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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Education

Wednesday June 01 2016

Libertarian Home needs an intro for Mark Littlewood, for a publication they’re doing.  Here is a quick profile of Littlewood by me, which I hope may be of some use to LH.

imageMark Littlewood is the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs.  There was a time, not so long ago, when the IEA seemed doomed to obscurity or worse.  But Littlewood has put in place and now leads a strong team of free market activists, strong on both the academic and media fronts, thus raising the profile of free market ideas both now and in the longer term future.

That may suffice, but here is more, if needed, of a slightly more personal sort.

Of particular note is Littlewood’s appointment of Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, in the area of student and young academic outreach. (Stephen Davies addressed Libertarian Home not long after his IEA appointment.)

When Littlewood was first appointed, I was not optimistic about the IEA, but then I heard him speak about his new job, and I became much more hopeful about the IEA’s future.  That optimism has not abated.

Hope that helps and is not too late.

Friday March 25 2016

Guido links to a piece in GQ about Seumas Milne, and Guido picks out this bit:

Former colleagues reveal how, despite his slight figure, Milne had a remarkable habit of refusing to give way in corridors. Over several years, his fellow journalists grew tired of his insistence that oncoming co-workers make way for him. Eventually, one snapped, telling his desk, “I’m not going to do it again. Next time he plays chicken with me, I’m not going to get out of the way.” The whole office waited for the inevitable confrontation. Soon enough, it happened. As Milne walked down a corridor, the six-foot colleague approached from the other direction. They smashed into each other, sending Milne flying, along with the papers he was carrying. “Seumas was in shock,” recalls an onlooker. “No one had ever done that to him before. He expected people to show deference to him.

I still remember a collision of this sort, half a century ago now, that I once inflicted upon an equally impolite person, when we were both at Marlborough.  The IP was in the habit of pulling rank on me when we were walking in opposite directions along a certain very narrow footpath, the IP making no effort whatsoever to in any way get out of my way, me having to do all the avoiding.  So, one day, I didn’t do any avoiding, and me being shorter than him, I walked my head straight into his chin.  I knew the collision was coming but he didn’t, so he got the worst of it.  Nothing he could say or do, no matter how vehement, was going to change the fact that he got what he deserved and that we both knew it.

It’s amazing how much of the trouble in the world is caused by male human animals disagreeing with one another about their relative importance in the world.

Monday March 07 2016

Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts.  Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.

First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television.  People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise.  But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:

image

Next, become an accountant!  Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it.  Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.

Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is.  No Cheesegrater, for a start:

image

Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:

image

Next, Discover America.  I thought it already had been:

image

Visit a beach.  I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness.  Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert.  A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:

image

Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area.  And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:

image

As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this.  But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think.  A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.

I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days.  All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.

Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.

Saturday February 27 2016

Here:

Six years ago I submitted a paper for a panel, “On the Absence of Absences” that was to be part of an academic conference later that year - in August 2010. Then, and now, I had no idea what the phrase “absence of absences” meant. The description provided by the panel organizers, printed below, did not help. The summary, or abstract of the proposed paper - was pure gibberish, as you can see below. I tried, as best I could within the limits of my own vocabulary, to write something that had many big words but which made no sense whatsoever. I not only wanted to see if I could fool the panel organizers and get my paper accepted, I also wanted to pull the curtain on the absurd pretentions of some segments of academic life. To my astonishment, the two panel organizers - both American sociologists - accepted my proposal and invited me to join them at the annual international conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science to be held that year in Tokyo.

I wonder what Hemingway would have made of “On the Absence of Absences”.  (Hemingway, for those not inclined to follow links, is a programme to make your writing clearer.)

Presumably someone has also written a program which churns out this kind of drivel automatically.  Google google.

Yes:

The creators of the automatic nonsense generator, Jeremy Stribling, Dan Aguayo and Maxwell Krohn, have made the SCIgen program free to download. And scientists have been using it in their droves.

At the moment, this sort of drivel just marches on.  This is because people who oppose the drivel have to convince the drivellers to stop, which is hard.  And, being opposed to drivel, they usually have better things to do with their time.  The trick is somehow to reverse the burden of proof, to put the drivellers in the position, en masse, of having to convince the rest of us that their drivel is not drivel.  At that point, they find that they have no friends, only public contempt.  Everybody, including them, thinks that it is drivel.  And nobody thinks it worth bothering to even try to prove otherwise.

Thursday January 28 2016

This is weird.  When I did a posting at Samizdata called My 2015 in pictures, I intended to include a picture I took of one of my meetings last year, the one at which Aiden Gregg spoke.  But, although I talked about it, I didn’t actually include the picture.  Rather humiliatingly, nobody noticed, or if they did notice, they didn’t care, or if they did care, not enough to complain.

So here is that picture:

image

I have also added it to that Samizdata posting, which absolutely nobody at all will notice.  But, get it right, eh?

I think I got this picture by standing on a chair.

I mention all this now because I have another of these meetings, the first of this year, tomorrow evening.  Speaker: Professor Tim Evans (also mentioned in that Samizdata posting), talking about Jeremy Corbyn and all that.  Turnout looks like being just right, with the room comfortably as opposed to uncomfortably full.  Luckily the seating arrangements have been improving.

Here, for good measure, is the photo I took of Tim when he gave his Inaugural Professional Lecture at Middlesex University, last summer, and which was also included in that Samizdata posting:

image

Not being accustomed to the ways of Academe, that get-up makes Tim look, to me, like he is in a very trad production of Wagner’s Mastersingers.

Thursday December 10 2015

From Rob Fisher, who knows my interest in 3D printing, incoming email entitled:

Scientists 3D print ‘live’ blood vessels

Quote:

It’s no longer a rare feat to 3D print blood vessels. Printing vessels that act like the real deal, however, has been tricky… until now. Lawrence Livermore researchers have successfully 3D printed blood vessels that deliver nutrients and self-assemble like they would in a human body. The key is to print an initial structure out of cells and other organic material, and then to augment it with bio ink and other body-friendly materials. With enough time, everything joins up and behaves naturally.

Right now, the actual structures don’t bear much resemblance to what you’d find in a person - you get a “spaghetti bowl” of vessels. Scientists hope to organize these vessels the way they exist in nature, though. If that happens, you could one day see artificial tissue samples and even transplants that are about as realistic as you can get.

A while back, I worked out that 3D printing was going to be just as huge as everyone is saying, but that it was not going to get “domestic”, in the manner of like black-and-white laser printers for instance, in the foreseeable future (with the possible exception of certain kinds of food preparation).  3D printing is a vast range of specialist manufacturing techniques, and it will, for that foreseeable future, be used by people who already make specialist stuff by other and clumsier means, or who would like to make particular specialist stuff for the first time, of the sort that only 3D printing can do.  See the quoted verbiage above.

This is why I receive emails from Google about failing 3D printing companies along with other emails about successful 3D printing activities, mostly by already existing companies.  3D printing is best done by people who already know a hell of a lot about something else, which they can then get 3D printed.  Like: blood vessels.

The principle economic consequence of 3D printing will be to provide an abundance of jobs for people everywhere, but especially among the workers of the rich world, who, during the last few decades, have been famously deprived of many of their jobs by the workers of the poor world.

Prediction/guess.  Because of things like 3D printing, schools in the rich world will soon become (are already becoming?) a bit more successful, back towards what they were like in the 1950s.  This is because, as in the 1950s, there will again be an economic future for everyone in the rich countries, the way there has not been for the last few decades.  For the last few decades, in the rich countries, only the geeks (in computers) and the alpha-male super-jocks (in such things as financial services (and in a tiny few cases in sports)) and posh kids (whose parents motivate them to work hard no matter what (this is a circular definition (posh kids are the ones motivated by their parents))) have had proper futures to look forward to.  (These three categories overlap.) Accordingly, they have been the only ones paying proper attention in school.  The rest have not been able to see enough point to it.

My spell of education blogging taught me, among many things, that when it comes to schools being successful, teacher quality is absolutely not the only variable.  Good teachers can get bad results, if the kids just can’t doing with it.  Bad teachers can preside over good results, if parents and helpers-out, paid or unpaid, after regular school supply good supplementary teaching, or if the kids were highly motivated and determined to learn despite their crappy teachers.

The one exception to the rule about 3D printers not becoming meaningfully domestic is that they have a big future as educational toys, training kids to go into the bouncing-back manufacturing sector.

Tuesday December 08 2015

Fascinating point made in this piece at Libertarian Home by Simon Gibbs, about how and how not to educate computer programmers:

I am skeptical of whether formal education teaches programming, or whether programming is an innate aptitude. My computer science education is certainly a part of what made me a good programmer and I have met very good people who have retrained from other industries and become successful programmers. I have also met people who have had years of training and still lack the fundamental skill of breaking a process down into steps, despite passing various exams and tests. I graduated with such people and not with dramatically higher grades either. Formal education seems ill suited to capture, transmit, and assess the nuances of this particular skill. The ease with which code is plagiarised is one factor, as is the process of mugging up for exams, but the real problem is that the skill itself is a form of implicit knowledge which you cannot simply write down.

Further, learning to program is not an easy process. It is damned hard and no single resource or bootcamp or whatever will help you navigate a route by which you can deliver value. You have to get there on your own and that is, by definition, not something that anyone else can easily help with.

I can remember that, when I education-blogged, the above rumination was the kind of thing I would seize upon.

What Gibbs says sounds like the point that I have recently been making, generally and in particular in connection with this book (about PR (by another friend of mine (Alex Singleton))), that learning how to do something like play the violin (or do PR (or computer programming)) is fundamentally different from merely reading a book about how to play the violin (or reading a book like this one about how to do PR).  Most people will never be able to play the violin well (or do PR well), no matter how much else they are able to learn about playing the violin (or doing PR).  By writing a mere book about how to do PR, Singleton has not given away his personal-professional crown jewels by teaching thousands of others how to replace him.  On the contrary, his crown jewels are his “innate aptitude” (honed by much practising) for combining and deploying all the PR techniques he knows of and knows how to do, when solving a PR problem.  He has turned himself into a PR industry go-to media guru (which means he gets to advertise himself free) and made himself even more employable, in a kind of PR positive feedback loop.  After all, the better Singleton is at doing his own PR the better he’ll probably be at doing yours.

Gibbs also makes it very clear that he reckons himself to be a good programmer, in a way that many rivals, clever in all sorts of other ways, will never be.  He too does some good PR for himself, even though it’s incidental to the main point of his piece.  To learn which, read it in full, by clicking on the link at the top of this posting.

Sunday November 29 2015

I have begun reading Matt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything.  Early signs: brilliant.  I especially liked this bit (pp. 7-10), about modern ideas in the ancient world:

A ‘skyhook’ is an imaginary device for hanging an object from the sky.  The word originated in a sarcastic remark by a frustrated pilot of a reconnaissance plane in the First World War, when told to stay in the same place for an hour: ‘This machine is not fitted with skyhooks,’ he replied.  The philosopher Daniel Dennett used the skyhook as a metaphor for the argument that life shows evidence of an intelligent designer.  He contrasted skyhooks with cranes - the first impose a solution, explanation or plan on the world from on high; the second allow solutions, explanations or patterns to emerge from the ground up, as natural selection does.

The history of Western thought is dominated by skyhooks, by devices for explaining the world as the outcome of design and planning.  Plato said that society worked by imitating a designed cosmic order, a belief in which should be coercively enforced.  Aristotle said that you should look for inherent principles of intentionality and development - souls - within matter. Homer said gods decided the outcome of battles. St Paul said that you should behave morally because Jesus told you so. Mohamed said you should obey God’s word as transmitted through the Koran.  Luther said that your fate was in God’s hands.  Hobbes said that social order came from a monarch, or what he called ‘Leviathan’ - the state. Kant said morality transcended human experience.  Nietzsche said that strong leaders made for good societies.  Marx said that the state was the means of delivering economic and social progress. Again and again, we have told ourselves that there is a top-down description of the world, and a top-down prescription by which we should live.

But there is another stream of thought that has tried and usually failed to break through. Perhaps its earliest exponent was Epicurus, a Greek philosopher about whom we know very little.  From what later writers said about his writings, we know that he was born in 341 BC and thought (as far as we can tell) that the physical world, the living world, human society and the morality by which we live all emerged as spontaneous phenomena, requiring no divine intervention nor a benign monarch or nanny state to explain them.  As interpreted by his followers, Epicurus believed, following another Greek philosopher, Dernocritus, that the world consisted not of lots of special substances including spirits and humours, but simply of two kinds of thing: voids and atoms.  Everything, said Epicurus, is made of invisibly small and indestructible atoms, separated by voids; the atoms obey the laws of nature and every phenomenon is the result of natural causes.  This was a startlingly prescient conclusion for the fourth century BC.

Unfortunately Epicurus’s writings did not survive.  But three hundred years later, his ideas were revived and explored in a lengthy, eloquent and unfinished poem, De Rerum Natura (Of the Nature of Things), by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, who probably died in mid-stanza around 49 BC, just as dictatorship was looming in Rome.  Around this time, in Gustave Flaubert’s words, ‘when the gods had ceased to be, and Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius when man stood alone’.  Exaggerated maybe, but free thinking was at least more possible then than before or after.  Lucretius was more subversive, open-minded and far-seeing than either of those politicians (Cicero admired, but disagreed with, him).  His poem rejects all magic, mysticism, superstition, religion and myth.  It sticks to an unalloyed empiricism.

As the Harvard historian Stephen Greenblatt has documented, a bald list of the propositions Lucretius advances in the unfinished 7,400 hexameters of De Rerum Natura could serve as an agenda for modernity.  He anticipated modern physics by arguing that everything is made of different combinations of a limited set of invisible particles, moving in a void. He grasped the current idea that the universe has no creator, Providence is a fantasy and there is no end or purpose to existence, only ceaseless creation and destruction, governed entirely by chance.  He foreshadowed Darwin in suggesting that nature ceaselessly experiments, and those creatures that can adapt and reproduce will thrive.  He was with modern philosophers and historians in suggesting that the universe was not created for or about human beings, that we are not special, and there was no Golden Age of tranquillity and plenty in the distant past, but only a primitive battle for survival.  He was like modern atheists in arguing that the soul dies, there is no afterlife, all organised religions are superstitious delusions and invariably cruel, and angels, demons or ghosts do not exist.  In his ethics he thought the highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.

Thanks largely to Greenblatt’s marvellous book The Swerve, I have only recently come to know Lucretius, and to appreciate the extent to which I am, and always have been without knowing it, a Lucretian/Epicurean.  Reading his poem in A.E. Stallings’s beautiful translation in my sixth decade is to be left fuming at my educators.  How could they have made me waste all those years at school plodding through the tedious platitudes and pedestrian prose of Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar, when they could have been telling me about Lucretius instead, or as well?  Even Virgil was writing partly in reaction to Lucretius, keen to re-establish respect for gods, rulers and top-down ideas in general. Lucretius’s notion of the ceaseless mutation of forms composed of indestructible substances - which the Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana called the greatest thought that mankind has ever hit upon - has been one of the persistent themes of my own writing.  It is the central idea behind not just physics and chemistry, but evolution, ecology and economics too.  Had the Christians not suppressed Lucretius, we would surely have discovered Darwinism centuries before we did.

Matt Ridley on Epicurus and Lucretius
Peter Foster on Robert Owen
If you take a walk naked you need to know your way back
A day in BMdotcom heaven (2): Surrey v Notts was played in front of a live studio audience
Scandinavia comes out on top according to the HDI …
Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
The Magic Flute at the RCM
Photographed flatness that doesn’t look flat
Pavarotti could not read music (very well)
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
Is it practise or practice?  (And: would perfect communication actually be perfect?)
Rob took photos
Happy Friday (eventually)
London Postcode Puzzle
Australian cricket is doomed! - or maybe not
Pictures of LLFF2013
Better a year late than never
University of California chickens coming home to roost?
James Tooley discovers private schools for the poor in the slums of Hyderabad
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