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: Bloggers and blogging

Thursday July 17 2008

One of the commenters on this particularly impressive posting by Miss Snuffy, about Ray Lewis, links to this blog.  Looks good.  To the blogroll.

It’s about time I had a picture here, so this is the picture at the top of that blog:


Teaching as warfare.  That’s a very common meme, I find.  Here made absolutely explicit in the name of the blog: “Scenes from the Battleground”.

With that picture at the top, of WW2 US General Patton, as enacted by George C Scott in the movie of that name, you’d think that the blog would be about America, wouldn’t you?  But it’s not.  Subtitle: “A Blog About Teaching in Tough Schools in the UK”.

Thursday July 03 2008

If it is true that higher education is now and remains potentially a big export earner for Britain, and it is true, then stories like this won’t help one little bit:

Two French students have been found dead with multiple stab wounds in an East London flat, it was confirmed last night.

A double murder inquiry has been launched after the bodies of the two men, believed to be in their twenties, were discovered on Sunday, when firefighters were called to deal with a fire at the address in Sterling Gardens, New Cross.

A police source said the pair had been “horrifically murdered” adding that it was believed they may have been tortured before being killed and their flat set alight.

This was all over the early evening news today, complete with pictures.  It seems to have been a robbery that went wrong, by which I mean even more wrong.

It’s somewhat off topic for this blog, but I say: allow non-crims to be armed!

It may yet happen.  London, full of disarmed non-crims and armed crims, is rapidly becoming like New York used to be but is now so conspicuously not, a “crime capital”.  Any decade now, something might just give.  Or, to use the language of this blog, the lesson might be learned.

Monday June 23 2008

Here is further illustration of something I have always believed, that David Beckham is a smart guy.  Martin Samuel writes in The Times:

David Beckham, asked by The Times to sum up the strength of Fabio Capello, the England manager, came up with the perfect, pithy phrase. “He makes you sit up straight in class,” he said. For tutors, however, instilling discipline is only half of it. The pupils must wish to learn as well.

Education is a partnership. First, the teacher must be motivated to do the job properly. Sven-Göran Eriksson became lazy as head coach and England stagnated as a result. Steve McClaren wanted to coach new ideas, but lacked the authority to make his players listen. Neither of these flaws will affect Capello’s regime; but it is the second part of the equation that is the key. The teachers must teach, but the pupils must listen; and this is where English football has fallen down.

So there.

I have been busy elsewhere, also concerning sport, so that’s your lot here for today.

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.

Wednesday June 04 2008

I am suffering from a mild variation of Blogger’s Block just now.  It’s not that things don’t occur to me that I might write about.  My problem is, so what?  Who will care?  What does it matter what I think, report, notice or discover?  Not a lot.  What will it matter in a few years time what I now say?  Even less.  What will it matter in thirty years what I now say?  Nothing.

This, I think, is one of the reasons why childless old men of less that supreme achievement turn away from life towards education, from stirring yet again the stew of their own thinking as it bubbles towards complete insignificance, towards stirring the thoughts of the young, whose notions, good or bad, wise or foolish, do and will for a while count for something.

If that’s right, then there is something about teaching which appeals to the old which is of no significance to the young.  Those who still can, do.  Those who now can’t, teach.  Something like that.  Which is one of the reasons I believe that there is a great pent-up desire to teach in the aging baby boom.  I don’t believe I’m the only one.

What stops the baby boom from teaching is – I guess - the fear of what it would actually be like, or worse, the knowledge of this.  Lacking the vigour and savagery needed to subdue a large room full of young people who would prefer to be otherwise engaged, and denied the sort of deference which in earlier and perhaps somewhat mythical times was the natural prerogative of the old, oldies prefer to stay away from teaching.  Our government puts out TV adverts about how wonderful the life of a teacher is, how responsive, polite and eager to learn the pupils are.  We oldies fear that these adverts are lies, or why would they be so desperate for teachers?

Although, Kings Cross Supplementary and Hammersmith Saturday are actually rather like these advertisements.  There is none of the expensive lab equipment, but the same smiling faces, friendly disposition and willingness – often eagerness - to learn.

That a lot of oldies may want to teach the young is no reason for the old to be forcing their teaching upon the young.  What if the old have nothing to teach?  What if the young are not interested?  Should the young be forced to pay attention?  I don’t think so.  But many parents think that their children should be made to pay attention, and if that’s the case, I hope I am right to think that they might as well be made to pay attention to me.  In return for this compulsion, I try my hardest to pay attention to them and make it into a conversation rather than just a monologue or worse, an ordeal.

If I were teaching a particular skill, such as bomb disposal or dancing or touch typing, and if all pupils present were there on a totally voluntary basis and eager to learn that particular skill (and assuming I was the kind of teacher who is good at teaching particular things, which I am mostly not), then I might be very bossy and demanding.  It would often be a monologue, and maybe, sometimes, even an ordeal.  But this is not the kind of teaching I am now doing.

Thursday May 29 2008

Tom Chatfield discusses computer games:

When Mogwai isn’t online, he’s called Adam Brouwer, and works as a civil servant for the British government modelling crisis scenarios of hypothetical veterinary disease outbreaks. I point out to him a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, billed under the line “The best sign that someone’s qualified to run an internet startup may not be an MBA degree, but level 70 guild leader status.” Is there anything to this? “Absolutely,” he says, “but if you tried to argue that within the traditional business market you would get laughed out of the interview.” How, then, does he explain his willingness to invest so much in something that has little value for his career? He disputes this claim. “In Warcraft I’ve developed confidence; a lack of fear about entering difficult situations; I’ve enhanced my presentation skills and debating. Then there are more subtle things: judging people’s intentions from conversations, learning to tell people what they want to hear. I am certainly more manipulative, more Machiavellian. I love being in charge of a group of people, leading them to succeed in a task.”

It’s an eloquent self-justification - even if some, including Adam’s partner of the last ten years, might say he protests too much. You find this kind of frank introspection again and again on the thousands of independent websites maintained by World of Warcraft’s more than 10m players. Yet this way of thinking about video games can be found almost nowhere within the mainstream media, which still tend to treat games as an odd mix of the slightly menacing and the alien: more like exotic organisms dredged from the deep sea than complex human creations.

This lack has become increasingly jarring, as video games and the culture that surrounds them have become very big news indeed. In March, the British government released the Byron report - one of the first large-scale investigations into the effects of electronic media on children. Its conclusions set out a clear, rational basis for exploring the regulation of video games. Since then, however, the debate has descended into the same old squabbling between partisan factions. In one corner are the preachers of mental and moral decline; in the other the high priests of innovation and life 2.0. In between are the ever-increasing legions of gamers, busily buying and playing while nonsense is talked over their heads.

I recall similar debates about television.  With telly the argument was pretty much pleasure versus “goodness”, measured by some other standard.  So if you think pleasure matters (I definitely do) then telly is great.  If not, then not.

The most obvious impact of television was simply the things that people didn’t do, as a result of watching television instead.  Such as: keeping an eye on or open for criminals, whether out in the streets or at home.  Crime always goes up in a country when television arrives, and since this happens so very quickly, it’s hard to regard it as resulting from any deep psychological damage, just to the change in the crime environment.  Not that there necessarily aren’t deep psychological effects, just that the obvious impacts are so much more obvious.

With games, what is surely new is that kids have independent access to their individual games machines, and can carry them around with them.

As for the intellectual impact, I don’t see how the damage could possibly be greater than the brain damage allegedly caused by television to some people, and especially to children who do nothing except watch telly.

Thursday May 22 2008

Metaphorically speaking.  I’ll tell you what the dog was, literally, tomorrow.  I hope.  I promise nothing.

Tuesday May 20 2008
Labour soft on spelling
Tougher guidelines
“It is not the role of ministers to prescribe which songs children sing …”
Jason Heath on being a musical guide
Schools as immune system strengtheners
Laureen on how the digital natives learn
Do parenting and teaching conflict – for some parents?
School of everything
USA education blog favorites
On choice and inequality
Snuffy says don’t blame the teachers
Simon Hewitt-Jones on Professor Scarcity and Professor Abundance
Bairn minding
South West Surrey Home Education
Carl Honoré on slowing down and mucking about
A bottom line moment at Kings Cross Supplementary
Posh Posse
Should private sector schools be more charitable or lose their charitable status?
Bacteria in the middle of snowflakes
Threat to many home-schooling families in California
Blogging and learning about solar power
Even higher education
Harry Hutton on nepotism and student writers
Home education grows because of bullying and testing
Going to a regular school doesn’t guarantee that you do much socialising
The UK Government cuts back on mature study
If they don’t know what makes a good teacher then we should all decide for ourselves
Not a lot here today
“I’d just tell him to stop and he would …”
Montesquieu on different educations
Dave MacLeod loves climbing but hated school
Dara O’Briain on the vital importance in real life of what you learn at school
Facebook profiling the applicants
Jackie D connects me to Ewan McIntosh’s edu.blogs.com
Not much education blogging in the UK?
How to learn how easy a language will be to learn
Janice Turner on how Tim rich-but-dim beats Kevin poor-but-smart
Choices and consequences
For British state education read Soviet tractors
Those who can do - those who can’t get sent up rotten by Armstrong and Miller
“Market-friendly university without walls …”
I’m back (again)