Freedom Lyrics – Robert Wyatt

I have posted before song lyrics that in my opinion take on a literary significance because of what they say and how they say it, though this is clearly open to debate, not least the kind aroused by Bob Dylan’s recent award of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Continuing with this, in the lead-up to National Poetry Day on the 28th September and this year’s theme of Freedom, I am going to post a selection of song lyrics that address the theme and which do so with thoughtfulness for both meaning and expression – no baby baby baby songwriting magic 3s in any of these!


Free Will and Testament

Given free will but within certain limitations,
I cannot will myself to limitless mutations,
I cannot know what I would be if I were not me,
I can only guess me.

So when I say that I know me, how can I know that?
What kind of spider understands arachnophobia?
I have my senses and my sense of having senses.
Do I guide them? Or they me?

The weight of dust exceeds the weight of settled objects.
What can it mean, such gravity without a centre?
Is there freedom to un-be?
Is there freedom from will-to-be?

Sheer momentum makes us act this way or that way.
We just invent or just assume a motivation.
I would disperse, be disconnected. Is this possible?
What are soldiers without a foe?

Be in the air, but not be air, be in the no air.
Be on the loose, neither compacted nor suspended.
Neither born nor left to die.

Had I been free, I could have chosen not to be me.
Demented forces push me madly round a treadmill.
Demented forces push me madly round a treadmill.
Let me off please, I am so tired.
Let me off please, I am so very tired.

© Robert Wyatt


Aasta May, 5th May, 1927 – 14th September, 2005


Aasta May, Mom

Sharing a love of words, I should have shared
more time valuing the long and short of it all – vowels

beautifully balanced across a name, that balancing
in saying I could leave when I might have remained,

then living so far away it would always be down to
language keeping us close, expressions of closeness

never lost when stretched across years and miles. Reading
between the lines of that stretch was another act of poise,

but there were no shortcomings then or now, and these
words will not be chimed to be more than sound.

Not yet. Your words to me always honest and true –
poetry and letters to a son in England, an amalgam

of our roots and a selfless faith in the future, showing
me how to keep it simple: always Mom, not Mum.

Gradgrind’s Bucket

gradgrind's bucket

As someone who has for years in the job and lately on this blog been consistently argumentative about those things in education that I distrust and detest, I hadn’t realised until yesterday just how naïve I have been.

The recent revelations about the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy and its rigid rulebook [and it isn’t opinion to call ‘rigid’ an understatement] has opened up a can of worm-ridden references to further examples of this quite common trajectory in our free-market education system, in the UK as a relatively modern phenomena and further afield where it is more common and established.

I can’t possibly summarise this: I haven’t the time nor the investigative information. As mentioned in a previous post, I do recommend the insights and information provided here @warwickmansell, and The Guardian [OK, obviously] has provided a consistent commentary from a ‘liberal’ perspective on those ‘extreme’ examples of where education is and has been heading for some years now.

I am a liberal. I was a liberal teacher. By that I mean I did not believe and never practised the kinds of draconian discipline exemplified in the GY Charter Academy Induction Programme booklet where – to take the obvious example currently being circulated by those opposed to it: if students claim they feel sick in class they are given a bucket in which to vomit.

Interestingly, the kind of ‘liberal’ teacher I was did embrace many of the general observations – or half observations – contained in the GYCA booklet. Here’s just one: At Charter teachers [sic – this document is no slave to the accurate use of an apostrophe] and pupils are on the same team / and all the pupils know they must do exactly what the team captain says [my forward slash]. And this is the gist of the rulebook: an aphorism that sounds liberal and correct about an equal partnership – what I would want to call ‘mutual respect’ – and yet its greater weighted second part emphasises the total inequality in that relationship. When that following of the team captain [the teacher, naturally] includes forced smiling, forced handshakes, forced ways to sit/look/act in a classroom, forced ways to walk in a corridor, forced ways to look when walking in a corridor and much more ludicrously similar, we see the truth behind its claims about countering Teachers and Pupils [as] two opposing teams. In the Charter Academy [Inspiration Trust] gospel, they are one team led by an absolute ruler.

My liberal teacher ideology accepted entirely how there needed to be classroom control, and that low-level misbehaviour and worse from any students was detrimental to all students and therefore unacceptable. This is common sense. That the Charter Academy ideology takes this simple reality of classroom management and makes a prison rulebook out of it is where the scary danger of it all takes its actual shape.

I could but don’t need to delineate the trajectory of the 22 pages of the ‘original’ GYCA booklet any further on this [see later]. What I meant earlier about feeling naïve about all of this is how unaware I have been regarding the prevalence of such ideologies and practices in UK [and International] schools already. A posting today from @warwickmansell on ‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools in the USA makes a frightening [to me] comparison with the GYCA and what it preaches and enacts. Recent revelations about St Olave’s in London and the dismissal of ‘underperforming’ students gained its most worrying significance when it became clear how prevalent this practice was – and across all sectors of education.

I have my doubts about ReseachEd because of previous pontifications from those involved in it and, for example, the things invited guests at its just finished September conference like Gibb and Spielman have said. In recently undertaking more research, I recognise that it does have some broad support as well as its critics. That ‘broad’ support, however, seems to come from ‘leaders’ [looking at Twitter profiles] rather than teachers and this is a cause for concern. I think my naivety here is how I have tended to blame political interference as one of the most detrimental impacts on education, but this seems to be coming more from ‘within’ these days. I have written satirically here about one of the contemporary founders of much/many of these educational movements, Doug Lemov. But this is the tip of the proverbial and thus my confession of both an increasing anxiety about it all but also a personal inability to grasp the whole in the way many others do.

So I fall back on my own experiences as a teacher. Before closing on a summation of that, I will just inject one seemingly odd proclivity of mine in the classroom that would on the surface find a neat slot in rule no 2132 of any Carter Academy rule book: no leaning back in chairs. I hated this and did not allow it. And my students knew this. And they responded to my simple hand gesture to stop it! School chairs simply snapped out of their sockets if this was allowed.

Oh the tyrant in me. The point is this was done with considerable good humour. There were no threats, no punitive consequences, no insults, and no recriminations. It seems silly to have to even mention like this, but in a sense the good silliness of one good rule has to be placed against the truly bad to highlight that badness. And it’s easier than dismantling every bad rule in the GYCA booklet – even in its revised format published today [edited to 14 pages and not ending on the rhetorical rousing of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley]!

I’m trying to be human about all of this, though I don’t in truth think there are two sides to most of the doctrines and their specific manifestations in the kinds of draconian schools and ideologies I am questioning. The rigidity of the strictures in a GYCA rule book is unacceptable. The robotic behaviours it promotes is all about control and not about student development, both as learners and as people.

More importantly, I did as a teacher and now as an observer remain humane about my attitude to teaching and learning. I cannot imagine motivating and supporting and teaching students without that regard. And this would seem to be anathema to the Charter Academy and similar ideologies. And I do not understand it.

The Grenfell Alphabet by Ruth Valentine

I received my copy today of this affecting chapbook honouring the lives and their loss in the Grenfell Tower disaster. It is sold in aid of the Grenfell Tower Fund.


It is a poetic lament that is clever without being clever-clogs, and the ruse of working through the alphabet mirrors poignantly the moving through the tower’s floors. Each vignette presents both the individual and the collective, prompted primarily by its alphabetic letter but obviously moving beyond this each time. The items imagined provide a rich visual tapestry to reflect the rich diversity of those who lived and were lost there, and the themes of sharing and journeying and expectations and family can be seen in this extract,


Ruth Valentine’s blog is here and there is a contact icon to find out about availability and how to order.

Chewing Gum Pupils

Interesting online debates percolating about the Great Yarmouth Charter School and its new Head Barry Smith’s strict rules and regulations.

Trenchant questioning is being sustained by Warwick Mansell @warwickmansell. This is a large, serious debate, but considering the stringency of the rules presented by the school for this new year of operation, I was struck by the laxity – and consequent comic line – in the lack of an accurate use of the apostrophe for Rule No 4 about chewing gum [checked against various newspaper reportings of it, including the natural ally MailOnline]:

4. No chewing gum on site. If found with chewing gum pupils will be placed in isolation. Your children will avoid detentions, isolations, or confiscations if you are a supportive parent.

Nebraska 25: ‘Walking at Noon Near the Burlington Depot in Lincoln, Nebraska’ by Ted Kooser

On the rat-gray dock
of the candy factory,
workers in caps and aprons
as white as divinity
sit on their heels and smoke
in the warm spring sunlight
thick with butterscotch.

In the next block down,
outside a warehouse,
its big doors rolled and bolted
over the dusty hush
of pyramids of cartons,
two pickets in lettered vests
call back and forth, their voices
a clatter of echoes.

A girl sits in her car,
an old tan Oldsmobile
broken down over its tires,
and plays the radio.

On the grill of a semi
smelling of heat and distance,
one tattered butterfly.

And an empty grocery cart
from Safeway, miles from here,
leans into its reflection
in a blackened window, a little
piano recital of chrome
for someone to whom all things
were full of sadness.


Wonderful, unconnected snapshots of five observations about an ordinary town on an ordinary day, made special by their poetic honesty and simplicity, but also that closing stanza where the line ‘a little/piano recital of chrome’ suddenly shines, and just before the sudden melancholia is referenced.

Ofsted Blessing

One further item from Schools Week yesterday reporting on the ResearchEd conference attended by Gibb and Spielman, where the latter is stated to have indicated that schools’ book scrutiny will soon be conducted off-site with scanned examples sent to remote Inspectors, if you’ll excuse the pun, not that The Spiel noticed when it slapped her in the face. She is quoted as saying,

“There’s rather good scanning quality now, so the views of other inspectors, remote from the live inspection, could be drawn in to test out the judgments of inspectors on site,”

For someone who seems to want to play-down the reality of the tensions in being tested, it is a contradictory selling point to laud this as a means also of inspecting the Inspectors.

Ofsted Blessing

Your books are being scanned from afar
by the Ofted shine-a-light inspection star.

This is the New Age check on your marking,
and while it might seem like a scary barking

up Big Brother’s watching, withering tree,
think of it as a techno-blessing of scrutiny.