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Category archive: Books

Thursday July 03 2008


Children of all ages should study philosophy in school to develop their critical thinking skills, education experts said today.

Academics suggest that, rather than start off with Socrates, teachers use common classroom disputes to help children learn about abstract philosophical principles such as fairness, morality and punishment. They give the example of apportioning blame for spilling paint.

The book Philosophy in Schools, edited by Dr Michael Hand of the Institute of Education and Dr Carrie Winstanley of Roehampton University, puts forward several arguments for including philosophy in the school curriculum.

“Critical thinkers are people who reason well, and who judge and act on the basis of their reasoning,” Hand says.

“To become critical thinkers, children must learn what constitutes good reasoning and why it’s important - and these are philosophical matters.

“Exposure to philosophy should be part of the basic educational entitlement of all children.”

And so they should be forced to do it whether they like it or not. That’s what “entitlement” generally means: the government forcing people to receive what it wants to shove down their throats, and this time it’s no different.  People have the “basic right” to do as we bloody well tell them.

The stupid thing is that if the people who think this were actually to try doing it themselves, and just ask if others might like to sample it, it might be quite good, and lots of children might really like it.  And then it might spread, in the hands of people who got the point of it, and wanted the share the good news.  But can you imagine the intellectual chaos, to say nothing of the rebellions from school teachers, that would result from any schools, never mind all schools, being made to do this kind of thing?  Because, don’t you dare, as these wretched authors do - perhaps because they know no other way of saying: “this is a good book, please buy it and read it” -, confuse something being a worthwhile activity with it being something that everyone should be forced to submit to regardless, and have done to them by grumps who think it a ridiculous diversion from their real job.

Many teachers would surely say that what these bossy academics call “philosophy” is just intellectual common sense, and is embedded in the general texture of what they do.  Just as they also teach manners and morals, which people also often say should also be separate modules in the national curriculum, in everything that they do, or try to.  Insofar as these people seem semi-aware of this themselves, then it turns out that they aren’t saying so very much.  They are definition hopping, between two different notions of what “teaching philosophy” means.  They use the separate-module-in-the-syllabus foolishness to get publicity, because it is such a daft idea, but if challenged that they are merely hinting at compulsion to sell their books and boost their own prestige, they will retreat into claiming that all they are really saying is that teaching should be done intelligently.  By jingo, what a brilliant idea.  Let’s (not) buy the book about it.

They are, in short, being philosophically sloppy.

Saturday April 26 2008

Western Civilisation collapse alert:

Harry Potter has taken his place alongside such greats of English literature as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and is required reading for A-level English students.

J.K. Rowling’s boy-wizard has been added to the syllabus in a move that has prompted fresh claims of “dumbing down” in education standards.

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone is being offered as a ‘set text’ by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), the UK’s largest exam board, which is responsible for nearly half of the country’s exams.


But horrified education experts fear Harry will rob the A-level of credibility.

If it’s fun, it can’t be literature.

Sunday March 30 2008
Wednesday February 20 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday February 06 2008

Not all teachers are underpaid:

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

Yes, it’s Martin Amis.

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

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

Underneath this picture ....


... it says:

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

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

Friday January 11 2008

Tomorrow I will be attending a get-together-stroke-training-course for all the teachers and teaching assistants involved in these Supplementary Schools.  Among those addressing us and improving us will be Irina Tyk, the head teacher who wrote the Butterfly Book.  Earlier this week an email went round saying: Do you have a copy of the Butterfly Book?  This was because, last month, the Daily Mail gave it a write up, and ever since then demand has been ferocious, and all copies were needed for pushy parents to buy.

I do have a copy, and will be bringing it with me tomorrow:


My copy has a blander cover that the one you get to if you follow the link above.  That version has an elaborate picture of a butterfly on the front.  But the bland cover is more appropriate, I think, because the content is similarly lacking in extraneous illustration.

I suspect that the Butterfly Book illustrates one of my Deep Educational Prejudices, which is that commentators on education are divided between those who were confused at school and those who were bored.  Tyk was definitely in the confused camp, if this prejudice is correct.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll get to ask her.

In the first version of this posting my photos made the Butterfly Book look as if it was printed on gray paper.  I have now corrected this, with some photoshopping.

Butterfly Book in short supply
Not the last Harry Potter book after all?