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November 02, 2002
The first big posting on what this is all about

Time for a grand manifesto which will tell the waiting universe what Brian's EDUCATION Blog stands for, believes in, etc. Well, this is no grand manifesto if only because too much will surely get left out, but it will have to do to get things started.

I think what I believe in most is having certain arguments. If I was sure about my side of all of them, BEdBlog wouldn't be nearly as interesting as it actually is going to be.

For starters I'm a libertarian. But I don't just believe in libertarianism for adults; I also believe in it for children. Children are different? So are women. So am I. Lawyers are different from professional ice-hockey players. Does that mean that the usual arguments for liberty do not apply?

But of course I expect lots of counter-assertion from people who believe that "treating children like adults" is all wrong. The relevant link here is to the TCS (which here means Taking Children Seriously, not Tech Central Station) website. Alice Bachini has also presided over several disputes along these lines, such as this, in which I did some commenting.

But that doesn't mean that I have no interest in or agreement with the lesser claim that schools ought at least to be denationalised. (Here the relevant link is to the E. G. West Centre.) I think that parents are almost always going to be better and more humane judges of their children's best interests than is the state, so giving them more power and the state less is likely to improve things, not only for parents but also for children.

I am far more respectful about "formal" teaching than you might expect me to be. I simply don't accept that "learning this needs to be structured" and "learning this needs to be compulsory" are the same statement, and it is a constant source of amazement to me how many other people do seem to think they are identical.

In general, there's the whole vexed matter of government education policy to be considered, both here in Britain and elsewhere. Patrick Crozier did a piece for a piece for CrozierVision (blogger archives chaos - scroll down to Sat Oct 26), about the demise of Education Minister Estelle Morris. I hope in the days, weeks and months to come to be linking to many other such pieces. If you have links like that to suggest, do please suggest away. (Actually, I've been getting ahead of myself and this process has already started.)

I am fascinated by the idea that computers are encroaching upon orthodox education. However, they have so far failed, rather dismally to my eye, to computerise actual teaching. No, the big computer impact so far has been from the internet, which luckier children are allowed to relate to in just the same way that adults do. This makes all claims about how you can only learn about the big wide world out there by going to school even more obsolete than such claims were in the past (and they were pretty suspect even then, in my opinion). However, I do not give up hope of learning about truly effective teaching software. After all, they teach you to drive passenger airplanes these days by putting you on a simulator, not an airplane. So you'd think by now they might have cracked how to teach a kid his ABC. Tell me about any education software you admire, or maybe are trying to sell. The worst that can happen is that I or other commenters won't like it.

Speaking of commenters, I believe in good manners, when teaching and learning, and in life generally. Educational debates can become very vexed, but if the comments become too "vexed" (i.e. abusive) I'll edit them or even chop them out altogether. Please everyone remember that neither error nor ignorance are crimes, and ignorance frankly acknowledged isn't a crime of any sort.

I'll end by referring to all the self-referential floundering by me and Patrick Crozier that I have already included, as we try to get Brian's EDUCATION Blog actually to work. (My deepest thanks again to Patrick.) I included this stuff not just out of self-indulgence and for the convenience to me and to historians of having a few very early diary entries, but also to remind us all just of what ignorance (and also, let's face it, the occasional bout of sheer stupidity) looks like and feels like. To contemplate our own imperfections when trying to learn something is a great corrective when one is contemplating the supposed stupidity of others, pupils of course, but also teachers. I'm serious when I say that a big part of the point of BEdBlog is to educate B. And Patrick too, because he is thinking of switching his UK Transport blog to Movable Type also. I have told Patrick that he has my full backing if he chooses to expose his incompetely encyclopaedic knowledge of Movable Type and its mysteries on BedBlog and to tout for answers to any problems he is grappling with. Call it distance learning!

That ought to throw sufficient spanners out of the frying pan into the pigeons, and ruffle sufficient hackles to set the ball buttering two birds with one light bulb thereby enabling them to gather moss. Let battle commence, but politely remember.

I'm now off to the Samizdata first birthday party, Samizdata (another big learning experience for me) having begun life exactly one year ago today.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:12 PM
Category: This Blog

Schools in Britain are controlled at the national level?? That's amazing. There's an ongoing (interminable) debate here in the US re "local control" and the fact that local ain't so local when the community is 3,000,000 strong. As a former teacher in a tiny school (100 students), I discovered that direct and regular parent involvement was a must. Schools in the USA vary widely in terms of funding and quality (ranging from horros to not bad)

Comment by: ellie on November 5, 2002 02:13 AM

An aside on the subject of computer teaching. Most of the software is of the "page turner or fill in the blank" variety providing little excitement. Power teaching software is rare.

Some time back, I came across a clever software item called MathXpert by Dr Michael Beeson at www.mathpert.com. (No I don't sell this stuff nor do I get a commission for mentioning it). This clever software creates a way of solving math problems by providing hints and drills to solve algebra and calculus. The software functions as a tutorial ghost, or hand-holder in the background, to nudge you along the way. It does qualify as power teaching software of which there are few really good examples.

Brian is spot on, computers have often failed to make an effective impact in education. For good reasons. "Page turner" junk isn't good use of the technology. Books, pencils, and paper are much better and, more to the point, they are portable without the need for batteries!

Comment by: Howard Gray on November 6, 2002 07:40 AM
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