Category Archive • Parents and children
December 17, 2004
"You're so smart daddy, you know everything …"

Another Lileks/Gnat moment.

"How do they make chickens?" she asked as I ate.

"Well, they grow them, from eggs, and then when they’re old and tired, they fall asleep and they get turned into food."

"On a farm?"

"Technically, yes."

“What's tegnigly?"

"It means it's like a farm."

"Do you want to be a farmer when you grow up?"

"I am grown up, and no, I don't. It's hard work."

"Well if I was on a farm and the animals were there but the farmers weren't I would make ham out of the pigs. How do you do that?”

"Well, again, you wait until they . . . ah, sleep."

"You're so smart, daddy." She beamed. "You know everything. You know states and history. How did you know this?"

"I read books. But you never stop learning."

"You don’t?"

"No. Because there’s always something new to learn, and always something old."

"Like what?"

"Well, there’s the newspaper, which tells you about yesterday, and books that tell you about stuff that happened a long time ago."

"Even . . . thirty years ago?"

"Sure."

And it's true.

But, before that comes this:

… She went to the Girls’ Room herself. And if I can quote her directly, to ensure that she will HATE ME however many years hence when she reads this: …

He knows he's doing it, but he just can't help himself

Which comes first? The daughter he loves more than anything in the world, or a snappy paragraph in an Internet scribble he doesn't even get paid for? No contest:

No, even copying and pasting it would be wrong. Personally I love it all, but out there there must be a lot of people who think that this man still has a few things to learn.

Enough Gnattering for now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:26 PM
Category: Parents and children
December 16, 2004
Blogger dads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:01 PM
Category: BloggingParents and children
September 09, 2004
Being swung around by Dad

... although I'm only guessing it's Dad.

I took this photo through my grubby front window, looking down into the park at the foot of the tower opposite. Faces are not clear, with "Dad" even being hidden by the leaves of a tree, and the swingee moving too fast. Even onlooker sister is obscure, what with the dirt on my window and the tackiness of my camera. All of which is good. The individual faces are not the point.

Trust.jpg

What are they all learning? Trust. All sorts of physical stuff. Courage in the face of danger. (It could, after all, go horribly wrong.)

It was really fast, by the way.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
Category: Parents and children
July 25, 2004
Parental games lessons

Strange. You would have thought that what with the emphasis on learning through play in the last few decades of educational theory, parents would now at least know how to play with their children. Yet it seems that parents are now having to be taught how to do this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:54 PM
Category: Parents and children
July 21, 2004
When parental involvement goes too far

Continuous assessment has long been regarded as potentially very inaccurate assessment, since cheating in such testing regimes, by teachers as well as pupils, is so hard to prevent. This is why carefully supervised exams in closed session, with no cribs allowed, were invented.

Here is another reason for such examinations: parents who help their progeny get into university, and who then continue to help them once they are there.

This leads, says Frank Furedi, to the "infantilisation of the university student".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:58 PM
Category: Higher educationParents and children
June 09, 2004
When not drugging your kid is child abuse

This is mind-boggling. Like RC Dean, I hardly know where to begin, so I won't. Suffice it to say that, at any rate in some parts of the USA, you are now, as a parent, expected to boggle the mind of your offspring.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:45 PM
Category: CompulsionParents and children
June 02, 2004
Cecile Dubois continues to live interestingly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CathySeippSharp.jpg 

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:46 PM
Category: BloggingParents and children
May 18, 2004
Women who go out to work – the good news and the bad news

Instapundit linked to Assymetric Information about this, and that's how I found this, about the contribution made by women in recent decades to increased GDP. This contribution, says Jane Galt, has been made possible by the massively reduced time now needed to run a home, cook meals, clean up, do laundry:

My mother stayed home with us. By the time I was ten, she was going bonkers. There simply wasn't enough to do in the house . . . and my mother, mind you, had gone in for gourmet cooking in a rather large way, producing elaborate dinners that took hours to prepare. She was the mainstay of the PTA, the building's co-op board, and so forth. Nonetheless, there simply wasn't enough to keep an active woman occupied after the children were in school.

Women in the house, other than those with small children, became economically useless to their families once labour-saving devices and modern food processing made 90% of their labour obsolete. So they went to work.

Thus, I'd argue that the GDP growth we experienced when women went to work is measuring the same thing as other kinds of GDP growth: the movement of labour resources from less valued to more valued uses.

However:

This has created a problem, of course: women's work used to be compatible with child care, and now it is not. And the business world is still largely designed for men: it is not structured to accommodate professional women who stay home with young children. On that, more later.

And this posting should remind me to got back for the"more later" that she promises.

Commenter lindenen echoes that last point:

All those kids who decide to shoot up their classmates, would they have sunk to this level if someone had been parenting the kids? I think there are a lot of indirect negative effects that we are only just beginning to deal with.

Agreed.

If you think about it, raising children is all about – and I know it's uncool to quote yourself but uncoolness be damned - this (see my immediately previous posting):

In the longer term, I believe that the "answer" to children abusing drugs is to rearrange the immediate incentive structure that the average school-child now faces. If more children made a more immediate contribution to the world, and got immediate rewards for doing so, and more immediate punishments for not making such a contribution, then drug abuse, which would not be rewarded and would be punished, might diminish, although it would never completely go away.

When Old Fashioned Mum did her housework, her kids either helped (even if it was only by not being a nuisance) and were praised, or were a nuisance and got scolded. They got attention, nice or nasty according to whether they were contributing or not contributing. But when New Mum goes to work, all that stuff gets switched off. New Mum therefore, in a very basic sense, separates children from the realities of the world, personified by … herself.

And people who live in an unreal world, stripped of all economic rationality, do drugs. Drugs make unreality a whole hell of a lot more exciting, and don't result in any income being foregone. There may later be disapproval, but it is not immediate. The drugged gratification is immediate. lindenen is right. Kids whom Mum neglects are liable to shoot up.

And far too many schools are like neglectful Mums. At least those sniffer dogs (again: see previous posting) mean that someone is paying attention.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:47 PM
Category: Parents and children
April 30, 2004
David Hargreaves on running away from school and on a nasty father

There's an interesting article by David Hargreaves in the latest Spectator about how he didn't like the school he was at when he was fourteen. So he ran away from it, and, with the help of his parents, ended up attending a much nicer local school. Which would also have been cheaper, presumably.

It turned out better than any of us dared believe. Against the odds, I made friends quickly and easily, started to do some decent work and, three years down the line, won a place at Oxford.

And he went on to become a teacher. In which capacity, he recalls meeting another father who wasn't nearly as nice as his had been:

I've never forgotten bumping into the father of a very bright ex-pupil of mine at some dinner. 'I haven’t spoken to Henry for six months,' he told me. 'As far as I am concerned he has wasted his life.' Shocked and sorry, I asked what on earth had happened. 'He got a second,' came the reply, voice shaking with indignation. 'The third generation of our family at Trinity, and all of us with firsts. I can't even look at him.'

Sounds like Trinity has its limitations as an educational establishment.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:37 PM
Category: Parents and children
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
April 02, 2004
Communication difficulties

More worrying reported here that kids these days don't know how to communicate like they used to, this time the kids being the very young ones.

A recent survey of nursery staff carried out by I Can, a children's charity, revealed that almost all had at least one child in the nursery with communication problems. Ten per cent said they had 10 or more children with difficulties.

They reported that growing numbers of pre-school children could not accomplish simple tasks such as explaining what they were doing, concentrating, speaking clearly and following instructions. They said that children often responded with monosyllabic answers or gestures, rather than appropriate language.

Staff pinpointed several factors for the increase: 92 per cent felt that the lack of adult time spent talking with the children was the key reason and 82 per cent blamed the passive use of television. Two thirds mentioned a trend for parents to talk for their child and others suggested that the use of videos and computers was also to blame. Almost half felt the situation was a matter of extreme concern.

"The hard research evidence isn't there as yet because it hasn't been done," says Gill Edelman, chief executive of I Can.

"But there is a growing body of opinion among professionals that there are more children than there used to be with communication difficulties - and boys are three times more likely to have problems than girls. Early intervention is critical because by the time they get to primary school they may already have developed behavioural problems through frustration.

My fantasy solution is to get all those useless teenagers who now lounge around taking drugs and being disaffected to make themselves useful, by talking to the little tots. Dealing with the reality of such creatures might dissuade them from creating more themselves, before they are ready to look after them properly (see above), and it would help.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:57 PM
Category: Parents and children
March 27, 2004
Bryanna's education

Here's a Boston Globe article about home education.

This was my favourite bit:

Bryanna Rosenblatt says her public school friends envy her, because they all think she's home in her pajamas all day. But she keeps herself on a regular routine: up, showered and dressed by 8 a.m., tackling a curriculum of her own design. Clonlara School, a Michigan-based home-school program, offers an accredited online high school that tracks Bryanna's classes, and will provide a transcript come time to apply to college.

Home-schoolers who don't correspond with online high schools are creative in how they document what they do, so that they can demonstrate to school districts - and later to colleges - what they are learning. Many are diligent in logging daily activities, with each tallied in a different column. Playing Monopoly is math. Chess is critical thinking. Collecting stamps is history. Attending concerts is fine art. Pen pals and e-mail count as writing.

Bryanna is a pretty, ponytailed girl who likes to keep her hands jammed deep in the pockets of her black sweatshirt, emblazoned with CKY, the culty band that celebrates skateboarding, skits, and stunts. Her home-schooling experience is much more structured than her mother, Tammy Rosenblatt, had ever envisioned. Since Tammy decided to home-school Bryanna in kindergarten, she's always imagined Bryanna following her intellectual abilities into unusual educational opportunities. But Bryanna craves structure. She found some textbook catalogs in her mother's car and insisted that she get some. And she sets aside a few hours a day to lead herself through school books about literature, science, and algebra.

"I felt like a failure when she wanted textbooks," says Tammy. "I didn't think we home-schoolers were supposed to use them. But I also know that we're supposed to be flexible."

This reminds me of a favourite cartoon. Scruffy parents, very small boy in very smart suit, including collar and tie. Caption: "Yes, we wanted to raise him as an anarchist, but he wouldn't be told."

That Clonlara home-school program is presumably this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:16 AM
Category: Home educationParents and children
March 09, 2004
The Alien Landscape Weblog on how to nurture "teenagers" differently

My warmest thanks to Alan Little for emailing me about a posting on the Alien Landscape Weblog called On the evils of easy grading.

It's about the economics of education. Education as currently organised is a gigantic waste of juvenile energy. Teenagers - I would say: by definition (this is what a "teenager" is) – sit around doing extraordinarily little, and the truly scandalous bit is that the cleverer they are, the truer this often is. Result, they behave like "teenagers".

Key paragraphs:

But, you say, we're talking about teenagers here. Teenagers lack judgement and maturity, and if you let them out without a keeper, who knows what they'll do?

Teenagers behave that way today, of course. But that's not because that's all they're capable of. Remember the old Soviet saying "As long as they pretend to pay us, we'll pretend to work"? Teenagers, like their older counterparts, rarely put forth their best effort unless they have a reason. Since diligence and maturity don't shorten their sentences, and immaturity and laziness don't get them into real trouble or lower their standard of living, it's not surprising that they're not really trying. There's no biological reason that they're incapable of being productive, useful adult citizens, it's just that there's no payoff for them. If they've got marketable skills and their own place, property, and liberty that they can improve through hard work, common sense, and ingenuity or lose through laziness, impulsiveness, or viciousness, they'll be just as inclined as anyone else to straighten up and fly right. It's clear that they're not pushing themselves to their limits, so I don't see any reason to believe anyone's assertions about just what their limits are based on observations of today's teenagers.

I have the feeling that the claim that smart kids do less work may be false, in lots of cases if clearly not in all. Smart kids generally have smart parents, and smart parents often "clean up" those confused signals by attaching rewards to each item of educational progress, and punishments to educational torpor or general "teenager"-ness. (Remember the girl who got a Cadillac, just for doing well at school?)

Nevertheless, the point about the non-biological-ness of teenager-ness is surely right. I did a sociology degree, and I actually learned quite a lot from doing it. The main thing I learned is that what my sociology teachers called "society" or "social structure" - and what I, under the influence of libertarian writers and pamphleteers and economists was starting to think of more as an "incentive structure" (although not yet with those sort of exact words) - matters.

One moment in 1945, all Germans adult males are fighting you and must be treated with extreme suspicion. Then something big happens in the big wide world out there ("Germany" surrenders in the war) and immediately all German adult males start to behave entirely differently. All of them. Society. (And in this case "history".) Explanations of previous, hostile German behaviour based on the immutability of the German version of human nature simply must be wrong. They are certainly woefully insufficient. Biology, that is to say, is not a satisfactory explanation of what is happening, even if it does have some bearing.

So yes, teenagers must have the energy to be a nuisance and the psychological energy to defy what passes for authority in their lives. But whether they behave like "teenagers" or not is a function of the society they find themselves in. Hormone theories of teenager-ness are excuses used by people who are presiding over unsatisfactory social arrangements, blaming the victims of these arrangements instead of changing the arrangements. It's the same with the theory that slaves (i.e. black people) are inherently slavelike. Or, many home-edders and home-ed supporters like me would add, the theory that children are inherently childlike.

I realise that I have a problem with biological and sociological/economic theories. I believe strongly in both. (Does this make me rather rare, apart from the general public I mean?) Young humans do have a definite nature, which is different from puppy nature or kitten nature or junior crab nature. But how that nature asserts itself is radically different depending on the social/economic influences that impinge upon it. Nature and nurture.

I could elaborate, but that's more than enough profundity for one post.

FINAL final point: I have just been wrestling with how to categorise this posting. I picked three from my list that seemed particularly pertinent, but could have picked at least half a dozen more. This shows, I think, how much the Alien Landscape man and I are thinking along similar lines, not neccesarily answering all questions the same way, but wrestling with lots of the same questions. So thank you again Alan.

March 07, 2004
Do well at school and get a Cadillac

It's a different world over there:

When I was 13, I started to think about what kind of car I wanted when I started to drive. I saw an EXT in a music video and thought, "Hey, having a pickup truck is way cuter than having a car." I started babysitting every week to save money for one. Then I went on the Cadillac Web site and saw how much it cost, and I thought that's a lot of babysitting. …

And here is why this is all here:

… Finally, my parents told me if I got a 3.0 G.P.A. or higher on my report card, they'd buy me any car I wanted, within reason.

Education, education, education.

girlauto2.jpg

I started working on my dad. I kept telling him, "Have you seen the new Cadillac pickup trucks, Dad? They're really cool." After school I'd drag him down to the dealership in Fullerton to look at them. About three months ago, my dad bought a ranch in Park City, Utah, and I made him go to Jerry Seiner Cadillac, the dealership in Salt Lake City, to check out their EXT's. Dad kept asking me, "Do you really like this car?" I told him I loved it.

Once a parent makes a promise, I guess you have to bully him to make sure he keeps it. So did he?

My birthday was Jan. 3. I wanted to spend it with my friends in Orange County, but my dad urged me to come to Park City. He said he was throwing me a party and inviting my favorite snowboarder, J. P. Walker, so I agreed. The party was at a restaurant called Easy Street, which has a big picture window that looks out on the street. I was waiting at the table thinking, where is this guy? So my parents suggested I open my presents. The last one looked like a watch box, but when I opened it, there were car keys inside. I looked out the window and saw a brand new EXT parked in front of the restaurant. It was the color I wanted: "Out of the Blue." I couldn't believe it. I was like, "Oh my God, are you serious?" I ran outside in the falling snow, climbed into the truck and sat there for a bit. Then I called my friends back in California on my cell. The whole thing was like a car commercial.

Driving my EXT makes me feel powerful, safe and very high. I feel as if everybody is looking at it, maybe because the color is so vibrant. You can make the cargo bed longer by folding down the rear seat, lowering a panel and removing the window. My dad said, "Now you can carry hay to the horses," and I was like, "I don't think so."

No. You said: "I don't think so." People are not like words; they say words. Are you learning anything at your school?

Some people may think my dad spoils me, but he knows how happy it makes me to drive. Cars are my thing. I'm never ungrateful for anything my parents give me. I feel totally blessed.

Indeed.

My dad drove my Escalade out to California last week. The first time I drove up to the school, about 25 girls came running out to look at it. "That is so cool," they cried. "We hate you!" It was like a dream come true. I felt like, "Wow, I'm a princess."

The joy of peer group hatred.

And the trouble parents in the USA go to, to make their children study for their exams.

Thanks to this blog for the link.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:59 PM
Category: Parents and children
January 27, 2004
Dr Laura on parental duty

A different slant on the obligations of adults towards their children to many of the usual slants you hear nowadays:

In a nutshell, Dr. Laura believes that many of the aspects of adult life that I had always considered complicated and messy and finely nuanced are in fact simple and clear-cut; that life ought to be neatly fitted around duty and responsibility rather than around the pursuit of that elusive old dog, happiness. This is what makes her the most compelling advocate for children I have thus far encountered, because the well-being of children often depends upon the commitment and obligation of the adults who created them. If you want to know whether the divorce culture has been a disaster for children, tune in to the Dr. Laura show one day. The mainstream media have a cheery name for families rent asunder and then patched together by divorce and remarriage: they are "blended families." But the day-to-day reality of what such blending wreaks upon children is often harsh. The number of children who are being shuttled back and forth between households, and the heartrending problems that this engenders in their lives, is a sin. Every June, Dr. Laura fields multiple calls having to do with transporting reluctant children across vast distances so that court-ordered visitation agreements can be honored. Whereas an article in Parents magazine or the relentlessly upbeat family-life columns in Time might list some mild and generally useless tips for dealing with such a situation (have the child bring along a "transitional object," plan regular phone calls home, and so forth), Laura throws out the whole premise. What in the world are the parents doing living so far away from each other? One of them needs to pick up stakes and move. "I can't do that," the caller always says. "Yes, you can," Laura always replies, and when you think about it, she's right.

This being the Dr Laura in question, Dr Laura Schlessinger, who is apparently a big name in the USA. The book review article quoted from above is in the Atlantic online, and the writer of it, Caitlin Flanagan, reckons that Dr Laura is better at broadcasting than she is at book writing, but that her old fashioned ideas about duty towards children, and duty generally, are a breath of fresh air.

The trouble with denouncing divorce as a bad way to bring up children is that if you do it, or even (as here) side with someone else who is siding with someone else who is denouncing it, you risk offending friends, and for that matter relatives. Five persons in one or other of these categories spring to my mind immediately, and further thought would surely throw up as many more. But surely it's true. The best way to raise kids is for them to have a mother and a father, who live together or failing that very close to one another and who get along, or who at least do a reasonable job of pretending to.

That doesn't mean that the government should mandate this method and forbid all others. It merely means that this is what tends to be best and what parents should all do if they can, in the opinion of this pulpiteer. Yes, in thousands upon thousands of cases these single parent households are better for the children than those regular ones, and yes again, gay people can't do regular families very easily (although I'm sure that many gays fake family regularity with extraordinary completeness) and shouldn't be legally prevented from doing their own alternative versions of families. As I have said recently in another place, politically I'm libertarian, but my moral and behavioural preferences and aspirations are conservative.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:28 PM
Category: Parents and children
January 15, 2004
Peers over parents

I have been prioritising Samizdata, so please forgive the slimness of postings here of late.

One thing I just put up there is of definite relevance to this blog, which is this short but informative review of Judith Rich Harris' book The Nurture Assumption.

What this says is that children turn out the way they do because of their peer group, rather than because of how they are raised by their own parents.

Come to think of it, this is something that distraught parents have been yelling at the tops of their voices for years, and once someone says it, the evidence for it jumps out at you from all around. Anxiously virtuous West Indian mums doing their anxiously virtuous best, and ending up with a weapon-wielding gang member. Fifties parents giving birth to a generation of sixties children, who in their turn raised the Punk Generation. Obvious really.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
Category: Parents and children
December 07, 2003
If you are a geek – be a happy and successful geek by switching to e-ducation

If you are interested, as I am, in the whole subject of what I'm starting to call e-ducation, then do go and read this New York Times article, quickly, before it disappears.

The deal for a typical e-school of this sort is that you pay something like $250 a month, and they educate you at your home computer rather than in a regular school. But, you are a member of a virtual school, with many of the trappings of a real school. What you escape is the social grief. The traditional class-room educational system is what remains. In a sense, it's the opposite of de-schooling. The most schooly bit of a regular school is set up in your home, but without all the debased-Clueless stuff that generally goes with a regular school.

These two, buried on page 4, seem to me to be the key paragraphs:

When talking to virtual-school kids, this is a common thread: the sense that they have escaped something dangerous by getting out of high school. ''I saw the way the social system was set up, and I wanted to get away from that,'' says Kristen Dearing, a student at Basehor-Linwood charter school in Kansas.

MacKenzie Winslow, 14, who attends the Laurel Springs school in Ojai, Calif., from her home in Colorado, says: ''I didn't want a bad experience. I had a lot of friends who'd gone to high school, and they said the kids were pretty nasty. I didn't want to deal with that.''

One of the strongest memes in our culture is that children, unlike adults, shouldn't try to escape from situations they don't like. Instead they should stick around and "deal with" them. (Adults, on the other hand, are allowed to escape whatever they can afford to escape. The argument for such talk is that it prepares children for dealing with later horrors. And the argument against this is that again and again, one of the absolute best ways of dealing with horrors is simply to get away from them, the way adults do if they can. Escape is dealing with. And the sooner children learn this basic lesson, then they can get used to re-arranging their own lives for the better, if they choose, whenever they need to. True, some things can't be escaped. But thinking that nothing can be escaped when a lot can is no preparation whatsoever for dealing with the truly inescapable.

That was the really interesting thing about this NYT piece. It suggested to me strongly that now a different and opposite meme is beginning to spread in a quite big way. It strongly confirmed what I've been sensing for a long time, which is that parents are more and more moving towards a freedom-for-children model of child growth, and that giving more freedom and more choices to parents, will lead directly to more freedom for children. Parents and children already talk a lot about the educational options a child has. Children are already feeding a lot into these discussions. So, another choice, like this virtual schooling arrangement that is springing up in America, leads directly to more freedom for children.

Pause. As in: slight change of subject. What follows might have made more sense as a separate posting, merely linked to this one.

It occurs to me that opening up school choices like this makes more sense if you believe that children are genetically different from each other, rather than blank slates (in Steven Pinker's phrase). And increasingly, distinct people with an inner nature is what our culture is coming to believe children to be. If your genes make you a geek, then any amount of socialising with Cher, the Alicia Silverstone character in Clueless, or her down-market black finger-nailed equivalent, isn't going to stop you being a geek. It's just going to make you into a geek who fails to be a social star, but who also fails to be a successful and happy geek. By going against your inner nature you are unhappy, and you fail to make the best of that inner nature. So if you are a geek, be a successful and happy geek, not a failed Cher.

Sign up for a virtual school. Race ahead with your schoolwork. Graduate at fifteen. Get to a college full of other geeks and be happy, as soon as you can, and then get a great geek job. And when you have ten million bucks from your swank job in computers, well, that should take care of a lot of your socialisation problems and peer group pressures. At that point, Cher will realise that maybe you have social potential after all.

Actually, I've made Cher sound like a social monster. She isn't. She also believes in geeks being good geeks rather than bad Chers, but that's a different argument. The Cher I'm maybe really talking about here is a street-copy of the original Cher, as in mad bitch in fishnet stockings dancing up a storm on a battleship, but without the money the real Cher got paid to do that. Fine if you can pull it off, as she presumably does later on in the evening, but geeks don't want to be joining a social system run by people with those kinds of aspirations, not least because people with those aspirations often hate geeks and want to make them miserable and ashamed of their geekness.

Big complicated post. Sorry, if your inner nature is such that you prefer the short ones.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:10 PM
Category: Parents and childrenPeer pressureThe internet
November 28, 2003
Perfecting children

This is worth a look:

A Stepford Wives that worked as social satire today would be different from its predecessor: It would be at least as much about the project of perfecting children as that of perfecting wives. It would be about the collaboration between ambitious fathers and mothers who believe both in the meritocracy and in doing what it takes to rig it in the interest of their own offspring's Ivy League prospects. It would be about shameless string-pulling to get kids into the right nursery school. Status anxiety about three-year-olds. The subtle assessing of other people's children in relation to one's own.

And part of the art of "perfecting children" is not making it feel like that.

Home schooled children are, sometimes, a little like Stepford Children, in that when they are dealing with adults, they often behave a lot more like adults themselves. They are a lot more confident – assertive in a good way, rather than veering wildly between over- and under-assertion. Not necessarily such a bad thing, but food for thought.

Have any movies been made in which children behave in a much more adult way than most children do now? Gregory's little sister in Gregory's Girl spring to mind, as does the younger sister of the Eric Stoltz hero of Some Kind of Wonderful. And of course there's Lisa Simpson, which would suggest that the way to create a super-together child is not necessarily anything much to do with being a perfect father. But how about the boys? Will it really be possible to create Stepford Boys?

John Stuart Mill perhaps?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:17 PM
Category: Parents and children
November 27, 2003
The real emes of what boys want from their fathers

This is a good article, I think. Like a lot of the stuff I'm reading at the moment, I got to it via Arts & Letters Daily.

Here are two paragraphs from it which I particularly liked:

What do boys and young men want from their fathers? For the most part I think we want precisely what they cannot give us – a painless transfusion of wisdom, a key to life’s mysteries, the secret to happiness, assurance that one’s daily struggles and aggravations amount to something more than some stupid cosmic joke with no punch line. Oh, Dad, you have been here longer than I, you have been in the trenches, up and over the hill, quick, before you exit, fill me in: does it all add up, cohere, make any sense at all, what’s the true story, the real emes, tell me, please, Dad? By the time my father reached sixty, I knew he could not deliver any of this.

But for someone who "could not deliver any of this", this isn't too bad:

In my middle thirties I was offered a job teaching at a nearby university. In balancing the debits and credits of the offer, I suggested to my father that the job would allow me to spend more time with my two sons. "I don’t mean to butt in," he said, before proceeding to deliver the longest speech of his paternal career, "but that sounds to me like a load of crap. If you’re going to take a teaching job, take it because you want to teach, or because you can use the extra time for other work, not because of your kids. Con yourself into thinking you make decisions because of your children and you’ll end up one of those pathetic old guys whining about his children’s ingratitude. Your responsibilities to your sons include feeding them and seeing they have a decent place to live and helping them get the best schooling they're capable of and teaching them right from wrong and making it clear they can come to you if they're in trouble and setting them an example of how a man should live. That's how I looked upon my responsibility to you and your brother. But for a man, work comes first."

"Emes" is obviously some Jewish thing. What is it? I have the feeling that this second paragraph is a real slice of it, in some way or another. As far as I can judge from this (which I got to by typing "What does "emes" mean?" into Google), it means something along the lines of "the complete truth", rather than just a casual approximation. Hitting the nail hard on the head, rather than merely striking it a weak, glancing blow.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:11 PM
Category: Parents and children
October 28, 2003
Diane Abbott in the news

Also (see immediately below) at the ASI blog Alex Singleton weighs into the debate about pro-comprehensive politicians (this time it's Diane Abbott) who send their own children to private schools, as does David Carr at Samizdata.

I have already said my piece about this sort of thing here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:35 PM
Category: Parents and childrenPolitics
September 19, 2003
Is Gnat being raised correctly? And is it anyone else's business?

Here's an interesting exchange of views, about parenting. Here's an email (which turned into an open letter) from Alice Bachini to James Lileks. (The email turned into an open letter because Alice couldn't work the Lileks email system. If you can help her with that, please go and do so.)

This is the particular Bleat that Alice is referring to.

When discipline is required, Daddy is enlisted. Why? I have the deep voice, and I have the will. I am careful to explain why she is being naughty; I always express my understanding of her position, but I am firm: this will not stand. Comply, or at the count of three you’re locked in your room.

Is it proper etiquette to write open letters to parents about how they raise their children? Well, as Alice says:

You will probably not be interested in this point I'm going to make, but I had to make it. Some people might consider it too personal and therefore rude, but as you write about this subject where people can read it, I hope you don't mind.

I have wondered for some time what Gnat will make in the years to come of the fact that her life has been a Public Issue from the day of her birth. I don't suppose she'll mind. Nevertheless, it must be a bit like being a member of the Royal Family, what with all these total strangers discussing your every little bit of alleged progress or alleged lack of it.

I may do a bit on White Rose some time soon about the notion that discussing individual children's lives must seem to some like a violation of privacy. Personally I just think it's life.

Lileks and Alice agree about the war on terror, which means that Alice's opposition to violence against or forceful restraint of children is not based on pacifism or anything like that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:16 PM
Category: Parents and children
Work Experience, Real Life, etc.

For me there's no question that the best current article about the realities of education, self-advancement etc., is this one in the latest Spectator. I've not read all the other recent education articles doing the rounds, but if any of them are nearly as good as this one I'd be amazed. And I only got to this piece because Jonathan Pearce linked to another piece in the same issue about the BBC.

Rather than doing the lazy thing and just copying, pasting, commenting, and leaving it at that, let me try to show a bit of initiative.

What the piece says is that now that exam results have becomes so uniformly good, and hence meaningless, the new bit of the juvenile CV which can maybe make a real difference is now "work experience". But not just any old work experience. It has to be posh work experience, with some grand city business or publishing firm that future employers may actually have heard of. Merely working, at Sainsbury's won't get you ahead of the pack when that first real job interview comes along.

Time for just a little copying and pasting:

'In the past six months I’ve had a letter a week requesting work experience, and I usually try to interview about a third of them,' sighed Miss Dawnay. 'So I’ll call them up and ask them to come in on, say, Thursday at 11 a.m. And then they will drawl, 'Fine ... what’s your address?' I always want to scream, 'Do you have any idea how much it will cost me in lost time to read it out?'

Maybe that's what Miss Dawnay should have done. If she had, that would really have been work experience. It would have taken just as long, but she might have enjoyed it more, and the snot might actually have learned something. Well, probably better to break these things to them gently.

I was one of these under-experienced O- and A-level laden little annoyances once. And the one time when I got a realistic sense of exactly how much use I was in that office I infested as a teenager was when one of those work-at-sixteen evening-classes didn't-have-your-advantages blokes in a suit with a mortgage actually lost his temper and told me. No bloody use at all. I'm only putting up with you because my bloody boss, whom your bloody parents nobbled, told me to.

I don't really know what is the answer to all this, although I'm doing lots of good reading about such matters and may be able to tell you all in a year or two.

Meanwhile … you're never going to stop parents trying to wangle unfair advantages for their children, and why would you really want to?

If you keep teenagers away from Real Life, on the grounds that Real Life finds them too annoying, then the teenagers remain ignorant of it until they emerge from University, and the facts of Real Life hit them all in a rush. They have to learn sooner or later, and someone has to put up with them while they do.

My preferred answer is the whole radical TCS-type agenda, which lets children take charge of their own lives just as soon as they are inclined, choose their own work, school (if they want a school), and in general their lives, from the available alternatives. That way, they get their first non-parental bollocking for being too annoying and self-centred (if they have been) at about the age of five from some guy selling hot-dogs, and they learn continuously about Real Life (which really just means other people) by not ever being seriously separated from it (them). The teenagers I've know who have best combined having plenty of self-confidence with hardly being annoying and self-centred in a bad way at all, giving off a sense that your time and efforts might be as valuable to you as their time and efforts are valuable to them, are those who've been raised this way.

As it is, you either get teenagers who still have a bit of spirit, but no Real World knowledge, or teenagers with bags of Real World knowledge, but who only have it because that's all they have. They've had all the spirit kicked out of them by people only losing their tempers with them and telling them they're useless, and nothing else.

As for the fact that people now spend longer and longer accumulating CV stuff instead of actually doing real Real Life things, well, stay tuned about that also.

(If and when TCS-like ideas become the orthodoxy, will they then, in a bungled form, merely become a new arena of parental concern? "Live your own life! Be free! Do interesting things that employers will be impressed by! Don't just sit at home studying! Don't wait for us to tell you what to do!" Oh well. No doubt the TCS people have thought that syndrome through.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:31 PM
Category: Examinations and qualificationsParents and childrenRelevance
September 14, 2003
The limits of school protection

Email:

Brian,

Your kind of thing, I think - LINK.

Regards,

The Philosophical Cowboy (nom de blog)

Yes it is. Many thanks.

The Cowboy's starting point is this Guardian story about bullying from last week. His summary:

Essentially, staying over at a friend, Emma's, the protagonist, Vicky, had been the subject of an attempted sexual assault by the friend's father. The police seemed convinced by her story, but the school did little to protect her from the consequences of her reporting the incident ...

And she then got all hell broken loose all over her, by Emma's older sister and all her friends at the school they all shared. Eventually Vicky was rescued by her parents going private with her.

The Cowboy says that this is the kind of story that makes people say that all parents should have the chance to make a choice like that, not just the ones who can afford it. Amen.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:41 PM
Category: BullyingParents and children
What kind of wonderful will Cecilia be?

In one of my favourite movies, Some Kind of Wonderful, there are some memorable scenes between the central protagonist, played by a young Eric Stolz, and his dad. The Stolz character wants to be an artist, and go on to some kind of art school. The dad's attitude, as he tells the (I think) school principal is: "I don't think that's going to happen."

Dad: "You have the chance to be the first member of our family who doesn't have to wash his hands when he gets home from work." But the son blues the savings he got from car mending, which his dad thinks he should spend on a "good" college doing a sensible course, on expensive ear-rings for his girl-friend. His big problem is not deciding on a college; it's deciding which girl is his girl-friend.

Meanwhile the younger daughter, all unnoticed by dad, is an obvious future academic star, and an obvious shoe-in to a good college.

Here's a Washington Post book review that talks of families split by the art-versus-good-education thing, only this time for the realest of real, and about families who are absolutely not ignoring the higher education potention of their daughters:

… Whitney is the top-rated public high school in California, arguably in the nation.

Its students are formidable. Take Cecilia, who regards herself as "really pretty stupid." At Whitney this doesn't mean a C- grade point average. As a guidance counselor reminds the senior, "You're a commended National Merit Scholar. A California Governor's Scholar. An AP Scholar. Your SAT scores are a combined 1450. You took three AP tests and got a perfect five on each. Your GPA is 3.8. You volunteer at a nursing home, you're in a Model United Nations, you were part of the design team that won the NASA Space Set award last year for Whitney. You write fantasy and science fiction. And you are in advanced art this year. Where do you get this drive?"

Cecilia answers by insisting she's nothing special. "I'm really pretty average. I actually have to study for my grades, unlike some of my friends, who seem to do all this effortlessly. I have to pull all nighters." Cecilia admits that she's "okay" at art. In reality, the young woman draws "incredible anime and pointillist pictures."

You would think parents would be proud of such a child. Yes and no. In fact, Cecilia's mother and father want her to go to Harvard, Stanford or U.C. Berkeley. When she spoke to them about becoming an artist, they threw her portfolio into the street, then made her wait half an hour while cars ran over an entire year's work before they allowed her to retrieve the drawings and paintings. Similarly, when one of her classmates, Angela, asked for a sewing machine to work on an art project, her parents subjected the sensitive girl to ridicule, then reminded her that they hadn't sacrificed so that she could become a "seamstress."

There are several dozen "morals" to stories like that. One is that people are now competing not just with all the people in their town or all the people in their class, but with all the people in the world. This is an effect of our old friend/enemy "modern communications", which shove the brilliance of all of mankind on your bedroom desk every night while you are doing your homework.

As for Cecilia being "okay", I remember a sociology lecture at Essex U a thousand years ago, in which it was revealed that everyone thought they were middle class, from middle-ranking dukes (which was what all dukes thought they were) to middle-ranking dustmen (ditto).

You get the feeling that Cecilia thinks that "art" is a refuge from this world of endless struggle, which for many it is. But not if you try to do it for a living, Cecilia. On the other hand, Cecilia's parents could be quite wrong about how much money Cecilia might earn as an artist. But, they are right in that the key word there is "might". It's too chancy. They can't entrust their DNA to a mere artist. Get yourself a trade girl. Be a doctor or lawyer or accountant or, at worst, a "manager" of some kind. Hey ho.

I got the link to this by going to Crooked Timber, and then to Calpundit.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:13 PM
Category: Parents and children
September 02, 2003
Black parents taking charge

There have been a big debates for years about the rights and wrongs of education for black people, especially black boys, and not just (e.g.) here (to name the nearest spot of the blogosphere to me thus exercised lately). Is it racist? Do teachers expect too little? In general: who's damn fault is it?

But if you are a black parent, what do you do? Not surprisingly, a lot of black parents are now moving to home schooling. Although the "home" bit is not quite the central point. The central point is, they're doing it themselves..) And because home schooling is a much bigger thing in the USA than it is here, yet, black home schooling is becoming very big there.

Venus and Serena Williams are perhaps the most famous among those who call home their alma mater. The tennis stars were educated at home after their father withdrew the pair from middle school to teach them himself.

The Williams family has become a visible part of a phenomenon that can be seen across the nation – an increase in the number of black families who are choosing to homeschool.

Homeschooling has come a long way since it first came on the scene more than 30 years ago. In fact, homeschooling has become a viable education option for families across the country and has seen a 4,000 percent increase in 20 years.

The fastest growing demographic of homeschoolers is the number of families, where black children are five times more likely to be homeschooled than they were five years ago.

“There’s really a shift in the African-American community,” said Jennifer James, a homeschooling mother in Chapel Hill, N.C., who founded the National African American Homeschoolers Alliance in January. "Parents are taking hold of their child’s education. They’re saying 'I’ve got to do it because nobody else is going to do it.'"

Link added. Thanks to the Libertarian Alliance Forum for the news.

As I say, the real story here is surely black do-it-yourself education rather than merely black home education. Black-managed independent schools are surely part of the same trend, as is the increasingly vocal preference among US blacks for education vouchers, in defiance of Democratic Party orthodoxy. One way or another, the parents are taking back control of their children's education from the wider culture, which has been failing them both so badly, for so long.

Let's home that in a couple of decades time the question will be at least, and at last, moving towards: Who should get the credit for black education in the USA? - and that similar trends will make themselves felt more strongly in the UK.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Free market reformsHome educationParents and children
August 31, 2003
"Dishevelled"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:00 PM
Category: BloggingParents and children
August 08, 2003
I'm too busy so here are some links to other people

I confess that I have lost track of the various blogs called variants of "TCS". That's TCS as in "Taking Children Seriously" rather than Tech Central Station, to cut the complications down just a little.

But whichever TCS blog this one is, I recommend, for whatever that may be worth, this article about how to treat and raise toddlers by Alice Bachini. It's obvious that Alice has personal experience of all this stuff. She doesn't like using her individual children as characters in the dramas she writes about, Lileks style, but I don't think I'm giving away any big secrets if I say that I have from time to time watched her do the kind of thing she write about in this piece, and that I was impressed.

I'll leave it at that, because my day is stacking up, and I have about twelve blogs to attend to. Well, not nearly that many, but on days like today it can seem so. Don't be surprised if nothing else materialises here, but if not, I'll probably try to put up more over the weekend, which I don't routinely promise to do.

Although, there is time to mention that in another bit of the other TCS empire, I also found this. It's about starting a school. Alice would not approve.

Have a good weekend.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:06 PM
Category: Free market reformsParents and children
August 07, 2003
Hypocrisy is better than abandoning your children

Lileks is back, and I think the pause may have caused him to contrive a bleat in his head over a period of days which has a more than usually penetrating sound to it.

I don't get all the American local stuff. I don't know who Adriana Lima is, what is so special about a '57 BelAir Convertible, the exact point of driving to Rio, or where Rio is. But I agree with the following. He's talking about the Gay Bishop they've just chosen over there, amidst great fanfare. Apparently before moving in with Another Man, the Bishop had already got himself a wife and kids.

This story has irritated me from the start, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Robinson’s sexual orientation. The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else: that’s what it’s all about, at least for me. Marriages founder for a variety of reasons, and ofttimes they’re valid reasons, sad and inescapable. But “I want to have sex with other people” is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake. There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish. I'm not a praying man, but I cannot possibly imagine asking God if that would be okay. Send them another Dad, okay? Until you do I'll keep my cellphone on 24/7, I promise.

Who are you to judge? is the standard response, and I quote Captain James T. Kirk when asked the same question by Kodos the Executioner: who do I have to be? I’ll tell you this: my nightmare is losing my daughter. The idea of leaving her on purpose is inconceivable, and I don’t care if Adriana Lima drove up the driveway in a '57 BelAir convertible, tossed me the keys and asked me to drive her to Rio, it ain’t gonna happen. I made a promise when I married my wife, and I made another when we had our daughter. It's made me rather cranky on the subject of men who don't stick around. They're letting down the side. They're reverting to type. They're talking from their trousers.

I know, I know, his daughters love him & support him now. So what. Hitler’s dog went to his funeral. (No, that doesn’t make sense, but it’s my favorite wrench to throw in conversations this week.) If he’d cast off his family to cavort with a woman from the choir, I’m not sure he’d be elevated to the level of moral avatar – but by some peculiar twist the fact that he left mom for a man insulates him from criticism. It’s as if he had to do it. To stay in the marriage would have been (crack of thunder, horses neighing) living a lie, and nowadays we’re told that’s the worst thing anyone can do. Better to bedevil other lives with the truth than inconvenience your own with a lie. Right? If others are harmed in the short run, eventually they will be happy because you’re happier. Right?

I don’t think it works that way with little children. I don’t think they understand why Dads leave – and so they make up their own reasons and spend years looking for evidence in other people.

As I'm fond of saying in all kinds of contexts, hypocrisy is an under-rated vice. (See my comment, which says that a sportsman who used to be naughty but is now saying: be nice!, is better than a sportsman who was naughty and still says: be naughty!)

It is commonly said that children are impossible to deceive, and that therefore if you are unhappy they will realise it and want you to rearrange things and be happy. They will want you to abandon them. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Children are extremely easy to deceive, and the deception typically lasts, as Lileks explains, even if the attempt to sustain it is abandoned (along with the children), and long after it has been abandoned. Children absolutely do not want to be abandoned.

Maybe the fact that I agree so strongly that one should not abandon children for man/trouser reasons is why I don't yet have any children and I suppose may never. What if your child isn't a Gnat child, but instead some terrible sticky, whiny, unlovable, unloving, resentful, IQ damaged, medically mucked-up and hence financially ruinous, un-Gnatal mess? I'm too frightened of the permanence of the change, of the limitlessness of the responsibility, the way I suppose some men who do get children only realise when it actually happens. Or don't even then.

A friend of mine recently told me that he was coming out (again) as straight, as both, that is to say. Fair enough, in fact fine. He's young, with no children. He's getting all that stuff sorted first. Quite right.

Make bed. Maybe the bed is right immediately. If not, remake bed until it is right. Then have children. If that means three gay guys adopting or contracting out the pregnancy, fine, whatever. But then: lie in bed. Do not have children and then remake bed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:06 AM
Category: Parents and children
June 14, 2003
Come on – time for Wolfenstein!

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

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

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

to:

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

Funny. And profound.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:48 AM
Category: Parents and childrenTechnology
[0]
May 30, 2003
The Life! versus The Rails

I'm assembling education blogs to make that long-neglected link list, and found myself going from this, to this, the first this (try that and go to April 28) being archive-bloggered, and the second this being a piece by John Derbyshire describing the way that Kids These Days are prone to going Off The Rails and to prefer The Life! instead.

Like Derbyshire, I can see the point of both sides of this one. I see why people build The Rails. And I see why other people want to jump or slide off them. I mean, what sort of a life is it if all you ever do is live out almost but not quite the life your parents set up for you? And what sort of reward is it if you end up with a house almost but not quite as nice as the one you grew up in? Bad Behaviour – sex, drugs, rock, roll – are just the ways that some people have to use to get their parents off their backs. I'm old enough to realise how stupid and childish this sounds, but it is nevertheless a fact that one of the many things I like about blogging is that my mother, a most capable woman in lots of ways, has no idea what it is or how it works.

His teachers say he has great ability, but just won’t work. Visiting with the family, we did not see him, only heard the thudding of rock music from the basement room where he lives. Amy: “We’ve totally given up. Just can’t wait for him to leave home.”

Mission accomplished. Lucky is the child whose parents have given up.

I admire the "bourgeois way of life", but to really enjoy it some of us have to redesign it and muck about with it and make it truly our own. For that, The Rails may not be enough. You want to make your own rails.

I'm not sure about any of this. Derbyshire's is a good piece though, and none the worse for having been written a month ago. Some things don't change.

And by the way, for all those parents who reckon they aren't making any Rails for their children to jump off, here's the caption of one of my favourite cartoons – the sort of cartoon that doesn't really need the actual cartoon, just the caption: "We wanted him to be an anarchist but he wouldn't be told." (I suspect that if there is an answer to this, it is to be found in the phrase "giving up". But then they turn round and say you shouldn't have.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:45 AM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
May 24, 2003
More stuff to annoy Rational Parenting with

Yes, it's Guerrilla Parenting.

Do your children RESPECT the hours of hard work that you invest in them? No! Children EXPLOIT THEIR PARENTS in much the same way that MCDONALDS CORPORATION exploits the poor and weak people of Canada's rainforests. It's time to TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS and force the LITTLE BASTARDS to behave properly. The time for calm exhortations and promises of extra cartoon time is over. Use our stencils to decorate your neighborhood with messages that will MAKE your kids BEHAVE and STOP treating the place like a GODDAMNED AMUSEMENT PARK.

IT'S FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.

This was bound to happen, now that absolutely everyone who remembers the sixties is old.

Sorry, make that "More stuff WITH WHICH to annoy Rational Parenting".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:24 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
May 21, 2003
Another example of rational parenting?

Over at Rational Parenting, Alice dispenses wholesome advice to wholesome people, and links to things like Attachment Parenting: A loving and compassionate approach to raising children, which is only right and proper. Here at Brian's Education Blog I am probably a tad more pessimistic about the long term educational and child rearing trends in our society. Home education is all very well and good, if your home is nice. But what about the education being supplied in this home?

POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- A 35-year-old Polk County woman admits she chained her sons to their beds at night to keep them out of trouble, according to a Local 6 News report.

Karen Abe, 35, said her sons would break into and steal cars while she was at work so she tethered her 13- and 15-year-old sons to their beds with heavy chains and padlocks.

Even though her ex-husband was reportedly inside the home at night, the boys were chained from 9:30 p.m. until 6 a.m.

"When I left, I just put them on the chain," Karen Abe said. "They just laid down and said 'mom we understand.'" "I told them before I put them on the chain, 'get what you need.'"

Yes, yes, all very terrible and all that, but I think this woman could have done a lot worse. If she was telling the truth about the reactions of her two darling boys ("we understand"), then, well, … Put it this way, what does Rational Parenting or other such websites and authorities on niceness recommend that would actually have worked any better?

Advisers. Try not to say only: "I wouldn't start from here." Suppose you are starting from there. You've done your best, you're doing your best, but your devil brood are out nicking cars every night as soon as your eyes are shut. What do you do?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:00 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
April 24, 2003
Party titbits

I've just done a quite long posting on Samizdata about the influence of children's toys on later artistic tastes, so I haven't time for much profundity here. But I did attend a social event last night at which I picked up a couple of titbits of interest here.

First, I learned that however interesting a figure Maria Montessori might be in herself, not everyone admires her influence, in the form of your average Montessori school. On the contrary, I encountered the opinion that Montessori schools are employment opportunities for dimwitted women who would otherwise have no place whatever in the teaching profession, and that in general they tend to be extremely disappointing and unsatisfactory places, full of kids being bored to death with pointless objects and just meandering around doing very little. Well, I'm just passing on what I heard.

The other little titbit I gathered up has a bearing on the bilingual raising of children. One of my friends told me last night that she knows of an Anglo-Dutch couple, with a kid. Dad talks to the kid entirely in Dutch, and Mum talks to the kid entirely in English.

The kid is not yet at the stage of talking. He's only at the repetitive nonsense words stage. Nor does he read books yet, for real I mean. But he is at the stage where he turns over the pages of books he already knows from them being read to him. Now, get this. When he "reads" books that his Dad has read to him (in Dutch) the repetitive nonsense noises are Dutch noises, with lots of "ch"-ing from the back of the throat, but when he "reads" Mum books, English books, the noises he makes are different, more of the "Grrrrh!" variety. I love that. I've no idea what it proves, or if it proves anything at all, but I love it.

At the party I also met up with occasional contributor here Julius Blumfeld, who had some very interesting things to say about the role of bias in education (he's for it!) which I urged him to write down and send in. If he doesn't do this reasonably soon, I hereby serve notice that I myself will attempt here to summarise what he said.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:23 PM
Category: LanguagesParents and children
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April 23, 2003
Don't reward!

Yesterday I linked to this site and at it I today found this piece, which includes the following quote from Maria Montessori herself:

Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments, such as gluttony, vanity, or self-love, in order to foster in him a spirit of work and peace. And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts. I then urged the teachers to cease handing out the ordinary prizes and punishments, which were no longer suited to our children, and to confine themselves to directing them gently in their work.

Of all the notions I've so far got today from my further reading of Paula Polk Lilllard's book about Montessori, this is the one that has most intrigued me.

I don't yet know whether Montessori intended this idea to apply to older children as well, but it certainly makes sense to me that it might.

When someone rewards you for what you've done, it is as if they have taken possession of your work. They've made it theirs rather than yours. Accordingly, you lose interest, because it isn't yours any more.

This idea also reminds me of an earlier posting I did here about a lecturer who once visited my school. Intrinsic to the enormous pleasure I remember taking from this event was that nobody tried to test me later to see if I'd been paying attention to it properly. I decided what it meant and which was the best bit and why it was so good. And I recall once refusing a prize for some work I did during a holiday from the same school, about town planning, as if shaking off the unwanted attentions of an over-affectionate relative.

The organisation Taking Children Seriously also makes much of the notion that there is something deeply manipulative about rewarding children from doing "good work", an idea which I must say didn't make that much sense to me when I first encountered it, but which I think I get better now. I wonder if this lady, the leading light of TCS, had read lots of Montessori before she got into her TCS stride, or whether it was just a case of a good mind echoing a great one independently, or perhaps just breathing the air that had been perfumed by the great one.

If Montessori has been as influential as I surmise, this might also account for some of the fierceness with which many teachers oppose the current government-lead enthusiasm for academic testing. What such critics presumably have in mind is that lots of literacy testing, for example, may indeed create a generation of children who certainly do know how to read and write, but it may also create a generation of children who don't actually like to read and write very much.

Taking the same idea into early adulthood, it is a familiar story for recent university graduates to be repelled by the whole idea of intellectual activity for about two years after they leave university, because while there they forgot how much fun thinking seriously and systematically can be.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:59 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
March 18, 2003
How to influence children and stay friends

One of the better books ever written about salesmanship is How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

It's some years since I've looked at this book, but as I recall it, its central message is as follows.

You start by stating, unambiguously, your sales pitch. You are selling double glazing, which means that if the guy you are talking to ever wants to buy double glazing, you want him to buy it from you.

Having stated your message, you then switch to discussion mode, and you let him set the agenda. You talk about anything he wants to talk about. If he has questions about double glazing, you of course answer them as best you can, emphasising the benefits of double glazing for him, reassuring him about possible problems and how to avoid them. On the other hand if he would like to discuss golf handicaps (this book is a very golf handicaps sort of book, from the discussions about golf handicaps era, i.e. a previous one to ours), then you talk about golf handicaps. Whatever he wants to talk about is what you talk about.

And then, eventually, he decides to buy some double glazing.

I mention this because I was recently asked by a Parent how to persuade Parent's Child to get serious about learning to read. I replied with the above salesmanship doctrine.

Parent starts by hard selling learning to read to Child, in one memorable session, amassing reasons, rhapsodising about benefits. Then, thank Child for listening to the sales pitch, and for agreeing to think about it. Then, shut up and let Child decide, answering any questions but not doing any more selling.

A common technique of persuasion used by parents is the quite different method of relentless nagging. Every day, in every way, Parent gives a little sales pitch to Child about Child learning to read.

The drawback of this method is that it doesn't allow Child to arrive at Child's own decision. Instead Child is forced to defend itself for inaction, and this may result in the creation by Child of a cast iron reason for not reading. Nagging, in other words, may stimulate resistance, and in general associate in Child's mind reading with unpleasantness and nagging.

The say it once and then shut up method works because the Child assimilates the sales pitch, processes the sales pitch thoroughly in Child's own mind, and thereby makes the decision Child's own.

Well, that was the idea.

And it worked! Child is now busily learning to read. Parent is helping, answering all questions, providing feedback of all kinds, making suggestions about how to organise the learning effort, but Child is in charge. Best of all, Parent and Child remain good friends, instead of soldiers on the opposite sides of a domestic war.

I'm sure I've somewhat oversimplified this happy story, and am even more sure that the above exaggerates my own contribution to it. Nevertheless, that, as I understand what happened, is what happened.

I surmise that perhaps what makes so many people so very suspicious of the idea of children deciding what they will learn and when, is that this is confused with parents not giving any advice or opinions to their children about such matters at all. Parental decision or parental nothing are assumed to be the only choices. Command, or indifference. Given only that choice, I too would probably go with command.

Old fashioned hard-selling salesmanship is the happy medium, combining concern for the autonomy and independence of Child with concern that Child does indeed learn what Child will need to learn.

Our culture – and most especially the basic intellectual tools (the 3 Rs etc.) for getting to grips with all the rest of it – does have to be communicated to the next generation. But the way to do this is to sell it to them, not force it down their throats. If the 3 Rs are as essential as most adults think they are, and they are, then the sales pitch, for that reason, ought to be very persuasive.

And that's how to do it.

Other sales pitches won't be as persuasive as the Learn to Read pitch, and that is as it should be.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:35 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
March 07, 2003
The swearing son

Breaking news! The son of Minister of Education Charles Clarke (he of the sticking out ears) has been supended from school for swearing at a member of the staff, who had confiscated his football. I first heard this from BBC TV, but for a written report here's what education.guardian.co.uk has to say. According to the BBC Mr Clarke said that the school "acted properly". Hard to see what else he could have said under the circumstances.

This reminds me of the ruckus that happened when the Home Secretary's son got mixed up in Drugs in some newsworthy way that I don't now exactly recall. It's fun when the political gets personal, but my better self hopes that it all blows over quickly and is forgotten, which I'm guessing it will, and will be.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:44 PM
Category: Parents and childrenPolitics
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February 03, 2003
To segregate by gender or not to segregate by gender

Okay, busy day today, so here's another of those BEdBlog quota fulfillers.

My friend Antoine Clarke offered this suggestion earlier this evening about what I could put here, and here it is, as best I could make it out.

Parents! You don't want any of this freedom-for-children we-only-want-them-to-be-happy nonsense, do you? No. Course not. You want the little swine to become barristers and brain surgeons and Nobel Prize winning physicists, and to blast your DNA to all corners of the earth inside long lasting and well funded dynasties. Right? Right. Ah, but how to accomplish this?

Part of the answer is to be found in managing the gender mixes. Younger children do best at mixed gender schools, so when they're young that's what you send them to. So far so easy.

But older boys, boys in the grip of the puberty hormone storm, they do best in mixed gender schools, where the urge to show off to the girls causes them to excel at worldly achievement and to bash ahead with their exams and their CV adorning extra-curricular activities the way they never would if they had only each other to show off to. (Boys impress each other by becoming criminals,) So you send your boys to mixed gender schools.

Girls on the other hand, do better at girls-only schools. Girls in the grip of the puberty hormone storm, if at mixed gender schools, neglect their school work and instead concentrate on showing off to the boys with make-up and figure enhancing outfits.

So, you need mixed schools for your boys, and single gender schools for your girls.

One of the more interesting questions you can ask about any social science finding is: what if everyone knew it? What would happen then? If all parents acted on this finding, or rather if all parents tried to, there'd be mayhem.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:28 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
January 31, 2003
Friends

Does anyone read this blog regularly, but not this blog - Rational Parenting - regularly? I guess there must be some (and definitely vice versa of course). To those few I say, do make a point of reading this latest posting today, about the value both to parents and to children of parents having a network of friends. Quote:

… nobody needs support networks more than parents do.

So far so relatively obvious. But this is where it gets really good, I think.

But I wonder how many people think of the advantages to the children, of having extra adult friends around? Whether or not those adults want to be "babysitters", interaction between them and children can be beneficial on both sides, and lead to very satisfying and mutually educational friendships, with none of the baggage of the conventional parenting role. And it seems likely that children who get a chance to observe adult interaction, and listen in on adult conversation, and have their questions answered when they are interested enough to ask, are learning something very valuable indeed.

If you tell people ideas verbally, they can pick them up rationally. If you demonstrate ideas in action, a whole lot of inexplicit extra material is added to the theory. This is what I think is conveyed by the expression, "Actions speak louder than words". So, better than just helping your child have all the friends he wants and solve the problems he finds with them in good ways, is also helping yourself to do the same and making sure your child knows about it and sees it in reality. There are things we can learn from watching people interact that we can't easily learn any other way.

As I say, really good stuff. Although me now being part of Alice's own network of friends, I am very biased.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:16 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
January 13, 2003
Welcome to Rational Parenting

I've spent today wrestling with another article for another blog, which I still haven't finished. However, I am aware of my BEdBlog duties, so here's my posting for today.

Which says: Welcome to Rational Parenting, the new specialist blog being run and mostly written (so far) by Alice Bachini. There's been lots of stuff there since it got started just over a week ago, more than enough to convince me that it will be sticking around and have new things to say most days.

My favourite bits so far have concerned an interesting parental duty, namely the duty to be happy:

Having grown up surrounded by the powerful bad meme that money-earning work is a total pain that just gets in the way of real life, I think that giving your children a definition of work as an inconvenient endurance test is very wrong and very destructive indeed. It's easy to do, all it takes is to arrive home exhausted, only ever say negative things about your job, never show signs of joy at getting up and going out of the house in the morning, and most of all, never do anything to remedy this appalling state of affairs if you can possibly help it (due to being too fed up and tired from the job). This way you can make your children think the following:
a) adult life is horrible,
b) having a family destroys your freedom, permanently,
c) the point of life is weekends and a comfortable retirement.

I think that's rather profound.

In a comment on this, Alice has already said that Rational Parenting is getting a very healthy hit rate. I'm sure this will climb a lot higher as the word gets around. I expect to learn a lot from it, and regularly to be commenting on and reacting to its contents.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:16 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
January 06, 2003
Internet privacy for children?

Should children keep their privacy? What happens when a doting mother turns her three year old daughter into a global internet celeb? Or a doting father? (You need to scroll down a bit until you get to "Gnat" references.)

The doting mother, in particular, has lots of very sensible and nice-sounding things to say about how to raise a little girl, and it all seems to be going well:

I'm a little obsessed -- too much so -- about her reading development because both Darin and I could read by the time we were three and I've wondered, Is this sort of thing hereditary? Should I be encouraging it? As it is, I don't think I'm pushing her beyond being receptive to her questions about letters and words. We read her books, we gave her foam letters and numbers to play with, we let her see us reading and writing all the time. She's clearly interested in reading. But there are no flash cards, no enforced sessions of teaching her words or anything. When she wants to, she will. Believe me. When Sophia wants something, she's extremely determined.

Great. Lucky little girl to have such a nice and sensible mother. But are there circumstances in an imaginable future when mother will regret having written so freely and so publicly about her daughter? I really hope not, because I find this sort of stuff delightful, and it is infinitely to be preferred to hideous puffery from politicians about how their next national or even global educational initiative is finally going to sort out all of education for everybody.

I'm told that the email discussion groups associated with/spun off from Taking Children Seriously have an ethic embedded in them that you do not publicise the details of your children's lives, because that isn't fair. Alice Bachini evidently has a child/children, but we remain in ignorance of what it/they consist of (how many - which gender - how old etc.), and that is, I'm sure, entirely deliberate.

However, the problem with this anonymity policy is that if you are attempting some new, improved way of raising children, and are also recommending your methods to others, it helps a lot if you can allow yourself to talk in public and in some detail about how exactly it is working out for you.

Personally I think that objecting to parents boasting and chattering about their darling little ones on the internet – how well they (the children) are doing, and how well they (the parents) are doing bring them up – is like objecting to flooding on a flood-plain. It happens. Yes, there will be problems attached to it, just as there are problems attached to women voting, to the lower classes being allowed to switch jobs or switch houses just because they feel like it, or to growing up as the son of Tom Cruise or of the Queen of England. Like it or moan about it, this is what childhood, for many children now, is going to be like, and everybody involved is going to have to get used to it. Which they mostly will. But I'd love to hear other opinions about this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:50 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
December 19, 2002
"Compulsory education is about compulsion not education"

There has been the mother of all comment battles concerning a posting yesterday by David Carr on samizdata, on the subject of the jailed mother of two truanting girls:

A mother-of-two has been jailed for failing to prevent her daughters from playing truant from school.

The Brighton woman was sentenced to seven days in prison and is only the second parent in the country to be jailed because her children skipped lessons.

Says David:

I am at a loss to understand how these two children, or the society of which they are a part, have anything to gain from being forced back into a situation where they are likely to be nothing except sullen and resentful prisoners? Very few people take the view that forcing human beings to work in state-owned factories on government-mandated projects will be in any way beneficial yet nearly everybody is entrenched in the dogmatic belief that doing the very same thing to human beings under the age of 18 will be nothing but beneficial.

This is an orthodoxy to which I once held myself: education is good, but children don't realise this. Therefore prescribed and generally agreed packages of learning must be forced on them for their own good. Is this true? I must confess that I have no ready alternatives available nor any glib answers on what parents should do instead. But I do know that I am increasingly unsettled by noxious enforcements of the kind reported above and by the quiet, persuasive ideas of people like Alice Bachini.

Compulsory education is about compulsion not education. It is a received wisdom to which I am finding it increasingly difficult to subscribe and which I believe should be revisited and re-examined at a systemic level.

The comments that this posting provoked are as contrary and as impassioned as any on samizdata that I can remember. For instance, Peter Cuthbertson:

I realise this won't move you one iota, but when this happened last time, both the truants in question started attending school again, and the mother admitted that making her face her responsibilities in such a way was the right thing to do.

If you have a principled objection to compulsory education, this won't change your mind. But clearly plenty of good can be derived from such rulings. I hope to see more of them.

"SmilinK" agrees:

Asking children if they *want* to go to school is insane. No one wants to go somewhere where they are forced to work, where they are judged by the results of said work, and where negative consequences ensue for poor effort. It's always easier to sit at home and watch the tube. Compulsory education prevents people from making that most erroneous choice, through ignorance or sloth. …

To let children decide for themselves, with their still-growing brains and total inability to plan ahead, would be truly immoral. Not to mention the degradation of their lives as a result.


Mike Peach:

All a child needs is a desire to learn. All that school does from day one is tell children not to have a desire to learn but to do as they are told. …

I despair of your attitude. Instead of asking the question "Do you want to go to school?" ask them if they want to learn and the answer will be resounding "Yes". That is until they have been to school and had the desire to learn knocked out of them.

I could go on and on but unfortunately the only way you will see the light is to take the "school" out of yourself.

By the way, a year ago I would have agreed with your view. However, having had my son out of school for that time now and watched him grow and develop into a rational, independent and free spirited individual I can confirm that "school" is nothing but a confidence trick and a totally illogical one at that.

And so it goes on, and on and on. Something tells me the various teams aren't going to convince one another. For what it's worth, the dominant opinion seemed to favour compulsory education, but to oppose state provision. Peach and Bachini versus the Rest. This seems to be emerging as the pattern in this corner of the blogosphere, with the surprise switch by Carr being the one change.

Me? For the moment my attitude is: Man Who Sit On Fence See Further. I'm thinking about it. Because I'm sorry, but I see genuine merit in both teams.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:13 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
December 02, 2002
John Holt

If I had to name a single person who made me interested in education to the point where I would one day decide to start an education blog, that person would be John Holt. This interview is a good start in understanding Holt's way of thinking.

What struck me most about Holt when I first read him was that he was just as opposed to the bogus liberation of "progressive" ideas as then mostly understood, as he was to what I have been describing in this blog as the "Prussian" approach.

… from many experiences during this time I began to see, in the early '70s, slowly and reluctantly, but ever more surely, that the movement for school reform was mostly a fad and an illusion. Very few people, inside the schools or out, were willing to support or even tolerate giving more freedom, choice, and self-direction to children. Of the very few who were, most were doing so not because they believed that children really wanted and could be trusted to find out about the world, but because they thought that giving children some of the appearances of freedom (allowing them to wear old clothes, run around, shout, write on the wall, etc.) was a clever way of getting them to do what the school had wanted all along - to learn those school subjects, get into a good college, etc. Freedom was not a serious way of living and working, but only a trick, a "motivational device." When it did not quickly bring the wanted results, the educators gave it up without a thought and without regret.

The trouble with the "progressives" of the 1970s was that, although strongly inclined towards contriving more freedom for children, they tended simultaneously to be opposed to freedom for adults. This was because most of them had a blind spot about capitalism, which is the economic system that free people will always contrive if allowed to, and which free children would also have participated in, if allowed to. Yet most of these progressives wanted children to be "free" only to challenge capitalism, never to participate enthusiastically in it. So, the progressives faced a choice. Was it to be freedom for both adults and children, or freedom for neither? They mostly chose: neither. They satisfied themselves with replacing the old curricular orthodoxies with new orthodoxies of the kind they preferred.

A doctrinaire pro-capitalist enthusiast like me faces a similar problem. What if children want, of their own free will and despite anything I say to them, to become fervent anti-capitalists, perhaps because of all those other things that others have said to them? What do I do about that?

I also ask: what happened to John Holt? And what has happened to his ideas? Do the de-schoolers, the un-schoolers, the home-schoolers still revere him, or do many of them have their doubts? Holt died about a decade ago, I believe. Does the internet offer any informed yet serious or even severe criticisms of his ideas?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:55 PM
Category: Parents and children
[0]
November 02, 2002
What sort of animal are we?

I've just done a(nother) posting over at Samizdata about a dog-training lady by the name of Jan Fennell. Fennell, in her book The Dog Listener makes much of the similarities between her work and that of Monty Roberts, "the man who listens to horses". Both these "trainers" started out by asking about the nature of the species they were dealing with. Roberts started with horse nature, and Fennell with dog nature. (Basically, horses are herd animals, and dogs are pack animals.) And then they each communicated with their animals by trying to communicate the way a horse communicates with other horses in the herd, and the way dogs do in their dog pack.

My question is: what sort of animal is a human child? What behavioural signals does a human child naturally respond to? Natalie Solent, in connection with her recollections of starting out as a teacher (in a comment here on this), recalled being told "never turn your back on them". Is that merely war psychology as she implied, or is that perhaps a more basic human behavioural signal?

The problem that we as humans have in thinking of our fellow humans in this way is that, being in the thick of human society ourselves, we are unable to get outside it, and see it the way a psychologist of another species, so to speak, would see us. I'm sure that if I were a high IQ spider, or a high IQ dog, say, I would observe obvious things that humans do with each other that make them utterly distinct from spiders and dogs - things which we humans don't find it easy to notice, the way we can register spider nature or dog nature.

Another way of phrasing the same question is to ask: what is it that gives some teachers "natural" authority? Why will children queue up to learn from one teacher and hang on his or her every word, while refusing to attend to another unless coerced or terrorised?

The debate about "freedom for children", "taking children seriously" and so on, seems to hinge on the view taken by the critics of such notions that they involve treating children as something different from what they truly are. To "give" children "too much" freedom is said to violate their essential nature. That is how it appears from the anti side. Yet for the pro-freedom team (which includes me) letting children do things their way seems to us precisely to be working with the grain of their nature, rather than against it.

I realise that knowledge is power, and that power can be used both to do good and to do harm. The teacher who knows all about child nature could then shamelessly manipulate or indoctrinate or brainwash his charges. However, it's worth remembering, in this connnection, that Monty Roberts started listening to horses precisely so that he could persuade them to obey him without him torturing them, in the manner of the horse trainers (horse "breakers") he seeks to influence and/or supplant. Fennell's passion is learning to be the kind of dog owner who does not drive her dogs crazy but who instead makes a happy life both for herself and for them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:18 PM
Category: Parents and children
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