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Chronological Archive • December 28, 2003 - January 03, 2004
January 03, 2004
Rachel Boutonnet

This is interesting:

The playground at the Jacques Prevert primary school, beneath the flight path of Charles de Gaulle airport, is typical of many in the Paris suburbs. There are Turkish and Chinese children, Laotians, Senegalese and Algerians. A minority are white.

From her classroom, Rachel Boutonnet can see them chasing each other round as she writes out grammar exercises on her blackboard. "Some of their parents say I'm a bit too serious," she says. "But I'm not here to amuse the children. I'm here to teach."

"Grammar," she writes. "Articles and nouns. Cut the words into syllables."

She doesn't look trad, but she is, very:

with her best-selling book, Secret Diary of a Teacher, she has lit a fire under France's educational establishment. In it, she describes her year at the main teacher training college, where she found a culture so intellectually vapid and soul-destroying that many trainees became depressed or lost their vocation.

I strongly urge reading the whole article, because picking out the "most interesting" bit has already been done, by the writer and the editor. Forced to pick only a couple more paragraphs, these would be the ones:

"We were constantly taught that the important thing was to give children the desire to learn," she says. "I disagree. I think all children want to learn. The important thing is to give them the desire and capacity to work."

She believes this is even more important with immigrant children who need all the help they can get in a new culture. "They need a grounding in the basics so that they can move up in society," she says.

As the report notes, all this is highly relevant to the argument about Muslim headscarves.

As I say, read the whole thing.

The idea that freedom works best in a shared culture, where what everyone wants to learn is much more automatically what they will end up being most glad to have learned, but that, where there is no shared culture to start with, the heat of a shared melting pot should be switched up by an old-fashioned pedagogue is one of those basic education propositions I'm always on the look-out for.

Were I faced with a similar teaching problem to Ms. Boutonnet, I would prefer to think of it as hard selling rather than pure compulsion, but in practice it might well amount to the exact same thing. That's if I was up to it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:10 AM
Category: Primary schools
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January 02, 2004
The educational value of television and of the internet in combination

I'm not in Edublogging mode right now. Normal service, as already stated, will only resume next Monday. But today, while concocting this posting on my Culture Blog.

I was struck once again by the educational value not of television as such, nor of the internet as such, but by the two together.

The telly told me about a new skyscraper I'd not heard of, and google got me to all the info about it. Without the telly I wouldn't have known what I was looking for. Without the internet I wouldn';t have gone looking, and found it.

It is a common pattern in the history of new communications that when a new method arrives, it gives new value to older ones, despite widespread theorising to the effect that the new method is nothing but a threat to the old one. The printing press thrashed out new stuff to talk about. TV sells books. Now, the internet makes of a snatch of telly reportage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:37 PM
Category: TechnologyThe Internet
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December 30, 2003
AIBO version 3 robot teachers get nearer

From time to time I put up a posting here about the long-term educational significance of robots. This significance is huge. Sometimes, commenters here or in conversation tell me I'm wrong. It'll never catch on, they say. But it will. I'm right. They're wrong.

The deservedly world famous AIBO for example, if the Sony Corporation sticks with it (which the Sony Corporation shows every sign of doing), is absolutely bound to bond with small children sooner or later, and then think what that might lead to. That it might not all be good, I concede at once. That important things along these lines are somewhere in the human future seems to me only a matter of time and effort, both of which are inevitable short of a seriously big nuclear war or other catastrophe.

Here's a slice of a Telegraph report from before Christmas. I apologise for the better-late-than-never nature of this link, but better late than never.

The introduction of the Sony AIBO robotic pet that acts as your best friend and which can be set to sleep at certain times and knows when it needs to be charged marks a significant step forward in robotic technology. The first Sony AIBO was introduced in the UK in 1999 and represented a vision to combine technology with Artificial Intelligence to create an entertaining companion.

The third generation ERS-7 AIBO boasts enhanced communication skills and new levels of functionality and is evolving from a source of fascination and entertainment into a more functional, endearing companion aiming to facilitate interaction between humans and robots. It opens up a world of possibilities for enthusiasts and it is a notable step forward in the development of artificial intelligence as well as domestic robots.

A world of possibilities indeed, and not just for "enthusiasts".

See also ASIMO, which I also commented on here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:40 PM
Category: Technology
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December 29, 2003
On doing nothing and on what cookies are

I have recently had another of those episodes known in the USA as a learning experience.

For some mysterious reason, after Michael Jennings had logged into Samizdata and done a posting under the heading of "Samizdata Illuminatus", when I later logged in as myself, what I then posted also appeared under the moniker of Illuminatus. I didn't realise this, but Michael spotted it, changed the heading to me, and informed me of the oddity.

I then broke one of the cardinal rules of computer use, which goes: if you have a problem which you do not understand, do not try to unleash a solution which you do not understand. (I'm sure that many far wiser heads than I have formulated this as a Law and given it a name.)

Despite being baffled by what was going on, I tried to correct matters.

It doesn't matter how. Suffice it to say that I made the situation a lot worse, and not just for myself. Whether I have now truly learned this lesson remains to be seen. We will only know for sure next time I have a puzzling problem with my computer, and either create more havoc, or make the wise decision to do nothing and seek help. Would that I had done the latter this time around. I "knew" this Law already. But I didn't know it well enough, I now realise. When I most needed to pay attention to it, it wasn't there at the front of my mind, shouting at me to stop. (See also comment number one here.)

The second thing I learned is something of the meaning of the word "cookie" in a computing context. I didn't learn very much, just something. This learning experience took place by talking to Michael about what was wrong, at any rate as far as me posting stuff on Samizdata was concerned, and then watching him correct that when he kindly visited me this morning.

I find it hard to learn anything about computers unless I have to, either to get something very good done, or, as in this case, to correct something very bad. There's just too much of a general, you-never-know-when-it-might-come-in-handy nature to ever be able to learn, without a carrot in front of you or a stick up your backside. That's what I find anyway. But I get enough good stuff from my computer, and into enough difficulties from time to time, to learn lots anyway. Too bad that the latter process sometimes also involves learning what I should not have done.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
Category: BloggingLearning by doingRelevance
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