And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche

February 28, 2011

This really has nothing to do with either open science or public engagement. I hope no one minds!

A conversation I recently had with a friend threw up – in the random way email exchanges do – Chaucer’s description of the Clerk of Oxford. The Clerk was new to me but I have a fellow feeling for him – I’m definitely not right fat, never held high office, spend all my spare pennies (and a few unspare ones) on books …

But what struck me was the last line. I left teaching without a backward glance some (aargh!) twenty-two years ago. I was no loss – although I might have been a reasonable teacher, I was an absolutely rotten lion-tamer. Recently though, I’ve been doing a little teaching as part of my researcher skills training. Not a lot – nowhere near enough data points to make a line – but some. And – to my pleased surprise – I’ve really enjoyed it. Some of it’s gone well and some not so well but it’s all been so interesting. Not just the actual standing in front of students but the whole devising, preparing, planning, reflection, thinking about how I could do it better. Why? The past has no glow on it that can light up the present. Age? Possibly. University students, rather than school pupils? Very likely.

Another surprise has been how much of the educational theory is as it was in the late 70s. This intrigues me. Is it that (a) nothing has changed, (b) I was very well-trained at teacher training college or (c) I’ve been away from educational theory for so long that the cycle has come back to where I was?

Gladly learning has never been a problem. The good thing about being released from the classroom all those years ago was the time it gave me to learn. Until the last couple of years, all by myself but the last two years, I’ve been like Peter Rabbit in the Mr McGregor’s vegetable patch. I hope I don’t lose my jacket and shoes; I’ll settle for the camomile tea.

A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also,
That unto logik had long tyme i-go.
As lene was his hors as is a rake,
And he was not right fat, I undertake;
But lokede hollow, and therto soberly.
Ful thredbare was his overest cloke to see,
For he hadde nought geten him a benefice,
Nor was so worldly to have high office.
For he wold rather have at his beddes hed
Twenty bookes, clothed in blak and red,
Of Aristotil, and his philosophie,
Then robes riche, or fiddle, or psaltery.

But although that he were a philosóphre,
Yet had he but a litul gold in cofre;
But al that he might gete, and his frendes sent,
On bookes and his lernyng he it spent,
And busily gan for the soules pray
Of them that gaf him money to scolay.
Of studie tooke he most cure and most heede.
Not one word spak he more than was need;
Al that he spak it was of heye prudence,
And short, and quyk, and ful of gret sentence.
Sowndynge in moral virtu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche