Inquisitive Children

The 9:13 is the first train on which cheap day family returns are available from Bath.  Those of us wearing smart suits as we head for late morning meetings are, midway through the summer holidays, outnumbered by enthusiastic families off to see the sights of London.  The 9:13 is a happy train.

As a kid I remember going on such journeys clutching my “Eye Spy” books.  I remember one superior version which was designed specifically for the journey from London to Edinburgh.  With a series of route maps it explained the significance of each bridge we crossed, the larger and older churches, the reasons for the marshalling yards, and the importance of the different factories.  I lost that book long ago but I still look with interest out of the windows to search for an explanation for the landscape.

Two days ago my train rattled at high speed through the 3-mile Box Tunnel, stopping all conversation.  As it emerged I heard a little girl two seats away say to her mother “Tunnels are frightening.  Why can’t the train stay in the open air?”  I couldn’t hear the mother’s response but I wondered how Brunel, the great Victorian railroad engineer who built this – the largest tunnel to have been ever driven through rock at that stage – would have explained it.  He had difficulties in his own day for one sceptical Victorian had produced a calculation to show that a train entering the tunnel at 20 miles per hour would create such a vacuum in the limited air space that it would rapidly accelerate and emerge at 200 miles per hour and kill all the passengers in the process.

On the way to get some coffee I overheard a father explaining the significance of the old engine sheds at Swindon.  I wondered what others would make of the cooling towers at Didcot and why it is that the new Tesco store in Reading has been built with a clock tower that suggests this megastore is really at the heart of an old village green.

“Your children ask fascinating questions” I remarked to the mother as we left the train.  She looked at me somewhat apprehensively; “I’m sorry if they disturbed you, but they are so excited!”  All I could do was give her my best reassuring smile as her children pulled her off in another direction.

I wanted, there and then, to send emails to Ed Balls, Michael Gove and every politician claiming interest in education: “Forget about schools.  Forget about buildings, and league tables or examinations.  Just give every parent the confidence to create endless situations for their children to be inquisitive.  Do that and at least half the problems schools now face could be solved without any more money, or political legislation.”

See Part Three of Briefing Paper and Actions 1, 2, 3 and 4