A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.
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Category archive: Consent
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.
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”:
I 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.
Friend and Telegraph blogger Alex Singleton has a piece up about teaching good manners in schools:
Today’s Daily Telegraph reports on a new survey showing that Britain is becoming less polite, with 73.8 per cent believing manners should be part of the school curriculum. Being an optimist, I’m not normally one of those people who think the world is in terminal decline (millions of people worldwide will be lifted out of poverty this year, after all).
Nevertheless, there is something severely wrong with the ethos of Britain’s schools today. Far from being places where people learn responsibility and civility, schools are too often anarchic. The old world of distant, overly-strict teachers and corporal punishment is thankfully long gone. But an overly-liberal teaching establishment has led to the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.
I wonder. I don’t wonder about whether manners are getting worse. I am sixty, and of course they getting worse! But I do wonder how exactly schools are supposed to improve matters. I agree with Alex that schools being allowed to expel would help. But is that enough?
I am, I suspect, with various commenters on this blog who say things like: “My ideas about what to do about this problem are far too radical to fit into a comment”, having previously hinted that they find whatever rather bossy opinion I have just expressed to be rather bossy.
In Brian World, school attendance is voluntary, and there are plenty of other things that a young person might do instead, the basic one being: work and earn money! I favour the reintroduction of child labour, of the economic exploitation of children. Certainly of adolescents, which is where I would start, were I a politician with any chance of making such notions stick. During or after stints of paid work - because the work was really good, or really bad - children might then see a clearer path forward into productive adulthood, and decide for themselves what sort of educational stuff might help with that. In short, when attending a school, or anything like a school, they would be there for a reason, and hence anxious to fit in and play by the rules, in order to get what they came for. If they don’t and can’t get what they came for, they leave.
All of which, I suggest, would be much more polite than the etiquettically deteriorating world of compulsory school that Alex Singleton describes, even the leaving bit. Rudeness has its origins in compulsion. Politeness has its origins in reciprocity. If a teacher is teaching you something you want to learn and you don’t want her to stop, you will put up with her foibles and demands, her occasional spells of irrational bossiness. If an employer is paying you wages that you appreciate and want to keep on getting, ditto. You will sympathise that he perhaps has a lot on his plate, several employees to worry about (to say nothing of suppliers and customers). She has many pupils to teach. Good manners are, in essence, seeing things from the other person’s point of view, and trying not to hurt their feelings, even if they are being rather rude to you.
Another way of putting the above is to say that schools should be more like universities are now. For all their faults, universities are an order of magnitude more polite than schools, because everyone there decided to be there, and can bugger off if they remain too childish (interesting word that) in their behaviour.
I recall once, several decades ago, helping out at a local youth club near where I lived. Well, trying to help out. In truth very little good was being achieved by anyone at this enterprise. Anyway, while getting to know these boys, I started to notice how very much more polite and sensible they would suddenly - suddenly - become, once they had stopped being mere boys with no particular reason to be polite to anyone, and had become wage-earners, with every reason to be polite or the wages might stop. I repeat, suddenly. The Rules changed overnight, and so did their demeanour.
They had always known what good manners are. The difference was that now they had a reason to practice them, whereas before they had had no reason to be bothering with them. If Britain is becoming less polite, I think that’s because a significant minority of people in our society now seem to have no need or opportunity to work, ever, at all.
Rather ill-thought through, I realise. But blogging is often more like thinking aloud than presenting the well-ordered results of such thinking.
Some professors threaten to confiscate students’ cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn’t matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.
Last week someone did, and he did. As you can imagine, there’s been quite a row going on about this. Professor Thomas has explained himself at length, but many are annoyed.
For me, this is a matter of contract, or if it isn’t, it should be. What was the deal? Did Professor Thomas make it clear beforehand that this was his attitude, not just by saying it to his class, but when negotiating his job in the first place? Did students who enrolled to be taught by him understand that if one of their number, over whom they surely had no control, texted in Professor Thomas’s class, then Professor Thomas would leave, and were they willing to take this chance?
A situation in which texters were threatened with expulsion, and if that didn’t stop them were duly expelled, but in which the class then continued, would make more sense. Is that, for some reason impossible in this case, or at least annoyingly difficult? If it is, then my sympathies, on balance, are with Professor Thomas. Students are supposed to be adults, not unruly children. If he can’t control who he lectures to and how they behave, he can at least control how he behaves. He can stop lecturing. If that’s the deal, then Professor Thomas leaving is a valuable lesson: deals can have unwelcome consequences. And, deal or no deal, if you piss people off, they may not want to have anything further to do with you for a while, or maybe ever.
I daresay this guy would say that a decent professor ought to be able to hold the attention of his class without resorting to threats to leave, and from time to time actually leaving. If Syracuse university agrees, and reckons that Professor Thomas’s lectures aren’t good enough to be worth all this rowing, they can sack him. Unless the contract they have with Professor Thomas says otherwise.
Bishop Hill, to whom deep thanks because there is no way I would have spotted this myself, has this picture on his Blog today, and plans to watch what it advertises, and since this blog could do with a few more pictures, I hereby steal it:
And the Bishop comments thus:
If you’ve never heard of it, Summerhill is a school in Sussex which is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for not making its pupils attend lessons. In fact they don’t make the kids do anything. This would have been fine but for the fact that their exam results were rather above the national averages. One can imagine the horror with which this was greeted by the bureaucracy. The result of all this was that the schools inspectorate tried to have them closed down, a battle from which the school has only recently emerged the victor.
Worth a look, I would have thought.
Blogs don’t replace the Mainstream Media. Well, not yet. And maybe never. But meanwhile, they do steer you through the media jungle by your own preferred path.
I am immediately rediscovering one of the best things about specialist blogging, which is that I am immediately coming across more people whom I disagree with, writing about that same specialisation. Richard Craig, for instance:
The IPPR report had shown categorically that “faith schools” are socially unrepresentative of the areas that they serve and that they covertly select pupils to screen out disadvantaged and badly behaved pupils.
Craig says that these faith schools should accept whoever is allocated to them, and not discriminate. But, quite apart from anything else, what about their faith? Aren’t they even to be allowed to pick, say, the children of devout Christians, for example, over the children of devout atheists who likewise want to cherry pick, by grabbing the good education but setting aside the God stuff? Why should Christians be made to submit to such arrangements?
My prejudice is that all worthwhile institutions screen out people they don’t want, and that most of them are quite open about this, because it is perfectly acceptable to all, if often also hurtful and frustrating to the unlucky ones screened out, that they should do this. How else can these institutions set about accomplishing their purposes and keep the people who are already enthusiastic participants happy and productive? But schools are widely talked about as not things that should be allowed to discriminate in whom they accept. Instead, they are regarded as parts of a national system which any educator participates in, as a sort of public servant, subject to national supervision. If you an educator, you can’t be allowed to pick and choose your pupils, because that will upset the national system. Cherries may not be picked, because rotting cherries must - must - be rescued, and absolutely not left to rot. Each school must scoop up all the pupils in their allocated area or category. No child must be left behind. I believe that I do understand the logic of this.
But I don’t agree with it. I see the “national system” of education working best if it instead becomes the aggregate of everyone involved doing only what they consent to. Schools should not have to accept pupils they don’t like the look of. Teachers should not have to teach pupils they can’t be doing with. Pupils who dislike particular teachers shouldn’t have to submit to them. Most of all, nobody making and acting on these judgments should be obliged by anything other than their own interest in being thought reasonable to explain or justify such decisions before they take effect, any more than I have to explain why I avoid a particular shop or restaurant because I don’t fancy the look of it. This is how the national adult economy works, and, compared to the “national system” - i.e. the bad national system - bits where the consent principle isn’t followed and where everyone just does as they are told (or at least goes through some of the motions of that), consent world works quite well. Yes, the lower reaches of consent world are pretty horrible. But the lower reaches of those bad national system arrangements are at least as bad, and the average level of accomplishment, by the middle ranks, of bad, non-consenting national systems is woeful compared to the average achievements of the consenting bits of the world. All the progress these days, all the quality increases, price cutting, market expanding, excitement generating stuff is being done in consent world, along with lots of failure and disappointment of course. Large swathes of the bad, unconsenting national education system we now have are a demoralised slough of despond by comparison.
Many faith schools now operate mostly outside this slough of despond. Long may that continue.
As to the other common objection to faith schools, that they may be inculcating and spreading a toxic and threatening faith, well, the answer to that is not to pervert the entire education system just so that these particular toxic schools may be disinfected. Particular toxic faith schools should be dealt with as the special cases that they are. Further acts of discrimination are required, in other words, between toxic and non-toxic. If the principles that are proclaimed while toxic faith schools are being detoxified also mean that other non-toxic faith schools have to be shut down or otherwise unnecessarily intruded upon, then further work is needed on those principles.