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Chronological Archive • June 2003
June 30, 2003
Teacher training

According to this (which I got to from here), my spelling age is fourteen and a half, and falling.

To be a bit more serious, I think that putting documents like this (for those who hate following links, this one is a page full of words to test spelling prowess), and while we're on the subject this (which does something similar for reading age), is extremely valuable, and fraught with educational significance. Sooner or later the lowdown on how to teach children the 3Rs will be entirely available for free on the Internet, in the form of a step by step guide of the sort that is commonplace when one is trying to assemble furniture from a box, but which is hard to come by for the trivial matter of teaching children to read and write and add up.

Of course, maybe it's there already and I haven't been informed. You know what to do.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:26 PM
Category: The Internet
[0] [0]
June 27, 2003
Kealey on German technical education

This is interesting. It's from Terence Kealey's book, The Economic Laws of Scientific Research.

Curiously, these inadequacies in the much-vaunted German vocational training colleges or Berufsschulen persist to this day. In 1991, a team of British school inspectors reported that the Berufsschulen were manifestly inferior to their British counterparts, the colleges of further education. Amongst their inadequacies, most Berufsschulen (i) lacked central libraries, (ii) they were overcrowded and lacked study space, (iii) a much lower proportion of German staff had recent industrial experience compared with British staff, (iv) there was little project work, and (v) general courses were not sufficiently challenging. The British school inspectors found that the reason the Berufsschulen have, for over a century, been supposed to be so excellent, is that they award the qualification of Master Craftsman, for which there is no equivalent in Britain. This qualification carries high status in a nation obsessed with qualifications, but the actual products of the Berufsschulen are in practice no better than their British equivalents with their modest diplomas [Aspects of Vocational Education and Training in the Federal Republic of Gemany (London : Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1991)].

And that's just a footnote (on page 116 of my Macmillan paperback, 1996). I will definitely be reading this book properly. It's near the top of my book list.

Kealey's thesis in this part of the book is that explaining Britain's economic decline by talking about the supposed excellence of German education is superfluous, because, Britain having got out ahead economically, and the others having then followed, Britain's relative economic decline was a mathematical inevitability.

The argument of the book as a whole is that economic advance does not depend on government funding for scientific research, any more than does science itself.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:36 AM
Category: Examinations and qualifications
[0] [1]
June 26, 2003
Whiteness studies

A common blogosphere experience for me is to follow a link from Instapundit and then find something else with a link to something else of extreme interest. By which time I usually lose all track of how I got there, and fail to thank those responsible This time I remembered.

Anyway, the something else I finally got to is about something called "Whiteness Studies", which is a kind of reverse Nazism being taught in American universities, and no doubt soon to arrive here if it hasn't already.

Now, we didn’t have “Whiteness Studies” back when I was in college. Then, all the rage was multiculturalism, of which I got more than I could handle when, as a freshman, a scheduling snafu forced me into a section of the mandatory freshman-English program bearing the ominous title of “Differences.” There we studied literature through – to use the most pervasive cliché in academia – the lens of “race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.”

What that meant, in application, was that in the first weeks of class, we read books by African-Americans, the theme of which, unfailingly, was hatred for white people. Next we moved on to books by Hispanics, the theme of which was hatred for white people. From there it was books by Asians and Native Americans on—you guessed it—hatred for white people. There were a few variations, including some readings on anti-Semitism and homophobia, but otherwise, the theme was constant. This was a study of oppression, and the oppressors were always white guys.

Of course, all this took place way back in the early 1990s, eons ago for the modern-day Ivory Tower. Multiculturalism, once the primary fetish of academia, is now old hat in a culture that values the avant-garde above all else. Its permutations are spent. There are no more -isms to define; no more ethnic groups to balkanize; no more victims to patronize. That leaves academics looking for the next Big Thing, and they think they’ve found it in WS.

The focus has changed from multiculturalism, but the “hating whitey” theme remains.

“Whiteness,” as its would-be studiers see it, is the underlying cause of most every conceivable social ill. As David Horowitz has observed, “Whiteness Studies” is different in kind from other ethnocentric disciplines: “Black studies celebrates blackness, Chicano studies celebrates Chicanos, women’s studies celebrates women, and white studies attacks white people as evil.”

If you are my friend the pessimistic David Carr (a favourite quote went something like: "I fear that things will get a lot worse, before they get even worse than that") you are now plunged into yet more despair at all this. If you're more like optimistic me, you'll be at least hoping that sooner or later this idiocy will cease, and that the academics pushing it will make such public fools of themselves that even the public will eventually notice. And the truth will probably lie somewhere between the two, which is not good.

When the Whiteness Studies crowd speaks of abolishing “whiteness,” what they really mean is abolishing Americanism, most notably the American ideal of a society in which people are judged not by color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Yes, that makes sense, and to some extent that will be the result.

But surely the most obvious consequence will be to keep a lot of stupid, semi-educated black people out of the big tent, by making them believe in being out of it.

Ask yourself this. If you were a hardcore white racist from straight out of the worst nightmares being plugged by these academics as white business-as-usual, what would you say about all this? Would you be scared? I really don't see how. Would be you pleased? Surely: yes:

If the niggers want to wallow in this self-deluding crap, let them. It's all they're good for. And obviously we need some of our people to keep an eye on things, to see that the niggers remember how heavily they are outnumbered, in America and in the world as a whole, and that they don't try to do any of this nonsense, and confine themselves to miseducating themselves. On the other hand, if they do try to start a race war for real, we can be good and ready and wipe them out.

Well, maybe not. But if that was the plan, would things be happening much differently?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:37 PM
Category: Bias
[4] [0]
June 25, 2003
The skills of idiots

There's a fascinating posting at 2Blowhards, about why mental superpowers so often go hand in hand (brain location with brain location) with mental inadequacies of other sorts. Here's the bit that grabbed me:

The argument of Alan Snyder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Sydney, is that (1) the unusual mental abilities of savants (autistics who are capable of amazing mental feats) are actually present in all human beings, (2) that these abilities—such as the ability to do complex mental arithmetic rapidly, to remember with photographic detail and accuracy, to instantly spot proofreading errors, etc. – are actually just basic, lower-level brain processes that occur below the level of ordinary human consciousness, (3) that somehow our ordinary conscious processes mask these abilities or prevent us from accessing them, and (4) that these savant-like skills can be brought out by using TMS to turn down the volume on the "masking" processes.

That makes more sense of the "idiot savant" phenomenon than anything else I've ever read. I've never believed that savants possessed any powers I didn't have, merely that for some reason I couldn't get at my own similar powers, and that for some other reason, connected with their other mental problems, they could.

TMS, by the way, stands for "transcranial magnetic stimulation". Read more by following the link that Friedrich Blowhard supplies to this New York Times article.

They're learning more and more by the month about how the human brain actually works, as opposed to just recommending books to each other full of more or less sensible speculations on the subject, which is how things used to be. This knowledge is bound to have educational consequences sooner or later.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:29 PM
Category: How the human mind works
[1] [0]
"Labour has dramatically lost its reputation with voters for improving schools and education …"

Proof that Brian's Education Blog is changing the world. From today's Guardian:

Labour has dramatically lost its reputation with voters for improving schools and education in the past three months, according to the results of the June Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

Back in March, when the Guardian carried out its annual public services survey, education was the only area where the voters said they could see real improvements coming through. But the results of this month's ICM survey show that the impact of the schools funding crisis and the row over tuition fees has led to a sudden loss of confidence in the government's record on education.

The poll records a dramatic swing in its net rating on schools and education from plus two points to minus 17.

Well, to be a bit more serious, this could mean one of two things. It could mean that the public now hates the government because it realises that its entire approach – throw money at everything, and use the threat not to throw money at any particular educator if he disobeys the latest central and centralising edict-of-the-week is doomed to fail. Or it could merely mean that the public believes that chucking money about is the answer, but that the government is horrid because it is a little bit reluctant to do this, on account of money not growing on trees – while the public still thinks money does grow on trees. A lot of the latter I fear.

But what can you do? The public mostly went to these damn government schools in the first place.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:27 PM
Category: Politics
[0] [0]
June 24, 2003
My ethnic group is …

Today I finally got around to ringing these people, to offer my services as a reading helper. The application form will be in the post to me tomorrow.

The only thing of note about the conversation, which was otherwise most informative and definitely made we want to press ahead, was that they wanted to know – or warned me that they were going to want to know, I forget which – my ethnic group. Those, I suppose, are the times we live in.

I told them I was "white", the word "Caucasian" not being ready at the top of my brain. Just in case you were wondering.

Does this mean I'll be helping only white children?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:47 PM
Category: Brian's brilliant teaching career
[2] [0]
June 23, 2003
Teaching and dreams

Today I had lunch with a friend who has just got herself a law degree. She mentioned in passing that one of the jobs of her dreams would be to do teaching in some exotic location where the air was warm and the pupils were well behaved and eager to learn. But she wasn't going to do this because it wouldn't, she said, lead anywhere. By this she meant that if she came back to England she'd be no nearer to a real career than she is now, and she can't afford such dalliance. We talked of other career options, which sounded much more realistic.

It was only afterwards that I realised. Here was someone who "dreamed" of being a teacher, but to whom it simply did not occur to become, or to even try to become, a teacher in England. And nor did it occur to me for a moment that she was wrong. We didn't discuss it. We simply moved on straight away to the more promising stuff. We dismissed without even seriously considering the possibility, that teaching in England, or the sort that could result in a career, could ever have anything whatsoever to do with dreams.

Rather revealing, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:55 PM
Category: The reality of teaching
[3] [0]
June 22, 2003
"Pupils who had previously resisted literacy …"

More on the Harry Potter phenomenon, this time in the form of some entertaining rhapsodising about the educational benefits of Pottermania from the always provocative Normal Lebrecht in the Evening Standard last Friday:

Think back to June 1997 when 1,000 Bloomsbury copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sneaked near-unnoticed into British bookshops, after being rejected by some 20 publishers for being variously too long, archaic and politically incorrect.

The pronounced wisdom was that children were uninterested in reading. Teachers and their unions set up a demand for more "visual aids". Pre-teens returned home from seven hours of unstrenuous schooling to slump, semi-vegetative, in front of flickering images of vaguely sexual connotation.

The publishing dictum, impressed on me when I proposed a story about kids with a chronic illness, was that "we no longer take on children's books without a television tie-in". Rowling changed all that, surreptitiously and within months.

Harry Potter spread by word of playground mouth and reprinted time after time.

Children blew their pocket money on the first book and clamoured for more. Infant teachers who read it aloud in class were begged to continue when the bell rang for break. Pupils who had previously resisted literacy mastered their ps and qs on platform nine and three-quarters.

Yes, this is what I've been hearing, and reading elsewhere. And seeing on the TV news of course, in the form of all those super-excited children queueing up at one o'clock in the morning. But is it really like this? Does any teacher or parent have first hand experience of this kind of thing?

Does anyone, in particular, have any tales to tell of Harry Potter resistance from any section of the youth market?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:53 PM
Category: BooksLiteracy
[3] [0]
Playing at learning Japanese

I have no idea how good this is. But this introductory paragraph certainly strikes a chord with me:

The goal of Project LRNJ is to make Japanese accessible to people who enjoy anime or video games, and wouldn't otherwise learn it. To meet this goal, it is necessary that the training program be freely available, efficient, and both attractive and fun for the target audience. There are years of part-time R&D on the project, but the idea of making it into a game only came up in March 2003.

If you're in the market for something like this, let him (and the rest of us here) know what you think. If you know of anyone else who might be interested, pass it on.

My thanks to Darrell Johnson for emailing me the link. I wonder what he things of this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:42 AM
Category: Technology
[0] [0]
June 20, 2003
John Dewey – what's he all about?

This morning (early in the morning) I did some broadcasting. Not so you'd notice. It won't emerge onto the airwaves for several months. But once again, after I'd written that up, I find that my education blogging time is limited. Plus I have a headache. Maybe I should get a sick-note, scan it in and stick it up here.

So instead of the usual ranting and pontificating, I have a question. John Dewey. For years I've been trying to get a handle on this guy.

Can anyone suggest (links to) good articles about this guy that won't take me half a day to read?

I find – oh dear, here comes some more educational pontification – that if I want to learn of the significance of some thinker, I learn more and more quickly if I read stuff that is strongly partisan, in favour and against. Maybe it's that I come from two families of lawyers. I find that if I want the truth about something I stage an argument about it, and then judge. If you see what I mean. (That was the kind of programme I was involved in this morning also. The BBC has the adversarial principle built into its DNA, or at any rate the Radio 4, local radio, discussion bits that I get involved in.)

The Christians disapprove, right? And is that just the creationists? Or do other Christians have other objections? And how about all those conservatives who associate Dewey with falling standards? Which they do, yes?

My friend Chris Tame, who is a Randian, can't mention the name of Dewey without spitting metaphorical blood. What's might that be about?

It's not that there isn't enough stuff. It's that there is, if anything, too much. I don't know where to start.

Here?

This looks as if it might be helpful. As might this.

Guidance anybody? Thanks in advance.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:35 PM
Category: Education theory
[5] [0]
June 19, 2003
We know where you live miss

So I started to write a little piece for my Culture Blog, and nine hours later I finished it, leaving very little time for my duties here. And I have promised these people something soon as well, on a civil liberties theme of some kind.

So, a link here to something about a teacher, but which also has civil liberties vibes. It is often said that those who have done nothing wrong, have nothing to be frightened of. The nothing in question that they have to be frightened about being the total surveillance regime, of cameras everywhere and uniquitous universally available information, potentially available to anyone with a PC.

The piece is basically about the serious horrors being suffered by Chris Cooper's Asian neighbours. But he makes a passing mention (in brackets) of the problems potentially risked by that other social minority, teachers:

(We've not suffered any of this – I went to bed last night without the thought of it crossing my mind. (In the past, however, we've had a few eggs thrown at the house by some of my wife's less affectionate students.)

I said a day or two ago that I was thinking of volunteering to teach reading. I still am. But I'm also thinking, maybe it would be a wise precaution not to do my volunteering too close to where I live, to start with anyway.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:25 PM
Category: Violence
[0] [0]
June 18, 2003
Encouragement

Today's Independent:

More than half of all independent schools still do not allow state school pupils to share their facilities, despite the Government's efforts to encourage more partnership between the two sectors.

Encourage. Partnership.

And almost one in 10 of the private schools which have collaborated with the state sector admitted charging more than the going rate for facilities to make a profit from state schools, a survey of 900 fee-paying schools found.

Collaborated.

If you want to buy something from me which I don't want to sell to you, I too will charge more than the "going rate". I usually have my price, but if I really like my something, my price will be high. But, it is mine. I can charge whatever I like. You have the freedom to say no. What would we say of someone who insisted on "buying" something from you, but insisted also on only paying the "going rate"? In other circumstances this is called "compulsory purchase", and the words "compulsory" and "purchase" are often followed by the word "order".

Almost 70 per cent of fee-paying schools reported that they had not opened their specialist teaching facilities such as classrooms, science laboratories, or drama studios to local state schools, according to the study by the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Could it be that they don't actually want to open their specialist teaching facilities? Makes sense to me. They sound expensive, and complicated to mend if they get broken.

The ISC released the study as part of the sector's campaign to be allowed to keep its charitable status.

Charitable status. Nothing like tax breaks to keep people in line. Command and control lives

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:52 PM
Category: Sovietisation
[2] [0]
June 17, 2003
Teaching once and teaching hard

I'm impressed by this. It's one of my favourite people at the moment, Theodore Dalrymple, proving that teaching doesn't have to go on and on, build up a "relationship" etc, to have an effect. Often it can consist of saying one true and forcefully expressed thing, and moving on.

“You know, you done me a lot of good when I was in jail,” he said. “I came to you for help. You said I didn’t need no medicine, I just needed to decide not to come back. You said there was nothing wrong with me. I thought you was very hard, but you was right. I’ve kept out of trouble for four years ever since. You spoke straight to me.”

This bloke recognised Dalrymple when they met again, but Dalrymple didn't recognise him. And that's my point.

Dalrymple is obsessed with being right, and he mostly is, in my opinion. When he is right, and someone tells him he's right, he's pleased and he doesn't mind who knows it. I much prefer proud men with something to be proud about, than men who have nothing to be proud about and aren't. He is, in short, something of a show-off. He wades through the miseries of the underclass, telling it (and them) like it is, proud of being right, showing-off.

Show-offs can make excellent teachers.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:45 AM
Category: How to teach
[3] [0]
June 16, 2003
Could this be my big chance?

It's only a short posting today, but about something that looks interesting, namely Volunteer Reading Help. I found out about it by reading this.

It is, as is fairly obvious, a volunteers-to-teach-reading scheme. I've been trying to wangle my way into active education without committing myself to anything too huge or time consuming, and this might be worth me looking into a bit further. An hour a week for each child, apparently.

I know, I know, it's got government all over it. But if it's good then good, and if it's bad, then I can blog about that, can't I?

Anyone know anything about this scheme?

In the same bit that mentions VRH, John Clare also supplies a link to these people, who put themselves about rather more than I first realised.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:42 PM
Category: Brian's brilliant teaching careerLiteracy
[0] [0]
June 15, 2003
Universities and the English language

Classicist Dr Peter Jones prefers short and clear words, even if rather badly spelt, to the pseudo-business-speak of the modern British University. Jones mentions the verbal fog that is modern literary criticism, but says that this doesn't matter, because … well, because it doesn't matter, it's only lit. crit. But this business-newspeak is everywhere, he says.

… Take any of the following nouns: aspect, role, development, challenge, context, stakeholder, opportunity, provision, resource, direction, investment, portfolio, policy, programme, skill, track-record, liaison, quality, function, end-user, process, commitment, profile, range, environment, skills, outcome, collaboration. Throw in any of the following adjectives: key, crucial, proven, wide, broad, emerging, expanding, international, ongoing, developing, innovative, pro-active, strong, strategic, organisational, or any of the above nouns used as adjectives (‘policy relevance’, ‘information resource’). String together with verbs such as facilitate, deliver, develop, broaden, enhance, support, encourage, co-ordinate, champion, implement. That’s it. You too can soon be talking about ‘pro-active development opportunities facilitating and delivering an ongoing end-user collaboration process’.

Jones rightly identifies the Thatcher era as the time when this crap crept in. The idea that you should try to run a university like a good business came to mean in practice that the people running universities started talking like bad business managers.

Brian's Education Blog will implement a key, crucial, proven, wide, broad, emerging, expanding, international, ongoing, developing, innovative, pro-active, strong, strategic, but not all that organisational information resource and end-user collaboration process. That means that it will try to be good but may not always succeed, and that you can comment if you like.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Higher education
[3] [0]
June 14, 2003
Come on – time for Wolfenstein!

I like this, from the TCS blog, by Daniel:

Following the lastest studies showing the benefits of computer gaming e.g. here I wonder how many households are moving from:

Child: But MUUUUUUM - I'm on level 5!
Mum: Not until you've finished your homework

to:

Child: But mum - I've got homework to do!
Mum: Not until you've got past level 6 of wolfensteim returns to zeldaland!

Funny. And profound.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:48 AM
Category: Parents and childrenTechnology
[0] [0]
The maths isn't adding up

More news of the shortage of people willing to be teachers from the Independent. Maths teacher Stephen McCormack (his title is "Can you find the teachers to sack?" - lovely) writes:

Pupils need to build on relationships with their teachers. If these are absent, the effect on learning and behaviour is marked. This, for me, is where successive governments have failed in the long-term development of adolescents.

It would be bad enough if confined to poor and crumbling inner city housing estates, but it is not. Take Surrey: an affluent county with stable schools and academic tranquillity? Not so. Surrey's turnover rate is the highest in the country.

The current drive to do something in London might have its good points but it will undoubtedly make things worse in the surrounding counties. I am not saying that nothing is being done. One area where there has been a clear improvement is in the numbers attracted to teacher training. Applicants for places on PGCE courses are up, due in part to the bursaries on offer. But it's no good recruiting and training teachers if they don't stay to do the job.

Three years ago I was one of 13 idealistic people starting a maths PGCE course at a London college. Only seven of us will still be teaching in or near London this September. Of the rest, three have dropped out, two have left the UK and one has gone to teach in Devon. Not all schools face these problems. I could also point to numerous schools where turnover is low, and where most vacancies attract enough candidates. Fine. But that doesn't alter the fact that thousands of children are getting a raw deal because of our inability to get staffing right.

McCormack still thinks in terms of failure by "successive governments", rather than by the very idea of government, and says that in France things are done much better, and maybe that's so. But the story I hear is that things there aren't getting any better either.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:15 AM
Category: MathsSovietisation
[0] [0]
June 13, 2003
On not teaching

Alice Bachini has a nice bit today (If that doesn't work try the link to TCS below - bloody blogspot) about her life as a teacher. What a loss to the profession. Seriously, I bet she was excellent.

But what I found especially interesting was this first comment from Emma.

It interests me that so many TCS-ers or TCS-interested people (judging by a wide scientific survey of reading some of the tCS list posts ) have backgrounds as teachers, lecturers, whatever, or still work in the education industry in some way.

Do we get interested in TCS because we see ourselves co-ercing other people in our classes and think "I wouldn't like that to happen to me/my children"?

Or is it because we are trying to do our best to be friends/mentors/ information sources/whatever, but we come to the conclusion that the way people treat children in general makes it difficult if not impossible to do that cool thing within the system without being coercive?

I guess I should TCS-list this comment, but I'll leave it here too!

And now it's here too.

I'm sure that's right about the motivation for leaving, and then for wanting something different and better. And it illustrates why the present government plan for getting more teachers, which is based merely on the idea that there are lots of potential teachers out there who just have to be told to join the profession, and then they will. All it will take is a few TV adverts, and a few celebrities writing articles about teachers who inspired them, and the new teachers will step forward.

But what if those potential teachers have thought about it, along much the same lines as those TCS people, and they are staying away for the same kinds of reasons the TCSers went away?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:59 PM
Category: How to teach
[0] [0]
June 12, 2003
On dolphins and robots

Further to this, there's lots more arguing about just how clever dolphins aren't here.

I especially liked the commenter who said that her dog definitely learned, and then the commenter who said that his computer game definitely learned.

Can you teach a computer programme? I don't think that "yes" is a totally silly answer.

In a hundred years, will robots be going to college? I recall a Sci-Fi story about a robot who confounded his inventors by becoming an aesthete and wearing a flower in his lapel. Sounds like it could have been Philip K. Dick. Anyone?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:03 PM
Category: Humans and animalsTechnology
[1] [0]
June 11, 2003
Sucher on Said

(If you are a soccer fan, that could sound like Sukor on side. Ignore.)

David Sucher has a fascinating recollection of having been taught by Edward Said, and having been told by him about how to answer someone who seems to have all the answers.

Good teachers are sometimes forgotten at once. You learn what he's teaching you, and completely forget that it was he who taught you.

And good teachers are sometimes remembered forty years later.

As these people say, teaching comes in many forms.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:16 PM
Category: How to teach
[2] [0]
Humans and dolphins – taking each other seriously

Earlier this evening I watched Wildlife on One, the BBC TV birds and beasties show fronted by the saintly David Attenborough. Tonight, the subject was dolphins.

Dolphins and humans get along really well, both seeming to be fascinated by the other. Dolphins seem to want entertainment, and suggestions for things for them to do and copy, and an audience to show off to. (Dolphins are great mimics and natural performers.) And humans love that dopey grin that all dolphins have all over their faces, which makes dolphins seem to us smart but, crucially, also nice. Snakes they are absolutely not.

There were definite educational vibes here, in the sense that dolphins seem to be able to learn and to create. The humans were asking them questions and setting them little tasks, and the dolphins were doing very well. Not only could they do the (relatively) easy stuff, but they were coming up with clever and creative answers to trick questions or impossible tasks. They even know how to watch television. If Attenborough gave them a task by waving his arms about on a TV screen, they did it, just as if he was really there.

Dolphins, like us, are smart because they are social and because they have had a lot to gain from communication and from creativity. They chase after fishes not alone but in teams, and they often invent clever new ways to chase these fishes. Then they teach their children how the system works. Like us, dolphins have cultures, not just instincts. And when dolphins and humans get together, they immediately create a new shared culture, with both sides learning from each other, and both sides having a bundle of fun.

All of which got me to thinking: Why can't humans and human children get along like this? Why can't they be so obviously happy together and so obviously learning together?

Often of course, this is what happens between big humans and small ones. But on the whole, it doesn't. How come?

I don't want to romanticise just how clever dolphins really are. They are surely nearer to super-intelligent dogs than to humans, and one shouldn't confuse the fact that we react to them rather as we react to really nice people (because that's how they come across to us) with the notion that dolphins really are as clever as us. That three-year-old humans can often be rather harder to get along with than mature dolphins is not evidence that the dolphins are necessarily any smarter. Were humans to take againsts dolphins and to decide that they really, really liked how they tasted, and to start farming them, or if humans were to decide that dolphins posed a long-term threat to human domination of the planet and to decide to wipe them out, I wonder how clever the dolphins would prove themselves to be in the face of a menace like that.

Mercifully for the dolphins we aren't doing any that. As it is, not only do the dolphins entertain us by participating in David Attenborough programmes; they even help our fishermen by herding shoals of fish into their nets, in exchange for the left-overs. They've apparently been doing that for decades, at some fishing town somewhere.

So given that we don't seem to want to tyrannise over or otherwise torment our dolphin friends, how come the relationship between us is not just one of good intentions on both sides, but so enduringly harmonious and successful? What is being done right here?

I think there's another whole reason why humans and dolphins get along so well, besides the fact that we just do, which is that we each have our own homes, our own natural domains, and these are very different. We have our homes on land, and they have theirs at sea. What this means is that Mother Nature imposes a regime of Taking Dolphins Seriously on us, and Taking Humans Seriously on them. (I'm referring to the ideas of people like these people.)

What I mean by this is that when we are baffled or frustrated by the dolphins, given the rules we have imposed upon ourselves about not shooting them or something like that, what can we do? We can't make them go to bed early, or shout at them in a way they can't ignore, or otherwise torment them, the way we are all too tempted to torment human children. If we do anything like this, they can just swim away. If small humans run away from big humans in disgust, the big humans can chase after them and catch them, but humans just can't do that with dolphins. They can swim far better. And by the same token, if we make the dolphins angry with us, what can they do? Jump onto land and attack us? They can't. All they can do is swim away until they've calmed down. Nature imposes a regime of mutual civility.

It also helps that we aren't trying to bully the dolphins into becoming doctors or dentists or accountants and fussing about their exam results. Well, I expect some of the scientists get neurotic about things not unlike that, wanting their dolphins to be a credit to them and make them look good at their scientific conferences. But, see above, if the scientists do get above themselves like this, what can they do about it? The dolphins have the sea to protect them against all such foolishness.

The problem with small humans is that they don't have their sea. They live on the same land as us, and are defenceless against us. And we routinely do horrible things to them because … we can.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:35 PM
Category: Humans and animals
[4] [0]
June 10, 2003
Crowding out in the exam industry

Here's an article in today's Telegraph by Elizabeth Rickards:

English is the backbone of our education. Without a good understanding of the language and an ability to write it formally, progress in other subjects is held back. A command of the subject is essential not just for academic success: it is the key skill in the workplace.

How ironic, then, that English is in decline in this country whilst millions abroad study it because they fully understand its value.

Good intentions, endless initiatives, literacy hours, targets and league tables have still to make any real impact on the standard of school-leavers' written English. Employers and university lecturers alike bemoan the fact that young people cannot be relied on to spell, punctuate or write clearly. Even Oxford dons complain that some of our brightest students cannot write accurately.

But if it is true that employers want more literate employees than they are getting, then surely these employers ought to identify a satisfactory exam which if passed will ensure that the candidate is suitably literate, and make that a condition of entry. Problem solved.

Existing exams are not satisfactory, says Ms. Rickards.

It might not have mattered so much if GCSE English Language – the national test in literacy, which is being taken this week and next by nearly 700,000 15-year-olds – were not a fundamentally flawed exam. It is an inaccurate way of measuring literacy. Indeed, it is not really an exam at all.

Exam boards compete for business. They make a virtue of producing "friendly" options. In English Language GCSE, that means the exam may contain few surprises.

But if employers are so contemptuous of such alleged qualifications, why can they not establish their own standards, and create a different sort of competition, between examiners competing not to dumb down but to examine accurately the qualities which employers prize? Once this kind of exam system is established, this would be the one which teachers would prepare their pupils for. Seriously, why doesn't that kind of thing happen?

Instead of this, which is what happens now:

But there is more. Twenty per cent of the marks in English Language GCSE are for "speaking and listening". Many people who cannot write well can speak very well indeed. However, what employers and universities want to know is how good a student is on paper.

The inclusion of speaking and listening in the overall marks distorts this information. It should be graded separately. Another 20 per cent of the marks are for coursework. As this is not supervised, it, too, is a less than reliable benchmark.

And it gets worse.

When marking the exam papers, OCR examiners are instructed not to mark writing in section A "unless the expression is so bad it impedes communication".

In other words, for half of our national test in literacy, a sentince that had no fool stop or coma but contaned the rite anser in terms of meening (sic) could get full marks because the spelling and punctuation mistakes would be ignored.

Obviusly I coodent mis that parergrarf.

In other markets, the rich aren't the only ones getting a semi-decent product. I don't shop at Harrods, but I get good stuff at Tescos. So why can there not be semi-decent Tesco-style exams that regular people can study for and pass. And then they can enter the workforce with an adequate – and improving if that's what is wanted by those employers – ability to read and write.

Markets correct all sorts of other failings in the state system, like unsatisfactory maths or English teaching. People with the cash to spare on other educational extras sally forth and find them. So how come exams are such a shambles, and in basic English of all things? How come there is no "emerging private sector" in that?

My guess of an answer would be (a) the expense of setting up a new exam system, combined with (b) the phenomenon of "crowding out".

Start with (a). Establishing a successful exam brand is possible, but I would guess that it would be a major undertaking. It would be much more expensive than establishing a respected teaching system for example, because the key to success is getting a lot of people to respect the brand, all at once. Passing the exam if no one has heard of it is no good. Being the only employer who demands this particular sort of qualification would cause you to reject good people merely because they hadn't taken this exam. So the system has to catch on big time. It would be like launching a major software package.

Which means that (b), the crowding out effect, would be important. Crowding out is what the government does when it participates in a market, or threatens to, or is widely assumed to have to, in a way that makes it impossible to tell what it will be doing in two or three years time. If you want to start that brand new exam brand, your nightmare is that in three years time the government just might get its act together and start to compete seriously with you. It might, for example, copy what you've done but decide to be in charge of such a system itself, and cut you out of it, by bribing half your workers away from you. By the time it had become clear that you knew your business better than the government did, the damage would have been done to your bottom line. So, in a business like the exam business, best to stay out, and leave the field clear for short-termist cowboy chicanery, like selling the exam to the mere takers of it as something that is getting progressively easier, but which still sounds good – or which sounds as if it will sound good – to employers.

Which, I further surmise, is the world that the average pupil in the average state school now inhabits.

Hav er nise dei.

I was going to end this with that urmyoozing kwip, but I won't because there is another answer to this question, which is that there is an emerging market in exams now coming nicely to the boil. It's just that I haven't yet heard about it. If that is the case, have an even nicer day, and if you know about all this, please let me know about it too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:22 PM
Category: Examinations and qualificationsSovietisation
[2] [0]
June 09, 2003
How to educate with the Internet

Alice Bachini linked (go to her main site and scroll down to "anti-semitism" if that first link doesn't work) to this over the weekend. It's a denunciation, as Alice's heading indicates, of the new anti-semitism, of the sort that Islamists and the new left are now accused of.

My point is nothing to do with the fact that I personally agree strongly with the message being presented. (I might as well be honest about that, and acknowledge that it may have influenced what follows.) My point is that this seems to me to be very well presented argument, and a model of how to use the internet to put across ideas. Aesthetically it is very satisfactory. And it is well-written.

I loathe the use of the word "education" to describe propaganda, and this is propaganda. The central dishonesty in the education/propaganda blurring being that ideas are being put across which the protagonist of them knows to be controversial, buit he conceals the fact that they are controversial and instead trying to say that they are as universally agreed about as the facts, say, of which city is the capital of which country, and of what 62 + 35 equals. Nevertheless, this particularly item of propaganda, it seems to me, has a lot to say to educators about how to communicate with the latest technology.

I'd love to be told of other equally excellent (or better) examples of how to put ideas across on the Internet.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:52 PM
Category: The Internet
[6] [0]
June 06, 2003
Rocket science in a pizza parlour

Here's an interesting piece of education. You know the expression "It's not rocket science". Well, this is rocket science. "Rocket science made simple." It's linked to by Glenn Reynolds here, to illustrate how easy it is now to educate yourself, wherever you are. I tried copying and pasting some of it, but couldn't make the actual equations work ("simple" is a matter of degree with rocket science), so you'll just have to go there yourself if you want to learn more.

It's the same observation as the one about why homeschooling works so much better now than it used to. The average home is now better informed than even the best university a couple of generations ago.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM
Category: Home educationThe Internet
[1] [0]
The headmaster shrugged

Whatever else you read about education in the next few days, read this (from the latest Spectator), if you haven't already. Sample paragraph:

It isn’t just the ‘papersomeness’ (to quote the latest buzzword) of my job. It is the accountability. Fair enough, somebody needs to check on my competency and make sure that I am not financing my own extravagant lifestyle with school funds. But with so many stakeholders I can build my own stockade. I am accountable to the parents, who can blame me for anything and everything that goes wrong in their lives, because I am an easy target and expected to be accessible. I am accountable to governors, who have immense responsibilities but are not required to undergo any training whatsoever to equip them to discharge them. I am accountable to the LEA in County Hall, who seem to think they can dictate how I spend my time. I am accountable to the editor of the local newspaper, to all the solicitors in the town, to the consultants in the local hospital, to the police, to social services, and to the people who live nearby, all of whom have told me in no uncertain terms how to do my job. I am accountable to Mr Clarke. I am accountable to Ofsted, who come every two years on average and settle in for a week. The only people it appears I am not accountable to, whose lives I am directly affecting day in day out, are the pupils themselves. Yet it is they who are suffering from the actions of everybody else. So from now on I will be accountable only to myself, to my wife, and to God, because I have resigned.

I don't often refer approvingly to the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, if only because so many others with opinions similar to mine seem to do this all the time. But for the experience of this headmaster the phrase "Atlas shrugged" (the title of one of Rand's most famous novels) does seem very appropriate. This really is like one of Rand's put-upon railway workers quietly slipping away into the countryside, never to work on the railways again until sanity is restored.

Who was the Greek god of teaching? Or the teaching equivalent of Atlas? Anyone? Whoever he was, he is shrugging.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:39 AM
Category: Sovietisation
[0] [0]
June 05, 2003
But can she spell "Gnat"?

Gnat is learning. I have no children, but I guess that when it works, this is how it works.

Gnat has been drawing big heads with dots for features, squiggles for hair, lumps for ears. The usual toddler conceptions of humanity: formless mutants.

“Look, Daddee. I draw an eye.”

I’m sure you did, honey. Can you draw a nose?

“No, I draw an eye.”

I looked: she had drawn an upper-case I. Her first letter. She copied it from a book. She pointed to the word BIG and said “BIG. B - I - G.”

Yes, she’s reading. Two years, ten months, and she’s reading. Mom, Dad, Cat, Dog, Bed, Pig, and several others - she understands them in different contexts. She reads the titles of old Disney cartoons; today she said “Fwee Liddle Pigs” when the title card came on. I’m sure she associated the music with the cartoon, which she’s seen a hundred times, but even so that’s pretty good. She knows that this music means this cartoon, and that those three words say “Three Little Pigs.” When we’re driving along she’ll point at a store’s sign and say “Open.” She knows the world is full of words and she interrogates each one to see if she knows it. She also understands ad campaigns - the Arby’s oven mitt amuses her, for some reason.

“Look!” she says, pointing up at the billboard. “Mr. Glove.” Later that day a commercial comes on, and she says “Mr. Glove, Daddee. He’s everywhere. He’s on the teevee an’ he’s on signs.”

Yes, that’s a direct quote. But it’s not the remark that bothered me the most today. We were in the car, driving along a suburban highway; she looked out at the foliage. “The trees are alll green,” she said. She paused. “These trees are greenish.”

Two years. Ten months. Greenish. God help me.

This is the kind of reason why the Lileks Bleat has a permanent place on the right hand side of this blog, but this bit makes me think he maybe should be in the "education friendly" category, because that bit could hardly be more education friendly, I would say.

Never mind. Good writing - I especially like the eye/I confusion at the beginning - is routinely impossible to classify.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:16 PM
Category: Literacy
[0] [0]
"Which is better?"

More on the subjectivity of educational value, from the CrozierVision May archive. Patrick is having a go at Polly Toynbee, starting with a quote from her:

Spell out what good the state does and how much more it can do.

What does she mean here? Notice, I am having to ask this with just about every line she writes. Is it because she is vague or I am being over-precise? Dunno. Anyway, I will continue on in this vein because that's the kind of guy I am.

She could mean that because the state, say, provides some schools which provide some education to some children it is therefore a good thing. But if she were saying this it would be terribly disingenuous. The real measure is how the state compares with the alternatives.

And then we get into a real problem. Because how do you make that comparison? Which is better, that ten children are educated to level 9 or that one child is educated to level 100 and the others not at all? Which is better quality or equality? This is assuming that you could ever come up with a linear scale of education - surely and impossibility.

And even then there is the whole question of whether education itself is so much better than its alternatives. Personally, I rather think that a vast number of 14-year olds would be far better off (and not just financially) by leaving school and entering the world of work.

I suppose what I am arguing is that you (and by extension government) simply cannot know what "good" is, let alone deliver it.

I don't quite go along with that last bit. It seems to me that "you", and I, and anyone else we cooperate with (such as our children) can devise a good education for ourselves, because we know each other, and because in accordance with the civilised rule that I trust we are following, any individual not satisfied may opt out (and I'd include the child in that). It's when we all decide, "by extension", that we also know what is best for people we've never met, and don't allow them to opt out, that the trouble starts. I'm sure Patrick agrees with that, but it isn't quite what he said.

Patrick is of course entirely in tune with the general spirit of this blog, which includes (but which is not exclusively devoted to) spelling out what harm the state does and how much less it should do. So apart from that one quibble: indeed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:37 PM
Category: Politics
[1] [0]
PhDs again – on confusing symptoms with causes

Yesterday I commented on this PhD overproduction thing, along the lines that once a measurement becomes a target it ceases to measure. But I did it badly, and I'm going to take another crack at it. Nothing like doing my duty for two days with one idea, is there?

The central point is the difference between measuring a mere symptom, and measuring the degree to which someone has deliberately scored highly, but only by that measurement.

Take the matter of PhDs, since that was the original subject. Time was when a PhD was a symptom of the fact that you were a budding scholar. You didn't do your research into your favourite brand of forest beetle and then write about it for your fellow scholars in order to get your PhD. You did it in order to find out more about the beetle and to tell friends and rivals about it and about the larger significance of it. The PhD was just an outward sign of your scholarly progress. Now, people say: "I want a PhD, what shall I do it in?"

Now of course I am somewhat romanticising this. Scholars have always been competitive and status conscious, and aware of the importance of titles and jobs. But at least they were concerned with scholarly jobs. The trouble erupts when a PhD, like a degree before it ("I want a degree, what shall I do it in?"), is treated as a qualification for the non-scholarly, real world out there.

What the real world used to value in PhDs was their genuine scholarly abilities, their ability to look at merely business problems from a fresh, even if rather bumbling and eccentric, angle, and to bring different sorts of knowledge and a different (more intellectual) sort of intellectual attitude to bear. Now (and I have friends exactly like this) you get smart, besuited go-getters showing up for interviews to become corporate go-getters, who do not now have and never did have any serious scholarly achievements or ambitions but who now call themselves Doctors. All very confusing. I suppose it's a symptom of the fact that, to an unprecedented degree these days, technical knowledge and intellectual facility is also money (human capital, etc.), and so therefore you have a new breed of money seeker who goes to money via knowledge and intellect, and via the honorific trappings of knowledge and intellect.

Please do not misunderstand this as any kind of attack on the principle of go-getting and money-making. I'm all for it. I'm just trying to contrive a world in which effort leads to actual results, instead of merely to pointless – and even career-blighting or life-ruining – educational qualifications.

A more extreme-for-illustrative-purposes example of the symptom/target muddle would be trying to cure a high fever by putting the patient in a fridge. Temperature does serve as a sign of illness, in the normal course of things. But merely bashing the temperature over the head by any means available is not the same as administering a cure.

That's a case of trying to remove something bad by hacking down the bad number which was measuring it. Now here's a real-world example of trying to stimulate something good by bashing up the good number. (Appropriately enough for here, it's another educational example, and one closely related to the problem of PhD overproduction.)

Observation: countries with lots of universities do well economically. Let's assume that that's true, approximately speaking. Ergo: we must build lots of universities and stuff into them any lazy thickos we can round up, perhaps by bending the academic entrance requirements. This may do some good things for some people, but the bit after Ergo absolutely does not automatically follow.

What if the proliferation of universities is a mere symptom of an underlying intellectual enthusiasm in the country, which is in no way stimulated by merely erecting more of the architectural consequences of such an enthusiasm? As soon as you identify "number of universities" as the good variable, and start to try to increase that number by going at it directly (instead of by somehow stimulating "intellectual enthusiasm", whatever that is and however you do that, and assuming that that is what is really causing the economic development, which may also not be true), then the number stops being useful as a measure of future economic prowess.

Because indeed, it may not be true that "intellectual enthusiasm" is the good variable here. What if what universities really signify is the mere presence of lots of rich people with time and money to burn arsing about at university, drinking and, yes, thinking – but not in a way that will ever enhance the nation's economic prowess? What if, in other words, proliferation of universities is entirely the consequence of economic prowess, and in no way its cause? I don't entirely believe this, but there's certainly a lot to this surmise, I'd say. If that's true, then to seek national economic success with a university building programme is like trying to get rich by buying your wife a diamond necklace, on the grounds that rich wives tend to sport diamond necklaces more often than poor ones.

(Another example of a symptom getting misused as a measurement would be if I measured my success here only in terms of how well I stuck to my minimum-of-one-posting-per-weekday rule. But mentioning that also points up that imposing such a number rule can do good things, because I believe that this rule, crude though it may be, has served me very well. Business people often use this kind of technique. Maybe just banging up more universities might do good after all, because it would at least get the gandchildren of coal-miners into the habit of thinking, and get them to realise that they might be able to make a better living by thinking better.)

Getting back to the PhD thing, Michael, I feel for you. (Doctor Michael Jennings, now holidaying in Bilbao (try the first link to the site as a whole if the second to the actual holiday posting doesn't work), commented glumly on the previous posting.)

Michael strikes me as a PhD of the genuine, original sort, one of life's actual scholars and gentlemen, complete with crumpled corduroy jacket that he ought to change more often and strange bow tie, spiritually if not literally, and a ton of knowledge about all manner of things and bags of intellect. The title "Doctor" ought to be reserved for the likes of him, so that employers could identify his special virtues, which I know him to possess, and realise that the cord jacket and bow tie (spiritually speaking) is just part of the package.

Personally, I'd like to see a verbal distinction made between scholars and the medical profession. I enjoy asking people who are only "doctors" in the economics of marketing (who are thus in my eyes doubly undeserving of the title) to cure my increasingly blocked sinuses. But that's a different argument.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:07 PM
Category: Examinations and qualifications
[2] [1]
June 04, 2003
Jonathan Wilde (and me) on the (non-)value of a PhD

Jonathan Wilde emails thus:

I am a big fan of your education blog. …

A big fan. There you go, I have big fans. The desire to flatter is flattery itself, I always say. So what do I have to do for you, JW? Oh yes …

… I have made a post on the value of a PhD that you might be interested in on my blog.…

link to your post and say things about it. Fair enough.

Opening paragraph:

How many times have you heard someone say, "The solution is education," in response to an endless list of social problems. Or, "Society needs educated people in order to thrive," or "The best thing we can do for the youth of America is give them a proper education"? Education is often regarded as the modern day panacea for societal ills. Pick a problem, any problem, watch some TV, and a talking head will propose education as the solution.

But Wilde goes on to note that, according to some, one of the biggest educational problems these days is the over-production of people with PhDs.

Wilde's piece is about the subjectivity of value – the value of things generally and the value to an employer of higher education in particular – and about the fact that all these excessive numbers of people with PhDs think they have something of "objective" value, but are mistaken.

Concluding paragraphs:

And the key point is this – what the employer values in an employee is completely subjective. As circumstances change, what the employer seeks in an employee changes. Just ask any computer programmer who was raking it in three years ago but cannot find a job today. The mistake that the PhD degree seekers often make is believing that by getting a PhD, they are getting objective economic value. They believe that after 4 years of college, 5 or more years spent pursuing a PhD, being published in journals, and writing and defending a thesis in front of scholars of their chosen field, they have something that is intrinsically valuable.

But as the Austrian school reveals, nothing is intrinsically valuable. Nothing has objective economic value. Job training, specialization, postgraduate degrees, certification, etc are only valuable if others value them enough to exchange wages for the labor of those who obtain them.

And of course, the larger question is – if education is to be the cure all for society's ills, how can a top-down structure ensure by design that employers value the skills and training obtained by graduates?

Indeed.

Moving off at a tangent somewhat (i.e. changing the subject almost totally), it seems to me that what we have here is also a confusion between the permanent (if still subjective and maybe over-produced) value of some item of actual education, some actual acquired ability, and the temporarily useful but soon overtaken-by-events sign that one is up at the front of some queue to demonstrate some combination of clevernesses such as one always had but needed somehow to prove. As soon as lots of people have PhDs, having a PhD ceases to prove that you are at the front of the PhD queue, merely someone who is in it..

For what it is worth, what I hear now (and that means that this could already be way out of date) is that the current big "meal ticket for life" qualification is being in or having been in one of the big name management consultancies. But give it ten years, and ex-McKinseyites (who all swallowed the claim that McKinseyness would indeed be a meal-ticket for life and who were thus hired for crap wages in vast numbers by McKinsey and used to clean their toilets and carry the luggage of the real McKinseyites and who barged in on the real McKinsey business and thus without realising it ruined McKinsey as a star enterprise and turned it into a mere brand-X enterprise) will likewise be flooding the labour market, and mostly likewise be unemployable. Not least because they were too stupid to see that this was happening.

This is a particular example of the general law, famously stated by somebody very important whose name I can't remember, that as soon as some particular variable is publicly identified as the way to measure something, it ceases to measure it, or for that matter to measure anything much at all. Something like that. That's a principle that applies to educational "results" of all kinds, not just PhDs.

Have a nice day.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:15 PM
Category: Examinations and qualificationsRelevance
[3] [0]
June 03, 2003
"... it does sound too good to be true ..."

At the end of last week, a friend brought a Telegraph article to my attention in paper form, but I spent the weekend linking, and have only just encountered it in its linkable version. It's about the headmaster of Newton Prep, in Battersea, London, and it's called "How I'd scrap state schools":

Privately educating every child in the land wouldn't be as costly as you might think, says Richard Dell.

Picture your local school. It is vibrant, happy, filled with excited teachers and motivated children. The resources are first-rate: computers abound, the library is overflowing with books, and the governors are thinking of buying new playing-fields.

So is this your local private school? Yes. And is this yet another school that is too expensive for ordinary people? No. This school charges no fees. It is entirely free, right down to all the books and trips.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it shouldn't. We could create the best independent education for all our children without charging any fees whatsoever. How this could be done is wonderfully simple.

Well, yes, it does sound too good to be true, but the piece conveys what is called infectious enthusiasm, and I intend to study it some more and I recommend that some of you people do also. I think I might even email this man. I wonder what he might say. Something like this?

So do not complain that governments are getting our education system wrong. They should not be running it anyway. Stop whingeing and start doing. We can revolutionise education in our country.

Stop whingeing. Sounds like he's been reading this.

Some of our greatest schools exist because individuals rather than governments invested in education. Four leading independents have just announced a return to their founders' ideals with regards to means-tested scholarships - providing, in other words, the best education for the neediest of pupils.

Despite myself, I am impressed. More research is needed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:00 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[3] [0]
June 02, 2003
Links!

Yes, people. Look over to your right. What you thought would never happen (what with how often I have promised it) has happened, and this is now a Real Blog. It may not yet be a very good one, but it definitely now is one.

My deepest thanks to all those who have had me on their permanent links lists without me reciprocating, and in general my apologies in all directions for having taken so long to get this essential aspect of blogging even semi-properly organised.

Any comments on or complaints about these links would now be very welcome. Faced with the difficulty of classifying many of these links, I have for now contented myself with only one distinction, between a link to a blog and a link to a not-blog. That nuance aside, everything educational has been hurled into two alphabetised buckets, with learned commentators on educational policy rubbing shoulders with chatty clappy Christian homeschoolers, maths study guides with websites devoted to privatising everything educational that you can think of. In short, I gave up trying to get it completely right, and have concentrated on getting a first base established. I'd welcome any suggestions about how to classify these various links more exactly, and thus perhaps more helpfully.

And now that I know how to do all this better than I did before, now would be a good time to suggest more blogs and sites that it would make sense for me to include. In fact, comments on any aspect of this operation – from links that actually don't, to spelling blunders, to further suggestions, and even to suggested dismissals on the grounds of, I don't know, being ghastly.

One possible addition Real Soon Now may be a clutch of official British government sites on educational matters, and another obvious one would also be the education pages of the cost-free mainstream media.

I also suspect that when I take another crack at this, part of the answer may be to have pages like the one that Jim of Jim's Journal has at his site. Jim has favoured this blog with a number of comments over the last few weeks, and when I looked at his page of favourite blogs I discovered how very much I admired this man, who, incidentally, has an very educational job. Reynolds, Lileks, some guy called Pepys, Sullivan, Pournelle, Postrel, various others, and me, twice. Thrice, if you count Samizdata. (And Jennings.)

But more to my point here is that short descriptions of blogs, rather than just these massive lists, may prove to be the way to go, as has already been suggested by Alice, although I'm afraid I can't find when or where, for the usual boring Blogger reasons. (Although I hear that they are promising to do better, Real Soon Now.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:48 PM
Category: This Blog
[5] [0]