Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dulled Minds

Sensible stuff from Justine Nicholas, Lecturer in English at City University New York, who notes the dire effects of schooling upon creative thinking.

Why Should Atheists be Good?

Cathy Seipp has a piece mainly about the counter-productive effects of teen professions of intent to remain chaste. Nothing to argue with there. Unlike most of her commentators, I got irked by the following:

"Anyway, Amy, who's a devout atheist, presented her case quite well. Although at one point, when she argued that freedom and other inalienable rights weren't granted by a Creator, and people have reason to expect these rights and are obliged to behave ethically even in a universe without God, one of the professors, sounding slightly exasperated, asked, "Why?" To her credit, Amy responded, "Uh...that's a really good question. I don't have an answer yet."

I am not so convinced that this was really to Amy's credit. If she hasn't given a little thought to the question of why she bothers to function in a Godless universe, she hasn't given much thought to her atheistic values at all. Admittedly the prof's question is somewhat vague, but we can probably guess that he was asking why atheists should be motivated and/or inspired to behave well.

Amy could have answered these questions with just a little thought. First off, atheists are motivated to behave well because they may take the well-being of the human race seriously. Incidentally, the "how" they do this is not difficult. They address the facts of the matter and seek explanations as to how humans would best be served by these facts. They then ascribe values to the various behaviours that would seem to produce the various outcomes. They do not, in other words, need divine instruction in order to devise a moral code.

The question of inspiration may seemingly be the more difficult one, however. Why bother when you know that you are about to end up as dust? Well there is a point to be made first off, that whilst it is highly likely that we ourselves will end up as dust, that there is no way of predicting for certain that humans in the future will do so, and seeing as we are not sure that we will, it is worth working towards an improvement in the human condition. Frank Tipler's discussion of how humans may have evolved to cope with the Big Crunch is just but one thought experiment in a big open question.

But is this sufficient to the task of being inspired to act well: is the knowledge that good behaviour is rational and that by doing so, we may create living conditions for humans that are way superior to those we experience today, is this knowledge sufficient to the task of everyday inspiration? A Christian, for example, will derive strength, comfort, inspiration and motivation from the thought of the presence of God, but atheists will lack for this exterior source of comfort and motivation.

And this is where an atheist needs to tap into a little known reserve, something that is rarely discussed outside of the context of the religious experience of God. There is such a thing as a sense of extraordinary rightness and awe, a sense that the whole world is somehow in the right place and the right time. It is a moment outside time, a proper appreciation of the wonder of the world, which has no need a God. This may happen infrequently, but it is worth seeking these moments for this can inform the sense of value required to behave well.

There's no need to pity fully functioning atheists. They are inspired without placebo and they think freely, for themselves, without any deferral of responsibility.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Secular Wonder

Goodness only knows, as home educators we get used to being sniped at for no good reason whatsoever. It's very easy to conclude that all this flak is a specific side-effect of being a home educator, and yes perhaps we do get more than our fair share by the nature of being odd-balls, but it is actually the case that whenever you subscribe to some idea, however mainstream and apparently inoffensive, someone out there is sure to be lining up to try to trash it.

The sad thing is that so much criticism is so woefully bad. Opponents of ideas frequently make the mistake of either missing the mark entirely or attacking a very poor version of their target. John Gray made both these mistakes with his attempt to critique rationalism, science and secularism in "Straw Dogs". The critical aim was so wayward it was possible to write the book of entirely. Harder to take is the attempt on the same subjects by a usual comfort read - Mark Steyn here in the Spectator or if this refuses to link here at the Free Republic.

The thrust of Steyn's argument is that secularism has flaws which are fatal to it. For example, he claims that rational secularist Europe will breed itself into non-existence because secularism, by not adhering to beliefs about the transcendental significance of life and the afterlife, does not provide for a basis for taking life seriously enough in order to inspire people to have kids.

Given Mark's usual bugbear anxiety about the demographics of the Western world versus the Islamic one, you can't help thinking that his tirade against secularism is more about putting a stop to terrorism than about seriously thinking about which are the best and most credible ideas. But putting aside all speculations about his motivation, it seems worth saying, (if only for my sanity), that secularism needn't necessarily be written off so easily. The good news for Steyn is that the secularism he attacks is a very poor variety that could indeed well end up in nihilistic misery, if not total self-annihilation but that there is, in fact, a much better variety out there that would make his criticisms redundant.

Steyn must accept that he is unlikely to succeed in calling people to a faith simply on the basis that life becomes very difficult if they don't. People will apply other criticisms other than the test of efficacy. They will need to know that the idea to which they are about to subscribe is credible, has some possible good explanations, seems to match the data. In these regards, secularism remains the most credible choice for many and the other good news is that secularism could be up to the efficacy task as well since secularism can easily provide sufficient motivation for taking human life very, very seriously...way more seriously than we take the life of gibbons or pumpkins, for example.

Humans are quite capable of appreciating the truly extraordinary nature of being alive (and just in case you have forgotten this, try a genuinely near-death experience for prompting you into remembering.) Our perception of the immanent wonder of life is quite sufficient to the task of making us want to propagate.

So rather than calling us to a faith that cannot work for us, it could be much more constructive to call to secularists to appreciate the truly extraordinary fact of human life - the fascinating insight that 1.5% difference from chimps means that we send space craft to places outside our solar system, can think through the limits of our perception and on into the multiverse, can speak with enormous complexity and subtlety to our extraordinary children.

It's a wonderful world. Have a wonderful day.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Spunky's Home School Blog Awards

Am catching up here...have realised there's not much time left to vote for the various categories in Spunky's Home School Blog Awards. The nominations look as if they may contain some new gems, so will check these out, given the chance.

I Meant What I Said.

OK, so there's no ducking this issue. After yesterday's post below about the damaging and redundant qualities of the children's database, the news today, here from ITV, revisits the story of Sarah Whittaker and David Askew, jailed last year for appalling neglect of their four children. Despite the fact that the family had been seen over forty times by midwives and health visitors, the severe problems (children close to death, excrement-smeared bedrooms, maggots in nappies) were not spotted.

Investigator Prof. Cantrill reported "...the fact is that some agencies involved with the family did not provide the effective services that were required to support this vulnerable family. They failed to detect and intervene early to prevent poor parenting, which resulted in the deprived quality of life that the children experienced. The factors that should have caused concern were known singly, sometimes collectively, to most of the services that knew the family, but their total impact on the welfare of the children was not thoroughly assessed or communicated between agencies, and therefore not acted on. It was the failure to recognise the accumulation of information about this family that underpins the inability to assess their needs."

And crucially also the professor says it was "unacceptable" that professionals working in deprived areas should have a higher "threshold" before action is taken, due to the general background of problems in the community.

All of which seems to point to a crying need for a universal database of joined up information that can be readily shared between the various agencies. Surely if there had been a chance to accumulate a number of milder concerns, if the midwives, HVs and school teachers had been able to lower their threshold of reporting, and had been able to note centrally that they had concerns, surely these could all have been collated, and someone would have acted?

Yep, surely. You know, in the face of such sickening atrocities, we can put aside any poncy anxieties about such things as the abolition of privacy in family life. The database must, if it is to protect all children and be sensitive to concerns of lesser severity, be universal. All families must be subject to such intimate scrutiny for this is the only possible way in which such cases can come to light.

But hold on a second here. How many midwives, HVs and school teachers are there per child? How many milder anxieties about children do they experience in any one single day? How many back-covering reports are there going to be? How will someone manage to sift through such a mountain of prospectively accumulating data in order to see who is genuinely at risk?

Some poor sod still has to make that horribly difficult judgment about when to intervene. This is actually THE crucially difficult question and a universal database does not solve this problem because a mountain of mild concerns will be as difficult to sift through as a presentation of the odd much higher threshold anxiety. Errors of judgment will still occur, even with a database. In addition, the database means that resources will be spread even more thinly, not only because of the diversion of cash into its construction and maintainence, but also because it will throw up loads of distracting false positives.

And then the issue of privacy of innocent families does seem to become relevant all over again. We suspect that if the database does work and isn't an enormous waste of our money, (as have most previous government databases), many of thousands of hard working, dutiful families, including home educators, will be pointlessly and often damagingly pestered by the authorities.

Take the money and effort out of the universal database. Get back to the 'at risk' register and employ a sufficient number of experienced professionals to get the job done properly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Children's Database - a BAD idea.

Not so long ago, I seem to remember writing a completely misguided post concerning some possible justifications for the Children's Database, also here. Can't think what possessed me. Perhaps I was trying to come to terms with the inevitable, but this particular ruse just didn't do the trick. I've now recovered my sanity (in this area at least) and am firmly of the opinion that there are no possible justifications for the database whatsoever. Phew, that feels better!

The creation of a database is a waste of time, money and effort. It will generate masses of data to no particular effect. It will make it more difficult to distinguish between children genuinely at risk. All previous government database initiatives have proven woefully expensive and exceedingly inefficient. The data that does manage to get accurately stored may put families at risk: a violent, estranged parent or paedophile may hack into it. Meanwhile children who are genuinely at risk are almost always already known to the authorities. The problem of dealing with such cases comes not from difficulties with information sharing but from the problem of deciding what to do with the information, short staffing and inexperienced practioners.

Generally speaking, the creation of a database does not fulfill the criteria for that which should constitute the Rule of Law. This is what Friedrich Hayek has to say about this sort of thing in his essential read "The Road to Serfdom", Chapter 6:

"Nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free country from those in a country under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of the great principles known as the Rule of Law. Stripped of all technicalities this means that government in all it actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand - rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances , and to plan one's individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge. ... The essential point, that the discretion left to the executive organs wielding coercive power should be reduced as much as possible, is clear enough. While every law restricts individual freedom to some extent by altering the means which people may use in the pursuit of their aims, under the Rule of Law the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action. Within the known rules of the game, the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts".

Home Educators are used to living outside of the legitimate realm of the Rule of Law. They know that they live with the uncertainty that the ptb may use their powers unpredictably in judging whether home educators are offering an education that meets the needs of the child according to "age, ability and aptitude". Two of these criterion are so highly subjective that home educators experience all sorts of anxieties that their chosen way of life may be suddenly, unjustly and cruelly terminated.

But the database, if it works, will make life for home educators exponentially worse. (Even if it doesn't work properly, the anxiety that it may do so is enough to make this whole situation nasty and rightfully illegitimate.) The chances that the professionals will want to cover their backs by noting that they have information to share will probably lower the threshold for the notification of anxiety. We doubt that most home educators will escape notification in the bracket:

"The index will also include a facility to allow practitioners to indicate to others that they have information to share, are taking action, or have undertaken an assessment, in relation to a child".

We also feel that in total the database sends the wrong message to parents. Instead of thinking of parenthood as a personal responsibility that should be undertaken by freely acting, morally responsible individuals, yet more and more, the sense of parental duty will be eroded as it appears to parents that the state will instead take responsibility for parenting.

Yup, the database is definitively a BAD idea.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bullying on the Curriculum

Back to the Politics Show's, section on Home Education (via the last fifth of the video link), it does seem that Tim Harrison of the NUT directly infers that schools could only be considered to be providing a appropriate education by ensuring that they offer a bullying environment. We say this because he starts off by claiming that socialisation is not possible in the home environment and that this process is therefore only possible in schools. He then subsequently asserted: " One of the ways children learn to cope with bullying is through the socialisation process."

So it's official then. Bullying must be a regular feature of school life, or otherwise they fail our children.

All of which could be slightly confusing from the outside, given that there are all these apparent initiatives to put a stop to bullying in schools.

HT: Mike FW

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sheila 10, Gina 0.

Good one Sheila. Ms Kitzinger lays into Gina Ford, for which we can only say a hearty thank goodness.

What's more, we now learn that Gina is not a mother. This may seem rather ad hominem, but over and over again we see what happens. The first example that springs to mind: Alice Thompson, journalist of Daily Telegraph fame, at 8 months pregnant, highly contemptuous of the fact that parents of toddlers get special parking rights in supermarket car parks. She changed her tone markedly after a year or two of parenting, and now argues for greater parental freedoms and assistance.

We can't help wondering what would happen if Gina were to have to listen to her very own precious babe screaming it out?

HT: JFT

National Curriculum for Home Educators?

Forgot to mention the other rather serious issue that arose in The Politics Show on home education: Sean Gabb, libertarian writer and editor of the Free Life Commentary, is of the opinion that legislators will soon insist that home educators follow the National Curriculum. You can see his point. As the numbers of families opting for home education continue to grow, the opposition to it from those of statist inclination and from the teachers unions will probably also grow.

Given that the decision to home educate is often made at least partly on the basis of an opposition to closed, structured, pre-prescribed learning, the threat of the destruction of the freedom in learning makes a consideration of proportionate response seem rather a good idea.

The phrase "over my dead body" does spring to mind, and perhaps the authorities do need to be aware that if they do attempt such an imposition, and are not responsive to good epistemological arguments against the National Curriculum, it is not inconceivable that strong protest will be coming their way.

Incidentally, Sean Gabb's excellent history and summary of the current state of Home Education in the UK can be found here, via his search option, and under the heading: "Home Schooling: A British Perspective. "

Real Problems, Real Learning.

From the BMJ of October 29th, a study of Canadian medical students that describes its objective as being:

"To assess whether the transition from a traditional curriculum to a community oriented problem based learning curriculum at Sherbrooke University is associated with the expected improvements in preventive care and continuity of care without a decline in diagnosis and management of disease".

Conclusion?

"Transition to a community oriented problem based learning curriculum was associated with significant improvements in preventive care and continuity of care and an improvement in indicators of diagnostic performance".

All of which would make a good deal of sense to many home educators, since they are often aware of grounds for believing that traditional schooling divorces learners from real life problems, replacing such problems with a load of artificial hurdles over which the learner must uselessly jump.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Home Education in the Politics Prog

Errrgh, the pain of being falsely accused just doesn't seem to let up. Why can't I just be bored by it!

If you happen to be into this kind of sensation, check out the Politics Show on the Beeb Website by clicking on the > Video Latest Programme link, near top right and scroll through towards the last fifth of the programme for the pain of Tim Harrison of the NUT flailing about looking for ways to protect the jobs of his membership, with ne'er a concern as to whether the accusations have any foundation in truth.

And your heart goes out to the EO rep/HE mum who tries to take his accusations seriously, but sadly, there isn't the time for even such basic standards of debate.

Activity of Thought

A superb essay on the Utility (or otherwise) of Mathematics, via Armed and Dangerous had me thinking yet again as to whether the Law of the Excluded Middle was an issue with regard to the standard issue definition of coercion, ie: "coercion is defined as the state of being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind".

Is it the case that in attempting to phrase the definition so as to avoid accusations of pseudo-scientific status, the appeal to logical assertion oversimplifies the nature of the workings of the mind?

It's clear that coercion, as defined above, can indisputably describe a particular state, in the situation that the mind is in not engaged in any way with the activity that it is required to perform, and that in this situation no learning is taking place, but it could also be the case that some learning could result in a situation where there is some element of enacting a theory that is not fully active in the mind. The mind, afterall, remains a place of mystery, where the nature of active theory is poorly understood. Is it possible to be consciously coerced by a theory and yet be actively absorbing it beneath awareness?

Of course, the appended definition: "coercion limits rationality and creativity" allows for the fact that activity of thought is, in all probability, a matter of a sliding scale. School education, although it's apologists would probably be loathe to admit it, largely relies upon information sneaking in through the back door of the unconscious mind. This is how these institutions get away with claims to be places of learning, but a question that could then arise:

Could it be that this kind of mostly coerced, structured and directed learning (that sneaks in past conscious resistance), could this be is more profitable to the learner than the apparently more haphazard acquisition of knowledge that occurs with the self-directed, active learner?

The answer, that seems to be supported by a reality check, is that the more active the thought, on whatever the level of consciousness, the hard-fought scratching over a work sheet, or the lazy day-dream in the bath-tub, the greater the richness of experience, and the greater the possibility of creativity and rationalism. We would be better off working towards this, and in addition, helping our children acquire all the other necessary knowledge that will enrich their lives, within the remit of active theory.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Nursery or Home-Based Academic Advantage

Following the recent controversy over the claim that nursery care contributes to anti-social behaviour and emotional damage, the pendulum predictably sways the other way with news from the Guardian that children in day care are likely to benefit from academic advantage.

It's all so confusing. How can this latest conclusion possibly tally with research which shows that home educated children also thrive and often excel in the academic department? From Paula Rothermel, University of Durham, "the results show that 64% of the home-educated Reception aged children scored over 75% on their PIPS Baseline Assessments as opposed to 5.1% of children nationally".

Putting aside any possible attempt to explain the above apparent contradiction, the best argument must remain: respect and facilitate the learning choices of the child, since by so-doing, we maximise the opportunity for active thought, - the essential ingredient for optimal learning.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Norm's Blog

Whoever it is who does eventually manage to invent and produce an effective vaccine for the common cold can count on my money for sure.

Not only did some kind of completely unremarkable rhinovirus cause us to miss a number of not-to-be-missed Home Educating seshes , I also managed to miss Norm's mail warning me about the posting of my profile on his blog.

Nonetheless, am very grateful to Norm.

Home Educating Boys

Perhaps this article in the Washington Post provides at least a partial explanation for the fact that there are more boys than girls in home education.

to quote:
"Beginning in very early grades, the sit-still, read-your-book, raise-your-hand-quietly, don't-learn-by-doing-but-by-taking-notes classroom is a worse fit for more boys than it is for most girls."

"a classroom of 30 kids, about five boys will begin to fail in the first few years of pre-school and elementary school. By fifth grade, they will be diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, behaviorally disordered or "unmotivated."

"Boys have a lot of Huck Finn in them -- they don't, on average, learn as well as girls by sitting still, concentrating, multitasking, listening to words. For 20 years, I have been taking brain research into homes and classrooms to show teachers, parents and others how differently boys and girls learn. Once a person sees a PET or SPECT scan of a boy's brain and a girl's brain, showing the different ways these brains learn, they understand. As one teacher put it to me, "Wow, no wonder we're having so many problems with boys."Yet every decade the industrial classroom becomes more and more protective of the female learning style and harsher on the male, yielding statistics such as these."

"I get hundreds of e-mails and letters every week, from parents, teachers and others who are beginning to realize that we must do for our sons what we did for our daughters in the industrialized schooling system -- realize that boys are struggling and need help. These teachers and parents are part of a social movement -- a boys' movement that started, I think, about 10 years ago. It's a movement that gets noticed for brief moments by the media (when Columbine happened, when Laura Bush talked about boys) and then goes underground again. It's a movement very much powered by individual women -- mainly mothers of sons -- who say things to me like the e-mailers who wrote, "I don't know anyone who doesn't have a son struggling in school," or, "I thought having a boy would be like having a girl, but when my son was born, I had to rethink things."

All of which can make you want to scream "There is an easy answer!" Home Education works for many boys. Often they decide to go back to school or college at a later stage but only when they feel ready, with the advantage that they have not already become disenchanted with the educational system and often when the system has started to play to their strengths, such as not asking them to concentrate on things that are of no interest to them, allowing them some self-determination in the learning process, and with the general sense that there is some point to what they are doing, that what they learn does answer the questions that they have.

All in all, it is worth respecting the educational choices that children make, since better learning is possible when we do.

HT: Danny, Homeschooling Dad

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Success

Was scrolling through my favorites column, checking it out and trying to delete most of it as it has become unruly and unmanageable, when I came across a snippet from David Deutsch's blog. It seems he has won a not-to-be- sniffed- at "Edge of Computation Science Award" for work in the field of quantum computation.

He also reports that universal quantum computation is now only years away (as opposed to decades).

Deutsch is the author of "The Fabric of Reality", which must rate at the very top of my all time best books list, so am pleased to see that things go well for him.

Failure

Oh no! Yesterday: another day when I felt that I did so badly that at least one of the children would be better off going to school. This doesn't happen frequently, but when it does, it is very unnerving and painful.

It feels as if there is a sort of inevitable pattern to this. What happens is that child suddenly seems unaccountably unhappy and starts moaning persistently, without any easy apparent resolution. We struggle through the day, getting more and more desperate and more and more bad tempered with one another. The next day, child succumbs to infection, lies in bed with Calpol and a good book, and sweet nature and reason return.

Sadly, two days later, we are back to the persistent sense of being uncomfortable in your skin, but not ill enough to lie in bed all day, that renders everyone almost incomprehensibly evil: child persistently unhappy, me desperate and furious. Given that by this stage, it is quite likely that one is feeling grotty oneself, the whole combination can be very difficult to handle.

The day after that, everything gets back to normal, but am NOT prepared to have these glitches ANY more. Any constructive suggestions would be gratefully received.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Back to Bullying

Cathy Seipp approvingly notes a trend towards authoritarian parenting. Sad eh, that after all this time, many parents can't find it in themselves to think of any solutions other than either neglect (which includes providing poor information), or outright bullying of their children.

From a related story in her blog, she writes:

"Personally, I've always taken a hard line where this kind of thing is concerned. I first realized this made me rather an oddball when Maia was in first grade, and when I went to pick her up one day, Ronald the after-school playground director told me she'd gotten in trouble that afternoon for some minor infraction -- running when she should have been walking, I think it was. As he was telling me this, Maia began (in a rather sassy voice) to pipe up with her side of the story, and I snapped at her, "Do NOT interrupt when adults are talking!" Ronald looked at me in amazement. "Thank you," he said. What amazed me was that he was so amazed, but since Maia was only six, I was still something of an innocent then about modern parenting habits".

Perhaps Cathy remains an innocent, if for a different reason, for what she seems to have failed to consider is that her behaviour apparently logically legitimizes her child abruptly telling a younger child to shut up whenever she happens to open her mouth - something which is fairly frequently construed as being an example of bullying behaviour.

Of course, neglect in its various guises often results in equally difficult behaviour, but there is another course which can and does work with children who have been raised in the understanding that they will be listened to. The tentative offer of what seems good theories to our children can and does do the trick. So here, perhaps, "Maia, could I possibly get his side of the story first, and then I can listen to yours, without getting muddled?" If the relationship is trusting, if the child knows that the parent will not side with the teacher if the truth seemingly does not support such a stance, then this is most likely to work.

Monday, December 05, 2005

No Sick Leave

The question uppermost in my mind today: is it better to be in school or home educating when at least some members of the family are too ill to do much more than roll over in bed, groaning?

Conclusion? I honestly and truthfully think home ed wins out yet again! The reason: You can stay in bed, groaning at will, without worrying that you are missing out on those key facts that will cause the rest of the subject to become forever incomprehensible. You don't have to sweat over that phone call to the secretary. You don't have to sit miserably in a crowded waiting room, infecting all the other patients for a certificate that only proves that you have a flu virus that will resolve spontaneously in a few days time.

Instead, you can snuggle up with a hot water bottle and a hot choccie, and if your head will let you, you can watch the Kids Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network, UK Docs about supervolcanoes and string theory, whatever, and if this book's hypothesis is anything to go by, you're still quids up in the learning department.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Straw Dogs - a Straw Man

I have finally got round to reading John Gray's Straw Dogs. Well, when I say "read", I mean I scrabbled through the first few chapters in a packed cafe over a pannini and crisps, whilst I should have been doing the Christmas shopping, but that, sadly, is generally what I mean by the verb "to read" nowadays.

I was extremely relieved to get back home to find that Norm had coincidentally, reassuringly and devastatingly blogged here on some other pronouncements by the same author, since I was beginning to wonder if it was me or the author who had taken leave of our senses. Prof. Gray is after all some sort of a bigwig at the LSE and, well you know, I didn't get past a BA.

Generally I am getting the feeling that it isn't me who is losing it after all. The book really is packed with non-sequiturs, false analogies, straightforward denials of what appear to be more truth-like theories, together with a consistent, cheap and dialectically redundant propensity to attack his pet-hate theories in their poorest forms. Given that he apparently now directs his fiercest scorn "to the disciples of rationalism and of science", I suppose these kinds of irrational criticism shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but it does rather beg the question of why he bothered to write and publish a book if he hadn't assumed that others out there might involve themselves in a rational and truth seeking exercise called reading?"

Will come back to this, am sure.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Any Time Now.

It's not long now, folks. That moment that we "unknowns" have been dreading, that hollow knock on the door from someone we've never met before asking to come in immediately, that chilling phone call from a complete stranger which doesn't pan out into something pleasant like "Your books are ready to collect", that letter with the fateful words, "we understand your child does not have a school placement", well it should happen any minute now.

Indefatigable EO volunteer and level-head, Phil Hicks reports that the DfES has instituted a non statutory December deadline for LEAs to "have systematic arrangements in place (by December 2005) for identifying children missing from education so that provision can be made for them, drawing on the non-statutory guidance ".

So we should just get over it, and OK we will do our best to do this. But for those of us whose children are heavily invested in home education and who would just hate to go to school, it can put you on edge. Instead of the holding in mind the nice, honest question "how can I genuinely improve the learning environment for my child", lurking all the while at the back of one's mind is also the question "how can I make the learning environment 'seem' efficient to someone who doesn't necessarily understand home education, let alone autonomous home education, and yet who has the power of judgement over my intimate family life and the power to infringe our choices?" Not a good question, because it distracts from the first one, which is a good question and it may mean that you end up doing the wrong thing, such as sitting down with a much hated and therefore useless workbook.

I shall do my best to prevent this from happening and I will also do my best to give the ptb short shrift, but the knowledge of their potential for misunderstanding and bullying and interference in what should be private family life, errgh, frankly on a personal level, our family would do much better without it.

On a general level, I suspect all this information gathering is a disproportionate measure. It will generate masses of data at huge cost for very, very little gain. The problem for Victoria Climbie was not that she was not known about, nor that there was a shortage of information on her case. Her problem was a lack of experienced social workers.

And very seriously for the future of autonomous Home Education, we worry for new home educators who may find that the usual progression from structure and teacher-led learning to increasingly following the lead of the learner will be less spontaneous, given that they know that they will inevitably be checked over by schoolie types educrats.

No Freedom of Movement for Children

There is news from the Beeb that "Police in Quedgeley, Gloucestershire, have joined forces with a local school to try to reduce truancy. Officers and members of Beaufort School have launched an initiative where local shops will not serve school-aged children during lesson time. A police spokesman said the initiative was aimed at reducing the number of truant pupils and tackling the nuisance behaviour that goes with truancy. Posters have been placed in shop windows warning of the initiative."

Depressing news in several ways, personal and political. Quedgeley touches on the outer edge of the radius to which we travel for our HE meetings. We do go to Quedgeley fairly frequently. What to do? Leave the kids in the car when we pop into the shops? Spend some time explaining basic human freedoms to shopkeepers? Spend even more time writing to the papers, the Chamber of Commerce, or get embroiled bringing a human rights action and attempt to bring down this fascistically-inclined government? Well the latter sounds good!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What Kind of Humanist Are You?

You can go see what they think at:
The New Humanist

Which ever way I waggle it, I still come out as a Handholder:

"You go out of your way to build bridges with people of different views and beliefs and have quite a few religious friends. You believe in the essential goodness of people , which means you’re always looking for common ground even if that entails compromises. You would defend Salman Rushdie’s right to criticise Islam but you’re sorry he attacked it so viciously, just as you feel uncomfortable with some of the more outspoken and unkind views of religion in the pages of this magazine.

"You prefer the inclusive approach of writers like Zadie Smith or the radical Christian values of Edward Said. Don’t fall into the same trap as super–na├»ve Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge who declared it was okay for clerics like Yusuf al–Qaradawi to justify their monstrous prejudices as a legitimate interpretation of the Koran: a perfect example of how the will to understand can mean the sacrifice of fundamental principles. Sometimes, you just have to hold out for what you know is right even if it hurts someone’s feelings.

But like Norm, I have my reservations about the test: I cannot stand Zadie Smith novels, and a good few of the questions did not contain the option I would have chosen.

HT: Norm

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Public Examinations a Waste of Time

The tale of duplicity, complicity, hypocricy and general woe over the issue of the education of teachers, which continues to spew forth from the good person who somehow manages to think clearly whilst undertaking a Post-Grad Cert. of Ed, might have me wondering whether this individual was suffering from some kind of mania, what with all that pressure of ideas. But it is quite clear the individual is more than all there, since the criticisms of schooling theory are all so cogent and usually devastating.

I wish I could keep up, but to pick but one example, pretty much at random: We all know that the GCSE examinations are corrupt in innumerable ways. For example, the fact that the government means that they will be voted in on better results means that they hand any reasonably sassy parent the means to inflate the grades by letting them assist with course work that then goes towards the final mark.

In addition, teachers are allowed to construct answers to exam questions to an almost unprecedented degree. This is apparently called "scaffolding", or some such euphemism for what used to be called cheating.

Despite Marlborough's experiment in the 70's, when the school got boys to sit two German exams set by two different examination boards, with the result that some boys got top marks with one board, and failed with another, there appears to be still no improvement in this area of consistency between boards. There is still widespread acceptance in the teaching profession at least, that boards differ hugely in their marking systems and give very different grades for the same piece of work.

Why then to we continue to take all this examination nonsense seriously? It shouldn't be so much more difficult for employers to find those who have a genuine interest and ability and it certainly would save them time later when they find they have employed an A grade dud.

Home Schooling Blog Awards

Nominations now needed for the various categories in Spunky's Homeschooling Bloggers Awards. Could be a chance to put more UK home ed blogs on the map?

The categories:

Best Homeschooling Mom Blog
Best Homeschooling Dad Blog
Best Homeschooling Family blog
Best Homeschooling Teen blog
Best Informational Homeschool blog
Best Inspirational Homeschool blog
Best Homeschooling Humor blog
Best Team / Group Homeschool Blog
Best Homeschool Curriculum / Business Blog
Best Homeschool Blog Design
Best Canadian Homeschool Blog
Best International Homeschool Blog
Best Current Events Homeschool Blog
Best Homeschool Arts Blog
Best Homeschool Photo Blog

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Duplicity of School Theory

It can't be much of a recommendation for school-based education, that the theories that supposedly inform it, do next to nothing to influence the actual practice and also that would-be teachers are supposed to swallow, without question, ideas that are clearly contradictory. There are numerous examples of these kinds of problems; eg: there is regular lip-service paid, at least at PGCE, to encouraging both intrinsic and personalised learning whilst all the while, other theories on the same course suggest that these kinds of learning cannot possibly be managed in a classroom situation.

With regard to this last kind of theory: from a chapter entitled 'Drop out from Language Study at age 16+, a Historical Perspective' by Eric Hawkins, in the book edited by Ann Swarbrick called "Teaching Modern Foreign Languages in Secondary Schools":

"Burstall et al., 1974 had already shown the extent to which girls outperformed boys in French... but Burstall's study also showed that 'both boys and girls did better in single-sex than in mixed schools'."

"A significant factor, he comments, on the reason for which girls outperform boys in foreign language and most subjects "must be the well-attested 'spurt' in development (including linguistic development) that girls go through several years earlier than boys at puberty. This must equip girls better to engage with the early stages of the secondary curriculum. The boys' corresponding 'spurt' at puberty comes several years later, by which time many choices of curriculum and career have begun to take shape...

" 'Girls' linguistic precocity in the secondary school is clearly linked to their earlier physical and emotional maturity. Paediatricians distinguish between 'chronological' and 'developmental' ages of children. By developmental age we simply mean the degree to which a child has advanced along the road to full maturity...The commonest measure (of developmental age) is the maturity of the skeleton ('bone age')...At birth the average girl is already some weeks ahead of the average boy in 'bone age' and she gradually comes to be more and more ahead until at puberty the difference is two years.' (Tanner 1967)

"J.M. Tanner was professor in Child Health and Growth at the University of London Institute of Child Health, and the chief consultant to the Plowden committee. His account goes on, 'Girls begin puberty on average two years earlier than boys...Eventually, as the girls' adolescent spurt (in development) is dying away, the boys' begins'.

"The tests used for selection for grammar school at 11+ by most LEAs (for instance the Murray House test papers) always carried an instruction to markers 'to add a prescribed percentage to all boys' scores to compensate for their lower marks in the 'verbal reasoning' exam which carried half the total mark'. (Otherwise most grammar school places would have gone disproportionately to girls.) The precocity of girls in English (as well as French) was amply confirmed in all the tests used in Burstall's detailed evaluation of the pilot scheme (see Burstall 1970, 1974). Since confident use of the language with which the curriculum is delivered (and examined) underlies the whole of learning in the secondary school, it is not surprising that girls outperform boys except in subjects such as mathematics which are less dependent on verbal conceptualising.

"That developmental and linguistic maturity are linked is also attested by boys' performance at A level. Their later spurt in 'developmental age', coinciding with later puberty, also coincides with a well-attested late spurt in linguistic performance. In 2000, at A level, 59.1 percent of boys scored a good pass (A to C) in English, against 59 per cent of girls. In French...boys, 67.8 per cent and girls 64 per cent. "

Errgh...the perfidious contortions that a corrupt system engenders. eg: because schoolies insist that boys and girls must be educated according to year group, despite their own evidence for difference, they must in underhand fashion, not take their own tests seriously, so that boys do not lose out . Schoolies must however, pretend to take these tests seriously, otherwise people will start to wonder as to the point of them and much of the justification for their existence will go down the tubes.

Also, by not taking the tests seriously, they would appear by their own standards of judgment at least, to risk putting together groups of children of such widely differing ability, that conducting any sort of whole class teaching is unlikely to address the needs of any but a tiny minority of the class.

School theorists also know that children perform better in single sex schools but they won't let that worry them too much, despite the fact that exam passes are all they care about....ho hummm....

No problem for home edders here though. HEors who practice facilitation of autonomous education make intrinsic, personalised learning actually happen. They don't need to fiddle test results because they don't need to slot a child into a particular level of learning. They also wouldn't bother fiddling tests since they don't take tests too seriously and don't mistake passing tests for genuine learning. They also don't have to worry about the mixed versus single sex issue, because learning is personalised, in whatever gender groups they may happen to find themselves and the gender mix in these groups is likely to vary considerably, because they aren't stuck with the same set of people day in, day out.

HT: The School Theory Whistle Blower.

Parents Wising Up to Needs of Infants

Following on with the theme from last post, Future Pundit also deals with the issues of the effect upon the brain of neglect in early infancy. The study he quotes leaves a couple of rather significant questions hanging, namely are there any other studies out there which look at vasopressin and oxytocin levels of young children in day care? Are the children's levels of these hormones lower and if so, do these have the long term consequences? These really do seem to pretty crucial questions, particularly with the government drive to get mothers of infants back to work.

Oliver James in the Guardian seems to think the question of whether there are long term consequences from early childhood experiences already answered. He writes that the years up to age three are "the crucial time for establishing mental health".

He is also of the opinion that the government agenda does not take this into account: "Sure Start has slithered away from an emphasis on meeting children's needs to getting mothers out to work".

This runs counter to the desires of most mothers of young children:
"Most mothers of under-threes either do not want to do paid work or only want to do a small amount. Despite being accorded a status lower than street-sweeper, only 13 per cent of mothers of under-threes work full-time (40 per cent work part-time, mostly less than 20 hours a week)."

It seems that the decades of believing that parents could have it all are properly on the way out now. We now know for certain how awful and stressful it is for us to leave young infants in the hands of strangers. We are beginning to listen to our instincts again, since these are, in all probability, telling us something pretty important: ie that neglect in one form or another, (and this includes leaving child in the hands of a less attentive carer), is damaging. We can see the immediate damage in the screams of the moment. Perhaps soon we will show that it has long term physiological consequences and whilst this last may be almost too painful to contemplate, it is better we know so that we can attempt to do something about it.

Vasopressin and oxytocin nasal sprays anyone?

HT for Oliver James: Alice (no longer a Libertarian) Bacchini

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Yet More Confirmation of Attachment Parenting Hypotheses?

To be found at the The Daily Mail:

And the joy of the internet: HT: Andrea from the East Coast, Canada

Monkey Business

The following seems to suggest that there may be neurological evidence for attachment parenting theories and for John Bowlby's theories(check out Chapter 3 for brief synoposis), particularly with regards to all those cases of institutionalised orphans whose first years appeared to affect them in the long term.

From 19 November issue of The New Scientist, with last bit now under subscription, but don't worry, not too substantive:

"The richness of a primate's environment affects its brain structure, a new study with marmosets suggests"

"An examination of the monkeys' brains showed that those housed in the second two types of cage (which were larger and contained toys and structures that encouraged the monkeys to forage), developed denser neuron growth and almost double the amount of certain synaptic proteins that the brain uses to relay messages between neurons...(which) reflects not only how much a monkey has learned, but also its ability to learn".

Lest I Forget....Yet Again:(

Note to self: The next time child suddenly starts behaving strangely, not listening to what seems like reason, is generally unhappy with whatever situation is presented: DO NOT LOSE IT!!!!

He/she is COMING DOWN with a COLD (I must speak very slowly here to my idiot self). When WILL I learn???

The thing is that as soon as this becomes transparently obvious, the previous problem usually goes away completely.

Plus, we owe apologies to everyone we have come into contact with over the last couple of days. It doesn't look to be a terrible lurgy but then we have dosed up on fruit and omega 3 (the last of which apparently limits cytokine reactions that are thought to be the killer in bird flu, incidentally.)

De Facto Registration

Errgh, yet what else could we have expected from a government that set out to lock up terror suspects for 90 days without trial? The forthcoming de facto registration of the home educated, the databased micro-management of the whereabouts of all children and limits on their freedom with curfews outside school hours, well it all fits neatly with all the other limits to freedom and meddlesome intrusion for which this government is famed. You can't fault them for consistency at least.

At issue here: the current White Paper which outlines plans to introduce a new statutory duty on all local authorities to make arrangements to identify children missing from education. This should, of course, mean that home educators have nothing to fear, since they are absolutely not missing from education. However this system isn't able to make that distinction, which is as intended, we can be quite sure. Education Otherwise have been invited to consult on this issue, but it is impossible to see that any kind of protest will make any sort of difference at this stage.

It's kind of touching that most home educators still refuse to see all of this as an inevitable outcome of socialist inclinations, but that aside, almost all of them have been very clear that the level of state scrutiny to which we are going to be subjected, is completely disproportionate, an unnecessary waste of money, and likely to cause an enormous amount of almost completely unnecessary conflict and anxiety for home educating families.

A hopeless scream into the darkness: LEAVE US ALONE since by doing otherwise, YOU DO SIGNIFICANT HARM TO INNOCENT INDIVIDUALS FOR VERY QUESTIONABLE BENEFIT OF OTHERS.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Ignorance is Hell

Clare at Playing it by Ear rightfully gets on the case of the Norfolk policeman who intervened between mother and breastfeeding child.

The outpouring of irrational disgust at breastfeeding and in support of the officer's actions that can be found at Police Specials.com demonstrates a complete ignorance of the needs of breastfeeding mums and children on the part of substantial sections of the police. What would these officers rather have? A contented child and relaxed mum who are able to go about their business as normal citizens, or someone who forever stays indoors or runs furtively from backroom to backroom, forever terrified of being caught off-guard with a screaming child?

The comparison with urination is spurious. Just in case there are any uninformed PCs out there who happen to pass by: Humans normally get some notice that they need to wee. It only takes about a minute. They can probably go easily for about five hours without a wee. Wee would be left lying around if they didn't find a loo and would be a very good agent for bacterial growth if left untreated outside the body. Wee is a waste product that is not very valuable to anyone. There is never any suggestion that we should spend a considerable amount of time and effort storing it in little sterilised jars for later use.

In contrast: Despite the best ministrations of mums, infants are often highly unpredictable as to when they want to feed. They may want to feed at any time. Bfing can take some time. Some infants marathon feed. This can take up to four to five hours at a time. (Sitting alone in a backroom on our own for four hours? Really, thanks but no thanks). Breast milk doesn't get left lying around causing health risks for others. Breast milk, as a general rule, is very good for baby and shouldn't be with-held or wasted. Expressing milk is actually very hard. Many even experienced breast feeders cannot do it because the body responds to a suckling child, not suction from a vacuum machine. Producing enough milk for bottle feeding later all in one sitting is also very difficult since many women don't produce gallons all at once, but produce milk slowly at the pace an infant would take it.

The need to be able to breastfeed in public is not a trivial or unreasoned claim. It really is about women and children having freedom of movement.

Remembrance of Blogs Past

Despite the fact that Brian was convinced his blog was dull and his readers a trashy set of pajama people, I still mourn the passing of Brian's Education Blog . I also disagree with his assessment that he writes better for Samizdata. He was far less self-conscious here and it shows.

And although home educators are quite likely to be pajama people in some senses, (ie: not besuited), it's impossible to get too upset with him, since he also wrote:

"... any government which took on the home-schoolers of Britain would have got itself the Political Enemies from Hell. Think of all those terrifyingly bright children who'd overrun morning television. Consider the fact that many home-schoolers have considerable demonstrating experience. I may not hold with their political views about war, peace, etc., but these people do know how to lay on a good demo and to mobilise the media. And they must be, almost by definition, among the most intellectually self-confident people around."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Neurological Evidence For Problems with Day Care

This New Scientist article entitled "How the food you eat could change your genes for life", Nov 19th, 2005, doesn't sound as if it should be the nail in the coffin for day care, but somewhere in the article they make the following point:

"... last year, Moshe Szyf, Michael Meaney and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, showed that mothers could influence the way a rat's genes are expressed after it has been born. If a rat is not licked, groomed and nursed enough by its mother, chemical tags known as methyl groups are added to the DNA of a particular gene.

"The affected gene codes for the glucocorticoid receptor gene, expressed in the hippocampus of the brain. The gene helps mediate the animal's response to stress, and in poorly raised rats, the methylation damped down the gene's activity. Such pups produced higher levels of stress hormones and were less confident exploring new environments. The effect lasted for life (Nature Neuroscience, vol 7, p 847)."


Ouch, ouch, ouch...from the mother who deeply regrets handing first child over to day care (which can never be as responsive as a good parent), and sees forever the effects.

The rest of the article on the effect of food supplements on genes and behaviour makes good reading.

Good Information but Will They Get It?

Although difficult to trace, and subscription for a thorough search for the article is complicated, we have it on good authority that the following piece was published in the November issue of "The Parliamentary Monitor" - a magazine written mainly by and for MPs and peers.

We do hope that this is indeed the case, since the article is a pretty good description of what most HEors in the UK actually do get up to, and it is nice to know that the ptb are being reliably informed for once. What they'll make of the information, goodness only knows. We would love to hear their comments!

"Home-based education, at its foundation, is about parents taking responsibility for the education of their children in a secure, relaxed, nurturing and learner-centered environment. It offers each child the opportunity to develop their own skills at their own speed within individualised learning programmes designed around their unique needs, interests and learning styles. This personalised approach effectively offers greater freedom and flexibility for each child to learn what they want, when they want and how they want to. Using their natural curiosity and the intrinsic motivation this creates, they can be supported to develop their own skills and increase their knowledge, understanding, creativity, talents and interests, in a way which suits them best.

"Research[1] shows that home-educated children outscore their school counterparts regardless of their parent's level of education. Furthermore regardless of the reasons families choose to home educate they very rarely have any regrets and find that this type of familial learning is more fun than they ever imagined.

"Within home-based education much of the learning takes place spontaneously through discussion and purposeful investigation. Contrary to popular myth, home - based education involves much more than being isolated or sitting around the kitchen table. In reality, Home is a base for planning and preparing a range of activities which are then carried out within a variety of different settings as individuals, pairs or groups of same or different ages, interests and abilities.

"Home educated children, more often than not, have very well developed social skills and belong to many varied and fulfilling social networks. With more and more families actively choosing home education as an option children are also more likely to feel confident in the company of adults and develop strong personal relationships with them.

"Home-based education changes the focus from "what we learn" to "how and why we learn". Home educating families observe their children asking questions, seeking answers and making personal discoveries in and around their home, community, and world. Technology also plays an important and ever-increasing role in bringing local and global learning communities together.

"Home education is also about learning with others using local resources and sharing real life experiences. Home education often involves a multi sensory approach. It can be a more hands on, thinking, feeling, doing, making, creating and exploring education. It's about preparing children for life by living and learning within it.

"Home-based education offers more than an academic education. It recognises that there are multi-intelligences and allows more space for each child to develop them. Home education also encourages the sharing of values such as empathy, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, compassion, confidence and self esteem. With the world at your door there are no limits and the learning possibilities are endless for both children and adults learning in tandem. Perhaps though, the greatest joy of all is for families to spend time with each other and enjoy learning together. Most importantly, to individual families developing a strong personal relationship with your children and engaging with them in this privileged way will ultimately brings the greatest rewards."

Once again it seems we have Dr. Paula Rothermel of the University of Durham, to thank for the research for this.

HT: Juliet

Gatto

There is much to absorb and digest at this site which is dedicated to the ideas of John Taylor Gatto and where, amongst other things, it is possible to get an inside look at his book "The Underground History of American Education". Shall be following this one up asap.

Am not quite sure how his film project is going though. It is billed as "a hard-hitting, humorous and compelling exploration of American compulsory schooling", so we rather hope it is progressing well.

HT: JFT

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Backlash and Solutions

We expected a backlash and I guess we also could have expected it to be as laughably misguided as this from CNN.com

Nancy Grace interviewed a clinical psychologist on the subject of the PA murders.

GRACE: Now, these two met at some home schooling event, apparently, both of them being home schooled.

SAUNDERS: Right. And even though kids who are home schooled do go out and have other relationships, they're really isolated from their peers, so relationships can take on an unusual intensity, kind of these hothouse relationships.


All of which is laughably wrong for the huge majority of HE kids. However, even though this so-called expert is completely misinformed in her characterisation of the general picture, I suppose we can't rule out the possibility of there being the odd isolated case out there.

Are there really homeschooling parents out there who do hothouse relationships for their children, and if so what to do about these odd isolated cases?

As already mentioned previously, state scrutiny in Pennsylvannia is one of the most rigorous anywhere in the US. The fact that the murders happened under their jurisdiction suggests that state scrutiny is not the answer.

Apart from the fact that the home schooling community as a general rule is very responsive to criticism and it is therefore very unlikely that there are any home schooling parents out there who have not (at least now) given serious consideration to helping their children mix widely, the other solutions consist of ensuring that there is a plentiful supply of home schooling support networks, coupled with ready access to facilities in the community. All of this could be managed very nicely by the homeschooling network itself as long as it is not legislated against in one way or another.

And that should just about do it, and without the need for any compulsion, intrusion and invasion of family privacy.



Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bullying Charge

From the Beeb:

"Parents whose children attack or threaten classmates could be hauled before the courts and fined £1000 under government school reforms".

"Ms Smith (schools minister) said "Bullying should never be tolerated in our schools, no matter what the motivation".


Which should rightfully mean that an awful lot of probably pensionable-age parents of teachers will be having to dig very deep in the near future.

Monday, November 21, 2005

No Excuses

The Humble DevilDog takes no prisoners in his post about there being no genuine financial excuses for not home schooling. (Those of nervous disposition should be warned that he is not afraid to couch his argument forcefully.)

Given that we know of single parents finding ingenious ways to home educate, we have to agree with him.

William Pitt the Younger:"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

HT:Chris O'Donnell

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Checks and Balances

Further on the Pennsylvania homeschooling teen murderer: it's interesting to note that these murders happened in a state where homeschooling is as tightly controlled as anywhere in the US.

Apparently the law:

"enables everyone to homeschool if they could find an evaluator (a teacher, former teacher, or psychologist) who would certify that their children were receiving an appropriate education".

So presumably the family of the murderer had been so assessed, which would rather incline one to draw the conclusion that these checks are utterly spurious. It is sad to see that precisely the reverse conclusion is also drawn, and doubly sad that this comes from the pen of a supposed home-schooling advocate:

Self-appointed home schooling educrat: Howard Richman, again of Pa Homeschoolers.com:

"This message board recognizes that homeschoolers are not perfect and we like the fact that the homeschool law in Pennsylvania recognizes that that homeschool parents need accountability and checks and balances".

Hmmm. I am at a loss to understand precisely how he arrived at such a conclusion in the current circumstances. Is he actually calling for much more accountability and checks? Should he not really now be calling for checks and balances on the people doing the checks and balances, ad infinitum?

Just to make my own position clear on this. I am of the opinion that many minds may provide a substrate for better answers, but these answers are always formulated in the minds of one person, even in the situation of collating average information from large groups. There is often much benefit in seeking out others for help and criticism. However it is infinitely superior if this is achieved without coercion, so that criticism is freely sought and may be either acted on or rejected freely, whilst being subject to further critical thought.

By forcing people to accept unwanted intrusion into their private lives and by controlling them without their consent, we not only risk damage from inept or corrupt bureaucracies, but we also foreclose on the genuine possibility of autonomous rational thought and freely chosen responsible action.

Home Educators may easily be alerted to the usefulness of freely chosen and critiqued criticism through many channels, such as the support charities, the websites, the listservs, the on-line discussion groups, and the groups with whom they socialise. There is no need to force compliance to a prescribed rule upon people, since, to paraphrase Godwin: if something is good it can be shown to be good.

The PA murders seem to suggest that this would be the better way to go.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Implications for US Home Schoolers of PA Murders

This article on the issue of the press treatment of the Pennsylvania homeschooling teen murderer seems to get the situation about right, as far as it goes.

The question that of course will remain in the minds of many, but that would be almost impossible for anyone to address responsibly, is whether this particular enactment of homeschooling was significant in providing the impetus to murder, but even if a direct link is hypothesised, (say along the lines of the murders being an example of a teen rebelling against excessive coercion), the homeschooling community need not suffer as a whole, since the uniquely personalised nature of home education means that it would be ridiculous to extrapolate from this case to any other home schooling family.

General conclusions about the effects of home schooling, whether these be good or bad, are very difficult to draw, although it does seems reasonable to refute claims that home schooling necessarily compromises learning by pointing to individual cases, and quite permissable to make a very reasonable case for the superiority of certain theories of learning that do abound in the HE community.

HT for the first article: Daryl

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Scottish Councils Blocking Parents from Home Educating

From The Herald

"The Rev Ewan Aitken, education spokesman for the local authority umbrella organisation Cosla, said it was "entirely appropriate" for councils to act with a degree of caution when sanctioning a parent's right to home educate."Councils have to be sure the education of children in their area is appropriate. "If something goes wrong, it would then be the authority that would take the wrath," he said.

Which induces the standard response here, that if you honestly believe it is your bounden duty to intervene, judge and dictate to parents when their child reaches the age of 5 with the argument that it is better for the child that this happen this way, why do you not consider such action your bounden duty prior to the conception of the child, since that way you could ensure much more easily that children will not suffer in some truly terrible ways? Surely you should be assessing parental educational levels, their degree of personal responsibility and the appropriateness of our homes when they decide to conceive a child. Surely, if we are to take your argument seriously, we should be outraged that you permit some clearly irresponsible parents from conceiving in the first place? Why haven't you forcibly sterilized all heroin addicts, all people with HIV or Heps B and C. What are you doing about smack addicts, cocaine abusers and anyone with an IQ of less than 90? Get on with it, really!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

They're Only Kids, for Goodness Sake

OK, so this one's from the heart; well perhaps that is stating it a little too strongly - this is from the shocked part of my now self-lacerating consciousness...

I've just reread that previous post and out of the blue up popped that old niggling voice. It went something along the lines of "Oh lighten up, gloomy drawers. They're only kids. What does it matter. They'll get over it!"

And my reason for admitting this in public? It isn't so you can tar and feather me next time your're round. It is just to say that I have spent my last 8 years doing my best to empathise with young people. I have made it a principle of good parenting to take children seriously, to listen to the problems they raise and attempt to help them solve them. And despite ALL this, an old niggling voice can still pop up and tell me that it simply doesn't matter that children are suffering to the point of attempting, and at times succeeding, at suicide.

Just goes to show how dead easy it is not to take children, particularly other people's children, even a tiny bit seriously.

Back to Bullying in Schools

Despite all the recent anti-bullying initiatives in schools, surprise, surprise: the problem of truly terrible bullying in schools has not gone away.

From the Beeb Website:

"To give some indication of how bad the bullying can be in some cases, Dr Herbert recalls how one child had been hit over the head so badly that he had to have a metal plate inserted. Another boy had been forced to swallow a sharpened coin which made him very ill. He was too scared to tell his mother and doctor and it was only when he was x-rayed in hopsital three weeks later that the problem came to light."

and further re the children at her centre, Dr Herbert says:

"I would say 50% of our children have attempted suicide."


Given that we know that school children have always faced serious problems in this regard, the fact that some truly terrible stories are only now making their way to the press is most likely a product of a gradual realisation that it simply will not do to paper over these facts any more. At last (though way too late for many), it seems as if the damage resulting from being forced to go to an abusive institution is finally being recognised by some professionals and by the press as a whole. I suppose we should resist the urge to say "Duhhh, how slow can you be?" in response to paragraphs such as the following:

"Dr Herbert says it is crucial to stop bullying in schools so that lives are not ruined. "It has a terrible effect on people's lives. I've met adults who say they don't form relationships, can't trust people, can't hold down a job and so on because they were bullied in school. ""If we don't deal with bullying between the ages of 11 and 17, then we are storing up problems for the future."

The two anti-bullying initiatives which were reported in the article look like just so much papering over the cracks. They will do nothing to alter the fact that an increasing number of children, either consciously or otherwise, realise that they are being placed in a morally corrupt position of being forced to go to a place against their will. School, for most children is predicated upon being bullied.

Their response? Well, if not sufficiently supported to think and behave otherwise, children will take this meme on board and start bullying themselves, or else they will realise that the institution is completely corrupt and doesn't deserve their attention or support. Chatting to young pupils about the awfulness of bullying and temporarily taking victims out of school, only to return them cruelly to their place of torture a year later, doesn't address this root problem in the slightest.

Good grief. When will people wake up to the fact that we are trying to help our children be responsible autonomous beings in a free and open society. How can this possibly be achieved when all that is offered them for the whole of their young lives is a model of how to live whilst being coerced?

A radical new approach to education will rapidly become necessary as the meme of schooling righty collapses under the weight of stories such as these. We need to think seriously about how a Home Educating society could work.

Monday, November 14, 2005

University Should be an Answer

Many home educators look upon the opportunity of university education as some sort of salvation, what with the student presence being almost entirely voluntary, the subject under study being of primary interest to the student, a sizeable amount of study being self-directed, and there being evidence of greater respect between tutors and students than is generally the case in schools.

However, we have to stop and wonder when we read reports of proceedings such as these, from a debate at the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College, Dublin where the resolution “This house believes that George W. Bush is a danger to world stability” was recently debated.

From the description by Clifford D. May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies:

"...those tasked with defending the resolution were disinclined even to discuss what they clearly considered gross understatement. Instead, Patrick Cockburn, a British journalist, began by angrily accusing the United States of embarking upon an “old-fashioned imperial war' in Iraq and beyond".

And further:

"As for terrorism, that he dismissed as “something people believe in like they believe in witchcraft. What does it mean?” Though he was unsure of terrorism's definition, he harbored no doubts about who was responsible for it. President Bush, he said, “is not fighting terrorism, he is provoking it. That is the truth of the matter.”"

"Richard Downes, an Irish journalist, recited Humpty Dumpty. His point was that Iraq had been broken by Bush, whom he called a “maniacal egg killer.” This evoked gales of laughter."

The standard of debate in defense of the resolution never rose much above this and at times sank even further. Hmmm.

HT: David Durant

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Private Schools Not the Answer

From The Observer :

"Private education: Is it worth the money? Fees at independent schools can reach £23,000 a year, a price many families, unhappy with the state sector, are willing to pay. But, reports Amelia Hill, more and more parents are protesting about the quality of private education"

On top of all the usual devastating problems with schooling, such as the coercion and suboptimal learning environments, the article fingers the fee fixing cartels, some unusually poor teaching, the "Stalinist" attitudes, the emotional sterile environment, the performance anxieties, the educational neglect, and the fact that the more you pay, the less likely your child is to get a first at university.

In seeking to justify choosing private schooling for her child, one mum is quoted as saying about her state school experience:

'The 'lifeskills' I learnt at that (state) school included how to be made to feel awful for wanting to learn, how to be bullied because you have an unusual name, how to cope with the tedium of being forced to read 101 Dalmatians when I was reading Jane Austen at home, how to be ignored because you're generally quiet and get on with it, how to be abusive to teachers and how to be spat on when you got off the school bus. I now work my fingers to the bone to send my daughter to a private school.'

Quite why this mother thinks that these problems are unique to state schools is baffling. Being an academic success at our equivalent boys' private school was a complete no-no. Pupils were regularly bullied in both boys' and girls' private schools for any imaginable difference. Knifing was not uncommon in the boys' private school, though the stiff upper lip and shame meant that more often than not, you hid your wounds. Drug abuse and tedium were endemic. Being ignored, unless you were very unlucky, was the norm though unusual interest and interference by the teachers was a feature of life for some students. OK so on the girls' side we couldn't abuse the teachers, but that was not for lack of wanting to.

Another mum, in despair at all the schooling options, writes:

'Sometimes I think the only answer is to give up my job and teach them from home; how else can I be sure both their education and their emotional wellbeing is cared for? But then what about my life?'

Which sort of begs the question, "why is it only sometimes that you think like that?" and "Can you not imagine yourself into a situation where you can not only manage this, but can also have a life? Home Education is fun for all the family.

Incidentally, author Jilly Cooper writes:

" And the pupils I know from Cheltenham, for example, are always very polite and good mannered".

Which is just asking for trouble really...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Education White Paper Elephant

For most Home Educators, the government's current White Paper on educational reforms is just so much fiddling at the margins. The emphasis on extending parental choice and personalized learning leaves us thinking that this kind of reform could provide for some very slight improvement, but that since we are still left with classrooms of between 15 to 30 pupils, the real chance of personalized learning (where learning actually happens, ie: in the minds of individual children), is extremely remote.

It is acknowledged in teacher training courses that only some 30% of the class will actually derive any benefit from any one lesson. Our guess is that this figure will not change that much with these titivations.

How does the schooling meme get away with it? How many industries would find themselves in business whilst running with 70% wastage?

The major problem contributing to poor educational outcomes in schools has little to do with the structure and organisation of schools, and much more to do with the fact that schools are effectively coercive institutions in which children are not in charge of their own learning. Until children are allowed to enact theories that are active in their minds in the situations of their own choosing, learning will always be suboptimal.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New Style UK Home Ed Blogs

Yippeee! There's another UK Home Ed essayist blog, which makes two discoveries in a fortnight. First there was Liberteen, (where I have the gratifying experience of not only agreeing with every word, but every word also being stylishly used and presented,) and then along comes another: Erase and Rewind, with subhead: Honey, we tasered the Supernanny and Jamie Oliver. You get the feeling you are not going to go wrong after that! What's more, Leo can draw.

Leo puts a strong case for unschooling, but without an explicitly TCS epistemology. It is a very refreshing read.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Baby Education "Absolute Madness"

Strange bedfellows here. After yesterday's rant at the Beeb, it's impossible not to be in general agreement with their slant on the "curriculum for three year olds" story.

It is also very peculiar to find oneself agreeing with a pronouncement from The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, though their statement could leave one rather perplexed since there is no inkling of an argument as to why they think it acceptable to start robbing a child of his childhood aged five, when they clearly think it so deeply unacceptable to do this to three year olds.

(HT: JFT)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

South Korea

It must be a sign of a healthy progression towards an open society when home education is recognised as a legal option. South Koreans have reached the stage of thinking about such a proposal.

"The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MOE) is examining a measure to acknowledge home schooling as an official academic background".

It's still early days however.

"The MOE noted that even if it recognizes home schooling as official, it will restrictively permit home schooling under the strict standard of demanding information on subjects, materials, and instructors by superintendent of educational affairs in cities and provinces and for the lowest academic performance of the student".

Beeb Watch

With a continuing sense of grievance that my license fee will have gone towards the £58 million cost of making the unwatchable series Rome, I feel inclined to mention my on-going annoyance at the pious way in which Cbeebies shuts down at 19.00 hours, well before the time when exhausted parents tire of bed-time reading and could really do with some toe-curlingly patronizing, unimaginative and sleep-inducing children's TV: Balamory, Tikkabilla et al.

My feelings about Cbeebies could be best summed up by the way in which Woody Allen's two women describe the food at the Catskill Mountain Resort "Terrible and such small portions."

Wake up Beeb! The fact that your programme schedulers think that all children who'd watch that channel should be in bed by your prescribed hour, doesn't make it so. Not all of them are packed off to day care first thing in the morning.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Control of Content of Education

With UK school children having been encouraged by their teachers to watch the BBC's extraordinarily licentious, incoherent and violence-filled Rome for educational purposes (HT: MK), and with the penny dropping in the US for parents who send their children to state schools that they have no legal right to control the content of education, (HT: Daryl and Caerdroia) we are wondering if a previous prediction of all children out of school in over a century and a half, was a huge, huge over-estimate!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Not an Advantage of Home Education

Future Pundit is a perennial favourite round this way, but with the recent presence here of over a hundred home educators, who have spent the entire afternoon, evening and in some cases through the night in each others' company, I had to smile at his contention that home-schooling might be the way to go to increase the longevity of later-born children by reducing the risk of them coming into contact with infectious diseases.

From First Born Girls 3 Times More Likely to Live to 100:

"A first born child typically grows up in a home with fewer children than a later born child. So the first born does not have the later children as vectors to give the first born infections. But the later born children have the older earlier born children as sources of pathogens. When the 5 or 6 year old goes off to school, gets infected, and then brings home the infectious pathogen to infect the 1 and 2 year olds then the younger later birth children end up getting hit by more infections which each exact their toll. How to compensate for this? One could imagine that home schooling might reduce the infectious disease risk posed by older children to younger children in the same family. If the kids do not go to school to get dosed with pathogens by other kids then the kids won't bring those diseases home to infect their siblings".

Perhaps though, there could be some possible advantage for home edders with regard to this situation, insofar as HE kids are less likely to be forced to go to social events when they are feeling groggy, since they won't get into trouble from any educrat, they won't have to produce a doctor's certificate, and they won't miss out on those oh-so-vital chunks of the curriculum.

However latent but nonetheless infectious illness remains a problem, so we await the next batch of colds in about 3 to 4 days time. Oh well. Perhaps it will reduce their chances of getting auto-immune disorders?

The Fire Dragon

Phew, that was lucky. There was a window of opportunity between rainstorm and gale during which the dads of the group mounted an truly impressive show, leading the drumming and inspiring the children to whisper their wishes into the dragon's ears, before hoisting the beast up onto the pedestal.

There was a small pause during which we wondered how well the structure would burn, but Dh in characteristic fashion had no doubt, and after a suspenseful moment or two, the dragon flared, spouting fireworks and flames from eyes, mouth, nostrils and wings.

The gales have truly set in now and the house is being battered in the darkness. There are people slumbering in every part of the house. All cosy.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

More on Creativity

Further from the The New Scientist, some of the other conditions for creativity that were mentioned in the piece "Looking for Inspiration":

"The 'creative personality' tends to place a high value on aesthetic qualities and to have broad interests, providing lots of resources to draw on and knowledge to recombine into novel solutions".

"'Creatives' have an attraction to complexity and an ability to handle conflict. They are also usually highly self-motivated, perhaps even a little obsessive".

"Creativity comes to those who wait, but only to those who are happy to do so in a bit of a fog".

"...brains of creative people seem more open to incoming stimuli than less creative types. Our senses are continuously feeding a mass of information into our brains, which have to block or ignore most of it to save us from being snowed under. Peterson calls this process latent inhibition, and argues that people who have less of it, and who have a reasonably high IQ with a good working memory can juggle more of the data, and so may be open to more possibilities and ideas".

"Creativity has two states, inspiration and elaboration, each characterised by very different states of mind. While people were dreaming up their stories, brains were surprisingly quieted. The dominant activity was alpha waves, indicating a very low level of cortical arousal: a relaxed state, as though the conscious mind was quiet while the brain was making connections behind the scenes....However, when these quiet-minded people were asked to work on their stories, the alpha wave activity dropped off and the brain became busier, revealing increased cortical arousal, more corralling of activity and more organised thinking. Strikingly, it was the people who showed the biggest difference in brain activity between the inspiration and development stages who produced the most creative stroylines".

"Part of creativity is a conscious process of evaluating and analyzing ideas".

"The test also shows that the more we try and are stretched, the more creative our minds can be."

"The most creative people also use the different rhythms of the day, the weekends and the holidays to help shift focus and brain state. They may spend two hours at their desk then go for a walk, because they know that pattern works for them, and they don't feel guilty".

Friday, November 04, 2005

Creativity

This week's New Scientist demonstrates the perennial struggle with the mind/brain problem in a series of articles about creative minds, but there are some strong arguments that can be made for some of the assertions. eg:

"Amabile found that positive moods relate positively to creativity in organisations, and that the relationship is a simple linear one. Creative thought also improves people's moods, her team found, so the process is circular. Time pressures, financial pressures and hard-earned bonus schemes on the other hand, do not boost workplace creativity: internal motivation, not coercion, produces the best work".

If we accept that being coerced is the state of being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind, and given that creativity seems to involve active thought, then this does seem a likely contention.

The article quoted above concludes:

"Another often forgotten aspect of creativity is social. Vera John Steiner...says that to be really creative you need strong social networks and trusting relationships, not just active neural networks. One vital characteristic of a highly creative person, she says, is that they have at least one other person in thier life who doesn't think they are completely nuts".

No guesses needed as to Dh's response to this.