August 27, 2007
A test
Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:48 PM
Category: This blog
January 28, 2005
Small breaths

From here via here:

During my senior year at college, my friends provoked each other, half in earnest, half mocking, with the question: "So, what are you going to do for the rest of your life?" The question's immensity made us laugh uncomfortably at our cloudy career paths. Now 33 years later, I realize that I missed the point completely - it's a trick question. There is no such thing as "the rest of your life." There is only now, and if you are going to accomplish anything, it has to be done in small breaths, one after the other.

Very Yogan, but some truth there, I think.

I am having my glasses relensed just now, which is complicated, and which means that posting will be done here in small breaths if at all until Monday.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:42 PM
Category: This and that
January 27, 2005
Educate a woman and educate a family

The only thing I know about Rudy Manikan, and the only reference to him that I can find on the Internet, is that he was the guy (and I'm only guessing he was a guy) who said this:

If you educate a man you educate a person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.

At the top of google it said: Did you mean Ruby Manikan?, and after that, only the first two links are about Rudy Manikan. All the rest of them seem to be about Rudy Someone and Someone Manikan both getting involved in the same thing, list, whatever. I found the quote in a quote book, not on the Internet at all.

But if Rudy Manikan is right, and I suspect he may well be, then maybe all the stories like this are not such terrible news after all.

By the way, a little more googling, and it turns out that someone called Lucha Corpi said something very similar also. I don't know which of these two people came first or said it first, or whether the second one got to independently or stole it without realising, or what.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:19 PM
Category: This and that
Grammar wars

I agree with this man, rather than this one. I've never taught writing, and if I did I might totally change my mind, but saying that grammar isn't an important part of teaching writing sounds to me like saying that the individual sounds of letters aren't important in teaching reading. And we all either do know what that last disastrous notion lead to, or we damn well should. Go here for some enlightenment if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Writing is grammar. And while we're about it, if you know some grammer, you'll make a whole lot more sense when you talk, also.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:23 PM
Category: Grammar
January 26, 2005
Paul Graham on taking charge early

My thanks to Michael Jennings for emailing me the link to this speech to some high school kids (which he never actually gave) by Paul Graham.

I like, in particular, how the speech ends:

… you don't have to wait to start. In fact, you don't have to wait to be an adult. There's no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.

This may sound like bullshit. I'm just a minor, you may think, I have no money, I have to live at home, I have to do what adults tell me all day long. Well, most adults labor under restrictions just as cumbersome, and they manage to get things done. If you think it's restrictive being a kid, imagine having kids.

The only real difference between adults and high school kids is that adults realize they need to get things done, and high school kids don't. That realization hits most people around 23. But I'm letting you in on the secret early. So get to work. Maybe you can be the first generation whose greatest regret from high school isn't how much time you wasted.

If I had to sum up my ambitions as a teacher, I would probably do it by saying that my ambition is either to help my pupils to live their lives, or persuade them to start their lives.

I of course regret that I didn't start my life, in Graham's sense, until I too was 23 or thenabouts.

I do have a one particular quibble with this quote, which is that I feel that the phrase "take responsibility" is not quite right. It suggests that the point of this exercise is that you will be able to justify what you have done to a third party, when that actually isn't the point. I prefer simply: take charge. Make decisions. Look at your actual options, and choose good ones. Look at your problems and tackle them rationally instead of just moaning and regarding them as insoluble. And do all this because, if you do, your own life will work better, not because some third party stroke boss will be impressed, which is what "take responsibility" suggests to me.

Which, by the way, explains why politicians are so fond of this phrase. They want people to take "responsibility" for things, and they will then decide if they are impressed. Conservative politicians, with their deeply ambivalent attitude towards freedom, are particularly fond of this phrase. We trust the people to decide for themselves, they say. But the people still remain "responsible" for the result, to them.

But my guess would be that what Graham means by "take responsibility" is what I mean by "take charge", and no more. And, it occurs to me, the word "charge" could give off just the same vibes to others as "responsibility" does for me.

Anyway, getting past words to meaning, the trouble is that management, even self-management, can be hard. And if someone else is managing your life agreeably, why bother to change what is basically a comfortable arrangement? The answer is of course that sooner or later you will have to manage your own life, and why not start learning how to do that good and early, by starting to do it, for the same reason that it helps to learn how to read and arithmetise early?

One of the recurring themes of Successful Person biographies is that the early circumstances of their lives - often involving disastrously incompetent (or simply dead) parents - oblige the future Successful Person to take charge of his own life, at a very young age. And often other lives too, such as younger siblings, or overwhelmed or sick mothers, etc. (Charles Dickens and Aristotle Onassis spring to mind.) Start doing this when you are only ten, and you get a decade's start at Real Life compared to the herd.

Much of current education and (particularly older) child rearing practice seems calculated to postpone this process ever further into the future. And then the adults hit the 23 (or more) year old with the whole shebang, all at once. Not clever.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:37 PM
Category: Learning by doing
The unintended consequences of selective price control

Oxford University is allowed to charge the full wack for foreigners, but is forbidden to charge what it likes to locals and the government won't make up enough of the difference. So, it wants more foreigners and fewer locals:

Oxford University, under-funded by the Government by £95 million a year, is to cut the number of British undergraduates it admits and "vigorously" recruit more foreign students, who pay the full cost of their degrees.

The one-to-one tutorial system - the heart of Oxford teaching for almost 900 years – is to be reduced and more will be done by graduate assistants instead of "overworked" lecturers.

Applicants are likely to face new verbal reasoning and aptitude tests similar to those taken by pupils wanting to study medicine and law so as to eliminate the "tail" of under-performing students and ensure that only the brightest are admitted.

Dons will face regular reviews of their performance and a reduced role in governing the university following a drastic reduction in the "multiplicity" of its committees.

The reforms were part of a radical package announced yesterday by John Hood, 52, a New Zealand academic and management expert who took over as vice-chancellor three months ago, the first outsider to be appointed to the post.

Ah yes, those management experts, the bearers of bad news which the academics don't want to face but know they must. Just so long as Oxford University confines itself to doing management, and refrains from speaking it. (Mission statements, etc.)

Nations get poorer without realising it, and then suddenly they do realise it. This story reminds me of the stories I hear from France about how old French people can't afford to buy little houses in the country, because the foreigners are buying them all at prices beyond what they can manage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:52 AM
Category: Economics of education
January 25, 2005
A provocative posting on Samizdata

On Jan 21st – last Friday in other words – David Carr did a posting about the electronic tagging of schoolchildren. He produced this quote …

A school in Swansea is considering tagging its pupils because of a shortage of assistants who can supervise lunch breaks.

The idea is for children at Lonlas Primary to wear the tags all day, with a buzzer sounding if they leave.

… which he found here.

The point I want to make here is simply that there are now a lot (as of now: 84) of comments on this posting, dealing with the rights and wrongs of state education, home education, etc., of just the sort that regulars here will find of interest.

My only comment, off the top of my head, is that no one seems to have thought of asking the children if they mind being tagged. Although, I haven't read all the comments with total care, and maybe someone did say that and I missed it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:35 PM
Category: Technology
The education of the Aviator

Today they announced that The Aviator has been nominated for eleven Oscars.

For some time now I've been meaning to do another of those celebrity educations postings, and today I got to wondering what kind of education Howard Hughes had?

HowardHughes.jpgI found an answer, albeit a brief one, here:

Education: Hughes attended private school in Boston, where he was better at golf than classwork. He was attending Thacher School in California when his mother died. In California, Hughes spent time with his uncle, Rupert, who inspired his later interest in filmmaking. Hughes never graduated from high school. Nonetheless, his father arranged for him to sit in on classes at Cal Tech by donating money to the school. Afterward, Howard returned to Houston and enrolled at Rice Institute (now Rice University). Howard, Sr. died suddenly a few weeks after his son turned eighteen. Young Howard inherited much of the family estate and dropped out of Rice.

I love that bit about his dad arranging for him to attend Cal Tech by donating money. Go capitalism!

Picture of Hughes from here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:17 PM
Category: Famous educations
Paying children to stay on at school

Tonight and tomorrow I want to attempt (although I promise nothing) some slightly more substantial blog writing, maybe for here, maybe for elsewhere. So I just want to fling up something here to enable me to forget here for the day.

And the education news story from recent days that I have found most interesting just now has been this one:

The Government is set to give a £100 bonus to thousands of teenagers throughout the UK for continuing in education.

Under a scheme rewarding teenagers for carrying on in education after completing their GCSEs, children who have managed to maintain good attendance records over the past few months are to get a bonus £100 on top of their means-tested Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

That programme has seen students receive up to £30 per week since September, and of the 270,000 children across England who have taken advantage of the scheme, around three-quarters have good enough attendance figures to qualify for the bonus award.

The UK has one of the worst continuance rates for 16-year-olds in the industrialised world, but the Government's EMA scheme is designed to combat that by encouraging more teenagers from economically deprived backgrounds to further their education.

It is understood that the total cost of the bonus system will reach around £20 million, prompting criticisms from the Liberal Democrats that the payments are "excessive".

As educational outrages go, this one doesn't strike me as especially outrageous. Indeed, as a preparation for working life it seems to me rather better than demanding attendance in exchange for nothing.

Because it is a new and untried method of spending public money, this scheme has attracted lots of criticism, but honestly, many of the educational spending initiatives I read about tend to be far more wasteful. Presumably, any month now, all kinds of stories will start emerging about kids showing up for their money, but otherwise doing bugger all, but I'm guessing quite a few will genuinely benefit from the arrangement, quite aside from the money.

I of course hope that once the principle of paying children to do school work is accepted, this might lead to wider acceptance of the idea of children being paid to do work work. But alas, this scheme is more likely to be viewed as yet another way to entice children away from work work, to rescue them from it. Heaven forbid that children should ever do anything truly useful. That would never do, would it?

How about a compromise? Children (especially boys) leave school at 13, when they think it's stupid, and get paid to do work work. Then, they get paid to go back to school, when, at more like 17, they start to see the point of it. Just thinking aloud.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:24 PM
Category: Economics of education
January 24, 2005
School bus spotted in London

In the USA the school bus, looking approximately like this …


… is a part of the national mythology. It is always yellow.

But I don't recall seeing any (specifically) school buses in the UK. Until today …


Spotted in the Kings Road, approximately 4 pm this afternoon, travelling west.

Maybe we have rather more school buses in the UK than I'm implying. But school buses in the USA are like our red pillar boxes or our black cabs, or perhaps more to the point like our red double decker buses. School buses are central items of Americana, all part of what makes America America. Yellow school buses, always with their bonnets sticking out in front, appear constantly in American high school movies. In The Simpsons the bloke who drives the school bus makes constant appearances. In the UK, school buses are nothing like such a big deal.

Why the difference, I wonder? Why do they rely on these things so much, and we so relatively little?

Is it because our regular buses are so much more regular, and can do the school run without even thinking about it, while they use cars for nearly everything, except for getting the kids to school, so they have to have a special bus for the school kids? Is that it? Or is it simply that I have only just noticed one of these things?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:25 PM
Category: This and that
January 21, 2005
"… you'll have to accept that your world view will be curtailed …"

I've had another busy day today, but I did manage to find this depressing news from Germany:

… A German school official has ordered seven families homeschooling their children in Northwest Germany to enroll their children in public schools immediately, or the children will be forcibly removed by police and taken to school. Any resistance on the part of the parents will result in the children being removed from their homes, according to a Home School Legal Defense Association report.

The families argued that, as Christians, they wanted to protect their children from the godless and humanistic values being taught in public schools. They also assured officials that they were providing an adequate education through a German correspondence school.

County education director Heinz Kohler dismissed the families' beliefs, stating, "you and your children are not living in isolation on some island but rather in an environment posing intra- and extracurricular situations where you'll have to accept that your world view will be curtailed."

Kohler further explained that homeschooling could not be allowed as "children should not be encapsulated or kept apart from the outside world. In these cases, the parents' rights to personally educate their children would prevent the children from growing up to be responsible individuals within society…"

You will be socialised!

I found this at an American anti-abortion site. Americans can contemplate this kind of thing with relative detachment, but here in Britain, for anyone who favours the right to homeschool, it is different. Homeschoolers here must have in the back of their minds the thought that the EU might one day decide to "harmonise" the rules about homeschooling, and something tells me they probably wouldn't harmonise them in such a way that Germans would be allowed to homeschool. Although, I suppose that there is always that hope.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:30 PM
Category: CompulsionHome education
January 20, 2005
Perry de Havilland says that old fashioned good grammar just might be making a comeback on the Internet

Earlier this evening I was socialising at Perry de Havilland's. It was essentially a meeting between these people and some of the starrier of these people, among them the people who actually first wrote the software that this blog uses to run itself. Had I truly understood who they all were exactly (one of them was definitely this lady and I sat next to this gentleman), I would probably have felt even more insignificant than I did.

I was only there at all in order to return a copy of a magazine in which an article about Adriana appeared, which I had been scanning in text and the photo from, and I had to leave early. But before I did, I picked up an interesting little observation from Perry de Havilland.

Perry spends quite a bit of time participating in on-line chat-rooms (please forgive my approximate spelling there) mostly on the subject of computer games, concerning which Perry is an enthusiast rather in the way that I enthuse about classical CDs. And Perry reckoned that he might (he's not sure but … might) have spotted an interesting trend, with clear educational vibes attached to it.

During the last year or so, Perry says, he thinks he has spotted, in the many chat-rooms he frequents, a somewhat new attitude towards English grammar. Whereas in former times, chatterers would chat away using very bad spelling, worse punctuation and with no apparent idea of the meaning of the word 'paragraph', such chatterers are now starting to be criticised by more orthodox and easily understood contributors. Several times lately, for instance, a chatterer has erupted with a list of queries presented as a slab of miss-spelt gobbledegeek, and the very first responder has responded along lines like these: "I probably could answer your questions, but first I would have to understand what the hell you are talking about, which I presently do not. Try spelling words correctly. Try using capitals at the beginnings of sentences. Punctuate. Arrange separate questions in separate paragraphs. In general, make an effort to be understood and to make sense. Until you do, I have nothing more to say to you." Harsh! But: interesting!

Will this kind of pro-grammar heckling have consequences? If it gets louder in volume and vehemence, then it is surely bound to.

Perry and I were interrupted about half way through making the following point, so this next bit may only be my opinion and not Perry's. But as I recall it we were both converging on the notion that what is happening here is that human beings, so to speak, are entering chat-rooms hitherto mostly inhabited by extreme geeks, and these humans are bringing with them their old fashioned ideas about how well-written English is easier to understand than semi-literate techno-babble, or just plain babble.

Personally, I am startled by the illiteracy and bad spelling of some (but not most) blog comments, not all of which is at all explicable as merely caused by haste and/or poor (or no) checking. But that is a value judgement, and is not the central point I am making here, i.e. that Perry was making. The point here is that old fashioned grammatical correctness, quite aside from how much people like me prefer it, may actually, as a matter of fact, be making a come-back, and what is more doing so in an arena hitherto assumed to be a force only for grammatical anarchy.

Personally I have had very little to do with chat-rooms, and a lot of that is because of my prejudice that they abound with – often deliberately – lousy grammar. Blogs, in general, certainly the ones I read regularly, tend to be far better written. They are written by humans, for humans.

Which is all part of why the people I met earlier this evening are all of them so splendid. I wish them all, both my friends in the Big Blog Company and the Six Apart/Movable Type possee, the very best of good fortune. They deserve it.

I checked this posting more carefully than usual for grammatical errors, for obvious reasons. Deep apologies for any grammatical errors that still remain.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:55 PM
Category: BloggingGrammarLiteracy
January 19, 2005
Alice does maths

I am very busy today, but Alice has a post up about arithmetic, and about maths, one of the points being that the teaching of the forner can often screw up the teaching of the latter. For her, the big breakthrough in her teaching came when she made an abacus with paper clips, thereby answering the question: why?


Proper abacus picture, here, and this:

The abacus was the first known machine developed to help perform mathematical computations. It is thought to have originated between 600 and 500 BC, either in China or Egypt. Round beads, usually made of wood, were slid back and forth on rods or wire to perform addition and subtraction. As an indication of its practicality, the abacus is still used in many eastern cultures today. The abacus, an ancient product of the middle east, is really a full blown hand-held decimal calculator!

Ten out of ten.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:12 PM
Category: Maths
January 18, 2005
Spanish Americans should not be deprived of English

Incoming email from Mark Alexander:

Thought you might be interested in this brief essay pointing out that withholding English from immigrants is racist.

I am. It's a good piece, too. The gist of it is that if English is not your first language, it is still your ticket to full and free membership of the big wide world out there, and that ethnic leaders, in this case Hispanic leaders in the USA, don't want their flock to learn English, because that way they would cease to be their flock.

I love the cat picture, but do not understand it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:36 PM
Category: Languages
A Muslim response to Mr Bell's speech

A predictable response to Mr Bell's speech yesterday (see immediately below):

THE HEAD of a Huddersfield Islamic school has called on England's chief education watchdog to resign after 'ignorant' comments about Muslim schools.

Samira Elturabi, head of Islamia Girls' High School on Thornton Lodge Road, said the comments of David Bell, the chief inspector of schools for Ofsted, were ignorant about the facts of Islam.

I don't think this is very clever. Indeed, I think that it illustrates some of the exact fears that Mr Bell was expressing. Calling on Mr Bell to resign, just because his grasp of the nuances of Islam is shaky is foolish. The way to respond to speeches like Mr Bell's is to realise that here is an opportunity both to put across some of the facts about Islam that are in the "better than you thought" category, and to demonstrate that Islamic leaders can handle criticism politely.

I would say that she gets, at best, no more than one out of two.

… Mrs Elturabi, who has been head at Islamia for three years, said Islamic education was full education.

She added: "We not only do Islamic studies such as Arabic and the Koran but we also do the full national curriculum programme.

"Schools in this country have a lot of behavioural problems, but in Islamic schools the students learn responsibility and to be caring.

"Mr Bell should resign. Before he gives a lecture like that he should understand Islam."

Mrs Eluturabi's school came joint third in the Kirklees education league tables published last week with 71% of students getting five 'good' GCSEs.

Assuming that this is an approximately accurate report of what Mrs Elutrabi said, then I think she has – shall we say? – struck a rather bad note. At best, she seems to have given the Huddersfield Weekly News the chance to make it sound like that.

I realise that Mrs Eluturabi may be a bit frightened. But I think she ought to show a greater understanding of how the world looks to the people she is – or ought to be – trying to influence and whose minds she is – ditto – trying to change. Telling Mr Bell that he should resign is likely to persuade Mr Bell, and many others, only that Mr Bell was right about the potential divisiveness of these schools, and of the people who run them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:04 PM
Category: Islam