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Category Archive • Blogging
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
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January 12, 2005
Natalie gets educational

Natalie Solent seems to be in an educational mood just now. First there was this:

I hereby submit my new general theory on the learning of foreign languages. This article in Le Monde about the oil for food scandal was of particular interest because it was of interest.

I took O-Level French at sixteen. Since then, linguistic stagnation, slightly ameliorated by tourism. But since I've been on the internet and can read French stuff which is about things I want to read about I have started learning French again.

I have these little insights from time to time. The great thing about blogging is that you can exhibit them and win either way. If the so-called insight was and always had been obvious to the entire world apart from me it doesn't seem to matter. Readers simply do not linger there. But if the reaction is "Natalie, you have put into words that very thought most needed by a suffering humanity; here, take all my worldly goods as a partial recompense," that is OK, too.

I kept that last paragraph in not because it is especially educational, but simply because I like it. Bloggers are as good as their best postings, but not as banal as their worst. Discuss. Although I suppose the insight that if you write down an insight, you are more likely to reflect upon it intelligently, and if it is true and valuable to remember it, is educational.

And then for her next Natalie did a longer posting about the question of those little life skills, i.e. the kind of essential stuff that you may get taught at school, but may not. Like: cooking, sewing, keeping a diary and thereby keeping appointments. And I would add: typing and driving.

The first of these two Natalie postings actually says a lot about the second. You learn the life skills you are interested in learning. And I entirely agree with her that the Welfare State hugely interrupts that process, by dis-incentivising the learning of anything. Or, to put it another way, necessity is the mother of education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:50 AM
Category: BloggingPoliticsThis and that
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December 16, 2004
Blogger dads

I've only just spotted this, from Alan Little's blog, about son Jack:

Sunday Family Life Vignette: Maria and I are having dinner in the kitchen. Jack has finished his dinner and is watching Jungle Book in the living room. Or so we think. Jack comes running into the kitchen, grabs a wooden spoon from the sink and runs back out. I decide I should go and see what he's doing with it. What he's doing with it is trying to spoon spilt soil back into one of his mum's plant pots. For which he clearly deserves a big hug.

I figure this is well above a chimpanzee level of reasoning, both in terms of understanding cause and effect (soil spilt -> mum not pleased) and premeditated tool use.

So there it is, in case you didn't spot it.

Not having any kids of my own I have no real idea, but this seems like fine parenting to me. Jack clearly knew he had done something bad, so no lecture to that effect was needed. On the contrary, well done for realising it, and well done for doing something intelligent about it.

I know what you're thinking. What the hell business is this of mine and who the hell am I to be judging Alan's skills as a parent? Answer: if you blog things like that, the whole world is then entitled to discuss it.

See also Gnat, daughter of another doting (and blogging – Lileks is a blogger in all but software) father. Here's the most recent Gnat reference that I could find:

A lazy day at home – well, for the kid, anyway. After all the hurly-burly and excitement of the big trip to Chicago, a day spent with Play-Doh and Spongebob is just the ticket. I love to hear her laugh – not just the babbling laugh of a kid delighting in something infantile, but that short single-syllable Ha! that sounds very adult, and suggests she gets the joke on a higher level.

What happens when Gnat and Bob get old enough to be reading such stuff? That's not a sarky complaint disguised as a question, I'm really looking forward to that, especially if they – I don't know – want to join in the conversation, perhaps with blogs of their own. (Question: who is the world's youngest Real Blogger?)

Or maybe there will be Conversations, after which Feelings will be Respected, and then a great Jack silence, and a great Gnat silence. Hope not.

My guess is that having a blogger dad who blogs about you will be like growing up in the Royal Family. It will be years before you realise there's anything unusual going on, and many more before you get how very unusual it actually was. In this case it'll be: Wow, you mean your dad doesn't blog about you? How very peculiar.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:01 PM
Category: BloggingParents and children
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November 24, 2004
Hutton on Mussolini

Mussolini.jpgHere is Harry Hutton's latest Killer Fact:

Mussolini was expelled from school for knifing one of his classmates. He went on to become a primary school teacher (Mussolini, not the classmate).

Indeed he was (although I cannot verify that it was a knifing of a fellow student that broke the disciplinary camel's back) and indeed he did.

It's off topic somewhat, but I really do admire Harry Hutton's blogging a lot. It's not hard to get and to keep the attention of readers when you already are famous. His writing, it seems to me, is a model of how to use blogging to get famous, although perhaps he already is famous and I hadn't noticed. His postings are terse and to the point. No attention is presumed upon. I think my own blogging style may now be being influenced by him. If so, good.

I recently hailed Scrappleface's new book. Someone (maybe Harry Hutton himself if all others fail) should do one of Harry Hutton's best bloggings.

Harry Hutton has been a teacher for quite a long time, and many of his more penetrating postings are on educational themes.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:29 PM
Category: BloggingFamous educationsThe reality of teaching
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November 16, 2004
Sustainable edu-blogging?

My good friend Adriana has emailed me about a blog posting entitled BLOGs: are they the new holy grail in education?, which has obvious Brian's Education Blog relevance.

It is the work of an academic at something called the European Center of Knowledge Management. At one point he uses the phrase "sustainable development" without any sneering. Personally, I think that the only sustainable development worth a damn is a series of unsustainable developments laid end to end. Also, his commenters (his students – I'm guessing) get into the usual guilt-ridden flap about whether the Internet increases inequality. Answer: make internet connections even cheaper, and even less dependent than now upon complicated and unguardable fixed infrastructure. In other words, let capitalism carry on moving rapidly in the direction which it is now moving rapidly in anyway.

But, these ideological complaints aside, this is worth a look, if only to learn about how blogging is getting around, and how all manner of people are sensing that they could use it too. The comments are particularly good for sampling that particular atmosphere.

This, for me, was the most interesting paragraph:

Today, more than ever before, I am convinced that virtual learning has a bright future, particularly since it allows each and every learner to develop his own learning path, fully adapted to each individual's context. At least that is what virtual learning is able to do, which does not automatically mean that all what we call today e-learning fits this definition. Well designed virtual learning allows for diversity in learning, eventually allowing almost individualised education. In order to develop more accessible educational facilities in deprived regions or amongst the less fortunate, virtual learning has a huge potential.

I think he is quite right about the way the Internet individualises education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:11 PM
Category: Blogging
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October 08, 2004
Joanne Jacobs interviewed by Norm Geras

Yes, like the man says, Norm Geras interviews Joanne Jacobs.

I didn't know this:

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be?

I'd decriminalize drugs.

Because Joanne Jacobs favours schooling as usual (but improved by the market), I pretty much had her tagged as more conventionally right wing than that, i.e. perhaps worried about the War on Drugs, but not that worried.

Live, blog, read other blogs, and learn.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:47 PM
Category: Blogging
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October 06, 2004
Jonathan Briggs on what an educational blog is

I went from this at Samizdata to this at tBBC, to a comment on this, to this blog, and to this posting there.


What is an educational blog?

- An additional communication channel between teacher and learner
- A searchable archive of notes and handouts including downloadable worksheets and documents
- Signpost learners to additional resources
- Support questioning and discussion
- Provide a channel for comment, criticism and evaluation
- Open the teaching and learning process publicly to other interested parties

… which sounds, in a way, pretty old school to me. Which just might be the point.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:06 PM
Category: Blogging
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October 05, 2004
More about how blogs teach

I have already linked to this article. Now I have read it.

Short quote:

"They want to make sure that it's good enough to be read by more than just their teacher," said Christopher S. Wright, a third grade teacher at Wyman Elementary School in Rolla, Mo.

That's a thought I have often had, here and there.

It always seemed to me that one of the stupidest things about my school essays was that on the whole only one person, the teacher, ever got to read them. I didn't blame anybody. It was inherent in the primitive technology we all then depended upon. Your stuff either got read by too few people, or was shoved in front of the faces of far, far too many people (i.e. "published" in some way or another), on a scarce and hotly contested piece of territory that involved a fight to get your bit of it. Learners need a happy medium (in both senses), where more than the tiny first few can browse, but no large readership is inconvenienced unless and until it wants to be. Blogging is that happy medium.

As Christopher S. Wright says, once learners blog, they have a built-in inducement to do it better, because the better they do it the more people will read and admire. There is a gradual success path there.

We all know that you typically teach in small increments of challenge, effort, result, reward.

Blogs teach.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:31 PM
Category: Blogging
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September 29, 2004
Blogucation link

Busy day today at digital camera class, but here's a link to an article about blogs in education. I've not read it yet, but Jackie Danicki of tBBC has.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:38 AM
Category: Blogging
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July 20, 2004
Self-educational blogging on Samizdata

Not a lot here today, but I have gone Samizdata, so to speak, with the issue of blogging as a self-education technique, following (and reproducing on Samizdata) Rob Fisher's comment on this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:12 PM
Category: Blogging
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July 18, 2004
On how Michael Jennings educates himself by blogging and on why blogging got (and things in general get) so popular

I have been blogging elsewhere today (having finally done a Samizdata review of the Bill Bryson book I've been going on about here and there) and will be partying later, so just quick posting, in the form of an observation from Michael Jennings, with whom I took afternoon coffee last Friday.

He said, appropos this idea of blogging as self education, that it has been applying recently to him. He has found himself becoming one of those people who puts together bespoke computers for people, and he's been doing occasional postings about this kind of thing. Mostly, he say, he does this for his own benefit, to arrange his own thoughts. If others want to read it, fine, and if they want to attach helpful comments, that's helpful. But his main purpose is as an aid to his own thought processes.

Much of what I stick up here is done in a similar spirit. And I'm sure that other bloggers do the same.

However, the fact that others might be interested too does make a difference to how well you do this sort of thing, which of course means that blogging may (for show-offs) be a far better aid to self-education than mere note taking. If others are going to see what you put, you make more of an effort. And those helpful comments can be very helpful indeed.

There are two kinds of things in the world. There are the things that catch on because of one vitally brilliant thing that they do which nothing else can do. And then there are the things that catch on because … well, nobody quite knows why. They don't seem to be doing any one thing supremely well which has never been done before, yet still they spread like an ultra-popular pop song. It's because they bundle together lots of solutions, I think. Blogs do this. Blogs do that. And they do this, and that. And that. Which means lots of people start them, and like them, and read other blogs, which means they do that thing even better than you at first might have thought,… blah blah blah. Blogging as self-education is just one of the ingredients in this complicated mix.

And that's all here for today. Have a nice rest of it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:07 PM
Category: Blogging
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July 07, 2004
A teacher who blogs

My good friend Adriana, Queen Bee of this, to whom deepest thanks, emailed me with news of an interesting blogger. The interesting thing being that he combines a substantial internet presence with being a teacher (of English), at Radley College, which is one of Britain's posher private sector secondary schools.

My school used to play Radley at cricket, I vaguely recall. And a very nice man called Dennis Silk, who I fondly remember teaching me English many decades ago, by which I mean he liked my writing and had no criticisms of it to offer of any sort, then left my school and went off to become the Headmaster of Radley, from 1968 until 1991.

Gratuitous Radley picture:


Anway, that's enough about me and my old English teacher. This guy's name is David Smith and this is his Radley Weblog.

The two postings which appeal to me most are one about the Twin Towers, with some lovely pictures, and then this one, in which he quotes Peter Conrad writing in The Observer about the Saatchi art fire:

In the annals of cultural catastrophe, this disaster does not register. We are not dealing with an event such as the torching of the library in Alexandria, that shrine to the muses which, when it caught fire 50 years before the birth of Christ, annihilated an entire corpus of classical literature, including 90 tragedies by Aeschylus and 30 comedies by Aristophanes.

Arson has been on my mind here lately, for some reason.

I don't know if D. R. Smith's Radley pupils read this Radley Weblog, or are intended to. If they do, it must be quite an education for them.

It would of course make particular sense for the readers of my blog here to check out everything David Smith writes or quotes under the heading of education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 PM
Category: BloggingThe private sector
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July 01, 2004
Dog - sociology professor - nice pictures

DarylsDog.jpgOkay so I was looking through Daryl Cobranchi's blog for something there recent to link to, and my favourite was this, which has a gratuitous picture of a dog. Gratuitous picture of the dog reproduced here. I know, you wait months for a picture of a dog, and suddenly two dogs in two postings.

But I followed the links in his piece of dog blogging, and I got to something more substantial, in the form of a piece about blogging. It includes this gem of brilliance, from a Sociology Professor:

"It's likely to be a fad," said Robert Wood, sociology professor at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey. "In a year or two we'll be on to something new."

What you mean "we", Sociology Professor? You ain't no blogger, that's obvious. If you were, you'd know that blogging is here to stay. Sure enough, he has a very individual looking website of the sort that people who want blogging to drop dead tend to have.

Being into websites he offers this page of websites for teachers, which includes a number of links that could be worth following up.

The Internet eh? You go looking for ways for sneering at someone, and before you know it you find something that might be interesting.

This, for example, took me to this which lead me to this and to this and this, athough I could have missed a few steps there. The pictures look really good.

I think I will now do a posting about this on this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:41 AM
Category: BloggingThis and that
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June 02, 2004
Cecile Dubois continues to live interestingly

Cecile Dubois' classmates, and her English teacher, have found out about her blog:

There has been an incident in one of my classes today. I have shot myself in the foot, but I will get back up and still carry the torch of writing. I forgot to log out of my Microsoft account at school, and my weblog somehow was on the screen. And people noticed my blog and started reading everything. They googled me, I suppose, and read 'My Conservative Outburst'. A 'source' (I'm thinking 'Harriet the Spy' now) has called me and informed me of the chaos in her classroom. Some students whom I mentioned in Feburary are pissed off, possess a short temper, and are plotting amusing pranks to pull on me. The bright side is this produces weblog material, but the megative side is that I'm transforming from Cecile Dubois, sweet innocent nice girl into Cecile Dubois, professional back-stabbing bitch. I guess you need both qualities to live in the real world. The thing is some kid who I most likely showed my weblog to, ratted it out to the English teacher, who now is reading every single entry.

My source suggested I not post for a while, but as a loyal blogger, I will post and bite the possible emotion 'humiliation' in the head this time. My source told me that it is hard for her to defend me now. As a journaist wannabe fellow human being, I shall not mention her name. The difference between us is that she cares what other people think about her, or me.

'Don't you want to have everyone like you?' she asked. 'You shouldn't make enemies!'

I smiled and thought of the good ol' days in grade school when I had no friends. Everyone would pinch me, chase me, shouting 'Spider, Spider, Worm, Worm'. Ah, I miss those days. I didn't purposefully make enemies, they just aggravated me so, I put them on my frown list. Now, I have a decent number of good friends, who don't associate themselves in any way with any of my English classmates. I'm not saying that my classmates in English are bad people--they're differennt from those I'd regularly hang out with. Its a good thing to take different classes and work with different kinds of people--it not only builds your patience, but prepares you for life. So, I take the bull by the horns and begin to actually enjoy, somewhat their company--which means talking in class. I do all my assignments which I enjoy, and chat with them casually.

My spellchecker puts red squiggly lines under: weblog, blog, googled, Feburary, weblog, megative, Dubois, Dubois, weblog, blogger, journaist, and differennt.

But I absolutely do not want to be megative about Cecile. This is one of the funniest postings of hers I've yet read, especially the bit at the end about Michael Moore. Placing a bet on Cecile Dubois (I mis-spelt Dubois as "du Bois" in that posting – apologies all round – spellcheckers eh?) when they had only just been issued and she'd just detonated her first big blog story (the Conservative Outburst thing), was one of the smartest things I've done lately, because from then on my name has been up in lights at her blog saying she is a potential genius. Now she is starting to shed the potential bit, and I too am starting to look like a genius, for spotting her so early and so quotably. I feel like a theatre critic when he sees his first "Brilliant – will run and run" bit stuck up outside an actual theatre, and what is more outside a show that actually is brilliant and actually is running and running.

More seriously, how many more pupils will follow Cecile's example and start their own blogs? And then get read by all their classmates and teachers, along with the rest of the universe? We're talking major shift in the Correlation of Forces between teachers in old-fashioned command-and-control regimes and pupils. And between pupils who really know how to write and the rest of them. (Before you know it, literacy might end up being cool. There's a thought.)

So here's another bet: within the next six months, a command-and-control school will forbid pupils to blog as a condition of continuing attendance. Each way bet: they won't make the ban stick, because the Blogosphere will do its thing, just like it did over Cecile's original Conservative Outburst.

Here now is a gratuitous picture of Cecile's mother, because (a) I have it (having taken it in London just before Christmas), and (b) I like it:


This lady is a major part of why Cecile Dubois is probably going to be such a big writing name. Nepotism. Don't knock it. You can learn a lot about your chosen trade from a parent if the trade you have chosen is the one they already ply. They can open a lot of doors for you. And then tell you how to conduct yourself once you're in, this being one of the big reasons they let you in in the first place.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:46 PM
Category: BloggingParents and children
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April 28, 2004

Arts & Letters Daily links to this article, which is about this blogger. First I'd heard of her.

If you are looking for academic angst, you have now found it.

Question: When does a blog turn into a book? Answer: When the blogger stops writing any more and just leaves it there, but when it's still worth reading. Here's another blog-book.

Blog-book. Blook. Have I just made up a new word?

No need to stop reading blooks just because the bloggers have stopped writing them. After all, books have to be finished before we are even allowed to start reading them, but we still read them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:51 PM
Category: BloggingHigher education
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April 22, 2004
One more posting to learn from

This looks like a useful site. And the book whose cover I here reproduce (the left of the two below) looks like a useful book. Useful, that is to say, if you wish to acquaint yourself at greater length with the opinions and prejudices of people like me.


Market Education is the culmination of five years of full-time research on a single question: What sort of school systems best fulfill the public's educational goals - at both the individual and the societal level? It is perhaps the most comprehensive investigation of school governance ever undertaken, comparing educational systems from all over the world and from ancient times to the present. To find out more about this book, click here.


coulson1.jpg      patrinos1.jpg

And the review of this little publication (the one on the right) is also interesting:

Despite its brevity (running to just 50 pages), Decentralization of Education is an important book. It describes the World Bank's foray into "demand-side financing," the practice of providing families with financial assistance so that they can purchase educational services in the private sector (rather than having governments own and operate schools). The various case studies discussed reach from the Dominican Republic to Pakistan, revealing just how widespread the practice has become, and how effectively it is reaching even the poorest families.

The book's chief weakness is that it does not seize the opportunity to apply the lessons of its case studies to its review of the academic literature on school choice. The first section of the book is a digest of the (mostly theoretical) arguments that have been made for and against school choice. Since a large portion of this literature is badly reasoned and devoid of supporting evidence, it is frustrating that the authors did not apply what the World Bank is learning about demand-side financing to a critical assessment of the arguments pro and con.

It is also somewhat unfortunate that the book takes for granted a major funding role for the state in education, …

Double indeed.

And look, here's a a brand new blog (well it must have been once), by the editor of the School Choices site. It isn't only education stuff. But he does seem often to focus on the intersection between education and the main news agenda, as here:


The Coalition Provisional Authority has officially handed control over Iraq's schools to the country's own Ministry of Education [free registration required]. No word when, if ever, control will be returned to families.

Saddam, like virtually every totalitarian dictator in history, nationalized or shut down all private schools upon seizing power. The reason why is obvious: it's a lot easier to whip up support for your own regime and antipathy toward your enemies if you control the schools. Centralized government control over schooling is thus key.

What to do?

Iraq's internal religious divisions provide ample prospect for conflict if the nation sticks with an official government school system. Iraqis already realize that settling on a universally acceptable curriculum is a key sticking point.

The solution: implement a market-based education system with need-based financial assistance, and let families pursue the kind of education they value for their children without obliging them to force their choices on their fellow citizens.

Question. Does copying and pasting other people's stuff instead of thinking of it all for myself mean I'm cheating? Why no. This is just one more way to learn.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:16 PM
Category: BloggingHistoryThe private sector
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February 28, 2004
Instalinkage and Samizdata commentary

And this would be all part of why I often put educational stuff on Samizdata rather than here, this being an Instalink to this.

I probably should have said something about this there as well, instead of merely here (see post immediately below here). But Perry de Havilland has now mentioned it.

A commenter named Kelli, who I assume to be English, has already asked about "homeschooling libertarians". Please go there and answer her if you can. As usual, the message here is: do read the Samizdata comments, and of course join in, because you too can then enjoy that big readership, now running at about 6,500 per day, Perry tells me. But do it quick, because Samizdata is a high turnover blog and stories fade from view fast. Some Samizdata comments are inane, of course, but I have already learned a lot about the whole Spanish language in the USA argument, from the comments on the Spelling Bee posting.

Getting back to that BBC report about Home Education harassment, I can find no further mentions today (although my searching skills are not stellar) in the three British broadsheets I regularly link to (Guardian, Telegraph, Indy) about this latest menace to Home Education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:20 PM
Category: BloggingHome education
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February 13, 2004
Blogosphere High

As I say, busy, but just a quick pointer to this NRO piece, already linked to by Jackie D. It's by Cathy Seipp, the mum of Cecile Dubois, and I think Cathy's final paragraph is exactly right.

I've become more and more convinced that, because of the internet, and because of all the other kit they have in their bedrooms, "freedom for children" is not so much an aspirational political slogan as an accomplished sociological fact. Which totally changes how teachers have to go about things, and how we ought to judge their effectiveness. Ever since I went for the lady on Samizdata, and again in more measured tones here, I've been wondering what it must be like having to be the teacher of Cecile Dubois.

Or, as Cathy puts it:

So even if she hadn't received such an outpouring of support, I think Cecile's regular stops in the blogosphere would have served as an antidote to what happened at school this past Friday. Certainly if a teacher implies a student is a racist idiot one day, and by the next some 200 smart and articulate adults have said she's not and here's why, that rather counteracts the original lesson plan. Now that so many teens have blogs, concerns about doctrinaire teachers may be passé. Our sons and our daughters are beyond their control.

I and Jackie D, and Michael Jennings all get a mention, along with Samizdata of course.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:53 AM
Category: BloggingThe Internet
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February 01, 2004
The continuing education of Cecile Dubois

Yesterday I got an email from Jackie D alerting me to the nonsense that Cecile Dubois is having to put up with at a her school for the crime of disagreeing with affirmative action, and I did a posting about it on Samizdata. Jackie has also written about this on her blog.

I'm not any sort of qualified or professional teacher, but surely encouraging or even tolerating mockery of an individual pupil by the rest of the class merely because of what that individual has said crosses some sort of line.

I agree with the Samizdata commenter who said that the teacher is not likely to change her opinions about affirmative merely because of all this transatlantic hullabaloo, but that isn't the point. The point is that education is not just about learning things, but about learning how to learn things. And one of the ways you learn how to learn things is you learn how to argue about things. You do this by mustering factual evidence, by examining and criticising assumptions, by examining and criticising false deductions being made from these assumptions, and so on. You learn the truth about things by learning how to be reasonable about things. If you are a good teacher you do all this yourself, and thus set a good example to your pupils. As it was, Cecile was the one setting the example. I think this not because I happen to agree more with Cecile's opinion about affirmative action than with that of her teacher, but because Cecile seems to have been the one doing the rational arguing, while the teacher was using only ridicule and intellectual gang warfare.

Speaking of intellectual gang warfare I wish I hadn't called this teacher as a quote Grade A Bitch unquote. That was very unreasonable and impolite.

The comments at Jackie D's are particularly worth reading because they don't just blow off steam, the way I did at Samizdata, but also hint at what is going to be done about it all. Cecile and Cathy are "going over to the principal's house for a small party today …". I sincerely hope that all is settled reasonably satisfactorily and that Cathy is able to proceed with her studies at school without too much further grief.

As Jackie D says, Cecile impressed and charmed all of us who met her in London last December, and Cecile's various comments yesterday and today impressed me some more. Some fairly harsh things were said about the appearance of her blog, about the difficulty of reading it, and so forth and so on, by some other Samizdata commenters, things which under the cicumstances could have been phrased a whole lot more politely. This wasn't at all what I had in mind when I asked people to comment on Cecile's predicament in a way that was supportive and encouraging. I mean, you're in a fight with your teacher and they're calling you a racist, and then some guys on a faraway blog tell you that your blog needs a redesign and you need to get a grip on html and your text is all too jammed together, etc. etc.

That's the trouble with bad situations like this. Tempers rise (including mine I'm afraid), invective is exchanged, others perhaps feel that too much fuss is being made rather too fussily and fuss some more.

But now get this. Whatever Cecile may have thought about these impolite complaints about her blogging arrangements, all that she actually said in reply was: you're right guys, my blog could use some improvement along the lines you say.

Classy. Whatever seems to happen to Cecile, or to be said to her or about her, she just keeps right on learning.

On Samizdata I called her Cecile du Bois, following Jackie. I now suspect that the correct spelling may be Dubois, and will go with that from now on unless authoritatively instructed otherwise.

Meanwhile here is a picture of (L2R) Cathy S, Jackie D and Cecile D, which I took at the Samizdata blogger bash last December:


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:12 PM
Category: BiasBlogging
[1] [0]
January 16, 2004
Blogging as education: "help" is too weak a word

Jonathan Wilde, who runs Catallarchy.net, emails with news of this story in the Washington Times about a blog called Truck and Barter. The reason he does that is because the article is about a favourite subject of mine, namely the use of blogging as an educational technique, for the blogger.

And as you would expect, Kevin Brancato reacts to this favourable media response, here.

The Washington Times doesn't care to just reproduce email answers to questions, but Brancato has no such hesitations! Here are his clutch of selected Q&As, which I found more interesting than the Times article:

Does keeping up a blog help with a student's writing skills?

It has certainly helped mine. In fact, "help" is too weak of a word; people tell me that I now write like a blogger. As a undergraduate math major, far more time was spent solving equations than writing clear convincing prose. I knew that if I wanted write well, I'd have to work hard at it. My demanding and sophisticated readers provide both a tremendous impulse and a large reward for churning out original and interesting material.

ability to interpret data?

Keeping up a blog has sharpened and quickened my data analyses, but more importantly, it has made me question how data are used by many professional journalists and policy wonks. I find that the most interesting questions don't have authoritative answers--especially in economics. For most issues, the story that needs to be told is usually far more complex than the one fed to us by big media.

or does blogging reinforce bad grammatical habits given the freedoms of the 'net'

When a student submits a finished essay, only a professor will read and criticize his work. But a blog post invites criticism from anybody. As with any poor habit, bad grammar can be reinforced by the lack of self-criticism or indifference to the criticism of others. But good grammar is essential if a blogger wants readers – and other bloggers – to take him seriously.

I have yet to see a serious blogger whose use and understanding of grammar has become worse over time.

Would you have a couple of minutes to share your thoughts on the topic and how blogging may have impacted your growth as a student?

Besides making writing easier, Truck and Barter greatly expanded the range of economic issues that I deal with. Since starting the blog, I've looked into and posted about hundreds of issues that otherwise I never would have examined in detail. Some of these are very political, like income inequality in the U.S.. Others were just fascinating, like the market for digital disposable cameras. Still others are largely ignored by a popular press focused on bad news, like the dramatic improvement in the quality of healthcare over the past 50 years. Econoblogging has forced me to observe how economies really work, which has made me question deeply the relevance and accuracy of standard economic theory.

That confirms all my prejudices in favour of blogging as an educational technique. You write and think better because of all those readers, and even your grammar improves. You study more and you study better. Having to write sharpens your mind.

The Washington Times also mentions this weblog which is all about the use of weblogs to educate.

So Jonathan Wilde, thanks. All education relevant emails are welcome, but this one was especially helpful.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:48 PM
Category: Blogging
[2] [0]
December 29, 2003
On doing nothing – and on what cookies are

I have recently had another of those episodes known in the USA as a learning experience.

For some mysterious reason, after Michael Jennings had logged into Samizdata and done a posting under the heading of "Samizdata Illuminatus", when I later logged in as myself, what I then posted also appeared under the moniker of Illuminatus. I didn't realise this, but Michael spotted it, changed the heading to me, and informed me of the oddity.

I then broke one of the cardinal rules of computer use, which goes: if you have a problem which you do not understand, do not try to unleash a solution which you do not understand. (I'm sure that many far wiser heads than I have formulated this as a Law and given it a name.)

Despite being baffled by what was going on, I tried to correct matters.

It doesn't matter how. Suffice it to say that I made the situation a lot worse, and not just for myself. Whether I have now truly learned this lesson remains to be seen. We will only know for sure next time I have a puzzling problem with my computer, and either create more havoc, or make the wise decision to do nothing and seek help. Would that I had done the latter this time around. I "knew" this Law already. But I didn't know it well enough, I now realise. When I most needed to pay attention to it, it wasn't there at the front of my mind, shouting at me to stop. (See also comment number one here.)

The second thing I learned is something of the meaning of the word "cookie" in a computing context. I didn't learn very much, just something. This learning experience took place by talking to Michael about what was wrong, at any rate as far as me posting stuff on Samizdata was concerned, and then watching him correct that when he kindly visited me this morning.

I find it hard to learn anything about computers unless I have to, either to get something very good done, or, as in this case, to correct something very bad. There's just too much of a general, you-never-know-when-it-might-come-in-handy nature to ever be able to learn, without a carrot in front of you or a stick up your backside. That's what I find anyway. But I get enough good stuff from my computer, and into enough difficulties from time to time, to learn lots anyway. Too bad that the latter process sometimes also involves learning what I should not have done.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
Category: BloggingLearning by doingRelevance
[0] [0]
December 08, 2003
The virtual academy

Last Friday, Patrick Crozier sent in to and had published on Samizdata a piece about what caused the outbreak of the First World War. (He blamed the Kaiser.) WHen I last looked there had been 55 comments.

This posting, together with the comments it provoked, gives me a chance to return to a favourite theme on this blog, which is the educational power and impact of the internet, and of blogging in particular.

In my opinion this posting, and the debate and discussion it sparked off, illustrates the educational power of the blogosphere at something like maximum strength.

Education is a complicated thing, but one of the many things it surely means is the opportunity to participate in a community united by shared intellectual interests, and to talk around subjects before plunging head first into all the details, and all the reading one might do. (A number of further reading suggestions were offered by various commenters, including one from me, in the one comment I contributed to the discussion.)

There is probably no completely satisfactory substitute for face to face contact to get this kind of intellectual stimulus and guidance, but this kind of virtual discussion is probably the next best thing. Several of the commenters on this thread made this point themselves, but added that actually getting a face-to-face discussion of this quality would be very hard indeed. So for many, it would be this kind of virtual discussion, or nothing.

Equally, if you don't want to get stuck into too much detail, but merely want an overview of a topic like this one, then such a discussion would probably give a more complete picture of the topic, and of how various different intellectual camps argue about it, than any one screed of comparable length by just one scholar, however distinguished.

None of which means that it's an either/or thing. There's nothing to stop a university student reading through this post and all the comments, and feeding what he or she learns into the other face-to-face discussions and learning that they are also doing.

Speaking for myself, I believe that I'm learning an enormous amount from having joined the community of bloggers.

And especially from Samizdata. I really don't know quite how Samizdata does it, but Samizdata comments at their best can be remarkably informative and interesting. At their worst, comments on Samizdata are the usual crass rubbish you get everywhere, but at their best, they can be exceptionally good. The occasional interventions of the presiding editorial geniuses, Perry de Havilland and Adriana Cronin, help. These can often be quite assertive, but that, I think, serves to keep everyone on their toes, and to frighten sillier commenters into silence, while putting the best ones on notice that only their best will truly impress. It also helps that the most relentlessly silly commenters have the plug pulled on them. Maybe that's some of why Samizdata sometimes works so very well. But in truth, I no more know how you create a great group blog, with a great commentariat, than how you set about creating a great university.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:38 PM
Category: BloggingThe Internet
[10] [0]
November 11, 2003
If you want to learn about it blog about it

I can't claim to have had a very busy day, but I have had what was by my standards a slightly nerve-racking day. This was because I have just been on the radio, talking about something I am not confident about because it is such a complicated subject, namely the government's plans to introduce, slowly but surely, a national compulsory Identity Card scheme. I didn't know how long this little performance would take, or how well, badly or dreadfully I would do, so I spent the day fretting. Now it's done. It lasted only a tiny few minutes, so I had no time to dig myself into a very deep hole or be humiliated by some pro ID card fanatic. Nevertheless, the end result of my worryings and wafflings is that is now nearly eleven in the evening and I still owe the universe a posting on my Education Blog.

Allow me then to inflict a ramble upon you, in the form of a further reflection on just what a superb method of self-education blogging is. Anything more profound would almost certainly take me past midnight, and there have been too many take-a-look-at-this just-goes-to-show-don't-it postings of late. They don't take long, but nor do they add much. A day that includes one or two of these is fine. A day with just one of these and nothing else is not one I'm very proud of.

So, off we go.

During the year or two before I got started as a blogger, I felt that I was ceasing to make much in the way of intellectual progress. To be blunt about it, I had stopped learning. I'll spare you the details, but I've written about this experience here.

Blogging has changed all that. The comments on this blog are not numerous, but they make an impact on me, especially if they are critical, and whether I reply or not. Only today, I received a quite long email complaining about something I had put here a month or so ago, and I emailed back with an acknowledgement of error, together with a partial defence of other things I'd said. As most of us know, error and learning are things which are intimately related to each other. Through the simple discipline of having to bend my mind to matters educational at least once every day, I have learned an enormous amount about matters educational, and am confident that I will learn lots more as the years roll by.

I am not vain enough to imagine that more than a tiny handful of decidedly eccentric people ever trawl their way through the archives here, but it will not surprise you to learn that one of these eccentric people is me. Mostly I am relieved by the experience, for I usually agree with myself. But more to the point, I learn things. To be exact, I have things reinforced for me. Just reading something is one thing. Having to stir it up inside one's head and organise one's thoughts and write them down is an order of magnitude more educational. Reading it back a month later piles on yet more education.

Learning doesn't just mean piling up facts. It means organising them into coherent patterns, spotting their interconnections, and also spotting contradictions and confusions, and reformulating the original truths in such a way that they remain true, but do less to contradict other truths which are also true.

Of all the blogs I write for, the one which has done most to bring all this home to me in recent weeks has been this one, for which I have been writing about the Rugby World Cup. This experience has given me an entirely new respect for what real sports correspondents must endure and for what they achieve. Simply, I have learned far, far more about the game of rugby by writing about it than I would ever have learned about rugby merely by watching it. Writing about it meant making judgements, and then not being able to deny to myself (never mind to anyone else) that this was what I had put. One week Ireland, or whoever, looked great. The next week they were being mangled. One day England's backs looked all-powerful. Days later they were leaden footed cloggers. What was happening? Blogged questions are far harder to forget about than unblogged questions. I arrived at answers, and blogged them too. Commenters commented. (See especially this posting, and the comments on it.)

I think the rugby thing has been particularly striking because I've never really tried to think systematically about rugby before, to the point of actually writing stuff down, ever before in my life. Over the years I've written about politics, about education, about culture, about transport, about civil liberties (including ID cards) before, so the extra push given to my thinking on these matters by blogging about them has been less dramatic. But I'd never before written about rugby.

Well, I'll spare you the details, because if you are not a rugby fan, you won't care. My point here is, if you want to really learn about something, blog about it.

I know what you're thinking. Why do you need a blog to write about something? Well, of course you don't. But if you are as disorganised as me, and as big a show-off as me, blogging will basically make sure that you do it systematically and regularly and that you will later read what you have earlier written. It will organise your notes for you and supply you with a search engine to find what you put about some particular thing after a gap of three months, or a year.

It may not look very systematic to you, but blogging is the most systematic and sustained studying I've ever done in my entire life.

And although it definitely wouldn't suit everybody, I can't help thinking that there are lots of other failing or failed students who could turn their entire studying life around by following the same path. Like I say: if you want to learn about it, blog about it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:58 PM
Category: Blogging
[3] [0]
October 29, 2003
Brian seeks a little education about multiple trackbacks

This is only a little question, not a plea for a two day course at no cost. Simply, if I do a posting with a link in it to another Movable Type blog (Samizdata, say), but then revise it a couple of times after it's already been put up on my site (as I have just done), does the linkee (Samizdata) receive three separate "trackback" messages? It sometimes does happen that Samizdata will apparently get four trackbacks, but on inspection three of them will turn out to be the same trackback. Have I just described how that happens, or is some other mechanism involved to create that pseudo-impressive effect?

However it happens, it's not good, I say.

My problem is that I find it hard to really proof-read unless the thing is already published for real, and, theoretically at least, already being looked at by The World. Something then happens inside my brain to make me really notice mistakes, the way I don't when it's only in draft. (Something to do with it being in a different format?) My defect, I'm sure. Must I learn better habits?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 AM
Category: Blogging
[2] [0]
October 28, 2003
Other edu-bloggers

Joanne Jacobs has added a special and separate list to her sidebar of teachers who blog, as she reports here.

I looked at the top one, here, and was somewhat taken aback by the complete absence of capital letters.

I went to the second one in Joanne's list, here, and finally came across (on the left hand side) something I've been … not looking for exactly, but waiting to find, which is students blogging. Not older students complaining about their college professors being lefties, but younger people writing short entries with their thoughts, in order to get better at writing and thinking.

This guy, for example:

I liked working on the internet in my weblog. It was a lot of fun. I got to work on the computer. Mrs . Pritchard tought me alot about computers. It was alot of fun working on the computers.

I liked when the teachers wrote to me in my weblog. It helped me work better . It was cool knowing that teachers wrote to me. My weblog helped me work better because I would try to work harder because anybody could read it and I don't want them to think I was dumb.

That was the latest entry, on June 5th. It sounds a bit dutiful and "What am I going to put?" to me. He doesn't really sound like he's having alot of fun. But if he learns to spell better because he doesn't want people thinking he's dumb, that would be cool I suppose. And see also Feb 21: Girls Can Be Good At Computers. You learn something new every day.

At least he knows about capital letters.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:08 PM
Category: BloggingGrammar
[2] [0]
September 24, 2003
An unexpected return

The blogger formerly known as the Home Educating House Dad is, after a pause that got all sorts of people emailing one another asking if he'd perhaps been run over by a bus, back in business at a stylish new site called Unexpected Liberation, and has a whole new week's worth of good stuff up there.

Here's a good recent post:

Home Education Highlights

When the next door neighbour's kids tell their mum thay want to be home educated too.

Watching the parents squirm ... Priceless!

I only heard about HEHD's new home because he put a couple of comments here. He says oooh very posh about the new look here, and in connection with the great James Lileks bad dad or what? debate, has this to say at his own site. Snippet:

The amazing thing is that this guy obviously thinks that this behaviour is so normal that he can happily write about it and not expect anyone to take umbrage.

"Lileks – NO!"

This latter, for the benefit of anyone who doesn't know but does care, is – unless it's coincidence – a reference to a character invented and performed by British comedian Harry Enfield. However, the Enfield character prefaces his denunciations of prominent persons by saying if they did a whole lot of bad things which they actually haven't done, or said a whole lot of bad things which they actually haven't said, then he, the Enfield character would say: "Blair – NO!", "Beckham – NO!" "Travolta – NO!", etc. Always the surname. But HEHD denounces Lileks on the basis of what Lileks himself actually put. Which is different. So there you go.

Anyway, I'm delighted to be back in touch with HEHD, whom I missed, and whom I had actually been a bit worried about. More to the point he was a great blogger, and the blogosphere would have been permanently damaged by his permanent absence. I'll bet I'm not the only one saying: Welcome back mate.

If Samizdata.net hasn't already heard this good news, I'll shortly be putting it there too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:07 AM
Category: BloggingHome education
[0] [0]
August 31, 2003

This, the top story (about anything) at the Telegraph site today, is interesting:

Children are starting school less well prepared than ever because parents are failing to raise their youngsters properly, according to the Government's Chief Inspector of Schools.

In an interview with The Telegraph, David Bell, the head of Ofsted, said that too many children were receiving a "disrupted and dishevelled" upbringing. As a result the verbal and behavioural skills of the nation's five-year-olds were at an all-time low, causing severe difficulties for schools.

Mr Bell said that one of the key causes was the failure of parents to impose proper discipline at home, which led to poor behaviour in class.

Another serious concern was the tendency to sit children in front of the television, rather than talking and playing with them. This meant that many were unable to speak properly when they started school.
"It is difficult to get hard statistical evidence on what is happening across the country," said Mr Bell, "but if you talk to a lot of primary head teachers, as I do, they will say that youngsters appear less well prepared for school than they have ever been before.

"For many young people school is the most stable part of what can be quite disrupted and dishevelled lives. This should worry us because if children don't all start at broadly the same point, we should not be surprised if the gap widens as they go through the education system."

I have the feeling that the word "dishevelled" is going to get quoted a lot.

One of the things I'm learning about blogging is: if all you have to say about an article is that it is interesting, then leave it at that. Don't comment just for the sake of it, or you're liable to end up with a rather unwieldy posting consisting of something else stitched onto the original quote, which not many will want to plough through.

So: that (the quote above, before the irrelevant essay bit) is interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:00 PM
Category: BloggingParents and children
[0] [0]
August 30, 2003
From here to there

I just did a long piece for here, and then realised it would also do for Samizdata. And since Samizdata is Clapham Junction to this place's Piddlebury Halt, I stuck it there, and then found myself adding a rant about how the government should get right out of higher education, the way you do. The top two thirds is about a rather interesting out-of-the-usual-boxes article by Mo Mowlam in yesterday's Independent.

Something similar happened with that stuff about that poor schoolboy who committed suicide. Only that time, I'd done the piece here before realising that Samizdata should be told about the story too.

The specialist blog feeds the generalist blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:08 PM
Category: BloggingHigher education
[1] [3]
July 24, 2003
Joanne Jacobs – an appreciation

Joanne Jacobs writes:

Twelve months ago today, I set Sitemeter running. I should hit 296,500 by the end of the day. I'm running at more than 1,000 visits a day during the week, about 600 on weekends. Not bad for an education blog. I'm not sure how many visits the grand total would run to: I started in January, 2001, but didn't keep count of visitors.

Not bad indeed. I haven't set up a Sitemeter or any other such device, because I'm one of those scrawny take-it-or-leave-it bloggers. I do my bloggings, and who knows what they make of it? Maybe the occasional thing sticks. Occasionally you see one of them getting some flash of insight which makes it all worth while. But a machine to see whose paying attention? Don't want to think about that just yet.

My point is that whereas this blog here is still a blog groping into proper shape and proper existence (a redesign and a reorganisation is in the pipeline plus any month now I may start doing some actual educatingwhich will liven things up here considerably), Joanne's is the real thing and has been for some time.

She has a great long list of blogs and non-blogs on the left. Good blogs, fun blogs, also good, good books. And what item is at the very top of her list of things? Well, by virtue of this being in the "edublog" category and by virtue of Brian starting with B which is very close to the start of the alphabet … (being called Brian does have its advantages) … yes, you've got it, this blog is the absolute top of Joanne's list. Ahead of all manner of aristobloggers and grandees of every sort.

This must have helped my traffic, and this is me saying thank you. When you get the drips from the biggest hole in a big bucket like this, you get a lot of water. It must be. Obviously some come here, take a look and leave it at that. But equally obviously, a few must be staying around. I don't go on about American edubloggers and their postings, because my aim here is to expand the edubllogosphere beyond the confines of the USA, but this is not something I can just ignore.

So, to make an exception, let's take a look at Joanne's latest posting. It's about some parents who put their twelve year old son and his friend in the trunk during a twenty mile car journey. The official version is that they did this because they were abusive monsters of the sort who can't be trusted to have children let alone raise them, and that junior should be taken into whatever they call "care" over there, which would be the equivalent of locking the trunk for ever, I would say. Well, what I mean is, the authorities didn't like it. The parental version is that the kids thought it might be fun to do, so they said okay.

Lt. Joseph Jordan, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said the parents are lucky no one was hurt.

All parents are "lucky no one was hurt", all the time. But I agree, that's not a reason to nail them to the kitchen wall or keep them in rabbit hutches, to educate them about pain, life, etc.

"Obviously, there was a lot of danger there," Jordan said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "They're supposed to be in seat belts. If there would have been a rear-end collision, they could have been seriously injured. So we feel that it was reckless to put the kids in the trunk," Jordan said.

Ah yes. Seat belts. I forgot.

Twelve year old boys, taking risks. Whatever next? And we definitely mustn't help them do that. Twelve year old boys who want risk must live a further three years without risk of any kind, and then do the adolescent rebellion running-away-from-home crazy-sex and crazy-drugs thing. There's a proper way to do these things, sir, ma'am. We're policemen, and we know about this stuff.

None of this could ever happen in Britain, because here we call it the "boot".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:01 PM
Category: BloggingBoys will be boys
[1] [0]
July 22, 2003
Another education friendly blog

J. P. Laurier, who has started this blog, sent an appreciative email today about this blog, to add to his first comment here, on the piece immediately below this one about exams.

He says his blog is still at the growing pains stage, but I think it already well worth a look. I liked in particular the posting about the movie Stand and Deliver, which is the one about the Latino maths teacher played by Edward James Olmos.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:19 PM
Category: Blogging
[1] [1]
May 27, 2003
… and the man who helped me with the new look

… namely Patrick Crozier.

Patrick Crozier is a distinguished blogger in his own right, being the boss and principle author of Transport Blog (to which I occasionally contribute) and the boss and writer also of CrozierVision (which is more definitely his own thing). He writes very well, I think.

But more to point here and now, Patrick has recently been acquainting himself with the mysteries of how to set up, clean up and generally sort out blogs. I had the luck to catch him at that special moment when he was determined to understand all this stuff, but not sufficiently confident of his skills to demand lashings of money. He made several visits to my kitchen and together we sat at my screen, trying this, trying that, seeing if this was how to do this, and that how to do that, both of us learning as we went along. I learned how to get this looking nicer, and he learned how to get things looking the way the punter wanted.

Since I didn't have a very firm idea of how I wanted things here to look, but instead wanted the chance to make up my mind in the light of actually visible alternatives, this was, for me, the ideal arrangement. And Patrick also seems satisfied to have had an early client who didn't expect him to know everything about everything either. On the contrary, the fact that he was also struggling gave me more time to think about aesthetics.

For further evidence of Patrick's growing expertise in this field, see his recent posting on CrozierVision, which reports on the developing duel between Movable Type (my and his preferred blogging software) and Blogger.

It was Patrick's willingness to make personal use of that transport that he writes about actually to sit next to me in my kitchen that made the biggest difference. We are now at the stage where things can be done by phone, but to start with that wasn't so. (The educational relevance of face-to-face contact scarcely needs emphasising, but I'll emphasise it anyway. For some purposes, including for many kinds of teaching, there is as yet still no substitute for face-to-face communication. Imagine trying to teach the violin entirely by phone.)

Patrick speculated to me during our most recent session that, since Movable Type is now becoming "easier", serious demand for his type of services might soon diminish. But with computers there's "easier", and there's actually easier, and this change is strictly in the "easier" category. Most bloggers are far cleverer at blogging (i.e. writing) than they are at setting up their blogs, and I don't believe that the sort of thing that Patrick offers will be superfluous any time soon. Everything involving computers is easy, provided you know about it. The trick is knowing.

So, if you live in or near London and you want to get blogging, Patrick could be the perfect man to get you going. Be warned, however, that the queue is already starting to lengthen.

And credit and debit, for the new look of things here, where both are due. The visual merits of this blog are the joint work of Patrick and of me. The visual demerits are my fault, and mine alone.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:34 PM
Category: BloggingThis Blog
[1] [1]
March 30, 2003
Highly Effective Blogging?

I've always liked success books. That was what got me into career counselling. A friend said: "So how does all that stuff apply to me?", and off I went. If I ever manage to wangle my way into the kind of teaching life that I now want, having read all these books will then also be revealed as having made me a better teacher.

One of the more admired of these books is Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and blogger Mike Saunders has made the ideas in this book the basis of a number of posts about how to be a Highly Effective Blogger. Because let's face it, most of the people who read this are bloggers or blog readers, not Education Ministers. They may also be teachers, or concerned parents, but blogging is what we most of us here, now, have in common. So I'm going to read Mike's stuff on all this, starting here.

I've started. It's good, and I will continue.

Just to say now, I think that ideas like those of Covey apply just as strongly to quite small children as they do to adults. It's never too soon to start learning to be Highly Effective.

My thanks to Instapundit for the connection.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:58 PM
Category: Blogging
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January 10, 2003
Me giving a talk about all this – in Putney – tonight

I've just had a phone call from my friend Tim Evans, who alternates with me in running Friday speaker evenings, mine on the last Friday of each month, his on the second Friday. Tim being a person with a far higher metabolic career rate than I, he periodically sits down at his desk and fixes the next year or so of speakers, but periodically he also finds that he has a meeting coming up VERY SOON, and hasn't fixed any speakers AT ALL, even for TONIGHT, let alone for the next entire year. (I just tend at any particular time to have the next one or two speakers lined up.) And so it is today, for the first of Tim's meetings of 2003. So, not being able to arrange a proper speaker at such short notice, he has asked me to speak, about my educational blogging activities. What's that about? Why blogging? Why education? Etc.

I'm a blogger because I've always been a blogger, long before official blogging was invented and computerised. The natural span of a blog posting (which I now believe to be as much to do with the size of the computer screen as to do with attention spans) has always suited me. I used to do "jottings" for Sean Gabb's Free Life, and it was those which told my fellow Samizdatistas that I ought to be one of them. How right they were.

Blogging also suits me because, although not lazy exactly, I am not good at what is called "research", that is to say, prolonged self-immersions in bodies of thought or activity with nothing to show for it until all the immersing has been done. I like to dabble in things, to flit about, to hop from flower to flower, and to pass on whatever little half-masticated titbits I discover to other members of the hive, without having necessarily made full use of or fully comprehended each titbit myself, on a "don't know quite what this means exactly but it sounds interesting" basis, rather than being fully sure for sixteen pages. I've always wanted to do lots of "research" about education, but I couldn't face all those piles of books and reports I thought I would have to lock myself away with and plough through, before writing anything. Blogging, for me, is an alternative way of learning, nearer to conversation. For me, blogging combines most of the virtues of conversation, with most of the virtues of publication. See my earlier remarks here on blogging as a method of self-education. As I am fond of saying, the ambiguity embedded in the title of this blog ("Brian's Education") is entirely deliberate.

To put the above in another way, if blogging does deal with an attention span problem, that problem is not so much with the readers of blogs as with the writers of them. There's probably nothing wrong with your attention span. But the sustained concentration over a minimum of several days that old fashioned writing requires, is, on the whole, beyond me. And a man's got to know his limitations.

(And by the way, just as I was always one of life's bloggers, so too, in a similar way, I was always a desktop publisher. Long before that got computerised I was doing desktop publishing with scissors and glue – literally cutting and pasting like some three-year-old at a nursery school, and for once the word literally literally means literally.)

The topics I expect to touch upon tonight may include: the politics of homeschooling (possible laws against it), the economics of homeschooling (a cheaper way of sending the little darlings to Eton and Balliol, basically), the "Sovietisation" of education (a persistent theme here), the impact on education (or lack of it so far) of computers (ditto), and, you know, whatever else pops into my head or anybody else's head on the night.

I hope also to touch upon the general topic of specialist blogging, if you see what I mean. Basically, I'm strongly for it, because it keeps the stuff separated out. It doesn't deluge readers with stuff they probably don't want to read, in among stuff that they might. Specialist blogging improves the information to noise ratio. I predict, for example, that Alice Bachini's specialist parenting blog will get more regular readers than Alice Bachini's personal whatever-comes-into-her-mind-at-that-moment blog, even though I personally love the second one especially.

Although come to think of it, Perry de Havilland gave the last talk for Tim in Putney, on samizdata blogging, and we covered specialist blogging then. So I guess I ought to talk education education education, rather than blogging blogging blogging. Probably a good thing.

Address to attend the meeting: 19 Festing Road, Putney, London SW15. Get there between 7pm and 8pm.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:56 PM
Category: Blogging
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December 05, 2002
Go Jo!

Joanne Jacobs has some particularly choice stuff up just now. This quote, for example:

Mainstream art education begins with the assumption that art is inherently valuable, whereas VCAE [visual culture art education] assumes that visual representations are sites of ideological struggle that can be as deplorable as they can be praiseworthy. The starting point [for VCAE] is not the prescribed inclusive canon of the institutionalized art world, but students' own cultural experience. A major goal is empowerment in relation to the pressures and processes of contemporary image-makers, mostly those who work on behalf of corporate capitalism, not the cherishing of artistic traditions and the valuing of artistic experimentation. The basic orientation is to understand, not to celebrate.

There you have it, the disaster that is the "progressive movement" in education: you are free to think as I tell you to think. What if the "students' own cultural experience" causes them to want to "celebrate" capitalism?

Or how about this?:

The point of a virtual school is that students and their parents have the flexibility to organize their school hours. Students enrolled in the California Virtual Academy, which uses Bill Bennett's K12 program, for example, must still record attendance and instructional minutes as if they were going to class 175 days, on a Monday-Friday schedule. So even when children complete lessons on Saturday or do two lessons in one day to compensate for a field trip, the official K12 record must reflect 175 school days, or the charter school will not get paid-regardless of how many instructional minutes the child completes.

As Joanne says:

… The Blob will do its best to regulate its competition. And the power to regulate is the power to destroy.

Are you listening, all you massed ranks of British education voucher freaks? Education vouchers means the government deciding what education is. And once they've decided that, they'll have those home-schoolers, and home-unschoolers right in their cross hairs.

And this is probably my favourite:

... We had to go around and talk about at least one way in which we have been/are oppressed. When my turn came up, and I answered that I have never been oppressed, the instructor corrected me, saying that I must have been, as I'm female. I persisted, saying that being female has never been anything short of a blessing for me. The instructor was relentless, insisting that I was necessarily oppressed at one point in my life. The instructor asked to speak with me after class. He was visibly shaken and angry. He told me that my classroom behavior was disruptive …

… and this next bit didn't make sense to me Joanne, sorry, copying error? Never mind, it's still terrific as soon as it gets back to making sense again …

… and that I would be kicked out of class and would thereby lose my job and my housing for the next year unless I learned to be more cooperative.

If I say you are oppressed by the male hegemony, young lady, then you are oppressed! Too right, mate.

I love the internet. I wonder if this ass knows what an ass he has made of himself, and how many, many people, all over the Anglosphere and beyond are now laughing at him.

As we say over at Samizdata, what a wanker.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:29 PM
Category: Blogging
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November 27, 2002
Crown Princes facing reality

This guy has been making just a tad too many waves, and has therefore (and this is pure guesswork on my part) gone anonymous. Allen Reece's T(each) F(or) A(merica) bosses said that a daily blog with his daily complaints about his workplace, superiors, etc, was out of order and could he please cut it out. Fair enough.

US readers of this, and for that matter British readers, may be interested to know that the TFA idea is now being applied to Britain, specifically in London.

Last week I spoke at a meeting organised by the London School of Economics Hayek Society, on the subject of philanthropy, charity, "helping", etc., and it turned out that the meeting had been sponsored by something called TeachFirst. One of the other speakers was Jo Owen, who runs (helps run?) Teach First, and mentioned it a bit in his talk.

The idea, for those coming to all this new (as I was), is that hotshot, high-flying, alpha-male crown-prince management consultancy types fresh out of their hotshot universities take a couple of years out from telling their elders and betters how to run their businesses, and instead make themselves useful by doing a tour of duty in one of London's more dramatic secondary schools.

That "TFA" - the stuff that Allen Reece is doing - is the original US version of all this was a penny that only dropped later.

What I like is that here is an example of "helping" that actually might be helpful, at both ends of the deal. Corporate Crown Princes are notoriously more clever than they are wise in the ways of the real world, and two years in one of the more grotesque of our capital city's schools is ideal for giving them a crash course in reality. The British economy's Crown Princes used to earn their spurs running provincial factories or godforsaken storage depots. "Give it a go. We're probably going to shut it soon anyway. See what you can make of it." (And see what it makes of you, mate!) Trouble is, hotshot management consultancies don't now have such enterprises of their own for their promising young men to play with. So now they are having to borrow them.

Meanwhile the schools are crying out for alpha-males to teach their rowdy young bloods to learn, not just science and history and geography, but basic civility and good manners. Civilisation you might say. Nice but overwhelmed women, and non-alpha males in corduroy jackets with arm patches, don't do it. They need Men men, and they are definitely desperate enough to take the Men being offered by this scheme, young and green though they may be. The slightly bigger wages needed for these guys are pin-money for the sponsors, but a godsend for the schools not to have to worry about finding.

Nice. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this scheme.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:10 PM
Category: BloggingThe reality of teaching
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