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Saturday May 31 2008

No question about it, this lady is my favourite edublogger just now.  Take this latest posting, for instance.  I have no idea whether I agree with it or not.  But I am very sure that I find the general subject matter most fascinating.

I smile uncomfortably. I hold up my hand as if to say ‘enough’: (it’s ok Hero, you don’t have to keep bowing). And so I bow to him, I suppose to show that there isn’t any need for him to continue bowing.

The boy hesitates. He is confused. He frowns. He doesn’t understand. And as Hero is trying to process my reaction, it dawns on me that I am behaving in the very way that ensures the destruction of our children in England: teachers queuing up for lunch, people listening to both the side of the child and the teacher when a child is in trouble, children being treated as equals with their teachers.

This Japanese boy knows how to show deference to his elders, and in his society this is expected and encouraged. Now he is faced with an elder who rejects this deference. It leaves him confused, as it does to all of our young people in England.

Pecking orders have always fascinated me, which for many decades expressed itself in fascination with, in the broadest sense, politics.  To whom do we properly owe allegiance or at least deference?  Who is claiming allegiance or expecting deference who is not truly owed it?  And how are these various ideas expressed in the minutiae of human behaviour?

And, setting aside the rights and wrongs of it, why do people (children in particular) seem spontaneously to defer to some people (teachers in particular), but not to others?

Friday May 30 2008


Dear Brian,

I have been having a look at your blog and though you might like to hear about our new site www.tutpup.com which has free maths and English games for students.

Our site is completely free, has no ads, does not require players to disclose any personally identifiable information and allows students to play competitive head-to-head games with their friends/classmates or students from around the world.

We also provide tools for teachers where they can set up and manage their classes as well as seeing how their students are performing at school and at home.

I thought that this may be of interest as our aim is to help as many kids (wherever they are) to improve their basic maths and English skills and this seemed to fit with the libertarian leaning of your blog.

Richard Taylor

Yes, Richard Taylor, this is just the kind of thing that does interest me, a lot.  Feel entirely free to keep me and my readers informed of progress with this. It’s obviously a world away from this kind of thing, but some of the simplest and most basic games are among the most successful and addictive, yes?

As I keep saying here, sooner or later someone is going to make something like this work in a very big way.

Snapped yesterday, on my travels:


Story here.

Thursday May 29 2008

Tom Chatfield discusses computer games:

When Mogwai isn’t online, he’s called Adam Brouwer, and works as a civil servant for the British government modelling crisis scenarios of hypothetical veterinary disease outbreaks. I point out to him a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, billed under the line “The best sign that someone’s qualified to run an internet startup may not be an MBA degree, but level 70 guild leader status.” Is there anything to this? “Absolutely,” he says, “but if you tried to argue that within the traditional business market you would get laughed out of the interview.” How, then, does he explain his willingness to invest so much in something that has little value for his career? He disputes this claim. “In Warcraft I’ve developed confidence; a lack of fear about entering difficult situations; I’ve enhanced my presentation skills and debating. Then there are more subtle things: judging people’s intentions from conversations, learning to tell people what they want to hear. I am certainly more manipulative, more Machiavellian. I love being in charge of a group of people, leading them to succeed in a task.”

It’s an eloquent self-justification - even if some, including Adam’s partner of the last ten years, might say he protests too much. You find this kind of frank introspection again and again on the thousands of independent websites maintained by World of Warcraft’s more than 10m players. Yet this way of thinking about video games can be found almost nowhere within the mainstream media, which still tend to treat games as an odd mix of the slightly menacing and the alien: more like exotic organisms dredged from the deep sea than complex human creations.

This lack has become increasingly jarring, as video games and the culture that surrounds them have become very big news indeed. In March, the British government released the Byron report - one of the first large-scale investigations into the effects of electronic media on children. Its conclusions set out a clear, rational basis for exploring the regulation of video games. Since then, however, the debate has descended into the same old squabbling between partisan factions. In one corner are the preachers of mental and moral decline; in the other the high priests of innovation and life 2.0. In between are the ever-increasing legions of gamers, busily buying and playing while nonsense is talked over their heads.

I recall similar debates about television.  With telly the argument was pretty much pleasure versus “goodness”, measured by some other standard.  So if you think pleasure matters (I definitely do) then telly is great.  If not, then not.

The most obvious impact of television was simply the things that people didn’t do, as a result of watching television instead.  Such as: keeping an eye on or open for criminals, whether out in the streets or at home.  Crime always goes up in a country when television arrives, and since this happens so very quickly, it’s hard to regard it as resulting from any deep psychological damage, just to the change in the crime environment.  Not that there necessarily aren’t deep psychological effects, just that the obvious impacts are so much more obvious.

With games, what is surely new is that kids have independent access to their individual games machines, and can carry them around with them.

As for the intellectual impact, I don’t see how the damage could possibly be greater than the brain damage allegedly caused by television to some people, and especially to children who do nothing except watch telly.


Does an education at an elite public school diminish a politician’s legitimacy? Gordon Brown’s dismissal of David Cameron as “just an Old Etonian” signifies not just his view that products of privilege have no place in politics, but also that the electorate will, as a matter of course, reject him ab initio because of his background.

Boris Johnson’s election as mayor of London appears to have put paid to that idea. There could hardly be a more caricature Old Etonian than the foppish Johnson, but it did not stop voters in the most cosmopolitan city in the world from electing him. Far from seeing him as a pre-modern relic, they relished his postmodern idiosyncrasy.

I think “didn’t stop” is right, and all this may even have helped.  After all, the real story of these elections was that the voters wanted to give Gordon Brown, and his government, and his party, a good kicking.  If that meant putting on Boris Johnson as a boot, so be it.  It was one of those “we’d vote for a pig rather than these bastards” elections.  The worse - the less legitimate, the more risible, the more of a posh pig - many voters still reckon people like Boris Johnson to be, the more forcefully that point was made.

Wednesday May 28 2008

A few days ago the dog ate my homework.  Remember that?  Probably not, because, who reads this that devotedly?  (If anyone does, feel free to comment to that effect.  By the way, don’t you think that this dog, a real dog this time, is very amusing?  I do.)

So anyway, what was this metaphorical dog?  Basically, what happened was that as the deadline for posting here approached, I got stuck into a domestic housekeeping job.  Arranging my embarrassingly large collection of movie DVDs recorded from off the telly in alphabetical order, as it happens.  And I found myself enjoying it.  Something about the fact that I wasn’t doing it for anybody else, and thus nobody was bossing me, and the fact that I’d been meaning to do this for ages, and knew that the sense of increased order and driven-back entropy would please me greatly, once the task was done.  So, instead of breaking that off and writing some piece of drivel for this blog, I carried right on into the small hours of the next morning (not that small actually) and only when it was done did I put the posting for what had become yesterday, to the effect that there would basically not be a proper posting. And that was the dog that ate my homework.

I permitted this canine consumption because I was treating myself the way I believe that children should be treated.  The most depressing thing about regular school-type schools, such as I help out in, is the way that children are constantly interrupted.  There they are, often concentrating on something else with amazing completeness, and they are interrupted, and told to do some “work”.  If they allowed their extraordinarily expressive bodies to communicate that they would much rather not be doing this “work”, insult is often added to injury, in the form of a teacher telling them that they must “learn to concentrate”.  I sometimes think that this is the most damaging lesson that schools ever teach.  Someone who can and did concentrate is turned into someone who not only doesn’t, but who ends up believing that they can’t.

We all know how to influence humans, small or big.  Wait for them to do what you want, and then thank them, praise them, compliment them.  I recall one of my early sessions with Small Boy, where the body language in response to all my “suggestions” about what we should do was deafeningly hostile.  He did it (probably because he feared a scene with his deceptively small and charming mother if I snitched on him) but made it clear that he was not amused.  In the end, in sheer desperation, I got him to just draw something.  Anything.  What he drew had, I thought, little merit, and I said, well, I don’t much care for it.  If you like it, then great because at least one of us did, but I’m not impressed.  I don’t believe in lying about things like this, which may make me a pompous swine, but there you go, I don’t.  But nor do I believe in withholding praise where praise is due.  I also told Small Boy that he had concentrated on his task superbly, and I now knew that his powers of concentration were considerable.  My goal is now to have him choosing activities which he knows I regard as appropriately educational, from an ever expanding menu, as it were, so that he is able to get that little bit more into the habit of doing concentrated work, of a sort that he finds not uncongenial.  (This is a compromise between the authoritarian ethos of the school, and the anti-authoritarian ethos of yours truly.)

Once again, I don’t believe I have to explain much of this to the home-educators.  They know all about the almost superhuman powers of concentration that an uninterrupted child is able to wield.

And just as I don’t like interrupting children who are concentrating on something, almost anything, so too, I thought, I would refrain, that evening, from interrupting myself.  I’d put up a holding post saying: sorry, nothing here today.  And then explain the very educational principle being upheld later.  I.e. now.

Good night, and back to arranging my embarrassingly large classical CD collection into chronological order by composer.  Which I am actually not enjoying that much, and from which I needed a break.

Tuesday May 27 2008

From last Friday’s Evening Standard Magazine, in a piece about the clothing business lady who models her own bikinis, Elizabeth Hurley:

How is Damian getting on with the girls in his new co-ed school?  ‘He loves it,’ she says.  ‘I’m having to teach him how to play with girls.  He’s only really used to playing with boys, and so when I see him rugby tackling the girls to the floor, I have to explain that it is not very gentlemanly.  When two six-year-old boys are rolling around on the grass fighting, and one says to the other, “Get off,” boys just do it harder.  I’m trying to make him understand that when a girl says, “Get off,” you have to get off – immediately!  Not a bad lesson to learn early. ...


Monday May 26 2008

Studentteacher83 reports on a town-country culture clash:

Year 7 camp takes place at the end of June and everything is being planned out. Two girls in my form asked if there would be anywhere to plug in hair straighteners. I know it’s only a camp for twelve year olds and it’s not like we’re heading out into a forest and surving by eating moss and slugs but they’re not really getting into the Ray Mears spirit of things.

Camps.  Camping.  In the countryside, presumably.  I’ve often thought that it might make sense to crank up the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides again, but make the background urban rather than rural.  Instead of learning tracking in the countryside, you’d learn how to follow someone in a city.  Instead of map reading in the mountains, it would be map reading with the A-Z.  Memorise not trees, but the London Underground.  Instead of animal spotting, car or motorbike repair.  (First aid, however, would still be first aid.)

Sunday May 25 2008

Tim Worstall of the ASI picks up on this piece in the Independent about the Dutch state education system, which makes it sound very good.  Why can’t it be like that here?

Yes, it’s Holland, the Netherlands. The how is that they have a variation of the voucher system that we argue for here at the ASI. The parents choose the school, any one of them that they wish subject to minimal licencing requirements and the government pays the bills. Yes, top up fees are allowed, parents making that decision for themselves as well. We might also note that the Netherlands is a great deal more egalitarian than the UK and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it has greater social mobility as well (for those who worry about such things).

Engineers have a saying that you can have “better, faster, cheaper, pick any two” for you can’t have all three. But it appears that we run our current education system so appallingly badly that we can indeed make it better, fairer and cheaper.

I have my doubts about getting from where we are to there, but I am in favour of the attempt being made.

A week ago I noted the question, concerning the Chinese earthquake: Shoddy Chinese classrooms? According to the New York Times, the answer is: yes.

This is the picture that illustrates it.  On the left, a kindergarten.  On the right, a hotel.  The remnant in the middle is what’s left of the school.


How come the others staid put, but much the school fell down like a house of cards?

Saturday May 24 2008

Today I was at Hammersmith Saturday again.  Apparently there was some confusion in parental minds about whether this was the half term break, which for Hammersmith Saturday is not this week (as it already is for regular schools) but next week.  Present were a mere five pupils, and five teachers (assuming I count), plus one teacher’s daughter, who joins in as a pupil or not as she pleases.  So, I was pretty much surplus to requirements.  I myself will not be attending Hammersmith Saturday for one Saturday in mid-June.  When I revealed this news to Other Man Teacher today, he hardly panicked at all.

So, what did I actually do today?  One thing I did was sit down and, as a pretend pupil, do some of the arithmetic tests that Miss Maths sets her charges.  I did this because (a) it will make me better at teaching arithmetic, which I want to get better at, and (b) because it does the children good, maybe, some of them, the ones who care, to see just how very very quickly, compared to most of them, mental arithmetic can actually be done by someone who is quite good at it.  As I told Miss Maths, Rachmaninoff used to teach the piano by just himself playing the piano to his pupils.  He didn’t make his pupils play, or tell them how to play.  He just played.  He set a standard.  I was, in a somewhat more mundane setting and far more mundanely, attempting the same technique.  It didn’t work, though.  The ones that didn’t care didn’t care.  The ones that might have were busy doing their own sums.

But the main thing I did was just get to know a few of the children who were there that little bit better.

I have long held to the theory that one of the Great Educational Divides in Humanity is between People Who Were Confused At School, and People Who Were Bored At School.  Education Theory, for instance, is either elaborated to solve the problem of Confusion, or of Boredom, the Traddists being the ones who were Confused and the Progressive being the ones who were Bored.  Two of the girls present were classic “I’m bored!” pupils.  “I’m bored,” they said.  “This is boring.” But one of the boys in particular is a classic Confused type.  He doesn’t mind being bored, so long as he knows what he is supposed to be doing, and is left to get on with it.  Children are different from each other.

Talking of children being different, another basic divide in educational theory concerns whether education means focusing on strengths, or on weaknesses.  Are teachers supposed to bring out spikes of super-achievement from their pupils, while those same pupils continue, e.g., to do sums by counting on their fingers?  Or are teachers supposed to home in on weaknesses and try to correct them?  Miss America, who is a very capable and much loved teacher of English at Hammersmith Saturday, is, so it appears to me, a weakness correcter.  My lazy, fun-loving instincts tend towards playing to strengths and dealing with alleged weaknesses by just going around them.  My understanding of a lot of home educators is that they feel this way too, not just out of laziness and not wanting to have perpetual fights, but because they think it’s for the best.  (I recently read an HE-er’s posting about a son who learned to hand-write very well but in his own good time, without being pressurised.  But, I can’t now find this.  It has a picture of his writing.  Anyone?)

So, for instance, those two Bored Girls were being driven almost foetal-position with the tedium of the sums that Miss Maths was giving them.  So after their ordeal, to cheer them up, I just sat down and had a conversation with them.  This worked well.  They are both highly witty and stimulating conversationalists, and conversing with them is playing to one of their strengths.  (Women love to talk.) They soon cheered up.

My playing-to-strength way of teaching arithmetic would be to find out what a kid really, really cares about, and find the arithmetic in that.  Miss Actress, for instance, would be asked things like: how many lines are there in this Shakespeare play?  How much money did Angelina Jolie get for her last film?  If she got this for her last film, and this for the one before, and this for the one before that, etc., how much did she make in the last decade?  Things like that.  And as for all those boys who are going to be international footballers ...  (By the way, the England team is going to have thousands of young men in it in fifteen years time.) Well, the Premier League is an absolute hotbed of arithmetic.  I learned a lot of my mental arithmetic listening to cricket commentaries on the radio, and reading the scores in the newspaper.

Well, that is what I would do with the Bored ones.  With the Confused ones, I simply let them get on with their arithmetic, helping them with any confusions.

Friday May 23 2008

Yesterday, I think it was, I was half-listening to some TV news coverage of the case of Kyra Ishaq, who has just been imprisoned to death in Birmingham.  And I heard something to the effect that Kyra was “taken out of school”, or some such phrase.  I may even have heard the phrase “home schooling”, or something like it.  I do hope that this one horrific case is not used as an all-purpose excuse to restrict the right to home educate.

No mention of any such thing in this report.  In this report, the school angle is prominent, but again, no suggestion that removing children from school is inherently evil.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

I see that Carlotta has been having the same thoughts.

Thursday May 22 2008

Metaphorically speaking.  I’ll tell you what the dog was, literally, tomorrow.  I hope.  I promise nothing.

Wednesday May 21 2008

I can’t say I get the details, but what I do get is that kids nowadays are utterly fascinated by their little games consols.  The contrast with their merely grudging acceptance of school work is palpable.  If that fascination could be turned back into physical activity, the health benefits would be huge.

Will historians decide that computer games got a generation of fatties back on their feet again, and off the couch that TV and the early internet had glued them to?

Thanks to Instapundit, who also links to this review, the final paragraph of which reads thus:

So what’s it good for? In fitness, no machine can ever replace the drive to be healthy. Not Bowflex, not Thighmaster, and not Wii Fit. The real difference here is that Wii Fit builds fitness consciousness, reminding us of our body’s state of being, chiding us for bad habits while encouraging the good. And this is while building up the basic fitness necessary to start doing high intensity workouts or sports. It makes exercise feel like a video game, and we all know we can have fun playing those for hours.

But the point is that this machine no longer interrupts the drive to get fit, the way TV did and the regular internet does.

This is surely a far more important cultural development than those damned Olympic Games, the health impact of which mostly is in the number of couch-potato hours spent sat in the couch watching them.

Tuesday May 20 2008
Monday May 19 2008

More about this story.

Via this article in the Times, I found my way to this remarkable sound recording, of an academic at Kingston University, Fiona Barlowe-Brown, urging students lie to Mori polsters about the excellence of their university.  More info about the recording here.

She sounds like a rather fine teacher.  What a tragedy that she has been induced to become a fraudster.

As Niall Ferguson is quoted saying, in this:

It was comical, he added, how much the English exam system resembled the target-driven planned economy of the old Soviet Union in which every last detail was controlled from the centre and based on inadequate information and ideological preoccupations.

“Inadequate” didn’t, and doesn’t, begin to describe the fraudulent and delusional nature of this information.

The point about the Soviet economic system is that good people lied, and for good reasons.  It was not the occasional bad apple who lied.  Everyone lied.  To blame Fiona Barlowe-Brown and her pal for this, and nobody else, is to miss the point entirely.



Idiots in the nicer parts of the nice countries say that violence, cruelty, compulsion etc. are not merely nasty, which they are, but ineffective, which they are not.  Given the objectives of those being nasty, nastiness, again and again, works.  If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be nearly so widespread, or nearly so difficult to argue against.  Even those subjected to it have a horrible tendency to believe that it was good and necessary.  And, of course, to pass it on.

Sunday May 18 2008

As feared, thousands of classrooms destroyed in China.  Was their construction poor?  Official enquiry soon begins?

Andrew Neil, here:

Those who regret the demise of the grammars pose this question: if you destroy the centres of educational excellence for bright kids from ordinary backgrounds, but keep those which are reserved largely for children who have well-off parents, why would you be surprised if public school kids started grabbing all the glittering prizes once more?

Makes sense.  He’s talking about this.

David Friedman, while writing about egalitarianism, includes a reference to the intellectual atmosphere in which he grew up:

In interactions with my father when I was growing up it was always clear that what mattered was who was right, who had the better argument, not who was older - status was simply irrelevant. Many years later I was shocked to hear an intelligent elderly man tell a child not to contradict his elders. From the point of view I had grown up in, the statement was not merely wrong, it was close to obscene.

I recall my own father, who was a lawyer, telling me about a case which he was adjudicating, where he found the expert evidence of a junior doctor more persuasive than that of a more senior doctor.  The senior doctor was outraged, because as far as he was concerned he was the senior doctor and he outranked the junior doctor, and he was therefore right!  My father tried to explain, but there was no meeting of minds.

From a comment by “PT”, on this:

Did you know the new generation of schools funded under the PFI scam will probably last no longer than 25 years?

I should know. I design many of them!

That’s way long enough for alternatives to develop, but it is depressing even so, and even if exaggerated.

PFI, by the way, stands for “Private Finance Initiative”.  It’s a way of combining public spending with public borrowing.

Saturday May 17 2008

Just come across this, as they say, discussion point:

With the Conservative victory in the local elections, and Boris’s election to the London Mayoralty, the left are looking to try the ‘Tory toffs’ card for all it’s worth. To be fair, they do seem to be running out of alternatives. John Harris, who also wrote a marvellously whiny post-election article, has written about the apparent lock-down of the Conservatives by public schoolboys. It’s hampered a bit by Harris’s inability to entertain the possibility that one of the reasons that the proportions of public school entrants to Oxbridge may be because the public schools really do produce better students than the state sector, ...

Partly that, I daresay.  Plus maybe the better students tend to go to public schools in the first place ... ?  I think the Guardian piece linked to in the quote contains the biggest clue, with the word “networked” in its title.

Friday May 16 2008

Here.  What I like about this piece is how moderate in tone it is.  Most attempts to write about this subject are disfigured by the still raw sense of having been deceived that is precisely Graham’s subject, but without any understanding or intelligent consideration of why the lies are told.  Graham, who freely admits that he is part of the very process he describes, writes much more lucidly than that.

There’s never a point where the adults sit you down and explain all the lies they told you. They’ve forgotten most of them. So if you’re going to clear these lies out of your head, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

Few do. Most people go through life with bits of packing material adhering to their minds and never know it. You probably never can completely undo the effects of lies you were told as a kid, but it’s worth trying. I’ve found that whenever I’ve been able to undo a lie I was told, a lot of other things fell into place.

Fortunately, once you arrive at adulthood you get a valuable new resource you can use to figure out what lies you were told. You’re now one of the liars. You get to watch behind the scenes as adults spin the world for the next generation of kids.

By pure coincidence, I happen to be half watching, at this very moment, the movie Life Is Beautiful, which is about this exact same idea, of a big lie, told to a kid.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that:

Students from a range of universities are claiming they are being pressed to make falsely enthusiastic responses to an official satisfaction survey.

The survery in question being this one.  Today, the BBC reports that tougher guidelines will tell universities that they jolly well must not do this.

Tougher guidelines ...

Yes, tougher guildelines.

… are to be issued to warn universities against manipulating the results of a league table of student satisfaction.

The Higher Education Funding Council says it will issue the guidelines for the next National Student Survey. ...

The guidelines are expected to warn universities that they must not try to influence how students complete this annual survey.

Tougher guidelines are also expected to warn fishes that they must not try to swim.

Thursday May 15 2008

And maybe very big problems.  Here.  Says he: “It is difficult to understate how bad this could be.” Shouldn’t that be “overstate”?

More to the central point is this comment on the piece, from “ACM”:

As a maths teacher, I am more concerned about the Maths GCSE - the first exam is on Monday.

This year, the scripts are being scanned and marked on-screen. An examiner has told me that anything outside a certain box on each page will not be scanned, and so will not be marked. This could severely affect students’ results if they do their working out outside this box.

When my school contacted Edexcel, they were unable to clarify whether this was information was accurate or not.

Next Monday.  Yikes.

I like this (linked to from here) :

This is why almost all educational ideas fail: they don’t scale when you take the highly motivated grad students and gifted teachers out of the equation. That’s why I’m tepidly gung ho about Direct Instruction: it has been proven to work with ordinary teachers using ordinary resources.

And this is why, in particular, nationalised education tends to fail.  (See also: world government, dangers of.) As soon as anything “works” they want to – and can – inflict it on everyone.  They should not have this power.  Consent, consent, consent.  And it’s never more important than when a brilliant and proven idea is, by various people and for their own particular and bizarre reasons, being resisted.  Let them resist.  Let the burden of proof be on the scalers, rather than on the scaled upon.

And that applies just as much to “Direct Instruction” as to anything else.

Wednesday May 14 2008

Fraser Nelson has just done a PMQs report, which includes this:

Brownie Alert. “Education to 18 opposed by the Conservatives”. It is becoming clear that Balls proposes compulsory education to 18 so he can miss out the “compulsory” bit and misrepresent the Tory position using the above soundbite. He wants to make it sound as if Labour is giving them the opportunity of education to 18, whereas they propose to make it compulsory. This is the government that has such problems with truancy to the age of 16 that one in ten pupils bunk off for a day each week.

So, the Balls version of the Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog policy on compulsory education would go: “Education opposed by Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog.”

Tuesday May 13 2008

The most exciting thing at Kings Cross Supplementary earlier this evening was a squirrel, which had inserted itself between one of the windows and the grill that protects the window, presumably from missiles thrown by the Underclass.  One of the children pointed it out to me, and my digital photography instincts cut in at once.


Click to see bigger pictures.  The snap on the right was taken first.  What was happening was that the squirrel tried to climb out from behind the grill by climbing upwards, found that this didn’t work, and so had to come down again.  That’s the squirrel on its way down.  And the one on the left is the squirrel back at square one, wondering what to do next.  It was soon gone though.

I wish that, instead of merely photo-ing squirrels, I could comfortably take pictures of all the children, and then print their pictures out in a card index, and write their names on all the pictures.  Because, you see, I have a real problem remembering all their names, yet doing this is basic courtesy.  Teaching good manners, which we try to do, is a whole lot easier if you are being polite yourself.  With photos, I could be more polite.  But, the times we live in say you have to tread carefully about things like that.

As you can perhaps see from these pictures, the physical conditions at Kings Cross Supplementary are fairly basic, with everything painted in institutional puke-yellowy-green.  Which does not matter at all.  The children are all very nice, to us and to each other.

Monday May 12 2008

Favourite blogger of mine, Shanghaiist, is blogging about the Chinese earthquake.  Schools have of course not been spared.  This was Juyuan Middle School, in Dujiangyan.  “Death toll not confirmed. Rescue efforts still underway”:


Count your blessings.

There’s no link in this posting to the Kavanagh column mentioned, so I’m guessing it was paper only.  Anyway, here’s what James Forsyth says about it:

Trevor Kavanagh’s column in The Sun today brilliantly details the way that £1.229 trillion has been added to the public’s tab over the last ten years - an astonishing £20,500 extra per person. 87 percent and 90 percent increases in health and education spending respectively have not resulted in the transformation of these services. Indeed, all it has done is test to destruction the idea that all these services needed was more money.

There is now fierce debate about whether education is getting better in Britain, or worse.  On Question Time recently, for instance, a Labour Lady pointed out that there are now many more graduates in the teaching profession than there used to be.  But does that mean that teachers have got better?  It could just mean that graduates have got worse, and that potentially good teachers who aren’t graduates are being kept out of the profession by credentialism.

But my point is: there is fierce debate.  If the education budget has been nearly doubled, there ought not to be any debate.


If you are going to make classical references, best you spell ‘em correctly.


Which supplies some party political balance for this.

Although, this particular gaff is not really about someone being unable to spell.  I mean, Jason Whatsisname can spell Argonaut.  He just didn’t.  I often make such mistakes here, and then either correct them if I spot them, or if someone else does.  Or not.  So this may really be about the tendency of internet stuff not to be “proof-” read (note the printing origins of that phrase) properly.

On the other hand, I suspect that the Labour person who miss-spelled (which is another whole spelling argument - see the comments in my earlier post) excellence as excellance really did semi-think that that’s how excellence is generally spelt.

So, maybe not balanced after all.  Which might be either because Guido is a sneaky person, or because Labour people actually are worse at spelling than the Conservatives.

I think I am glad about this, not because I hate literature and art and all that, but because I love it, but a lot of them don’t:

For generations, the study of literature has been a pillar of liberal education, a prime forum for cultural self-examination, and a favorite major for students seeking deeper understanding of the human experience.

But over the last decade or so, more and more literary scholars have agreed that the field has become moribund, aimless, and increasingly irrelevant to the concerns not only of the “outside world,” but also to the world inside the ivory tower. Class enrollments and funding are down, morale is sagging, huge numbers of PhDs can’t find jobs, and books languish unpublished or unpurchased because almost no one, not even other literary scholars, wants to read them.

I can still remember a one-to-one lesson (more of a conversation really) which I did with Smart Girl (who is Smart Boy‘s sister) in which we discussed how she might set about choosing a boy friend.  One way, we agreed (and I think we really did agree – I honestly don’t remember this as just me telling her and her staying quiet), to check out boys is to put them through ordeals, of the sort that happen to Young Men in Literature.  As Author, she would put her Young Men through dramas and disasters and triumphs, and her Young Ladies would thus be able satisfactorily to choose between them, on the basis of more than mere charm and good looks.

If they wrote about things like that in Literary Criticism, maybe people might want to read it.

The author of the piece quoted above thinks literary criticism needs to become more like science.  I suspect that this belief is more like the problem than the solution.  The desire to produce “theories” of literature is, I feel, the problem.  But his point is that these theories can and should be tested.  It is worth reading, as we bloggers say, the whole thing.

Sunday May 11 2008

This working boy did the school’s IT.  But this working boy, also in IT, didn’t go to school.  Which didn’t, says the story, hold him back.  (The way it usually does?)

He said: “There aren’t very many jobs for teenagers around except washing-up at hotels or chopping chips for a chippy.

“I wanted to start up my own business doing something that I really enjoyed, was good at, and that I could fit into my free time, at home - and hopefully I will be able to earn some money at the same time.”

There are five comments on this story in the Bridport News, all of them very positive.

Linked to by Carlotta.

Fareed Zakaria says that the USA’s relative economic decline is (see page 6 much exaggerated:

The United States is currently ranked as the globe’s most competitive economy by the World Economic Forum.  It remains dominant in many industries of the future like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and dozens of smaller high-tech fields.

In particular, says Zakaria, the USA remains pre-eminent in higher education:

Its universities are the finest in the world, making up 8 of the top ten and 37 of the top fifty, according to a prominent ranking produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  A few years ago the National Science Foundation put out a scary and much-discussed statistic.  In 2004, the group said, 950,000 engineers graduated from China and India, while only 70,000 graduated from the United States.  But those numbers are wildly off the mark.  If you exclude the car mechanics and repairmen - who are all counted as engineers in Chinese and Indian statistics - the numbers look quite different.  Per capita, it turns out, the United States trains more engineers than either of the Asian giants.

But isn’t the point that “per capita”?  A smaller proportion of a vastly greater number is still a huge absolute number.

Joanne Jacobs makes a similar point about the continuing qualitative superiority of US education.

Saturday May 10 2008

Nothing here from me today.  Instead, if you haven’t already, have a read of this posting.  Concluding words:

I took my year sevens out into the school car park this afternoon for a lesson on symmetry, we were looking at hub caps, to escape the heat and get some sun. I got some odd looks from other staff walking, especially as I was getting them to take pictures on their phones. An assistant head came to see what was going on as I think the lesson might have been outside his comfort zone. He actually asked ‘and you’re allowing them to use their phones?’ It’d be a mighty show of defiance from the class to walk out with phones in hand. And having made it that far it be weird for them to congregate in the car park taking pictures of wheels. I cheerfully explained what we were doing and he went away looking somewhere inbetween confused and bemused. Admittedly it was a risky lesson but it was with a class I could trust my life with.

And it’s always nice to get some fresh air.

And in more ways than one.

Friday May 09 2008

Simon Hoggart (quoted by Iain Dale) writing about the Prime Minister’s latest performance at Prime Minister’s Questions:


It was awful, and it’s getting worse. When I was at secondary school we had a temporary teacher for a term. He was hopeless. There is no group more cruel than young teenage boys, except young teenage girls, and we treated him unmercifully. At the end of term a friend and I saw him cycling down our street, and, separated from the feral pack, felt great pity. We stopped him, apologised for our class’s behaviour, and said we hoped his next post would be happier. I would have told us to go to hell, but he seemed pleased, which was more than we deserved. I haven’t had that feeling since until watching poor Gordon Brown.

Iain Dale emailer:

The analogy is wrong in one vital respect. GB isn’t some hapless young temporary supply teacher. He has been the all powerful deputy head at the school for the past eleven years who has bullied all the pupils and the staff and plotted every day to remove the head. Having done that pupils and staff have discovered that he is nothing more than, to use the old Scottish expression, “a big Jessie.” Hence with merciless desire for revenge the pupils are taunting him and the staff plotting to remove him. He deserves everything he is enduring!

Okay, it’s not really about education.  It merely uses education to talk about politics.  But insofar as education is a power struggle, and it all too often is, education is itself highly political.  And whatever you think about that, these quotes are just the kind of spread-the-net-a-bit-wider stuff that I like to feature here.  When I notice them, that is.

Thursday May 08 2008

Earlier this evening I was watching a movie called I Want Candy, which is about a couple of aspiring movie makers who get their start by making a porno movie.  In it there was a scene where a lecturer was lecturing a quite large room full of aspiring movie makers, and I was trying to work out just what was so very, very depressing about it.  It absolutely wasn’t merely the teacher, even though he was indeed very depressingly and very well enacted, by McKenzie Crook.

Then I got it.  Teaching a large number of people how to do a job which only a tiny number of people ever get to actually do for real is an inherently absurd activity.  It just doesn’t make sense.  By far the more intelligent strategy for the teacher, if he actually wants to accomplish anything beyond collecting his pay check in exchange for damn all, is for him to start not by doing much in the way of actual teaching, but instead by searching through all the students in the room, and picking out the one or two who look like they are the least unlikely ones to actually make it to being real movie makers, and concentrate all his efforts on making these few even better.

The usual explanations given for why some things are taught in huge assemblages of students, while other things are taught by teachers on a one-to-one basis are that the nature of the skill requires this, or the student is paying for special attention, or the pupil gets special attention by threatening to wreck the classroom otherwise (whcih amounts to the same idea).  But I think another reason is that teaching someone to get ahead in a fiercely competitive trade or profession just doesn’t make sense any way except one-on-on, very intensely.

The best concert violin students have individual teachers.  The best aspiring athletes have individual coaches.  It’s not the nature of the skill that demands this.  It is the ruthlessly competitive nature of the field that the pupils aspire to enter.  The best violin teachers don’t teach vast throngs of violinists.  They teach a very select few, and lavish tremendously detailed attention on these few.

If someone is teaching a highly competitive trade to a large throng, the chances are that neither he nor his pupils are very good.  If the teacher was any good, he’d pick a few potential winners.  If a pupil was any good, he’d find a better teacher.

If there was a large demand for people who could play the violin really, really well, on a scale approaching the demand for people who are merely literate and numerate, then violin playing would be taught in large classes, just like literacy and numeracy.

In the past, when the demand for literacy and numeracy was not nearly so great, these things were also taught one-to-one.

This has been a thinking-aloud posting, and it may not be right.

Wednesday May 07 2008

Here.  But it’s not very good and not very long.  The accompanying text is a long more informative.

For more than 35 years a horse riding school has been helping to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

Based at Barnards Farm in Debden Green, the Saffron Walden and District Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) gives children the chance to learn new skills and have fun.

Chairman Helen Kent said: “The club provides so many benefits to the children who come here. They all have a great time, but also learning to ride really boosts their self-confidence and self-esteem.

“Many would not have the opportunity to try horse riding if it wasn’t for the club.”

It’s a charity, dependent upon donations and sponsorship, not state funding.  The usual complaint about a totally non-state education system is that the difficult children would fall completely through the net, or rather the non-net.  Well, these children are pretty “difficult”, but something is being done for them.

It looks like Ray Lewis (see below) is about to be very busy:

Boris Johnson put tackling youth crime at the forefront of his mayoralty today with a pledge to bring in “respect schools”.

He said he hoped to set up 100 Saturday courses where troubled teenagers could combine sport and academic subjects.

The Mayor conceded that his hardline approach involving “competition, discipline - and punishment” would be unfashionable with many Londoners.

But he insisted that unless the causes of violent crime were dealt with, the problem would never be solved.

Presumably the pupils at these courses will simply be told to attend, and then told to pay attention.  It will be that or just regular punishment, like jail, right?  Well, I don’t know how this will work.  Time will tell.

Tuesday May 06 2008

Iain Dale enthuses about new London Mayor Boris Johnson’s first appointment:


What fantastic news that Boris Johnson’s first senior appointment is to make Ray Lewis a Deputy Mayor with an important role in tackling youth crime. For those who don’t know him, Ray runs the East Side Young Leaders Academy, which is a charity specialising in giving young black kids a real education. It relies on more traditional teaching methods and discipline plays a key role. Lewis says every child emerges with at least two A Levels and three quarters go to university. Polly Toynbee will have a seizure when she learns of this appointment as Ray Lewis is living proof that her liberal creed has failed black, inner city youngsters.

Lewis’s academy has been financially supported by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice and is a working example of how voluntary sector organisations can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Personally I have doubts about creaming off the best voluntary or commercial sector people and making them into politicians.  They risk migrating from the solution to the problem, I think.  The now admirable Ray Lewis may come to regret this move.

Libby Purves in today’s Times:

One unalloyed good that new Labour promoted is music in schools: slowly it is creeping back to prominence, and the Music Manifesto includes a demand that children should sing for at least five minutes a day. So far, so good. But in a classic example of meddling overmanagement, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, announced last year a “national songbook” of 30 songs that every 11-year-old should know. This prissy, prescriptive idea has just been abandoned because nobody could agree on which 30. Instead, the Sing Up website has a hundred, ranging from Clementine to Polish skipping tunes, and puts new ones up weekly. It still hasn’t nerved itself to include Land of Hope and Glory, but it’s doing fine.

Yet Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, instead of tossing his hat in the air and singing “Let my people go!”, proved that he is well in training to be a modern minister (aka an annoying, bossy pest) by criticising the decision to abandon the compulsory 30-song list. “This Government,” he thundered, “is so paralysed by political correctness and terminally afflicted by dithering that it cannot even decide on a simple thing like the songs children should learn.”

I am sorry to hear a Cameroonian so infected with new-Labouritis. Michael, man, chill! It is not the role of ministers to prescribe which songs children sing. Insist they sing something, provide an online facility to help timid teachers, pop in the multiculti stuff - fine. But a compulsory list of songs to be learnt by 11? Mad micromanagement: bossy, borderline fascist. ...

Guy Herbert of Samizdata is also appalled, both by the government’s micromanagement and by Gove’s attitude.

Herbert goes on to quote various other gruesome stuff from www.curriculumonline.gov.uk.

Monday May 05 2008

Here.  Quote:

Educational romanticism characterizes reformers of both Left and Right, though in different ways. Educational romantics of the Left focus on race, class, and gender. It is children of color, children of poor parents, and girls whose performance is artificially depressed, and their academic achievement will blossom as soon as they are liberated from the racism, classism, and sexism embedded in American education. Those of the Right see public education as an ineffectual monopoly, and think that educational achievement will blossom when school choice liberates children from politically correct curricula and obdurate teachers’ unions.

I am certainly a romantic in the sense that I believe that millions of children could be doing massively better than they do at school.  But I do not hope to see “educational” achievement blossoming.  Just achievement.

Murray’s point is that many are of limited “intellectual ability”, and maybe they are.  But many non-intellectuals do indeed flourish, as soon as they leave school and get stuck into real life.  This is because in real life, intellectual cleverness is not, to put it mildly, the only virtue that matters.

To repeat something which I suspect you are going to read a lot more at this blog if you stay with it: good education does not mean mere exam success, higher academic standards, etc.  It means what you need to learn to have a good life.  And for many, the best way to start learning about real life is to start real life.

Quote again:

The parallels between the trajectory of the Soviet Union’s attempt to reform its economy and the trajectory of the federal government’s attempts to reform the public education system are striking. By the mid-1980s, Soviet leaders knew that they had to introduce supply and demand into the economy, but they couldn’t bring themselves to try honest-to-God capitalism, so they tried to decentralize decision-making and permit some elements of a market economy while retaining central price controls and government ownership of the means of production. The reforms were based on premises about human nature that were patently wrong. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the educational romantics - and George W. Bush is the Percy Bysshe Shelley of educational romantics - knew that public school systems everywhere had become bureaucratically top-heavy and that many inner-city schools were no longer functional. They knew that the billions of federal money spent on upgrading education for disadvantaged children had produced no demonstrable improvements. But they thought they could fix the system. Bush’s glasnost was to implement accountability through measurement of results by test scores. Bush’s perestroika was a mishmash of performance standards and fragments of a market economy in schools, while retaining public funding of the schools and government control over the enforcement of the new standards. ...

Amen.  But, the conclusion to be drawn from this is not to be satisfied with the Western educational equivalent of the Brezhnev regime.  The conclusion, which Murray hints at obliquely but does not spell out: capitalism for all!  The real thing.

It worked and works for adults.  Freedom for adults – all adults - had and continues to have exactly the kind of transformational effects that anti-romantics regard as delusional.  Yet they happened and happen.  So, why not try the same thing with children?

If the modern electronic industry (in the form of things like the thing I’m typing this into) had not happened, most anti-romantics would say that it was utterly impossible.  Yet capitalism routinely extracts extraordinary achievements from very ordinary people indeed.  The subtitle of Murray’s article is: “On requiring every child to be above average.” Under rip-roaring capitalism, just about every adult is “above average”, by the standards of pre-capitalist times, and by the standards of the still severely non-capitalist places now.

Maybe children can’t do freedom.  Maybe, by their nature (nature again), they can’t handle it.  But we could at least make a start with adolescents.  We could at least liberate the big children, the children who aren’t really children at all.

Sunday May 04 2008

imageThe mischievous mind of Alex Singleton turns the usual anti-lefty complaint on its head.

Yesterday morning I did my first stint of teaching at the Civitas school in Hammersmith, Hammersmith Saturday.  I am not entirely sure whether my colleagues think I am making much of a contribution to their combined efforts, but no doubt a way would have been found to tell me not to come to Hammersmith had they thought it would be a nuisance.  So, I proceed on the assumption that what I am doing is appreciated.  When I helped out for a couple of mornings at a recent half term school, they gave me (as I think I may have mentioned here before) a box of chocolates, so I must be doing something right.  I could have done more at Kings Cross Supplementary, but teaching also at a different school (with all its compare-and-contrast possibilities) appealed more.

Once again I was teaching one-on-one, first with Twin Girl.  Twin Girl is identical to her identical twin sister, Twin Girl, so I am afraid I cannot tell you which Twin Girl I was teaching, but after early protestations against having been separated out, from Twin Girl and from all the other children in her group, for a scary new ordeal, the Twin Girl that I taught seemed reasonably happy about it all.  I checked out her 3R skills, trying without offence to correct all errors that I observed.  Then we did some map reading.  Twin Girl duly found here way, via the big index at the back, to the street where Hammersmith Saturday is located.  She also found Nigeria and Arizona, which are big places in her family’s history, because her family started out in Nigeria and then lived in Arizona for a while, before coming here.

More memorable for me was the second session I did, with Law Boy, whom I call Law Boy simply because, after the usual 3R ice-breaking routines, he revealed that he had in mind, perhaps, to be a lawyer.  However, he didn’t seem to have a very clear idea of what a lawyer actually does, confusing it rather with being a policeman.  So, I gave him a lecture on and around these subjects, concentrating on criminal law, because it is more dramatic.  Here are the lecture notes, which I made a point this time of photo-ing before presenting them to him, so I could show the photo to you people:


Click to get it bigger and more legible.

As you can see, a lot of portentous ground was raced over.  The list of ways the police might investigate a crime includes several of Law Boy’s suggestions, written down by him.  The court room dramas on the right are mostly me.

My belief about teaching is that the basic tools of our culture, alluded to with that common phrase the “Three Rs”, are often now skipped over, resulting in lasting confusion to many pupils who have been dragged towards more complicated spellings and constructions and sums before they are comfortable with the easier stuff.  But I also believe that eyes are not lifted often enough to the far horizons, to the matter of what life could and should be like, and how this or that pupil might one day make a great life as an adult.  There is rather too much obsessing in schools about intermediate matters, so to speak, like quadratic equations and possessive pronouns, and with answering questions about such things in exams.  But there is more to living a good life than merely embarking on the adult bit of it armed with some exam results.  It’s not that these things don’t matter and aren’t worth doing.  But they make a whole lot more sense if reasons for caring about and worrying about them are also alluded to from time to time.

And it really doesn’t take much in the way of 3R expertise to start scanning the far horizons.  I mean, how hard is it to spell “law”, and get a rough idea of what it means?  Or “jury”?  Or “judge”?  And why should a discussion of laws and juries and judges wait until children are teenagers and they first come up against the law when policemen, perhaps rather rudely, tell them about it.  Contrariwise, I was able to wave my finger at all that work that criminal detectives have to do, and say: “That’s full of the 3Rs.  Being a policeman isn’t just about being strong and rough and tough and courageous.  It also involves lots of reading and writing and arithmetic.” And for lawyers, life is all about getting to grips with such clevernesses.  Physical toughness and roughness has almost nothing to do with it.

Law Boy is the quiet thoughtful type, and also polite.  Towards the end I became worried that I was boring him, and that he was merely waiting in a trance for this baffling foolishness to end.  “Am I boring you?” I asked.  “Oh no”, said Law Boy.  “I’m thinking.” Such moments make it all worthwhile.  (And being able to write about it here, for me, doubles the pleasure.)

From where I sat, my central lesson to Law Boy was that it is not enough for the police to decide that somebody is guilty of a crime.  Too much hinges on whether that is true for us to take their word for it.  We can’t be sending innocent people to prison for a decade.  Thus, law courts.  Thus “BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT”.  What did Law Boy learn?  I don’t know, but I trust: something.

The Giving them the paper at the end procedure never seemed to me to make more sense than it did with these particular bits of paper, and there were several more.  It helps that there is now the Internet.  If Law Boy is inclined, he can type all those mysterious words (Solicitor?  Barrister?  Jury?  Forensic?) into the Great Filing Cabinet In The Sky and learn ten times more about it all than I could tell him.  If he is inclined.

Saturday May 03 2008

I know what she means, and what she’s trying to say, but this is a really bad idea:

Parents should be paid to spend time with their children to stop toddlers as young as two being sent to schools and nurseries, a leading head teacher has said. ...

Speaking at the NHT annual conference in Liverpool, the head said parents should be rewarded financially for staying at home, playing with their children, reading to them and bringing them up well.

Here’s my way of solving this problem.  Cut taxes.  Deregulate.  Get the economy motoring, and have fathers earn enough money for mothers to be able to stay at home and look after young children.  It used to work.

Paying parents to look after children, presumably in the form of the government paying parents to look after children, would make horribly likely the follow-up plan of the government deciding if you are a good parent or not.  After all, the government is paying for your parenting.  Does it not have a positive duty to ensure that its money is being spent properly?

Friday May 02 2008

Violins and Starships Lynn links to this excellent piece by a double bass teacher.  It starts by being about how long lessons should be, but he tangents off into a discussion of his whole approach to teaching.

With one-on-one music teaching the consent principle applies from both directions, or it damn well should.  If Jason Heath can’t be doing with a particular pupil (who, for instance, refuses to practice) then they’re out.  If a pupil can’t take the nagging and the tyranny, they can leave.  Excellent.  But he can be a little more interesting than that.  He can be a “musical guide”:

imageI realize that a particular student loves music and loves playing the instrument, but through lack of motivation or lack of available time, simply doesn’t progress. With these students, however, I see a genuine love for music and a person who will be likely to listen to music, play in an amateur orchestra, attend concerts, and enroll their children in musical programs in a decade or two. Over time I’ve learned to spot these kind of students, and with them, I teach them about music, with the double bass as a sonic conduit. I’d love it if they started practicing (and many do end up working hard at it), but I see a genuine interest in this art form, and I teach them about the fundamentals of music and give them some elementary training on the instrument.

Anticipating complaints from fellow professionals about that approach, Heath continues:

Look - we’re not all destined to become concert musicians. In fact, we don’t want everyone and their dog to be a concert musician. But what we do need are lovers of music, future patrons and enthusiasts. And if that “nice bass teacher” that a non-practicing student had back in high school helped to nurture that love, then I feel like I did a good job, “standards” or no.

Amen.  One of the most important functions of a teacher, currently rather neglected by the politicians, is to teach people how to enjoy life more than they might otherwise, by instilling not just careers and career-skills but hobbies and hobby-enthusiasms.  To put it another way, education means learning how to spend money, and not just how to make it.  And when you consider how cheap potent music is these days, teaching someone to enjoy music is teaching them how to get a lot more pleasure from not that much more money.

Thursday May 01 2008

My main duty at Kings Cross Supplementary is one-on-one teaching of pupils who are perhaps inconvenient to fit into the two big classes - because they are too old, young, clever and impatient, slow and quiet, whatever.  For those who particular like the personal attention that these sorts of lessons bestow, they can also be used as rewards for good conduct in the regular multiple-pupil lessons.  If all I do is a bit of child-minding while the Real Teachers are able to get on with their Real Teaching a bit more smoothly, well, that’s a contribution.  And of course I try to do better than that.

One of the techniques I am refining is the use of paper in these one-on-one classes.  At the end of the class I like to gather up all the bits of paper that the pupil and I have both been writing on or doing sums on and present them to the pupil.  Do with them whatever you please, I say.  Perhaps show them to your parents, to show them what you have been doing (and what they have been paying for).  The children all seem to me to have more than enough homework on their plates, and besides, I am too idle to be bothered with chasing up and marking such homework.  I like to do the lesson and then say to them, that’s it, you’re free to go, no homework, hope you learned something, hope it wasn’t too annoying, etc. etc.  And, here are all the bits of paper we used up.  These are covered in such things as diagrams, writing by them and next to it the same thing by me (often better written but not always), lists of things we (alright: I) talked about, scribbled down by me.  Last Tuesday it was the titles of Shakespeare plays, written out for a ten-year-old girl who wants to be an actress.

Although, as I say, what they do with these bits of paper is entirely up to them, I like to think that some of them do look again at some of these often unruly, sometimes multi-coloured screeds, and thus that some of the lessons referred to on them are reinforced.

I quickly learned that mere scrap paper, i.e. paper blank on one side but with the rest of my scandalously opinionated life on the other side of it, is not suitable for this purpose.  What if a parent read the wrong side?  (Most of my store of scrap paper dates from my time as the Libertarian Alliance pampleteer.) Luckily, blank paper is now as cheap as it has ever been.