Tag Archives: skill

Whatever Happened To Manual Instruction?

Manual-InstructionYesterday I visited Lydbrook Primary School, here in the Forest of Dean. It was once a village school that took children up to school leaving age – Lydbrook was a mining village and many of the children went to work underground or in other manual trades.

One of the teaching blocks has this fabulous sign carved from the local forest stone, announcing that Manual Instruction was taught inside. That would be carpentry and metalwork as well as cooking and other skills.

How many children yearn for a building like that at school, these days? Somewhere to make something, create something and learn a real skill. A classroom where there are no written explanations or reflections, no written exams, coursework or measurable outcomes, other than the the finished object speaking for itself – just manual instruction – the passing on of skills and craft attitudes that matter in the real world those children will grow up to live in.

A little bit of DT mixed into the curriculum doesn’t satisfy practically-minded children. All those essays and written coursework that the art, drama and sports department now require, only serve to put those, who are naturally suited to the subject, off pursuing them.

Haven’t we had enough of political correctness forcing children to be square pegs in round holes for the sake of neat accounting? Will education ever come again to accept that one academic size does not fit all? Will we ever be grown-up enough to accept that we are not all wired-up the same way? We knew it once and built classrooms for Manual Instruction.

Now that a bit of history has passed under the bridge, I can see what happened. The grammar schools gave extraordinary chances to working-class children. Those who got to Oxford and Cambridge soon came to run the country as leaders of the Labour Party, lording it over the Swinging Sixties, when almost anyone could do anything and and almost anything seemed possible.

So how did those ungrateful, mean-minded politicians repay the help and belief they were given by previous generations, that worked so hard to give them a bright, new future? They closed down the grammar schools, that got them where they were, and pulled up all the ladders to advancement behind them, protecting their new-found wealth and position from any new upstarts who might come up from below and take away what had been given them in a spirit of hope and generosity. Then they invented political correctness to put fear into those who might criticise them.

Rather than generally reducing children’s prospects, by creating the comprehensive schools that sought to promote the mean, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if they had followed in their public-spirited forefathers’ steps and addressed the abysmal state of secondary modern schools instead, turning them into first class academies of technology, creativity and craft, that stood on a level with the grammar schools, the two cultures working side by side?

Wait a minute – that still sounds like a good idea to me!

So you want to be an author?

Tonight I’m attending the Monmouth Comprehensive School Careers and Higher Education Fair and I’m thinking what to say to the students that ask me for advice about becoming an author.

It’s actually quite hard to give advice, as there is no career structure for authors and the internet is changing all our futures rapidly.

Being an author is the ultimate one person business. Everything is conjured out of your thought processes. Think of JK Rowling, sitting in her fabled cafe, writing Harry Potter in exercise books. Most people watching her at that time would have thought she was a bit of a loser with ideas above her station, scribbling away all day. “Why doesn’t she get a proper job?” They probably muttered under their breath. And now? Not only is she a multi-millionaire, she has made many other people millionaires too, and provided a living for thousands of others – all from a single, simple idea that grew in her head.

Authors are the ultimate manufacturers, creating something from absolutely nothing.

I think writers are a slightly different breed. Writers love to write and are very good at distilling ideas and concepts into words. The words don’t have to be clear or understandable to everyone, in fact some writers like to be cryptic, but they love playing with words and would carry on writing even if you stopped paying them.

And then there are story tellers. They just love to tell stories and can find a story to tell in any subject they investigate. At heart, they are teachers. Stories are how humans learn, so stories usually have some insight or piece of knowledge to impart.

If you can work out what you are, it might help you decide what to do next.

If you are a writer, then maybe a writing course would be good for you. There is always a worry that you might be over-influenced by your teachers and adopt their style, but if their style is in fashion or you have great teachers, you will be okay. You will learn all the tricks of the trade (literally, as you will have the arcane workings of the publishing world taught to you as well as the skills of writing.) All I would say is that if you have ideas of being famous, then what you want is an original voice. It is possible that your fellow students will all graduate from the same place as you, with the same voice as you. If you can write clearly and well, that is skill you can take with you into advertising, marketing TV film and the Internet. These industries are hungry for content.

If you are a storyteller, then it is ingrained in your DNA. I should follow your interests. Study science, history, geography, art – whatever it is that gets you going, after all, you will need something to tell stories about. The only worry here is that academia has come to hate story writing. Nowadays, written academic work requires the most bland delivery, so that marks can easily be given to facts.

Always remember that the real world needs to understand your subject and the real world will always welcome those who can explain the complicated in exciting and colourful ways and is prepared to pay them well. So keep writing for yourself and keep learning about the art of writing and storytelling in your own time while you become an expert in your chosen field.

And then there are the authors. Hmm…

You cannot write something great without any life experience, so that is what you need. My advice is usually to go and work on a sheep farm in Australia, or an oil rig in Outer Mongolia. That way you will get paid while you gather life experience. There are no courses for authors. There is no career path. Authors are single-minded thinking machines. The ultimate one person businesses.

But single-minded does not mean bull-headed. If you want to be rich and famous, you need to experience what the multitude do, but on a higher plane, and reflect it back to them. Yes, work on your writing technique, but better work on your people skills. Many of the best-selling books come down to the editor and the marketing team. Being an author is a lonely business. No one can experience life for you nor can they have the ideas for you. That is your particular gift. But you will need a team to help you turn your idea into that best-selling book and if you can work well with that team, your book will have a better chance in the long run.

The perfect combination is an author who is a storyteller and a writer – someone with drive, determination and enthusiasm. No one is going to stand over you and make you write. The first draft is entirely up to you. I feel that anyone with that combination will have such a strength of thought and character that they will succeed whatever they choose to do.

BUT – always think about those people skills. Being an author, working on your own a lot, can make you depressed and insular. Make sure you get out and talk to real people and experience the world that your readers live in every day, after all, that’s where you will find the ideas that you will turn into nuggets of gold.

How To Draw An F-18 Fighter Plane – Shoo Rayner Drawing School


A brand new video for you. How to draw an F-18 Fighter Plane, requested by my loyal fan, primehunterlol from youtube.

I’m often asked to do videos of particular things. If you have an idea or need to know how to draw something for class, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.