A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: Stephen Pollard on posh but post-modern Boris Johnson
Previous entry: Damian learns a co-educational lesson
Wednesday May 28 2008

A few days ago the dog ate my homework.  Remember that?  Probably not, because, who reads this that devotedly?  (If anyone does, feel free to comment to that effect.  By the way, don’t you think that this dog, a real dog this time, is very amusing?  I do.)

So anyway, what was this metaphorical dog?  Basically, what happened was that as the deadline for posting here approached, I got stuck into a domestic housekeeping job.  Arranging my embarrassingly large collection of movie DVDs recorded from off the telly in alphabetical order, as it happens.  And I found myself enjoying it.  Something about the fact that I wasn’t doing it for anybody else, and thus nobody was bossing me, and the fact that I’d been meaning to do this for ages, and knew that the sense of increased order and driven-back entropy would please me greatly, once the task was done.  So, instead of breaking that off and writing some piece of drivel for this blog, I carried right on into the small hours of the next morning (not that small actually) and only when it was done did I put the posting for what had become yesterday, to the effect that there would basically not be a proper posting. And that was the dog that ate my homework.

I permitted this canine consumption because I was treating myself the way I believe that children should be treated.  The most depressing thing about regular school-type schools, such as I help out in, is the way that children are constantly interrupted.  There they are, often concentrating on something else with amazing completeness, and they are interrupted, and told to do some “work”.  If they allowed their extraordinarily expressive bodies to communicate that they would much rather not be doing this “work”, insult is often added to injury, in the form of a teacher telling them that they must “learn to concentrate”.  I sometimes think that this is the most damaging lesson that schools ever teach.  Someone who can and did concentrate is turned into someone who not only doesn’t, but who ends up believing that they can’t.

We all know how to influence humans, small or big.  Wait for them to do what you want, and then thank them, praise them, compliment them.  I recall one of my early sessions with Small Boy, where the body language in response to all my “suggestions” about what we should do was deafeningly hostile.  He did it (probably because he feared a scene with his deceptively small and charming mother if I snitched on him) but made it clear that he was not amused.  In the end, in sheer desperation, I got him to just draw something.  Anything.  What he drew had, I thought, little merit, and I said, well, I don’t much care for it.  If you like it, then great because at least one of us did, but I’m not impressed.  I don’t believe in lying about things like this, which may make me a pompous swine, but there you go, I don’t.  But nor do I believe in withholding praise where praise is due.  I also told Small Boy that he had concentrated on his task superbly, and I now knew that his powers of concentration were considerable.  My goal is now to have him choosing activities which he knows I regard as appropriately educational, from an ever expanding menu, as it were, so that he is able to get that little bit more into the habit of doing concentrated work, of a sort that he finds not uncongenial.  (This is a compromise between the authoritarian ethos of the school, and the anti-authoritarian ethos of yours truly.)

Once again, I don’t believe I have to explain much of this to the home-educators.  They know all about the almost superhuman powers of concentration that an uninterrupted child is able to wield.

And just as I don’t like interrupting children who are concentrating on something, almost anything, so too, I thought, I would refrain, that evening, from interrupting myself.  I’d put up a holding post saying: sorry, nothing here today.  And then explain the very educational principle being upheld later.  I.e. now.

Good night, and back to arranging my embarrassingly large classical CD collection into chronological order by composer.  Which I am actually not enjoying that much, and from which I needed a break.