E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
Chronological Archive • February 02, 2003 - February 08, 2003
February 07, 2003
Mary Whitehouse lives

Julius Blumfeld puts a different slant on why he likes to home educate ...

Mary Whitehouse was a slightly sinister old lady who, until her death at 91, was a ceaseless campaigner for censorship of all the many things she disliked. I always felt she was a jolly bad thing, but I fear I am beginning to turn into her.

The problem is that I really don’t want my children to be exposed to the horrors of the modern world. I include in that category: discoes, crop-tops, any book written after 1950 (except Josie Smith), any word ruder than “silly”, the non-existence of God, the non-existence of fairies, slang, sex (of any kind), computers, most other children, popular music, mobile phones and television.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind these things for other people’s children. I don’t mind them for me - I write as an internet and TV addicted atheist who makes full use of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary when the need arises. It’s just that when it comes to my children, I make old Mrs. Whitehouse look like a 60’s Liberal.

When we started down the path of home education, my motives were largely educational. I always felt that schools were a wretched way to educate. Even the best schools tend to bore their pupils half to death, teaching irrelevant nonsense, badly (and I was lucky – I went to one of the “best” schools in the country).

But as time has passed, I’ve begun to appreciate more and more one of the indirect benefits of home education. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but for me the fact that we control what goes into our children’s minds is a very big plus. There’s always the risk that when they are older they will resent me for it, but I’d rather our children learned their values at home than from the knowing pre-teens who inhabit the modern school playground. And if that means a bit of censorship, I say “tough”.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:01 PM
Category: Home education
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February 06, 2003
Anything goes in art classes

Meanwhile, over at 2Blowhards, Michael has been taking art lessons, and isn't impressed.

I went to the first class last night, and was reminded of what a ripoff most art classes are. The woman teaching it seems nice and for all I know is a good artist, so I have nothing against this class specifically -- it seems like an OK version of the standard thing. It's the standard thing that's a ripoff (and that, in a sane art world, would be a scandal).

Last night's class, like about 3/4 of the art classes I've taken, followed this model: the teacher has set up a subject, whether a model or a still life. You bring a bunch of art materials with you. You draw and paint. The teacher wanders around, giving each person a little time and a few hints. You pack up and go home.

Like I say: what a ripoff. It's amazing the schools charge for this, and just as amazing that eager students put up with it. Would it be too much ask an art teacher to do a little actual art instruction? To have a little something prepared? To structure a series of classes so that the bit you learn this week joins together with the bit you learned last week, and you leave the term having acquired some genuinely new skills, and able to do things you hadn't previously been able to do?

Seems like a reasonable thing to demand. So why doesn't that get supplied?

… I guess I assume that what it represents is a coming-together of four things: asinine progressive-education ideas (let the student discover art for himself!), laziness and convenience, the continuing-ed business, and annoying modernist (ie., anti-technique, anti-skill, pro-self-expression) ideas about art. Do you think I'm off here? Or that I'm missing some other element?

I see nothing wrong about any of that, but maybe I can add something.

Consider that bit I did here about the Army, and how seriously they set about their teaching. Or consider, for that matter, the example of another kind of teaching that Michael does consider.

… Imagine, say, a cooking school or a cooking class. Now, imagine showing up, being confronted by a roomful of tools and ingrediants. And a teacher who says, "OK, class, cook! Every now and then I'll come around and give you a little criticism and help!" I know I'd be pissed. How about knife skills? Poaching? Grilling?

Cooking - and I'm guessing here but it seems to me, etc. etc. – still retains some semblance of pedagogic rigidity, in the sense that "good" and "bad" cooking are widely regarded as being distinguishable. If you cook an omelette (one of the few cookery things I'm quite good at doing) for a minute or two and watch for when it is done and then dish it up it, you can get a very good omelette. Cook the omelette for half an hour and then give the ruins ten minutes in the fridge, and you will absolutely not get a good omelette. I don't know any omeletteer who would disagree about that. It would be wrecked. Get your cooking seriously wrong, and you might even kill people.

If the Army gets its teaching wrong, it will definitely kill people. They teach right, or people die. In such a world, the mind of the teacher is going to be concentrated wonderfully on doing the job a certain way, the right way.

But what they hell is the right way of doing art these days? The artists have spent the last hundred years trying to explain that there is no right way, that anything goes.

And the irony is that Michael Blowhard – with his exuberantly wide-ranging willingness to appreciate and to enjoy, and to pass on by if he doesn't enjoy with a mere "well it's not my thing, but if it's yours, then fine" – is now doing his bit to reinforce this atmosphere, as well as to undermine it somewhat by asserting his tendency to enjoy more traditional, that is to say artistic-skill-based, varieties of art.

I want techniques -- the "art" and "expressive" end of things I'll take care of myself. Or I won't. But I certainly don't want some teacher I don't know trying to take charge of that end of things. But techniques? I'm eager to learn, and I'll pick 'em up where I can get 'em. Yet the art-instruction establishment doesn't want to give them to me, or even, apparently, sell them to me.

When Michael says "techniques", he's not referring to the technique for writing outrageous press releases, or the technique for how to dress on TV in such a way as to cause maximum anger to the bourgeoisie. He means brushwork, etc. So does anyone teach this old-school art technique stuff? Still?

I stay "still?" because in my opinion another reason why anything goes in painting these days (can of worms opening warning force eight to nine) is that painting has, in terms of its contribution to the real-world economy out there, been pretty much replaced by photography. Painting's days of economic glory and artistic centrality are over. Anything goes in painting for the same reasons that you can, within the limits only of the criminal law, do anything you like in a bombsite.

Short second last paragraph. Big subject. Which I'll get back to, but mostly in another place.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:32 PM
Category: Adult education
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Bashing on regardless

As in the greatest matters, so in the smallest. Compare this, from a Telegraph piece by Charles Moore (linked to by Instapundit):

Yes, America reserves its right to act unilaterally, but it bases its policy on the paradox that it is only by convincing people of your readiness to be unilateral that you can win multilateral support. …

… with this, from me, here, the day before yesterday:

At the top of this it says: "E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages."

Do I make myself clear?

Only too clear, I guess. But don't worry, don't feel obliged to respond if you don't entirely feel like it. BEdBlog will bash on regardless, I assure you. If there are no contributions from the class, I'll just keep on chalking and talking.

Power projection. Don't you just love it?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:54 PM
Category: This Blog
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February 05, 2003
The British Army as a teaching organisation

The British Army is an organisation for fighting, right? Well, yes. But consider instead: The British Army is an organisation for teaching. And add: The British Army is an organisation for teaching people how to teach.

I asked my education-how-about-that? question (see posting below) to a friend of mine who is a British Army Captain. First, I got a big spiel about the decline of education in Britain generally. But then, we really got down to business, because my friend had a lot to say also about how the Army itself educates.

He started with "EDIP".


"EDIP" stands for: Explain, Demonstrate, Immitate, Practice.

First you tell them what you are going to tell them how to do. Then you show then by doing it yourself. Then you make them to do it. Finally you make them do it over and over again until they've got it as second nature.

That's what teaching in the Army consists of. But there's more. My friend then talked about how you, in general, set about teaching, about how you set up a lesson, about what you do before EDIP and after EDIP.

I need to look at my notes.

"Preliminaries, setting up – seeting plan – what are you teaching? – do you have all the kit you need?"

Before you launch in on the "explain" bit, where you tell them what you're going to tell them, you tell them why it matters, and why they personally will benefit from paying attention. Big picture, individual incentive. Incentive might mean a test at the end which they'll have ot pass. Fail and you have to do it again, etc..

After that you do EDIP, and then, at the end of the lesson, very important, you do that test. You check that what you thought you had taught them you actually did teach them. Failure to understand this distinction will risk many lives in very fraught circumstances. You have to be sure that they actually learned it.

And then finally, you look ahead to the next lesson and tell them what that's going to consist of.

Central to the Army ethos is that if you want to really learn something, there's no better way than to learn how to teach it. Thus, one of the first steps (not the final step as you might expect) in a major Senior Officer type career is that you become an instructor at somewhere like Sandhurst.

Second, although my friend the Captain made a great performance out of all this, he himself doesn't do that much teaching himself. He leaves that to his N(on) C(ommissioned) O(fficers), the Sergeants and Corporals who are the human backbone of the British Army and always have been. So in other words, the reason my friend is so fluent about How To Teach is that he has already been involved in teaching his subordinates How To Teach. Be an ace sniper by teaching sniping. Be an ace teacher by teaching teaching. The British Army is an organisation that teaches teachers.

Finally, if my prose has become somewhat excitable in this posting, this is because as soon as I started to write this I jumped back into the mood of the original conversation, which was also extremely enthusiastic and animated.

I had pushed a major Army button with this education question. I cannot promise that all of the above detail is exactly correct. I probably got important things somewhat wrong, and I can just about guarantee that I left important things out. But this I can tell you for sure. Asking a Captain in the British Army about how he sets about the business of teaching is like opening a window into his soul. To say that this is what he does, or what he thinks about a lot, is to underestimate it. This is what he is. This, minus all the state secrets that obviously can't be used by way of illustration, is it. This is the fundamental question to ask these guys if you want to know who and what they are.

Ask them about what fighting is like, and half of them don't know. The other half have no way of telling you, other than to refer you to certain books which hint at the reality of it. But ask them about teaching, and it's like uncorking a shaken champagne bottle.

I expect to be asking this question to many more teachers in the months and (who knows?) years to come, as and when I encounter them, and I expect many further fascinating answers.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:11 PM
Category: Adult education
[3] [1]
February 04, 2003
You are probably a teacher yourself

One of the reasons I set this education blog up in the first place was that I hoped it would give me an excuse to ask questions of people that would immediately take the conversation above the level of trivia. And it works, let me tell you. I find that the question: Education – how about that? is often an instant ice-breaker and profundity provoker.

In particular I have taken to collecting teachers, in the sense that I am trying to identify as many different attitudes to and techniques of teaching that I can discover out there.

I recently gave a talk around the subject of this blog and its contents. Instead of just starting the discussion part of the evening by just sitting there and waiting for questions, I instead asked everyone present what kind of teaching they'd done in their lives. There was only one "teacher" present, but there was also, it turned out, a home schooler, and almost everyone had done some teaching of one kind or another, guest lecturing, staff training, or some such. There was even someone present who used to perform regularly at Speaker's Corner, which sparked off an immediate discussion about the similarities between teaching and political propaganda. Speaker's Corner, if you're wondering, is a little part of Hyde Park Corner set aside for anyone who wants to to speak about anything he wants to speak about. Bloggers Corner before blogging, you might say.

The link between regular education and propaganda, if you're wondering about that as well, is, of course, that in regular teaching you often also have to persuade, rather than just to instruct. You often have to persuade your pupils that what you want them to learn is worth learning.

Are you a teacher? You probably are. Think about it. There you go, I told you you were. You worked in a night club and taught drink serving to drink servers. You have customers, who have to learn quite a lot about the kinds of services you are providing if they are to get their money's worth, and you've learned that some techniques of "education" simply don't work on these people, while other decidedly odd ones work very well.

The underlying assumption behind all this is that the one place in the world where education is now pretty stagnant is … schools! Practically everywhere else in the world, and especially of course in the home and at "work", education is roaring ahead. And the chances are you have not only received education in such circumstances as these; the chances are you've also been a provider of it.

At the top of this it says: "E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages."

Do I make myself clear?

Only too clear, I guess. But don't worry, don't feel obliged to respond if you don't entirely feel like it. BEdBlog will bash on regardless, I assure you. If there are no contributions from the class, I'll just keep on chalking and talking. The above began life as a mere introduction to a piece about teaching in the British Army.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:05 PM
Category: This Blog
[1] [0]
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
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