I found the recent Williams Project talk particularly captivating because it illustrated the importance of Mao Zedong’s communist career. Although previously, we have learnt about Mao only through his connection to Stalin in the cold war period, here we see that his disregard for ‘textbook communism’ has shaped the way China is governed today. Mao’s modern communist ideologies were extremely influential – so much so that when he died in 1976, it was felt across the globe. It was great to hear SOAS Senior Lecturer, Dr Laamann talk to us about a subject he has a passion for – and it will no doubt inspire us to do the same.
Dr. Katya Rogatchevskaia from the British Library made a fantastic presentation on the dangers and intentions of the propaganda in general and using specific examples from Russia, ranging from the first time used it by the last Romanovs in 1900s to the current leaders of the Russian Federation. Various issues were raised by her critical approach, which was illustrating potential power of propaganda used by any regime or system to pass a message to targeted and receptive audience. She focused on Noam Chomsky’s “The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine” to explore factors behind the Propaganda; its authority, message (which is difficult to disagree with), and intentions, particularly with the usage of selected aesthetics.
Can something stop being a propaganda? What influences these changes in “unloading” the objects, buildings, piece of art from the intention to indoctrinate? How much do we need to know to understand the context of the time to read the message and to be bothered by it?
We are very grateful to Katya for the thought-provoking lecture, where we need to reassess our own critical and therefore independent thinking, which we apply or not to assess the credibility and intent of the messages and news selected and presented in current media.
It is difficult in the space of 1 hour to present hugely rich and complicated history of a country currently standing nearly 40 mln citizens. Dr Calma, from Polish Embassy has used several interesting maps to effectively show the ever-changing borders of Poland. Today almost mono-ethnic and predominantly Catholic, Poland was once a multi-cultural polity, inhabited by Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Jews, Tatars, Armenians and Germans. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as it was called from the 16th to the late 18th century, was one of the earliest confederate countries in early modern Europe. As Dr Calma pointed out, for a long time, it also boasted a tolerant policy towards different ethnicities and faiths. It was fascinating for students to see many cultural and political links between Poland and Britain. Dr Calma talked with passion. Her presentation was followed by long discussion with some of our international boarders.
One of the last talks for this term was made by Edward Cearns, an Old Chigwellian who represents the city centre of Cambridge on Cambridgeshire County Council. He made a moving speech uniting politics and equality. The fact that he spoke from his own experience and shared his own ideas and understandings made his talk interesting, easy to understand, and at the same time made everyone in the room think about the world we live in. Mr Cearns spoke of Equality and explained to us what a politician could do about it. He focused mainly on the topic of equality of sexuality, as it was a topic very important to him and also something he has been working on in his council. He was very proud to announce that his council has supported his proposal to fly the rainbow flag every February starting next year.
Mr Cearns also brought to our attention two charities he has been working with, both of which support homosexual, bisexual or transgender people. “sexYOUality” has been involved in telling the story of homosexuals who had to deal with the prejudice of the last century, Section 28, and were treated as “ill”. It also supports young people to come to terms with their sexuality. The second one was “Stonewall”. They had recently produced a film called “Free” also presenting the life of homosexual, bisexual and transgender people nowadays.
I think everyone enjoyed the talk and the “Williams Project” would be happy to welcome back Mr Cearns.
What was so interesting about Dr. Pepper’s talk was the similarity of his presentation to his topic: useful, statistical and logical. He remained engaging, clear and formal throughout.
Beginning with the establishment of himself as a speaker from King’s College London certainly aided this; it built up a level of respect and contextualised his discussion of the education system PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment) and its pros and cons. What could also be noted about his presentation style was his relaxed introduction of PISA firstly by reference to the Italian location, then by a very concise and factual recollection of its aims.
We learnt it is a means of analysing the education systems of different countries by assessing 15-year-old students in the areas of mathematics, science, reading and financial literacy, and we were given some sense of attainment within the system when he presented us with statistics relating to the positions of the United Kingdom and other states over the years. Dr. Pepper presented to us this system as flawed in that it only measured those countries willing to compete, but that it enabled those countries to improve the education system.
With a percentage of those present being unfamiliar with PISA, it was both interesting and developing of our understanding to to learn about its global importance. What also helped in this was his handling of our questions, as it established, basically and physically, exactly what we were discussing.
It was precisely for this reason that Dr. Pepper’s talk was a memorable and constructive session of the Williams Project, and one to look back on fondly.
Old Chigwellian and School Governor Dr Tony Pruss gave two talks, each focusing on two aspects of his life. The first aspect was his time as a boy at Chigwell in the 1950s and 1960s, a time of young boarders, corporal punishment, cold showers and some quite extreme masters and praefects. Tony’s stories of scrapes and escapes, especially the Grand Boycott of the CCF Parade, were very funny, and rather enlightening to the students of today. Let’s hope they don’t get any ideas.
The second part of both talks was about Tony’s career as a GP and Police Surgeon. This time more amazing horror stories, but these were set in a grown-up world: being “GP” to drunks and drug addicts, and visiting the sites of accidental deaths, murders and suicides; he had seen it all.
I don’t remember a more intense listening at a Williams Project meeting: Tony had experienced a life that was close enough to us in location and time, but different in so many ways. He had direct experience of life’s underbelly, and we all realised that here was that rare thing: someone talking to the young and telling the truth.
David Carter, whose Latin textbooks we use at Chigwell, spoke clearly and engagingly to the WP about his ideas on language acquisition and language teaching, in particular the theories of Stephen Krashen (video). This philosophy revolves around the idea of ‘comprehensible input’ – that the (only) way the brain learns languages properly is by receiving messages which it understands. Mr Porter, in an exciting 5-minute lesson segment, demonstrated this very clearly with Russian, and David himself explained how he used this in his Latin textbooks – providing interlinear translations for the students to read aloud.
Simon Coffey from King’s College London led a continuation of our work on the recent inspection report. A great presentation on how teachers try to cater for mixed abilities in the classroom (“differentiation”) and one of the best discussions we have had. Thanks to all those involved.