few things to keep in mind...

daniel said...

When The popular comment layout is common, so it is easily recognized scanning to post a comment. If the comment section is in a different format, then I am going to spend more time trying to decipher what everything means.

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