Reading around the Web: Education

This week’s theme is education.

Last week, I highlighted a few recently-published pieces on communication, a frequently controversial topic that remains subject to ongoing and often-divisive debate. This week’s theme is equally high profile, and generates a similar amount of lasting discussion.

In the UK, the quality of the education available to existing and future students of all ages is a constant concern. Schools are regularly inspected to ensure that they meet a range of requirements and that action has been taken in areas meriting improvement, and not a year goes by without adjustments being considered and implemented to the methods that teachers use to deliver lessons, and the structure and number of examinations that students will face at any given time.


More recently, discussions have focused on how well education prepares students for the workplace, and when and where they might be given the opportunity to learn the skills likely to improve their chances of landing the job that they want. Of increasing importance is the future result of a good or lacking education, and how the first is to be adequately differentiated from the latter.

Further muddying the waters is inconsistent criteria: in some cases, extra-curricular activities are deemed indispensable, and in others, top grades are the first and last items on the agenda.

Recent proposals have resurrected age-old concerns that education now focuses too firmly on tests, and that students are being encouraged to learn not to gain skills and knowledge, but solely to populate their CVs with good grades. From this perspective, lessons are, increasingly, engineered only to meet the demands of the syllabus, and reliable understanding of a subject in entirety is unnecessary once the requirements for each exam have been met.

Clearly, this is an important topic of discussion. A good education can be vital for future career plans and prospects, and how that education is received is no less significant. High quality teaching means very little if it isn’t delivered successfully, and if a student can’t, for whatever reason, engage with it.

Here are a few recent contributions to the topic.

On 20th February 2018, Penguin Random House released Educated (in hardback!), a memoir by Tara Westover. Born into a survivalist family that distrusted the government, Westover was home-schooled for years, and thought that the children in mainstream education were brainwashed. More or less on her own, she achieved the grades for university, and went on to achieve a PhD at Cambridge. Westover talks in her memoir about finding a balance that allowed her to reconcile her family’s beliefs with her later experiences and the wider world, and while she recognises that without her determination to succeed, her upbringing could easily have been an insurmountable barrier to her academic achievements, she also shows that it was, in its way, vital – for she was always told that she could achieve anything that she put her mind to, and shown the value of self-reliance. In addition, Westover casts some doubt on mainstream education, and emphasises instead the importance of hard work, belief and an open mind.

In Meet the UK’s contender for the million-dollar Global Teacher Prize (TES), Henry Hepburn interviews Andria Zafirakou, a finalist for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize. The Prize, now in its fourth year, was founded to recognise exceptional teachers that have made a significant contribution to their profession.

In Schools scrap PE time because of exam pressure (The Telegraph), Olivia Rudgard discusses the impact of removing students from classes such as PE to focus on their other subjects, and the claims being made that this is detrimental to the physical and mental health of those students.

In Tuition fees should be based on career prospects, says Education Secretary (Independent), Ellie Cullen discusses Damian Hind’s view that university tuition fees should be subject to variation, based on what he calls the “value” of the course – to be determined by factors including the future benefit of the course to the student. The launch of a government review into university funding has cast a spotlight on tuition fees, which are often criticised for being prohibitively high.

Web-based teaching can improve science understanding for struggling pupils (ScienceDaily) depicts the results of a three-year study by the Taylor & Francis Group, which shows that web-based learning tools can be beneficial to to developing and improving an understanding of science, particularly so for students that struggle with the subject. This is an important finding that has ramifications generally for how science and, potentially, other subjects, might most successfully be taught.

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading. In last week’s installment, I highlight newly-published pieces on the topic of communication.


Bookish round-up: January 2018

Books read: 

  • Equal Rites (Discworld #3) by Terry Pratchett
    Genre: Fantasy
    My rating: 4 stars
  • The Bone Season (The Bone Season #1) by Samantha Shannon
    Genre: Fantasy, YA
    My rating: 4 stars

I’m a dedicated Terry Pratchett fan. I love his characters, his settings, his consistently inventive turn of phrase, and his prose. Further, his books are a masterclass in wordplay, his use of parody is flawless, and his questioning (and dismissal) of well-established fantasy novel tropes is undoubtedly refreshing – and often a relief.

As such, the fact that I enjoyed reading Equal Rites probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It has all the key hallmarks of a Pratchett novel – that is, it’s clever, it’s entertaining, and it overturns a not inconsiderable number of the aforementioned fantasy novel tropes, as well as being populated with interesting characters and a rich variety of settings – all of which I enjoy. Further, while it arguably has a less firmly defined, rich plot than Pratchett’s later work, it has a clear narrative structure and plenty of depth.

I also enjoyed reading Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season. It’s an excellent urban fantasy novel, in which recognisable modern developments and advancements are seamlessly merged with creative supernatural elements. Further, its intriguing plot is supported by thorough, detail-oriented world-building, which stretches from politics to the justice system and the criminal underworld, and covers cultural beliefs, prejudices, and discrimination, providing a firm foundation for the subsequent narrative. The basic outline of the plot doesn’t present a completely unfamiliar pattern, but Shannon’s detailed world-building, and the flair with which she brings the supernatural elements of her narrative to life, easily compensate for any deficiencies in that area.

Added to TBR shelf:

  1. Red Rising (Red Rising Saga #1) by Pierce Brown, which came to my attention when Iron Gold was published this year. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and this series promises to deliver on everything that I enjoy.

  2. The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden, which was recommended to me by a reader with excellent taste. It looks like it will fit perfectly into my favoured ‘weird and wonderful’ category, and has excellent reviews.

  3. The Mime Order (Bone Season #2) by Samantha Shannon, which I added to the list as soon as I finished The Bone Season. I wasn’t previously familiar with Shannon’s work, and I’m looking forward to reading more of it this year.


Reading around the Web: Communication

This week’s theme is communication.

Over time, the methods that we use to communicate with one another have become both more numerous and more diverse, catering to a whole range of disparate needs and preferences. With a multitude of options at our fingertips for getting to grips with alternate methods of communication, and for learning new languages, we are able to successfully communicate more easily and widely than before, and an increasing number of people who previously had only limited options can now expect to be understood.


On the other hand, while the increasing ability to communicate easily and widely with one another has opened up the possibility of global conversation and interaction, it has, in tandem, increased the number of opportunities for and scope of harassment and bullying. Increased access and ease of communication, particularly online, has meant that users can face hatred and abuse from all sides.

On the back of this, it shouldn’t be surprising that communication is a controversial topic, and that the debate surrounding it is ongoing and often heated. Here are a few recent additions.

In Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes (The New York Times), Andrew Higgins discusses the controversy surrounding the proposed creation of a new alphabet in Kazakhstan, and the inherent difficulty of reflecting unique verbal sounds in text in a way that is both comprehensible and acceptable.

In Not a Riot Grrrl Band: Musician Michelle Cruz Gonzales Sounds off on Punk Feminism (Los Angeles Review of Books), Kitty Lindsay interviews Michelle Cruz about Spitboy, the punk band formed by Cruz in 1990, and her brand of unapologetic feminism. A different take on this week’s theme, I have included this article because Cruz intended her music to communicate her stated feminist position.

In The Secret Sign Language of the Ottoman Court (accessed from JSTOR), Amelia Sloth explains why deaf servants were so popular at court in the Ottoman Empire and elaborates on the method of non-verbal communication used at that time.

In Why I created my 2018 ‘a year of sign language’ calendar, Amanda Sanford presents her sign language calendar, and lists a number of fantastic resources for anyone interested in learning more about what it is like to be deaf, as well as identifying key pointers – as well as places to start – to keep in mind when learning sign language.

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, compiled with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

Reading around the Web: Prizes and prestige

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, compiled with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

To submit an item for consideration for next week’s list, leave a link in the Comments below.

This week’s theme is prizes and prestige. I have been reading about books that have won awards, poring over lists of highly-anticipated publications with 2018 release dates, and comparing recommendations from a variety of well-regarded sources. These are my chosen highlights.

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6 books we’re excited to read in February (Abbe Wright, Read it Forward), in which books including Zadie Smith’s Feel Free and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s thought-provoking novel, call me zebra come highly recommended.

Jhalak book prize for writers of colour announces 2018 longlist (Media Diversified), in which the 2018 longlist for the Jhalak Prize is announced, a cross-section of incredible work from British POC. This year, the judging panel is comprised entirely of women.

Books to get excited about in 2018 (from independent publishers) (Bex, Ninja Book Box), in which a varied array of texts due for publication this year, all from indie publishers, are given some well-deserved attention.

The Costa Book Awards (Waterstones), in which can be found details on the Costa Book of the Year 2017 and the other titles that were shortlisted for the award.

Like the featured picture? Find it here and much more at Unsplash.

Reading around the Web: Writing

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, compiled with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

To submit an item for consideration for next week’s list, leave a link in the Comments below.

This week’s theme is writing. Whether you’re thinking about it, doing it (or, indeed, thinking about doing it), the articles below may just help you get onto the right track.

Recommended this week:

About Words Without Borders. Words Without Borders do an incredible job removing the barriers that prevent people all over the world from understanding and enjoying books.

If you want to write a book, John McPhee’s advice is indispensable (Roy Peter Clark, Poynter) covers John McPhee’s life and writing process. This is one in a series of essays on writing to be published in 2018.

New Sentences: From ‘Bone,’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward (Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine), a close reading of a particular line in Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poem, “kid”.

‘Persist. Read, write, and improve.’ Jesmyn Ward shares the best writing advice she’s ever received (Elizabeth Flock, PBS), which contains an interview with Jesmyn Ward on her favourite reading material, how she decides what to write about, and the writing advice that had the greatest impact on her.

10 of the Best Books of January 2018 (Frannie Jackson, Paste Magazine). My personal favourite, a list of highly-anticipated books with January release dates. Stock up your TBR shelf here!


Bookish round-up: December 2017

Books read: 2

  • Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
    Genre: Historical fiction
    My rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed reading Star of the Sea. Rich with detail, its prose draws the reader effortlessly into the setting and the time period, establishing not only the historical significance of the events, and the position of the characters in relation to them, but also the associated frustrations felt and the difficulties experienced by all kinds of people at that time. Star of the Sea brings that period of history to life with great confidence, and with an engaging plot and prose, is well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a little (or a lot) of history with their fiction.

But Gormenghast is one of the strangest series of books that I have ever read, and one of the most enjoyable. Its prose – equipped with both vivid, highly descriptive imagery, and an incredibly nuanced attention to detail – applied distinctly to the physical features and accompanying personality of each character, accentuates each to the extent that the ordinary turns into the grotesque, twisted into the unusual while remaining just recognisable. Ultimately, Gormenghast is strange – a strange set of books with strange characters and oppressively strange weather – and that is exactly why it is such an enjoyable read. Every inch of the setting and every twitch of every character’s expression forms an important, inescapable part of the narrative, and it is all equally, uniquely strange. No detail is omitted, no stone left without consideration. Well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a little creative flair alongside detailed imagery and exceedingly memorable characters.

What did you read in December 2017? Let me know in the Comments below.

Added to TBR shelf:

  1. Singapore Saga Vol 1: Forbidden Hill (Singapore Saga #1) by John D Greenwood.

  2. The Speckled People: A Memoire of a Half-Irish Childhood by Hugo Hamilton.

Check out my most recent book review.

Reading around the Web: Concepts and preconceptions

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, written with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

To submit an item for consideration for next week’s list, leave a link in the Comments below.

Recommended this week: