Clipboards

I feel bad. This post was written absolutely yonks ago, well back in January, and it has been pushed back and pushed back as other things have been written and jumped the queue. So, I am publishing this tonight and another post I wrote ages ago tomorrow night. I have a great backlog of stuff to go up and at this rate I could publish it all and not write anything until September, which isn’t going to happen. Without further ado, here’s a post about a museum visit.

The other day I was reading a post on a museum blog entitled ‘I Really Hate Clipboards’, which brought back a powerful childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, in a special needs unit, and we were taken one day to the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, particularly to the bit that had just recently opened on the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. (I still think of this part, which used to be called the Museum of Scotland, as the ‘new’ bit despite the fact the bit formerly known as the Royal Museum, the ‘old’ museum, has now been redone and is now very much newer.) We were issued with clipboards with questions and prompts of things to look out for. I remember being in the Beginnings section in the basement, the bit with lots of dioramas and taxidermy just before it gets interesting with Pictish stones and torcs, and being bored out of my skull clutching this clipboard and a pencil. Afterwards my teacher asked me what I thought of the day and I said I hated it because of this wretched clipboard, to which she replied that she thought I would like it and it had been done partly for my benefit.

Even back then (I was 9), I was bright and curious, happy just to wander and take in what was there. A clipboard completely changed how I saw the museum. I am of the view that a learning experience, such as it is, can happen anywhere. I can think of more history I learned stomping about castles and museums than I did in a classroom. I know that schools have experiences and outcomes to meet, bits to tick off forms for the benefit of school inspectors, councils and the government, but the world is beyond the wit of the Curriculum for Excellence or 5-14 as it was when I was a boy. I have worked in museums and I know that museum education is an artform. Many people do it very well, including National Museums Scotland. They know how to engage people and clipboards aren’t the answer, for kids like I was or anyone else.

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