Accidental Death of a Dogmetist
Karenne’s dogme challenge is now centring on the need for light materials. So, no Philip Pullman then. Unlike Willy Cardoso, I’m going to imagine Karenne as the police inspector in Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
Insp: What does it mean to us as teachers to go into a classroom materials-light?
Madman: Get that light outta my face.
Insp: What does it mean to us as teachers to go into a classroom materials-light?
Madman: You’re a teacher?
Insp.: I’m just asking the questions.
Madman: Me too. Maybe it means you should eat less.
Insp. My wife says the same.
Madman: Whose doesn’t?
Insp.: What does it mean to us as teachers to go into a classroom materials-light?
Madman: Just when we were beginning to get to know each other. Do you ever go on holiday with a suitcase?
Insp.: Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?
Madman: I often go with my family.
Insp.: But you must bring suitcases?
Madman: Is this some kind of new law. When-oh-when will the state stop interfering in our lives? It’s like a dictatorship.
Insp.: I can’t follow you! What are you trying to say?
Madman: That teaching is no holiday. Leave the suitcase at home.
Insp.: So what will I need?
Madman: A classroom to go into. Students to go into it for. And a teaching qualification. And no materials that weigh any more than 15g.
Insp.: And where should all these light materials magically come from?
Madman: Sheesh. You don’t ask for much. Who said that they have to be of magical provenance?
Insp.: I did.
Madman: Well. It’s your choice. I recommend Derren Brown.
Insp.: Who’s he?
Madman: A magician.
Insp.: I don’t want a magician. I want to know where all these light materials should magically come from.
Madman: An electrician? We had spotlights put in our kitchen, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to do cabaret everytime I went in to do the washing-up. My wife made me change them.
Insp.: We’re not getting anywhere.
Insp.: To wherever these damn dogmetrices are getting their light materials.
Madman: I think that their students may be supplying them.
Insp.: The students!!! I would never have suspected.
Madman: So I’m not a suspect?
Insp.: No. I meant that I would never have suspected the students!
Madman: Your police career is not going to go very far then.
Insp.: Shut up! Let me think. What do you think that Paulo Freire meant when he said that liberating education consists of acts of cognition, not transferrals of information? Does going in light, as opposed to heavy,change this? And, what in your opinion, might teaching materials-heavy look like?
Madman: Are you worried about your weight? You bring me in here without so much as a by-your-leave and all you’re talking to me about is heavy this and light that. Don’t you have any friends that you can talk these issues over with in the bar? It’s really an abuse of power to be pulling every Tom, Dick and Harry in off the street. I’m not even going to do the,” Out of the frying pan and into the Freire” gag. It’ll probably just set you hankering after a plate of sausages.
Isnp.: Look here, you mad sonofabitch, I’m talking pedagogy here. What do you make of this Freire’s thoughts?
Madman: Well – for somebody whose concerned with all things light, you’re walking around with some very heavy thoughts. But because I can see you getting hot under the collar, I’m going to tell you that I think Freire was pointing to cognition as an active process. It needs actors – I’d say activist if you weren’t a police officer. And actors need to interact. And when they interact the actors react and enact new acts of cognition. Transferrals of information, however, are just one-way lines of communication. Rather pointlessly, the roads lead down cul-de-sacs. Everything’s parked quite neatly, but you have to wonder what the point of buying the car was. You can only get out of the cul-de-sac by breaking the law and going the wrong way. And who wants to break the law these days?
Insp.: And does going in light, as opposed to heavy,change this? And, what in your opinion, might teaching materials-heavy look like?
Madman [to observing uniformed officer]: Can’t you just go and get him something to eat? And maybe a double espresso for me? And a little pastry. And if you come across any qualified legal practitioner, I wonder if I could just get the one?
Insp.: Answer the question.
Madman: Which one? There were two.
Insp.: The first.
Insp.: The second.
Madman: Remember when you were at school?
Madman: Next question.
Insp.: How could teachers approach teaching with coursebooks dogmeicly*?
Madman: Where can you buy lighter fuel?
Insp.: Now it’s you who’s going on about heavy and light.
Madman: Maybe it’s contagious.
Insp.: Wait a minute. Did you just refer to [cue dramatic music] burning coursebooks? Like the Nazis?
Madman: Ah! Now you’re warming to me!
Insp.: You can’t burn coursebooks!
Madman: I know. I haven’t got any lighter fuel.
Insp.: So the only way to approach coursebooks dogmeicly is with a lighted flame?
Madman: No – don’t be silly. You sound just like a Nazi now.
Insp.: Are you going to tell me how teachers can approach teaching with coursebooks dogmeicly?
Madman: I don’t care for your spelling.
Insp.: Why you cheeky son…
Madman: Keep your hair on. They approach coursebooks dogmeicly by telling students to put away the books whenever they can.
Insp.: It’s that simple?
Madman: Hey! That’s what I was going to say. Keep out of my lines and I’ll keep out of yours.
Insp.: Watch it!
Madman: Do you want to go sailing out of that window?
Insp.: Hey! That’s my line.
Madman [to audience]: That could count as a confession – you’re my only witnesses.
[End of scene 1]
[Everything is as we left it. The audience wonders why there was a need for a scene change, but then the audience is usually quick to forget that the playwright also has to work for a living.]
Inspector: OK. Let me ask you another question.
Madman: I can see that you love your job.
Insp.: Have you read Meeting of Minds by Stuart McNaughton?
Madman: I refuse to answer on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.
Insp.: I’m sorry…you refuse? [He gets up and opens the window.]
Madman: [screaming as if his hour has finally come] Aaaaarrgghhhhh!
Insp.: [Genuinely worried] What is it? Are you OK? Do you need a drink of water?
Madman: No! Not waterboarding! OK! OK! OK! No – I haven’t read it, but you should be ashamed of yourself, resorting to such medieval tortures to make a more demented fool spill his guts.
Insp.: [confused] Torture? Anyway, in this book the author challenges us with the idea of ‘a curriculum that promotes only segmented, isolated, and elemental learning tasks reduces the students’ degree of learning (including incidental learning) and also their preparedness for future learning.’
Madman: More torture! Nooooo!!! Does Mr McNaughton not understand that it is possible to write in more segmented and elemental sentences that help his meaning, which is essentially critical of a learning system that has, in the parlance of the daily red tops, or tabloids, dumbed down in order to meet the intellectually vapid demands placed on it by students and teachers and a government concerned primarily with producing statistics that confirm that the education system work?
Insp.: [Threateningly] Did you just say something about the government?
Madman: You started it by reading me seditious literature. You’ll be in a cell with the students before too long.
Insp.: What have you got against students?
Madman: I’m a teacher.
Insp.: You’re a teacher?! Have you seen this thing that McNaughton writes about? Felt it?
Madman: You don’t have to be a teacher to see it or feel it.
Insp.: Are you being smutty?
Madman: Pfft! When will they start recruiting police officers from that part of the population that doesn’t have it’s mind in the gutter?
Insp.: [Threatenngly again] Which part of the population?
Madman: Hmmm. You’ve got a point. But anyway, what I meant was that this kind of thing happens everywhere. Look at what we’re doing here, for example. You’re asking me a lot of questions about heaviness and lightness and absolutely no questions about the triple homicide I was involved in last week. By narrowing your questions down, you are reducing your crime clear-up rate (including incidental charges tha you may wish to bring as a result). What you should be doing is questioning me about every crime under the sun. Or just start of the interview with a casual, “OK. So, I’m police, you’re a criminal. This is an interrogation. Why not go ahead and tell me about all of the crimes you’ve been involved with?”
Insp.: It sounds wonderful, but you know that criminals can be very dishonest people. The chances are that they’re not going to tell me anything.
Madman: Which is where the free fall from the window comes in? And the waterboarding?
Insp.: Which is where the free fall from the window comes in. And the waterboarding.
Madman: Are you stealing my lines again? [To the plod on the door] Officer, I’d like to report a crime, please.
Insp.: Stop it! Let’s get back to my question.
Insp.: How do your students cope when the real-life need to speak in English crops up in their lives: can textbooks ever prepare them adequately for these experiences? Can being light?
Madman: Here we go again. I think you look great! Have you been working out?
Insp.: The students! How do they cope?
Madman: Well, for many of them, the real-life need to speak English is minimal. Unless you count the time that they are actually in the class and I am shouting at them. But, no. In my humble opinion, there is not a hope in hell that a coursebook can equip them with the skills that they need to survive in the real world.
Insp.: And being light?
Madman: It’s unbearable.
Insp.: Enough already with these jokes.
Madman: [confused] An educated policeman? Whatever next? A pious politician? A peace-keeping war machine?
Insp.: Answer the question! Don’t ask more!
Madman: Can I call a friend?
Insp.: Only legally.
Madman: Ask the audience?
Insp.: Go on then.
Madman: [To audience] And being light?
Madman: Where are your teaching qualifications? [To inspector] You know how they say that opinions are like arseholes?
Insp.: They do?
Madman: And others say that arseholes like opinionating.
Insp.: I can’t say that I’ve ever heard much out of mine.
Madman: This conversation is going up a dark alley. In short, yes.
Insp: Could you be a little less short?
Madman: Would it help if I stood on a chair?
Insp.: I haven’t got any rope. Oh, shoot! [To colleague] You never heard me say that.
Madman: I think that I’d like to forget I ever heard it as well. So, permit me to be a bit longer (although not necessarily around the neck). Yes, I think being light, as you put it, equips the students from real-world encounters. It’s unstructured, as is real-life. It’s varied, as is real-life. It’s about real-life, as is real-life.
Insp.: Thinking about your colleagues and staffrooms along with your classrooms – do you think it is the teachers or students who favour most grammar based curriculums?
Madman: [Stays silent for a long, long time.]
Insp.: Didn’t you hear me, you dumb ass?
Madman: You want me to think of y colleagues along with the staffrooms and classrooms? I’m doing it. I’ve just got to the long thin room at the end of the corrdior that is wholly unsuitable for teaching, but which the management seem to think is ideal for a class full of thirty beginners.
Insp.: Stop thinking!
Madman: …and become a police officer. OK. So who favours grammar-based curricula?
Insp.: No. Curriculums. We’re conducting this interview in English.
Madman: Well, I suppose it is a lingua franca. I suspect that those who favour such [pointedly] curriculums are those who don’t really stop to think about how grammar is learned or taught. It could be students, it could be teachers.
Insp.: So the teachers are in on it as well as the students?
Madman: Only some of them.
Ins.: But, for either, why?
Madman: There’s a lot of security in a grammar syllabus. Imagine that someone takes something as big as possible. They then say to the unthinking public, “Look, we need rules and regulations to govern this unwieldy thing. Is it OK if we go ahead and publish them?”
Insp.: That would be absurd!
Madman: [Looks at audience despairingly] A short time in my presence, and your ignorance is beginning to fall away! So, the grammar syllabus is an illusion: it doesn’t really exist, but it gives power and authority to the teacher at the front of the class and it helps the learners feel that there is some purpose in what they are doing.
Insp.: So, would I be right in thinking that we need to unlearn them?
Insp.: The grammar rules.
Madman: Why would you want to unlearn them?
Insp.: Because they’re unnecessary.
Madman: How do you propose to unlearn something?
Insp.: Hmmm. How about unlearning past study habits?
Madman: I don’t know how you unlearn something. You’d need to ask an unteacher. There seem to be a few in the audience tonight.
Insp.: Look! I’m just asking if you think that we need to change our views of studying.
Madman: What do you think?
Madman: A liberal policeman! I preferred the educated one.
Insp.: Do we need to unlearn the grammar curriculums?
Madman: So you’r epresupposing that they were ever learnt?
Insp.: Weren’t they?
Madman: Walk into any staffroom in any school in any country and watch how the teachers stumble around bemused that the students have forgotten something that they only taught them last week. 9 times out of ten, that something will be a little nugget of grammar.
Insp.: So they don’t learn the grammar?
Madman: No, they regurgitate it, which is a polite way of saying that they throw it up. It’s indigestible.
Insp.: An interesting title for a book: The Indigestible Grammar of English.
Madman: OK. You can go. [To police officer at the door] You too. I have no more answers to give you.
Insp.: So, we’re done here then?
Madman: We’re done.
Insp.: Well. Thank you for your candour.
Madman: It is exhausted now.
Insp.: As am I, dear boy.
Madman: I’m a woman.
Insp.: But it says, “Madman”.
Madman: It should say, “Madam.” The writer has very fat fingers.
Insp.: You’re playing with my mind again. I can’t take it any more. [He lifts the madman up and carries him towards the window which remains open. He is assisted byt he uniformed officer at the door. They manage to get the madman to a chair and then they pitch him headfirst through the window. The lights dim and there is a sombre air to the theatre. We have all been witness to an extrajudicial murder of a likeable clown. Silence reigns until it is overthrown by the sight of the madman picking himself up and dusting himself down.]
Madman: It’s a basement flat, you idiots.
[Wife tells husband to fix the curtain rail properly, as she’s been asking him to do for some two years now. Husband retorts that if it’s so important, there’s nothing to stop her getting the bloody drill and doing it herself. After all, she’s at home all day. Wife tilts head: Looking after the children! It’s not bloody easy, you know. The camera pans back in a wistful way, in the same manner that it does in some films, indicating that our time spent studying these strange creatures under the microscope is coming to an end, and now our mundane, humdrum lives of quiet desperation must resume. THE END]