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Category archive: Parents

Tuesday July 29 2008


Dear Brian,

I saw today’s Ask Slashdot question: How Do You Fix Education?, and thought of you.

This comment mentions making going to school non-compulsory.


Thanks Rob.

The commenter says: (1) Make going to school non-compulsory; (2) Privatize; (3) Do away with tenure and teachers unions; (4) Allow parents to take their kids out of failing schools.  He ends:

Before you reply, or mod down, ask yourself this. If given an unlimited amount of money for schooling your own child, would you send them to a public school, or a private school? If you opted for the private school, you’ve already agreed with many points on this list, even if you won’t admit that to yourself.

I think this is a category error.  Personally, I agree with the list of proposals, apart from (3) the union thing.  What does “do away with” mean?  Make unions illegal?  If so, then: no.  If it means allowing schools to make union membership a sacking offence, then yes.  If you don’t like that kind of school, don’t teach there.

But, putting that uncertainty to one side, the question concerns how you would change the whole system to something that would be good for everybody.  What you would now do or would like like to do for you own child, with the system unchanged, is a different question.  A major point of libertarian thinking, such as this is, is that all individuals deciding for themselves would aggregate into a good (or best available in the real world) system for all.  I think that’s right.  And a major point of collectivism is that this is not right.  Who is right about that is not illuminated by asking what any individual would personally do to escape the present mess.

This is the same argument as the one that says that socialist politicians who send their kids to private schools are being hypocritical, by revealing their true opinions to be different from their publicly stated opinions.  But thinking that private schools are now better is perfectly consistent with believing that state education could and should be changed until that is not so.  My argument with such politicians is that I think they are wrong about how to improve state education, wrong that it is capable of being improved.  I think they are quite right to do the best they can, now, for their kids.  Making your kids go to bad state schools, even when you can afford to do better, purely because you “believe in” state education, i.e. in state education being improvable at some point in the irrelevantly distant future ... now that is creepy.  I know I have said this before, but I think it’s a point worth repeating.

Tuesday June 24 2008

I just clocked this:

Walking along the road, half watching the oncoming traffic, as you do. Car, car, truck with “beer” written on it, car, car.  Daughter - “I hate beer” … long pause … me - “did you just read that?”, daughter - “yes” (like it’s no big deal). OK. I guess she’s started reading then.

That’s the entire posting.  But what a posting.

Friday June 13 2008

Well, here I am in France, but still able to post, albeit with an AZERTY keyboard, rather than a QWERTY keyboard of the kind that nature intended.  While on the subject of computers, here is Ray Fisman writing about why giving poor kids computers doesn’t improve their scholastic performance.  Computers depend on parents making kids use them for educational self-improvement, he says, rather than as mere games consoles.  Which are bad.

What I want to know is: what effect do computers and computer games playing have on your ability to do real life, rather than just your ability or willingness to be “scholastic”?

Saturday June 07 2008



In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. People who are raising, or have recently raised, or have even been around children a fair amount in recent years will, I think, immediately sense what I have in mind. Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents. For the past 30 years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in American and in perhaps any other national life. Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own. This is what I call Kindergarchy: dreary, boring, sadly misguided Kindergarchy.


Well, in the words of Vladimir Illych Lenin, who had no children, what is to be done? Not very much, I suspect. When such seismic shifts in the culture as that represented by the rise of Kindergarchy take hold, there isn’t much anyone can do but wait for things to work themselves out. My own hope is that the absurdity of current arrangements will in time be felt, and people will gradually realize the foolishness of continuing to lavish so much painstaking attention on their children. When that time comes, children will be allowed to relax, no longer under threat of suffocation by love from their parents, and grow up more on their own. Only then will parents once again be able to live their own lives, free to concentrate on their work, life’s adult pleasures, and those responsibilities that fall well outside the prison of the permanent kindergarten they have themselves erected and have been forced to live in as hostages.


Friday June 06 2008

I am genuinely puzzled by this posting, at the Civitas blog.  Anastasia de Waal says that the new IPPR proposals for shorter holidays don’t tackle the problem of home background disadvantage (among all those children with disadvantaged home backgrounds); they merely institutionalise it.  The idea is to have shorter holidays, so that disadvantaged kids, whose family life doesn’t reinforce learning but causes learning to dribble away, don’t forget what they’ve learned over the holidays.  Not, on the face of it, a daft idea.  My doubts about such plans concern why all schools should be organised to suit (and solve the problems of) the disadvantaged.  Would shorter holidays be right for advantaged children?  If not, then maybe advantaged children shouldn’t be subjected to them, only disadvantaged ones.

But Ms. de Waal makes a distinction I just don’t get.  Is talking more slowly and more carefully to a kid who is a bit slow on the uptake institutionalising his slowness?  Perhaps it is.  But in the meantime, it seems like a good thing to do.  How else can you tackle his slowness of mind?

… many policies within the current education system (breakfast and after school clubs in many cases, for example) treat difficult home-lives as given realities. Yet whilst disadvantage is indeed a reality which those working in education must seek to overcome today and tomorrow, for policymakers it ought to be a challenge to be tackled (through better employment records amongst school leavers, for example) not simply a problem incorporated into future planning.

This sounds to me like a variant of the fallacy of the root cause, which says that trying to solve a particular problem is bad, because it leaves the causes of that problem unmolested, and even encourages neglect of such molestation.  But what if the cause can’t easily be eliminated, or even seriously reduced?  What if the cause is something really, really intractable?  Like: home disadvantage.  But what if home disadvantage can be worked around?  What if good education can be done despite home disadvantage?

Maybe shorter holidays is a lousy way of dealing with home disadvantage.  I don’t know.  But if Ms. de Waal thinks that, and that there are better ways for educators to tackle home disadvantage, she should say that, rather than object to the whole idea of tackling problems.  Anyway, I suspect this is not really a disagreement about tackling versus institutionalising, but between different ways of tackling.

Thursday June 05 2008

A central plank of present education policy is that school excellence can be measured.  But this has always been a dubious assumption and it is becoming more so.

Many parents have always helped with their children’s education, some a great deal.  I know mine did, as did my older brothers and older sister.  So, if someone measured the excellence of what the various schools I went to were doing when I was there, they might have missed the contribution made to my education by my family.  And now, with the inexorable rise of all kinds of out-of-hours clubs and top-up arrangements - like Kings Cross Supplementary and Hammersmith Saturday, the two Civitas enterprises where I help out - the process of measuring school excellence becomes even more complicated.

Suppose a regular school has a seriously bad maths teacher.  But suppose there is also a very fine Saturday maths school in the immediate vicinity, to which many of the pupils of the bad maths teacher go, to be rescued from utter maths confusion.  You can easily see how the incompetence of the regular teacher might be missed by the official testing regime.  He might not even realise himself what a crap teacher he really is.  Likewise his school might miss what was really going on.  After all, there are his kids, lots of them learning lots of maths, sailing through their exams.  Hurrah, he’s a great teacher.

The more supplementary privately-paid-for education there is, around the edges of the regular school timetable, the harder it will get for the schools or anybody else to work out how well they are really doing.

So, who should be deciding on school quality?  No prizes for guessing that I think it should be the parents.  At the end of last Tuesday night at Kings Cross Supplementary I had a quick chat with Small Boy’s Mother.  I asked: Am I teaching him anything?  I can’t tell. He is definitely learning things. But it could be you (Small Boy’s Mother is herself a teacher), or his regular school, and not me at all.  Oh yes, said Small Boy’s Mother, he is definitely learning things here.  It isn’t easy to get here, and I wouldn’t keep bringing him and keep paying if it wasn’t doing any good.

Small Boy’s Mother is my personal OFSTED inspector.  A better, less nerve-racking and more efficient version of the real thing, I think.

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. ...


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.

I hope the Kyra Ishaq case doesn’t lead to restrictions on home education
David Friedman remembers how argument trumps status
Paul Graham on lies we tell kids
Are Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper bad parents for not going private?
Encouraging parenthood by nationalising it
Giving them the paper at the end
On the sociology of obnoxious-but-nice middle class teenagers
What schools provide depends on who is paying and for what
Home education at the St Petersburg Zoo
Do parenting and teaching conflict – for some parents?
Home schooling is good even when done by less well educated parents
Never been near a school
You can’t be too careful with these pushy parents
Neil Turok on teaching the best maths students in Africa
The department for children, schools and families takes complete care of the children
The death of Irene Hogg
The mad wordsmith
Bairn minding
Carl Honoré on slowing down and mucking about
A bottom line moment at Kings Cross Supplementary
More about home versus school in the USA
Instapundit says it so it must be so
Small Boy is definitely being educated
Can you raise a kid to be a future millionaire?
Hundred quid laptop
Harry Hutton on nepotism and student writers
A boy learns music by picking CDs at random
“Each one processes information differently …”
Montesquieu on different educations
Faith fake fudge from Cameron – and I have a sofa bed delivered
Getting better at teaching Small Boy
Butterfly Book in short supply
In praise of danger
J. P. Rangaswami - gracious in victory
A picture of educational failure
Jon Morrow regrets getting straight A’s
Janice Turner on how Tim rich-but-dim beats Kevin poor-but-smart
Schools as germ sinks
Clarkson on school discipline
Yet another perverse incentive
Coffee House education
Some stay-at-home dads do badly