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Category archive: Education

Friday August 29 2014

Spent the whole day fretting about not enough people coming to my Last Friday of the Month meeting this evening.  Richard Carey would, I knew, be fine, but would the number of listeners be insultingly small?  Happily, two people showed up who hadn’t emailed that they were coming, and the room was, if not full, at least not embarrassingly empty.

Better yet, I also fixed my speaker for next month, which I had also been fretting about.  Priya Dutta, who attended this evening, will be speaking about Education, libertarianism and similar things.  The Gove reforms, the various attempts to set up cheap new free enterprise schools of various sorts, that kind of thing.  She is a teacher, so this is bound to be good.  I’ll say more as I learn more.

Too tired to expand on what Richard said (about English Republicanism and its influence in the American colonies and later the USA), other than that in the brackets is what it was about and that it was very interesting.  But since this is Friday, here is news of Cats on Kickstarters, and of Catstarter , which I think is a book, or maybe a blog.  Also cat related: Ceiling Netanyahu is watching you tunnel.

Monday December 16 2013

I want one of these:

image

It’s a map of London, and a puzzle with each London postal district being a piece.  In other words, it’s a London Postcode Jigsaw Puzzle.

The thing is, I love London and everything, but I have no very clear idea of what the names are of its various bits.  Or to put it another way, I have no exact idea of where Harringay, Eltham, Camden, Islington, and so on and so forth, are.  I know most of the names.  I know most of the places.  Can’t match names to places or places to names.

This puzzle will be just the ticket for sorting all that out in my head.  £15.

Sunday August 04 2013

England are now facing the distinct possibility of having to follow on in the third test, having won the first two.  Because there was a pause after the second, which England won by a huge margin of 347 runs, there was a small torrent of commentary to the effect that Australian cricket is doomed, doomed, and will take years to recover, if it indeed ever recovers.  Titles to savour include: A tale of two depths - While England plan, Australia dream - Australia: hubris, despair, panic - What can Australia learn from English cricket? - Ashes 2013: Sheffield Shield decline lies behind Australia’s demise - There is no easy way back for these Aussies - Australia’s darkest hour shows no sign of dawn.

My favourite Australian Cricket is Doomed piece has been, I think, A schoolboy curse, which is about why posh Australian schools don’t produce top cricketers, apart from Warne.  The problem is that promising posh boys don’t play against men, only against other less good posh boys.  Boys from scuzzy government schools, on the other hand, play for local clubs on Saturdays, against tough bastard older blokes, and thereby get better and better.

Yes, I know.  Warne is posh?

In England the problem is that only posh boys ever seem to get good at cricket.  You’d think this would make England worse.

Monday April 08 2013

The speakers at the Liberty League Freedom Forum were an impressive lot.  I intend, Real Soon Now, to be writing at greater length (at Samizdata) about what some of the speakers said.  In this posting here, I will concentrate on shoving up photos.

Here are some snaps of just a few of the speakers in action:

image image imageimage image image

Top left: Douglas Carswell; top middle: Terence Kealey; top right: Mark Littlewood.

Bottom left: Sam Bowman; bottom middle: J. P. Floru; bottom right: Randy Barnett.

I did not attend anything like all the sessions, not least because many of them were simultaneous.  But we all crowded into the big hall to have lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and there were a couple of speeches there also, from Mark Littlewood on the Saturday, and from J. P. Floru on the Sunday, both of whom are shown above, doing their lunchtime talks.

Impressive though the line-up of speakers was, and hard as it often was to choose which speaker to listen to, the real star of the occasion, for me, was the audience that the Liberty League people had managed to assemble for this event.  It would have been quite something for me to have listened to a succession of very good talks.  It was something else again to be part of a 200-strong audience listening attentively to those same talks, most of them of less than half my age.

So, here are some crowd shots:

image image imageimage image image

The more I study the world and its ways, the more importance I attach to the influence of gatherings like this one. Getting a couple of hundred of Britain’s most committed libertarians and free marketeers together over a weekend, and permanently connecting them with each other, will have network effects beyond calculation, especially when you consider how much easier it now is to do networking electronically.

So who put this event together?  Well, I did some asking around, and three people kept getting mentioned:

image image image

Left: Anton Howes; centre: Christiana Hambro; right: Stephen Davies.

The latter two are both briefly biographised at the IEA website, and Anton Howes is likewise described on this list of Liberty Leaguers.  Hannah Besford, Will Hamilton and James Lawson, also on that Liberty Leaguers list, also got several mentions, not least in the conference progamme (i.e. on page 2 of this), as having contributed importantly.  Notoriously, when credit is to be shared among humans for their cooperative achievements, there are frequent mismatches between who gets given the credit and who did the actual work, so my best guess could be seriously off.  Nevertheless, my best guess is that the three people pictured above were the prime movers (certainly among the prime movers), all three of them having decided independently that what the British free market/libertarian movement needs is a succession of gatherings like this one, wherever in the UK it makes sense to stage them.  So, that is what they have been doing, this latest London event being merely the biggest of such events so far.  There have been several others during the last few years, and it looks like there will be many more.  I certainly hope so.

Friday February 22 2013

imageSo I finally got around to finishing my review of Think Tank by Madsen Pirie, which is the story, so far, of the Adam Smith Institute.

Ripple: me quoting Madsen Pirie, here.

Another ripple: the ASI quoting me, here.

The ASI seems happy, despite the delay.

LATER: Madsen Pirie quoting me, here.

Wednesday May 02 2012

Two interesting early comments (two of many that follow) on this posting, which vividly (i.e. with lots of vivid photos) describes an idiotic Occupy occupation (with thanks to David Thompson for the link).

“Buzzsawmonkey”:

Given that the University of California, which owns this now-”Occupied” farm tract, is largely responsible for teaching the “Occupiers” the idiot theories under which they’ve undertaken this action, isn’t this really an instance of the chickens coming home to roost?

“Zombie”:

The vast majority of the “Occupy the Farm” buffoons are not Cal students; it’s mostly composed of losers who didn’t get into Cal, so in jealousy and frustration, they’re stealing the research equipment of the students who actually did well in school.

UC Berkeley is actually two completely distinct universities; the “liberal arts” half is thorough and irretrievably contaminated with Marxist ideologies; but the “STEM” half (“science, technology, engineering, math”) is very rigorous, hardcore, not politicized (and mostly Asian).

The College of Natural Resources, which does research at the farm, is mostly in the STEM half of the school (though there is a politicized component). Notice that the professors who joined the occupiers are all from the Anthropology and Gender Studies departments, not from Natural Resources.

So, this may not be a clear-cut case of chickens and their roosting behavior.

That “mostly Asian” bit makes me very pessimistic about the future of the West.

For how long will the best Asians feel they have to go West to get the best sort of education?  Will they keep coming, and after their rigorous Western educations, will they stay in the West?  Or, at a pivotal point in the nearish future, will they take their rigour back to Asia and plant it there, leaving what remains of Western education at the mercy of the “humanities”?

Friday November 04 2011

I love what James Tooley has been doing with his life, namely telling the world about how the world’s poor are now getting themselves educated.  The world’s poor are not getting education from their governments.  They are purchasing it from their fellow citizens.

This is Tooley’s description of how he got started learning about this global educational miracle, and triumph of the free market economy.  It’s from his book The Beautiful Tree (Chapter 1, pp. 3-7):

imageAfter a stint teaching philosophy of education at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, I returned to England to complete my doctorate and later became a professor of education.  Thanks to my experiences in sub-Saharan Africa and my modest but respectable academic reputation, I was offered a commission by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to study private schools in a dozen developing countries.

The lure of faraway places was too enticing to resist, but I was troubled by the project itself.  Although I was to study private schools in developing countries, those schools were serving the middle classes and the elite.  Despite my lifelong desire to help the poor, I’d somehow wound up researching bastions of privilege.

The first leg of the trip began in New York in January 2000.  As if to reinforce my misgivings that the project would do little for the poor, I was flown first class to London in the inordinate luxury of the Concorde. Forty minutes into the flight, as we cruised at twice the speed of sound and two miles above conventional air traffic, caviar and champagne were served.  The boxer Mike Tyson (sitting at the front with a towel over his head for much of the journey) and singer George Michael were on the same flight.  I felt lost.

From London it was on to Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai.  By day, I evaluated five-star private schools and colleges that were very definitely for the privileged.  By night, I was put up in unbelievably salubrious and attentive five-star hotels.  But in the evenings, sitting and chatting with street children outside these very same hotels, I wondered what effect any of my work could have on the poor, whose desperate needs I saw all around me.  I didn’t just want my work to be a defense of privilege.  The middle-class Indians, I felt, were wealthy already.  To me it all seemed a bit of a con: just because they were in a “poor” country, they were able to latch onto this international assistance even though they as individuals had no pressing need for it at all.  I didn’t like it, but as I returned to my room and lay on the 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, my discomfort with the program was forced to compete with a mounting sense of self-criticism.

Then one day, everything changed.  Arriving in Hyderabad to evaluate brand-new private colleges at the forefront of India’s hi-tech revolution, I learned that January 26th was Republic Day, a national holiday.  Left with some free time, I decided to take an autorickshaw - the three-wheeled taxis ubiquitous in India - from my posh hotel in Banjara Hills to the Charminar, the triumphal arch built at the center of Muhammad Quli Shah’s city in 1591.  My Rough Guide to India described it as Hyderabad’s “must see” attraction, and also warned that it was situated in the teeming heart of the Old City slums.  That appealed tome.  I wanted to see the slums for myself.

As we traveled through the middle-class suburbs, I was struck by the ubiquity of private schools.  Their signboards were on every street corner, some on fine specially constructed school buildings, but others grandly posted above shops and offices.  Of course, it was nothing more than I’d been led to expect from my meetings in India already - senior government officials had impressed me with their candor when they told me it was common knowledge that even the middle classes were all sending their children to private schools.  They all did themselves.  But it was still surprising to see how many there were.

We crossed the bridge over the stinking ditch that is the once-proud River Musi.  Here were autorickshaws in abundance, cattle-drawn carts meandering slowly with huge loads of hay, rickshaws agonizingly peddled by painfully thin men.  Cars were few, but motorbikes and scooters ("two-wheelers") were everywhere - some carried whole families (the largest child standing in front; the father at the handlebars; his wife, sitting sidesaddle in her black burka or colorful sari, holding a baby, with another small child wedged in between). There were huge trucks brightly painted in lively colors.  There were worn-out buses, cyclists, and everywhere pedestrians, whose cavalier attitude toward the traffic unnerved me as they stepped in front of us seemingly without a care in the world.  From every vehicle came the noise of horns blaring - the drivers seemed to ignore their mirrors, if they had them at all.  Instead, it seemed to be the responsibility of the vehicle behind to indicate its presence to the vehicle in front.  This observation was borne out by the legend on the back of the trucks, buses, and autorickshaws, “Please Horn!” The noise of these horns was overwhelming: big, booming, deafening horns of the buses and trucks, harsh squealing horns from the autorickshaws.  It’s the noise that will always represent India for me.

All along the streets were little stores and workshops in makeshift buildings - from body shops to autorickshaw repair shops, women washing clothes next to paan (snack) shops, men building new structures next to the stalls of market vendors, tailors next to a drugstore, butchers and bakers, all in the same small hovel-like shops, dark and grimy, a nation of shopkeepers. Beyond them all rose the 400-year-old Charminar.

My driver let me out, and told me he’d wait for an hour, but then called me back in a bewildered tone as I headed not to the Charminar but into the back streets behind.  No, no, I assured him, this is where I was going, into the slums of the Old City.  For the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from one of the poshest parts of town to the poorest.  Everywhere among the little stores and workshops were little private schools!  I could see handwritten signs pointing to them even here on the edge of the slums.  I was amazed, but also confused: why had no one I’d worked with in India told me about them?

I left my driver and turned down one of the narrow side streets, getting quizzical glances from passers-by as I stopped underneath a sign for Al Hasnath School for Girls.  Some young men were serving at the bean-and-vegetable store adjacent to a little alleyway leading to the school.  I asked them if anyone was at the school today, and of course the answer was no for it was the national holiday.  They pointed me to an alleyway immediately opposite, where a hand-painted sign precariously supported on the first floor of a three-story building advertised “Students Circle High School & Institute: Registered by the Gov’t of AP.” “Someone might be there today,” they helpfully suggested.

I climbed the narrow, dark staircase at the back of the building and met a watchman, who told me in broken English to come back tomorrow.  As I exited, the young men at the bean-and-vegetable counter hailed me and said there was definitely someone at the Royal Grammar School just nearby, and that it was a very good private school and I should visit.  They gave me directions, and I bade farewell.  But I became muddled by the multiplicity of possible right turns down alleyways followed by sharp lefts, and so asked the way of a couple of fat old men sitting alongside a butcher shop.

Their shop was the dirtiest thing I had ever seen, with entrails and various bits and pieces of meat spread out on a mucky table over which literally thousands of flies swarmed.  The stench was terrible.  No one else seemed the least bit bothered by it. They immediately understood where I wanted to go and summoned a young boy who was headed in the opposite direction to take me there.  He agreed without demur, and we walked quickly, not talking at all as he spoke no English.  In the next street, young boys played cricket with stones as wickets and a plastic ball.  One of them called me over, to shake my hand.  Then we turned down another alleyway (with more boys playing cricket between makeshift houses outside of which men bathed and women did their laundry) and arrived at the Royal Grammar School, which proudly advertised, “English Medium, Recognised by the Gov’t of AP.” The owner, or “correspondent” as I soon came to realize he was called in Hyderabad, was in his tiny office.  He enthusiastically welcomed me.  Through that chance meeting, I was introduced to the warm, kind, and quietly charismatic Mr. Fazalur Rahman Khurrum and to a huge network of private schools in the slums and low-income areas of the Old City.  The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that my expertise in private education might after all have something to say about my concern for the poor.

Khurrum was the president of an association specifically set up to cater to private schools serving the poor, the Federation of Private Schools’ Management, which boasted a membership of over 500 schools, all serving low-income families.  Once word got around that a foreign visitor was interested in seeing private schools, Khurrum was inundated with requests for me to visit.  I spent as much time as I could over the next 10 days or so with Khurrum traveling the length and breadth of the Old City, in between doing my work for the International Finance Corporation in the new city.  We visited nearly 50 private schools in some of the poorest parts of town, driving endlessly down narrow streets to schools whose owners were apparently anxious to meet me. (Our rented car was a large white Ambassador - the Indian vehicle modeled on the old British Morris Minor, proudly used by government officials when an Indian flag on the hood signified the importance of its user - horn blaring constantly, as much to signify our own importance as to get children and animals out of the way.) There seemed to be a private school on almost every street corner, just as in the richer parts of the city.  I visited so many, being greeted at narrow entrances by so many students, who marched me into tiny playgrounds, beating their drums, to a seat in front of the school, where I was welcomed in ceremonies officiated by senior students, while school managers garlanded me with flowers, heavy, prickly, and sticky around my neck in the hot sun, which I bore stoically as I did the rounds of the classrooms.

So many private schools, some had beautiful names, like Little Nightingale’s High School, named after Sarogini Naidu, a famous “freedom fighter” in the 1940s, known by Nehru as the “Little Nightingale” for her tender English songs. Or Firdaus Flowers Convent School, that is, “flowers of heaven.” The “convent” part of the name puzzled me at first, as did the many names such as St. Maria’s or St. John’s. It seemed odd, since these schools were clearly run by Muslims - indeed, for a while I fostered the illusion that these saints and nuns must be in the Islamic tradition too.  But no, the names were chosen because of the connotations to parents - the old Catholic and Anglican schools were still viewed as great schools in the city, so their religious names were borrowed to signify quality to the parents.  But did they really deliver a quality education?  I needed to find out.

Wednesday October 26 2011

I mentioned the difficulties I had last Saturday, at the Liberty League Conference, with indoor photography.  The least unsuccessful indoor photos I took were of some of the speakers.

Part of movement building is telling each other what we all look like, so here are these snaps.  Click to get bigger pictures, exactly as they emerged from my camera.  If anyone uses any of these snaps elsewhere (as they are most welcome to do) they are also welcome to do whatever editing they consider might improve them.

The good gentlemen pictured below are, in the order in which they spoke at the Conference, James Stanfield (top left), Mark Pennington (top centre), Brendon O’Neill (top right), Kristian Niemietz (bottom left), Andrew Lilico (bottom centre), Mustafa Akyol (bottom left):

imageimageimageimageimageimage

James Stanfield.  Stanfield is a colleague of James Tooley, and was a late replacement for Tooley, who had been struck down by a travel-related bug.  It seems that school spotting in far away places has its dangers.  Having heard Tooley speak a number of times over the years, most recently last Wednesday, and not ever having heard James Stanfield before, I personally was not that distressed by this swap, although I’m guessing others present may have been.

Everyone, definitely including me, regretted the no-show by Toby Young, who got stuck in traffic and then failed to find anywhere to park and went back home.  Bizarre.  But at least Young phoned in to explain all this.  The titles of two of his books, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Sound of No Hands Clapping, provoked laughter when mentioned by conference supremo Anton Howes as he passed on these travel updates.

Stanfield’s talk was distinguished by his assertion of the value of liberty, as a principle.  Stanfield didn’t justify a total free market in education merely because it would, in the opinion of onlookers, have better educational results.  People should, he said, be allowed to choose whatever education they want for their children, because that is an inherently good idea, along with such ideas as it being good for people to be allowed to say what they want and go where they want.

The other of the above speakers who particularly impressed me was Mustafa Akyol.  I am no admirer of Islam.  Akyol is the first person (Muslim or otherwise) I have ever heard to have got me thinking that I might be mistaken about just how inherently evil Islam is.  He is the author of a book entitled Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty, a copy of which I purchased after he gave his talk.  I probably still won’t be convinced, mind, but I am looking forward to reading this.

That a particular speaker may not have impressed me as much as the above two says little about him and quite a lot about me.  I have reached the nodding off stage in life.  If I nod off while you are speaking at an event I am attending, you shouldn’t take it personally.  Could this be why so many people - people other than me - prefer not to sit at the front of the audience at events like this?

Liberty League Conference speakers
More pictures from the James Tooley lecture yesterday
Knowing it but not knowing it
Mozart might have become a criminal
Richard Dawkins on university debating games
James Waterton on a very smart very dumb Russian
Greenies make a video saying: “We’re a bunch of vile greenie-nazis!”
“Is this a case of us operant-conditioning them or them operant-conditioning us?”
Talking with Toby Baxendale
How technology has improved detention
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog is now on indefinite hold
A question at Samizdata
The prevention threat
Some family education blogging
Party pieces
A poetic Hornby
Today I have been blogging elsewhere and also doing other things
A blogger mutates towards being a journalist
Pillocks
Educating Small Boy and Smart Boy
Busy elsewhere again
Education education education education
Flat horse pictures
Otherwise engaged
Thin picture redirection
“At that moment I suddenly started to view Nagi as an enemy …”
Finally …
“How much better …?”
Breaking the Left’s stranglehold on the moving image
More roboteaching
An education link
Struggling Actress quote of the day
Robots will transform education
Lib Dems edge towards school choice
“It’s going to be very exciting to see what young people come up with when they reject college”
Back from the dead and soon to be duplicated
Adriana and Ivan in Addis
Antoine Clarke on the French National Assembly elections
Lots of links
Don’t be a physics teacher
Is the internet replacing higher education?
How compulsion deranges the spreading of ideas
Cats can be taught!
He likes it - but does he understand it?
“I already knew most of what they were to try and teach me …”
Does the internet change education?
Indexed - blogrolled
Big ships
BrianMicklethwait.com quote of the day
How I became a One Minute Crap Manager
Home education is cheating!
Thoughts on the Age of Google
What to do about intrusive mobile phones
Roll playing
Never so much fun again
Ace Academician
The Million Dollar Homepage
I don’t know the score
Organised games as a way to control boys
Phonic Googling
Good news
A little education blogging
Dennis O’Keeffe on truancy