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

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Friday February 29 2008

Indeed:

Welcome to Oaksterdam University, a new trade school where higher education takes on a whole new meaning.

The school prepares people for jobs in California’s thriving medical marijuana industry. For $200 and the cost of two required textbooks, students learn how to cultivate and cook with cannabis, study which strains of pot are best for certain ailments, and are instructed in the legalities of a business that is against the law in the eyes of the federal government.

“My basic idea is to try to professionalize the industry and have it taken seriously as a real industry, just like beer and distilling hard alcohol,” said Richard Lee, 45, an activist and pot-dispensary owner who founded the school in a downtown storefront last fall.

America.  How can I ignore it?  One of today’s Friday Ephemera.

Thursday February 28 2008

Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy puts the case against government subsidies for college tuition.

Here in Britain, we learn (FMOAK’s short blog posting links to this) that potential students at universities, poor ones especially of course, faced with loans and then lifetimes of debt, rather than outright gifts, are thinking again about whether a university education will really be worth all that future cost.

Good.  That’s what prices are supposed to do.  Such thoughts will undoubtedly stimulate - are undoubtedly stimulating – further thoughts, about how to supply many of the benefits of university education, without most of the costs.  Good again.

Last Tuesday, I went on one of my weekly expeditions to Kings Cross to help out with the teaching at one of the Supplementary Schools that Civitas organises there every week.  We all - four teachers of whom I am the most junior, and about twenty five or so children - get there just before 5.30 pm, and we all leave just after 7.30 pm, there being a rather spartan community centre in a rather nice little housing estate just to the north of the big railway station.  I walk through the concourse of the railway station and along the right-most of its long platforms on my way from the tube station to the community centre, and back again afterwards, which are pleasing things to do.  Something about that vast Victorian roof elevates the spirit, and I’ve retained my small boy’s love for trains.

The routine that has become established for me is that for the first hour, my job is to teach Small Boy.

Teaching Small Boy last Tuesday was a pleasure, first because he was a little more biddable and obedient than usual.  I don’t like bossing children around, and am consequently very bad at it.  In my fantasy world, children would learn for the sheer joy of it, rather than being nagged by parents and teachers to learn.  Magically, the children in Brian World would be eager to learn just the sorts of things that we adults wish them to learn.  They would badger us to help them learn to read, and once they had done so, they would devour knowledge of all (virtuous) kinds, from books, from the internet, by attending lectures and tutorials given by scientists and scholars and men and women of action of all kinds, all the while keeping us informed of their self-educational triumphs and of their movements, and eagerly listening when we advised them about their next self-imposed tasks.  They would spend a little of their time playing computer games (of a deliberately educational sort – which now exist, apparently), and they would spend a little time watching television (again, to learn things).  But they would not spend all day and every day doing these things, thereby becoming zombies unable to sleep because hypnotised all day.

Meanwhile, back here on earth, my job at King’s Cross for the first hour is to nag Small Boy into learning to read and write.  This is mercifully easy, because he is only about five and although not very frightened of me, he is frightened of his mother, who would be told if he was too recalcitrant.  We read through the Butterfly Book - that is to say, he reads while I point at the words and stop him if he makes any errors and make him read it again right.  Small Boy then does whatever writing he chooses to do, my only rules being that he has to write something and that it has to be as neat as possible.  While he does that, I wander around in the rest of the big room, looking at what some of the other children are doing in the other three classes, trying not to be too annoying, and trying to learn about how that teaching is being done.  I then return to Small Boy and complain about his writing, politely but informatively you understand.

In among all that, Small Boy and I talk about things, as a sort of reward to us both for the diligence with which we both mostly do what we are supposed to be doing.  This time, I gave him a physics lesson.  I showed him how light that looks blue from indoors, surrounded by yellow indoor light, looks grey when you go outside.  We went outside so that I could show him.  Nobody seemed to think this was strange.  If they did, they didn’t say so.  (Actually, the light still looked rather blue outside, so it was actually not a very successful lesson from my point of view.  It turned into one of those Teachers Can Be Wrong Too lessons.  Can’t win ‘em all.)

What pleased me most about my session with Small Boy last Tuesday was that, whatever it is that I and all his other teachers are doing, it is clearly working.  He now knows words which he definitely didn’t know when I started with him and he reads more fluently.  His writing is definitely improving.  He is, in short, one way or another, being successfully educated.

Wednesday February 27 2008

This is very odd.  The headline at the top says:

Local union/board officials say Fraser Institute ranking helpful for education

But the first sentence of the story immediately below this headline goes:

Local education administrators and union officials are saying that the Fraser Institute Report ranking Ontario’s schools is less than helpful.

It’s all about how a Free Market Institute (the Fraser Institute) is judging the quality of schools, in accordance with a restricted notion of what school quality consists of.  Test results basically.

I think that free market institutes should be saying not: This is how we judge schools; but rather: How can schools be re-arranged to the point where people can judge schools for themselves?  (See the previous posting.)

Tuesday February 26 2008

I found this bar chart at Burning Our Money, which is not a blog to be blogrolled here, but definitely (and belatedly) here:

image

BOM writer “Wat Tyler” found those numbers somewhere here, although I couldn’t find exactly where.  (That website definitely does go to the sidebar here.)

Note that those bars are for percentage rises, not absolute numbers.  So the story this tells is of a still hectic rise in numbers for the private sector.  It’s hectic, anyway, if you understand compound interest.  Nearly ten per cent per annum is like Chinese economic growth.  (This afternoon, once again, I will be teaching at an enterprise which is a small part of this story.)

That graph adorns a posting at BOM about state employees who make a point of not using the service they themselves are involved in providing, the point being that they of all people know how unsatisfactory that service is.  Wat Tyler makes use of quotes from state teachers, explaining their decision to go private for their own children, which he found in this TES piece.

Sample, from “Sam”:

“It went against my politics and it was something I wouldn’t have dreamt of considering a year or two earlier, but you have to be realistic. They’re your kids and you want the best for them, so you compromise your principles.”

Quite right too.  Them being your kids strikes me as the principle that matters here.  Besides which, it makes sense to believe (a) that state education could and should be as good as private schooling, but that (b) it hasn’t, for whatever reason, go there yet.  I disagree with whatever version of those arguments that Sam holds to but I don’t think that he is a hypocrite, as often is said about lefties who veer away from the left in the choices they make for themselves and for their families.

Nor, I am glad to note, does Wat Tyler:

So is it hypocrisy?

As very well informed consumers, they’re making the rational choice for themselves and their families. And we can hardly hold that against them.

Exactly so.

Monday February 25 2008

A couple of commenters on this mentioned these maths-based cartoons, and in particular, these two cartoons (this and this):

image  image

I can recall it being proved that e to the i pi equals minus one (as he preferred to phrase it), by the then senior maths master at Marlborough, Mr Quadling.  (Very good name for a maths master, don’t you think?) “Therefore”, he added, “God exists.” He was just kidding, and quoting someone.  But it is interesting how mathematicians reach for God so regularly.  Michael and I touched on the religious vibes that are emitted when something completely “pure” is worked out, guaranteed useless, but then it later turns out to correspond exactly to some circumstance in nature or, even more weirdly, to some man-made, man-discovered contrivance like colour telly.

People losing their damn minds:

Lemme explain how teaching works: educational professionals profess their enthusiasm for “the kids” largely in inverse proportion to their actual experience of being with thirty of them in an enclosed space for most of the day. So, for example, senior management are generally much more favourably disposed towards “our young people” than real teachers but can still on occasion get pissed off with them because despite their best efforts, they can’t avoid bumping into the odd one from time to time. Even more enthusiastic are lecturers in teacher training colleges who love the kids so much they fucked off into what is laughingly called academia at the first available opportunity. But even these never-have-beens can’t match the people who actually run the show for sheer divorced-from-reality lunacy ...

And the bile goes on, with copious quotes from this.  Bonkers teachers, who according to Shuggy don’t do much actual teaching, say they “love” their prisoners.  The more cautious and grumpy ones, Shuggy’s preferred sort, fear that such protestations might be misinterpreted.

All these arguments are quite reasonable, if you think that imprisoning “thirty of them in an enclosed space for most of the day” is a good way for everyone involved to be made to behave, or if not good then at least unavoidable.  When people are forced into each other’s company, there’s a high chance that either love or hatred, or, most likely, some overwrought combination of the two, will result.  But if you are an adult and the object of your love or hate is children, probably best not to say either of these things with exactly those words.

I prefer the adult world, where people are at least allowed to balance the glories and horrors of being forced into one another’s company day after day against the more mundane benefits (like getting paid) that they get in exchange, and to decide for themselves who they will be imprisoned with.

One kind of educational romantic loves his prisoners.  My kind says: why can’t they be let out?

Sunday February 24 2008

Extraordinary:

Families are fleeing to the UK from Germany to escape a law introduced by Hitler that could lead to their children being taken into care if educated at home. One father, who arrived in Britain with his wife and five children last month, has told The Observer that his family had no choice after being warned that their children would be taken into foster care unless they enrolled them at local schools. Another, who fled in October, said he believed the 70-year-old law was creating hundreds of refugees and forcing families into hiding to protect their children.

How long before this law, courtesy of the EU, follows those refugees here?  A long time, I hope.

Saturday February 23 2008

Very strange:

A row has broken out over new “anti-poaching” rules introduced for high school sport stars - as players are sidelined from new season games.

New Zealand under-19s touch representative Lara Diamond-Brahne, 16, missed the first game of the season this week after moving from Auckland Girls Grammar to Mt Albert Grammar this year.

Her mother Debbie Brahne has called in her lawyer.

“I’m pretty gutted about it and pretty upset,” said Lara, who also plays netball, basketball and competes in athletics.

“I turned up to my school touch game and they came up to me and said that I wasn’t allowed to play otherwise my team will get disqualified.”

Under new rules introduced at the end of last year, Lara can’t represent her new school in top level inter-school competition for 12 months unless her old school gives permission.

I don’t know what “touch” is, but this does sound unfair.  I wonder what the problem was that this rule was presumably introduced to correct?

Friday February 22 2008

Yesterday afternoon (as promised), Michael Jennings and I duly had our conversation about mathematics, which, as I said at the end, I found really really interesting, and really really, if Michael will pardon the word, fun.

There was a bit towards the end when we both completely lost it and said almost nothing for about a minute aside from “um” and “er”, and this I removed.  Otherwise, it is all exactly as it was.  There is lots more I could say about what we said, but what we said will, I hope, suffice.  Neither of us was at our most fluent, both of us having done other quite stressful and tiring things earlier in the day, but I truly believe we made up for that by talking, albeit often rather hesitantly, about really interesting stuff.  Our conversation lasted about 45 minutes, which is somewhat longer than I had expected, but then again, it turned out to be somewhat more interesting than I expected, and I expected it to be very interesting.  I am truly delighted by the hope-stroke-thought that in several years hence, I will still be able to listen to it.  Do I sound proud of this thing?  Probably, because I certainly am, and I am already pondering further conversations about educational matters.

At regular intervals in this conversation I referred to one or other of the excellent comments on the posting I did on Samizdata earlier in the week, entitled What use is maths?.  As I hope was clear from the start of this exercise, I always knew that there was a world of good answers to this question, and those comments alone, now approaching a hundred in number, will prove this to anyone who ever doubted it.  If you want a fairly exhaustive list of all the particular things that maths in its various forms and facets is useful for, along with other ruminations about the value of having studied maths (which is not quite the same thing), then I strongly recommend reading those comments.  A few of the later ones express exactly the same admiration and gratitude for all the other comments that I feel myself.

Thursday February 21 2008

Today I did two interestingly educational things.  In the morning, I went to help out at the Supplementary School half term school, from 10 am until 1 pm.  I had to get up at a frightful hour in the morning, but still I was a few minutes late.  Not good.

Then, in the late afternoon, Michael Jennings and I had a recorded conversation about mathematics (as flagged up at the end of this posting) - its usefulness, beauty and efficacy as a training for the mind.  There were hesitations (which can be edited into insignificance), but I feel it went well.  Soon, you will be able to judge for yourself.

As a result of this, I am now in no state to do any more education blogging today.  Especially since I have to be back at the half term school tomorrow at 10 am.  So, that will probably be all for today.

Wednesday February 20 2008

imageIndeed.  Here‘s a way to get your daughter interested in “math”.  And maybe your son also?  As featured in Newsweek.

And mentioned by one of the many commenters on this, who also linked to this blog posting, where Natalie Portman also gets a mention because she is also a mathematician.

Sorry about the pictorial havoc caused by the picture to the right to the posting below in the first draft of this.  Worth all the bother, I hope you agree.  What happens is: if there’s not enough text, the picture bashes its way downwards.  Hence this extra text.

imageCarlotta links to this letter about home schooling, quoting this from it:

The psychologist Frank Smith in The Book of Learning and Forgetting chronicles how the current schooling model has only been in existence for the last 120 years. It was based on a plan used to produce soldiers for the Prussian army.

Sounds interesting.  Google google.  Here it is.  And lots of reviews, which is the bit at Amazon I always find most helpful.  I knew there would be, because the home schoolers would be interested.

But, pointing out that education as we now know it was invented for the Prussian army doesn’t totally invalidate it.  It wasn’t nice, but in its own way and judged by its own standards, the Prussian army worked very well for quite a while.  It certainly trained soldiers more effectively and fearsomely than any of the other armies.  Can it simply be assumed that such methods are of no use in training any other sorts of people, to do other things besides fight battles?

It would certainly be nicer if Prussianism was only applied to those who have volunteered for it.  It can work now, still, if the expulsion threat really is (in the eyes of the tormented soldier) a threat, rather than a promise of early release.

My other reaction to this book (having read only the summary of it and some reviews of it) is that education is not only about teaching people things in such a way that they remember them for life.  It is also, among many other things, about teaching people to handle information under conditions of extreme stress - like battles, like examinations, and like business presentations or strategic arguments during crises.  Merely remembering everything that you learn is absolutely not the only point of education.  Employers like fancy exam results not because they expect him or her still to remember everything they learned for that long ago exam, but because doing well in that exam suggests being able to do well when pitched into other high stress circumstances, using whatever information they mugged up in the weeks, days and nights before, this time around.

But without having read the book, I am in no position to accuse its author of not realising this, and I don’t.

Troy Dunn thinks so.  Linked to and talked to in a podcast by Instapundit.

Supports what I said about nepotism.  How would you stop a self made millionaire raising self made millionaires?  Why bother?  Don’t complain about it.  Learn about how he does it.

Following on from this (as in: I am following on from it, he isn’t), one of my favourite bloggers just now, David Thompson, writes at length about Indoctrinate U.

Indoctrinate U says – what else? - that leftist orthodoxy perpetuates itself in universities, by relentlessly and if necessary violently forbidding all challenges.

Personally I put this down to the USA having been founded by Puritans, by “orthodoxists”, so to speak.  If it isn’t one orthodoxy, it will surely be another.  The answer to the problem is that the ruling orthodoxy should be and should always remain: Brian-Micklethwait-ism.

Tuesday February 19 2008

If you have good answers to that question, please comment on this Samizdata piece.  Or, if you would prefer somewhere more private, comment here.

UPDATE:  Wow, they’re coming thick (if you’ll pardon the rather inappropriate adjective) and fast.  My favourite so far is this one, from no less a personage than the man from Devil’s Kitchen:

The first is trigonometry. I have designed a number of triangle-based leaflets and flyers and, unfortunately, DTP programmes are not good at dealing with anything that’s not rectangular. So, trigonometry has to be employed.

The second is quadratic equations. I used these when I was producing amateur theatre shows, with multiple ticket prices and audience distributions (yes, there are probably better ways to do this than with quadratics, but quadratic equations were what I remembered).

I would used the results to calculate budgets and ticket prices. I have produced 40 productions (including 12 in the Edinburgh Fringe) and never lost money, so that has been very useful.

I had no idea he produced Edinburgh Festival shows.  Blog and learn, my hearties, blog and learn.

It has long been know that academia is biased towards the left.  But why? Is it because lefties perpetuate themselves and viciously exclude non-lefties?  Or is it because non-lefties exclude themselves, because they want early families, and lots of money whether they want early families or not, and hence better paid jobs than they are likely to get at all soon (if ever) in academia?

Here looks like a good place to start looking for answers to such questions.

I have long suspected that libertarianism of my sort is a variety of non-leftism that has the property that it appeals to the academic temperament - abstract, intellectual, ideological, simplified to the point (in some mouths) of being simplistic.  Academically talented libertarians don’t seem to have any problem making academic progress, provided only that they want to.

Meanwhile, I have known many libertarians who vehemently believed in money-making, but who had no particular talent for it.  I am one such.  My Libertarian Alliance boss/colleague the late Chris Tame was another.

And then what about this guy? He has written very successfully about science, but then did a career switch.  He got himself into a position to make lashings of money.  Instead, despite disbelieving vehemently in nationalisation, he ended up losing lashings of (other people’s) money and being a part of the biggest British nationalisation for several decades.  But maybe he illustrates something else entirely, namely the tendency of old Etonians to get swank jobs regardless of whether they will do them brilliantly or well or badly or catastrophically.

Monday February 18 2008

Alex Singleton has been consorting with the students of Warwick University, where he recently did a speaking engagement.  They couldn’t afford to drink, he says, and they aren’t allowed to smoke.  But it’s worse than that:

Tediously, some of them decided to ask me, over the sound of guitars and drums, about post-Washington Consensus international development theory and how they might get good internships in the City.

He ends his piece thus:

The danger is that by robbing students of the traditional university lifestyles, we will end up creating a workforce of boring people who simply obey and conform. These people might be good at jobs that involve mundanely sitting in cubicles and emailing internal memos. But as we face increasing competition from emerging economies like India and China, it is workers who show creativity and innovative thinking who are most economically crucial.

I doubt this.  The assumption that subsequent creativity can be correlated with how much adolescent mayhem you created strikes me as rather implausible.  Just as likely is that, denied the right to strike out on their own with sex, drugs, rock, roll etc., students will instead get creative with their careers and career plans.  No more likely, though.  But no less.

Actually, I think the best way to stimulate future economic activity is public spending cuts, tax cuts, deregulation, and so on.  Economic signals surely count for more than social habits when you were younger.

Samizdata favours the right to have fun also, and made another bit of this piece its quote of the day for yesterday.  But the Samizdata line on fun, if there is one, is that fun is good simply because it’s fun.

Yes:

A new laptop computer for just £99 sounds like the kind of offer found in a spam e-mail or on a dodgy auction website. But the British company Elonex is launching the country’s first sub £100 computer later this month and hopes to be making 200,000 of them by the summer. It will be aimed at schoolchildren and teenagers, and looks set to throw the market for budget laptops wide open.

Called the One, it can be used as a traditional notebook computer or, with the screen detached from the keyboard, as a portable “tablet” – albeit without the planned touchscreen that Elonex had to abandon to hit its £99 price tag. Wi-fi technology lets users access the internet or swap music (and homework) files between computers wirelessly.

Personal files can be stored on the laptop’s 1GB of built-in memory or on a tough digital wristband (1-8GB, from £10) that children can plug into the USB socket of whichever computer they happen to be using, be it the One, a PC at school or their parents’ laptop.

image

It looks clunky compared to my recently purchased Eee PC, with a “rubbery” keyboard (ugh!).  The weight looks all to be behind the screen rather than under the keyboard, but I guess that’s so the computer can still work independent of the original keyboard, and with another better one.  Plus, it seems to have no SD card slot.  (Although, you could just stuff a SD reading widget into one of the USB sockets.) But, look at the price!  Very parent friendly.

Kids having round the clock internet access with them at all times.  It’s been on its way for years.  Now it’s here.  Think what that does to regular education.

Engadget reports that the Elonex is a rebadge of this:

image

Geeks will own these or similar things by the million.  Non-geeks won’t be so keen, so with luck won’t steal them.  (They probably will just grab them and wreck them, though.)

Many teachers will hate them.

Sunday February 17 2008

Excellent:

Several hundred comments to denounce a single harmless gap-year student. Poor guy. I thank Jesus there were no blogs or internet when I was his age. This Max is no more twattish than any other British teenager, only he has the misfortune to have a father who got him a column in The Guardian.

Is nepotism out of control in our newspaper industry? I remember Victoria Coren used to write columns about her A-levels in The Daily Telegraph. Those were superb, but then she starts abusing her position of authority to get a job for her drooling old parent, the self-styled “Alan”. And I was, like, we all admire your daughter, Mr Coren, but don’t you have any talent of your own?

No need to go there to Read The Whole Thing because that is The Whole Thing.  But, if you haven’t already, go there anyway and read all the rest of the blog.

Being a libertarian I have to be relaxed about nepotism, because nepotism happens in the free market and is bound to.  People trust their own family more than random people, and so employ and promote them, having first taught them the business better than random people.  Trades and skills, and all the necessary attitudes and habits of mind needed for them, run in families, thanks to both genetics (including selective mating), and environment.  Why fight it?

imageRemember Gillian Gibbons, the teacher who got into trouble in Sudan.  Now she’s off to China.

Well, Prince Charles thinks it’s ugly.  It looks a bit weird to me, but maybe if I actually saw I would think it was nice.  The Prince was talking to some soldiers that he is the Colonel of, inside it, and said it looked like a dustbin.  This got a laugh.  Since the soldiers are about to go to Afghanistan, they deserve a laugh.

The Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall is named after the university’s former Vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Ivor Crewe, and was opened in October 2006.

image

A University of Essex spokeswoman said: “The Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall is regarded as a flagship building.

“It’s probably the most striking modern building on the campus.

“But I don’t think we want to make too much of what the Prince said. It was just a throwaway remark.”

Throwaway.  Dustbin.  You see what she did there?  By mistake probably.  Which the reporter picked up on.

I have a particular interest in all this, because I spent three happy years at Essex U, doing Sociology with a side order of Amateur Dramatics.

Saturday February 16 2008

The Independent reports on how educating otherwise is on the rise.  Partly it’s the fear of violence and bullying. 

Ann Newstead, the charity’s spokeswoman, said there had been a steady increase in the number of families teaching their children at home. “Whether it is perceived or real, the apparent rise in drugs and knife culture in schools is shocking and makes people think their child might not be safe in school. We have had a big increase in people joining with pre-school children. They are looking at the state system but do not believe it is working.

Mrs Newstead, who has four children, aged 12, 10, 5 and 8 months, withdrew her two eldest sons from school in July 2005 because of bullying. “My seven-year-old [now aged 10] was being badly bullied,” she said. “When we took him out of school we gave our eldest son the choice. It’s worked so well that this September we made the decision not to send our third child to school.”

But now there is a new fear, of too much testing:

Last week the biggest review of primary education for decades revealed that parents were increasingly choosing to educate children at home because they objected to the state school regime of testing and targets.

The link at the bottom, where it says “Interesting? Click here to explore further”, leads to further interesting stuff.

Not if the school life of Stoic is anything to go by.

Friday February 15 2008

Meanwhile, at Samizdata, they’re arguing about which is the ugliest university, the link hook being this illustrated list from America.

Johnathan Pearce nominates Brighton University.  Is that the same as Sussex?  Here is the Gardner Arts Centre, at Sussex U:

image

Original picture here.  Nice shapes.  Shame about the bricks.

Thursday February 14 2008

Madsen Pirie has now reached number 34 in his accumulating list of common errors.

Common Error Number 9, which I commented on here, concerned education.  It went:

“It is wrong to allow bright children to go to special schools. This deprives the ordinary schools of their beneficial influence.”

Number 34, also about education, says:

“Education is a right, not something to be bought and sold.”

Of this, Pirie says:

Education is bought and sold. It costs money to produce, because resources and personnel have to be allocated to its supply. The question is not whether it should be bought and sold, but whether government should have a monopoly on the transaction.

And more.

Pirie denies the meaningfulness of the contrast, but does not actually take issue with the first half of the proposition.  Is education a right?  I say: no.  He says: if education is a right, there are better ways of ensuring that people enjoy this right than having a government monopoly.  Which is true, as far as it goes.

imageIn the latest (March 2008) issue of the Gramophone, Jonas Kaufmann, who is arguably the finest tenor Germany has produced in the past half-century, talks about a crisis in his singing career, and how an American teacher living in Germany enabled him to surmount it.

A year after graduating I found that I had no clue how to sing. I was very close to quitting altogether, so insecure was I about everything I was doing onstage. The voice constantly felt as though it could go at any moment. And that, eventually, is exactly what happened. Twice. Onstage, while singing in Parsifal. The conductor looked at me, I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

This is a regular nightmare for opera singers, but here I was living it. To my great fortune there was an American bass in this show who said, “You need a better teacher”. I was sceptical, and retorted that a doctor was what I needed. But eventually I took his advice and hunted for a vocal coach who could show me the right path. That’s when I met Michael Rhodes, and that first meeting changed my life.

A friend took me along to see this Brooklyn-born man living in the German town of Trier. This was 13 years ago, and although he was already in his 70s he was full of energy and power.

After we had been introduced, he got down to business. “Sing ah, ah, ah” he demanded. I obliged. “Interesting,” he said, “now sing ee, ee, ee.” I did as he asked, and he said, “Absolutely wrong”. I was stunned. “What are you talking about?”

I asked, baffled. “Your ee is much too slim and broad, you use your mouth in the wrong way and your entire sound is unnatural for you.” It was the first time that somebody had dipped their hand into that wound, but he was right. German tenors are expected to sound light and bright, with little vibrato, a typical Peter Schreier sound. I also expected this, and was manipulating my voice to sound like this. It sort of worked, but the sound was unhealthy and I would finish each performance exhausted.

In that session, Rhodes told me to open my mouth and let my own sound out. It took a while for me, and for other people, to trust this dark, heavy sound I was now making. But, whereas my voice had previously given out sometimes even before I had finished a lesson, on this occasion I sang for him for two and a half hours. I could have continued singing for hours more.

Suddenly it was so easy to sing! And by learning that new way of singing I became more and more relaxed in my voice and in myself. And I always had Rhodes as my indefatigable guide. If ever I couldn’t reach a note, he – a septuagenarian baritone – would sing a soft high B and taunt me. He challenged me, he taught me, he kept me in singing.

See and hear Kaufmann singing Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio here.

What happens when seats for a particular college class are scarce.  Queueing?  A lottery?  An auction?  (Ticket touts?)

Money quote (one among many):

Students regularly buy classes they don’t want to take in hopes of selling them, making a profit, and using those points to buy classes they really do want.

Another:

It’s common knowledge among students which classes sell for a premium and which can be picked up for a song. Professors with more star power command higher prices. It also has to do with how many seats are available. If you restrict your class to 10 students, your price will most likely rise.

Only in American.  Where else?

Read the whole thing here.  I have a prejudice, or I thought I had, against linking to American stuff (what with it being so well covered elsewhere), but the American education scene is just too interesting and too well reported to ignore.

imageAmit Varma notes that Cambridge University is establishing a Jawaharlal Nehru Professorship of Indian Business and Enterprise.  Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge.

Varma also links also to what R Vaidyanathan says about this:

All the same, the use of government money ...

... by which he means Indian government money ...

… to facilitate the fund-raising activity of Cambridge or other UK institutions raises several questions.

It is common knowledge that post-Thatcher era, educational institutions in the UK have been forced to raise the fees, particularly for foreign students. Even so, the fees do not cover even 25% of the cost of running these institutions. Hence most of these institutions are going around the world with a begging bowl camouflaged as road shows for their graduate and undergraduate course. They are desperate for funds and their endowments/ corpus is much lesser than that of US universities.

Cambridge, each with around $5 billion as endowments, are far behind Harvard and Yale, which are flush with funds to the tune of $50 billion and $30 billion, respectively. Even comparable US universities like the Texas System or Michigan have much higher endowments than them.

Now, why should a developing country like India fund the declining institutions of the West, and more so, those of the UK?

If Cambridge was so fascinated about Nehru entering it as a student or about the India Story, it should have approached a private financier or company in the UK to fund this endowment.

Varma singled out this:

It is also ironical that the professorship is for business studies, while Nehru was the architect of the licence permit quota Raj in India. It is like the butchers’ association of Texas providing a chair to study Gandhian thought in some US university.

At that LA dinner I attended last night, there was talk of the Oxford and Cambridge “brands”, and of how strong they are.  This piece by Vaidyanathan suggests to me that maybe these brands aren’t so strong after all.

The picture of Nehru that I have used, which I found here, shows him as a Harrow schoolboy.  Here, there is a picture of the young Nehru as an officer cadet at Harrow.  After Cambridge, Nehru became a barrister at the Inner Temple, so Nehru had the whole posh English education treatment.  (This must have been where he got the idea of regulating the life out of the Indian economy.) These two pictures were taken over a hundred years ago.

Wednesday February 13 2008

I’m just back from an posh type LA Dinner, at posh restaurant Shepherds (a convenient short walk from where I live) addressed by John Kersey, speaking about higher education and what he is doing about it.  See also this posting

JK will get more mentions here in the weeks and months to come.  For now, I just want to pass on something that Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said, which is that the TaxPayers’ Alliance are about to publish something saying that all university lecture halls ought to have webcams at the back of them, which we could all watch over the internet.  This would serve two purposes.  First, it would show the taxpayers, who are after all paying for most of this stuff, what they were getting, or not getting, for their money.  Second, it would reveal the wicked leftism of it all.  I would add that putting webcams in lecture halls might cause the quality of the lecturing to go up and the behaviour and attendance records of the students to improve.  Also, you never know, us taxpayers might learn things.

Interesting.  Kind of a different slant on this.  No doubt the most embarrassing clips would immediately show up on YouTube.

imageMy bet for the next President of the USA (following on from this conversation) is Barack Obama.  He will beat Hillary and he will beat McCain, I think.

Here is a report about Obama’s views on education.  He is in favour of education being good and against it being bad.

He said the U.S. needed teachers who could instruct American children not only to excel in mathematics and science but also in other subjects.

Now why hadn’t anyone thought of that before?  But what is more interesting is that the way he decorates these vacuities is by talking about kids in India and China, hence the Hindu Times picking up on this.  They are scared of us!  Hurrah for us!  Hurrah indeed.

UPDATE: More about candidate education policies here.

Incoming:

Hello,

I have been reading your blog (along with the hilarious fat man on a keyboard blog) which were pointed out to me by a friend. As yours is a libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners I wondered if you would be interested in linking to the AHEd wiki, action for home education: http://ahed.pbwiki.com/?

Barbara Stark.

There you go.

Lots of food for thought here.  My favourite (so to speak) snippet so far, which I encountered here, is this, from Joseph Stalin:

“Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don’t allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?”

What a charmer.

AHEd Aims here.

imageSome years ago I met Peter Ryley, at a conference in Manchester (I think), at which we both were speakers (again: I think), and we got on well, despite coming from distinct (if just about touching - via “anarchism") parts of the intellectual landscape.  So when I came across his blog, I read.  I continue to read.

Peter’s biggest meme just now is the UK Government’s decision to cut back on further education, of the sort that involves a change of direction and hence studying something different to a level already reached in some previous course of university study.

I have several relevant prejudices which I will list briefly, by way of an explanation for not knowing what I think about this argument.

First, I am against Government financial “support” for anything.  I want a free market in education, and in as much else as can possibly be contrived.  Regulars here will know this.

But second, my time at university left me with a prejudice in favour of “mature students”.  This is not a universal prejudice.  Another common prejudice is that mature students are spongers who refuse to grow up and work for a living.  Fair enough, there were a few of them at my university also.  But my experience was mostly that mature students, especially those who had already done real jobs for a while but who were back doing education for a change of career direction, were people who had decided to be there and who were there with a plan of learning and a real gusto to pitch into the material, rather than adolescents who had merely arrived there along tracks placed in front of them by others (like teachers and parents) and who tended to behave like overgrown schoolchildren.  University teachers loved mature students, because they were engaged students, and they thus had someone to engage with.  They could really get stuck into teaching them.  I can entirely understand why someone like Peter Ryley would be distraught at the idea of people like this no longer being so abundant in universities, and the drifting child syndrome becoming even more dominant than it is now.

The current trend says: spend a hugely excessive time doing education.  Then work without interruption.  Then “retire” and do nothing but arse around until you die.  I say: jump back and forth between all three constantly, from start to finish.

Meanwhile for a good summary of the current state of this debate, I recommend this, which I of course got to via a Peter Ryley posting.

Tuesday February 12 2008

From Times Online:

All 14-year-old children in England will have their personal details and exam results placed on an electronic database for life under a plan to be announced tomorrow.

Colleges and prospective employers will be able to access students’ records online to check on their qualifications. Under the terms of the scheme all children will keep their individual number throughout their adult lives, The Times has learnt. The database will include details of exclusions and expulsions.

Officials said last night that the introduction of the unique learner number (ULN) was not a step towards a national identity card. But it will be seen as the latest step in the Government’s broader efforts to computerise personal records.

The bit that seems to be most open to abuse is the bit that says: “… prospective employers will be able to access students’ records online”.  Prospective employers?  That sounds like a lot of people.

The NO2ID News Blog doesn’t appear to have any comment about this particular report.  But on January 31st, they did quote Timothy Garton Ash saying this, which seems pertinent:

Britain’s snooper state is getting completely out of hand. We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society, and we must wake up. When the Stasi started spying on me, as I moved around East Germany 30 years ago, I travelled on the assumption that I was coming from one of the freest countries in the world to one of the least free. I don’t think I was wrong then, but I would certainly be wrong now. Today, the people of East Germany are much less spied upon than the people of Britain.

What does it do to the world if everyone can quickly find out everything about everybody?.  Well all right, not everyone and not everything, but let’s just say: every “connected” person (elite member who can access such info), and every exam result? Will exam results become even more important?  Will people check each other’s qualifications before socialising with them, the way they google them already?  Will the fact that the wrong kind of exam results count for very little mean that egalitarianism will take yet another beating?

I do try, but sometimes educational events in the USA are hard to ignore:

Workers arriving about 5:30 a.m. to open Northeast High School in Philadelphia found dozens of hens and roosters wandering around the hallways. The birds were apparently brought to the school sometime over the weekend, said school district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

“We don’t know where the chickens came from or who they belong to,” Gallard said. “I’m pretty sure there is a very upset poultry farmer somewhere who wants them back.”

The floors were covered with droppings and chicken feed. Most of the school’s 3,600 students were sent home for the day because the school required extensive cleanup, he said.

A farmer was called to round up the birds and bring them to Fox Chase Farm, the district’s agricultural school, Gallard said.

Police are checking surveillance tapes to see if they can determine the perpetrator of the fowl prank.

School administrators obviously hate things like this, but pupils love them.  Drama!  Excitement!  Not having to do lessons!  What’s not to love?

Imagine a school where pupils disliked events of this sort, because they didn’t want to be interrupted.  That would really be something.  Maybe the word I’m looking for is: impossible.

USA

Monday February 11 2008

Today I was out and about, and when I got home I was too tired to do any edublogging.  But, I did purchase an Asus Eee PC.  The educational relevance of this device is, I believe, considerable and could border on the momentous.  This thing is a real computer, but it is very light, very small, very robust (because all solid state – no hard drive spinning around and waiting to go wrong if smacked around) and only costs a little over two hundred quid.  Many, many parents will regard this as the ideal kid’s computer, if only for its price.

Competitors are now presenting themselves in major numbers, so there’ll be plenty similar gizmos to choose from, and the prices will keep on dropping.

Sunday February 10 2008

Do you have to be educated, and in particular highly qualified, to get ahead in the world today?  Some interesting reflections by BGC in a comment on this:

The more I look into it, the more it seems that the most parsimonious explanation of educational differentials in modernizing societies is that both education and signalling are less important than we realize; and that IQ is the major factor with personality/temperament as an important secondary factor.

To parody, IQ and temperament are destiny (with a high IQ and a conscientious temperament being optimal on average for both status and income). Several longitudinal IQ studies have shown near-perfect social mobility with respect to IQ (ie. poor kids with IQ rise to the level predicted by their IQ; rich kinds with low IQ fall).

The picture is modified by the fact that IQ is substantially inherited, and that there are big average IQ differences between social classes.

IQ and temperament predict educational attainment - however, of course, educational credentials are also vital, and add noise to this correlation (no matter how clever and hardworking you are, you can’t be a doctor without a degree - but you could still become an entrepreneur).

In the long term, as psychometric testing improves or is all-but replaced by genetic testing - and when the relatively modest effects of education become established - it may be that the amount of time spent in full time education will begin to diminish, and will become much more focused.

We can dream.  I agree that intelligence and temperament are both very important, but believe that education, truly understood, is also crucial, rather as you need an acorn and a friendly environment to make an oak tree.  Remove either, and it’s no oak tree.

But that doesn’t mean that the right environment for clever people with a good temperament is necessarily “education”, as commonly understood now.  Doesn’t education, done well, make your “temperament” better?

All of which is a bit beside the point that the original posting was making, which was a rather intriguing conjecture about how more education, as commonly understood, reduces inflation.  Which is a new idea to me.

Saturday February 09 2008

I’m mostly watching the rugby today, so my thanks to Johnathan Pearce, who has just done some edublogging for me, here:

Children are naturally inquisitive and rebellious against authority - thank goodness - so my reservations about some of the people who want to school their kids at home are not very large, although I do not dismiss them lightly. I sometimes hear in discussions about home-schooling the old canard about how children educated this way are less well ‘socialised’ than their supposedly more fortunate, state or private-school peers. I doubt this: having myself suffered the joys of state schooling, with all the charms of bullying and indifferent teaching that went with it, the idea of encouraging a possibly more individualistic culture as a result of home schooling is to be welcomed (my education experience was not all bad: I got a good degree in the end, so must have done something right). Many people who have been subjected to more than 11 years of compulsory education in a boarding school or some state school never recover their self-confidence as adults. In any event, the whole point here is that education should not have to follow one ‘ideal’ system at all. As a libertarian, I say let education evolve where it will. Does that mean that Walmart or Barclays Bank should be able to run schools? Yes, why the heck not? I look forward to reading headlines like this: “Education Ltd, Britain’s largest listed schooling company, launched a daring bid for Lycee France, the Paris-listed school chain which has boasted the highest examination result tests for the last five years. The deal, if it goes through, would produce a group to rival that of School Corp, America’s largest education chain by market cap.”

My sentiments exactly.

Commenters raise the specter of home-schooled children being dumbed down by Christian Fundamentalists, rather than smartened up by, you know, us.  Midwesterner responds thus:

My sister has home schooled all of her children in a state that gives home schoolers carte blanc. By state law, the government bodies are forbidden to even test home school children unless they are entering the school system and are being tested for placement.

She is a fundamentalist, the wife of a fundamentalist preacher. She believes in creation and kept computer internet connections out of her house until very recently to prevent access to child inappropriate content. Her definition of child inappropriate.

So how bad did things turn out for those poor helpless children. Four of them have reached college age. All four have gone to college and graduated with full academic scholarships. All in ‘hard’ sciences. 2 have bachelor of science degrees, one is going on farther, the other one just graduated and may go on later. One is now working on a PHD in some extremely mathematical micro electronics. One has a health related degree and wants to work in the 3rd world.

All of them can pick and choose their jobs and are actively recruited by headhunters.

Yup. Sure is dangerous letting fundamentalist parents teach their own children. A lot safer to turn them over to the teacher’s union.

Heh.  Also: pardon his French.

Friday February 08 2008

Here is a BBC story from last month that tackles the question of What makes a good teacher? Bottom line, they don’t really know.  They do not, that is to say, yet have a “unanimous answer”.

They never will, if only because we will never all agree about what the purpose of education is.  Which I think is a good reason to let parents and children decide for themselves.  I mean, we will also never agree about what makes “good music” or a “good house” or “good food”, but we do okay deciding for ourselves.  The same should apply to education.

One thing they were clear about was that the best teachers were not necessarily the best qualified ones.  Surprise surprise.

More about Grange Hill, from an addict, here:

I was forever endeared to Grange Hill in 1994 when they filmed a scene betwen Mr Robson and his illicit love interest outside the house I grew up in. This was, however, a sign that the emphasis of the show was moving dangerously away from the lives of the children towards the lives of the staff. Who cared? And then the balance switched back rather too far the other way, concentrating more on extra-curricular romance than the back-row futility of double chemistry. Big mistake. Because Grange Hill’s great strength was the mundane everyday world of history homework, field trips and petty bullying. And that’s the golden age we all remember.

Not me.  But I do like this comment:

When I was about 13, my class went to see the English Shakespeare Company’s Richard III at Hull New Theatre. We were most impressed that one of the actors was the man who played Mr Baxter.

A chap called Michael Cronin, apparently.  Scroll down here for more about him.

English Russia asks:

Are you ready to make an immersion into the glorious life of Soviet Russia? If yes scroll down, this one today differs from other retrospective series we had before by the manner of compilation - it’s not a one collection but is assorted mix came from different sources. Each photo is an individual shot from the fate of some random human who lived in Russia at that times, sometimes those moments were sad, sometimes joyful and photos share this mood with us now: ...

Many of the photos have an educational angle to them, my favourite of these being this one:

image

Now that the West no longer abounds with fools who conclude from the fact that the USSR contained nice moments that it contained no nasty ones and that we should all surrender to it, we can enjoy nice ones like these.

Re all those squiggles on the pavement, it looks as if I may in due course become something of a maths teacher.  Not because I am especially good at this, but because maths teachers seem to be needed in my bit of the educationosphere.  But, as I often say here, I promise nothing.

Although, come to think of it, I’m not sure that the squiggles are maths, or at any rate only maths.  They could be physics, or rocket science, or earthquake-ology.  Or, to me, pretty much anything.

Thursday February 07 2008

Yesterday was a busy day here, for me putting stuff up anyway.  (I have no idea if anyone much is reading this stuff.) But, I have not been entirely idle today, education-blogging-wise.  I have just sent off a bit to this blog, suggesting that the Butterfly Book should be available as a free download.  And I have also been beefing up the blogroll and website list here, a bit, an activity which I intend to do a great deal more of in the weeks and months to come.  (Further suggestions for these would be most welcome.) But, I know, that isn’t very much.  There should be rather more tomorrow.

Wednesday February 06 2008

Sorry, AL, that it took me so long to get around to reading this:

My son is taking his own musical education in hand by picking CDs from the shelves at random and insisting that they be played.

Smart kid.  It’s always good to take your own education in hand.

Today’s choice was Public Image Limited’s Greatest Hits, So Far. “Er”, I ventured to suggest, “you might not like this”. Turns out I was wrong. I underestimated the boy.

But, maybe he only liked it because he had already decided he would, what with his dad telling him he wouldn’t.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Either way, random exploration is a great way to learn.

I have never talked with a parent with more than one child, or read anything by a parent with more than one child, who thought that all children are the same.  And this lady is no different:

I am watching my children closely now, with an eye to becoming their teacher. I am doing my best to discern how each child learns, because to my relatively untrained eye, it does appear that each one processes information differently.

She also brushes aside that old canard about home education, to the effect that home educated children won’t learn to socialise.  She is confident that she and hers will simply ... socialise.  During the afternoon.  After a morning being more studious.

I only got serious about socialising, enjoyably and effectively, after I left school.  Most of the home educated children I’ve met have differed from their contemporaries in being almost unnervingly expert at socialising.  They are so good at it that it takes a moment to adjust.  You are dealing with a fully functioning human who merely happens to be about eleven or whatever, rather than with a mere “child”.

Thanks to Daryl Cobranchi for the link.

Not all teachers are underpaid:

The celebrated author, who once wrote that “weapons are like money; no one knows the meaning of enough”, is contracted at just under £3,000 per hour to teach creative writing at the university. His £80,000 salary obliges him to work a distinctly achievable total of 28 hours a year.

Yes, it’s Martin Amis.

Amis strongly defended his pay deal yesterday. “It’s very much Manchester University’s decision to make and I abide by it,” he told The Times.

I would say that this is actually more like a sponsorship deal, or maybe a celebrity appearance deal.

Underneath this picture ....

image

... it says:

Martin Amis says his teaching experiences at Manchester University may spawn a new novel.

That was almost exactly a year ago.  I wonder how – or indeed if - it’s coming along.

Funny what you learn at The Register:

The BBC has finally expelled Grange Hill, the school-based drama that for the last 30 years encouraged conscientious school kids to become stroppy little hooligans at best and soap actors at worst.

After three decades of snot-nosed caperings both the Beeb and the show’s creator Phil Redmond have decided the school saga has lost its point.

Here’s the BBC version.

image

And that’s picture number one here.  They didn’t look like stroppy little hooligans, did they?  But, a school uniform can mislead, especially nowadays, when a standard uniform is the first thing they introduce when getting to grips with a “failing” school.

Never watched it myself, because by the time it began I was too old.  The bloke in picture number four is more me.  But is that his hair?

Penelope Trunk: lots of things, number two of which goes like this:

Take responsibility for your own education

In my new job, I spent the next six months reading whatever I could about the Internet. I read about advertising and copywriting, I read about programming, I read about everything. I had no idea where I would fit in the Internet industry, but I knew I had to learn about it to succeed in my new job as Internet maven.

I also talked with a wide range of people in my job, so I could learn from them. My next job was being the interface between the IT department and the marketing department. They were not communicating well. How did I know how to communicate with IT people? I have no idea, except that I had read so indiscriminately that I actually sounded knowledgeable about IT issues, especially for someone who went to graduate school for English literature.

imageOne of the key items in a good education is that you emerge from it knowing how to do this kind of thing.

The BC has a similar job to this person!  Excuse for gratuitous picture!  Jen of IT Support knows zero about IT and did none of the things recommended by the BC but got the job anyway!  Mind you, for her, it was more of a punishment than a proper job.

BC continues, in point three, which says “just apply”:

Most of the time the manager or HR person writing the job descriptions has little idea what they really want or need. So write a good cover letter about why you’re a good fit, and ignore the part about qualifications you don’t have. Talk about your track record for delivering what they want.

What’s the worst that can happen?  They say no.  They probably would have anyway.

Tuesday February 05 2008

imageI’m a rugby fan, and rugby is on my mind a lot just now, probably because the Six Nations Championship is just getting under way.  I’ve quoted at length from Clive Woodward’s book, Winning! already, the bit where his father forced Woodward to give up soccer and switch to rugby, by sending him to HMS Conway.  Woodward’s time at Loughborough University was very different:

If HMS Conway represented the darkest period of-my life, my time at Loughborough University was one of the brightest. I spent the better part of four years there, and those years were a great contrast to my school days.

That’s the great thing about university. It’s an environment where you can try and do all sorts of things and not have to worry too much about the risks. You can make mistakes and it doesn’t have to matter that much. You learn. The real world isn’t always so forgiving.  University is a relatively safe environment not only to learn subjects, but also to learn about life.

Woodward’s Loughborough story illustrates very well the difference between people who do well at university and people who waste their time and other people’s money.  Woodward chose Loughborough.  More exactly, he chose one particular teacher at Loughborough.  He had a clear idea of what he wanted to learn there, and who he wanted to learn it from.

Loughborough is, of course, the country’s top Sports Science university today, and it was the top place then, when I arrived there for the first time, brimming with anticipation. Good people from all kinds of sports all over the UK went there because they could really train properly - it was a real centre of excellence with superb facilities. Most sports were amateur in Britain in those days, and Loughborough drew in all the really talented people from a wide range of sports.

So you had to be pretty talented both academically and at sports to get there in the first place, but to me Loughborough was also just four years of real enjoyment. And I ended with a degree, a BSc in Sports Science and Technology. Things have changed since my day, with the course now demanding A’s at A level to gain entry. All I wanted to do was have four years at university, doing the things I liked doing best.

But above all:

Basically, I went to Loughborough for one reason, to play my best rugby, and for one man, Jim Greenwood. If I was going to play for England, it made sense to go where the best coach was. I wanted to see how this guy would help my game. Rugby was an amateur game then of course, but Loughborough was the closest I would get to playing at professional level. I was that little bit slighter than some of the others, but pace, as in all sports, tends to be the deciding factor. As well as pace, I wanted to compete by playing differently, thinking differently.  So naturally I was eager to start working with Jim Greenwood.

Note the point about how Woodward was basically there to enjoy doing what he most loved to do.  I don’t believe that quality in education is determined by the alleged quality of the subject or activity you study, so much as by the enthusiasm and intelligence with which you study it.  If you want to be a hotel manager, and you study hotel management with passion and intelligence, that’s far better than doing a “proper subject” like maths or English literature, but listlessly and with only dumb obedience, and with your heart not in it.

Jim Greenwood had played for his home country, Scotland, and had been selected for the British Lions, so I knew he had been an outstanding player who understood the game inside and out. As it turned out, Jim and I had experienced similar frustrations in the game. He too felt there was so much more to be done on the rugby pitch, that there was so much more to the game than most people were aware of.

His whole ethos was different, and he basically taught what we would now call a standard fifteen-man rugby game compared to the then preferred style of ten-man rugby being played by the national side. In the latter, the focus is on the forwards. Keep it tight and power the ball down the pitch, basically out-muscling the opposition in the forwards, brawn not brain.  England were well-known for the size and strength of their forward pack, and they habitually used this style of play. Jim Greenwood’s style was almost the complete opposite in terms of central focus: use all the players on the pitch wherever possible all of the time - everyone had a role to play, even if you were on the other side of the pitch.

Jim’s book, Total Rugby, the only rugby coaching book I’ve ever read, first came out in 1978 when I was at Loughborough. It was way ahead of its time, and has since become a closely studied classic, especially in New Zealand. It’s now in its fifth edition, and I enjoyed writing a foreword to it only last year.

So here was this Scotsman, a lecturer at Loughborough in the middle of England, flying in the face of conventional wisdom and re-writing all the rule books in the process. I loved it. It was exactly what I’d been searching for since I first began playing rugby at Conway. I played for Jim for three years, captaining the squad my last two. I respect his views on the game more than those of any other man in rugby. We’re still in contact to this day, although he’s well and truly retired in a little village up in Scotland now. No man has done more in our time to singlehandedly transform the modern game of rugby than Jim Greenwood.

For a start, under him we practised weight training, analysing the opposition, and other forms of conditioning, including diet and nutrition programmes that were just way ahead. Outside Loughborough there weren’t any clubs doing that kind of training, though they were starting to do it in the southern hemisphere. It so happened that Greenwood’s ideas and style of play were concurrently being developed, in the emerging schoolboys sides in Australia, the same group of players who would go on to demonstrate in the eighties how a well-executed running game could so thoroughly dismantle a side focused on ten-man rugby.

It’s a sad fact that Jim Greenwood never coached a side at international level. As for England, in that era it was unlikely that anyone who was not English was ever going to coach the country. But I have a feeling that there was more to it: I think the conventional rugby establishment of the time were scared of the likes of Greenwood.

They simply couldn’t take in the ideas of visionaries like him because his ideas would have shaken up a lot of their coaches in the way they played. It was too far from what they knew and believed in, and introducing substantially different ideas would have exposed their real lack of knowledge. To do it Greenwood’s way would have required them to coach a team to take risks in front of a packed house at Twickenham - English rugby was not about innovation or risky play.

Jim continued to be ignored by the various unions in this part of the world, so he went to Japan and is responsible for the lively style of Japanese play today. His concept of Total Rugby is the antithesis of play-safe rugby. Total rugby is an open game in which every player is encouraged to show what he can do as an attacker, defender and supporting player. Jim’s book has become one of the game’s most important coaching manuals. Even in his seventies the man is unquestionably one of the world’s most highly regarded rugby coaches. Jim Greenwood is in the National Coaching Foundation’s inaugural Hall of Fame, and has also been elected as an official Legend of Scottish Rugby.

He really was the premier strategist of the game.

My point is, when you’re around twenty, you need to be looking for a teacher who excites you, and ideally, excites you as much as Jim Greenwood excited Clive Woodward.  I have another picture here of Clive Woodward.  Those are easy enough to find.  But I’ve looked and looked for a picture of Jim Greenwood and could find nothing.  If anyone can supply a link to such a picture, I’d be most grateful.

I can’t resist also quoting this next bit, by way of a bonus, about other champions and other coaches:

But Loughborough wasn’t just Jim Greenwood.

One of my direct contemporaries was Seb (now Lord) Coe, the legendary middle-distance runner, Olympic champion and in his day world record-holder over 1500 metres. While I was at Loughborough I had a chance to see how he trained: the psychology, the nutrition, all the things that go to making a champion. His coach was George Gandy.  And just as I had gone to Loughborough to meet Greenwood, Coe would have gone there to meet Gandy.

It was great to watch Coe do something incredible, like twelve consecutive 300-metre runs, walking in between with Gandy screaming at him. I can remember sitting there thinking, Imagine if we had a rugby team that were as powerful and as fit as that? It would be a world beater, no mistake.

Another of my contemporaries, John Trower who threw javelin, went on to coach Steve Backley to an Olympic bronze medal. I often sat next to John, who spent half his time in the gym, and I was just fascinated to learn from him and the other people around me in different areas of sport. My unspoken thought was always, Why is rugby so far behind? Why were we so ridiculously amateur?

Interestingly, many of the coaches that I eventually brought into the England coaching team hail from Loughborough themselves, and so I have more to be grateful for from this institution than just my own education.

Old boy networks start in all kinds of places, not just Eton.

There is so much more to university education than merely getting in to one that other people are impressed by.  In my opinion this posting has shown you a textbook example of how to choose a university (by choosing an individual teacher), and how to get maximum benefit from it when you get there.

Monday February 04 2008

James Tooley on the educational free market in Africa:

An estimated 40 million primary-school age children in sub-Saharan Africa are not in school and in half of the countries less than 60% finish the full course of schooling. But staying the course isn’t such a great idea either. The United Nations recently reported that, “Most poor children who attend primary school in the developing world learn shockingly little.”

A common response to these problems is to call for billions more in aid for public education. The poor must “be patient,” the development experts opine, because public education needs first to be reformed to rid it of corruption and inefficiencies.

But there is another way of solving this problem and it is being illuminated by, of all people, some of the poorest parents on earth. These parents are abandoning public schools en masse to send their children to budget private schools that charge low fees of a few dollars per month, affordable even to families living on poverty-line wages. In the shantytowns of Lagos, Nigeria, for instance, or the poor rural areas surrounding Accra, Ghana, or in Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, Kenya, the majority of schoolchildren – up to 75% – are enrolled in private schools.

Recent research has shown these budget private schools are superior to government schools because teachers were much more likely to be teaching when researchers checked in on classrooms unannounced, facilities were often better equipped with drinking water and toilets, and academic achievement was much higher, even after controlling for background variables. All of this was accomplished for a fraction of the per-pupil teacher cost.

Here in Britain we can, sort of, afford to waste billions every year on our crappy state sector, so we do.  In Africa, they can’t afford such nonsense, and in way, they’re lucky.  The people there know that either they solve the problem, or it doesn’t get solved by anybody.

"Should be compulsory reading” is what people say when they like a book and think you ought to read it too.  Mercifully this is just a “figure of speech”, i.e. they don’t mean it.  They just think it’s a jolly good book.  But when somebody wants people generally to learn something, that somebody will often say that whatever subject he is on about should be “compulsory in schools” or “part of the standard school syllabus”, and all too often, that somebody really means it.

I’m used to British persons saying such things, but I never thought that Poland’s deputy minister of education would join the chorus.  He thinks that the Polish language should be a major part of the syllabus in British schools.

“It should have a higher status,” he said. “It would be unrealistic to say we could set up Polish as a second or third language in British schools in time for the next school year. But the year after, why not?”

British people have no particular reason to want their children to learn Polish, any more than French, Spanish, or Chinese.  As for Polish people living in England, why on earth would they need anybody to teach their children Polish?

If I was the Polish deputy minister of education, I’d be more concerned about the standard of English teaching in Britain.

Sunday February 03 2008

Frank Chalk, who works in a “sink school” (see below) has been arguing on the radio with a teacher from a nice school.

During our discussion, I started to give an example of a pupil misbehaving in class and how easy it is for a single disruptive child to utterly destroy your lesson. The other teacher replied with genuine puzzlement:

‘Well I’d just tell him to stop and he would’

I think he was serious and maybe it is as simple as that in his school. I pointed out that in my dump, the child wouldn’t even bother to aknowledge that you had said anything, but I started to get that age old feeling once again, that there is such a huge gap in the public’s (and many teachers’) perception of what it’s really like trying to teach in a sink school and just how bad some of our customers can be.

Our state education system depends for its effectiveness on the chain of command-and-control issuing commands which are actually obeyed and which actually do control.  It’s a Prussianised pyramid of power, and the people running it have to be willing to get Prussian from time to time, or it can’t work.  Yet the people who preside over this system from London are reluctant to admit that the system they command involves much in the way of commands being given, other than by them to teachers.  God forbid that the teachers themselves should command.  No, they must help, enable, inspire, communicate, facilitate, anything except actually give orders to children, and insist that they be obeyed.  In nice schools, this myopia does no huge damage.  In schools like the one Frank Chalk works in, it is suicidal.

As it happens I share the distaste for Prussianism that the commanders of our state education system display, with regard to teachers Prussianising their pupils, and when it comes to politicians piling initiative after initiative upon the teachers.  But I’m not involved in running the state education.  I help out in a small school independent of the state system, and our discipline system is the same as it is in rest of the civilised world, that is, in all the bits of the world that are civilised.  Obey the rules or leave.  Okay, you may have to have those rules explained to you a couple of times, but if that’s happened and still you break them, then you must leave and you can’t come back.  There’s plenty more who want in, who are prepared to behave.  All the parents are on our side, and pay something.  Not much, but something.  Simple really.

That radio discussion was sparked by the Government’s ongoing campaign to get “high flyers” into state education.  But as Frank Chalk says, the working conditions are the problem.  No matter how high these high flyers may have flown in other skies, in this one, they are liable to come down to earth with a bump.

See in particular: the comments.  Most enlightening.

And see also what FC has to say about the NUT’s proposed one day teachers strike.

Saturday February 02 2008

I am busy concocting another longer posting, but am out this evening, so do not want to have to finish it.  So, in the meantime and very possibly instead, that old standby of the blogger in a hurry, a quote, from Montesquieu:

image

Today we receive three different or opposing educations: that of our fathers, that of our schoolmasters and that of the world.  What we are told by the last upsets all the ideas of the first two.

Reason and observation versus tradition, is Montesquieu’s point.  But the triumph of many of the ideas championed by Montesquieu has not caused this mismatch to go away, although I think fathers are often more rational these days.  There is still a type of person who struggles at school but excels at life, and another type who does the opposite, although that is not at all what Montesquieu had in mind.

I got this quote not from the internet, but from a book, called History in Quotations.  As I read through my remaindered copy of this, it seemed very hard going.  How could something as fascinating as history, and all the fascinating things said by people while it was made and while some of them were actually making it, seem so turgid?  Then I saw that John Major was involved in the compiling of it, and all was explained.  That man has an unequalled talent for tedium.

Friday February 01 2008

Interesting news from the Evening Standard about class sizes:

The head of a city academy has called for pupils to be taught in supersize classes.

Frank Green, headteacher of Leigh Technology Academy in Dartford, has introduced the 60-strong classes, led by teams of three teachers, because he believes they are key to improving pupils’ behaviour and exam grades.

Leigh’s new £36 million building, which the academy has just moved into, has been designed with 12 rooms large enough to take the classes, which are at least double the size of those in most secondary schools.

Pupils are supposed to fare better if taught in smaller groups, according to conventional thinking.

Private schools promote their smaller class sizes as a major selling point and in state primaries, three-, four- and five-year-olds must, by law, be taught in groups no larger than 30.

But Mr Green insisted there was “considerable research evidence” that children learn well - particularly in technology-related subjects - in groups of 55 or 60, supported by three teachers and sometimes one or more classroom assistants.

He said the system also had advantages for managing classroom behaviour, explaining: “With the best will in the world, not every teacher is a brilliant classroom disciplinarian. When you’ve got three adults in the classroom, it makes it more difficult to behave badly.”

The large-class policy, which was introduced at Leigh for science three years ago, has now been expanded to cover English, maths, science and technology and is likely to extend to humanities and languages.

One reason why smaller class sizes have traditionally been preferred is, presumably, that you decrease the chance of a seriously warlike pupil being present, who brings any plans for actual education to a cacophonous and violent halt.  But if you have three times as many pupils and three times as many teachers that might change the rules in favour of the teachers.  Everything hinges on having lots of teachers as well as lots of pupils.

What are the chances of so many pupils being warriors that they can overwhelm, say, four teachers who are acting as a pack?  An alpha dog among the teacher pack (it only takes one!) will surely emerge in the heat of battle, and command the rest, and the teachers will win.  Also, the teachers will have other teachers to show off to, especially if they are mixed sex!  Also, if a teacher kills or badly wounds one of the warrior pupils, all the other teachers can testify that it was in self defence.  Even if it wasn’t.

The war between the teachers and the warrior pupils switches from a guerrilla war, in which the teachers are separated and picked off one by one and which the teachers are liable to lose, to a more conventional war on a bigger battlefield, which they are pretty much bound to win, and which if it does get nasty will be so violent that outsiders are liable to join in on the side of the teachers, instead of just moaning that each separate poor bloody loser teacher needs to learn better “classroom skills”.