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: Initiatives

Thursday July 03 2008

Here.

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.

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.

Friday May 30 2008

Snapped yesterday, on my travels:

image

Story here.

Wednesday May 07 2008

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.

Monday April 21 2008

I wonder if this will do any good:

The Government will continue its concerted attack on teacher workloads today, by launching the first-ever independent scrutiny unit made up of frontline teachers, to cut red tape and free schools of bureaucracy.

The Implementation Review Unit (IRU) is a key component of implementing the national workforce agreement and will tackle unnecessary paper work, assess workload implications and reduce bureaucratic processes. It shows the continued progress and delivery by signatories to reduce workloads and help teachers focus on improving pupil learning.

Trouble is, all this happened five years ago.

Wednesday April 02 2008

I don’t know who Graham Jones Internet Psychlogist is, but Iain Dale seems to rate him, probably because he is taking a swipe at Ed Balls:

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Education in the UK, wants “cyberbullying” of teachers to be a disciplinary offence. Apparently, school pupils sometimes ridicule their teachers in online chat rooms and on social networking sites. Well knock me down with a feather, there’s a shock.

Look, Mr Balls, children have always taken the mickey out of their teachers - and politicians. But there is a common theme. I remember my Latin teacher, Mr Beattie or “Bogroll” as we called him. He was a nice enough chap, but wholly unable to cope with 30 teenage boys. No doubt he knew his Latin well, but he couldn’t teach. We mercilessly took the rise.

Sure, it’s unfair; certainly it’s rude; and perhaps you could call it bullying. But it’s a fact of life for bad teachers. There’s the common link - pupils do not take the mickey out of good teachers. They like them and they would defend them against criticism. Poor teachers, on the other hand - like poor politicians - get ridiculed.

I may be jumping to conclusions, but I suspect this guy went to a basically good school with the occasional bad teacher, but that he has far less idea of what it is like in a less than good school.

I certainly agree that micromanaging the unwelcome symptoms of a system is not the way to improve it.  But my understanding is that teaching has got a whole lot more difficult in recent years.  People who couldn’t make the grade as Latin teachers in the kind of schools that teach Latin are indeed probably not cut out for such a job.  But damning all teachers who now have their lives made hell by those whom they are now trying to teach?  That’s not something I’d care to do.

Saturday March 08 2008

An ex-minister now admits what everyone else already knew:

image

Like other ministers, she felt “under pressure to make announcements all the time”.

So she frequently signed news releases announcing, for example, £5m for an anti-bullying initiative without really having the “slightest idea what happened to it”.

Although, on second thoughts, going through the motions of meddling is probably an improvement on actually meddling.

Monday January 21 2008

Frank Chalk, yesterday:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced that metal detectors will be used in some schools to try and prevent pupils bringing in knives.

FC has his doubts:

Let’s assume that it takes on average 30 seconds per child (by the time they’ve triggered the damn thing with pencil sharpeners, belt buckles, watches etc and had to go through again, then triggered it again, then refused to go through it again, stormed off and returned with their mother who will want to complain about radiation, rights or something...)

Indeed.

Here’s the BBC version.  Schools are allowed to have metal detectors, but the politicos want them to do this more.

I say politicos, rather than just the government, because there’s cross party consensus on this:

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the installation of scanners in some schools was “long overdue”.

“The powers have existed for some time and we have been calling for this for some time. However, while there are hundreds of scanners there are thousands of schools.

“We hope that - for a change - this initiative actually makes it beyond the front page.”

So, if the politicos think you have a knife problem in your school but you don’t, or if you do have a knife problem but happen to think, for your own particular reasons, that a metal detection machine wouldn’t help, your life just got worse.

As always with stories about initiatives, there are really two stories, first about what the initiative is about, and second about the whole idea of initiatives, all initiatives.  (Note the new category.)

Frank Chalk and David Davis on metal detectors for schools