Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Jesus Envy

As an atheist, it's hard not to let church funerals get to you on practically every single level. There you are spurting and spluttering into your woefully inadequate hanky, whilst all about you, these beatific Christians are sitting peacefully nodding and gently smiling; it's enough to make you experience a surge of envy, which is made all the worse for realising that you wouldn't be experiencing this nasty emotion if only you subscribed whole-heartedly to strictures of the faith. You end up feeling like a nasty, shrivelled old party-pooper as you inwardly discount all the comforting Christian platitudes that are being so kindly offered around.

Almost inevitably, you start to recall all those stories about how Christians have lower rates of jumping off bridges and swallowing bleach. It doesn't really help to recall the few isolated examples of Christians one has met, who have been so depressed that they couldn't see the point of moving their eyeballs. Instead, you rather suspect there is some truth in the assertion that God stops people getting the blues and topping themselves.

Then another theme starts up. Not only is it not fair that I cannot quite bring myself to believe, and that a somehow more credible product could not have been created...(you see I could almost go for physicist David Deutsch's conception of future humans as potential gods, see last chapter of his most wonderful book, Fabric of Reality, Penguin), but you then also start to envy the whole Christian construct, the community, the setting, the guidance, the cathedrals, the music, the Caravaggios and Van Eycks.

We poor atheist humanists: there is no regular irreligious broadcasting for us, no inspirational seminal texts left in hotel bedside tables, no comforting Sunday sermons on how to live ecstatically in a godless multiverse. By the nature of our faith in the power of human reason, we are (perhaps) meant to make it up as we go along, which is rather tough cheese when all you really want is to perfect the art of bringing a dead body back to life. Will just have to rustle together the odd 100K so my remaining loved ones can get frozen till mankind works this one out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Dare to Know

So why this title then? Well, it comes, (OK, completely pretentiously), from Kant, who to date I would not dream of reading at length in the original, but from whom the occasional snippet makes gratifying good sense.

He wrote (somewhere other than in the Critique of Pure Reason):

"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolve and courage to use it without another's guidance. Sapere aude! Dare to know! This is the motto of the Enlightenment."

I realise that this phrase could read like an extremely presumptious and rude demand. I mean most of you out there will be courageous free-thinkers anyway. You don't need me to tell you to think for yourselves. But actually I really didn't mean it that way. It was intended entirely as an invocation to myself, a reminder to have the courage to think and say things I haven't just read somewhere else, a reminder also to have the courage to examine subjects that I would rather forget about. (which is all rather self-defeating, in this instance, seeing as all the ideas here have actually been garnered pretty directly from some authoritative source and also don't give me the willies, but anyway...)

I also felt that it was a good title for what may well be largely a Home Educating blog. Home Educators do frequently find that they must think for themselves. They must make things up as they go along, not only in addressing the issue of learning in an entirely different way, but also in the experience of fielding the questions our children raise, (which we often find to be far from those that are dealt with in the standard curriculum and indeed often beyond the scope of most explanations.) We also have to meet the ever changing challenges of government intrusion with creative thought and action. I guess that should make us mature. Well...

Complete Waste of Time, Effort and Money: The Children's Database.

There are at least ten good reasons why the database (as proposed in the recent Children Act) should never see the light of day. Just in case you don't know what I'm talking about here (and this would come as no surprise since the lack of press coverage has been pretty overwhelming), it is proposed as some sort of response to the Victoria Climbie case, that a universal children's database be created which will include various types of information about every child in the country, whether or not there is any reason to suppose these children to be at risk. The information will include personal details, place of education and health referrals and will be accessible by a wide range of professionals, from GP to Social Services, the LEA, schools, the police, charity workers, indeed anybody whom the Home Secretary deems fit, either now or at some unspecified stage in the future, to gain access. Should there be any kind of concern about the child, whether this be a poor SAT result, maternal depression, vaccination refusal, or whatever else, the child's name will be flagged. Two flags will trigger a conversation between professionals. Three flags will result in a full-scale investigation.

Putting aside the fact that the above has nothing to do with solving the problems that Victoria suffered, (her problem was not one of being unknown, but of the information not being acted upon), one of the reasons for getting hot under the collar about this is that we will basically be kissing goodbye to any possibility of a private family life. The state is right in there now, poking it's ugly nose into every crevice of your life.

But the thing that really gets me going is that the database means that we can effectively kiss goodbye to any form of confidentiality with our doctors. Unfortunately this point fails to impress almost everybody other than myself, since most people who would naturally object to the intrusions that are implicit in the proposal of the database, have been firmly convinced for years that there was absolutely no form of genuine confidentiality with one's doctors.

Having lived with doctors for much of my life, or having good mates who are doctors, I find this public perception rather weird. Without ever having formally signed the Official Secrets Act, but rather having been convinced of the value of the confidential doctor/patient relationship, these guys have in the past remained stoically silent on the subject of their patients. It is as if one has never even asked a question, so impossible is it that they should respond. I have sometimes wondered how much torture one would have to inflict in order to get these guys to spill the beans on their patients.

"Look...please tell us, is our Maths teacher diabetic, hyperthyroid or suffering from coronary artery disease? Are we best off investing in Milky Ways, espressos, or a bag of chips? Come on, we need a way of getting her carted off to the sanatorium next Tuesday". Blank. No response. Tie up doctor victim and tickle their feet. Nothing. Shake violently. Nothing. Extract finger nails....etc.

Doctors have always had to break confidentiality but previously they would only have done this in the case that there was a signficant possibility of abuse. Now the onus, despite the complaints of the BMA, is the other way around. If GP's don't now reveal what in effect will be a much lower level of concern, they will be clouted for failure to protect our children. So don't even dream of going to your GP with your post-natal depression, or your marital problems, or the fact that you've been hitting the sherry just a little too much and want to nip this in the bud. Your child's name will most likely be flagged for these confessions.

So, far from preventing child abuse, this database will, once people wake up to the problem, make the situation much worse. Far better that a lone and unsupported GP actually pick up genuine problems in the first place; far better that a GP just get on with the business of picking up and solving problems early on, before they become serious; but no. Trying to think through the consequences of one's actions just doesn't seem to be one of those things that this government is about. As long as ministers sound like they are doing something and spending our money to boot, it doesn't really matter what the implications actually are.

Oh yes, and money is another objection. The database will cost billions, all of which will have to be magicked from somewhere. Wouldn't it be better spent on more, less harrassed social workers?

Then we have the real possibility that all this low level concern flagging will actually hide rather than reveal serious abuse looking for needles in haystacks.

And then the hacking paedophiles...well am less convinced of the dangers here, but perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps it will give these guys just the ammunition they need to target vulnerable children.

Anyway, Action for the Rights of Children..ARCH at are campaigning against the database. They are raising funds to take a case against the database proposals based upon the idea that it infringes our right to privacy in family life. Go see the website, if you haven't already.

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Grudging and Surprised Hooray for Meg Ryan

Have never been a fan of Ms. Ryan up till just now. All that fake ditzy, blond stuff was enough to make you want to take her pretty little head and screw it round and round on her neck until it found a proper grip (or else fell off). And all the more irritating for the fact that men fall for her goofy comedy guff.

So I was pleasantly surprised to watch the UK Gold re-run of the Parky show in which she was supposed to have made a complete fool of herself. I expected her to come on all goofed up, incapable of saying what she meant either through sheer incompetency, too much method acting or illiberal drug-use, but what it actually amounted to was that she just didn't want to play ball with Parky. This was because she spotted from the off his complete inability to understand the distinction she was trying to make as a first point and from then on just gave him short shrift, which in Parky's world looks to be an unforgivable crime, since as with the Beeb, New Labour and much of the rest of the population of GB, it doesn't really matter whether what you actually say is a good approximation of the truth or not. What matters to them is that you are "nice" whatever rubbish you may actually be spouting.

Parky, as with most of those who expect niceness over truth-seeking, immediately paradoxically turned really nasty and snide, making all sorts of vacuous insinuations about Ryan being paranoid about press intrusion et al.

I suppose I was right about something though. Ryan was never ditzy. She did have an unscrupulously good mind working full-tilt all that time and I suppose one must give her the further credit of realising that to be a comedic-romantic lead, this is best hidden and that the large majority of men simply won't notice the incongruities.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Too Precious for School?

Not that I've let this Sarler woman get to me, you understand, (she was admirably dealt with afterall by the cool-as-cucumber, home educating dad, Mike Fortune Wood), but another thing she claimed on the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show the other day was that in choosing to home educate, we are sending the message to our little darlings that they are somehow unique, way too precious and too superior to mix with the hoi polloi at school.

This must have struck most of us in the HE community as absolutely hilarious. Sarler has clearly either never met any of us, or has only ever met an incredibly small, select group of HEers who have actually never, ever met any of the rest of us.

Those of us who have HEed our children from birth and who meet with loads of other HE children, actually often have quite some considerable difficulty conveying the idea to our HE children that they are not the utterly normal ones and schooled children somehow the select oddities. And I don't think this is simply a matter of numbers of HE versus schooled children they meet. It is also that HEing from birth just seems utterly sensible, completely unsurprising, a sort of natural progression through the ages.

The other group of HEers who come later to HE after a period in school, usually get there
because they are deeply disillusioned with the school system for one reason or another. This is not to say that these families see their children as being too good for the system. Rather it is to see the system for the genuinely corrupt and corrupting thing it really is.

It doesn't seem to occur to HE children to think of themselves as somehow precious and superior. Instead such narcissism is far more likely to be bred in circumstances where children's needs are not listened to, their questions not answered, their energies not harnessed constructively, (ie: enforced schooling), where the only hope for a sense of well-being, a sense of being respected, genuinely liked and listened to can only be derived from the construction of a false persona with a fake reality and a false heightened sense of superiority without any genuine commensurate achievement.

Besides our kids ARE wonderful! We love 'em.

Precocious and Opinionated?

Another criticism of Home Education that often lurks in the background but only intermittently rears it's unsightly head, is that HE children are obnoxious because they are precocious and opinionated. I guess people who think this, daren't say it very often, since most parents often actually wouldn't mind having children who demonstrate these qualities, and the critic would probably unconsciously realise that they were recruiting for the other side, or that they would be caught out in some form of unconscious covetousness or envy.

But to take the criticism seriously, if only for just a minute, could it be true that HEers are nurturing a bunch of opinionated, over-confident brats?

Evidence-wise, I would say "NO". HE children in all groups I have ever encountered, always seem to be an entirely mixed bag of individuals, so I wonder who it is that these critics, (eg: Carol Sarler, Express columnist and guest on Radio 2 prog on HE), have come across.

Plus, those children who are not only HE'd but who are also taken seriously, tend not to need to express their opinions that forceably, since they know that they will, (mostly) be listened to. They also understand about fallibilism, since their parents will be demonstrating these qualities too; they will know the limits of knowledge; they will know that they cannot be certain, and they know that they can always look to improve upon their knowledge, all of which is likely to put limits upon qualities such as opinionated precociousness.

Shock Horror...Home Educated children do learn to deal with risk.

One of the persistant criticisms of Home Education and of actually listening to the desires and questions of children in particular, is that such parents are depriving their children of the experience of risk and hardship.

Of course, we are all variously bad at catching ourselves in our own contradictions, and this criticism is no exception. The critics, ie those in favour of traditional coercive parenting, insist that in order for children to learn to cope in the world, they must be exposed to various types of hardship. Putting aside the merits of this argument, the same traditionally coercive parents will then say that our children should not be listened to in some circumstances because they don't actually know what is best for them. ie: we must significantly reduce risk and hardship in children's lives.

This argument, aside from being blatantly contradictory, also ignores the glaringly obvious evidence that children, by both accident and design, actually choose risk and hardship in their lives. Children like going out in the cold without clothes; they like turning somersaults on stunt bikes; they like sliding downstairs on bits of cardboard. They even like choosing the sort of risks of which parents would most often unquestioningly approve, such as sticking up to bullies, or following through on course work, or taking exams, (though how coercive parents would know this, I am not sure).

Of course, I am not saying that we should abandon children to wanton, dangerous and unintentional experience of risk and hardship. To do so would be neglectful and coercive to boot. What I am saying is that we can, in listening and advising our children, help them experience and deal with challenges completely within a non-coercive relationship. There is absolutely no need to got out to find hardship and risk, since not only do these things pop up all over the place anyway, (for example, as implied in the original criticism, HE children often have to deal with criticisms of their choice of education), but children will, often as not, actually choose to meet challenges of these sorts.

What is more, when children actively choose to meet these scenarios, they will be all the more ready to deal with them creatively and rationally, since being their choice, they will genuinely be engaged with the problem of solving the issues...unlike the poor kids, who wearily, drearily, uncreatively consign themselves to years of submission to hardship without any hope that they
can possibly solve the situation.