Category Archive • Peer pressure
November 15, 2004
Single sex versus mixed sex schools

Co-education may be natural but that doesn't make it good, says Cynthia Hall, head of an independent girls' school in Oxfordshire.

From the BBC:

Mrs Hall is headmistress of the School of St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon and current president of the GSA, which represents 200 independent, single-sex schools in the UK.

She told its conference: "It makes me mad when I hear heads of co-ed schools dismiss single-sex education with the comment that the co-ed classroom is natural, as if being natural is all the justification one ever needed for anything.

"I believe that most girls benefit enormously from being in a single-sex environment during their school years."

A survey published by the association found that 90% more of its schools' girls chose physics or chemistry at A-level than in all schools nationally.

Mrs Hall said girls' education could suffer when they were taught alongside boys.

"In the teenage years, when girls are finding out who they are, the ability to camouflage in order to fit into a given environment is a highly perilous quality for girls," she said.

"It particularly makes them vulnerable to verdicts of others about their own incompetence."

"These years for girls coincide with the equally important years for boys in which they are testing out their strength, voicing claims they cannot yet deliver, seeing how much they can dominate the world around them."

From later in the same report:

A 2002 study by the National Foundation for Educational Research suggested girls in single-sex comprehensives achieved better results than girls in mixed schools, especially in GCSE science.

It also suggested separate schooling particularly benefited those at the lower end of the ability range.

… which makes sense. If you're at a co-ed school, you can cheer yourself up for being bad at school work by impressing the boys. No boys to impress, and exams, work, etc., are the only game to play.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:58 PM
Category: Peer pressure
October 17, 2004
Muzzled (not)

Alex Singleton did a Samizdata piece yesterday about an attempt to muzzle The Saint, a St Andrews University tabloid student publication which has apparently offended the muzzling classes. I commented that the muzzlers would only be making fools of themselves.

Sure enough, Joanne Jacobs, the Instapundit of Edubloggers, has already done a posting about this. Something tells me she won't be the last overseas blogger to notice this.

When you do something stupidly left-wing, there is now a whole new global readership waiting to guffaw at you.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:38 PM
Category: Higher educationPeer pressure
September 18, 2004
Anthony Daniels on why young British Jamaicans do so badly at school

Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple), now a regular contributor to the Social Affairs Unit Blog, says that young British blacks, or to be precise, young British Jamaicans, do badly at school not because of racism (the claim of a recent reportechoed by The Guardian) but because of the culture with which they have now surrounded themselves. Other racial minorities have thrived despite vicious racism against them. So what's with the Jamaicans?

If raw racial prejudice is not the explanation, then, what is the explanation? I think it is twofold. First, there is a marked lack of stability in the households of young blacks i.e. Jamaicans. This instability is seen in white lowest class households, of course, where it has precisely the same effects, except that the girls are less distinguishable from the boys, from the point of view of failure. Relative poverty does not in itself preclude constructive achievement among children, but when combined with a kaleidoscopically shifting spectrum of social pathology, it most certainly inhibits it.

Perhaps even more important is the culture that the young Jamaicans have adopted for themselves, both in England and Jamaica. It is not exactly a culture that promotes high endeavour in fields such as mathematics, science or English composition, to put it mildly. It is a culture of perpetual spontaneity and immediate gratification, whose largely industrialised and passively consumed products are wholly worthless sub specie aeternitatis. The young Jamaican males may have been sold a bill of goods by an unscrupulous entertainment industry, purveying drivel to morons, but they have bought it with their eyes open. Seen from the outside, at least, this culture is one upon whose valuelessness no execration could be sufficiently heaped.

By refusing even to entertain cultural characteristics as a possible explanation of failure, the combined forces of the Mayor, his commission and The Guardian are in fact serving to enclose the Jamaican black males in the wretched world that they already know and that already encloses them. They are, in effect, saying to them that the fault is not with them, their tastes and the way they conduct themselves, but with society as a whole. They are condemning them to a world of violence, drugs and familial insecurity.

Teacher Jane Smith comments:

Anthony Daniels is spot on – I have taught in London schools and his argument about Jamaican youth culture fits my own experiences. Teachers are however unwilling to say this publicly for fear of being branded racists. A problem which Daniels does not highlight is the fear that teachers have that parents will play the racism card if their children are put in detention or do badly at school. Thank you for an excellent article.

Comments from teachers (and from current pupils come to that) count at least twice here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:17 AM
Category: Peer pressureThe reality of teaching
April 30, 2004
Home-schooled – then mean

Interesting plot to this movie, I think you may agree:

Plot Summary: Raised in African bush country by her zoologist parents, Cady Heron (Lohan) thinks she knows about "survival of the fittest." But the law of the jungle takes on a whole new meaning when the home-schooled 15-year-old enters public high school for the first time and falls prey to the psychological warfare and unwritten social rules that teenage girls face today.

It's the way that "home-schooled" is now a standard feature of American life, needing no explanation. I intend to check this out on video, if only to see how the whole home-schooled thing is treated.

It's Mean Girls. And as is all very proper for a Hollywood movie, not many of us can remember sharing a school with girls like this:


Again, I've been wandering the Internet looking for pictures to decorate this. Although, perhaps this


Mean Girls still would be more appropriate for here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:35 AM
Category: Home educationPeer pressure
April 26, 2004
Do good pupils lift up bad schools?

Madsen Pirie writes about the belief that a bad school benefits from the presence in its midst of children from more motivated families.

The idea that academically gifted children, if they attended sub-standard state schools, would somehow inspire and motivate the others, is strange. It seems to belong to the fairy tales which social engineers tell each other round the camp-fires. In the real world such children are often bullied and demotivated, and scorned because study lacks any street-cred. Educated with others of their kind, however, they can become high achievers.

I'm not sure if I agree with that, in fact I'm pretty sure that I don't. Surely both sets of children are liable to influence each other, to the benefit of the bad ones and to the detriment of the better ones, assuming bad and good are what they are. It need not necessarily be an either/or thing. Madsen could be right about the damage done to the good pupils, but still ignoring the improving effect they nevertheless might have.

Not that this means that motivated families should be forbidden to educate their children as they see fit, just because said children radiate positive educational externalities, so to speak. Even assuming they do.

As it happens, there was a documentary on BBC4 TV (which I am watching a lot these days) last night, about a school in Stoke struggling to improve itself. The staff there certainly thought that having their best pupils enticed away by a neighbouring school, as had apparently been happening, was highly damaging to them. But was this because the remaining pupils then suffered, or merely because it lowered the overall exam success rate? They seemed to believe that the pupils left behind did suffer from the example of their betters being now denied to them, and it makes sense to me that this might be so.

My recollection of my own education is rather the opposite, though. I did best when I was near the top of the class. High status caused the juices to flow. As I proceeded to bigger and "better" educational establishments, I got demoralised at how much better than me the best of my numerous rivals were, and I got dispirited. Lower status lowered my energy rate. But did I actually do worse? Or was I merely not so happy? Maybe I would have been happier at less grand places, but have done worse.

As with so many educational questions: complicated.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:20 PM
Category: Peer pressure
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
September 01, 2003
Order versus anarchy in education - and the nastiness of sports jocks

This piece by Arnold Kling, which basically says that the longer you spend in the real world the less of a socialist you get to be, while if you spend your whole time mired in the unreal world of education you are liable to remain a socialist all your life, reminded me of an earlier essay by Robert Nozick, which I believe deserves to be remembered for a very long time. I'm referring to his Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

Kling's piece is about what changes. Nozick's is about what doesn't change.

Says Nozick:

The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. By incorporating standards of reward that are different from the wider society, the schools guarantee that some will experience downward mobility later. Those at the top of the school's hierarchy will feel entitled to a top position, not only in that micro-society but in the wider one, a society whose system they will resent when it fails to treat them according to their self-prescribed wants and entitlements. The school system thereby produces anti-capitalist feeling among intellectuals. Rather, it produces anti-capitalist feeling among verbal intellectuals. Why do the numbersmiths not develop the same attitudes as these wordsmiths? I conjecture that these quantitatively bright children, although they get good grades on the relevant examinations, do not receive the same face-to-face attention and approval from the teachers as do the verbally bright children. It is the verbal skills that bring these personal rewards from the teacher, and apparently it is these rewards that especially shape the sense of entitlement

But I found the next bit, under the heading "Central Planning in the Classroom", especially interesting.

There is a further point to be added. The (future) wordsmith intellectuals are successful within the formal, official social system of the schools, wherein the relevant rewards are distributed by the central authority of the teacher. The schools contain another informal social system within classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards, wherein rewards are distributed not by central direction but spontaneously at the pleasure and whim of schoolmates. Here the intellectuals do less well.

It is not surprising, therefore, that distribution of goods and rewards via a centrally organized distributional mechanism later strikes intellectuals as more appropriate than the "anarchy and chaos" of the marketplace. For distribution in a centrally planned socialist society stands to distribution in a capitalist society as distribution by the teacher stands to distribution by the schoolyard and hallway.

However, for evidence that things can sometimes fail to conform to theory, however enticing, you need only look to this Aug 18th posting by Andrew Ian Dodge, and to the comments that are attached to it. Here the intellectual is a libertarian, and he hates the non-intellectuals – specifically the sports jocks – for being bullies. Here the vital factor is not central planning; it is force. The geek hates the schoolyard, because the schoolyard is the arena of unapologetic force. (In the classroom, the force is apologetic.) And the geek is a libertarian for the same reason. The market may be anarchic, but at least it never beats you up.

As far as sports building character in young adults, all I have to say is: bollocks. It turns young adults into obnoxious bullies who think they are better than everyone else. It also helps to fuel the "it's not cool to show you are smart" attitude that pervades much of secondary education.

I'm now lurching way away from my original point, which was about whether schooling encourages socialism. Nevertheless, this is an interesting comment, about the differences between the USA and the UK, and I include it here anyway:

The British have a much healthier system for all of this. You are much less likely to be messed about with by jocks at British universities or schools than you are in the US. Of course, in the UK, they value intellectual capacity far more than in the US. It is not "uncool" to be intelligent. Jocks are a major blight on the education system in the US, and something needs to be done about it.

I fear this may be somewhat romantic. Besides which, the fact that sport counts for less and less in Britain's schools these days doesn't mean that the people who would have been doing sport necessarily behave any less nastily towards the geek tendency.

But my original point is that although in general the observations of Kling and Nozick may be right, there will always be people who won't fit into the boxes. Andrew Ian Dodge was a geek, but is no socialist. I was a geek, and I'm no socialist either. But what Dodge and I both have in common is that we both indulge in intellectual complaint about that "real world". It isn't socialist complaint, but it is still complaint. And although I can't speak for him on that, although I personally believe in capitalism, I'm pretty damn bad at actually doing it.

(And to complicate things still further, unlike Dodge, I like love to watch sport, even though, like him, I'm no good at it.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:53 PM
Category: Peer pressure
July 21, 2003
Black achievement versus black macho street culture

Anyone who combines being British with trying to be honest knows that there is more to British black underachievement than white racism, and that a big part of the story is a black macho culture of street-based anti-achievement, or perhaps one should say achievement of another sort. One day, maybe, some genius (don't know what colour) will manage to combine the best of macho black street culture with the best of white nerd culture. As it is, any black boy who shows the slightest tendency to go the black nerd way – to study, do his homework, try to go to university, etc – is liable to get the crap kicked out of him by his black "brothers".

This debate in the Guardian on this fraught subject is of particular interest, because it doesn't bang on only about white racism. Sample paragraph:

… The gospel I preach is a simple one. It asks black young men to look beyond the street and beyond immediate gratification. It asks some hard questions about their own responsibilities: homework, bedtime, respect for peers and adults, good manners, self-control and how to succeed in the system. Nobody is asking our boys these questions. We just get more politicians telling them they're victims of racism.

It's worth a longer read. Thanks to the Philosophical Cowboy who also alerted Joanne Jacobs to this piece, who also comments.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:35 PM
Category: Peer pressure