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Chronological Archive • January 05, 2003 - January 11, 2003
January 10, 2003
Me giving a talk about all this in Putney tonight

I've just had a phone call from my friend Tim Evans, who alternates with me in running Friday speaker evenings, mine on the last Friday of each month, his on the second Friday. Tim being a person with a far higher metabolic career rate than I, he periodically sits down at his desk and fixes the next year or so of speakers, but periodically he also finds that he has a meeting coming up VERY SOON, and hasn't fixed any speakers AT ALL, even for TONIGHT, let alone for the next entire year. (I just tend at any particular time to have the next one or two speakers lined up.) And so it is today, for the first of Tim's meetings of 2003. So, not being able to arrange a proper speaker at such short notice, he has asked me to speak, about my educational blogging activities. What's that about? Why blogging? Why education? Etc.

I'm a blogger because I've always been a blogger, long before official blogging was invented and computerised. The natural span of a blog posting (which I now believe to be as much to do with the size of the computer screen as to do with attention spans) has always suited me. I used to do "jottings" for Sean Gabb's Free Life, and it was those which told my fellow Samizdatistas that I ought to be one of them. How right they were.

Blogging also suits me because, although not lazy exactly, I am not good at what is called "research", that is to say, prolonged self-immersions in bodies of thought or activity with nothing to show for it until all the immersing has been done. I like to dabble in things, to flit about, to hop from flower to flower, and to pass on whatever little half-masticated titbits I discover to other members of the hive, without having necessarily made full use of or fully comprehended each titbit myself, on a "don't know quite what this means exactly but it sounds interesting" basis, rather than being fully sure for sixteen pages. I've always wanted to do lots of "research" about education, but I couldn't face all those piles of books and reports I thought I would have to lock myself away with and plough through, before writing anything. Blogging, for me, is an alternative way of learning, nearer to conversation. For me, blogging combines most of the virtues of conversation, with most of the virtues of publication. See my earlier remarks here on blogging as a method of self-education. As I am fond of saying, the ambiguity embedded in the title of this blog ("Brian's Education") is entirely deliberate.

To put the above in another way, if blogging does deal with an attention span problem, that problem is not so much with the readers of blogs as with the writers of them. There's probably nothing wrong with your attention span. But the sustained concentration over a minimum of several days that old fashioned writing requires, is, on the whole, beyond me. And a man's got to know his limitations.

(And by the way, just as I was always one of life's bloggers, so too, in a similar way, I was always a desktop publisher. Long before that got computerised I was doing desktop publishing with scissors and glue literally cutting and pasting like some three-year-old at a nursery school, and for once the word literally literally means literally.)

The topics I expect to touch upon tonight may include: the politics of homeschooling (possible laws against it), the economics of homeschooling (a cheaper way of sending the little darlings to Eton and Balliol, basically), the "Sovietisation" of education (a persistent theme here), the impact on education (or lack of it so far) of computers (ditto), and, you know, whatever else pops into my head or anybody else's head on the night.

I hope also to touch upon the general topic of specialist blogging, if you see what I mean. Basically, I'm strongly for it, because it keeps the stuff separated out. It doesn't deluge readers with stuff they probably don't want to read, in among stuff that they might. Specialist blogging improves the information to noise ratio. I predict, for example, that Alice Bachini's specialist parenting blog will get more regular readers than Alice Bachini's personal whatever-comes-into-her-mind-at-that-moment blog, even though I personally love the second one especially.

Although come to think of it, Perry de Havilland gave the last talk for Tim in Putney, on samizdata blogging, and we covered specialist blogging then. So I guess I ought to talk education education education, rather than blogging blogging blogging. Probably a good thing.

Address to attend the meeting: 19 Festing Road, Putney, London SW15. Get there between 7pm and 8pm.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:56 PM
Category: Blogging
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January 09, 2003
Educational computer games?

You may recall me writing here about educational software. I persist in expecting good things along these lines eventually, if only because this kind of thing has only to be cracked once. This - and my thanks to Joanne Jacobs for the link to it - is the kind of thinking I had in mind:

Education is a proven means for investing in our future. But while American schools are notoriously under-serving their students, kids are rushing home to learn how to succeed in alternative universes. Video games compel kids to spend dozens of hours a week exploring virtual worlds and learning their rules. Barring a massive overhaul of our school system, Nintendo and PlayStation will continue to be the most successful at captivating young minds.

Over 60% of Korean homes have broadband Internet access. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games are immensely popular there; increasing numbers of people spend hours each night fighting monsters together online. The largest Korean textbook distributor Daekyo and an independent software design firm JMCJ (Interesting & Creative Co., Ltd.) have joined forces to make a massively multiplayer online role-playing game in which children can study math, science and history: Demiurges. These people intend to make it possible for people to play in a virtual world saturated with real-world knowledge.

I suspect that children learn somewhat more from those 'commercial' games than Justin Hall goes on to imply, but that aside, I like his attitude.

This was from a piece he did in response to a question about what President George Bush should be thinking about science policy. My answer to that would be as little as possible, and if the answer to Justin Hall's answer is that President Bush decides to throw government money at educational computer games, my answer to that would be that this will, as always with government money, impede that which is being 'helped' and not help it at all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:51 AM
Category: Technology
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January 08, 2003
A good homeschooling meme-pair

Michael Peach, who, by the way, has moved to Movable Type, reproduces the full text of a press release from Schoolhouse, the Scottish homeschooling group. Go to him and to Schoolhouse for the full story, but meanwhile here's my favourite bit of the press release, favourite because of the delightful metaphor at the end which I'm sure lots of readers of this will already have heard many times but which was new to me:

In the face of blanket opposition, the Executive had to admit they got it badly wrong. However, they still seem intent upon interfering without justification in the lawful educational choices of those whose dissatisfaction with school education in Scotland has reached unprecedented levels. According to the results of a New Year poll, 30% of parents would home educate their children, which is hardly surprising when we consider research findings which demonstrate the superiority of free range learning compared to the factory schooling model.

"Free range learning". "Factory schooling". I like these phrases. To be spread about, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:27 PM
Category: Home education
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January 07, 2003

From Daryl Cobranchi comes news of Karate classes for homeschoolers. Interesting. Entrepreneurs advertising their wares direct to homeschoolers. Sports activities are an obvious niche market here. Homeschoolers tend to be rather intellectual types, not given to instructing children in the delights of violent physical activity, or so I guess. So, send them to some classes. Have them join a local sports team.

There's recently been a row buzzing along in the USA about whether homeschooled children should be entitled to participate in school sports teams. I can't for the life of me see why they should have any such "right", but the USA being the litigation-mad place that it is, it apparently suits some people to claim such a right. However, what homeschooled children clearly should be allowed to do is apply for membership of sports teams/clubs/classes that are happy to welcome them. Classes like these Karate lessons.

At one of the places where I was helping out my friend who ran the Kumon maths centre, there were sometimes Karate classes going on in the room next door. Some kind of "martial art", anyway. The guy in charge was as excellent a teacher as I've ever caught a glimpse of in action.

First, he was in charge and he did things his way, without serious challenge. Polite request when confused, yes, often. Challenge never. This was because, at any moment, he could decide that any particular misbehaving child was more trouble than the money his parents were parting with, and exclude him. Or her, because there were quite a few girls taking part. End of all "discipline problems" right there. Everyone present behaved impeccably. Any newcomer who thought he could make mischief never stood a chance.

What struck me, so to speak, about these "martial arts" classes was that although the children present may have supposed that all there were learning was how to be more violent, what they were really learning was no less than civilisation itself.

The children were all told to get changed into their Karate kit in an orderly fashion, and to put their regular clothes in sensible little heaps. They all lined up the way he said. They all turned up on time. They left the place impeccably clean when they'd finished, all helping to make sure that all was ship-shape and properly closed-up when they left.

Were these children being "coerced"? Certainly not. They didn't have to be there, any more than The Man had to teach them Karate if he didn't want to. If they wanted out, then out they could go, with no blots on their copybooks or markings-down on their CVs.

What I remember with the most pleasure about those Karate kids were the splendid ceremonial greetings that The Man taught them, of the kind they did before and after all their Karate contests. Hands together Indian-style (or small Christian child praying) combined with a Japanese style bow. Whenever I met any of them, they and I would take great pleasure in thus greeting one another.

As I say, these children may have thought that all they were learning was how to be more violent. What they were really learning was how to control their own violence, how to apply it only when that was appropriate, and in an appropriate way. And more fundamentally, they were learning how true authority is exercised for the time being by someone whose authority they recognised applying it to them, but in the future, you may be sure, by their older selves, when their turn comes to hand the torch of civilisation on to the next generation.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:30 PM
Category: Home education
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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
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