A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: Teach children philosophy!
Previous entry: Chivalry and its absence
Wednesday July 02 2008

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, and everyone at Kings Cross Supplementary seemed to be in a bit of a mood, certainly me.  Small Boy’s disposition was particularly negative, it having been severely aggravated by the fact that his little Nintendo games machine was doing something “mysterious”.  He used this word over and over again.  I am impressed that at his age he knows such a word, and its precise meaning, but I couldn’t solve the problem, which was making the games machine work as Small Boy thought it should.  Also he was coughing a bit, and I have yet to learn the medical diagnostic skills that are evidently part of the skill set of a Real Teacher.  Was Small Boy actually ill, or just reluctant to have yet more Education done to him, after a day spent having it done to him at his regular school?

We looked at maps of the world in a map book I had brought with me, and he pointed out different countries.  I persuaded him to allow me to pronounce country names that he didn’t know.  Namibia.  Zimbabwe.  Libya.  He pronounced ones he did know.  Morrocco.  Egypt.  Then he wrote, very badly, a list of countries, one of which was “United”.  But I guess that names of countries are often rather confusing.  How was he to know that United was part of United Kingdom when the Kingdom bit was quite a lot below the United bit? 

Small Boy used interesting arguments to explain that he needed no more Education.  I can already read, he said.  He came dangerously close to saying: “I already know everything”, which is obviously blasphemy if you are being Educated, and I subjected him to a big speech about he obviously had More To Learn because Everyone Has More To Learn.  (It never ends.  It’s a permanent treadmill.  You are Educated and Educated and Educated.  Then you die.  Welcome to the twenty first century, kid.  One of the more depressing things about being a teacher is the things you hear yourself saying.)

Smart Boy and Smart Girl both prefer talking with me to having Education done to them, but Miss Head Teacher was adamant.  They must do sums in the class.

The most memorable moment of the evening for me was when Mr Maths also made a speech.  “Smart Girl, why are you wandering around?  Sit down in your place.  If everyone wandered around, there would be Anarchy instead of Order.” It was like in a movie, where the script writer has completely abandoned realism in order to explain the Underlying Point Being Made In This Scene, except that Mr Maths really said that.  I’m afraid I was not much help to him, probably because I am an anarchist.  But eventually I was able to contribute to the imposition of Order with the necessary mixture of prison guarding and maths tuition.  So I guess that means I’m not an Anarchist any more.

Seriously though, one interesting educational issue did crop up, which concerns the methods used to teach things like long division and “long multiplication”.  (I’d never heard of that one before.) Every teacher and every school seems to use a different method for these things.  There’s the “grid” method, and various others I can’t remember the names of.  Do different methods confuse, for doing something like multiplying 57 by 34?  Or do different methods throw light on the underlying things that are really going on, the way that speaking several different languages is supposed to make children cleverer by giving them an instinctive philosophical grasp of what language is (and is not) that other children are denied?  I suspect that the clever kids – and all the kids at Kings Cross Supplementary seem pretty smart to me - do actually gain a bit from having sums that they find easy taught to them in an unfamiliar way.

Just after writing all that, I went in to the Civitas Office to find out how I was doing, in their opinion.  They were nice, but the message was unmistakeable.  Less Anarchy, please.  More Order.