Open Thinkering


Tag: revolution

An ending, a beginning

A French republican calendar date inscribed over the entrance to a barn in France (Mury), near Geneva. Inscription reads: L AN 2 DE LA REPUBLIQUE FR. (Year 2 of the French Republic). 1793 or 1794.

Of all the human constructs that shape our ways of thinking, chief among them has to be our collective understanding of time. After all, dates, months, and years do not exist objectively and separately from human experience. Birds and insects are not arranging to meet at 9pm on Saturday the 22nd.

For anyone who spent any time in formal education in the western world and then has paid taxes, the question of “when does the year start?” might have at least three answers. We might answer with the calendar year (January), the financial year (April), or the academic year (September).

Elsewhere, more than 20% of the world celebrate Chinese New Year, which depending on the moon, happens in either January or February each year. Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah, their New Year, usually sometime in September. Endings and beginnings are happening all of the time for different people and in different places.

Using the calendar that I, and everyone else I know, use it’s currently the 15th of November 2021. This is the Gregorian calendar and, stepping back from it a moment makes it all sound a bit odd. For instance, months have different lengths, and then there’s the concept of ‘leap years’… which are worked out thus:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are.

United States Naval Observatory

As Wikipedia’s list of calendars shows, there is a plethora of different ways of organising time — and for different reasons.

I’ve discussed many times in my presentations that literacy is a form of power. It’s a way of legitimising certain practices, attitudes, and approaches to the world. The same could be said of calendars, which impose an official way of looking at time. This is why the French Republican calendar, the Soviet calendar, and the Era Fascista calendar exist; they offer a revolutionary break with the past, represented by a rending of time itself.

This is all interesting in and of itself, and I could start getting into the decimalisation of days and weeks, but my main reason for mentioning it is somewhat more prosaic. Ever since discovering the French Republican calendar, I’ve been fascinated by the way that months were named after the weather in Paris at that time of the year.

The days of the French Revolution and Republic saw many efforts to sweep away various trappings of the Ancien Régime (the old feudal monarchy); some of these were more successful than others. The new Republican government sought to institute, among other reforms, a new social and legal system, a new system of weights and measures (which became the metric system), and a new calendar. Amid nostalgia for the ancient Roman Republic, the theories of the Enlightenment were at their peak, and the devisers of the new systems looked to nature for their inspiration. Natural constants, multiples of ten, and Latin as well as Ancient Greek derivations formed the fundamental blocks from which the new systems were built.


The Republican calendar year began the day the autumnal equinox occurred in Paris, and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature, principally having to do with the prevailing weather in and around Paris and sometimes evoking the Medieval Labors of the Months. The extra five or six days in the year were not given a month designation, but considered Sansculottides or Complementary Days.

Here is the list of months of the French Republican calendar:


– Vendémiaire (from French vendange, derived from Latin vindemia, “vintage”), starting 22, 23, or 24 September
– Brumaire (from French brume, “mist”), starting 22, 23, or 24 October
– Frimaire (From French frimas, “frost”), starting 21, 22, or 23 November

– Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, “snowy”), starting 21, 22, or 23 December
– Pluviôse (from French pluvieux, derived from Latin pluvius, “rainy”), starting 20, 21, or 22 January
– Ventôse (from French venteux, derived from Latin ventosus, “windy”), starting 19, 20, or 21 February

– Germinal (from French germination), starting 20 or 21 March
– Floréal (from French fleur, derived from Latin flos, “flower”), starting 20 or 21 April
– Prairial (from French prairie, “meadow”), starting 20 or 21 May

– Messidor (from Latin messis, “harvest”), starting 19 or 20 June
– Thermidor (from Greek thermon, “summer heat”), starting 19 or 20 July
– Fructidor (from Latin fructus, “fruit”), starting 18 or 19 August

We live about seven lines of latitude north of Paris, but the above is not too far off in terms of a description of the weather where we are. I guess that’s particularly true as climate change warms the planet, meaning that weather which would have been ‘normal’ slightly further south than us in 1792, becomes the ‘new normal’ here in 2021.

More than anyone else I know, the seasons have a great affect upon my energy levels and disposition towards the world. Sometimes I wish it weren’t so, but I am not a robot. I’ve learned to embrace it, giving myself a break and expecting great things of myself at other times of the year.

According to the French Republican calendar we’re almost at the end of Brumaire. I would like to say publicly that Brumaire can get very firmly into the sea. I am looking forward to Frimaire, and then Nivôse starts on (or around) my birthday. But the real action starts in in the month of Germinal, towards the end of March.

Coincidentally, Germinal is also the name of Émile Zola’s masterpiece, an “uncompromisingly harsh and realistic story of a coalminers’ strike in northern France in the 1860s”. It’s one of my favourite novels.

Vive la révolution!

Image CC BY-SA Divadwg

Revolutionary tools do not a revolution make.


A lot has been made of about the role of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa recently. Whilst I don’t know enough about Egypt, Libya and Bahrain to comment on their internal political situation, what I do know is that it takes more than the mere ‘potential’ of something to make a difference in practice.

And so it is with education. Mark Allen’s contribution to the #purposed debate reminded me of the important difference between something’s being available and an individual or group having the requisite skills and critical faculties to use it in a new, interesting, or even revolutionary way. As I mentioned in my comment on Mark’s blog, one of the reasons I think everyone should study a little Philosophy and History is because it prepares one to consider the ways things might, could or should be rather than being limited to tinkering within existing parameters.

So next time you read or hear of a technology or service that is going to, is, or has ‘revolutionised’ something, think of the context and milieu into which that tool or idea has been launched. As with Purpos/ed, it’s very likely you’ll find more than a hint of latent demand and the ‘adjacent possible’ in there. It’s never just about the tool or service.

Image CC BY Rev. Strangelove !!!!

The Vortex of Uncompetence

I had Monday and Tuesday this week off school. I had a cold, felt lousy, and felt my recently-self-diagnosed SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) kicking in. Just as I didn’t believe that children were born with personalities before we had Ben, I used to think that ‘disorders’ were ways to label avoidable abnormal behaviours. I don’t think that any more. 😮

In schools and businesses we pay very little attention to the fact that it is human beings involved in these institutions and who, as such, fluctuate, change, and are affected by external factors. As I’ve blogged about before, one disorder I suffer from is migraines. There’s no way that those who don’t suffer from these can know what they’re like, of the way fluorescent lighting affects the way I see and think sometimes, and the ‘fuzziness’ associated with it. Likewise, those who don’t suffer from something I’m labelling SAD for convenience can understand what it’s like for a usually energetic and enthusiastic person to completely lack all motivation. 🙁

The stimulus for this post came from reading Dan Meyer’s blog post Wherever You Can Find It, signposted on Twitter by Darren Draper, who stated, “I’m telling you: 5 years ago, I was @ddmeyer. Absolutely no doubt about it” – linking to this comment in particular. The first part of it reads:

And maybe that kind of leadership is enough to staunch some of this new teacher blood, but it isn’t enough to staunch mine.

Because I came here to do a job, just a job. I wasn’t “called” here but I knew that job was essential to the future and polity of our country. That job was too hard. I failed. Then I learned. Then I started blogging. I torched a lot of terrible personality defects on the altar of better teaching. I sacrificed a lot of time to improve. Now I’m good at this job.

How many other professions would tie that kind of growth to zero extrinsic (and particularly financial) reward?

There is no promotion. There is no pay raise. There is no bonus. And lately, most obviously, there is nothing to compensate me for the time I spend elevating student achievement, time which other teachers spend throwing frisbees on the beaches of Santa Cruz with their wives.

As I commented on Dan’s blog, I’ve suffered burnout, depression and the effect it can have on the relationships with those around you whom you love. My advice to Dan and to all young teachers working all hours for the benefit of students is to beware of the Vortex of Uncompetence. It goes a little something like this:

If you can’t see the above clearly (it’s meant to be a little trippy), then here’s the stages:

  1. Identify deficiency – you feel as a teacher that there’s something not right with the system.
  2. Discover community – either in school, socially or online, you realise you’re not the only one to feel this way.
  3. Attempt to remedy situation – you decide to do something about it, working hard to make your lessons and the learning experiences of students, different.
  4. Face barriers – there are problems regarding student behaviour, assessment schemes, line manager comments, or you’ve not got enough time to do what you want to do.
  5. Work at solutions – you work harder and harder, trying to convince others, meanwhile attempting to be radically different.
  6. More barriers – becoming almost zealot-like, you meet a lot of resistance.
  7. BURNOUT – unable to take on the might of the educational system, your physical and/or mental health suffers, along with relationships with people who matter to you.

Some may wonder why I’ve included the ‘discovering community’ part in step two. It’s a case of wanting to be seen to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. When you’ve committed to something, staked out your claim as a believer, you’ve got to act in a way that’s befitting. Sometimes, this can engender more problems than if you’d slowly tried chipping away at things over time – evolution, not revolution.

Why Vortex of Uncompetence? It’s a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve made up, probably after reading too much Dilbert. Teachers who go down this road are not incompetent – far from it. But then, they’re not competent in the ways expected for traditional teachers. They’re uncompetent: they refuse to be held to the standards set by the majority view in education. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and, as a husband and father I can’t afford to be pulled into it again. I’m trying to position myself as a catalyst for fast-paced evolution. Almost everyone resists revolution – the status quo is just too comfortable… :-p

Do YOU recognise yourself or anyone else entering the Vortex of Uncompetence?

(the Vortex of Uncompetence is based on an original image by ClintJCL @ Flickr)

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