Archive for April, 2007

Education in Britain

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

In tomorrow’s class I’ll introduce the education system in Britain. Especially before university, it’s considerably different from the Chinese system. The main difference is that there’s no universal university entrance exam.

 You can download the presentation for the class here:

Blair’s Britain Class 5: Education in Britain

There’s a reading comprehension that we will work through together if there is time here:


Reith Lectures

Friday, April 20th, 2007

If you’re looking for material to practise your listening skills, you might like to look at the BBC’s Reith Lectures.

Reith was the first Director General of the BBC, and the Reith Lectures are held every year in his memory. For each year’s lectures, an expert is chosen to speak on a topical subject.

This year’s lecturer is Professor Jeffrey Sachs, an economist, who is speaking on the challenges faced by the world’s economy in the decades to come. His second lecture was given on Wednesday in Beijing, at Beida. He will give a total of 5 lectures.

You can also listen to past lectures. I have been listening to the very interesting lectures on the philosophy of trust given in 2002 by Onora O’neill.

Recordings of the lectures are accompanied by transcriptions, so you can follow the text while you listen, and the lecturers generally speak very clearly, so I think these lectures are ideal for practising listening.

If you do listen to some of the lectures, please leave a comment to this post to tell me what you thought of it and whether it was useful.

Students’ Comments

Friday, April 20th, 2007

If you have any general comments about this blog or the classes, please post them as replies to this entry.

Hunting…and Blair’s Legacy

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 4

In this class we continued to talk about the controversy about the ban on hunting. We read arguments for and against. Those arguments were taken from the following site – you can find more information on hunting and on other popular political issues there:

We watched a video of anti-hunt protesters clashing with hunters. You can find videos on many subjects made by ordinary people on YouTube.

In the second part of the class we watched a video of a segment from the BBC Newsnight programme, in which members of the public were asked to give their verdicts on the leadership of Tony Blair. The conclusion of the pollster who conducted the focus group was that the public gives some credit to Blair for securing peace in Northern Ireland, but that this and other achievements have been overwhelmed by the Iraq War, which is hugely unpopular. You can download the video here (this is a very large file).

The Country Life

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 3

In this class, we looked at the growing urban-rural divide in Britain.

The whole idea of ‘Cool Britannia’ that was strongest around 1997 was modern, urban and related to the industrial working classes. Many people felt excluded, and this feeling found a focus in the controversy about foxhunting, soon after the election of the New Labour government.

In reaction to the threat against hunting, a political movement, called the ‘Countryside Alliance’, was founded. The Countryside Alliance later came to campaign on behalf of country people on a variety of other issues. These included rural housing, services, the environment, farming and the rural economy.

You can download the presentation for this class here:

Blair’s Britain Class 3: The Country Life

For more information, have a look at some of the following websites:

Britart and the Young British Artists’ Movement

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 2 

In this class, we discussed one aspect of the cultural renaissance that took place in Britain during the 1990s: Britart, or the Young British Artists’ Movement.

We discussed the origins of the movement in London in the late 1980s, and the importance of Damien Hirst’s 1988 Freeze Exhibition.

We also discussed the importance of the controversial Turner Prize, and of the collector and advertising moghul, Charles Saatchi.

The YBAs reached their peak in the 1997 exhibition, Sensation, which was greeted by many commentators, particularly by the tabloid press, with disgust and derision.

The characteristics of YBA art are that it rejects tradition and convention, it aims to be accessible to all, and it aims to have an emotional impact by shocking the audience.

We ended the class by asking a question that Britain was asking throughout the 1990s: is it even art at all?

I’m afraid that the presentation for this class is too large to upload to the blog. You can find more information on the YBAs from the sites below.

See if you can understand these cartoons, which are critical of Britart. You will need to understand some idiomatic phrases. Post a comment if you have any questions.

Cool Britannia: Britain in the Blair Era

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 1 

In this class I introduced the period that we will be looking at during the rest of the course, a period that has become known in Britain as ‘the Blair Era’.

The Blair Era began in the mid-nineties. The 1980s had been a troubling period for Britain as Thatcher’s policies proved divisive. By the beginning of the 1990s, many people had become much richer. On the other hand, whole areas of the country had been plunged into poverty as mines and steelworks had been shut, an outcome of the policy of privatisation and of the government’s battle with the trades unions

The early 1990s saw a serious economic recession. After introducing the unpopular poll tax, Thatcher was sacked by the Conservative Party. Her successor as party leader and prime minister, John Major, was seen as weak and boring, and his government was damaged by allegations of sleaze.

The mid-1990s saw a cultural renaissance in Britain in various different fields. The YBAs (Young British Artists) were taking the international art scene by storm with their shocking ‘Britart’. For the first time since the sixties and seventies, British pop music became internationally dominant. ‘Britpop’ bands such as the Spicegirls, Blur and Oasis had number-one hits in many countries. Meanwhile, British cinema, which had been in decline since the early seventies, was also enjoying a revival.

This phenomenon was labelled ‘Cool Britannia’ by an American magazine. Cool Britannia made it cool, for a while, to be patriotic, something that would have seemed strange in Britain during the previous decades. The Union Jack (the British flag) became a popular decoration on clothes and other items. 

Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party after the death of his predecessor, John Smith, in 1994. The socialist Labour Party had been out of power for a decade and a half by that time. Blair argued that the public image of the party is what stopped it from winning elections, and that there was no point in holding fine ideals if the party never had the opportunity to put them into practice. His solution was to ‘rebrand’ the party, and to fit its goals to the beliefs and aspirations of the majority of the electorate. In the face of great opposition from within the party, Blair abolished Clause 4 of the party’s constitution (on nationalisation of industry) and introduced a system of one-member-one vote (OMOV) to reduce the power of the unions. The result was the New Labour Party.

The Cool Britannia phenomenon was associated (some said falsely) with working-class culture, and many artists, actors and musicians expressed their opposition to the ruling Conservative Party, and their support for the Labour Party under Tony Blair. Blair and his associates took advantage of this by linking their party to Cool Britannia. Pop groups wrote and performed songs for party conferences and artists designed T-shirts.

 In May 1997, the Labour Party won the general election and Blair became prime minister. A party was held at 10 Downing Street, and many Cool Britannia celebrities attended. The mood in the country was optimistic, patriotic…and cool. Britain seemed to be returning to the daylight after a long period in the dark. Other events in 1997 reinforced the feeling of national unity, above all, the ongoing preparations for the celebration of the millennium, and the death of Princess Diana in September.

Soon after the election of the government however, criticisms began to emerge. Some early actions, such as the introduction of tuition fees for university students, and the delay in introducing a promised hunting ban, angered Labour Party supporters.

Many people criticised the continued use of spin and public relations. These were seen as useful strategies in an election campaign, but when the pracitces became permanent, commentators asked whether the New Labour project was all about appearances; whether it lacked substance.

The feeling of excitement and optimism that arose in 1997 was soon tinged with disappointment, doubt and division. However, the feeling that something had changed, for better or worse, remained. The British had entered the Blair Era.

You can download the presentation for this class here:

Britain in the Blair Era Class 1: Powerpoint Presentation


Friday, April 20th, 2007

Writing Class 3 

In this class we began to look at the rules for using commas. As we saw from examples such as the one below, the incorrect use of commas can significantly change the meaning of what we write.

  • Panda: eats, shoots and leaves. (=eats food, shoots a gun and goes away)
  • Panda: eats shoots and leaves. (=eats the soft parts of plants: new shoots and green leaves)

I used the lesson on commas provided by Purdue University. You can see the whole class, together with exercises online: click here. I will be distributing paper copies next week.

The editing checklist and the writing process

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Writing Class 2 


In this class, I discussed the checklist introduced in the previous class. I also introduced a writing process that can help to separate the different aspects of writing.

You can download the presentation for this class here:

Writing Class 2: Powerpoint Presentation 

You can download the class handout, with a detailed description of the editing checklist and of the writing process here:

Writing Class 2: Class Handout 


Learning and practising writing

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Writing Class 1 

 In the first class we asked why it is important to develop proficiency in writing.

I argued that whereas speaking is fast practice, writing is slow practice. This is important because slow practice allows us to observe and correct our practice.

To perfect an action in martial arts, it is necessary to practice it slowly while observing the action itself, as well as posture, breathing and so on. By practising in this way, it is possible to turn theoretical knowledge into practical knowledge, or reflexes.

This is also our aim in practising writing. By putting all our theoretical knowledge into practice we hope to build good habits of language and thought. The way to do this is to consider systematically the separate aspects of what we are doing.

In writing, the important aspects to consider are:

  1. Content
  2. Structure/Organisation
  3. Style and coherence
  4. Grammar and Usage
  5. Form

Download the Powerpoint presentation for the class: Writing Class 1: Powerpoint presentation.