Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Interview #1: Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray, UEA

February 27th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Interview with Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dr. Leaton Gray is the course director for the B.A. program in the School of Education at UEA. She is a regular lecturer on campus, has written several publications on England’s system of education, and shows great interest in the sociology of education. Her research as well as her prior experience as a secondary school teacher at a private preparatory school made her insight into privatization and the general state of state education especially relevant.

We started by discussing the history of privatization, and she pointed out that the issue can be traced to the 1850s (see previous post). She also provided a comprehensive definition of privatization by exploring the role of politics in the presence and nature of private organizations. I had recently watched Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s speech on his educational reform policies (I can not find the actual video of the speech I watched, but you can find the relevant announcements here.), and it came up repeatedly as we explored how New Labour went from a campaign focused on “Education Education Education” to providing some real solutions to solve the inadequacies of English education. The expanded City Academy programme in 2003 sought to reinvigorate schools and largely echoed the privatization reforms of the 1980s. Today, PM Brown seeks to “brand” schools with different private organizations that will improve efficiency and success.

The term “business curriculum” often appears alongside privatization. I asked Dr. Leaton Gray about this term, and it essentially applies knowledge onto the student body. It also entails an increased network (technology) curriculum, but Dr. Leaton Gray described this as limiting, for instilling computer knowledge in a group of students who are already computer literate (consider the phenomenal growth of social networking websites) is not necessary. Priorities should be set on other subjects. Teaching English, for example, should have greater priority until it is no longer a subject for elite students.

I asked about the role of increased international reforms in education (e.g. reforms emerging under the administration of President Barack Obama). England is motivated to some extent by international standards of practice and reform. It keeps the country on its toes. Dr. Leaton Gray made an interesting point about why models such as those in Sweden and other Scandanavian countries do not work in Britain. These models have been hailed in those countries as enormously successful. They are being implemented, however, in a largely homogenous society. If the Dickinson Humanities class has learned nothing else over the last few months, it is that Britain is far, far, far from homogeneity. The model cannot be implemented as successfully as it is in Sweden for this fact alone.

We discussed the role of local authorities in education as well. Local Authorities (once known as Local Education Authorities) display some powers over the schools in their region, but that has largely fallen away with increased centralization. When asked about which would provide more benefits, a strong central government or strong local authorities, Dr. Leaton Gray said that it would be dangerous for local authorities to have relatively free reign over schools without some regulation and prodding from the national government. An ideal relationship would see healthy school, local, and national economies with constant interactions and checks in the system.

She also made an important point about the role of private organizations in state education – simply that they could have overestimated influence. In some cases there is not enough influence of private organizations in education. In order to truly privatize education, the government needs to deregulate its control and limit the ‘red tape’ it leaves in schools across the country. This does not mean that private businesses do not have room to manoeuvre. Their influence, however, essentially involves much ‘cherrypicking’ and selective reforms to reinvigorate and excite the school with which they merge or sponsor.

Dr. Leaton Gray was not familiar with the impact of privatization on Norwich specifically, but she could speculate that it was an ongoing process that usually pleases the community (other than some who protest the new school out of loyalty for the school that will close).

One last point that she made will help you understand this aspect of education with greater clarity. It also neatly summed up my interview. Imagine the following hypothetical situation:

You are an entrepreneur seeking to take over or merge with a school that closed after failing reports and standards for several years prior. You introduce new uniforms, new programmes, new curricula, and a brand new website. You are left with these questions:

Do you encourage parental input in the school leadership and conduct? How do you do so?

Do you make the school accessible for all, or for some percentage of students meeting certain qualifications?

How do you ensure that teachers create thorough and relevant classrooms?

How do you ensure that the students succeed and meet all standards?

How do you empower the surrounding community and establish a school that functions as a point of pride?

The way some private organizations answer these questions compel authors to criticize the effectiveness of privatization. My interview with Dr. Leaton Gray showed me that perhaps their concerns do not fully appreciate the limited impact these organizations demonstrate in state education.

I thank Dr. Leaton Gray for her time and Nick Garforth for scheduling my interview.

Hours Logged: 1 hour 45 minutes

Total Hours: 1 hour 45 minutes

Tags: Brandon

Hidden Culture.

February 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

As the weeks progressed more and more movements became introduced to me, some I tackled with ease and others not so much. The interesting thing I began to learn about Capoeira was how intricate it was as an art form. Although many of the movements were big and about opening and closing your body to your opponent as a means of attack and defense the variety of movements that could be used in either situation were endless. Depending on the skill level of you and your opponent determines the speed and interaction of the game, but Ash, the Wednesday instructor expressed was that regardless of the skill level, whether it’s someone’s first day or 30th year, anyone can play capoeira.

The next few classes became more and more rigorous but one thing that I definitely appreciated was the fact that after two weeks I was no longer waking up sore. After the first day of class I woke up with an indescribable pain, my bones, muscles, head, feet, and body hurt to no end. It felt as if a sumo wrestler played a practical joke on me and Jumped 20 feet in the air and landed on me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to tolerate the pain, anymore, but Ash assured me that after the fourth class I would be used to it. We learned a couple new kicks, and counters but what interested me the most was the history of Capoeira, and when it was created. At the last 15 minutes of class the beginners and the more advanced come in and form a Rhoda and either learn songs or discuss the history of Capoeira before we work our last Rhoda.

Rod, the Friday Capoeira instructor, described to us the early teachings of Capoeira and some of the early beliefs of how it was played. In one such class he stated that Capoeira Angola the traditional of Capoeira was believed to be played underneath the slave owners houses. Like America Brazil was colonized by European powers, and brought enslaved Africans over to help cultivate their new founded territory. The slaves of Brazil were believed to be placed underneath the slave owners house and practiced Capoeira in these confined spaces. This is why the theory exist that Capoeira Angola is so  close to the ground because in order to be able to play the slaves had to use the little confined spaces available to them. A second part of the hidden culture of Capoeira that Rod revealed was the purpose of the Rhoda. Besides being the cultural space of Capoeira its significance holds more meaning than just the cultural space it represents. Because Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil Capoeiristas/slaves needed to be secretive about their games. The Rhoda allowed the identities of those playing to be concealed, and although the games would get broken up the individuals playing could not get arrested because the Rhoda protected their identity. The Rhoda also made it possible for the audience to always be watching. Because the Rhoda is a circle if the police were to come and try to break up the game, someone in the Rhoda was able to keep watch from all sides and would be able to signal when the police were coming. Although secretive Capoeira has survived over the last three hundred plus years because the culture and its practices have been protected by its people, and its cultural significance is still respected and practice today, even in Norwich………Who Knew?

Tags: Anthony

Pubs, Pubs and more Pubs

September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

If I knew one thing about England before ever setting foot on its soil, it was that drinking is practically the national pastime.  I say that with only the utmost admiration.  Pubs are one of the most entertaining and social places ever invented.  There is hardly a street corner you pass where there is not a pub; they are literally everywhere.  What is amazing about pub life is that almost every pub is aesthetically pleasing and different; historic or modern, the sheer amount of pubs means that you can find one that suits you.  Yet what all pubs share in common is that making friends involves just striking up a conversation.  Whether meeting recent graduates at the Marlborough Arms or a student with a Brazilian flag tied around his neck at The Court, pubs are bound to show you a good time.

As I mentioned before, the variety of pubs in London is amazing.  I would talk about the Marlborough and The Court but I think the vast majority of us have been to both.  So, if you want to go historic there are plenty of pubs with rich history all about the city.  Check out the Ye Olde Mitre hidden down an alleyway on Hatton Garden if you would like to get a true pub experience.  This particular tavern was built in 1547 but was rebuilt after being demolished in 1772.  Interestingly, if you ever saw the film “Snatch,” you may notice that a certain pub in the film resembles the Ye Olde Mitre (because it was filmed there).

For a simply beautiful pub you should check out the Black Friar.  This pub was built in 1875 near a 13th century Dominican Priory.  As a result, the pub was designed to look like a monastery.  A large monk stature greets you from above just before you enter.  Inside are spectacular scenes of monastic life with incredible amounts of detail.

If you like to dress up in business attire check out the Viaduct Tavern just after working hours.  Almost everyone is dressed in a suit, so if you want to stand out jeans and a t-shirt are recommended.  Though the Viaduct is a fancy looking place, inside it is a bit small.  Nonetheless, the Viaduct is actually a “gin palace” so if you would like a variety of gin, this is the place for you.  In the end, if you want a historic pub or even a “modern” one, London has whatever suits your needs.

Tags: Andrew F

Telling Tales

August 30th, 2009 · No Comments

I love museums. I like to put my ipod on and wander around alone, allowing myself to really get the full experience of the art. It feels like I’m connecting to not only the piece of art itself, but to the artist and his or her experiences and emotions.

On Saturday, Amy and I took the tube to Charing Cross to visit The National Gallery. There we proceeded to immediately get lost in the extensive building, but we weren’t complaining. We wandered through room after room that held amazing works by Rembrant, Van Gogh, Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, Cezanne, and Turner, just to name a few of my favorites. I compared this museum to the Met in NYC: both are enormous, well cared for, and very popular. However, I noticed a key difference. This difference is simply that most museums here are free, with a just a suggested donation, unlike the Met which charges 10$ per visitor. I love that England honors the historical and cultural value of artwork by making it accessible to the general public. Not only could I observe famous works of art, but I could also examine the evolution of religious practices, social castes, daily life, and even fashion free of cost.

This is a pretty good segway into discussing the museum I visited today: the Victoria and Albert Museum, commonly referred to as the V & A. As a small group, we left from Euston Station to take the central line directly to South Kensington where the tube conveniently led us straight into the museum.

At first, I really didn’t know what to expect of this experience…I mean, I know very little about fashion and I simply wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to relate to the displays.

Yet, as is often the case, I was pleasantly surprised.

I walked into a room filled with some of the most beautiful sculptures I have ever seen. Though I had never heard of most of the sculptors, I was able to get really close to each of the statues and really examine the detail and expression in each.


With my head phones in and the world tuned out, I strolled around. There was a huge exhibit on the evolution of clothing, another on shoes & accessories, another on fashionable metal-ware (pots, religious idols, masks, etc).

It was really cool to see how our everyday lives have been affected by the trends of the past. We often hear that things are “out of style” or “not in fashion anymore” but have we really stopped to contemplate what that means? Fashion is constantly fluctuating and changing and all of us, (whether you consider yourself fashion forward or not), are players in this game. We ourselves are walking works of art, displaying the genius of designers as they mold trend after trend, mixing past and future to create something entirely new.  And that, at least to me, is fascinating. The thought that I am connected to the past through the evolution of fashion really intrigues me and I would never even have noticed this unless I’d visited the V& A museum!

Another exhibit that I thought was amazing, literally AMAZING, was located in the main lobby of the museum. It was called “Telling Tales; Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design” created by international designers Tord Boontje, Maarten Baas, Jurgen Bey and Studio Job who were all inspired by the classic fairy tales which they then translated into their construction offurniture. I know it sounds almost comical (like really, how can furniture be at all interesting) but I’d never seen anything like it. I posted a link a little further down that gives you a little tour.

Also in this exhibit was a frightening, but brilliant, room that entitled “Heaven and Hell”. I won’t give all of it away because I cannot adequately describe it, but the link below also can give you an idea of what to expect. However, I will say this, the lighting, color, back drops, music, and the positioning of the art are all major contributors to the overall effect of the art and are carefully constructed by the artists/museum staff. Basically, see it in person because you won’t regret it.


This exhibit only lasts until October 18th, and I suggest everyone see it while here. Truly, both the National Gallery and the V&A are exceptional and I really enjoyed having the opportunities to both observe and reflect on my experiences.

Tags: Maddie · Museums · Uncategorized

Worshiping History: Westminster Abbey

August 30th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Yesterday, I stood on Charles Darwin’s grave. And no, it was not in a cemetery or science sanctuary, it was in a church. Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. While it is mainly dominated by various royal figures, there are several burials and memorials for literary figures, scientists, and even an unknown soldier. But by far the most shocking person buried there is Charles Darwin. Despite the fact that in many ways his work refutes the teachings of the church, he is still  honored there as an important historical figure. This illustrates the importance of English history to the English, to the point where they would rather honor a historical figure who they disgraced with than have his part of history lost.

As an English major, there was also another part of the church I particularly liked: poet’s corner. There I saw stones for many writers including D. H. Lawrence, Lewis Carroll, and Dylan Thomas. However, I was disappointed to realize that not everyone who had a stone on the ground was really buried there. I later learned that these stones served mainly as memorials to recognize these artists’ efforts. One the bright side, I did stand on Charles Dickens, who is actually buried in the church next to Rudyard Kipling.

All these sanctuaries, memorials, and graves, some with carving or detailed sculptures of the deceased present set me thinking about death rituals. The more we looked at these secularized burial spots , the more they began to resemble the Egyptian burial traditions. My knowledge of their practices is limited, but to my understand the Egyptians bury their dead in elaborate tombs with gold and riches to prepare them for the afterlife. And I looked at the extravagant sculpture of Queen Elizabeth lying about her body I began to wonder what the purpose of this whole thing was. Who was really being honored here? Queen Elizabeth? The artist? The patron or surviving family members? Or even the church itself?

And amongst these thoughts, as I walked the tours, the announcement came on for a moment of prayer, it was 11:00. And out of these thoughts of vain royalty, religious celebrations, or tourist attractions, I was reminded that we were in a place of worship, a house of God. And these people were lying here to be with God and to be remembered. These ornate carving and statues were not meant to honor the person, to prepare them for the afterlife, or even to make Westminster Abbey the tourist attraction that it is today; they were made to honor England’s history. Everyday people visit Westminster Abbey and they worship this country’s history.

To view a slideshow of photos from my time at Westminster Abbey, The National Gallery, and the South Bank please click here.

Tags: Churches and Cathedrals · Megan

Build Up and Carry On

August 28th, 2009 · No Comments

Walking across the Millenium Bridge tonight (well, it was more like jogging to get out stiffness after three hours as a groundling), I was hit by one of those occasional yet profound moments of realization that I was in London. These moments are few and far between, but when you get a moment to step back and look across the Thames and the glowing lights of the city with St. Paul’s dome looming above you, for example, these realizations can hit you like a ton of bricks.

Similar and not unrelated to the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” feelings are the somewhat more frequent instances of understanding the true amount of history behind London and England themselves. In the past few days, I have seen Stonehenge, Roman baths, Medieval cathedrals, prisons, and fortresses, a Shakespeare play, the Jane Austen Centre, the Cabinet War Rooms, and the Tate Modern. The sheer number of years represented by those few landmarks and events is mind-boggling and can serve to disorient the visitor (especially when the visitor comes from a country that’s only approximately 200 years old). I find it interesting to note that I have an almost reverse levels of admiration for the feats and landmarks viewed: I found it utterly astonishing that ancient peoples were able to move stones weighing many tons across empty fields and then arrange them in circular patterns, but I was unimpressed and even disgusted by the artwork of Paul McCarthy digitally projected on a wall with cutting-edge technology at the Tate Modern. I found the stark, bleak nature of the Cabinet War Rooms and the hard work done there to show the strength and resilience of a country under siege, but I found the crown jewels and the grandeur of the monarchy, both past and present, at the Tower of London to be grandiose and over-the-top for a country that is notorious for a “stiff upper lip” and a “keep calm and carry on” sort of mentality.

I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that the sheer nature of hundreds and thousands of years of history (encompassing invasion, multiple great civilizations, and admirable resilience) on a single, small island weighs heavy on a mind that comes from a vast, expansive country with little history at all that can’t even get a healthcare system sorted out. As we now know, you cannot dig down in London without finding something Roman, Medieval, or even prehistoric, yet they still build on and up, layering the present upon the past, and preserving and commemorating as best they can. In my mind, England is a country that seems to be mostly defined by its past, whereas even though America has a shorter history, it seems mostly defined by its present, including its current political standings, fads and trends, and financial influence. London’s ever-changing face and composition always seems to have the same resilient heart, rooted in thousands of years of invasions, shifts in power, influxes of people, devastating disasters, and new technologies, and it appears able to carry on through anything.

Tags: Chelsea · Churches and Cathedrals · Museums

Docklands Museum

August 23rd, 2009 · 3 Comments

After a bit of trouble navigating the DLR (apparently the train we got on didn’t happen to stop at West India Quay, despite what it said on the map), all thirteen of us arrived at the Docklands Museum after a bit of a hike between the DLR stop we got off at and the DLR stop we were supposed to arrive at. I must admit we were all rather tired and “museumed out” after our walking tour and our trip to the London Museum earlier, but we quickly realized that the Docklands Museum had a lot to offer.

The London Sugar Slavery Gallery exhibit stuck with me the most. I tend to automatically think of slavery as an American phenomenon, something tied in with American plantations and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, but it was interesting to see the more urban lives of the British African slaves, as well as the fact that many slaves (and later, indentured servants from China and India) were sent to the British-owned sugar plantations in the West Indies. Strolling through the exhibit, I thought it was well done, with equal attention paid to the lives and conditions of the slaves, the Abolishionist movement, and the influence slaves’ work today.

However, upon coming to the end of the exhibit, I was surprised to discover that many visitors to the museum did not find the exhibit satisfactory and were so displeased that they felt the need to leave notes, which the museum had collected into a binder. Several commenters thought the exhibit was a waste of space, since the slave trade and its inhumanity were not the commenters’ faults and they claimed they didn’t need to apologize for it. Others thought the slaves’ plight wasn’t documented graphically enough and that the exhibit glossed over the conditions they lived in and the treatment they faced. Still others were disappointed that the museum had chosen to devote so much space to the slave trade and not as much to British innovators and historical figures. After reading through many of the comments, several of us sat around discussing the complaints and why we found the commenters’ arguments to be inadequate.

Firstly, many of us felt that the fact that the sheer amount of artifacts, quotes, artwork, and lasting influence on today’s British culture merited the inclusion of the exhibit into the Docklands Museum, and that the exhibit clearly and diplomatically relayed all of these things. The exhibit did not ask Britons to apologize for the acts of their forefathers, nor did it seem to try to make a visitor fee guilty for the actions of the past. Secondly, there is a fine line between what is appropriate to be displayed and what is not in a museum which is obviously family-oriented. Given the fact that the museum has younger visitors, as well as visitors who might not want to be confronted with more graphic images and explanations of the slaves’ lives, I would say that they did an accurate, tasteful job of describing their conditions and treatments. Thirdly, I don’t believe that the Docklands Museum claims to represent every aspect of London and its history: it’s simply impossible to fit so much information into one building, and not all of what can be exhibited can fit in one museum, either. There are many other museums in the city which undoubtedly have exhibits on the more well-known London historical figures and innovators, and though some commenters disagreed, we found the slavery exhibit to be refreshing and somewhat unexpected, since we are accustomed to only hearing about the American side of the slave trade and the consequences there.

I suppose there is ignorance everywhere.

Tags: Chelsea · Museums