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Category Archive • This and that
January 28, 2005
Small breaths

From here via here:

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

Very Yogan, but some truth there, I think.

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:42 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [1]
January 27, 2005
Educate a woman and educate a family

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:19 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [1]
January 24, 2005
School bus spotted in London

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

SchoolBusUSA.jpg

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

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

SchoolBusLondonS.jpg

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:25 PM
Category: This and that
[10] [1]
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
[1] [0]
November 19, 2004
Britain will be left out!

Dramatic survey news:

Britain will be left out of a major international survey of education standards because the government did not provide enough information.

Very wise.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:54 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
November 03, 2004
Comment from Kate

KatesBoyFriend.jpgSomeone called "Kate" has just added an interesting comment to this posting here, which I mention (a) because it is an interesting comment which y'all might want to read but would probably otherwise miss, and (b) because Kate supplies a link to her own blog, which looks very interesting and very fun.

Gratuitous picture there of someone whom Kate hasn't married yet.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:34 PM
Category: This and that
[3] [0]
October 21, 2004
Two Samizdata links

I have done a couple of postings with educational themes for Samizdata, today and on Tuesday.

Today's was a response to this fascinating and excellent Guardian article about how a recent tax law change is crippling university entrepreneurial spin-offs. (Has any other media outlet picked up on this story?) And Tuesday's was a response to a seminar I attended which was addressed by Francis Gilbert.

When I write something which would do for here, but which would also do for Samizdata, I stick it on Samizdata, because, frankly, Samizdata is the one with the mass (although please understand that these things are relative) readership. And then I link from here, for those who read this more than they read Samizdata. I like to think that there are a few who fall into this category.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:25 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
September 28, 2004
The end of adventure

This is a story I hear a lot these days:

Children are missing out on life-changing adventure pursuits because teachers fear they will end up in court if things go wrong, says Ofsted.

Outdoor activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, archery and sailing are in decline as schools opt for less risky courses or drop adventure training altogether, says David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools.

Teachers have been prosecuted, and one was imprisoned for 12 months last year, over the drowning of a boy on school visits. Schools also fear compensation claims from parents if children get injured.

In a report to be published today the inspectors say outdoor education is a minority area in most secondary schools, despite some excellent examples of courses led by teachers with vision.

"The benefits of outdoor education are far too important to forfeit and by far outweigh the risks of an accident occurring," says Mr Bell.

"If teachers follow recognised safety procedures and guidance they have nothing to fear from the law."

And circles are square. No they are not, says the rest of the Telegraph piece. Circles are circular, squares are square, and the law is fast making childhood adventure that any adult can be held responsible for damn near illegal. Following "recognised safety procedures" isn't a guarantee of no grief, but is itself grievously burdensome.

Concluding paragraphs:

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The fact is that accidents can happen. With so many parents turning to the courts at the first sign of a problem, schools are right to be extremely cautious in their approach to the organisation of outdoor activities.

"Regrettably this has created a situation in which many teachers have felt unable to take on the additional responsibility.

"This has led to a reduction in the number of visits which are a vitally important part of the educational experience, especially for children from families that could not otherwise afford them."

Indeed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:48 AM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
September 06, 2004
The Sunday Times is full of it

Yesterday I, Patrick Crozier and Michael Jennings met up, for Michael to help me with my computer (thank you Michael) and then for the three of us then to go for coffee in Café Nero. There I did something I only do occasionally, which was glance through a Sunday paper, as in paper paper.

I was struck by the number of education or education-related stories there were, in the Sunday Times news section alone. And they weren't all clumped together in an education section; they were scattered about in the general news. I bought a copy, and the various supplements and appendages came in very handy for covering up the windows of my bathroom and toilet while workers on scaffolding are busy tarting up the outside of my flat and those of my neighbours.

The first story I noticed was about Jasper Conran giving loadsamoney to a fashion academy. Something tells me that this will work. I mean, will this place be cool or what? I think: cool. Sub-zero, in fact. Yes, I can really see these specialist academies working well. And if not, it won't because the idea is an intrinsically bad one.

Story two is classic Sovietisation, about pupils being expelled from a school to makes its pass rate higher. The measurement, the pass rate, is supposed to measure educational effectiveness. But it also builds in malign incentives. Next step, more orders, ordering people not to succumb to the malign incentives.

Story three is Atticus commenting on Education Minister Clarke's contribution to the healthy eating initiative or whatever the hell it is, pointing out that Clarke himself is not a model of slenderness. New blogger Guido Fawkes echoes the sentiment, and has a picture to prove it.

Story four is a letter from David Milliband saying that Chris Woodhead is wrong about A-levels and they are actually a fine fine thing. But then he would say that. What's the betting that when Milliband finally gives up on politics and tries to get a more sensible job and a more sensible life for himself, he stops pretending, and admits that what Woodhead et al say is right? Just like Woodhead himself did when he gave up?

Story five is only tangentially educational, but importantly so, I think. It is about giving children a vote, in "youth mayor" elections, on the off chance that this might make them less apathetic. I'm for it. In fact I think "youth" should get real votes. I think that adulthood – rights and responsibilities, voting, driving, criminal responsibility, leaving home if you want to, the lot – should cut in at the beginning of teenagerdom. If you don't want adulthood at that age, fine, don't bother with it. But if you do want to get stroppy and claim the privileges of adulthood, the system would stand ready to deal with you sensibly, instead of being utterly bewildered like it is now. I can see no problem with thirteen year olds voting in all elections.

Story six concerns middle class kids shunning university and going straight to work instead. (Sounds like they've been reading my previous posting here, although of course they haven't.) This is excellent. Student loans are working. Universities are being recognised by smart go-getting youth as posh dole queues, and not places the ambitious really need to stagnate in. If you do go to such places, have a plan about what you are there to do, and get stuck into it. Splendid, splendid. What's the betting that in fifty years time only the thickos go to uni and the smart ones all get great jobs at thirrteen (see story five above).

Story seven is about Americans sending their ill-mannered brats to good manners camps, and story eight is (another tangential one this) about a kid who wants to be the youngest person ever to climb Everest. Good on him. A young man with a plan. He's bound to learn a lot, even if it's only that getting permission to climb Everest (quickly enough to be the youngest) is harder than he thought. I wish him luck.

Oh yes, and did I mention the stuff on page one, two, three, six, seven, eight, ten, eleven, etc. etc.? The small matter of what happened to that school in Russia. I wonder what lessons will end up being learned from that horror.

It's amazing the newspaper had room for anything going on in the world that is not education related.

By the way, these are all timesonline links, and for foreigners especially these tend to go dead pretty quickly. Or maybe it's merely expensive – which for the blogosphere is the same thing. So if you are curious about any of them, follow them soon, or you may not be able to follow them at all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:17 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
September 01, 2004
Back to school and counting my blessings

Yes, here I am, back at the chalk face, as promised, just like lots of others.

I had in mind to do a piece about the cruelty of the English weather, which has just turned good after several weeks of wetness, but instead I resume with a link to a count your blessings story, this time about a bunch of school kids in southern Russia who have been kidnapped by an armed gang of (presumably – unless they're disgruntled alumni) Chechen anti-government fighters/terrorists/bandits/freedom fighters/whatevers. They are threatening a kill ratio of fifty kids for every hostage holder killed by the forces of law and order.

Kind of puts in perspective stories like this about the maternal agonies of the first day of school for your kid. Or for that matter stories like the recently media-dominant claim that A-levels are now too easy. (Here is a link to Chris Woodhead saying just this several years ago. He's one of many.)

The blogging pause has been a success. I wouldn't say I am now gung-ho with edublogthusiasm. But I was getting rather blogged out when I stopped, and was neglecting fundamental organisational tasks which I am now tackling better. It was all a good experience, both the regular blogging and the break from it, and a tiny taste of what being a regular teacher must be like and of why teachers need holidays too. Even if their kids don't get kidnapped by terrorists.

As of now, the rule will be: something (however feeble) every week day, and maybe other stuff on Saturdays and Sundays, depending on my mood and thought processes.

However, and it may be a big however, I am still having mysterious internet connection problems. (Fifteen minutes ago I was in despair about even being able to put this posting up.) So although the plan is normal service, service may actually be somewhat abnormal for a while yet.

Good luck in and best wishes for the coming academic year to all of my readers for whom such wishes make any sense.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:21 PM
Category: This BlogThis and that
[0] [0]
July 20, 2004
Garbage

Great headline.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:47 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
July 14, 2004
Is counter-terrorism blunting the USA's strategic edge?

The man who paints The Big Picture notes the strange fact that the USA consumes, so to speak, so many more educated (alpha-)people than it can produce, and that this is a big source of US strategic power, and always has been. And he links back to an earlier posting of his, where he asked:

"Will the United States' draconian response to the terrorist threat cause a fundamental shift in the international movement of researchers and perhaps even alter the global balance of scientific power?"

I would suppose that the answer is: yes, a bit. Interesting thought. And whether counter-terrorism is hurting or not, the question of why the USA does the exploitation of educated people so much better than education itself is very interesting.

I got to this from here and to there, inevitably, from here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:52 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
July 02, 2004
Sakena Yakoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning

Via Chrenkoff, I got to this about a lady who has been awarded a prize:

Yacoobi.jpg

After more than a quarter century of war and instability, the literacy rate of Afghans, particularly women, was among the lowest in the world. When many schools closed in 1995 and the foundations of education throughout the country were in danger of collapse, Sakena Yacoobi and two other concerned Afghan women founded the Afghan Institute of Learning to help address the lack of access to education for women and girls, their subsequent inability to support their lives, and the resulting impact on society and culture. They committed AIL, a non-governmental organization (NGO), to bringing peace and dignity to the Afghan people as they struggle to overcome oppression, devastation, and injustice.

During the Taliban years, AIL ran 80 underground schools as well as mobile libraries in four Afghan cities. By the end of 2003 the organization served more than 350,000 Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan's refugee camps through its girls schools and programs in teacher training, health education, human rights education, women's leadership training, and literacy. With its 470 employees, 83% of whom are women, it is a model and a leader in rebuilding Afghan civil society.

The official citations read: "The Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Sakena Yacoobi, President of the Afghan Institute of Learning, for her courageous vision and leadership in implementing quality education, human rights training, and safe healthcare for Afghan women and children. Despite significant personal risk during the time of the Taliban and in the aftermath of violence and war, she has worked tirelessly to improve the life, opportunities, and social infrastructure of Afghanistan's neediest residents and its refugees in Pakistan."

"The Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to the Afghan Institute of Learning for expanding health and education opportunities for women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The unwavering commitment of its dedicated teachers, doctors, and health care providers under the repressive Taliban regime and during post-war reconstruction has truly empowered hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and children, citizens and refugees alike."

This is all part of why Chrenkoff reckons things are now getting better in Afghanistan. Not, he says, that you'll get much about this from the mainstream media. But that's the way with good news. Not very interesting. Not dramatic enough.

Although, he does quote from this guy, the exception who expounds the rule.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:26 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
Mr Catlow's Opus

Yesterday in the London Underground, I picked up a stray copy of the Camden New Journal, and found myself reading an article about a music teacher. Today I was able to find it in linkable form:

MR MUSIC at Camden School for Girls, John Catlow, is preparing to retire this month after 18 years explaining the mysteries of sharps and flats.

Catlow.jpgA distinguished former cellist, Mr Catlow, 63, played with the London Symphony Orchestra and was first principal cello with the Hallé Orchestra and English National Opera before becoming a teacher at the school in Sandall Road, Camden Town.

As well as his classroom work, he is currently preparing for a piano and cello recital the day after term ends.

And he is busy doing research before conducting Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony as part of the school’s third Reunion Orchestra Concert, performed by past pupils, on July 11.

Mr Catlow says of his mid-career move to the classroom: "I needed to get out of orchestras.

"I was experiencing stress in my bowing arm and the music profession is littered with former great players just serving out their time. I wanted to avoid that.

"And playing orchestral music isn’t at all demanding intellectually."

So, rather than simply becoming a peripatetic cello teacher, he decided to go the whole hog and teach music across the secondary age range up to A-level.

"Turning to teaching was a shot in the dark," he admits.

"A school isn’t a glamorous environment, and sometimes you don’t really feel like you’re winning. But it was definitely more fulfilling for me in the long run."

And so on. No criticism here. Here's how the piece ends:

… it was Rosemary Cumming, from the school office, who paid Mr Catlow his most significant compliment.

A former temporary receptionist told her he was quite simply "the nicest, friendliest person at the school".

I suspect that there is a direct connection between extreme competence and extreme niceness. It doesn't always happen this way, of course. Many extremely competent people exploit their indispensability by being extremely nasty. But if you are extremely competent, and everyone knows it, you may not feel that you have to demand respect from people by chucking your weight around. You have respect already.

I further suspect that Catlow was a whole lot better at teaching for having done other things first, and at a high level of accomplishment. God save us from schools where the only thing the teachers have done is either teaching at school, or, before that, learning at school. Schools need variety on the staff, and people like Catlow provide it.

I bet he had some stories to tell. The LSO in particular is a famous storm centre of anecdotage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:10 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
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
[1] [1]
June 30, 2004
Philip Greenspun on everyone being educated to Harvard graduate standard

Alan Little kindly emails with a link to this posting, and singles out this paragraph as likely to be of particular interest to me:

If everyone in a poor neighborhood were educated to the standard of the average Harvard graduate all of the other problems would be solved. ... [but] ... Schools for poor people are government schools. Everyone who works there is either a bureaucrat or a union member. None of these people incurs any kind of pay loss or risk of firing if the kids remain totally ignorant.

Alan also supplies this entertaining potted biog of the writer of this, Philip Greenspun – gratuitous photo of Greenspun and friend to our right, obtained here – thus:

Greenspun.jpg

Philip Greenspun is a guy who made a pile of money by founding a dotcom software company and selling it out to a bunch of venture capitalists just before the crash. Smart move. Now he flies planes and writes a bitingly cynical but sometimes sharp weblog.

Smart move indeed.

I think that countries like the USA (and Britain) may now be entering a period of their history where the pressure to get educated (if not to Harvard graduate standard then at least well above barbarism) is reasserting itself, after a period of educational slackness that may now be ending.

In the first period, you did as well as you possibly could, including educationally, to get as far away from starvation as you could. (A lot of Indians and Chinese are in this phase now.)

In the phase of relative relaxation, if you were willing to work (without much in the way of education) then, wars and slumps willing, you could work, and have a reasonable life. This was the time of "Fordism".

But now, in countries like mine and like Greenspun's, there are just two classes: educated class, and underclass. There is now no "working" class in between, i.e. a class using physical effort, physical skills and little else.

That is of course an exaggeration and an over-simplification. But it's the way things are headed. And that's the sense in which Greenspun is right. He's probably overdoing it to say that we are already there.

By the way, the comments on Greenspun's posting are interesting, especially the ones defending public sector educators, quite eloquently as it happens.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:00 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
May 27, 2004
Cambridge professors paint a grim picture

This is interesting. I don't know how true it really is, but it sounds bad, doesn't it?

Secondary education in England is collapsing under the twin strains of Government pressure on schools and deteriorating pupil behaviour, a report by Cambridge University's faculty of education said yesterday.
Painting a grim picture of bored, aggressive children, hostile parents, and teachers at the end of their tether, the study said the Government's interventionist policies had brought schools to the point where they could no longer deliver what was expected of them.

John MacBeath and Maurice Galton, both professors of education at Cambridge, blamed a rigid, overloaded curriculum, prescribed teaching methods, large classes, imposed targets and "high stakes testing" for creating an atmosphere of "tension and stress".

It was all aggravated by the Government's obsession with the country's performance in international league tables, which meant the pressure on children started from the age of five.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the Government's policy of "inclusion", which forced mainstream schools to admit pupils who were disturbed or had learning difficulties and would previously have gone to special schools.

I'm glad that inclusion got included in the list, and that it was granted the honoured rank of "last straw that broke the came's back".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:33 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
May 26, 2004
Resilience

Incoming email from Barry Wood, full of interesting (although hard to classify) stuff and much appreciated:

Hello Brian,

I'm a regular reader of your blogs, both of which I find very informative and enjoyable. I thought you might be interested in something I came across in a local newspaper (the Surrey Comet).

Richmond Council has apparently launched a programme called "Competitive Edge" which aims to reintroduce competitive sport "to teach the children that losing is part of life".

Isn't it amazing that the day has come when the re-introduction of competitive sports to schools is news enough to merit headlines?

The wider aim – it says here – is to "help drive down truancies, teenage pregnancies and law-breaking." A pretty big claim but a welcome straw in the wind, all the same.

A friend of mine told me that all her school's canoeing and hill-walking classes had been greatly curtailed. Pressure from insurers, I believe.

I mention all this because awareness of 'resilience' as a crucial part of character seems to be growing. Thanks to authors like Martin Seligman in the US it has moved from the area of "fad" to a statement of the bleedin'-obvious backed up by hard science.

Here, resilience does not receive the emphasis it should, I believe. Instead children are bombarded with so many instructions to "live their dream" that an important part of the equation is left out.

That is the ability to cope with setbacks, to cope with failures and to overcome them.

all the best

Barry Wood

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:31 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
May 24, 2004
More education adverts

Yes, more pretty pictures. Pretty pictures get people interested, and curious to find out what the text says. Plus, pictures are fun. (That, at any rate, is the thinking behind all the pretty pictures you see in children's books.)

First, a replay of an advert that has already been featured here, which I now see everywhere, this time on a bus:

lsbubus.jpg

Yeah mate. Get yourself a degree from London South Bank University and you won't have to spend the rest of your life riding about on a bike!

And the other two were both taken from the telly over the weekend, while I was watching the test match.

learndirect.jpg

"learndirect", however exactly you spell that (the capital letters or not thing I mean – personally I would greatly prefer Learn Direct), is actually not such a bad operation if my recent experience is anything to go by, even though I presume it is run by the Government. I rang them last week in connection with finding out about digital photography courses, and they were helpful.

This, for me, is the most interesting one:

computeach3.jpg

These people seem to be actually sponsoring the cricket, and this advert suggests thoughts about all manner of things that may or may not be happening in the world. But for here and now, I'll just stick with the pictures.

Yes. they are indeed sponsoring the cricket, or at any rate the broadcasting of it. Here is their logo again, this time with the Lords "Media Centre" (alias: Space Pod) in the picture.

computeach2.jpg

Not that I have any idea how good Computeach actually are at teaching … Compu.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:50 PM
Category: Higher educationThis and that
[1] [0]
May 21, 2004
Teachers abroad: "… relieved of a lot of the administration that is normal in the UK system …"

Here is an interesting piece about teachers fleeing the bureaucracy and indiscipline of English schools and working abroad.

Key quote:

"The vast majority of schools abroad hire teachers to teach," says Albert Hundspeth, who's been head teacher at British schools in Prague and Cyprus. "You are relieved of a lot of the administration that is normal in the UK system, and plenty of British schools abroad don't do the SATs tests." On the discipline front, because the schools are fee-paying there's a higher chance that the students will be well-motivated."

Imagine it. Teachers being hired to teach.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
April 14, 2004
Hello Gran and Grandad Poppins and hello Mr and Mrs Chips

How do you get free child care if both Dad and Mum are working full time? Answer: Granny and Grandpa.

A bit tough, perhaps, on the more youthful grandparents who had been looking forward to spending their retirement and private pension plans on Swan Hellenic cruises or bingo. But there is a bright side. Far from being a burden on family resources, grannies can now look forward to being viewed as an asset. Good God, with childcare costs reaching £200 a week in central London, what prudent professional woman wouldn't consider bringing in her mother, or indeed her father, to do the same work at no cost at all?

It's one of those beautiful occasions when self-interest, family affection and natural sentiment coincide. At least the grandparents who are complaining about exploitation are being used as nature intended. A scientific study recently demonstrated what we all knew, which is that daughters tend to have more children when their mothers are on hand to take care of them. In return for the hard graft, the grannies get a genetic advantage in the Darwinian scheme of things.

There's no way Europe's ageing population is going to be able to just lounge around and do nothing, or go Swanning off in its entirety on Hellenic cruises. They'll have to make themselves useful. Personally I think that oldies have a great future also, in addition to being underpaid child-minders, as underpaid school teachers.

Here's my plan. The oldies teach, but unlike regular paid-with-real-money type teachers, they won't have to teach any kid who doesn't want to learn and won't behave. In exchange, the oldie-teachers will get paid some pocket money and won't be abandoned in Dickensian oldie-homes. I really think that might work. For the educated ones, I mean.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:34 PM
Category: Parents and childrenThis and that
[3] [0]
April 13, 2004
Busy elsewhere and but back in business here tomorrow

It seems I may have been making more of a contribution to the world of teaching than I had realised.

But alas, I spent my education blogging time doing a posting about this strange circumstance for here, only to realise that the logical place to put it all was not here but on Ubersportingpundit. And sadly, reporting this diversion is now all I have time for, here, today. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I am meeting tomorrow with a critic of phonetics. Just how severe I have yet to learn, and I don't want to prejudge anything, but it should be most interesting. With any luck at all, this will yield at least one worthwhile post here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:06 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
April 10, 2004
But what are they learning?

Even the images you get from google with "school" aren't really that good. This is one of the better ones.

Barracudas.jpg

They're barracudas.

Happy Easter.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:30 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
April 08, 2004
Education in Putney

Tomorrow night at the Evans household I am to speak, at the April 2004 "Putney Debate". I use inverted commas because there is not usually much in the way of a debate at these events, more a talk and comment that is mostly in approximate agreement. But education is sometimes different, because when it comes to education there are two entirely distinct paradigms, both recognisable as libertarian, which tend to vie for supremacy. Basically the battle tends to be freedom for parents versus freedom for children. Not that even those two attitudes always conflict, because parents are surely more likely to want the sort of education that their children are going to approve of and make something of. And children are likely to want the kind of education that their parents approve of, because they tend to inherit their parents' tastes and values.

I may say some of the above, but my main approach will be to try to stir up a good discussion about education, and then take notes of anything said that strikes me as interesting, so that I can pass it on here.

I sometimes do a little talk about how to give talks, and the most important thing about talks, I am completely convinced, is that you have to have something you want to say to the people you are talking to. It sounds obvious, and it is, but it is easily forgotten. Yet until today I had failed to ask this question of myself, about this talk. And the main thing I want to say to these particular people, I realised this afternoon, was not this or that opinion of my own on the subject, but: "Tell me what you think/remember/recommend on the subject." Truly. I am genuinely more interested in what they say in the after-talk discussion than in anything I might say to them.

This is because I have come to regard personal thoughts/memories/recommentations as more interesting than most educational newspaper stories. These mostly seem to consist of statistical generalisations of dubious provenance, and politicians saying that things in general are either getting in general better or in general worse. And I now prefer the particular.

I believe the world of education should follow a laissez faire approach, let people sort things out for themselves – in other words treat education the way the world ought to treat the rest of the economy – not because this will result in an X or Y per cent improvement in educational outcomes of this or that pre-determined sort, but because just what constitutes a desirable educational outcome is best left to free people to decide for themselves. I don't believe in national standards, and in national statistics, and in the arguments that accompany the publication of these statistics. I believe people should set their own standards, and pursue their own preferred outcomes.

I personally believe that teaching people to read is the most important teaching job there is, because reading opens all other learning doors. And I even think that there is a best way to set about doing this, but I don't think that these priorities should be imposed forcibly on people who don't agree with them. I think persuasion will be quite persuasive enough.

That however is a big picture thought, and as I say, I now prefer the small picture thoughts. I find the individual insights of individual people concerning the educational circumstances about which they are truly well informed to be the interesting ones.

As for any individual insights of this sort that I might offer myself, this talk is taking place at the worst possible moment for me. I am about to become one of those Volunteer Reading Helpers, which when it happens will provide a steady stream of insights from me, but that hasn't started yet.

Nevertheless, I'll think of some things to say myself, if only out of politeness.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
March 23, 2004
Micklethwait's Law of Educational Complaint

I love Laws. Not law Laws, that the Police moan about if you break. I hate most of those. I mean Laws like Murphy's Law or Parkinson's Law, and before I die I hope to have one named after me. I am extremely proud of Micklethwait's Law of Negotiated Misery, and will go on saying this until others take up the mantra and save me the bother. Micklethwait's Law of Negotiated Misery is true. It explains something very important about the world, which is why so many people are so miserable all the time, despite rising living standards, DVDs, etc. It is blackly humorous, which is very important for these Laws, and it is in general a most excellent Law which I commend to you with pride and enthusiasm.

Here is another.

Re my friend who was complaining at the end of the previous posting here today about the quality of her education, she now strikes me as a fine example of Micklethwait's Law of Educational Complaint, which says that the better educated a person is and the better they subsequently do in life, the more loudly they complain about their early education. My two favourite examples are Einstein, who moaned all his life about the blundering fool who first taught him science, and Yehudi Menuhin, who still rages about the man who first taught him violin.

But I would reckon those those those two long-dead pedagogues did, you know, okay. I mean, science to Einstein? Violin to Menuhin? They must have been doing something right.

In contrast, all the people you meet who seem utterly convinced that their education was wholly excellent seem, as a general rule, to be completely useless human beings, good for nothing except droning on about how their schooldays were the happiest days of their lives, despite the fact that they were beaten senseless by their teachers, sexually molested by their fellow pupils, made to do completely stupid things in vile weather or hideously drafty and dirty classrooms, etc. etc., none of which "ever did us any harm", etc. etc.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:49 PM
Category: Famous educationsThis and that
[7] [0]
March 04, 2004
Some education soundbites

Or aphorisms as they used to be called, culled from the Oxford Book of Aphorisms. A rather scary one to start with:

Education does not consist merely in adorning the memory and enlightening the understanding. Its main business should be to direct the will.
- Joubert, Pensées, 1842

Hm. I say: inform it, and inspire it, yes, but … direct it?

This is better:

Books we want to have young people read should not be recommended to them but praised in their presence. Afterwards they will find them themselves.
- Lichtenberg, Aphorisms, 1764-99

Actually I don't see the harm in a recommendation, so long as you don't slide into directing the will, and keep going on about it. Make your recommendation, but then give it a rest.

The self-educated are marked by stubborn peculiarities.
- Isaac d'Israeli, The Literary Character, 1795

And I like this:

Those who are slow to know suppose that slowness is the essence of knowledge.
- Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882-7

This I like, too:

You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been to a good school.
- Saki, 'The Baker's Dozen', Reginald in Russia, 1910

Here is one that makes a lot of sense of universities these days:

The University brings out all abilities, including stupidity.
- Checkhov, Notebooks, 1892-1904

This is very true:

To teach is to learn twice.
- Joubert, Pensées, 1842 (again)

And this, finally, nicely summarises the case against the discovery method of learning:

Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills.
- Minna Antrim, Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions, 1902

Got to rush. Out to dinner. Probably too much yesterday, not much at all today, but that's blogging for you.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:06 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
March 01, 2004
British school invades France

This is fascinating:

For pupils of Southlands School in Kent, the term "French exchange" no longer means three nerve-wracking summer weeks with a family of strangers.

Instead, the school has bought and renovated its own property in France and - unique among schools in Britain - uses it all the year round, not just during the holidays. All 1,200 pupils have the chance to use it for language lessons, outdoor activity trips and class projects. Southlands isn't a rarefied public school with a big budget, but a community comprehensive in New Romney.

"What we wanted was a little bit of France, in France," says the head teacher, Eamonn Cahill, who worked with the assistant head, Siobhan Stevens, to find the right property. "In fact," adds Stevens, "it took seven years and we saw an awful lot of not quite right places."

Then she heard of a possibility in the commune of Azincourt in the Pas de Calais, the place the English have always called Agincourt. This, as all schoolchildren should know, is the site where, on October 25, 1415, Henry V, leading his "Band of Brothers" of some 6,000 men weakened by illness and hunger, defeated a French army of 25,000.

The mayor, Bernard Boulet, suggested that a derelict former cafe on the edge of the village might be suitable for the Southlands project. "He was right," says Stevens. "It needed a lot of work, but it clearly had potential and was only an hour's drive from Calais."

It sounds like a really good operation. Like all good operations, it is succeeding (assuming that this Telegraph report of its success is to be believed) because the people who have to make it work are the ones deciding about it. Yes, there is lots of government money – British, French and EUropean – swilling about, but nobody in London, Paris or Brussels commanded Southlands School to do this. They are doing it themselves. Governments everywhere please note. And if it works out so well it becomes seriously famous, please refrain from commanding - or even "encouraging" - any other schools to do something similar. Let them decide for themselves.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:23 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
February 29, 2004
This just in: children love the Beatles!

Last Friday the late lamented (blogwise) Jackie D gave a talk chez moi, about fame and all that.

This is the sort of thing she was referring to:

Celebrities such as Jordan, Kylie and David Beckham are becoming more influential to young people than their parents, teachers and even school friends, a study suggested yesterday.

Star-struck youngsters are treating their famous role models as "pseudo friends", the research found. However, when hero worship turned into obsession, young fans could be left feeling isolated and lacking in social skills, the psychologists concluded.

Academics from Leicester and Coventry universities studied how celebrities influence young people and their social networks. Previously parents, teachers and friends had always been the key influence on children. However, more recently young people were being exposed to other influences such as pop stars, actors and sporting heroes.

To me what is extraordinary about this "research" is that they have finally noticed. This kind of thing has been going on at least since the 1960s.

The difference, if there is one, is that so many children are, I fear, being prepared for life only by television, which is no preparation at all.

Happy Feb 29. I wanted to put something up here today, however slight.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:57 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
February 15, 2004
School phobia in France

Cécile Philippe of the Institut Economique Molinari, who was in London over the weekend, told me something very interesting when I spoke with her. She only told it to me in a very conversational and unsourced way, but what she said was so interesting that I pass it on nevertheless.

Apparently, she said, French schools are starting to suffer from a wave of "school phobia", on the part of pupils. Certain timid pupils are apparently becoming so frightened of stepping inside their school that they literally cannot do it, and instead they run away.

Cécile, if memory serves correctly, said that this was probably because of teachers becoming more fierce and authoritarian.

The equivalent stories here, if there are any, are of pupils inflicting a reign of terror on a school, and terrorising both the teachers and the other pupils.

Yet, thinking about it a little, these different stories sound to me to be closely related. Both have their roots in a breakdown in the traditional authority of teaches, caused, I believe, by such things as television, rock and roll, and the Internet. Teachers can't compete with all that the way they merely competed with everyday life outside of their schools in former times.

In France, teachers are responding to challenges to their authority by exercising their power ever more fiercely, and some pupils are thus becoming more frightened of their teachers than in the old days. In Britain, meanwhile, teachers don't believe in their right to be this nasty, so the same erosion of authority for them simply takes the form of … erosion of their authority. "Discipline" breaks down, etc..

All of which is hearsay and speculation. But interesting, I think. Need I add that informed comment on this posting would be even more welcome than such comment here usually is, which is to say very welcome indeed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:59 PM
Category: This and that
[4] [1]
February 10, 2004
Daryl Cobranchi redirection

This is fun, so I stuck it up here as well.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:20 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
January 23, 2004
Short story by Jackie D about a drunk kindergarten teacher

My friend Jackie D has written a short story entitled DIERESIS. I think it's called DIERESIS anyway, although that could just be a subheading. It is about a drunk kindergarten teacher.

If I understand the situation correctly, the story couldn't be called "The Drunk Kindergarten Teacher", because this story is part of a collective blogosphere-based attempt to write lots of Drunk Kindergarden Teacher stories. No, I don't quite understand that either.

Dieresis apparently means this. This is presumably a reference to the name of the story's other central protagonist, who is called Zoe with two dots over the e.

You learn something new every day. Even if you knew this particular thing already, that remains true as a general principle. If you don't, you should.

Comment Number One at Jackie D's posting of this goes thus: "Hey that was kind of twisted! I liked it." So, you have been warned.

Unlike many "short" stories, this one actually is quite short. So if you regret reading it, you won't regret having spent very long reading it.

Moral (for me): teachers can sometimes be extremely nasty and peculiar.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:35 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
January 12, 2004
Japanese educational angst

This is an interesting link, to a clutch of pieces complaining about the state of Japanese education. I don't know what the Daily Yomiuri is, but if these pieces are anything to go by, they have much the same worries about education in Japan as we do in England.

Children and young people in Japan increasingly lack an awareness of the concept of public spirit, a bond that connects people. This situation is worrying to many.

The academic abilities of our children have declined, and their zeal for study, both in school and out, is the lowest among the developed nations.

Bullying and truancy are still serious problems in schools. An emerging issue is the number of young people who do not work, either through disinclination or through an inability to find jobs.

They worry that their children are being stuffed with too many facts. So they relax. The children then misbehave or just arse about, and they now want to screw the lid back on.

Also, the government must inculcate patriotism into the next generation. The law must be changed!

In connection with the patriotism debate, there's also this observation:

Many Japanese believe that the historical period in Japan from the Meiji Restoration to our defeat in World War II was a terrible one. This is a result of the War Guilt Information Program carried out by the General Headquarters of Allied Powers during the postwar occupation period. The psychological damage resulting from that program lingers today.

Is it psychologically damaging to feel bad about the ghastly truth? Doesn't that just mean that your powers of moral criticism are in full working order? Would it be more healthy to imagine that nothing bad happened, so that they you would feel entirely good about your country?

One of the things I particularly like about the Internet is how you just never know who in the world – literally who in the world - might end up reading what you put. But this stuff reads like it was written for a strictly local Japanese readership. But was it? Question: did this material originate in English, or was it translated, and if so in what crcumstances, and for what purpose?

It's interesting what can turn up when I type "Education" into google, which I do from time to time. This was a particularly intriguing titbit.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:17 PM
Category: This and that
[3] [0]
December 25, 2003
Happy Christmas and go away

Yes. What are you doing trying to read about education on Christmas Day?

Service could be intermittent until just after the new year gets properly going, which I calculate as being on Monday January 5th. On that date and after, normal service will be back to normal, i.e. every week day, and maybe at the weekend.

Now get out of here and enjoy yourself.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:30 PM
Category: This and that
[2] [0]
December 20, 2003
Elsewhere …

A big rugby international today to watch on the telly, the first since you know what (although maybe you don't – I suppose the world does contain such people) and other stuff I'm pressing on with, plus a blogging social this evening. So today just this little mention of the latest manifestation of the Home Educating House Dad. As usual, it looks good. I will be going there very regularly.

Thanks to Alice for the tip, and to Michael himself for commenting on the previous posting here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:56 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
December 12, 2003
Government 'unhappy' with teachers

Less than a third of government ministers are happy with the teaching profession's handling of education, a survey suggests.

Just 28% of a sample group of government ministers questioned in England and Wales were satisfied with teachers' performance, Mori found, while 1% were very satisfied.

Meanwhile, 51% said they were fairly or very dissatisfied.

According to the poll, of senior and junior government ministers, dissatisfaction increased with experience.

Ministers with three or more years in the job had a 53% chance of being dissatisfied.

Only 32% of newly appointed ministers felt the same.

Nearly half of this group said they were satisfied with the teaching profession's performance on education.

This dropped sharply to 27% for those with one to five years' experience.

A Mori spokesman said: "Coming at a time when the teaching unions are facing stiff opposition from the government concerning national tests, the school workforce agreement and teachers' pay proposals, the survey suggests that the problems already facing the teaching profession may increase over the next parliamentary session."

Just kidding. Here's what this BBC report really said. I've been suffering from a bit of a belly ache for the last day or so. So that will probably be your lot today.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:56 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
November 24, 2003
What I'm going to say tonight to the LSE Hayek Society

This evening I am to give a little talk, arising directly out of having been doing this blog, on educational matters. More exactly, I am there to stir up discussion. It's with the members of the London School of Economics Hayek Society. It kicks off at 7 pm, in the George IV pub, which is near to the LSE. These discussions take place every Monday evening, and if you want to get in on them, email Nick Spurrell of the Hayek Society and ask him about that.

I will now use this blog posting to gather my thoughts for this evening. Here are the kinds of things I will dangle in front of these good people:

Free markets are great for other things, why not education?

The equality objection. People ought to get a fair break in life. If their families or genetic endowments vary, all the more reason for egalitarian education policies. Free markets won't give you those, quite the contrary. (That's the argument, not my argument.) But: free markets are, I think, surprisingly egalitarian, as conservatives (real ones, not members of the Conservative Party) have complained throughout the twentieth century. Which, because of mass market capitalism, has been dominated by the debased and lowest-common-denominator tastes of the lower classes, and which has seen the refinements of the upper classes overwhelmed by a tide of vulgarity. So a totally free market in education might actually have given the masses a pretty reasonable (if perhaps not very refined) start in life compared to what state education has given them. That's my opinion anyway.

The peacock feathers argument. In English: the fear that we are moving more and more towards a world in which you will need a super-advanced degree in order to become a Tesco Check-Out Person. I further surmise that this is a reason why lots of people fear a totally free market in education. It would unleash a world in which more and more people spent about two thirds of their lives still at school. Again, I think this fear is mistaken, and that a free market would bring people up against the costs of such absurdities. But it's something to think about and talk about, I hope.

The whole Sovietisation thing. A constant theme here, as the link above will demonstrate if you scroll down, and down, and down. Excessive centralisation, bogus statistics, everybody (including and especially the supreme political heads of education) helping each other to cheat. Think, Soviet steel production or agricultural production statistics. (And think: collapse of Soviet Union.)

And, in response to Sovietisation, the argument for freedom because education (like the "economy") is too complicated and too subtle and too unmeasurable to centralise. I like postings here which undermine the simplicities involved in assuming that educational success can be fully and accurately measured. (Queue argument: what exactly do we mean by "education"?) Ironically, the free marketeers are the ones who now like educational numbers and "objective" educational "research", and their statist opponents pour scorn on the numbers, and on the tests which crank out the numbers. My answer is, let educational practice be negotiated locally between parents, children and autonomous and entrepreneurial teachers. Ditto, with testing. By all means permit testing enterprises, and let people pay attention to them and buy their services is they make sense, but don't impose tests from the centre. Again: as in the free economy. If large scale educational organisations emerge in response to consumer demand and producer inclination, fine. But don't impose them. The economic calculation argument applied to education, in other words.

That ought to keep the pot boiling.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:28 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
November 17, 2003
Stress today on Ubersportingpundit

Nothing substantial here today, I'm afraid. But I have just posted a rather long piece for Ubersportingpundit about the preparations made by the England rugby team for their attempt to win the Rugby World Cup. They have reached the final of this tournament, and there's a decent chance they'll win it.

In this piece I concentrate on the matter of how you prepare people for extreme high pressure situations. This has also, I assert, been what the England coach, Clive Woodward, has also been concentrating on.

The central claim I make is: that you can perfect anything you can practise. Discuss. Here or there, I guess.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:02 PM
Category: This and that
[10] [1]
November 13, 2003
Prog, trad and choice in the early education of Yehudi Menuhin

I've been reading the autobiography of the late Yehudi Menuhin, Unfinished Journey. He was not only was he a great musician and a most intriguing human being, but he also wrote beautifully, it would seem.

The education of someone like the young Menuhin was bound to be interesting, and so it proved.

The first thing to be said is that almost from the word go, Menuhin himself was determined to become a violinist. He wasn't pushed into it, still less forced into it, by ambitious parents, although once he had embarked on his course his father and mother ("Aba" and "Imma") backed him to the hilt. No, what happened was that Menuhin saw and heard a violinist in a circus, by the name of Carichiarto. And he saw and heard the "concert master" (that's what they call the leader over there) of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, a man named Louis Persinger.

The finger I pointed at Louis Persinger could base its choice on four years that had given me what as many years of college rarely give the graduate: a sense of vocation. …

And like the teacher he himself was later to become, Menuhin immediately starts to speculate and generalise:

… Is this particular sense native to childhood itself? I wonder. Have the fortunate simply rescued from an otherwise lost age of innocence the conviction of unlimited possibility, the instinct for real worth, which make it easier for children to identify with great soloists or simple souls with able middlemen? Certainly, looking at children from an adult perspective, I have long believe that the grown-up world consistently underrates the young, finding marvels in ambition and achievement where none exists. …

Older children have no "vocation" not because they never had one, but because they lose touch with it, is what I suppose that to mean.

… At the age of four I was far too young to know that the violin would exact a price commensurate with the grace conferred – the grace of flying, of occupying an absolute vantage point, of enjoying such dominion over nerve, bone and muscle as could render the body an ecstatic absentee. But I did know, instinctively, that to play was to be.

Quite simply I wanted to be Persinger, …

Whatever the vocations of others, Menuhin himself was firmly set on his course. Louis Persinger was asked if he would take the young Menuhin as a pupil, but he declined, so instead Menuhin was entrusted to the instructive attentions of …

… the local Svengali, Sigmund Anker, who, with the techniques of a drill-seargeant, transformed boys and girls into virtuosi by the batch.

There then follows a fascinating description of what Menuhin learned, not from Anker exactly, but as a result of the way Anker taught, combined as it was with Menuhin's determination to make sense of it all.

Anker's business in life was to groom the young to brilliant performance of Sarasate and Tchaikovsky, and as far as I can gather from dim memories of those distant days, he had neither capacity nor ambition for anything more subtle. He knew nothing of style, the classics, chamber music; more fundamentally, he knew nothing of the process of violin playing, or if he did, lacked the skill to pass his knowledge on. Not that he was alone in his darkness, for violin teaching was altogether a hit-and-miss activity then, as indeed it still too largely is. Anker's method was to set up a target – correct intonation, full round tone, or whatever – and whip his pupils towards it by unexplained command. The result was that one taught or failed to teach oneself, as one had earlier learned to walk and talk mainly by self-instruction; but violin playing being more complex than such inbuilt human skills, an illumination beyond what one's own nerves and muscles could supply would have been gratefully received.

At the outset merely holding the violin, at arm's length, very tightly, lest it fall (or recoil), seemed problem enough; where did one find a second pair of arms to play it? I was invited to fly; I answered by hanging on for dear life. Where the left hand, in the 'golden mean' position, should form spirals round the neck of the instrument (as the right hand does around the bow), mine pinioned it between thumb and the base of my first finger. Where the digits should arch softly over the fingerboard, each muscularly independent of the others, mine – all but the smallest, which drooped behind – cleaved to one another like three parade ponies, moving en masse from one positional rung to another up the chromatic ladder as if they found safety in numbers. Where the violin should lie on the collarbone, secured there by the head's natural but delicate weight, I clamped it tight. Where the right hand (and by extension the wrist, elbow, arm, scapula) and the bow function rather as the wheel and axis of a gyroscope, the former rotating in order to keep the latter on a true course, I sawed a straight line and, on every downstroke, swerved or 'turned the corner' (to make matters worse, the bow was too long for me). At crucial points where sound should have vibrated freely, it was hopelessly grounded. These abominations were so many symptoms of my ignorance of the violin's nature, an ignorance which clearly was not going to be corrected by the explanations of a third party, but only by personal exploration. The gyres, the pendular swings, the waves required by an instrument that itself forms one continuous curve, I had to teach myself, and could do so the more easily perhaps for inhabiting my own absolute space, for lacking the linear perspective that relates people to one another, for feeling in circles.

After six months I had made remarkably little progress. Mr Anker would bode the worst, having expected the best, Imma would report his diminishing hopes, Aba would fall silent, and I felt like a terminal case bandied by future pallbearers. …

But then, the miracle …

… Then, for no reason I could explain, the violin began to lose its foreignness, my grip relaxed, my body discovered the freedom to forget itself, and I could enjoy what I was doing. I was at last launched. At this distance what I recall most clearly is my conquest of vibrato. To teach vibrato, Anker would shout, 'Vibrate! Vibrate!' with never a clue given as to how to do it. Indeed I would have obeyed him if I could. I longed to achieve vibrato, for what use was a violin to a little boy of Russian-Jewish background who could not bring a note to throbbing life? As with my struggle to roll an r, the problem was not to imagine the sound so much as to produce it; but vibrato proved a more elusive skill. I had already left Anker's tutelage and was perhaps six or seven years old when, lo and behold, one bright day my muscles had solved the puzzle. By such strokes of illumination, the solution proving so mysterious as the problem and leaving one almost as blind as before, most violinists learned their craft.

For Anker's combination of extreme dirigisme and extreme laissez-faire, Menuhin, perhaps without intending to, communicates gratitude. Was it so terrible to be told, as a budding violinist, that what mattered was "intonation!", or "tone!", or "vibrate!", or whatever was the word of the day, in unadorned commands? Would it have really improved matters if Anker had supervised the details of Menuhin's learning process, instead of merely announcing the required destination with one mysterious bellowed order? Would it really have made Menuhin a better musician if a man like Anker had been poking about in Menuhin's young mind when that mind was at its most responsive but yet also most vulnerable? Surely the best person to contrive the demanded outcomes was Menuhin himself. At any rate, that is what seems to have happened, although Menuhin adds parenthetically:

(The quest to perfect vibrato was to last for many years yet. Even when I was regularly performing in public as a boy, my vibrato was never very fast, and it wasn't until, as an adult, I undertook to unpick the mechanics of the operation and put them together again that I really began to satisfy myself.)

Once he had mastered the technical foundations of his chosen instrument – of his vocation, that is to say – Menuhin was again presented to Louis Persinger, and this time Louis Persinger said yes.

It's a fascinating story, which traditionalists and progressives would no doubt both regard as proof positive of their own wisdom and of the folly of their adversaries, that is, if such people as "traditionalists" and "progressives" actually exist, which I choose to doubt. To read descriptions of the Progressive/Traditional divide in educational theory is, I am increasingly coming to believe, to learn about two straw men locked in mythical battle, but in a battle that has decidedly little to do with real teaching. The reality of teaching, and of learning, is that traditional methods and discovery methods interact with extraordinary subtlety.

Anker told Menuhin what he wanted, but he left Menuhin himself to work out how to contrive it. To switch metaphors, Anker constructed a wooden frame, but left the plant Menuhin to grow upon it, telling him nothing. That Menuhin had to do for himself.

Meanwhile, I, the market choice in education freak, also regard it as a story about how right I am. For I regard the market choice mechanism – with parents deciding whatever they must and children deciding (as Menuhin decided in the first place to be a violinist) whatever they can, and, crucially, teachers only joining in if they agree to do so – as the framework within which Menuhin, Anker, Aba, Imma and Persinger, could all make their distinctive educational contributions to the glorious educational outcome (Menuhin himself).

Consider. Menuhin goes to a circus (prog choice) and to a classical concert (trad choice) and decides for himself (prog choice) to be a violinist. His parents ask Persinger (choice), but Persinger says no (choice again). The parents make do with Anker instead, who agrees (choice). Anker yells commands like a Prussian drill-seargeant (the distilled essence of "straw man" trad), yet Menuhin must himself discover (prog) how to get the results demanded, and does so discover. Anker having served his purpose, he is dismissed (choice again). Persinger notes the improvement and now says yes (more choice). It all worked out splendidly, I say.

That's more than enough for now. In due course, I hope to be telling you about Persinger's teaching methods. And when I get to the end of the book, I will also be learning about Menuhin's own teaching methods.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:17 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [1]
November 12, 2003
In the land of the well behaved Little Emperors

I've always thought that that One Child policy in China was a bomb waiting to explode. All this only child objects of parental worship, and at the end of it, a fight to the death to get a girl friend. (Their potential girl friends tended to die in infancy.) How's that going to play out?

John Clare has an article in today's Telegraph about education in China which fills in some of the details. He's been there and seen a little of it, and is achingly envious of the eerily good behaviour of the Chinese children.

Deep calls to deep. The ancient Chinese authoritarian foundations upon which communism was first built, and back to which it is crumbling, reach out across teh continents to the Telegraph educational agony uncle.

Two things struck me. One was that state education, though compulsory from six to 15, is only partially subsidised: parents and sponsors commonly meet about 35 per cent of the cost. In the case of WenHui Middle School, the government provided the land and the buildings, but the school pays for everything else.

Second, I was in Beijing when Tony Blair's monthly press conference was broadcast live on CNN. His first words were: "The main issues for our society are disrespect and anti-social behaviour. The community has to be re-built around deeply rooted values."

Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the People's Republic of China?

One thing the Chinese are apparently all learning about us, though, is: our language. That also will surely have interesting consequences.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:01 PM
Category: LanguagesThis and that
[0] [0]
November 08, 2003
Education struggles in Russia

There's a fascinating and depressing article about education in Russia by Rachel Polonsky, in the latest Spectator.

In 1991, in a hungry Moscow with empty shops and an ugly, uncertain political mood, Shichalin quietly advertised a beginners’ course for adults in Latin and Greek. On the first morning, to his astonishment, a queue of more than 130 people of diverse professions had formed outside his door. Out of this success evolved the idea for a school with a curriculum emphasising ancient languages and mathematics. The Classical Gymnasium was established in 1993. Since then, it has grown from ten to 160 pupils; it gains outstanding results in public examinations, and has alumni in all Moscow’s best higher education institutions, studying everything from physics to history and economics. The Shichalins, who also run a small academic publishing house, have even begun to publish their own textbooks. In a decade, they have created the most inspiring, effective and spirited teaching institution I have encountered in all my educationally pampered life.

Many members of staff are university teachers who accept their low pay because they appreciate the atmosphere and ideals of the school, and its respect for their professional freedom. At the same time, the Shichalins profit from the nation’s enduring pedagogical strengths.

However, as we've already been told in the first paragraph:

In Britain, it is easy to forget what an important human freedom non-state education represents. In post-totalitarian Russia, where civil liberties are in first bud in a hostile climate, this recently regained freedom is menaced, not so much by state ideology as by the rampages of power and money unrestrained by an adequate legal system. My children’s school, a modestly resourced 'Classical Gymnasium' founded ten years ago, is threatened with closure at the end of this academic year. Its rented premises have been sold by the City of Moscow to a shadowy company with only a mobile phone number as its address, which plans to build a massage centre on the site of this unique institution.

So what can be done?

The living tradition embodied by the Shichalins represents the best of Russia, but everything they have created since perestroika is now threatened by official corruption and indifference. Faced with the demise of their school, they recently called a crisis meeting to inform parents of its grave position, and to solicit ideas for its salvation. We need a miracle, everyone agreed, or, failing that, an oligarch who will help us to buy a building. Again and again Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s name was raised. Various parents claimed, with differing degrees of plausibility, that they had channels of inside access to Russia’s richest billionaire.

Before he was arrested by the FSB at gunpoint in the early hours of 25 October and incarcerated in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, the oil tycoon had become known not only as a sponsor of the liberal opposition parties like Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, but also, through his Open Russia Foundation, as a Maecenas and a sponsor of independent education. In the past few years, Khodorkovsky has shrewdly spent money on enhancing his international reputation, including the US Library of Congress and Lord Snowdon among the beneficiaries of his charitable grants. At the same time he has, less visibly, given large sums of money to needy individuals and institutions whose activities have the potential to build a civil society for his native Russia. His arrest will hurt many besides the rich and the powerful.

There is scarce hope now of a handout from Khodorkovsky ...

Capitalism with a Stalinist face, they're calling it.

In the middle of all this gloom, there is this interesting titbit:

Traditional Russian mathematics teaching is considered unrivalled in the world. A Russian banker who, like many of his kind, is educating his children at one of London’s most prestigious public schools recently confided in me that, appalled by the low standard of maths teaching in Britain, he and some Russian friends have started a Saturday class for their children, with Russian teachers. 'I just don’t understand the English,' he said. 'Mathematics is everything.'

I've been emphasising here for some time that Eastern Europe is going to go into business educating Western Europe. I wonder if the Russians will go into business to teach maths to the English, in England. It doesn't seem to be getting any easier teaching anything to Russians in Russia, despite those enduring pedagogical strengths.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:16 AM
Category: This and that
[1] [1]
November 03, 2003
Why so few British university movies?

Interesting article in today's Telegraph about something I keep meaning to blog about here but have never got around to, which is the presentation of the world of education in the movies. In this piece, Simon Brooke contrasts the portrayal of college life in American and in British movies. American college movies abound. British movies set in universities do not.

The cultural appeal of the US worldwide is not the only reason for the success of American college films, says Alby James, the head of screenwriting at Leeds Metropolitan University's film school. "When you're making a film, you must always think about the audience," he says, "and in Britain relatively few people go to college.

"In the US, though, many more people do and there is a much greater social mix, so it gives films about students and college a wider appeal."

Richard Teague, one of Alby James's students, was originally planning to set his thriller, The Gospel According to Me, at a university before he realised that a film with this setting would have a limited appeal. "Not many British films manage to recreate student life successfully, so I moved most of the action outside," he says. "Syd Field, the screenwriting guru, warns against only writing about what you know." Teague, 28, points out that including a college strand to the story line, rather than basing the whole story there, can work in television series such as Hollyoaks.

Perhaps the only British film that did try to tackle head on the manic energy and seedy detail of college life was Inbetweeners, released almost unnoticed by critics and audiences alike in 2000.

Unnoticed by me too.

But I wonder. I suspect that the reason why many British movies fail at the box office, and many more attempted British movies don't ever get made, is not that they are about the wrong kind of people, but that the people have the wrong attitude, and that it is this attitude that people can't or don't want to identify with. It's not just a matter of "recreating student life successfully", but of having characters who themselves try to make a success of student life. But if the message is going to be: university is a hell of boredom and mediocrity and there's nothing we can do about it, then that might explain British people not wanting to watch.

After all, American action movies contain all kinds of characters with totally different lives to those lived in Britain, but they're popular enough in Britain. Most people aren't either cops or criminals, yet movies have lots of both.

Simon Brooke mentions Educating Rita as the exception that proves his rule, in that she isn't really proper university material, but an "ordinary" outsider to university life. But Rita also proves my rule. Rita was trying to get ahead and make something of herself. She wasn't living a drab life. She was trying – successfully as it turned out – to escape a drab life. (Interestingly, she finds lots of students to be, after impressive first impressions, somewhat less than truly impressive.) If British movies set in a universities were about ordinary people, but people who were trying to be less ordinary, then I reckon they might do fine at the box office.

Brooke also mentions Chariots of Fire, which features the Jewish and upwardly mobile Harold Abrahams, who is scorned by the disdainful rulers of his swank Oxbridge college, but who battles on anyway to his Olympic triumph, to the delight of his more generous and open-hearted contemporaries.

None of this need do violence to the truth of university life. I mean, isn't making a success of yourself what going to university is supposed to be about?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:58 PM
Category: Higher educationThis and that
[1] [0]
October 31, 2003
Osama bin Dean

Via the Guardian, news of a how a campus newspaper made a classic cock-up, and had to grovel. I'm sure the blogosphere has already had a good chortle about this, but I missed it back in September when it happened.

In case the links don't work. They at first had a picture of the University's Dean of Student Life which was actually a picture of Osama bin Laden, and then they said sorry.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:29 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
October 27, 2003
Bernard Levin on musical education

I'm in a rush today, or rather this evening late in the evening, and have no thoughts of my own to offer. But I started reading what looks like a very fun book over the weekend, by Bernard Levin, called Conducted Tour. It's about Levin's travels to and attendance at a succession of music festivals during the summer months of 1980.

If I have any more to say about this book, it will almost certainly be at my Culture Blog, in other words. But in the Introduction, there is this little (musical) educational aside:

In 1980, the educational authorities of one or two of the English counties discontinued, as an economy measure, the provision out of the rates of individual tuition for children whose parents wished them to learn to play an instrument, and a very great fuss was made about it, from which it would have been perfectly possible to deduce that the counties in question had made it illegal, on pain of summary execution, for any child to learn to make music, rather than that they had done no more than decide that one form, and only one, of the learning in question should no longer be paid for by other people. I mention this to show what a long way we have come in a fairly short time; my mother certainly must have found it very difficult to pay for our music lessons, but it would never have occurred to her to ask her neighbours to foot the bill.

This is in connection with a music teacher who was hired by Levin's family to teach him, when he was aged 7, to play the violin.

When I think of what now followed, and by what hair's breadth I avoided acquiring a lasting hatred of the very thought of music and an even more intense loathing of its sound, I offer up a Heilige Dankgesang to St Cecilia, and beseech her to intervene, as she surely must have done for me, on behalf of I know not how many other children who, with no innate musical aptitude, fall into the hands of teachers who are quite unable to convey to them any sense whatever of what music actually is, apart from the notes on the paper and the horrible noises that the unprodigious infant makes in an attempt to reproduce them. Such a teacher was the well-meaning soul who took my musical tuition in hand, and who, for two and a half years, before I finally struck work and refused to spend another minute practising in such torment, left me in complete ignorance even of the fact that there were such things as works of music - sonatas, quartets, concertos, even symphonies - let alone that it was possible to go and listen to them, and derive much enjoyment from doing so. For two and a half years I laboured at this joyless thing they called music without so much as learning the name of a single composer, or indeed discovering that such people existed. Up and down the scales I went, progressing in the end as far as a rendition of 'The Bluebells of Scotland'; I have detested that tune ever since, and it is a mercy I have not grown up with a similar abhorrence of bluebells, or even Scotland.

What does that prove I wonder? Well, I guess one thing it proves is that the customer, when it comes to education, is not always right. Because the customer is the parents and the product is what some ghastly teacher does to a child.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:31 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [1]
October 22, 2003
Magdalena Kozena gets lucky

While rootling about in various classical music websites for my Culture Blog, I came across this interesting little educational nugget, about and then from the now highly successful classical singer Magdalena Kozena:

Though she is now based in Paris, she first learnt her art in Czechoslovakia; first at the Brno Conservatory and later at the Bratislava College Of Performing Arts. She commented on how that grounding has served her over the years.

"Actually, I'm from a very lucky generation because I did all my studies during the socialist time and the education, I have to say, was really very good. It was very, very strict and difficult. Everything I learned – and it was a lot – I could use abroad because I was sixteen at the time of the Velvet Revolution and could go abroad immediately."

Sometimes everything just works out right.

It's been a irregular but regular theme here that the Eastern Europeans could really hit the big time in the next few years as educators, once the European Union really opens up.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:58 PM
Category: This and that
[4] [1]
October 13, 2003
Teens and Toddlers on The Learning Curve

This is interesting:

A somewhat unusual scene is set out at the Gloucester nursery in Southwark, south London. Ten teenagers aged 15-17 are playing quietly and patiently with 40 or so toddlers who surround them. An atmosphere of relative calmness pervades the room. This is Teens and Toddlers, an innovative and successful teenage pregnancy prevention project based on providing the actual experiences of parenting.

Terry Borondi, now 19, an assistant on the project, was on the pilot scheme in nearby Greenwich two years ago. It changed the direction of his life. "I wasn't that interested at first, but I thought I'd give it a try," he says. "My future plan is to assist, and hopefully become a social worker, which is funny as I used to hate children." At the start of the course, Borondi believed he would be ready to be a father at 18 or 19. But now, like almost all the students who have attended the courses, he says he would not even consider it until he was 25.

Schemes such as this are badly needed. Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe, which in turn is second only to the US. Latest official statistics for England and Wales show that the number of conceptions for girls aged 14-17 in the year 2000 were 40,944, about half of which ended with abortion.

Teens and Toddlers is the vision of Laura Huxley, widow of Aldous Huxley. In 1977, she founded its parent organisation, Children Our Ultimate Investment, in the US. The idea came to her because she wanted to teach teenagers a reverence for life and to show them how difficult it was to be with young children. Early childhood and adolescence are the most egocentric periods in life, so she decided to put them together.

I got to this by listening to BBC Radio 4's weekly education show The Learning Curve, which is presented by Libby Purves. They reported on this scheme in their programme last Tuesday, which was repeated this evening. And I googled my way to this piece. I love the Internet.

I only caught the second half of this half hour radio show. I must remember to listen to it regularly, now that I'm listening to the radio in general more regularly having just gone digital. It's on at 4.30pm on Tuesdays and then repeated on Sunday evening at 11pm.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:46 AM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
October 10, 2003
Monsieur Chips wants his slice of the pie

This is not your average education story:

A schoolmaster hailed as a selfless role model for French teachers after starring in a documentary about a year in his classroom is suing the film-makers, demanding £180,000 for his appearance.

The suit has given a sour taste to what had been one of French cinema's sweetest tales in years.

For 20 years, Georges Lopez taught in a one-room school deep in the Auvergne mountains. His only audience was his annual class of a dozen or so children, aged from three to 11, whom he taught English, maths, drawing and cooking.

But this year, the documentary Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have), named after the two basic verbs in French, attracted two million people to cinemas in France and turned M Lopez into the nation's Mr Chips, the decent, under-appreciated backbone of the education system. The film was also shown by the BBC.

When there's money being made these Selfless Role Models want their share.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:09 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
October 02, 2003
Link fest

Okay it's time I tried one of those link fests.

Here are the rules. No quoting, because then it would take too long. No education blogs – it has to be stuff about education on other blogs. And nothing I've already noticed and linked to from here, which means no Alice Bachini, ASI blog or Stephen Pollard, because I've linked to them several times from here recently.

So, in (reverse) chronological order, because that way I don't have to make it logical:

October 1st – Andrew Medworth is going back to college, and it's no mean college.

September 30th – Natalie Solent reflects on a short story published in 1937 about the mismanagement of Arkansas schools by Evil Capitalists.

September 30th – Colby Cosh reflects on what testing can and cannot do for the teaching of English writing.

September 29th – David Farrer writes about muddles in Scotland to do with scrapping school league tables.

September 29th – While I'm in the linking to other blogs mood, I've been neglecting to mention here that I did a Culture Blog piece based on the Txt-ing habits of The Goddaughter, who can write standard English but enjoys not doing so.

September 27 – Aaron Haspel says cut down on blog reading by ignoring anyone who writes too much about their own children. Lilexia, he calls it, naming and linking to the inventor of the concept (not him). Personally I now like the Gnat stuff, even though I'm childless. Perhaps that's because I know I can switch it off in mid-sentence if it ever gets tedious. He doesn't like it.

September 23rd – Andy Duncan predicts that if posh universities are told to discriminate against the posh, posh people will put their poshspring into scumbag schools for the final year, and get them into a posh university that way. Last Sunday's Sunday Times said that this is now happening.

September 2nd – Excellent Friedrich Blowhard piece called Genetics, Environment and IQ. IQ can be quite profoundly influenced by environment. But how? Very good discussion, and excellent links to key articles. Don't miss the comments. I missed the whole thing first time around.

August 6th – Jackie at au courant has educational things to say about TV, and also says that gays shouldn't be segregated but that the people who bully them should be.

August 1st – The nearest to any educational stuff I could find chez Alan Little (a recent commenter and graphic helper-out at my Culture Blog which got me looking at his) was a reference to Photoshop tutorials. (Warning, AL is another Lilexia sufferer.)

July 2nd – Patrick Crozier quotes A. N. Wilson on the failure of British state education, and on the success of its private sector and voluntary predecessors. 92 percent literacy? Now? No, that was 1870.

That'll have to do for the moment. Now I know why I don't do link fests more often.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:48 PM
Category: This and that
[2] [0]
September 18, 2003
Smaller schools

Here's an article about how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is helping schools in the USA to get smaller:

National data on small schools shows that they tend to be quieter and safer, with fewer dropouts and higher graduation rates. This trend held true last year in poor areas of the Bronx, where ordinary high schools, some with enrollments of 3,000 or more, had lower success rates on state exams – and drastically higher dropout rates – than the New Visions schools, which have enrollments ranging from roughly 75 to 150 students.

In Britain smaller schools might be better, if only to stop this, also mentioned yesterday.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:01 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
September 05, 2003
"The public needs to be educated" - search

I've been busy today doing other things, and have little time for this blog now. So just a short posting on the word itself: "education".

If you google "education", you get a lot of the things you'd expect like the US Department of Education, and the Hawaii Department of Education, and no doubt somewhere in among it all I might have found the Campaign for Real Education, although I didn't. There's a link to that on the right.

But in among all this you get things like Pesticide Education Resources. Education to mean propaganda, education to mean utterly inappropriate additions to the school curriculum.

But mostly, when you google "education", you get: education.

Then I tried googling "The public needs to be educated". How many hits for that?

One thousand four hundred and seventy.

Try it. Then look down all the hits. In every case the word "educated" is mis-used to mean "persuaded", or just plain "told".

Google tells that the public needs to be educated about:

Potatoes. Grizzly bears. White cane laws. The dangers of driving while using the phone. Gang tendencies. The alternatives available for pain management. Basic human rights. Water. Chiropracty. The importance of spaying. Alcoholism. The general, substantive issues that make up the national question. Wrought iron gates. The potential of cloning. The true costs and benefits associated with the use of pharmacologic agents. The potential dangers involved with riding MPWCs and of the necessity for a boating licence. The benefit of street trees. The moth. Ways to be active and healthy and forget about body image. What piracy is and how it affects the artist and the industry. The negative effects of corruption and what they can do against it. Linux. Not to buy stolen goods. Good land use practices. How the presidential fund checkoff works. Calcium's importance in health and how best to improve calcium nutriture by making appropriate food choices. Genetic screening. The threat created by Apple Snails. The Sign Code. So that their expectations of police response time is more realistic. What 'intrusion' is. Inguinal hernias. The importance of harm reduction strategies in relation to all drug use. That during the F&I period, the RedCoats were the good guys. The high quality of re-refined oils. What greenspace is. That a bicycle is a legal vehicle on public roads. To view forest fires as a threat to the national economy. Both what deposit insurance can and cannot accomplish. The difference between decay and cavity. The value of tourism to the local economy. The widespread condition of women who suffer from domestic violence.

Well I'm on about page forty of the hits, copying and pasting away, and I have yet to encounter any claim to the effect that the public ought to be educated, as in: the public ought to be educated. Full stop. In every use of this phrase without exception, educated really means sold, told, persuaded, bullied, but not educated.

I can think of all kinds of further comments I might make about this. But deadline looms. Have a nice weekend.

(The public needs to be educated about the importance of nice weekends.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:57 PM
Category: This and that
[2] [1]
September 04, 2003
Woe is me

Apparently it's Back To School day in the USA, around now.

School's been out for the summer but now it's:

Woe is me, all summer long I was happy and free.
Save my soul, the board of education took away my parole.
I gotta go back, back, back to school again.

That second line (of verse two) scans particularly sweetly ("the BOARD of ED-u-CA-tion TOOK a-WAY my pa-ROLE").

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:33 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
August 31, 2003
Nations ranked according to how educated they are

From here, I went to here, and then to here.

Very interesting. The UK only just misses out on a medal. But I think the interesting thing is what an incredibly close race it is. This suggests to me that something else is involved here besides government policy, which, if it mattered a lot, you would expect to cause things to vary much more according to mad political whims, or maybe differing national psychology or political development. (See for instance the top end of the murder rate page.)

Could it be that people stay at school as long as they can afford to, and as long as they want to, and that the government merely hovers around the outside of it all, fussing? Surely not.

And a great site in general.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:05 PM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
May 02, 2003
New Neighborly Architecture from the USA

In my capacity as a culture blogger I was honoured with an email from 2 Blowhards alerting me to their series of interviews with this Greek Australian American guy who hates modernistical architecture starting here. Me, I'm partial to a bit of modernity, provided it isn't too nationalised, and I'm still wondering what to make of the man. Baby, bath water, etc. However, in the reading list at the end of the first posting, I came across this article about some New Neighborly Architecture which they're doing in America, and I found the arguments in favour of it more persuasive because more logical and less abusive. Nikos the GAA basically says that the Modern Movement in Architecture was started by a bunch of madmen.

As Le Corbusier, one of the madmen in question, so memorably said, a house is a machine for living in. And these New Neighborly guys think they know how to make this machine work better, by being part of a better community.

The basic argument seems to be that if you surrender a bit of real estate and put the houses closer together, and give more thought to what happens beyond the front gates of the houses, and slow the traffic down and have more local pathways from your front door to local places of importance, the place as a whole will work better and you'll get along better with your neighbours. Closeness will also make it possible to have better and more accessible public transport.

And the reason I'm talking about this article here is because of paragraphs like these:

Harbor Town resident Jim Howell says that in the conventional development where he previously lived, on the east side of Memphis, he and his wife "might have known two to three neighbors on each side of us. Here at Harbor Town, we know 50 neighbors. You live closer together, the streets are narrower, and you know so many more people because you’re out walking and things are going on. People in the afternoon are out in the yard or on their porches. They bring grills out to the garages. There’s a cocktail party in somebody’s house." After Jim’s wife, Amy, gave birth this summer, six- and seven-year-olds would come to the door and ask, "Is it convenient for me to come and see the baby now?" Jim observes, "It’s a more protective environment."

This setting benefits children at least as much as it does adults. Youngsters in a traditional neighborhood obtain a healthy degree of autonomy that’s difficult to get in cul-de-sac subdivisions. More is within easy reach because of the compactness, and there are numerous routes to most places over an extensively connected street network. Faith Kusterer, a Kentlands mother, notes that her daughter Elena walked to piano lessons she took for two years in the home of her instructor, a woman they knew within the development. "She could go to the store alone on her bike to get anything from candy to school supplies," Mrs. Kusterer added. "It’s afforded her some opportunities to be out in the community and to be independent."

James Krohe Jr., a writer who for six years lived and worked in Oak Park, Illinois, a grid-plan Chicago suburb founded in the nineteenth century and now containing 53,000 people in 4 1/2 square miles, says that in many old traditional communities, the availability of public transportation helps youngsters to explore their world and to mature. "It was not unusual for Oak Park kids 13 or 14 years old to have a relationship with the larger city—to take classes or go to private schools in the city," says Krohe, who recently moved to Portland, Oregon. "Compared to the suburbs immediately to the northwest that were not served by Els [Chicago’s elevated public transit lines] and that were less served by commuter rail, kids in Oak Park were much more comfortable moving about in the larger metropolis."

What America seems largely to have forgotten, in designing the automobile-dependent suburbs of the past half-century, is that youngsters need a modulated introduction to the world beyond their block, so that they can cope with, and learn to thrive in, a country that has never been, and never will be, entirely safe or homogeneous. The typical new suburban subdivision tries in the main to withdraw its children from the society’s difficulties, leaving them without the skills and judgment to manage unfamiliar situations. "There’s a fearfulness I find in kids in the newer suburbs," Krohe says. "They can’t mix. They can’t go anywhere without private transportation. The most horrific examples of violence I recall in the Chicago area were kids from the suburbs who got lost in the city and were raped or robbed because they weren’t prepared and didn’t know what to expect." Youngsters from Oak Park, by contrast, learn to size up situations "so they won’t be bullied so easily when they are exposed to danger," Krohe observes. "It makes them competent and confident members of a larger society."

I've always liked that Hilary Clinton slogan about child raising to the effect that "it takes a village". I just object to the fact that so many of the people who agree with this slogan think that therefore the federal government should build, finance out of taxation, be the mayor of all the damn villages, and take personal command of the children away from their parents. If these villages are so important and need to be so nice, it's all the more important that they not be a nationalised industry, I say. These Neighborly guys seem to be running their business as a business. They, or someone, is betting large sums of money that these new Neighborly places of theirs will be attractive to people looking for nice homes and a nice place to raise their kids. The enterprise is starting small, and will only expand and be influential – and be widely copied – if it is successful and if it keeps learning and improving.

When governments do stupid things, that's bad. But far worse is when they do sensible things and screw them up, a regular meme here, because that's doubly bad. A bad thing gets done and a good thing gets trampled all over.

This New Neighborliness, with all its benefits, including educational benefits, is taking a good idea out of the hands of statists and putting it in the free market where it belongs. The only politics involved is changing the system so that they are not forbidden by the government from doing it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:15 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [1]
April 29, 2003
Drinks with Antoine (2) – the educational impact of the armed forces (and especially the US armed forces)

Antoine told me that in his opinion the much crowed about ignorance of American adolescents (where's Iraq, what's its capital, etc.) compared to their European equivalents may now have disappeared. Quite what his evidence or reason for thinking this was I can't tell you, either because he didn't tell me, or because he did but my drink-befuddled brain spat it out immediately.

But this got me thinking. If Antoine is right, why is he right? One reason might be the decline of military service in Europe compared to the USA. Remember that piece I did about how the British Army educates? And remember that little Three Week War we've just watched on our tellies? I reckon that a society with lots of military activity in its midst is, other things being equal, likely to be a better educated one.

This is because, in my opinion, soldiers tend to be better at teaching than teachers, and ex-soldiers tend to make better teachers than regular teacher-teachers, other things being equal. This, also in my opinion, is not because soldiers are any less stupid than teachers. It is because military discipline is now much better than civilian school discipline. Both may have slipped a little in recent decades, but regular school discipline has slipped more.

Plus, I think soldiers teach better because handling kit or preparing for an operation which if mishandled might kill you or your mates concentrates the mind wonderfully. What were all those soldiers who just won the Three Week War doing for the previous six months before their Three Weeks of glory? Learning, that's what. They didn't know it was going to be so easy, and it only was because they assumed it might not be. So they really paid attention to their teachers and did their homework properly. They'll spend the rest of their lives that much better educated than they'd otherwise have been. And that much better at teaching.

The phrase "learning experience" is usually an American euphemism for a screw-up. But preparing for, and then fighting the Three Week War really was that, I'd say.

Even more significant may be the enormous size, compared to all others, of the current US Navy. Navies teach obsessively, because if you mishandle a ship that can get very nasty, and very expensive. And that's true all the time, not just when war looms.

Submarines, in particular, are floating academies of extreme excellence and intensity. Remember that character that Sean Connery played in The Hunt for Red October? He was known as the "Vilnius Schoolmaster". Well, the Vilnius Schoolmaster is teaching no more.

This is not an argument for every country having regular wars or a huge navy, on educational grounds. As I said about the Baccalauriat thing in the first of these two Antoine postings, I'm just saying.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:58 PM
Category: This and that
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March 06, 2003
What is authority?

This piece in telegraph.co.uk by Jonty Driver is interesting. What does authority consist of? Why do some have it and others not?

While some have that personal authority almost as a birthright, others need to learn it. Most inexperienced teachers seem fair game to even well-behaved pupils. It takes confidence to trust the authority of one's position, even in a disciplined institution with clear boundaries.

A defining moment in my career came when I was a young housemaster. In my house was a clever and popular boy, captain of rugby and very much a hero in the school. He was doing no academic work at all, and every effort I made to cajole and - in due course - to force him to work foundered on his charming insouciance. His lazy influence was beginning to affect others in the house, so I asked the headmaster for help. "Tell him to see me," said the head.

Eventually, I took the boy to the headmaster - who happened to be weeding his garden at the time. The boy walked over to the head, who didn't stop weeding. The headmaster spoke - no more than a sentence. The boy stood for a moment, then turned away.

That evening, I found him at his desk, working. By the end of the year, he had a place at Oxford.

"What on earth did you say to him?" I asked the head when the reformation had taken effect. "Oh," said the head, cheerfully, "I told him to stop being such a bloody fool, and to get down to some work. That's all.''

And I do think that was all: it was the head's sheer natural authority - or call it personality, if you will - that did the trick. It made me realise that I had been trying too hard: what was required wasn't reason, or logic, or the apparatus of discipline (detentions, extra lessons, gatings), but just some straightforward authority.

One answer, of the sort you might expect here, is that this kind of "authority" is something that one should not attempt to exercise. And indeed, having been to one of these places myself, I can tell you that this is not the kind of school I would ever want to teach at. Very few of the pupils have much say either in whether they are there in the first place, or, once there, what they do from one hour to the next. The system ordains, and they obey, until they are old enough to be allowed to decide things for themselves, at which point many of them have had this trick beaten out of them so thoroughly that they have to spend the next five years learning it.

I know what I'm talking about with this syndrome. I used to be one of these posh but dim school leavers, and I'm now an occasional, amateur (but quite effective) career counsellor. Time and again this is the central agenda that I and my customer now find ourselves addressing. Well brought up English people are all too liable simply never to have mastered the trick of running their own lives and making their own big life decisions. Instead of truly deciding for themselves, they just do the obvious next thing supplied by the world around them. Which is okay, until it goes wrong and they find that they have to really think about what they would really like to do (because suddenly it is a struggle and only certain struggles are worth the struggle), and they realise they don't know how to think for themselves. Years of being subjected to the sort of "authority" described by the likes of Jonty Driver and his Headmaster can do that to you. Still, they mostly know how to think for other people, that is to say they know how to think, so the situation is usually quite easily corrected.

So far so libertarian. But, my libertarian duty done, I still find that the idea of "authority" means something. After all, even if everyone present at an event has chosen to be present and is not being coerced to remain, there are still some events which are bossed authoritatively, and which are thus pleasing and relaxing to be at and thus attract repeat business, and other events which are bossed badly, and hence which are stressful to attend, and those events fail or fizzle out. So, what is "authority"? How do you do "authority"?

Although the aptly named Mr Driver tells us that authority can be learned, he has no space in his short newspaper piece to tell us how, or to go into very much detail about what exactly authority consists of, other than noting that his headmaster just, you know, had it.

The mysteriously all powerful headmaster whose lightest word is immutable law is a stock figure of school fiction, and that's because this isn't only fiction. Headmasters are often just like that for real.

Why? How do they do it? Can authority be learned? Can authority, that is to say, be broken down into a decent number of understandable procedures that go beyond repeating the question by rephrasing it as "common sense" or some such vacuity?

I'm certain that authority can be learned. I write as one of those people – very common in the political world – who was not born with any natural authority to speak of, and who was when young mostly bossed about by his bigger and bossier contemporaries, but who nevertheless wanted to have authority, and who has gradually learned how to do authority as the years have gone by and as the experiences have piled up.

And – oh dear – I'm starting to run out of time. I just had a date, which sounds a lot more exciting than it was, but it took up most of the evening. So I'll call it a day for today, and start in on actually answering the question I started with … Real Soon Now, and hopefully tomorrow. I don't want to rush it. Apologies if I got your hopes up for an instant answer. Please be patient.

But, I do have time to tell you this, although it's a change of subject. Education Minister Charles Clarke is on Question Time just now, and it seems he went to a posh school, not the ghastly lower class educational sewer I was hinting at in my previous posting. His grizzly grey beard, his sticking out ears and his bulky figure make him look like a night club bouncer. But now I've heard him talking, and heard one of the others talking about the fact that Charles Clarke went to a posh school, which pretty much settles it. Think eccentric barrister. That's more the kind of person he is. Apologies for that also.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:48 PM
Category: Brian's educationThis and that
[0] [0]
February 21, 2003
Japanese equality – etcetera

This email arrived yesterday. I'm trying to encourage such emails to here, so I reproduce it in full.

Hullo

www.hunkabutta.com is running something about equality in Japanese education. The archives also have stuff about the strictness of Japanese language schools.

Thought you might be interested.

Cheers
Christian

Hunkabutta.com seems to be mostly concerned with photographs of Japanese life, but one of the people running it apparently teaches, and has some intriguing observations about egalitarianism in Japanese education.

The reportage quoted below has two qualities that I want especially to focus on here. First, it is not from the USA. No offence to the USA, but the blogosphere has enough educational Americana as it is. Second, it describes the individual experience of an individual human being, in an educational setting. In Britain, and especially in news stories, education is far too much discussed in terms of statistically abstracted aggregates, and not enough in terms of the specific and truly accurate experiences of individual persons. By all means, as here, recount individual experiences of abstract principles (in this case "equality") but, this being the blogosphere rather than a pile of company reports or government hand-outs, keep it real.

So far my only insight into Japanese education has been via the Kumon maths teaching system, which is uncompromisingly individualistic and non-egalitarian. The work each Kumon student does is entirely tailored to the progress he or she is making, and is totally unaffected by any considerations of group solidarity. And the contrast with what the hunkbutta person describes couldn't be more total.

I quote at perhaps wearisome length because hunkabutta.com is one of many sites where, try as I might, I simply cannot work out how the hell to link to an individual item. They do not use regular blogging software, perhaps because they started before blogging did. Anyway, this bit is from the Wed Feb 19 2003:

When I first came to Japan I worked as an assistant English teacher in several junior high schools in Tokyo. Every semester I would rotate between three or four different schools and help out in every English class.

One of the things that struck me as odd was the fact that the schools didn't stream students according to ability (I have heard that this is recently changing). In every subject, all the kids, whether they were brilliant or borderline mentally retarded (and this mix did actually occur) were taught the exact same thing in the exact same classroom.

In one English class that I taught there was a boy whose mother was British. He was basically fluent in English, but most of the other kids were still trying to master 'Hello my name is ...', and a few of the introverts who couldn't even manage that sat at the back in silence and picked at their moles.

I tried to convince this boy's teacher that he should be taught separately, or that we should prepare special materials for him, but the teacher would have nothing of it. Day after day this English speaking boy had to stand up with everyone else and say things like 'This is a pen', and 'I like baseball'.

Whenever I pressed one of the teachers to explain why we couldn't treat any of the students differently, whether it be giving them extra homework or kicking them out of class for fighting, their final argument would invariably be the same: "It's because of human rights. In Japan, children have human rights too".

I never could get my head around the Japanese take on 'human rights' but I think that it had something to do with a concept of equality, and as I said earlier, equality is pretty much the same as being identical. There's a frequently translated Japanese proverb that says, 'The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.' Fitting in with the group is very important in Japan.

At one point I even found myself in the surprising situation of trying to teach English to kids with Downs Syndrome (in a special class), many of whom couldn't even speak Japanese, for the sole reason that 'everyone else in the school studies English.'

I used to get angry and frustrated by the unwillingness of the teachers to treat any of the students differently. However, in retrospect I see that I was just being the classic know-it-all foreigner. Put basically, people from here know how things work here.

I wanted to teach the half British boy advanced English, but his teacher was sensitive enough to realize that it was already amazingly difficult for this boy to fit in with his classmates, and if we singled him out for special treatment we would only make things worse. I wanted to teach the mentally handicapped kids how to do housework and use basic social skills, like we do in Canada, but their Japanese teachers probably realized that the self esteem that they would gain by studying English 'Just like everyone else' would greatly outweigh the utilitarian benefits of more life skills training.

I suppose it pays to keep an open mind, even if it is only open in retrospect.

Well, if Sean Gabb's lady students from Japan are obliged by him to express their own (perhaps contrary to his) opinions in open classroom debate, even if they don't think they have any opinions, and in defiance of their own tradition of deference to their teachers, it makes sense for hunkabutta persons to fit in when they go to Japan. On the other hand, if this is how maths was being taught when Professor Kumon first started to worry about his son's poor maths progress, it would explain a lot about why he invented Kumon maths.

I feel a General Theory of the Educational Private Sector coming on. Basically, the private sector in different places is excellent in exactly the ways in which the official local system is especially bad. Japan fetishises educational egalitarianism, and from Japan emerges one of the most radically individualistic teaching systems on the planet. Indian state computer education is parodically absurd (with students learning computer languages no longer known to anyone in the world except Indian state teachers of computer skills) and the Indian private sector is now the leading supplier of computer-capable students to Silicon Valley.

I don't know quite how this applies to Britain. Probably I'm too close to see it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:55 AM
Category: This and that
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December 24, 2002
The dog pack gets its kill (and the public sector becomes a tiny bit more impossible to run)

Most of the people reading this story are probably thinking either "good riddance to the mad PC-obsessed hag" or "paedophiles are a real problem - she shouldn't have had to resign".

This is the story:

A headteacher who banned photographic equipment from a nativity play for fear of the images being manipulated and circulated on the internet by paedophiles has resigned.

Pamela Nunn, of Homefield first school in Bradwell, near Great Yarmouth, said the decision, made with the school's governors, to ban cameras from the church hall in which the children were performing, had caused such a row with parents that she had decided to resign.

She announced her resignation to parents after the performance on Friday.

But for me this next one was the key paragraph:

She told the Eastern Daily Press newspaper: "I have seen too many colleagues finish their careers with stress, and feel I owe it to my family to go now."

So what do I think the story is?

I think it's the same as my December 21st story about that "death threat", namely the way that the media, including such things as blogs, now wield a disproportionate amount of power over state education. It's not the mere fact of any old Tom, Mike or Brian being able to read the story – or what we suppose to be the story – that is doing the damage by itself. Nor is it the inherent absurdity of the public sector – that sector where no one is really in charge and where the lines of responsibility and accountability are liable to turn to mush under any sort of stress or during any sort of crisis. It's the combination of the two.

Yes. (The word "yes" during a blog posting signifies that things are actually being learned by the blogger even as he blogs, right there somewhere during the previous few sentences.)

So: yes. Blogs are the lowest form of media life that there are. They are the media equivalent of the single cell organism. Nevertheless when you run a blog, and especially a "specialist" blog devoted to discussing "serious issues", like this one, you become a definite part, however small, of the media.

And what I have learned by being a blogger is why the public sector has stopped working, not from the moment it got started in its modern form, but since "the media" got into their stride and became serious expressions of popular interest and enthusiasm rather than just aristocratic hobbies or government bureaucracies. The public sector was always a bit of a shambles. Now, insofar as it is allowed to be public at all (which is not all of it by any means) it is a public shambles.

This wretched head teacher woman is nagged by some hyper-worried parent into banning video-ing of nativity plays. That sets off the other parents, who then feel that they are themselves being accused of being in league with the paedophiles.

The hacks smell a row, and pile in, and stir it shamelessly.

If it looks like it's about to die down they ring around all the potentially quarrelling parties and get them back at each other's throats by asking them loaded questions and quoting the answers totally stripped of all the qualifications and back-trackings, first to each other, and then in their newspapers and radio and TV reports. Because why? Because the media might succeed in getting A Result. In this case if they keep it up, they might get That Woman to jack it in or be fired.

And guess what? That Woman has jacked it in. She isn't paid enough. She doesn't, ultimately, have enough invested in her school. Bottom line: it's not her school. It's The Community's school. It is owned not by any recognisable person or persons, but by that swirling, howling abstraction, The People, who in this case might as well be a dog pack. At any moment, this dog pack, in the form of the governors, the local politicians, even, if you please, the Minister of Education himself, might decide that "she has to go" and start issuing hostile press releases against her, in other words some mighty respectable beasts might join the dog pack at any moment.

No individual has the power to stand against these forces. That's what makes them so evil.

There is no one who can face the mob and say: "To hell with you all. This is my place. I run it how I run it. If you don't like it you can say what you like and you can keep your children away from it and tell everyone else you know to do likewise. But you won't get rid of me or change my way of doing things, and if you carry on with your dog-packing in my corridors and outside my front door then I'll call the police and have you beaten back with wooden clubs. End of story."

No one can say that. Which means that the story never ends until there's a kill.

There are two answers.

The wrong answer is to shut down the media (including now the blogs), disinvent the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughts, and hand the world back to a self-perpetuating aristocracy of self-perpetuating aristocrats who can do what they like, unchallenged, unmocked by the journos, no matter what they do.

The right answer is to clarify property rights. Get it sorted who owns what. That way, when the dog pack starts to howl there will be people doing education who can shout it down and subjugate it, as and when.

The first can't happen, so the second will. People will simply refuse to take these impossible jobs in the bits of the public sector that really are public. I recall reading not long ago that an idyllic little primary school in Wales was advertising for a new Head. But it couldn't find one, and it was going to have to close. This time the dog pack took the form not of insane media people, but of insane civil servants deluging the wretched incumbent with insane forms to fill in – which is a sort of institutionalised version of dog pack rule, if you think about it. "Make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again!" etc. etc.

The result may (or may not) be a new private sector school springing up, just as soon as the locals can get it arranged (or for as long as they can't be bothered). If that happens, the people running this school on the one hand and the local journos and bloggers on the other will be able to square up to each other on equal terms, and solicit support from locals either for the school or for a big local row about it. Sorted. If nothing, then nothing.

As for the "public sector" as a whole no such single solution beckons. If the Minister of Education himself were to resign, there would be a huge mob of people all desperate to replace him, however insane the job might prove to be. So the public sector of education will have to crumble away bit by bit, and fail to improve blank cheque by blank cheque. And it is. Pity, but what can you do?

A Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Tomorrow and Boxing Day (as we Brits call the day after Dec 25) will be treated here like a weekend, as will the day after that. And the two days after that really are the weekend. During all these days, I may put things up, but I may not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:26 PM
Category: This and that
[1] [0]
December 07, 2002
Now that's a teacher

An interesting insight into the mind of a teacher, from fellow Brit-blogger Natalie Solent:

… My husband spent a memorable few seconds yesterday travelling at speed down the motorway in his car. Sideways. While acting, as he put it, "as a hood ornament for a lorry."

Life's rich tapestry, eh? No one was hurt and we are fully insured, but it's all a bit of a bleah. I am now stuck home waiting for a loan car and a tow-truck to take our poor little Fiesta to hospital and possible euthanasia. …

My husband said an interesting thing about his thoughts while being carried along. He didn't pray. He didn't think of his family. He's a teacher and he spends some of his time saying and even more time thinking, "Stop that! You're doing something stupid." And that's what he tried to convey telepathically to the driver of the lorry.

As I say when writing one of my "wonders of capitalism" pieces over at Samizdata, I'm impressed. A man who'll try to teach his way out of a pickle like that really is a teacher. I'm not a Christian, but if I were I might surmise that God was also impressed and did the necessary, despite not of this occasion having been asked.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:44 AM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
November 14, 2002
Calling Amy – and then maybe Patrick

Have you spotted a pattern? Correct! Something every day no matter how bad or banal, but something. Tonight I am attending a meeting of LSE students in a pub and may be in no fit state to blog afterwards, so here's something for today, of no huge significance, but something.

Calling Amy Hicks. Amy, you posted a comment on this. Thanks, but sadly I couldn't get your links to work. The one to you failed, and I only got anywhere by going www.ecommunico.com, which got me to a strange person's personal website, rather than www.ecommunico.com/dilletante, which got me nowhere. Can you elucidate? The comment made little sense without the links. I'm not getting many comments yet, so I am being very nurturing and caring towards the ones I do get. Bossy, that is to say.

Changing the subject, I haven't forgotten about my promise to have more and better presented links. It's just that Patrick Crozier is, I think, busy moving house, and faffing about with this he does not need until he's settled in his new place.

Also, I'm probably going to start yet another blog, which absolutely won't have to be updated every day and therefore is less liable to be disfigured by inconsequential blather such as this, called Brian's CULTURE Blog (BCBlog?). No need to worry Patrick with that just yet either. I said that BEdBlog would be an education for me and it has been. And one of the things I've learned is that I can fit in another one, provided I set about it the right way and make it all pleasure and no obligation.

There's a moral for teachers and for their self-appointed superiors in among that previous paragraph, don't you agree? Something like: people get a lot more done if they're in complete charge of what they are doing, and do it just the way they like. And, no, I don't just mean the teachers, even though they are most definitely included in that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:05 PM
Category: This and that
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