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Category archive: Quote unquote

Wednesday June 18 2008

I’ve been sent a copy of Nick Cowen’s Civitas publication entitled Swedish Lessons.  The subtitle is: How schools with more freedom can deliver better education, which tells you roughly what it’s about.  I’ve only read the intro so far, but someone called Unity has read all of it, and is full of praise:

It really is very difficult to do the pamphlet full justice without writing a response of similar length and breadth, so perhaps the best I can say for now is that, regardless of your preferred political ‘direction’, if you’re into thinking seriously about the future of education policy in England and entertaining new ideas and new possibilities then I would recommend that disregard what the newspapers have had to say about it today and invest in a copy of ‘Swedish Lessons’.

As a primer for serious debate, it really is one of the best and more thought-provoking pieces of work you’ll read in a very long time.

J. S. Mill is often cited as a liberal, who nevertheless believed in nationalised education.  But as this quote shows, he believed in nationalised financing of education, but not nationalised supply:

If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one.  It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them.

That quote appears above Anastasia de Waal’s introduction to this pamphlet.

The case against such an arrangement was put here well by the last three commenters on this posting.  “De facto nationalisation”.  “It’s money coming from the government and it’s bound to have strings.  At first there won’t be that many but then ...” In other words, the Swedish/J. S. Mill distinction is not really much of a distinction, The fact that the private sector will get engulfed in the new arrangements will turn out in the longer run to be far more important than an improvement at the bottom end of the state sector in the short run.  I find such arguments depressingly persuasive.

Will Nick Cowen supply answers to such doubts?  I look forward to finding out.

Sunday May 18 2008

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.

Thursday May 15 2008

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.

Tuesday April 29 2008

Michael J. Lewis, in the course of writing this:

It is often said that great achievement requires in one’s formative years two teachers: a stern taskmaster who teaches the rules and an inspirational guru who teaches one to break the rules. But they must come in that order. Childhood training in Bach can prepare one to play free jazz and ballet instruction can prepare one to be a modern dancer, but it does not work the other way around. One cannot be liberated from fetters one has never worn; all one can do is to make pastiches of the liberations of others. ...

Food for thought, but ...  I say: choose your own fetters.  Be your own stern taskmaster, or choose a stern taskmaster whose fetters appeal to you.  Just because fetters have their uses, that’s no excuse for enforcing, unasked, any particular set of fetters that any particular teacher happens to be waving around.  The 3Rs are just about the only universally valid fetters I can think of in my culture, but again, that doesn’t mean children have to be forced to put them on.  If they’re so great, can’t they be persuaded?  Won’t the instant rewards of putting on the “fetters” (which means they aren’t really fetters at all) persuade acceptance (ditto)?

Friday March 28 2008

imageGreat new phrase spotted:

challengerially-challenged ...

It’s Alice the Mad Housewife, describing incompetent university students, while discussing parents who are retreating from being demented proxy-social-climbers, back to being normal and nice parents like Alice the Mad Housewife.  Like me, she quotes from this piece.

Tuesday March 25 2008

imageI’m always glad when education websiters or bloggers email me or comment here, and today it happened again, in the form of a pro-home-education comment, with an attached link to South West Surrey Home Education.  It all seems to be pretty recent.  They have a new blog, but the new famous quotes page has, for now, more stuff up.  One of my favourites was the most ancient one of all, St Augustine saying:

I learned most, not from those who taught me but from those who talked with me.

I don’t say that this is necessarily true.  Just: I like it.

The website is already sidebarred.  Well, as I first type this in, it is just about to be.  As soon as the blog gets into its stride, I’ll add that also.

I’m in no desperate hurry to learn about all this kind of activity.  If I just keep blogging away here, such information will surely accumulate in its own good time, which for me means slowly.  Meanwhile, thanks to Ruth for that connection.

Wednesday March 12 2008


There’s very little advice in men’s magazines, because men don’t think there’s a lot they don’t know. Women do. Women want to learn. Men think, “I know what I’m doing, just show me somebody naked.”

Number 77 here.

Tuesday February 26 2008

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


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

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

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

Sample, from “Sam”:

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

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

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

So is it hypocrisy?

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

Exactly so.

Very well informed consumers
Montesquieu on different educations
The next best thing
Adam Smith and William Godwin on compulsory education
Tom Jones didn’t need no education
Dara O’Briain on the vital importance in real life of what you learn at school
Bad education?
Charles F. Kettering on education and inventiveness
Discovering ancient wisdoms
Also something less tangible