Tag Archives: Education

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 87. On Languages, Foreign or Otherwise.

Coming back from my recent trip to Nice, France, I am still concerned about the need to have another language under your belt. Yes, it’s true that most countries we visit will speak English as a second language, including (although cynics will say otherwise) France.

I think it’s a matter of common courtesy to address those who host our annual visits in as much of their native tongue as we can manage. The next time I travel abroad, I intend to learn as much of the language as I can. Even those who visit us know our language. We should return the favour.


100 Words, 100 Days: Day 30. On Education.

The Leaving Certificate results came out yesterday and once again, facts have to be faced. Today’s students are failing at basic maths. The levels of success at Pass Level Maths and Sciences have dropped considerably over the last few years. This leads me to ask two questions.

1. Are students unwilling to be educated, preferring instead the instant gratification of social network sites, XBox and Wii?

2. Does our education system and those in its employ need urgent reform?

I suspect it’s a combination of the two. Of course there are those who excel in education, but they seem to be the exception today.

When Henry Eight Me.

Matthew Shardlake

I would never consider myself a student of history. To be perfectly honest, it bored me to tears. I blame the way it was taught when I went to school, and my abject laziness in following on with some research on my own.

When I studied history for my Leaving Certificate, I read directly from textbooks and relied on my memory to get me though the exam. I don’t recall what mark I achieved, but I passed it. My teacher didn’t interact with the class in any way; he read directly from textbooks and relied on his memory to get him through the class. Spot the comparison?

I knew a lot of interesting stuff happened down through the years but none of it made a blind bit of difference to me. It was all just names and dates. That’s how it was taught. Like most of my generation I learned about history from TV and movies; neither of which could be considered as reliable sources. My first memory of King Henry VIII was when he was played by Charles Laughton. He was a fat fool who had an eye for the ladies, and enjoyed lopping the heads from people who didn’t agree with him. As you do.Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom

Recently I’ve been reading books outside of my comfort zone. Gone for the moment are detective thrillers, sci-fi fantasies. In their place I’ve been reading historical fiction. Enter C.J. Sansom‘s brilliant series of mysteries set in Tudor times and featuring one of the most sympathetic and unique creations I’ve ever had the pleasure to read: Matthew Shardlake.

Shardlake is a lawyer under the patronage of Lord Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s chief political adviser. He is a hunchback and as such suffers more than his fair share of bullying and intimidation. At the start of the first novel, Dissolution, he is a religious reformer, very much on the side of the king and Cromwell. He has no sympathy for greedy monks and agrees with Henry’s plan to dissolve all the monasteries in England. He investigates a murder in one such monastery (okay, maybe there is an element of detective fiction here, but bear with me) and as the case progresses, Shardlake’s philosophy changes and he finds himself at odds with his employers. I’m reading the fourth book in the series, Revelation, and the more I dig into Shardlake’s world, the more I want to know about Henry VIII, Cromwell, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and each of Henry’s six wives.

King Henry VIII

So today I bought a biography of perhaps the most famous king of England: Henry VIII, King and Court, by Alison Weir. The point I’m making is (and I’m sure all of you would agree with me), if you want to learn about history, there are many ways to go about it. But for me, it was a case of engaging with something I wouldn’t normally touch. Historical fiction is my new cause celebre. Through the medium of literature, I am now embarking on a historical journey that will take me the rest of my life to enjoy.

Last week I finished reading a book about World War II, called Hitler’s Peace, written by Philip Kerr. That book reinforced my desire to learn more about Nazi Germany, and the insidious ways Hitler and his cronies went about trying to win the war. And then I had a thought (as I sometimes do) – what kind of books will historical fiction writers of tomorrow write about today?