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Monday December 31 2007

Bishop Hill:

I’d actually read this before, but it’s still pretty startling. In Scottish schools, sex education lessons are mandated, but contraception may not be mentioned.

He’s talking about this, where Devil’s Kitchen offers a different answer to the limitations of sex education:

You want the rate of teenage pregnancies to come down? Fine: stop paying young girls to have children.

In general, teenagers behave as they do at least partly because of economic incentives, that is, in response to the circumstances of the life they know that they are about to lead.  If a teacher tells them lies about this life, or if he/she merely ignores the realities of it, they will not be impressed or persuaded, as sensible teachers surely all know.

Meanwhile, that sex education thing is apparently all to do with the Catholic Labour vote in the West of Scotland.

Perry de Havilland puts the case for home schooling, by simply copying out what she says.

imageBut, she’s doing okay for herself, isn’t she?  Her education hasn’t been a complete failure, even if she sometimes finds speaking English sentences in public hard.  As commenter number one here says:

Give her a break you people are all just jealous. I’d rather be hot than smart anyday!

My prejudice about girls who know how to organise their make-up and appearance when young is that later they are liable to be quite good at organising other things.  In other words, they ain’t necessarily so dumb.  Not so clueless, you might say.  They just had different priorities to the ones favoured by some of their teachers.

Sunday December 30 2007

According to this, I’m wrong about those laptops for poor people with green sticking up bits, which are doing very well in Peru:

Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

A group of children have breakfast at a public dining room reading information on their laptop in Peru.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the $188 laptops - people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books - can’t get enough of their “XO” laptops.

At breakfast, they’re already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits.

At night, they’re dozing off in front of them - if they’ve managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

I hope (a) that this is true, and (b) that the excitement lasts.

If it is and if it does, then what we may be witnessing here is the coming together of high technology and people who, if they don’t work hard, get educated, etc., will live lives of grinding poverty and who all know this.

My doubts about computers in education are the result of watching what happens when they are thrown at relatively unmotivated children here in Britain, where I think they make rather little difference.  It would appear to be different among seriously poor people, or at any rate among some of them.  Motivation is everything, with computers.

I will remain alert for more news about such schemes.  Meanwhile, thanks to Adriana for the link.

Saturday December 29 2007

News from South Africa: Schools and teachers need a lot more jacking up.  Here in the UK, everyone is doing better, according to the exam results.  In South Africa, they appear not to have mastered the trick of proving that everything is getting better even though it’s not.

So, my long distance guess is: in South Africa, they very possibly have a distinctly non-corrupt and quite informative examination system, which actually tells them which pupils are half reasonable and which ones are getting nowhere.

Friday December 28 2007

It often happens that in the relatively unbuttoned atmosphere of the comments section, things are revealed which don’t make it to the official bit of a blog.  Here is David Thompson, commenting on his own recent posting, on the subject of how he remembers his comprehensive school:

I have less-than-fond memories of my own comprehensive schooling. I remember the continual background disorder and the demoralised atmosphere, both so common to comprehensive schools. I have particularly vivid memories of two of my left-leaning teachers lecturing me on the “selfishness” of my complaints regarding my substandard education. It was, apparently, “wrong” of me to assume that my education was for my own benefit, rather than society’s.

Yet an “inclusive” comprehensive education is still presented as a credible, even righteous, model – despite decades of failure and frustration. The belief seems to be that a failed experiment can somehow be made to work by demonizing the alternatives, or by measuring its failure in increasingly tendentious ways. And when pro-comprehensive pundits say, “All children should be able to fulfill their potential,” there seems to be little recognition of what that might actually entail. For instance, a couple of days ago I heard a leftist educator insisting that the most able pupils should be “obliged” to academically “mingle” with the less competent for the sake of “social cohesion” – and regardless of what effect this might have on the able children’s own preferences and academic performance.

“Mingle”.  Makes it sound like a cocktail party, doesn’t it?

Thursday December 27 2007

At the same place I found this, I found this:

An inventor is simply a fellow who doesn’t take his education too seriously.

Well, maybe such an attitude is necessary to make you an inventor, but I would hardly call it sufficient.

imageThis makes more sense:

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.

As does this:

Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down.

And surely these latter two things, or things very like them, are just the kind of things that good educators are fond of saying to their pupils.

And oh look, it turns out that one of the things that Kettering did before becoming an industrial inventor, for General Motors among other enterprises, was be a teacher:

Charles F. Kettering was born on a farm in Ohio in 1876; his early vocation was as a teacher in Ohio’s one-room schools. He entered the College of Wooster in Ohio, but poor eyesight caused him to leave college and return to teaching. In 1898, he entered the engineering school at Ohio State University, graduating with an Electrical Engineering degree in 1904.

Presumably Ohio State were doing something right.  Kettering had a lifelong interest in education, but emphasised that:

“If we taught music the way we try to teach engineering, in an unbroken four-year course, we would end up with theory and no music. Practical experience is needed to correlate the so-called theory with practice.”

Much better.

Wednesday December 26 2007

The November 2007 issue of the BBC Music Magazine featured Leonard Bernstein on its cover, and contained an article by Humphrey Burton entitled “Bernstein the communicator”, which began thus:

imageLeonard Bernstein was a born communicator.  He talked in well-formed sentence when most infants are still gurgling and cooing and he was hardly into his teens before he was teaching younger kids how to play the piano.  Blessed with inspirational teachers both at Harvard and the Curtis Institute, Bernstein always saw himself as an all-rounder: ‘Playing music, writing it, conducting it, talking about it, they’re all aspects of the same thing.’ So in his passport he noted his professiona as ‘musician’ and in his chose field he could never resist putting himself forward in the role of teacher and communicator.  By his third year at the Tanglewood summer school (1942) he was working as Serge Koussekitzky’s assistant, coaching conductors even younger than he was.  His professional career began the next year and he never stopped talking about music, sharing his passion with anybody would would listen.  When he took over the fledgling NY ity Symphony Orchestra in 1945 his obvious flair for communication quickly won him a place on the radio – every week he did interviews about his concert programmes and took part in a popular music quizz.  His voice had an attractive velvety timbre and a distinctive Harvard accent.  He used it to broadcast vivid reports from the front line when he conducted in the new-born state of Israel and in the early 1950s he displayed it effectively as a professor at the new Brandeis University in Boston, teaching seminars in composition and musical theatre.

Then he discovered television, or rather, television discovered him.  There were just three national networks in America in those days, all very commercial, but by statute they were required to provide a modicum of serious content.  The high-minded Ford Foundation underwrote a weekly cultural series on CBS called Omnibus and in November 1954 Bernstein was invited to do a programme about Beethoven’s notebook sketches for the Fifth Symphony.  He began by showing viewers some manuscript pages of the composer’s scribbled first thoughts, describing them as ‘a bloody record of an inner battle’.  ‘We’re going to use only notes that Beethoven himself wrote.’ By orchestrating the rejected material and pinpointing the weaknesses of earlier versions, he was able to reveal the creative process that lay behind the masterpiece.  As the producer Robert Saudek put it later, a new Bernstein was born: ‘television’s star teacher’.

The picture I used for this posting is to be found here.

Tuesday December 25 2007

A few months back, my friend Gerald Hartup had a stroke.  That means – and meant - brain damage, surely the scariest kind of damage there is.  But, the prognosis is good, as is often the case with stroke victims, I now learn.  Much depends on the attitude of the stroke victim him or herself.  Do they keep a positive mental attitude and keep battling away at their exercises, mental and physical, or do they let their circumstances defeat them?  As in the more usual sort of battle, morale apparently counts for a lot, and can be decisive.  And Gerald’s fighting spirit is superb.  If anyone truly deserves to have a Happy Christmas this Christmas, it is Gerald Hartup.

I know these things because I am one of the many friends of Gerald who have been visiting him regularly to help him with his various exercises, in my case sounding out words and helping Gerald to link them to appropriate images.  Every time I visit now, I feel I detect definite improvement, both in Gerald’s fluency with the exercises, and in the variety of words he is able to manage spontaneously, so to speak.  One of the oddities of his condition is that in the midst of failing to say a quite easy and short word with, for instance, an R in among it, he is able to exclaim “Christ!”, with no difficulty, to communicate his frustration.

By the way, I am writing about Gerald and about working with Gerald with his enthusiastic permission.  If anything, I owe Gerald profuse apologies for having taken so long to get around to doing this.  I hope that writing about him and his circumstances on Christmas day will please him.  I believe it will.


That photo of Gerald was taken some time before disaster struck, but happily it remains a good likeness now. Strokes can wreck the whole look of your face.  Happily that hasn’t happened with Gerald.

There are all kinds of things to be said about the experience of teaching Gerald, if teaching is what it is.  I will end my mentioning one particular thing in this first Gerald posting, because it concerns the Christmas present I have offered to contribute towards buying for him.

Teachers often have an understandably jaundiced view of the contribution or lack of it that computers can make to education and training.  You’d think that by now computers might have started to play a big part in teaching basic literacy to children, yet this is still done mostly with paper and pencil and the like, with a human teacher presiding.

The problem is motivation.  Computers aren’t now motivated, unless you motivate them.  They are like bicycles, rather than cars.  You don’t steer them only.  You have to drive them forwards with your own efforts.  That may change, and when it does I expect the impact of computers on education, for even the most intellectually indolent of children, to be spectacular.  But for now, if you don’t supply the propulsion to a computer, it will just sit there, do nothing, and achieve nothing.

But Gerald is motivated.  Christ yes, as he would now put it.  Unlike children, who often don’t really get what they are missing in not being able to read and write, Gerald knows with hideous intensity exactly what he is missing, and desperately wants it back again.  So when, last week, he told me about the computer program he had been shown by one of the local authority experts who has been helping him and monitoring his progress, I could at once see what a difference it might make.  Had been making already, in fact, because he showed me how it worked, and managed to communicate to me that he had worked at it for several sessions, each an hour or more in length.  Here at last was a way for him to exercise his mind without imposing on any of his friends, for hour after hour after hour.  It could make all the difference.  But then, when he showed the program to me, it maddeningly announced that his trial period was over, and could he please pay if he wanted to do any more.  I at once offered to contribute towards the cost of its purchase, an offer I repeated by phone to Gerald’s wife, and repeat now.

Well, that’s enough about this for now.  I now have to rush off to share Christmas with my family.  I will have much more to say about Gerald, and about teaching Gerald.  For, whatever Gerald may or may not be learning from working with me, I am certainly learning a great deal from working with him.  Happy Christmas once again to him, and to all.

Monday December 24 2007

I suppose the usual way for an Education Blog to function over Christmas would be to shut down for the holiday.  But I’m going to keep this blog going, with something here every day right throughout the Christmas season.

I am making a point.  Education used to be an industrialised process.  (For many it still is.) But for many others, it has become something that they can do for themselves, any time.  At any time of the day, at any time of their lives, and at any time of the year.  Scarce educational resources, strenuously deployed by educational professionals, are now being engulfed by an abundance of stuff you can learn about whenever and however you want.  So, just as this blog got airborne at some random date in November, when it just happened to suit me, instead of at the beginning of the “academic” year, so too, contrariwise, will it just bash on over Christmas.

But old school education is absolutely part of the territory here, so here are a few old school websites to enable you to learn ...

Christmas seems to come upon us very quickly, at a time when teachers have many other things to do to. The aim of edna‘s Christmas Page is to give many links, all tested for their active status, suitable for classroom use, from the evaluated resources in the searchable edna database.

... about ...

In Czechoslovakia, the night before Christmas is spent fasting. A child who does not touch food all day is promised that he or she will see the golden pig (reminiscent of the golden boar which Freya, the Scandinavian Queen of Heaven rides through the night skies, and of the boar’s head served at medieval English midwinter feasts).


Although the majority of people in Thailand are Buddhists, the Thai people love to take part in celebrations. Christmas is not a holiday here but the students from our school still celebrated it by singing, dancing and playing party games.

Any excuse eh?

Sunday December 23 2007

Nature reports on professors taking performance enhancing drugs.  My link trail began here, and then went here.

If teachers can teach better by taking pills, learners can also learn better.  Another longer term educational future looms, to put next to this one, where education – some of it, anyway, a bit of it - can be ingested as a pill.

As usual, I say: let the people decide such things for themselves.  Let it not be decided for them by governments.

Saturday December 22 2007

This photo is mostly being talked about as a picture of human misery.  Poor girl, being chained for as long as he lives to a dirty old goat like that!  He is forty.  She is eleven.


But there is also an educational story here.  Mothers are the most potent drivers of education, as anyone who has ever taught small children quickly learns.  Children whose mothers push or entice them towards learning are off to a flying start.  Children whose mothers are indifferent to them learning, learn far less.  The more powerful women are in a society, the more this impulse asserts itself, the most educated societies – the early adopters of mass literacy, for instance - being the ones where women have always had the most clout.  By comparison, societies where women have low status compared to men tend, educationally, to languish.

But how can you measure the “clout” wielded by women?  One rough and ready but very telling way is to ask: What is the average age of women when they get married?  And: What is the difference between the average ages of men and women at marriage?  When the average age of marrying women is quite high - middle or even late twenties, say - and near to that of the men they marry, this signifies a society of near female equality and considerable female power, notably with regard to the rearing of children.  But when the average age of marrying women – marrying girls - is a lot lower than that of the men they marry, this signifies a society of severe sexual inequality, with women wielding far less power.  Women tend to be far less well educated when they become mothers, and that female drive towards education is blunted.  Educational advance suffers, not just for girls, but for everyone.

So, this is a very educational picture, and not in a good way.

Friday December 21 2007

I have no idea about the rights and wrongs of this affair ...

Two teachers have been suspended after mobile phone footage showed a 16-year-old pupil being tied up with electrical tape and taunted in front of his classmates at a new academy in Kent.

... other than to repeat my usual sermon about freedom of association.  Obviously the teachers didn’t much like this pupil, and in Brian School, that means they don’t have to teach him.  But that aside, I do find the mobile phone footage angle interesting.

What happens to teaching when CCTV cameras are installed in all classrooms, to measure teacher quality, to adjudicate in disputes, to help with teacher training (how to and how not to, etc.), to enable schools to sell their best teachers in action, and just generally to enable the Department of Whatever It’s Called Now to eavesdrop on Absolutely Everything in real time?

Just as many people feel safer in public spaces surveilled by CCTV cameras, I imagine many teachers and pupils would actually like such surveillance in schools.  As might some parents.  (And other less savoury persons.)

Here‘s a review in Pink News of that St Trinian’s movie, the one I saw recently advertised on the side of a bus:


Dividing the girls into moderns tribes such as emos, chavs, posh totty and trustafarians, and featuring recreational drug-taking and school girl sex-chat lines, the film updates Searle’s original creations for a world with where our social mores have shifted.

Yet it retains his anarchic sense of fun that made the original books and films so fun.

Filled with one-liners, the script lampoons modern pop phenomena, from Harry Potter (’it’s like Hogwarts for pikeys’, says new girl Annabelle, played by Talulah Riley, when she arrives at the run-down school) to Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth providing a hilarious send up of the scene when Mr Darcy emerging from a lake.

And great comic turns from the cast, which includes Russell Brand as Flash Harry and Stephen Fry as himself, ensure that it’s brought to life in an engaging way, making the film a worthy addition to the St Trinian’s canon.

David Stubbs of Guardian Unlimited, on the other hand, thinks it the worst St Trinian’s movie ever.

For baffled foreigners, there is some St Trinian’s background here.  It all started with cartoons.

UPDATE: Here’s a piece about the real thing.

Thursday December 20 2007

Photographed by my friend Michael Jennings in Malaya:


See the comment at Michael’s for further explication.  It was this posting here, and Michael’s comment on it, that got him noticing this.

Here‘s the website, which is where I found the title for this posting.  The little guy with the bow and arrow reminds me somewhat of Marvin the paranoid android in the movie of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It’s the blankness of his face.  Is this figure intended to suggest that if you go to a university in Australia or the UK, you will become someone? Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Wednesday December 19 2007

The invaluable Instapundit links to the New York Times, concerning a physic professor called Walter:

Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T.  And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.

“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.

Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.

In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics.  Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts of.


He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.

Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.

I have always thought that the internet was an open goal for not-for-profit educational and propaganda organisations.  Well, once I understood the internet I did.  I mean, if you were a financial contributor to M.I.T., wouldn’t this be just the kind of thing you’d want to see being done with your money?  Giving the knowledge away, and getting a huge response.  Perfect.

There’s a lot of pessimism here in Britain about the future of science education.  This kind of thing might help to turn things around.  As Glenn Reynolds says:

Traditionally, teaching has played second-fiddle to scholarship at many institutions because it can’t get external plaudits. I wonder if online courses will change that.

I hope there’ll be lots more stories of this sort to discover and to link to from here in the months and years to come.

In my opinion, bullying is caused by people being trapped inside groups.  Thus, when bullying occurs of a sort that the victim cannot punish into silence with a burst of massive retaliation, the victim cannot do the obvious alternative, which is to get out of there.

It does not make sense to say that bullying is “caused” by the weapons and the means of communication used by the bullies, not because this is straightforwardly untrue, but because it is not reasonable to propose or expect the abolition of such things.

I wonder if it even makes sense to say that “cruelty is the problem”.  You’ll not abolish that either.  However, the right to avoid cruelty is often lacking but can often be created and asserted, and it would often be nice for other reasons also.  It is thus reasonable to regard the absence of such a right as the “cause” of bullying.

But what if you don’t think it reasonable to propose the right of children to avoid uncongenial company, because you regard such juvenile freedom as a sledgehammer to crack a nut, a cure worse than the disease, a creator of more problems than it could ever solve?  Then you will regard the above thoughts, at any rate as applied to the lives of children, also to be unreasonable, even if in some sense true.

Jackie D suggests “swift harsh punishment”.  Indeed.  But what if the bullies are the official punishers of bad behaviour, the ones in charge?  What if the official punishers punish the freelance retaliation against bullies by their victims?

UPDATE (via Instapundit): What if the people supposedly in charge are the ones being bullied?  (The dark side of tenure?)

Tuesday December 18 2007

Don’t get educated.  Don’t get rich.  Do get married.

Evidence about the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism among Palestinians. Abstract:

This paper investigates the ways in which terrorism is linked to education and poverty using data newly culled from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) documentary sources. The paper presents a statistical analysis of the determinants of participation in terrorist activities by members of the Hamas and PIJ between the late 1980s and May 2002. The resulting evidence suggests that both higher education and standard of living are positively associated with participation in Hamas or PIJ and with becoming a suicide bomber, while being married significantly reduces the probability of participation in terrorist activities.

I like the idea of people getting educated, but one of the great myths of the last hundred years or so is that education will solve all problems, especially problems involving people quarreling with one another.  The truth, long known, confirmed by the above research, is that often education makes matters worse.  Educated people are all too liable to learn in far greater detail why they hate each other.  Also, educated people tend to be richer and cleverer, and richer and cleverer people do more terrorism because they can.

LATER SECOND THOUGHT:  Actually I suspect that first bit should read: Don’t be rich.  A bit of a difference, I think you’ll agree.  I doubt if getting rich is nearly so bad.  And don’t be that clever either.  But do be educated.

That’s the heading of a posting yesterday by Dizzy, who is apparently the blogger most on top of this story.  Which is: that the British Government is leaking computer data like a sieve these days.  The latest clutch includes some of definite educational relevance, and I don’t just mean learner drivers:

… the company that lost the hard drive in Iowa is Pearson.  Some of you might remember I wrote about them last week. They are the same company that the Teacher Development Agency transfer trainee teacher data to every single day. Including addresses, date of birth, and what disabilities someone might have. ...

... Look through the archives for the last few weeks and you will find all the details. ...

Indeed.  If you want the rest of what Dizzy has been saying about this, you can follow the links backwards from there.

Indeed.  Mostly when I link to something from here I am tempted to copy a bit of it, and then a bit more because that’s interesting too, and then to say what I think, and what started out as a posting as short as this one extends another screensworth or more downwards.  But this time, my title pretty much says it all.  Why does Boris think this?  For the same reasons everyone else who thinks this thinks this.

Monday December 17 2007

That doesn’t sound like an education story, does it?  But it is:

Wetherby Prep, one of Britain’s most exclusive private schools, has changed hands in a multi-million pound deal.

The Notting Hill-based school, whose former pupils include Princes William and Harry, is run by Alpha Plus, which has now been sold by private equity investor Sovereign Capital.

Sovereign Capital bought Alpha five years ago for £26m and has made a substantial profit on its investment, with today’s sale understood to be worth more than £100m.

Other famous former pupils of Wetherby include Hugh Grant, writer Julian Fellowes and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Among its current pupils are Liz Hurley’s son Damian.

Alpha is one of the largest groups of independent schools in the UK. It has grown from 11 to 17 schools over the past five years, covering nursery to sixth form, and includes Pembridge Hall prep school for girls, and the Cliff School in Wakefield.

Pupil numbers have increased by 44% to around 2,800 through both organic and acquisitive growth and it currently has a further two schools under development.

The business is being bought by Delancey, the property firm run by Jamie Ritblat.

Mr Ritblat said: “We look forward to building on the impressive reputation of Alpha Plus and adding our real estate expertise to the excellent educational and management credentials that have been developed under Sovereign’s ownership.”

Posh schools are big business, it would seem. I didn’t know they came in groups.

Blog and learn.

In Saturday’s Times Magazine (I read this on paper and can find no link to it), Italian Tenor Andrea Bocelli talks about “an extraordinary mentor”:

My father was the bank deputy in our Tuscan village, and the manager he worked for was Amos Martelacci, the single most influential person I’ve met in my entire life.  Self-taught and from a poor family, he was obsessed by travel, spoke several languages, had amassed and actually read tens of thousands of books and was advocate to the whole community, forever available, a source of wisdom and encouragement to all.  He came into my life when I was 18 and studying for my final exams at school [Bocelli would go on to graduate in law from the University of Pisa] and the difference he made to me was profound.  He passed on to me a love of literature, particularly French and Russian.  He taught me to doubt apparent certainties, questioning everything.  And while he lived to see, and was made happy by, my success, he viewed it with detachment, showing me in turn how to accord it the correct value.  Was I his surrogate son [Martelacci was married but had no children]? Perhaps, but if so, he had many others, for he was kind to everyone.  I named my eldest boy Amos in his honour.  You can imagine how I felt when he [Martelacci] died on my 40th birthday.

Observer education correspondent Anushka Asthana writes:

Universities will lose tens of millions of pounds in funding when tough new immigration laws are introduced next year, according to the man who represents the UK’s vice-chancellors.

Professor Rick Trainor, president of Universities UK, said the new immigration system, which will make the process of gaining visas more cumbersome, will deter foreign students and seriously damage Britain’s standing in the world of higher education.

He says it will mean heavy losses for universities: international students bring £5bn into the UK each year. ...

Immigration law seems to consist of (a) observing that lots of bad people are flooding in, and reacting by (b) making it even harder than it is already for good people to trickle in, even as the bad people continue to flood in.  Not that I’m against bad people flooding in, a lot of whom are only bad because that’s the way to get in.


… if you want to get a job and make as much money as possible, then good grades aren’t going to help you as your teachers and parents might have you believe.  You’re better making powerful friends, building a killer résumé, and generally having the time of your life on your parent’s dime.

I especially agree with the bit about making powerful friends.  That seems to be a common theme in all high achiever biographies.

I know.  An education blogger doubting the value of “education”.  Get used to it.

Sunday December 16 2007

The Fat Man on a Keyboard writes about outdated attitudes towards mature students:

The Torygraph gets worked up about University Challenge.

Apparently, it “stands accused of neglecting undergraduates in favour of teams stacked with “ringers”, in the shape of mature and graduate students”.

I have news for them, most mature students are undergraduates and there are now more of them than the kids straight from school. ...

I was myself a sort-of mature student at my second university, Essex.  What made me still immature was that I was still very immature, but what made me mature was that I had made a conscious decision, myself, to be there, and I had a pretty clear idea of what I was trying to accomplish.  And I was busy accomplishing it.  (What that was is beside my point here.  Maybe later.) I met other mature students at Essex, and they all had this same quality, of self-directedness, of having decided to be there, of having a plan which they were following.  The academics loved us, because we were making proper use of them and of their efforts and of their expertise.  We aggressed on their various agendas, and they heaved sighs of relief, because it was no longer up to them to rouse us from apathy.  Meanwhile the students who had simply idled into university like cargo wagons being shunted along rails by outside forces - their parents, “society”, and so on - were, as often as not, wasting their time and lots of other people’s money.

So, I wholly agree with the Fat Man’s take on this, and look forward to the day when all students at universities are mature.  Not necessarily in the sense of being old, but in the sense of having decided to be there.

In the same spirit, the Fat Man is disgusted at how the government has been cutting back on adult education.  Being a (free market, low/no taxes, etc.) libertarian, I am prejudiced in favour of public spending cuts, and I don’t regard cutting state funded adult education as an attack on adult education as such, especially not in the age of the internet.  Likewise, I actually favour the recent increase in the cost to students of higher education, because I think it will cause students to ask themselves: Do I really want/need to be doing this?  Prices do that, I think.  I think making students feel the price of what they are doing and how they are living makes them more, in a word, mature.

But, it is important to me not to link only to - and not to be read here only by - people with identical political prejudices to mine.

Janice Turner writes about the ever greater importance of parents in education:

And yet what do we expect in an educational system more heavily predicated than ever upon parental involvement? When I was growing up my mother helped me with the odd spelling test. But now we are expected to hear our children read every day, to drill them in tables, to come into school to be briefed in the weird world of modern maths - “number lines” and newfangled multiplication methods - so we can better teach them to our children. Which is fine, although deeply boring, if you have time. But many parents, probably poorer ones, don’t, returning late and tired from second jobs to cramped homes with little study space. And that is years before we get cracking on their GCSE coursework.

At state schools you perpetually feel there is a shortfall: a child is trailing behind, isn’t challenged enough. But it is up to you to identify this and insist something is done. (Or else beg your friends for the name of a private tutor.) I met one mother en route to take issue with a teacher who had described her son as average: “But he can’t be average,” she cried. “I’m not average and neither is his father.” It is this parental proactivity, confidence and above all expectation that led to the greater glory of Tim rich-but-dim.

But fulfilling talent shouldn’t be about having a determined mother who can play the system. ...

Janice Turner then suggests her various answers, which concern what “we” must do to airlift Kevin poor-but-smart away from the influence of his no-good mother and into affluence.  I am sceptical.

But at least Ms Turner emphasises that the state education system actually does less and less with every passing year.  Why else would parent power now make such a huge difference?  If schools were teaching everyone to be as clever as they are capable of being, parental influence would be a side-issue.

I dined the other night with my friends Tim and Helen Evans, and they described the school which they hope that their now very young daughter will in due course be attending.  The school motto, which we all agreed we liked a lot, is:

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

imageThis morning I chanced upon this clutch of Education Quotes, and that motto is number five there.  Plutarch.  Is there a picture of Plutarch, I wondered (i.e. image googled)?  Yes, on the right there.

I also like number four, from Heraclitus:

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.

So you see, they had wishy-washy educational progressives like me in ancient times also.

As I said in my first posting here, I am an education blogger not because I already know such things, but because I want to learn about them.

Saturday December 15 2007


Australia’s position on Asia’s doorstep, and its ability to offer quality, English-speaking university courses, has made it a major player in the global education market.

It’s an increasingly lucrative business, with Australian universities keen to tap into a buoyant overseas market by exploiting their geographical allure and relatively cheap tuition compared to Britain and the United States.

When I did my previous stint of education blogging, I clocked the global trade in education as a big story, and it can only get bigger.

Do you think of New Zealand as an idyllic land of sheep, fields and happy smiley Sound of Music kids.  Think again.  New Zealand seems to have all the same problems as everywhere else, and if it is true that New Zealanders are famously vigorous people, maybe even more.

As he watched, the girl being restrained suddenly lashed out. One teacher got injuries including cuts on her arm and the other teacher a black eye. That was bad enough.

When the second incident occurred two days later it was “like the 100-year flood” for Tyson.

About 3pm a 12-year-old boy was asked to leave a class because he was disruptive. The woman teacher spoke to him outside the class and he swore at her.

She asked him to leave the school grounds and he instead punched her, making her head strike a door. She suffered a swollen cheek, bleeding nose and bruising to her right eye.

Five days earlier Hamilton Girls’ High School was the scene of a vicious attack by three girls on a 14-year-old student who was taken to Waikato Hospital with serious facial injuries.

There have always been fights in schools. Many will remember those playground scraps when a circle of kids gathered around two boys going hard at it.

Eventually the spectacle would be broken up by a teacher.  But students hitting teachers twice in one week? Girls bashing others so badly they are sent to hospital?

I genuinely believe, first, that this kind of problem is not going to go away, and second, that the answers are going to be very radical.  Basically, children who assert their power in this kind of way are going to have to be treated as adults rather than children.  Not obliged by law to go to school.  Allowed to work for money.  Allowed to leave home if home is uncongenial.  And criminally responsible if they then behave criminally, just as adults are already criminally responsible if they behave criminally to children.

The New Zealand education system sucks says this rebellious lady, who didn’t send her kids to school as regularly as the authorities wanted.  The reports makes it sound like she was making up her excuses as she went along, but should she have to?

This, for instance ...

“I made them do research. My kids are really bright.”

... doesn’t ring true.  Although she apparently does have an internet connection, so maybe she did and maybe they are.  What I wanted to read was some quotes from the children, to find out what they think about all this.  But the rule now is that they have to be protected from that kind of thing, and as of now, I guess that’s right.  Still, I hope somebody did ask them.

But, even supposing that these children will indeed become underclass monsters from hell if this woman continues to derange their lives (supposing that this is what she is now doing), does that mean that the kids should now be forced to go to school?  Shouldn’t schools, you know, attract them.  It’s more big answers to an apparently rather small question, but suppose the school leaving age was lowered to zero, the state stopped spending any money at all on education, and people just set up and paid for whatever schools they thought were a good idea.  Wouldn’t the best of these places be very nice, and wouldn’t niche markets (like kids whose mothers didn’t want to be bothering with particular sorts of clothes) be better catered for than now?

Friday December 14 2007

Bishop Hill writes about home education, in connection with a Tim Worstall posting who in his turn is commenting on this:

Another criticism given by Tim W’s commenters is that home-educated children are “weirdos”. Here, I’m less sure of my ground, because I can’t say I’ve ever met a home educated child. I’ve seen some on the telly, and they do appear different to schooled children. The thing which has always struck me is that they seem rather polite, and very clear-eyed; they look people in the eye and say what they think. They lack the wariness around adults and the emotional ticks and affectations of your average teenager.

Surely BH has met quite a few home-schooled children.  He just didn’t realise it.  Tangent: Are complaints about weird home-schooled kids perhaps similar to those moans about ghastly men’s hair-pieces?  You only spot the ones that you spot.  All the perfect fits that you do actually encounter don’t register.

But I digress.  Let BH continue:

Whether this is enough to suggest a categorisation under “Weirdo” is a matter of personal taste.

When people think of home-educated children who have been filed under weird, they often bring up the mathematics prodigy, Ruth Lawrence, who went up to Oxford at the age of eleven, graduated at thirteen, became a fellow at Harvard at nineteen and is now a full professor. Whether she deserves to be called weird is not clear from what I’ve read. She is certainly gifted, but she seems to have a perfectly normal life (marriage, children and so on). I can remember a minor kerfuffle when she publicly stated some of her views at a debate and rather upset some of her fellow students who couldn’t handle someone so young saying what they thought. This seems to me to be more of a criticism of the other students than of Ms Lawrence.

The logical place to stop this posting might be, after a few words of wisdom from me, here, or maybe two paragraphs sooner.  But I particularly don’t want anyone to miss this next bit, which they might if they only took my words for it about the original posting.

But historically, going to university in your mid-teens was the norm, rather than the exception.  In the medieval period, someone aged fourteen was expected to be able to manage their own affairs and to be able to study independently of family. So to that extent, it’s modern schooled children who delay tertiary education until the age of eighteen that are the oddballs, the exceptions, the weirdos.

Perhaps this is why teenagers can be so vile. Underneath it all, they know they should have flown the coop, but the law says they can’t.  On top of all the hormones, you get a prison sentence.

It’s not really surprising that they can be a bit unpleasant is it?

Many believe that adolescence of the sort so memorably portrayed in the form of Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager is a product of pure biology.  But I believe that BH’s explanation is far closer to the answer.  Biology is involved, but only in collision with other things that might have been done quite differently, with very different results.

BH’s posting went up on Wednesday, and Worstall’s on Tuesday.  Sorry it took me so long to register it here.

A lesson with a difference:

A physical education teacher, 57, died Friday morning during a gym class with students in the Yavneh high school yeshiva in Haifa.  ...

At around 8:30 a.m., the Carmel MDA station received a call that a gym teacher had collapsed in the middle of a class. One of the paramedics that arrived at the scene, Asher Golan, said, “When we came, the teacher was lying in a bad state, unconscious and without a pulse. We tried all kinds of resuscitation methods, including advanced ones such as electric shocks and medication, but we were forced to confirm his death.”

Golan maintains that the entire incident happened in front of the teacher’s students.

MDA said that the teacher most likely suffered from irregular cardiac activity, which caused cardiac arrest that led to his death.

MDA presumably being an Israeli healthcare acronym.  It is of course tempting to conclude from this that gym classes are a mortal threat to health.  But the real lesson is surely that ... people die, and the rest of us just have to live with this.

From this highly recommendable piece about a political odyssey:

I had the good fortune of attending a Grammar school for two years after passing the 11+. As a young adult, the ‘debate’ surrounding Grammars disgusted me. My school (Colchester Grammar) had certainly not been a haven for rich boys whose family could afford “tutors”. Amongst all my classmates I was unquestionably the most affluent, being the son of a successful barrister. My friends were almost universally drawn from the working class, with one or two hailing from the lower middle classes. I do not think I knew of one boy at that school who was ‘privileged’.

What people objected to, it seems, was not that this ‘free’ schooling system existed, but rather that it meant someone, somewhere out there was getting a better education than someone else. This was not a cry for equality of opportunity, this was a demand that no child aspire to or achieve better than anyone else his age. The gifted should remain amongst the rest, to be held back to ensure that they did not get too far ahead or somehow to drag their classmates towards better academic achievement. Anyone who has attended a school in which they have exceeded the academic capability of their classmates knows that this is a patent fallacy. Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” has special significance for those of us who have, we know what it feels like to be kept in a system for arbitrary reasons, which limits your liberty and traps you within the confines of what is deemed to be ‘average’.

When I teach, I am trying to be a rabid inegalitarian.  I’m trying to help the child I am teaching to get way out in front of the pack.

Thursday December 13 2007

Busy day, so something I do a lot at my personal blog: a quota photo, snapped this afternoon, in London.

What is this?


Click to get the answer.  (Clue: look at the categories below.)

The writing is just that little bit too good to be quite convincing, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t want to just feed off American stuff here.  My slight bias, the English language blogosphere being what it is, will be towards Everywhere Else, as with yesterday’s Poland story or Monday’s one about India.

But, I won’t not mention America if America seems interesting.  And here, if you crave big fixes of educational Americana, are two Carnivals (i.e. link collections), of Education and of Homsechooling (the latter via Joanne Jacobs, to whom thanks).

Wednesday December 12 2007

From today’s FT:

Adult students at Chmielowski Technical School in Katowice, Poland’s coal and heavy industry hub, often show up for courses on becoming coal miners with a degree or two under their belts.

The problem is that those degrees are in subjects such as marketing or management – not very practical courses but ones that are common at many of the more than 300 private post-secondary institutions that sprang up after communism ended in 1989. “They don’t know a thing. Their education is completely useless,” grumbles Czeslaw Jacher, the school’s director.

After years of a hiring freeze, Poland’s coal companies, the largest in Europe, are employing workers again, but finding it difficult to get adequately trained ones. One reason is the post-2004 labour migration of more than 1m people, mainly to the UK and Ireland. The other is that Poland’s technical schools have atrophied over the past decade, and have to be rebuilt.

Poland’s strong economic growth and falling unemployment have companies hunting for new workers. However, many of the graduates they are able to find are underqualified and lack practical knowledge, whether the employer is a coal mine or a bank seeking an accountant familiar with US and European standards.

Jeremi Mordasewicz, an economist with the Polish private employers’ confederation, estimates that about one-quarter of recent graduates are unemployed. “There is a strong demand for engineers and technicians. That is a big problem with our education system,” says Mr Mordasewicz. “Trade schools simply collapsed. Young people stopped going because the wages in trades such as construction were so low. This sudden revival has increased interest in technical schools. Now the problem is not a lack of students but a lack of teachers. They prefer to work in construction rather than teach because the salaries are so much higher.”

So pay the teachers more!  The right ones, I mean.

In situations like these, I come over all free market fundamentalist, and say that provided the government doesn’t interfere all will soon be well.  The necessary skills, in this case (guess) the skills involved in combining doing the job, with teaching it to those doing it for lower wages than the rate for merely doing it, will surface, and be fabulously rewarded, until such time as the problem is solved.  But, if the government is bullied into “taking responsibility” (the usual phrase in these circumstances), then market solutions will be scared away and the problems will be made permanent.

Which reminds me, I need to put the word “libertarian” near the top of this blog, and stop pretending that I’m not biased in favour of being sensible and against being stupid.

By the way, don’t you think this scenario is a classic illustration of the fact that economic development causes education, rather than the other way around?  I do.

Tuesday December 11 2007

As she says, fascinating:

It has long been known that dyslexics are drawn to running their own businesses, where they can get around their weaknesses in reading and writing and play on their strengths. But a new study of entrepreneurs in the United States suggests that dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought.

The report, compiled by Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she had surveyed - 35 percent - identified themselves as dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than nondyslexics to delegate authority, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.

So,when you rescue a child from dyslexia with good teaching (as can mostly be done if the teaching really is good), do you damage the economy?  I’m not entirely joking.  The widespread equation to the effect that education equals economic development (equals as in causes) strikes me as very imperfect.

One of the most effective operators I personally know is extremely bad at spelling.

Jackie D writes about Literacy Centre West in Cincinnati:

I was deeply saddened by how little these teenagers expect of themselves and their futures. They think nothing of themselves, of their possibilities. It is hard not to feel real antipathy for the parents who have failed to instill in their children the sense that the future is a secure, happy place if they choose to make it so. The connection between choices and consequences seems never to have been made by the parents, or passed to the kids. The workers at Literacy Center West sure do have their work cut out for them.

Jackie includes two relevant videos in her posting, both of them less than ten minutes in length.

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the Flynn effect, which is the tendency for IQ, whatever exactly IQ is and however exactly you measure it, to rise from generation to generation, suggesting that IQ is an environmental effect rather than a genetic one.  Flynn picture on the right from here (on the right - scroll down a bit).
Start of Gladwell’s article:

One Saturday in November of 1984, James Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, received a large package in the mail. It was from a colleague in Utrecht, and it contained the results of I.Q. tests given to two generations of Dutch eighteen-year-olds. When Flynn looked through the data, he found something puzzling. The Dutch eighteen-year-olds from the nineteen-eighties scored better than those who took the same tests in the nineteen-fifties - and not just slightly better, much better.

Curious, Flynn sent out some letters. He collected intelligence-test results from Europe, from North America, from Asia, and from the developing world, until he had data for almost thirty countries. In every case, the story was pretty much the same. I.Q.s around the world appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.

Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings - now known as the Flynn effect - for almost twenty-five years. ...

End of Gladwell’s article:

“The mind is much more like a muscle than we’ve ever realized,” Flynn said. “It needs to get cognitive exercise. It’s not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark.” The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person’s mind but the quality of the world that person lives in.

I recommend reading what’s in between as well.

Questions: Will this effect eventually stop?  Are there any cases of IQs going down over time, from one generation to the next?  Because surely an environment can get stupider, can it not?  Might that be what would be meant by the decline of a civilisation?

If so, good to able at least to believe rationally that our civilisation is still on the up and up, as I definitely believe it is.

Monday December 10 2007

Somehow you can’t quite imagine this kind of thing happening here in Britain.

Sport icons like Anil Kumble, Brett Lee and Viswanathan Anand are all now playing on a different pitch. After being popular faces for brands ranging from consumer durables to biscuits, these sporting icons are now lending the awe their persona generates to educational institutes.

For instance, Indian test cricket captain Anil Kumble, who has so far advertised for brands like Samsung and Indian Oil, will now be the face of Manipal Education. Last month, Manipal Education announced Anil Kumble as their global brand ambassador.

Similarly, Deakin University too, recently announced Australian fast bowler Brett Lee, as the brand ambassador for Deakin’s activities in India.

Viswanathan Anand has been advertising for NIIT for the past nine years and would continue to do so. He has also advertised for Parle Milk Shakti biscuits in the past.

Being a cricket fan, I know exactly who Anil Kumble and Brett Lee are, and I long ago clocked that Lee is a big name in India.  But Anand?  He’s the world chess champion, which gives out obvious academic vibes. 

Anand Sudarshan, managing director and CEO, Manipal Education says: “Anil Kumble personifies our brand values. Apart from being a world class cricketer, he has excelled academically. This association will assist Manipal Education in achieving our mission of providing students with well-rounded education.”

Good to know that Kumble “excelled academically”.  But how academically successful was Brett Lee?

Adds Professor Sally Walker, vice-chancellor, Deakin University, “At Deakin, we are absolutely dedicated to working hard to achieve quality outcomes in our research and our teaching; this is similar to the determination that Brett has exhibited in his achievements.”

A trier, then.  Fair enough.

One of the great education stories just now is unfolding in India, and all the progress is being made in the private sector.  The state sector is very poor, and they can’t affort to throw silly money at it, the way they do here in Britain.

You get all this business jargon in British universities – “achieving our mission”, “quality outcomes”, and so on - but it doesn’t convince you that they’re really being businesslike.  In India, it does.  Maybe distance is lending enchantment to my eye, but I don’t think so.

Sunday December 09 2007

imageArmstrong and Miller are comedians, who have a BBC1 TV show on the go just now, every Friday night.

Among those on the receiving end of their comedy darts are: the teaching profession.  Although, the comic target here is not just teachers; it’s also the Government’s desperate and desperately unconvincing adverts to try to find more of them.  Type “Armstrong Miller teacher” into the YouTube search engine, and up come many of sketches I’m referring to.

The “Be a Teacher” sketches are particularly wounding.  Are you quite bright but lazy?  Do you have serious psychological problems?  Is real life beyond you?  Be a Teacher!

Saturday December 08 2007

David Friedman is trying to find out about colleges for his daughter.  In particular, he wants to know how heretical opinions are treated.  Here‘s one way he sets about doing that.  He talks to fellow economists:


It is almost impossible to be a good economist and accept traditional conservative arguments against free trade - because those arguments depend on not understanding economic ideas worked out nearly two hundred years ago. It is almost impossible to be a good economist and accept common left wing rhetoric about “people not profits” or the equivalent - because a good economist knows that the argument on the other side isn’t about profits as an end in themselves but about profits as part of a signaling system that results in benefits for people. A left wing economist might think that system works poorly and can be improved by proper government intervention - but he knows that the standard rhetoric misrepresents the position it argues against.

One consequence is that a good economist is almost certain to find himself in conflict with the left wing orthodoxy that dominates the sort of top liberal arts colleges we have been looking at - just as he would be almost certain to find himself in conflict with the right wing orthodoxy that (I presume) dominates some Christian fundamentalist schools. So talking to economists at a school gives me some feel for how that school’s culture treats heretical views.

Read the rest of that posting, because it is very interesting.  David Friedman has one of the most attractive minds anywhere on the planet that I am personally acquainted with.

And see also what Friedman says about unschooling.  I haven’t read that yet, but will Real Soon Now, and will surely be writing about it here.

Boris Johnson supplies another reason for taking maths seriously:

What is the single biggest financial decision we have to take? It’s about buying a house. It’s about how to finance the debt involved in taking out a mortgage. It involves understanding concepts of percentages and interest; and there is abundant evidence that millions of Britons either do not care about the debt they are taking on, or do not really understand the meaning of these squiggly figures for their future prosperity.

I have a chum who provides shared equity mortgages for some of the most disadvantaged people in Britain. He is passionately committed to helping people on to the property ladder. He wants to give them the opportunity to have at least a stake in their own home. He wants them to have that liberating sense of ownership - the pride in their own possession that millions have acquired in the past 30 years.

And yet he has been amazed at the deals they are willing to accept from less scrupulous lenders, and the risks they are willing to run with their lives. It’s not that they are stupid, he says. “It’s that they just haven’t been educated to understand the maths. They don’t see what an 11 per cent interest rate can do. They say, ‘Never mind the rate, just give me the mortgage.’ It’s ignorance.”

Good point.


I found this photo, with its highly appropriate sign just above Boris’s head, here.

Michelle Malkin writes about bad maths teaching.

Chris Heaton-Harris writes about the Europeanisation of education:

As part of the Lifelong Learning Programme there is also funding available ‘to support European associations in the field of education and training or which pursue an objective which is part of an EU policy’. The only organisations eligible to receive such funding are those which ‘exist as a body pursuing an aim of general European interest’, i.e. you have to be 100% behind European integration to receive what is ultimately propaganda money.

Mark Holland photos bad spelling.

Bruce Thornton explains the difference between political and academic freedom:

Columbia, then, was terribly mistaken in inviting Ahmadinejad onto campus, for what serious ideas did he present? That the Holocaust never happened, that a cabal of Jews runs the West, and that homosexuals don’t exist in Iran? His appearance was a stunt, not an incitement to serious discussion, let alone an inducement to intellectual discovery. Conversely, UC Davis’s rescinding its invitation to Larry Summers was a violation of academic free speech. Summers is a respected scholar who has been demonized merely for speculating on the causes of an undisputed fact - that fewer women than men work in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Book blurb for It’s Your Time You’re Wasting:

… is the blackly humorous diary of a year in his working life. Chalk confiscates porn, booze and trainers, fends off angry parents and worries about the few conscientious pupils he comes across, recording his experiences in a dry and very readable manner. He offers top tips for dealing with unruly children, muses on the shortcomings of the staff (including his own) and even spots the occasional spark of hope amid all the despair. His book will horrify (and amuse) millions of parents and will become a must-read for many of the country‘s 400,000 teachers.

Happy birthday Student Teacher.

Joanne Jacobs links to The Ledge:

When the CTA lady came to the union meeting to specifically alert new teachers to the dangers of proposed merit pay provisions, I shook my head in tight side-to-sides, because true systems of meritorious compensation are the future of the work we do. New hiring practices, the dissolution of tenure, authentic evaluations, performance based pay - this is what’s needed to get us off that ledge and quell the schizophrenia of being an ambitious and successful teacher in a public school.

Be careful what you wish for.  You want a true system of meritorious compensation.  But what if it turns out to be a false one?  (See about every second or third posting on this blog so far.)

Friday December 07 2007

Once again I had a busy day doing other things besides education blogging, so I am grateful to John Kersey, President of the European-American University, for this incoming email:

Dear Brian,

Good to see you on Wednesday night – a very pleasant evening, I thought.

He’s talking about this.

I see your education blog is back up and running, and think you might well be interested in the current project I am heading.

Certainly am.

At www.thedegree.org you can find our main presence, and what we believe is the first usage of diversified, Internet-based networks and associated international structures to create an independent, private, online, market-friendly university without walls. As indicated below, there are also several related blogs.

Chase all of them up here.

If I can help with any clarifications, do drop me a line. We have been launched a fortnight and so far have met with some very positive reactions, particularly from Tim ...

As in Tim Evans, of the Libertarian Alliance and the Stockholm Network.

… who is very enthusiastic about the project. At this stage we are looking to garner support and also offer opportunities for involvement from like-minded friends of liberty as we enter the initial phase of our marketing and post-launch development. I will be speaking to February’s LA dinner about the project, and also welcome further invitations to speak and discuss its implications.

With all good wishes,


As in:

Mt. Revd. Professor John Kersey, HonLLD, DD, PhD, MA, MMus, LThMin, CertINSEAD, FRSA, FRGS, FSA Scot Member, International Bar Association; General Associate Member, American Bar Association, Clergy Member, The Society for Humanistic Potential, The Liberal Rite, The Sophia Circle.

Evidently a man who believes in the value of qualifications, of all kinds.

I think I might ask John Kersey if he’d like to do a recorded conversation with me about this project.  Sounds like he’d say yes.

Thursday December 06 2007

I’ve had a bit of a cough lately, and I think I got it from teaching one night at week at that top-up school I teach at one night a week at.  I think I got the cough from a small boy who is younger than the others, whom I regularly teach one-to-one, and I got the idea of writing about this circumstance for this education blog of mine from Tim Evans (pictured there reading Tennyson’s Ulysses at last night’s Golden Umbrella Awards), who now has a small daughter.  He told me that the infectious nature of schools for small children is a fact well known about by parents.  “It’s the kind of thing they don’t tell you about until it happens to you.  Your child goes off to infant school, and instantly you all go down with all the bugs doing the rounds in the south of England.”

This reminds me of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel, which is about such things as how we Westerners wiped out the defenceless original South Americans with our germs.  Good to know that Darwinism is still at work, keeping us all up to the mark.

In addition to having a cough I also went to visit my very elderly mother today, which I now realise may have been a mistake.  So that’s your lot here today.

Wednesday December 05 2007

imageJeremy Clarkson recently ventured into the land of the badly behaved children, and didn’t like what he found:

There’s an equally big problem at school. Children, as far as I can see, are at liberty to do just about anything to one another at school because there is absolutely nothing the teacher can do. Not without being hauled out of the classroom by some frizzy-haired human rights lawyer, sacked and sent to prison.

The police are snowed under, the parents are beyond redemption, the public couldn’t beat up these hoodla even if they were allowed to, because the hoodla are too heavily armed.  That leaves the teachers:

The only place where this issue can be tackled, then, is at school. So you fit airport-style metal detectors at the doors to ensure no pupil is packing heat, you put all the troublemakers in one class and you give the teacher in charge immunity from criminal charges. And a sub-machinegun.

In other words, if schools are prisons, they have to be run like prisons.

Clarkson starts his piece by noting that in the posh parts of England (he lives in Chipping Norton), children behave nicely.  Instead of asking why lower class children behave badly, I ask why upper class children still behave relatively well.  Personally I think it’s partly to do with economics.  Posh kids see money in their nearish future, which they will lose if they muck about too much.  Unposh kids, on the other hand, will get crap money whether they behave nicely or badly.  Guess which a lot of them find more amusing.

As I said in my very first posting here, I blog to learn, and I’m only now picking up the threads of the row that seems to have been raging for ever about whether exam results in Britain are getting better, or worse, or what.  All of which is a pre-amble to me admitting that I’ve only just read this piece by Chris Woodhead in the Times.  Quote:

We all, even the minister, agree that maths and English matter. He proclaimed at his press conference: “English and mathematics are the foundation of a good education.” So why the euphoria when the statistics that have been released show 37.8% of candidates have failed to get at least a C grade in English, 44.8% maths.

Pass rates in these subjects have risen this year by 0.6% and 0.9% respectively. But so what? Given the scale of the failure, these are pathetic increases. Thousands of 16-year-olds are leaving school with no real competence in the subjects that matter most. The employers are right to express, once again, their concerns.

Yes, all these claims that exam results are improving don’t at all fit with the stories linked to in my previous posting here.

Woodhead goes on to report something else very interesting:

Equally interesting proposals from the Qualifications and Curriculum authority, the exams watchdog, are on the table for the curriculum. Schools will be given greater freedom over how and what they teach. The so-called key stage 3 national strategy, which for years dictated in minute detail what should be taught and how in the first three years of secondary school is, presumably, to be abandoned. You could not have a more dramatic policy U-turn.

Much of public life and public policy making is determined by the answers to the questions: Who do you trust?  Who do you not trust?  And just lately, the present crop of politicians have become deeply mistrusted, not least because of their relentlessly fatuous optimism about standards of literacy and maths in schools, but for lots of other reasons besides of the sort you can read about every day at places like this.  This means that they are not, just to take a for-instance, trusted to micro-manage how schools go about their business.  It’s not that schools are trusted completely, merely more than the politicians in London.  Hence, I surmise, this switch.

But alas, the problem with democracy - and I quite appreciate that this is not a sufficient reason for getting rid of democracy, I’m just saying that what follows is a problem - is that as soon as one bunch of politicians get to be mistrusted, they are swept away by another lot who are trusted, and the logic of manic over-centralisation reasserts itself.

Tuesday December 04 2007

A recent report said that England’s children are becoming more illiterate.  The Conservatives blame Ed Balls, the education minister.  Ed Balls blames computer games, as does the The Sun.  The computer games people blame The Sun, because it’s a tabloid and “written for mono-browed Neanderthals”.  (Presumably they didn’t blame Ed Balls because they didn’t want to seem too Conservative.)

Of these accusations, the silliest seems to me blaming The Sun.  If anything, The Sun has probably encouraged, if not a sophisticated level of cultural attainment, then at the very least the ability to decypher relatively simple words, by using relatively simple words to supply entertainment that the masses truly find truly entertaining.  Without The Sun, Britain would surely be that much more illiterate by now.

More seriously, when you observe rows like this, it is interesting to see what all sides agree about.  And in this row, all sides seem to agree that British child literacy is indeed now in a bad way.  And both Labour and the Conservatives now agree that synthetic phonics would improve matters, with Ed Balls accusing the Conservatives of stealing that idea from Labour.  Although I seem to remember Labour stealing it from the Conservatives a while back.

Monday December 03 2007

Nick Cowen at the Civitas Blog, writing about why private schools now “grab” more top university spots:

The truth, however, is that private schools do not just generally provide a better standard of education, but are now increasingly the only schools offering the necessary qualifications that make students eligible for high quality courses such as maths and natural science. How exactly has this happened? It is not as if pupils from poorer backgrounds should be systematically less able to cope with complex knowledge. Unfortunately, it is the politically driven weighting of courses which means that each A level is worth the same number of UCAS points regardless of the subject. This means that so far as league tables and government statistics are concerned, more (of just about any subject) is better and a few solid qualifications in tough subjects, the ones that top universities are interested in, are just too much effort to complete.

I am starting seriously to suspect that if you want posh universities for your kids, but can’t afford a posh private school for them, or a posh home in a posh area with a posh state school, your best bet would be to keep them at home.

But the bad news is that the demand for these things isn’t coming from excited poor children.  It’s coming from richer people and very rich people who think poor children merely ought to be excited.

From engadget:

All steam ahead for the OLPC Foundation, which recently received an order from Peru for 260,000 of the little XO laptops. Also news is that Mexican billionaire and Negroponte’s chum Carlos Slim has purchased 50,000 for his country. That’s against a background of $2 million sales a day on the Give One, Get One program. Clearly, the OLPC Foundation is the most successful program out there for getting laptops into the hands of schoolchildren.

I’m not entirely sure about this, but I smell disaster, in the form of lots of unused computers swilling around the third world, not working, because all the useful bits have been stripped out and sold on.  Also, I expect mysterious numbers of these things to turn up in the dodgier parts of rich countries.  These laptops may be getting sent in the general direction of schoolchildren, but will they actually reach their hands, and once in them, will they remain there?

The contrast between all this let’s-give-sweet-little-computers-to-the-sweet-little-poor-people and what has happened with mobile phones is, I think, revealing.  The poor people actually want mobiles, and people swarmed all over the world selling them mobile phones.  No charity was needed to get the poor people excited about those.

Meanwhile, teaching in poor countries seems most likely to proceed successfully with dopey old things like blackboards and chalk, paper, pencils etc.  (See also this, about which I also have doubts.) This charitable laptop frenzy reminds me of how I felt when I wrote this.

Sunday December 02 2007

The robots are coming, I tell you:

New Zealand computer scientists have developed Eve, an affective tutoring system (ATS) which can adapt its response to the emotional state of children by interaction through a computer system. The researchers say their teaching system, dubbed ‘Easy with Eve,’ is the first of its type and add they ‘wanted to create a virtual teacher capable of reading and understanding body language and facial expressions to ensure that it has the attention of students.’

Makes you wonder what Eve might do if she decides that she hasn’t got your attention.  She looks like she’s dressed to give someone a good kicking.

More here.  Via engadget.

So, if these guys can learn as they earn, why can’t children, who want to or who need to, earn as they learn?  Many British children would get far better educated, far quicker, if they did.

I went looking for a link for “earn as they learn”, in the form of a blog posting somewhere arguing that children in the Third World who work for money when young do so for good reasons, and are not likely to be helped by being forbidden to work by interfering rich outsiders.  But I couldn’t find such a thing, even though I’ve read several such pieces recently.  Anyone?  Well, probably no-one, because as of now, not many are reading this blog.  If I come across such a thing, I’ll add the link myself.

imageWhat I do know is that many highly effective and upwardly mobile people in Britain’s past started out working hard, for money, when aged about ten or twelve, George Stephenson (as fine an excuse for a picture as any blogger could want) to name but one.  George Stephenson later learned to read and write at the same time as his son Robert, who became a similarly famous figure in railway engineering.

Poor countries do as much education as they can afford, which makes sense.  Sadly, rich countries also do as much of what they regard as “education” as they can afford, which often doesn’t.

See also this earlier posting.

Saturday December 01 2007

Inspired by Michael Jennings’s comment on this posting about pencils, I did a posting on Samizdata, repeating his question.  What use is handwriting? I got exactly the comment harvest I wanted, even if a few did say that it was rather late to be asking, wasn’t it?  I would say: no.  After all, most children are still taught handwriting, and it is accordingly still worth asking whether that’s still necessary.  Interestingly, a few commenters denounced it as a stupid question, but some said handwriting was obviously essential, and another said it was obviously pointless, for the (I think) rather fatuous reason that he personally now made no use of it.

What emerged was the perhaps rather surprising consensus that people who use only words – people like me actually – can get by happily without much handwriting.

In general, the mathematicians all agreed that they needed handwriting.

And where handwriting is most necessary is if you are adding written words to things you have drawn, like an engineer, say.  Typing stuff onto some kind of diagram would just be too inconvenient.  One commenter pointed out that the logic of the latest technology means that you can now scan stuff very easily, and that a characteristic modern way to communicate your ideas is to draw and write on old-fashioned paper (rather than on some modernistic but still very clumsy gadget) and then just scan what you’ve done.  He has returned to the fountain pen, he said.

Today I purchased some pencils with rubbers on their ends, and a combined rubber and pencil sharpener, for my expeditions to Kings Cross every Tuesday.