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Chronological Archive • November 10, 2002 - November 16, 2002
November 16, 2002
Score one hit for BEdBlog

Buried in among all this from here a week or two ago is me complaining, from a position of sublime Brit-based ignorance about something called the "No Child Left Behind" campaign or initiative or Presidential (Bush jnr. in this case) Directive or program or whatever they call it over there. I say it's politics and I say the hell with it, was my line, going on nothing but the fact that it definitely is politics.

Well now here's someone who sounds as if he actually knows about it, Michael Lopez of Highered Intelligence (expect a properly organised link Real Soon Now blah blah blah), complaining a lot more loudly than me about this thing, which he calls the "No Child Left Behind So Let's All Stay In Place" Act - which tells you something more right away, yes?

Please read what Lopez says, but if you absolutely insist on only taking my word for it, at least read this quote that Lopez got from here:

Perverse incentives work. A law where the consequences mean that Arkansas has zero failing schools and Michigan has 1,500 is bound to have unintended consequences--every state strives to be Arkansas.

Says Lopez:

That is a very. . . poetic way of putting it.

Say I: That's politics. The difference is that when you or I or for that matter Michael Lopez start doing something idiotic, we can stop as soon as we realise that it's idiotic, say sorry, and switch to something non-idiotic in the space of about two days - maybe a couple of weeks if we're in charge of something complicated. But This Thing is now a law. To change a USA version of one of those you either have to wait about four years minimum, or else get the incumbent President of the United States to say very loudly: "I am an idiot." Good luck.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:42 PM
Category: Politics
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Quote Unquote

"There are many things the government can't do, many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people."
- Lord Acton, quoted by Gary M. Galles in a piece about Acton for the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:50 AM
Category: Politics
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Baton Rouge-grad

Here's something to cheer up our weekend, from Apple a Day: The Daily Weblog of a first-year schoolteacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This is one of the entries from last Saturday (Nov 9):

Idiocy of the Week

I can't control whether heat or air conditioning comes out of the vents in my classroom (something made readily apparent as I baked last Thursday). That decision isn't made by me, or my principal, or the superintendent, or even anyone in the state of Louisiana. The decision as to whether my kids get air hot or cold is apparently made by someone at a company in Atlanta, Georgia, 525 miles away. (And let me assure you, there aren't a series of thermometers with ethernet connections at my school sending up to date classroom temperature information to the Peach State) Does this seem a little Soviet to anyone else? Would it be too much to give teachers control over a fricking thermostat?

Something tells me you haven't read the word "Soviet" on BEdBlog for the last time, and I don't mean only in connection with the old Soviet Union.

The most Soviet stuff I've heard recently has concerned the lying that afflicts the British state education system about how well it is doing. The statistics of British educational "achievement" are sounding more and more like Soviet steel production figures, and I'm sure it's just the same elsewhere. This used to be called "cheating", and only cheating pupils who were not old enough to know any better did it. If caught they were severely punished. Now cheating afflicts all levels of the British state system, most definitely including the politicians at the top, who routinely lie about exam results, and pressurise those lower down to do likewise. Just recently the disease has spread to include lying about how well the private sector in British education has been doing, only in this case the lies state that they have been doing less well than they have.

But back to the joys of downtown Baton Rouge. Have a read of this, from Wed Nov 6th:

I call the experienced teachers veterans. People use the metaphor of the 'war zone' often when describing inner city schools. I don't think that it's simply metaphor. When I showed up in Baton Rouge for TFA preinduction, a group of us cornered a second-year, and asked him to describe his first year of teaching. He paused, reflected for a moment, and then said, "Well -- I guess it's sort of like going to 'Nam." We all laughed ...then. But as my time here lengthens the parallels become more striking. The Veterans here in the schools, just like soldiers, have had long experience of being treated like mushrooms (i.e. kept in the dark and fed sh*t) by the folks above them. As a result, they rely primarily on each other for support. Here at my school, there's even a tendency to refer to each other by last name only, (making me "Reece," something I hadn't been called since I played ice hockey.) In both situations, what you find is the gallows humor and grim camaraderie of perpetually unpleasant circumstances. I should probably elaborate on all this, but for now I'll just leave it at that.

As will I. No matter what exactly you mean by "education", it shouldn't have to be like this. But I guess that's the Draft for you.

Although, I might not have minded if I'd been taught how to write by this man.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:26 AM
Category: The reality of teaching
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November 15, 2002

Thanks very much for a link, and for a quote from here and a supporting comment, to Daryl Cobranchi of Homeschool and Other Educ. Stuff, which is definitely going to be a regular read for me. (The "and" is supposed to be a squiggle but Samizdata Blogczar Perry de Havilland says that can cause trouble. I know. You learn something new every day.) Daryl, expect more references from here to you. And thanks for commenting on something else here, and thereby letting me know about this.

And apparently I have Steven Gallagher (who thinks and therefore can't sleep) to thank also. So thanks also to Steven.

Patrick (he's the BEdBlog caretaker), please can you put Homeschool etc. on the "Education friendly blogs" list? The link to the sleepless thinker will have to wait until the big links sort-out that I'll be doing Real Soon Now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:33 PM
Category: Home education
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Geography – environmentalism - compulsion

Finally, I'm picking up the threads of this "Education Blog" thing, and have an honest-to-god link from this guy (Steven Chapman) to this guy (Alex Standish of Spiked) to give you. Standish writes about how the environmentalist agenda has taken over the teaching of geography. New Zealand educated (which I didn't know until now) Chapman comments. Make of it what you will.

I'm as and maybe even more inclined to think that one bunch of old-school propagandists is being pushed aside by the next lot. If you set up a machine for compulsory "teaching", even if it is for compulsorily teaching children to think for themselves, don't be amazed if even nastier zombies steal it and do some more serious damage with it. Not sure. Discuss.

One thing I'm a bit more sure of is that turning the clock back is a hell of a lot harder than defending the existing settings, and that the only way to chase out environmental propagandising may be to banish propagandising of any kind. Then, if you want old fashioned geography like-we-used-to-have-in-the-good-old-days-in-New-Zealand, do what they do with a new soap powder: argue for it, sell it, push it, plug it, but don't compel anyone to buy it if they don't want to.

Do what I'm doing here, in other words.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:55 PM
Category: Bias
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More Colcloughing

Once again I typed "Education" into google, and what was hit number one? That's right. Professor Christopher Colclough of UNESCO. I told you this stuff wouldn't go away.

LONDON: Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and India, home to 61 per cent of world's illiterate's adults, will not be able to achieve 'Education For All' (EFA) by 2015 unless special efforts are made, said a Global Monitoring Report here on Wednesday.

The 2002 "Education For All Global Monitoring Report: Is the World on Track" was launched at a press conference by Prof. Christopher Colclough, an eminent British education expert at UN Information Centre here today. It is prepared by an independent, international team based at UNESCO in Paris as part of the follow-up to the Dakar Forum and is funded jointly by UNESCO, unilateral and bilateral agencies.

Prof. Christopher Colclough explained the salient features of the report which has set six EFA goals at the Dakar Forum a few years back which are, to ensure that all children of primary school age would have access to and complete free schooling of acceptable quality, the gender disparities in schooling to be eliminated. Its aims include that levels of adult literacy would be halved, early childhood care and education would be expanded, learning opportunities for youth and adults would be greatly increased and all aspects of education quality would be improved.

Spot the deliberate mistake. "Its aims include that levels of adult literacy would be halved …"

As I said in my first report on all this, the temptation is to find the silliest thing being said (as I just did), to have a laugh and then to forget about it. But what we are witnessing here is the attempt to create a worldwide Ministry of Education. The effect of that, if it happened, would be to crowd out the efforts of more effective and more directly accountable freelance local educators who would provide a better education system at a fraction of the cost that UNESCO will incur. This is no joke.

With luck, UNESCO will be ignored by all those "donor countries" whom Colclough is now berating, and what money is donated will be pocketed by corrupt Third World politicians and bureaucrats. This will leave the field free for the voluntary and free market operators to do their stuff.

Education in Britain first started to be seriously nationalised in 1870. By then mass literacy was pretty much an accomplished fact, and although the effect of nationalised and ever more compulsory education was gradually to slow down rather than to accelerate educational development, state educators took the credit for the momentum that had already been established by the private sector.

But Britain, in contrast with the Third World now, was cursed (for these purposes) with an honest civil service. Money collected for education was money spent on education, and thus the serious educational damage could begin. So there is hope that the Third World education story may also turn out okay, despite Professor Colclough's worst efforts to mess things up. As I have also reported before, the Indian education story enables us to be optimistic.

Something tells me that BEdBlog readers have not heard the last of this Colclough character.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:12 AM
Category: Politics
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November 14, 2002
Calling Amy – and then maybe Patrick

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:05 PM
Category: This and that
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November 13, 2002
On not caring

Last night I watched the movie About A Boy on DVD, which stars Hugh Grant as Will, a lazy living-off-inherited-interest stay-at-home kind of guy, who spices up his solitary life with lots of entertainment toys instead of with people. "No man is an island" says his TV as the opening credits roll. Replies Will in voice-over: "… if I may say so, a complete load of bollocks … This is an island age." Can't think why it appealed to me.

For well-plotted but too complicated to explain reasons, Will finds himself befriended by Marcus, the son of a hippy-dippy suicidal single mum, who dresses like a CND demo and who not only loves Marcus a lot, but does things like say so out loud just as she's dropping him off at school. This turns Marcus' life at school into a living hell.

Much is made of the "role of the father" and the value of "male role models" in the raising of boys. This film (and the book by Nick Hornby on which it is based) explains something of what it is that a man can bring to the business of raising boys. Example is not the point, or not the only one. The great thing about Will is that he doesn't care. He cares about himself, not the boy. So when the boy turns up at Will's black leather, giant TV, tubular steel furniture bachelor pad and barges his way in, he finds an emotionally empty space within which to escape from the hell of school and the emotional minefield of life with mum. He can just chill out.

By the end of the story, Will has himself grown up a bit and is getting out more, which is also on my to-do list, but never mind that for now. My point here is that not caring is a very important thing you can often do for other people. If you don't care, you don't try to force their minds in certain directions, because you don't care what direction their minds go in. You don't force them to make rapid "progress", because you don't care whether they make progress or not. Consequently, they can make whatever progress they want, in whatever directions they want, and really get to learn things.

We in Britain have a very caring government just now, especially in matters educational.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:09 PM
Category: Boys will be boys
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November 12, 2002
Nature - and how to nurture it

For me one of the highlights of the Libertarian Alliance/Libertarian International Conference last weekend was the talk given first thing on Sunday morning by Stefan Blankertz. Listening to a German talking in a definitely German accent about genetics pressed all kinds of irrelevant Anglo-Saxon buttons installed in me by a thousand movies and TV shows, but I strongly recommend that such silly prejudices be shoved aside, and that you also give some attention to this lecture, the entire text of which is now available at Liberalia, the website run by Christian Michel. Blankertz is an uncompromising libertarian, and this was one of the most sensible and humane talks about the relationship between nature and nurture that I've ever attended.

The starting point of his argument was the inescapable fact that children are not all alike. His schematic sub-division of them for the purpose of explication into three learning types - the Worker, the Craftsman and the Student - was almost as crude as the claim that all children are identical, but this enabled him to make his subsequent points, and insofar as genetic differences between children are actually a lot more complicated, as they surely are, then that only lent yet more force to his argument.

If you subject all types of children to an education best suited only to "Students", said Blankertz, then you will not maximise educational achievement. The way to do that, as most sane educators acknowledge even if they may not all care to trumpet it too loudly, is to give each different child the different kind of education that will enable him or her each to make the most progress.

But how do you know what that is going to be? Do you let the parents decide? That's probably better than trusting the state to get it right. But what if some parents, perhaps through an ambitious refusal to face the facts about what sort of child they really have, want their "Craftsman" child, say, to be treated as a "Student", on the grounds that this will turn their child into a Student for real, but will in fact only turn him into a badly educated Craftsman? Blankertz's answer is for the children themselves to have more freedom of choice in the matter.

In short, said Blankertz, summing up:

My conclusion of the Nature versus Nurture debate is as follows:

1. Saying that intelligence is "genetically" determined does not imply that it is not affected by environmental factors.

2. For best results do not choose one environment for all, but the best one for each individual.

3. In order to choose the best environment for each individual we would need complete information, which we don’t have. The next best thing is the market process.

And the next best thing is not the one-style-fits-all insensitivity of many state education systems.

Most state education systems now try to treat all children as "Students", and regard any suggestion that, for example, "Craftsmen" should instead start working in their mid-teens alongside fully qualified adult Master Craftsmen (which is what Blankertz recommends) as insulting. The result of this demand that all students should be "Students" is a shortage of well educated (in craftsmanship) Craftsmen, and dole queues full of badly educated and rebellious ones.

(A Swiss attender of the conference told me afterwards that in his country they follow the recommended Blankertz approach devotedly. The result is a country abounding in profoundly respected and very skilled Craftsmen, in which everything technical works flawlessly and is ready bang on schedule. The contrast with my own Britain is almost too painful to think about.)

Blankertz also took time out to criticise the argument put forward by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in their book The Bell Curve. Murray and Herrnstein say that the reason why black children in the USA are not helped more by the state is that they are genetically inferior. But what if this "help" is of the wrong kind, and is actually harmful? Said Blankertz:

What is curious about Charles Murray is that in his former book Loosing Ground he seemed to say exactly this: The welfare state programs actually harmed the underprivileged who were supposed to profit from them. This hypothesis gave Charles Murray some credit among libertarians. But in The Bell Curve he argues that people who do not react positively to the welfare programs could only be genetically inferior. This is just bad science.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:41 PM
Category: Selection
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November 11, 2002
The aesthetics of literacy teaching

I've just finished putting a comment about the Reading Reform Foundation at the end of a piece by Friedrich of the Two Blowhards. Two Blowhards is a blog which I and several other Britbloggers have a particular affection for. This latest piece is about the fact that the people whom Friedrich had hired to teach his child to read didn't know - and worse, didn't care - whether the methods they were proposing to use were the ones that would work the best.

Friedrich identifies an aesthetic response to their preferred teaching method on the part of the teachers he was up against, an angle on this debate I haven't encountered before. Not surprising that he might spot such a thing, though. The Blowhards are nothing if not aestheticians.

I'm still recovering from The Conference (see the previous post but one) so a proper first push from this blog for these guys is beyond me at present. Let it suffice for now for me to say that regularly reading their blog is an education in itself.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:21 PM
Category: Literacy
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Teachers versus TV

"If you can read this, you must be old" says Joanne Jacobs (to whom many thanks for the link to here last week), ruminating on the declining state of literacy learning in the USA. I say literacy learning, because it is not entirely clear to me that the cause of the problem, if problem it be, is that American children are being taught badly. I suspect it may also be that they are being entertained well. I further suspect that these two influences may be intertwined.

I have heard a number of reports and recollections over the years about the surprising excellence of education behind the old Iron Curtain. One explanation for that is that the old USSR and its various colonies made good educational decisions. But when you consider the crassness of so many of the other decisions these people made, this doesn't strike me as a wholly satisfactory explanation.

How about the utter non-excellence of Soviet television? (This was once memorably described by Oz-in-Britain Clive James as "Grandstand without the sport", Grandstand being the BBC weekend afternoon sports show, and there are now people here who regard Grandstand as being Grandstand without the sport, but that's another argument.) In the absence of an enticing televised popular culture, Soviet-empire children often had nowhere else to look besides school for excitement. And when they got there, their teachers were not cursed by unfavourable comparisons between their mundane selves and magical popular entertainers, because there were no magical popular entertainers, only stuffed shirt puppet propagandists for a government that had turned boredom into an art form. In the West, by contrast, ever since the nineteen sixties, teachers have been fighting a constant battle for the hearts and minds of their pupils against the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Simpsons and Friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I'm not saying that popular entertainment shouldn't exist. I love popular entertainment. What I do say is that running a compulsory, class-room-based me-talk-you-listen me-command-you-obey school system has got a whole lot harder now that the stuff outside the classrooms has got so much more diverting.

In short, most of what is now called "teaching" has got a lot harder, and if teaching has also got worse, that may well be a big part of why it has got worse.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:43 PM
Category: Literacy
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November 10, 2002
Some thoughts from the LA/LI conference

Yesterday was day one of the Libertarian Alliance/Libertarian International conference at the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place. I attended, but had not expected to get anything from it to say on this blog. However, Professor Christie Davies (author of among many other things this) proved me wrong.

Davies, who was a last minute replacement speaker, talking about Equality, mentioned how raising the school leaving age has increased violence in schools, by imprisoning frustrated low IQ man-boy hulks who then take it out on their teachers. Do you know, he asked, which state in the USA has the most school violence? We didn't of course, and he told us the answer: Hawaii. That's because the many Japanese people living in that state, fanatical about the virtues of education no matter what, have caused the school leaving age to be eighteen, no less. The other ethnic groups, not sharing the Japanese passion for education, are the ones directly responsible for this distressing statistic.

One other thing. During the Q&A after Davies' talk, he had an interchange with Sarah Lawrence (of Taking Children Seriously), who had been the first speaker at the conference, but who had talked about the similarity between political and parental tyranny, along the lines of a publication soon to be available on line from the Libertarian Alliance. They talked about education vouchers. And I discovered that I think I oppose the idea of education vouchers. This is because vouchers will necessarily involve the government roaming the land, deciding what is and what is not a school. And the less of that they do, the better. If the vouchers people ever get what they want, look out home schoolers. In fact look out any place where the people there think they're doing education, but which the government does not now control.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:10 AM
Category: Home education
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