E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
Chronological Archive • December 01, 2002 - December 07, 2002
December 07, 2002
Cryptic comedy links

Daryl Cobranchi thinks that this is funny. I agree.

Question: are cryptic links like this, Instapundit style, a good thing?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:05 PM
Category: Home education
[3] [0]
Now that's a teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:44 AM
Category: This and that
[0] [0]
December 06, 2002
The academic origin of Silicon Valley

Here are two theories about the relationship between universities and economic development:

Theory One: Economic development causes universities. The idea that paying energetic young people to sit around talking about post-modernism is good for the economy is so far beneath beneath contempt it needn't even be discussed. The relationship is like that between the husband being rich and the wife having a diamond necklace. His wife has the necklace because he can afford it. The necklace absolutely does not make him any richer. Quite the reverse.

Theory Two: Good science and technology universities can cause economic development.

In his book Cities in Civilization (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1998), Peter Hall identifies the key fact that created Silicon Valley as the move by one academic, Frederick Terman, to Stanford University (p. 427), in 1924:

Completing his Ph.D., Terman accepted a faculty position at MIT. But, before this, he was stricken with tuberculosis while visiting his family and spent the year 1924 in bed; he stayed at Palo Alto for his health, and became a professor of 'Radio Engineering' at Stanford.

Hall then quotes Silicon Valley Feaver: Growth of High-Technology Culture by E. M. Rogers and J. K. Larsen (Basic Books, New York, 1984. p. 31):

Thus, but for the fickle fact of being struck with a serious illness, Fred Terman would probably have become the godfather of Boston's Route 128, instead of its counterpart in Santa Clara County. And without Fred Terman, Silicon Valley might never have happened.

Says Hall:

It is not an exaggerated verdict: his role as godfather of the incipient industry was crucial, and without it the rest of the story would probably never have taken place.

Hall then quotes M. S. Malone's book The Big Score: The Billion-Dollar Story of Silicon Valley (Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1985, pp. 20-21):

During his tenure as head of the communications laboratory (1924-45), it was the focal point of the college careers of many bright young scientific minds on campus (much as the computer lab is to 'hackers' now). Because of this, until the end of the Second World War and Terman's promotion to dean, the Stanford communications lab was the heart of technological innovation on the West Coast. By the time Terman moved on, the ties between Stanford and the surrounding electronics industry were so strong that the university was all but guaranteed its present role of providing apprenticeship to each generation of high-tech leaders.

In Hall's next few paragraphs student names like "Hewlett" and "Packard" figure prominently.

And then another fluke happened. Hall again (p. 429):

At this time Stanford's main problem was how to convert university land into money, since the original Stanford land gift forbade the sale of any part of the 880-acre Farm. Terman, by now vice-president, and Wallace Sterling, president, hit upon the idea of a high-technology industrial park. The 660-acre Stanford Industrial Park, created in 1951, was the first of its kind; Terman called it 'Stanford's secret weapon'. Leases, necessary because of the injunction against selling, were granted to high-technology firms; originally the scheme was just a means of making money, but soon the idea developed of technology transfer from the university to industry.

Let me say it again, when Hall asks himself what the key event was that make Silicon Valley into what it became, he says: Terman. He even argues that the other candidate event, so to speak, the move by William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, from Raytheon in Boston to Silicon Valley in 1954. Hall reckons that, one way or another, transistor knowledge would have found its way to Silicon Valley anyway, with or without Shockley. The momentum of Silicon Valley, by then, was simply irresistible.

Having both contrived and to some extent lucked its way to the "Science Park" formula, Stanford University has now become a model for similar developments all over the world, not least here in Britain. (Thanks to John Ray for the link to this story.)

There, we sat in a modern conference room, indistinguishable from its counterparts in Santa Clara or Austin, and listened to a presentation by Powderject Ltd. on its new yellow fever and Hepatitis B vaccines and non-invasive powdered vaccine injectors. Some of the technology was more sophisticated than anything found at largest U.S. pharmaceuticals (one of which will likely buy Powderject any day now).

Powderject is, as we learned that morning, only one of dozens of new start-ups being backed by Oxford's own venture capital operation, called ISIS Innovation Ltd. Most are biotech, arising from the school's world-class chemistry and biology programs.

We in Silicon Valley like to pride ourselves in having no past, as if would impede our forward progress. But Oxford, which would seem to have the biggest legacy problem imaginable, also appears to found a way to build off that past, to even use it as a springboard into the future.

And if you follow that link, who do you find at the end of it, writing this ABC News story? A certain Michael S. Malone. That's right, the same man whose 1985 book is quoted in Cities in Civilization. This guy has had his teeth sunk into this Science Park story for the best part of two decades. If the example of Silicon Valley is now there for all the world to follow, it's because of people like Malone, who wrote the Silicon Valley story up in the first place.

This Oxford science park could be looking like a British success story in the making, except that, according to Malone, the European Union may be about to regulate it out of existence. But now I'm straying from my core curriculum.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:15 AM
Category: Home education
[0] [0]
December 05, 2002
Go Jo!

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

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

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

Or how about this?:

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

As Joanne says:

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

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

And this is probably my favourite:

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

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

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

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

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

As we say over at Samizdata, what a wanker.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:29 PM
Category: Blogging
[1] [0]
History in Harpenden and drama in Welwyn

Mark Holland emails thus:

My girlfriend is a primary school teacher at a very good (state) school in Harpenden Hertfordshire. The other evening she was helping out her friend and fellow teacher who is the history co-ordinator. I was asking about the (national curriculum - older infants) subjects covered and one is something like "Great Britain since 1948". We all looked at each other wondering what was significant about 1948 given all the other possible juicy historical dates around then. We tracked it down to being when the Empire Windrush arrived in port. Draw your own conclusions.

Not all BEdBlog readers will get that reference. The Windrush was the ship that brought the first big batch of post-war coloured immigrants to Britain from the West Indies.

Also tonight I was out at my evening class and whilst talking to some friends discovered that their kids' school (in Welwyn) play is next week. One child needs an oil drum costume! Funny Nativity I said. No it's some environmental bollocks called "and then came man" about the "destruction of the Earth". Jeez. It ties right in with the opinion as fact geography mentioned in the Telegraph the other week.

I'm fed up with the brain washing.

Thanks very much for this Mark. Aside from the potential Windrush confusion - emailers, please remember that blogs such as this are read by a global readership, not a merely local one this is everything a guest email to BEdBlog should be, full of facts and local detail. The pompous abstractions of national education policy bore me dreadfully, even if I agree with the policies being proclaimed. Specifics like this are a breath of fresh air by comparison, even if, as here, the news is rather dispiriting.

My perfect email to BEdBlog would contain news of an educational initiative that I admire, and which I could assist merely by passing on the news of its existence, for example by steering new helpers or pupils or financial assistance towards it. Dream on Brian. But dreams dreamt aloud can sometimes come true. Meanwhile, Mark's report will do nicely. Thanks again.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:01 AM
Category: History
[0] [0]
December 04, 2002
Piglets with snouts in public trough protest about having to pay (a bit)

BEdBlog readers have been getting far less sense out of me than they should have on the subject of how University education should be paid for. So let I'll let Perry de Havilland of Samizdata take up the slack for me:

Thousands of British students have gathered in London today in order to protest against a Government proposal to introduce university top-up fees. Coming from across the UK, they started marching at noon today (I am pleased to report it is pissing down with rain) in protest against a Government plan to require students to pay for at least some of their own university education.

Thank you Perry. Go there and read it all. (And watch that Samizdata hit rate go through the roof! ha ha.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:31 PM
Category: Free market reforms
[0] [0]
Sports gangs

I have already reported on some schemes on both sides of the Atlantic to bring rowdy and uncivilised boys into closer touch with the kind of good men they might become, rather than the other kind. Here is another such scheme. The US Football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, has a scheme to reward "socially disadvantaged" youths with tickets to games, if they behave themselves better. This is the "Honor Rows Program".

In Britain there is a crisis of youthful male energy, caused by the decline of team sports at schools. School sports grounds are now being relentlessly sold off for other more immediately profitable uses, and as the schools diminish into mere exam-passing machines, or worse, it seems to me that other more successful institutions in our society could and should be taking up the educational slack.

In Britain the obvious candidates are the big soccer clubs. These enterprises have traditionally tended to concentrate on their one obsession, winning first team soccer games. But you have only to think of the names of some of the big continental European soccer teams "Sporting" Lisbon, "Athletico" Madrid to realise that it doesn't have to be like this. And think of the big soccer team based in the Italian city of Turin. It's simply called "Juventus", which presumably means "Youth", or something very like it. It's nick-name - "Juve" - is even the same as the American slang word for a juvenile correctional institution.

Is anyone aware of any of the big British Football clubs Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and so on doing anything along these lines? (My fellow Samizdata writer David Carr is a big Chelsea fan. Maybe he knows something about this.) Obviously all these clubs have their "youth teams", but by the nature of things, the majority of the boys involved in such efforts tend not to make it into big-time professional soccer. So it would make sense for the clubs, if their youth team set-ups are to be attractive to the promising boys they want to attract, to make sure that the disappointed ones get a soft landing into adulthood, rather than just a hideous disappointment-for-life.

As the schools retreat to their (literally in this case) core curriculum, other institutions that are doing better could and should expand into this gaping educational void.

For what else is a sports team if not a socially acceptable re-invention of the youthful gang? You want to get rid of bad gangs? Set up other gangs, which do all that the bad gangs do that's fun (basically have exciting battles with the other gangs) but which break rather fewer of the rules of adult society.

The idea that boys can somehow be persuaded to refrain entirely from being boys for the duration is, by comparison, very foolish.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:48 PM
Category: Boys will be boys
[0] [0]
Alice in Cyberland

From Alice Bachini, who is getting very, very good:

The Blowhards regular TV Alerts blog (of which the latest example here) is a brilliant voice in the pro-TV universe. If all those TV-is-evilcationalists could just see this, they would stop arguing that TV is bad for people and contains no useful knowledge. Oh no, they wouldn't, those people are totally irrational anyway. I forgot.

Anyway, it's not just TV that's educational. So is the internet. Including blogs, like this other Blowhard epic monster-blog which is basically a complete lesson in art and art history. Except, it's a lesson by a free-thinking individual, rather than the product of some socialist college somewhere, so it makes sense and provides actual interest (and more, in fact).

I can hardly believe it. I have spent my entire life bemoaning the extreme difficulty of finding reliable sources of useful information, and here they are now at the end of a mouse. It's amazing. What chance before of finding an informed intelligent art-historian one can actually take seriously and whose ideas one can actually trust to contain some sense, in the meanderings of everyday life? Pretty minimal, I'd say.

And you don't have to spend three years at college to access it, either. This is how universities will die, if they aren't careful. People are not so dumb that they will value pieces of paper over real knowledge forever.

I do love a good sting in the tail.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:37 AM
Category: Technology
[0] [0]
December 03, 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 10:59 PM
Category: Parents and children
[2] [0]
December 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 08:13 PM
Category: Parents and children
[1] [0]
December 01, 2002
Univerzzzzzzity Finanzzzzzzz

I just cannot get myself into a stew about university financing. I know I probably should, and maybe someone will say something that eventually wakes me up. Meanwhile, if you are already excited about this, go to Liberty Log, where there's a link to a speech by the University of St Andrews Master and Deputy Principal Professor Colin Vincent, containing the suggestion that the government should go on paying for everything, but that the posh universities, like St Andrews, should get a bigger slice of the pie.

Alex Singleton says: "I can't see the rest of the country supporting it."

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:16 PM
Category: Higher educationPolitics
[1] [0]
Those were the days

For all of my readers who enjoy being told just how precipitately Western Civilisation has been collapsing lately, here is an 1895 8th Grade Final Exam from Salina, Kansas. Thanks to fellow Samizdata scribe Dale Amon for the link.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:50 AM
Category: Examinations and qualifications
[5] [0]