Thursday, June 30, 2005

Credit Where It is Due

I do love our local HE groups. I really do. It is hard to imagine anyone matching them for courage, ingenuity, fun-seeking hilarity, flexibility, good natured tolerance, forgiveness, observation skills, imagination, insight, honesty, determination and intelligence.

By way of an example, we had an extraordinary day yesterday...a day of two halves, the first bit being a sort of minor tragedy, with petty management ruining any possibility of teens engaging with their own families. But we held it together. Members of the group stood in temperate and thoughtful unison and presented argument after cogent argument about why the rules were bad. They didn't lose it when there was no come back other than "It is the rule". We shrugged, got our money back, left, thought again and created another plan.

The traffic was awful, and the convoy of cars got broken up with plenty of times when we got lost. I also accidentally tried to set light to myself by spilling petrol all over my skirt and shirt in the Sainsbury garage, with the cashier announcing airily over the tannoy "Would the woman on pump No 5 please stop pulling on the pipe"...and me momentarily feeling like hanging myself on it, (How did you know Watson?), which contributed, thankyou very much W, to getting the most appalling giggles, and we held on to the what seemed like the shreds of the day.

Then some of us managed to make it to the most panoramic park, with huge stretches of rose garden in full bloom and a conservatory filled with tropical plants and terrapins which was run by a tall and initially frightening man wearing a turban. By the time we left, he was smiling and so happy to have met the boys who had asked him so enthusiastically about his exotic wilderness.

Bad Thinking, Bad Laws

Why do some people, amongst whom we must shamefully include our current law-makers, make such appallingly bad decisions, despite the fact that the counter arguments have been clearly presented and clearly stack up? Of course there are all sorts of reasons, but the ones that seem to plague us very commonly in the UK today are:

*Vested interests that skew the balance in favour of not seeking better alternatives,

*Previously entrenched irrational ideas which cloud judgement,

*Insecurity or entrenchment of ideas that feeds dogmatism, authoritarianism and a misplaced sense of infallibility,

*Political correctness which dissolves the need to think clearly about individual cases by providing textbook but ill-considered responses,

*Moral relativity that creates the notion that every position can be held as being right if it tallies with the cultural background of the source,

*The post-modernist dissolution of the notion of meaning and reality.

*All of which contributes to the inability to take criticism seriously or to genuinely consider the opposite case.

It rather looks as if all the above may have played a role in the frightening outcome of the recent debate about the Government's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Boris Johnson and others of sound mind, demonstrably destroyed any argument for this bill. Boris asked Charles Clarke to explain how passages from the Koran and the Bible would not be subject to prosecution under this law and quoted this passage from the Koran: "As for the unbelievers, for them garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skins shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods.” Mr Clarke was reduced to meaningless flat denials to the effect that the above did not represent anything like incitement to religious hatred. Meaningless denials do not constitute substantive counter-argument and yet about an hour later the bill was passed.

And the reasons for this? Matthew Parris writes in the Saturday Times "...ministers were never much interested in what their new law would do; they are interested in how it will look, especially to Muslims in marginal constituencies." This would appear like a vested interest then, nothing to do with legislation improving the lives of the people, and everything to do with votes, but you sense that the whole idea of the bill in the first place also stemmed from other poor forms of thinking, such as entrenched political correctness, cultural and moral relativity, perhaps even, heaven forfend, a deep-seated and hidden disregard for truth-seeking that is implicit in the post-modernist attitude. In the event, the government was reduced to hopelessly misguided authoritarianism in order to get the bill through.

In the meantime, it rather looks as if all of us are going to be thrown into a measure of confusion. When will we be prosecuted under this law? Would it be the case that we can get away with incitement if we use words directly taken from the Koran or the Bible? Could it possibly be that the law could be used in a prosecution against itself, since I don't, as a rule, feel the urge to experience religious hatred, but have certainly felt incited to do so since I realised that the Bill had passed it's Second Reading?

It all rather reminds one of the problems thrown up by the antisocial behaviour legislation. Will we or will we not be prosecuted for doing the gardening in a swimming costume, for example?

When will everyone wake up to this proliferation of bad laws, which probably criminalise almost all the population, but which will only be used against a few in an utterly random way. Good laws have good reasons for existing which these laws don't. Good laws are clear upon the matter of what constitutes a transgression and who will be prosecuted. These laws fail on these grounds alone. That cannot be good legislating.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What Does He Know!

It would be slightly more flattering to the human race to be able to attribute Mr Davies' opinions to self-interest rather than ignorant prejudice, but unfortunately it rather looks like the latter. What is new? Do these people ever think to read the papers or try to research stuff before they make public announcements?

From the Weston Mail:

"...what concerns me is that those children (Home Educated ones) will be missing out on developing their social and interpersonal skills with their peers. Education isn't just about reading, writing and mathematics - it's also about understanding the real world outside the home. Schools provide an enriching menu of opportunities, which fully prepares the child for adulthood and beyond."

Ho hum! We will try to do better, Mr Davies. Our weeks filled with swimming, ice-skating, trampolining, pottery, carpentry skills and all sorts of other arts and crafts, science museums, history museums, art galleries, forestry visits to learn forestry skills, visits to hospitals, historical sites, English Heritage buildings, theatres, cinemas, working farms, scout huts and village halls for just pure inadulterated fun of seeing friends and for games of rugby, football, cricket and skateboarding, visits to beaches, other people's homes and a wide variety of places of work, the camping skills, the drumming and music sessions, the sculpture parks, the visits to the vet, the library, the internet cafes, to cities and countries far afield...well clearly none of this is up to scratch, Mr Davies. Thanks for pointing this out.

The Oldest Person in the World was Educated at Home

The oldest person in the world, Mrs. Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper hopes to celebrate her 115th birthday tomorrow.

She is said to have been home-educated by her parents on the advice of the family doctor, because she seemed too sickly to spend her days in a dark and dusty classroom and needed to play outside to stay healthy.

Now Mrs. Van Andel is almost 115 and has outlived all her schooled peers. Looks like the best bit of medical advice we've heard in a long time. GP's to prescribe Home Ed?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Home Education and Civil Society

After over a week of doing my level best to move as little as possible, and relying entirely upon the good nature of Dh and friends, it is back to business as usual. I attribute the final improvement to a generous glass of the house white, which clearly had excellent medicinal qualities, and completely eradicated all remaining traces of back pain.

The lessons I have learnt from all this: (apart from: if in pain, get drunk quick): We need our friends in the HE community; they can and do help you out in sticky moments like this one. The community may be small and self-selecting, but I do not believe that it suffers for this. In fact I believe it thrives. The very freedom to leave such a community means that those who do stay, do so because the relationships are meaningful and trusting. These relationships are not treated lightly or wantonly abandoned; people stay in them because they help the people there to thrive and because they want to.

Fukuyama contended that the tiny size of communities such as the HE one would automatically mean that they lacked power and influence. Again I would disagree. We live in a world where ideas are no longer necessarily spread through the force of numbers of people who adopt them. We do not need huge masses to perpetuate an idea, since the power of the electronic word, one well-argued sentence or paragraph, can cause a meme to spread. The criticism to which ideas will be subjected means that bad memes can get filtered out quickly. Truth seeking memes are more likely to stay the course because even the worst moral and cultural relativist or post-modernist is actually much more truth seeking than they normally realise. Deep down somewhere, in their heart of hearts, they will know that these ideas are good and once they overcome their entrenchments, either through sheer force of argument and failing to find a superior counter-argument, or through sheer habituation to these ideas, even they may be won over.

Seeing as the arguments for autonomous education make epistemological sense, (they seem to contain truth-like elements), the autonomous Home Education meme stands a very good chance of spreading further and further afield.

Happy days!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Empowering Families: Whatever Happened to that Good Idea?

Say what you like about the Conservative party, but they seemed, temporarily at least, to have got it just about right on education policy during the last election, when they advocated giving parents £5000 per year to spend on the education of their child. (Ideally they wouldn't be taking the cash of us in the first place, but from where we currently stand, this suggestion seemed like a step in the right direction.)

There were aspects of the policy that badly needed clarification and tweaking. We needed to know that parents would have genuine free choice. Could they have used the funds to home educate, for example? And there was the ridiculous 'no top-up' rule, whereby you could not send a child to a school that cost more than £5,000 per year, the rationale of which seems befuddling as it would at least partially hobble the good aspects of the policy which was to introduce genuine choice and competition into the field. It would also have been necessary, in order to ensure that proper competition could really kick in, to reduce the regulatory load and ridiculous bureaucracy, so that new schools could spring up without this particular burden.

With these tweaks, the policy did look likely to solve many problems with education. Parents would have been able to choose the best possible educational location for their children. Sink schools would close down. Power would be removed from educrats and returned to families.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to see David Cameron MP, the new shadow education minister, not mentioning any of this at all in his recent policy announcements. When interviewed on the Beeb, he seemed to be batting on about phonemes, discipline and the like. I thought perhaps I had missed the beginning of the interview. He must have mentioned vouchers before I switched on. But no, it seems the Tories are backtracking on the one policy that finally seemed to hold out some hope for success.

According to George Jones, the Telegraph's political editor,
"Mr Cameron told the Conservative national education society in London that the Tories were in danger of "missing the big point" in education by talking more about "structures" and giving parents greater choices between different sorts of schools...Mr Cameron said Tories should focus on simple and straightforward issues. "Discipline. Standards. Promoting teaching methods that work. Scrapping those that don't. Building on tests, league tables and exam standards that genuinely measure success, failure and progress."

Good GRIEF!!! It seems as if Mr Cameron has absolutely no sense of what it means to belong to a party of small government. The difference between him and Ruth Kelly is hard to detect. The whole point about giving power back to parents is not so that one abandons the aim to raise standards, but so that parents actually become involved in improving the situation - something that no massive mission statements from above and layers of inefficient and self-interested bureaucracy can possibly hope to achieve. Parents and their children would have weeded out the failures. Had home education been facilitated by this policy, schools would really have had to think hard about how to meet the needs of their pupils who would overnight turn from serfs to consumers.

None of the centralised policies of recent years have worked. Empowering parents and children does work, for the simple reason that they know best what suits them and what motivates them, and motivated learning is the only really valid way to learn.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

They Could be Coming to Get You

It is the sad case that many a Home Educator wakes up in a cold sweat in the early hours of the morning, convinced that the powers-that-be are after them and their children. The sad thing is: they aren't necessarily wrong.

And is not just Home Educators who run this risk; every single family in Britain should be holding onto their children as well as their hats, for their is no telling where the arbitrary judgement of the law, aided and abetted by the psychiatry profession, will aim it's terrifyingly unreliable scatter gun techniques.

A recent article in the The Spectator, which dealt with the subject of a child being forcibly removed from her mother at the behest of the family courts and irretrievably adopted by another family, serves as yet another reminder of the gross injustices and their arbitrary nature, that are being routinely perpetuated in the UK today.

It is the case that children can be removed from their families on the evidence of just one psychiatrist in the family court. Now, all you sane readers out there will know that psychiatry, for all it's pretensions to the contrary, is not a science. It cannot be relied on to provide a reliable semblance of the truth, for the theories it provides are not falsifiable; eg: any one manifestation of behaviour could be interpreted as being caused by any number of different sorts of possible incidents and there is no way that one could disprove any of this. In the story cited by the Spectator, there was complete disagreement between the two psychiatrists who had interviewed the family, one of whom was of the firm conviction that the child was thriving in her natural family. This didn't seem to bother the courts, however.

To compound the problem of the credulity of courts and the power of often deeply unprofessional and questionably motivated psychiatrists and paediatricians (cf: Prof. Southall), there is the added and very serious problem that these particular courts are closed: press coverage is not permitted; there is no possibility of external scrutiny or peer review. These guys can get away with any sort of rubbish and slander. Worse still, the standard of proof required in the family courts is much lower than in the criminal courts - cases do not have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

There was a programme "30 Minutes" on Channel 4 in June 2004 on a similar subject. I wrote this then, and it seems little has changed in the intervening time:

In the programme, the journalist, Dea Birkett, interviewed a number of families who have been falsely accused of abusing their children, some of whom have had their children forcibly removed through the family courts.

One woman came very close to permanently losing her 3 children after visiting the vet. Some of her dogs had died under mysterious circumstances and the vet took it upon himself to refer the family to a paediatrician. The doctor, Prof. Southall, pronounced the loss of the dogs through suspicious circumstances to be a typical result of the behaviour of a sufferer of Munchausen's by Proxy. This mother was also apparently damned by the fact that she was slightly overweight (which according to this professional is typical of the syndrome). During this whole process, the children were fostered out to other families. Just as this woman was about to lose her children for good, it emerged that her ex-husband had poisoned the dogs.

This family was lucky. There are plenty of other innocent families who have actually lost their children into the care system. Ms. Birkett emphasised how this sort of thing can happen to absolutely anyone and that it seems as if there is an element of post code lottery about it all. Some Health Authorities have an enormously high number of children on their at-risk registers whilst just over the border there are hardly any on the equivalent list.

Ms Birkett also interviewed Prof. Southall (the now notorious paediatrician) who seemed almost not to acknowledge the possibility of false positives, being predominantly concerned with false negatives. When questioned directly on the issue of false accusations, he seemed to regard it as an utterly trivial problem. This man needs his head seeing to. He is destroying public trust in the Health services. People are now right not to trust their doctors any more. How can the Prof. not see that this will significantly increase problems everywhere? Far better to have a trusted and unsupported GP tactfully helping families before they reach total crisis than someone picking up the bodies of disaffected, distrusting, secretive families who haven't dared to seek help earlier. The implications of the actions of this man and his ilk must be thought through much more carefully.

One lawyer for some seemingly falsely accused families said that false accusations and removal of children represents one of the gravest injustices in Britain today. I fervently agree and hope the publicity about the issue will force the government to take stronger action than they have already. These injustices MUST be stopped.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Taking Children Seriously

For more information on the theories of Taking Children Seriously
I would, in addition to the website, recommend Jan Fortune-Woods book: Winning Parent, Winning Child: Parenting So Everybody Wins

The theories of consent based parenting as delineated on the Taking Children Seriously website and in Jan's books, can at first appear quite extraordinary, even positively ridiculous! But the closer one looks at them and the more one tries to find fault with them, the more one realises just how good the theories really are and just how well they do withstand serious criticism. What is more, when really put into practice, the theories work.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Debilitating Effects of "Positive" Reinforcement

If you have any sense at all, you will regularly want to open up the back of your TV set in order to try to find and disable the bits of it that are responsible for receiving the BBC; this so that you will never again be tempted to watch these channels under the mistaken assumption that you will not be infuriated to the point of total enervation.

Bad enough are the weird realities that are generated by the news coverage of wars and elections, but I think I have found something even worse - by which I mean any programme that includes the corvine form of child psychologist, Dr Tanya Byron.

Just in case you have had the presence of mind to have avoided watching this individual at work, the basic idea behind all her programmes is that she wades in on a family who are having problems with their children, picks over the bodies and implements a problem of behavioural therapy, or more specifically operant conditioning, that should have been rendered obsolete decades ago.

Dr Byron's techniques basically consist of getting the parent or guardian to praise good behaviour and ignore bad. Now, whilst this may appear to work, and the behaviour of the children often does appear to improve, I am sure you are not in the dark as to why this is actually an APPALLING idea.

What actually seems to be happening is that the child becomes utterly dependent upon an authority figure for ascertaining whether his behaviour is good or bad. This is because explanations are not an implicit part of the system. He does not understand himself "WHY" his behaviour is deemed good or bad, and there is absolutely no chance that he will be aware of the possibility of parental judgement being flawed or tentative and up for discussion.

He will also tend to behave not because he himself wants to behave in this way but because he knows he will be ignored if he doesn't. The chances of him being intrinsically motivated in this appallingly condescending system are almost zero. Check out Dr Edward Deci, from the University of Rochester on this matter.

"Psychologist Edward Deci did research with two groups to see the effect of extrinsic rewards on learning. Group one received an extrinsic reward (money) for solving a puzzle called SOMA; the second group received no rewards. Afterwards, both groups were left alone and secretly watched. The group that was paid stopped playing; the group not paid kept playing. Deci summarized his findings thusly: "Stop the pay, stop the play." He concludes, "Monetary rewards undermined people's intrinsic motivation…. Rewards seemed to turn the act of playing into something that was controlled from the outside: It turned play into work, and the player into a pawn…. Rewards and recognition are important, but as the research has so clearly shown and I have reiterated many times, when rewards or awards are used as a means of motivating people, they are likely to backfire." --Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do".

I tend to think Dr Deci has a point and that Dr Byron is teaching atrociously bad epistemology. She is teaching the false doctrines of infallibility of authoritarian knowledge and she is teaching that moral behaviour is not related to the understanding of moral explanations, but simply is a matter of doing what you are told. Underlying the theory that you can get people to do what you want simply by rewarding them, rather than by offering tentative explanations, is the assumption that you can simply pour knowledge into the mind of the learner, rather as you would pour water into a bucket. She does not see that for a theory to become active in the mind of the learner, the learner must be activating the learning process, and therefore should be able to think critically about the pertinent theories. We may draw this conclusion since in her theory of operant conditioning, there is no room for a theory upon which the learner can think intelligibly.

I am aware that the people who read this blog probably already know how inferior this all is and also are aware of a vastly superior epistemology and system for offering these theories of knowledge in practical form to children...but just in case this has passed you by, Taking Children Seriously is worth investigating very thoroughly for this.

Why Schools Generally Fail to Prepare You for Life

Was sitting outside the GP's surgery yesterday, waiting for DH to collect me, and was just deciding that this was the perfect moment to start feeling extremely sorry for myself, (the bench was very hard), when this gorgeous young man sat down next to me and a conversation ensued.

I immediately got in over my head on a skateboarding topic and must have looked a complete twerp; I spent the entire conversation wishing I had listened more attentively to Ds over the last few months. In a desperate attempt to move the chat to safer territory, we got onto the subject of his exams.

Something he said about his mock physics exam really struck me. He said that the question had been deliberately misleading: that it was impossible to answer it given the premises that were provided. It apparently took quite a lot of work simply to prove this. To be an A graded student, you then, without prompting from anywhere, would have to suggest a more consistent set of premises.

I have only just realised why exactly this was so interesting. This was interesting because it is so unusual in the school environment. It is almost always the case that in school you do not experience the problem of finding the problem in the first place, which of course, is what actually happens with huge frequency in real life. This boy's story seems to me to be the exception that proves the rule...that generally speaking, school does not prepare you for life in the round, because it spoon feeds the problems to you. What is more, these problems already have the right answers out there, which is also something that frequently does not happen in real life.

Books vs. Cartoon Network

Trying to think of classic young children's literature, apart from throwing up yet more examples of how brilliant Dr Seuss really is ("The Sneetches", "The Zax", "Pale Green Pants", "Horton Hatches The Egg", "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?"), has led me to three possible conclusions:

1. There are so few genuine young children's classics that there is probably a huge market out there just waiting for some more...the ones that play both to children and the adult reader, that are funny, that are neatly crafted with clever but balanced and meaningful twists, that do not patronise, or underplay children's intelligence, that allow for the breadth of knowledge that the average child will have nowadays (no more twee teddy bears PLEASE!), and above all, that contain non-coercive, respectful messages, and are otherwise ethically sound.

2. Cartoon Network is SOOOO far ahead in providing this type of clever, funny, multi-textured, neatly crafted material, that we may as well give up on literature until it catches up.
I say this cos have just sat down with Dd and Ds and, completely at random, watched an episode of "Foster's Imaginary Friends". I admit the animation is pretty uninspired, but the script, if you bother to stop to listen to it, is unequivocally brilliant and streets ahead of most children's literature. The vocabulary is consistently stretching eg: The "prospective benefactor" (Mr Benny Factor) is "considering making a financial donation" to the home.
Gone are the days when you would at most have to jiggle two separate story lines in a totally formulaic Scooby Doo episode. Instead there were so many clever riffs, subplots and interweaving of plots in this one episode that you wonder how books can possibly keep up. We had here a whole essay on the meaning of sarcasm, with one character trying to teach the other how to be sarcastic, without realising that the other character is being sarcastic about not knowing about sarcasm. This theme ties together with another sub-plot in an utterly satisfying fashion, with the final line delivered by a previously completely pompous and utterly prosaic character from this other sub-plot saying "How much more sarcastic can I be?" to the total confusion of all the other previously sarcasm-wise characters.

3. I am beginning to doubt if literature really can keep up in this regard. It is just so much more possible to deliver complex messages, new vocabulary, multi-layered plots etc, in film, when you have the whole package. eg: new words can be understood through the manifest nature of the context and the impetus of the plot. Classic books instead will have to rely on being jewel-like, perfect in language, balance and craft. This perhaps should be their role. Am off to see if this is possible which may well be very depressing!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


A HUGE thank you is owed to Dh...THANK YOU for everything. He has completely taken over for last 5 days or so, dropping all other commitments, looking after children, cooking tapas for supper, providing superb massages, putting finishing touches to the half-pipe and generally doing the works!!! This is not just so that he can make me feel guilty about not partying it up on Father's Day last, but because I have been rendered almost totally rigid as a result of what looks like viral arthritis. This has affected every limb in my body apart from the elbows, which I can wave around with gay abandon should anyone so desire...

There are definite perks to all this. I can get myself almost comfy with laptop, the largest possible dose of Diclofenic and a large cushion, and am working on ways of perpetuating this situation, but just without the excruciating pain.

Children are also keeping me entertained. Dd (only just learning her letters), turned up just now with twinkle in her eye and a bit of paper, saying the Ds had written a dirty word on it, which of course was MUD. Am still though, not quite sure who the joke was actually on!

Children's Books

This is a plea from a desperate person who may otherwise do something terrible with a bonfire or a pair of scissors. Please, please tell me your favourite young children's know the ones...the ones that you wouldn't mind reading night after night, that could make you laugh, that struck you as neat, as cleverly constructed, well balanced, with a agreeable ethical angle, engaging characters etc.

To give you some idea of the ones that have stood me in very, very good stead to date, but I suddenly feel as if I cannot keep reading them for the rest of my time here on earth:

The Sleep Book Dr Seuss

The Gruffalo Julia Donalson, Axel Scheffler

Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

Sloth's Shoes Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross

The Monster Storm Jeanne Willis, Susan Varley

Bungle in the Jungle Paul Geraghty

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Gaza Strip Pull-Out

Am I missing a beat here...Please tell me that I just haven't followed the story completely.

OK, so pull out, this is a sensible concession. But why, honestly, WHY destroy the settlements. Most of them are, by the standards of the region, highly desirable properties, which would require only minor alterations to suit the needs of the new inhabitants. But it is said that both sides agreed that the homes occupied by some 8,000 settlers would do little to address the housing needs of the 1.3 million Palestinians.

Errr...OK, but how is having no houses at all going to help? Come on, the rest of the Strip is blinking desert. There is plenty of space for further building.

It seems to me much more likely that the "both sides" in question were actually Ms Rice and the Palestinian negotiators. Condoleeza plays the game. She says: “The view is that there are better land uses for the Palestinians to better address their housing needs.” She should have told it like it is and it should not have been left to the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, to get it right. He said that the houses could have remained standing. “It was their choice. If they (the Palestinians) wanted them they could have had them.”

It just seems like another classic example of the Palestinian leadership deliberately hobbling it's people and then blaming their discomfort on Israel. This sort of thing has happened so repeatedly over the years that one can only assume it is a deliberate policy and not a matter of stupidity.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Real World?

Have been making a mental note of all the things that the children have been doing today which they would not have been able to do in school. This list is mounting.

One example is the discussion that just took place between toddler and myself about the likely effects of opiate derivatives, (legally acquired, of course): about how dangerous these drugs are for young and old alike and about what these pills are actually meant to be used for. She wanted to know, in gruesome detail, what these pills could do to a child, how other forms of the drug could be taken, and the possible implications of all that...up to and including a conversation about AIDS. She was able to handle the pills, and she got the clear message that she should only play with these on pain of death.

It was not the sort of conversation or demonstration that one can imagine taking place in play-group, and it makes me realise the impact of Watson's point in her last comment about the need for the boundary between real world and school to be narrowed towards the intellectual confines generated by the school environment.

For only the other day, I attempted to buy 4 packets...ONLY FOUR, please note, of 20 Paracetamol 500mg from our local pharmacy, only to be told that this was not legally possible!!!! WHAT? What sort of idiot could they possibly take me for? Doesn't every suicidal git on the street know that you do not mess with paracetamol, even if you do want to top yourself? Ah, maybe not. That will be because you will have been cossetted away in a classroom, not given the information when you had actually asked the question, because it would not have been deemed "age appropriate", and you would be dulled to the effects of the real world - unable to get a clear vision of what real pain looks like, because you never get to visit a relative in hospital or anything like that.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Children of the State

Ruth Kelly, the UK Education Secretary, announced this week that she wishes to extend school opening hours from six and a half hours per week, to ten or eleven, and this to include the normal school holidays, in order that parents can effectively almost entirely offload their responsibilities towards their children onto the state.

Ho hum. Now these poor kids will have to accept the savaging of affectional bonds with their families. Who says that when children get to school age, that they suddenly stop needing the special love and attention that can only be provided by the closest of ties? One only has to recall the misery of boarders during the first week back at senior school, and remember the appalling defence mechanisms that they employed in order to override the grief - the narcissism, the borderline personality disorders, the simple straight-forward depressive tendencies...the list goes on, to see how damaging and stupid this sort of thing is.

This new generation of children will also have to tolerate the intellectually degrading diversity agenda, the moral and cultural relativity and the political correctness that underpins the current UK educational curriculum as constituting the entire content of their day.

They will have to accept all this, along with all the petty restrictions, the coercion, the boredom, the inability to take genuine risks, the unlikelihood of finding out what they are genuinely interested in doing, and the impossibility of learning to deal with that which is censored within the school environment.

How are these children going to learn to engage with the real world outside the confines of the school gates: to see how the world of work really functions, to mix with people of all ages, to care for babies and animals, to cross new roads, to climb real mountains, to play GTA, to find out what it is like to choose one's friends freely and to run naked in the snow? What can we possibly expect of such a generation of children?

Hopefully, this generation will see that all this, the breaking of family bonds, the multi-cultural diversity agenda, the intellectual censorship and all the other limitations that are imposed as the straws that break the camel's back. Perhaps there will be a shift in the ethics underpinning education as young people are allowed to get real again. Perhaps they will just walk and Ms Kelly, far from extending school hours, will find that she has nothing left to extend!

Well, OK but I can but dream. At the very least, I hope that it will make prospective parents think again. What these people should be thinking is, "If we really are going to abandon our children to the state, what is the point of having them in the first place?" Given that we are already concerned about the lack of UK babies, perhaps government would wise up and do something far more constructive, like giving parents tax breaks to pay grandparents to HE their grandchildren!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dream Day

Ooohh dream day!

Lying in the sun with vodka Pimms whilst kids do kid things, the men do the BBQ, and I can pop in when no-one's looking, blog something slightly less statist than the current conversation will allow, and generally cool off!

Honestly cannot think of anything much better particularly as am always on for a good disagreement, so am about to arm myself with another Pimms and put the opposite case. Err...maybe not. Perhaps will just fall asleep instead!

Michael Jackson

Of course I have no real idea, but my guess is that the jurors got it right; otherwise a large percentage of the teaching staff at most British public schools would have been locked away years ago.

Being fumbled and manipulated by a greasy, creepy, unattractive and yet powerful person, who most likely does have some ability to make you feel quite confused as regards the truth, is indeed horrible and sickening. It can have subtle long-termish effects, but in the scheme of all the awful things that happen to children, it is but a part of an overall picture of adult error that if we were to involve the law, would mean that all adults in contact with children would, at some point, need to be put away. Which is worse, afterall, being touched up by a teacher, or being compelled to go to the excruciatingly boring, appallingly coercive, hideously ugly, unnecessarily exhausting, crushingly oppressive institution that is school?

There is in an order of magnitude of difference between these types of adult interference and those who sexually abuse children in a deeply devastating way and there needs to be great clarity on the difference between these situations. I rather suspect that it looks as if the jurors in the Jackson trial were capable of making this distinction.

Next thing: reduce coercion of children in all it's forms, hopefully through education rather than the use of the law.

Avian Flu

How ready are you to cope with a possible avian flu outbreak? Are Home Educators in a better position to cope that schooling families? Are you ready?

Here are Future Pundit's tips for coping with a possible outbreak.

1. Stockpile about 50 or 100 times more Tamiflu than you or your family could use. You can use it to barter if food and other distribution systems break down. Or you can use it to help every friend, acquaintance, and business associate you have. Want to get great deals from a supplier? Give him some Tamiflu and save his life. He'll remember.

2. Stockpile thousands of 3M N100 and P100 face masks. Again, they will make valuable barter material. Or you can give them away to people who do work for you.

3. Stockpile a couple of years of dried and canned food in a dry cool place. I'd also suggest a couple hundred pounds of salmon filets so you can eat healthy even as the supermarkets go empty.

4. Buy a house in the country so that you can avoid contact with other people. The country house should be self sufficient. That means it should have a well, two or three electric generators, and enough fuel to run the electric generators for several months. Photovoltaics in the roof and/or a windmill for electric power would be prudent.

5. If you have to stay in the suburbs make sure you have an extremely well sealed house and high quality filters on air brought in from outside. Though the odds are pretty low you'll get sick from a neighbor's cough.

6. Whether in the country or suburbs make sure your house can function without maintenance for years.

7. Stock your house with whatever else you might need for 2 or 3 years (e.g. seeds and fertilizer for the garden).

8. Be extremely ready to drop everything and isolate yourself with less than a single day's notice. Avoidance of exposure is the best defense. The news says an outbreak is ripping through Tokyo or Shanghai or Calcutta? Time to quit going to work and head for the country or at least stay in your suburban home. If you need to travel to get to a hideaway best to have a lot of gasoline in a small towed trailer to make the trip since you won't want to fly and even exposure at a gasoline station is best avoided (and under panic conditions you can't count on finding gasoline to buy anyway).


I think I'd add a 9. which is go get your current flu vaccine, (well this coming autumn that is)...because although this will have no protective effect against a potentially lethal avian strain, the extra demand will encourage pharmaceutical companies to get their act in gear re: flu vaccines.

Friday, June 17, 2005

American HE Blog

For a thorough and informative look at Home Education in the US, you can do no better than Daryl Cobranchi's "Home Education and Other Stuff" at:

Can make it seem as though we should be grateful that the UK's HE community is still small enough not to be a political hot potato.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

That'll Teach 'em

Watson is in fine, perceptive and gut-wrenching form with this posting on a school trip to the beach, entitled "That'll Teach 'em".

I hope this blogger keeps it up as I believe that this type of expose (where is the acute accent in this format?), is vital for the health and well-being of children everywhere.

And the lesson I should also take away from this? It is this: don't even think of doing as these teachers did when it comes to waggling one's own children out at the end of HE meets. I managed it patiently at least twice today, but when children looked like pouring eagerly into third home of the day, without taking a breath from constant banter with friend, I did nearly strike a wall and do a "Withnail" "GET IN THE BACK OF THE CAR"...type thing. I didn't though, and we got home at 22.00 hours, still yabbering, still happy. This was infinitely preferable but good grief, where is this energy coming from?

Actually, I think I know. I think that this energy is completely normal and just what is available to any human being when they are not having to spend most of their resources on dealing with coercive environments.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Home Education Rules!

It's all true what they say about Home Education promoting play between children of different ages and genders. That's now thrice in three days. eg: yesterday, after superb time in outdoor pool, then play ground, (all mixed age play), followed by a quick dash to Tescos for all those whose trousers had got wet, then on to Leisure Centre trampolines, we went back to HE home for tea and drum kits, where the three year old girls were to be found sharing a toy chest with ten year old boy, who had spurned the excellent game of footie outside, to play shops with all the littlies.

Were it not for the fact that one child got his new trousers caught in another mum's car door and could be seen belting down Tesco's car park, trying to keep up with the departing car, we would actually think we had been doing a reasonably good job.

Monday, June 13, 2005

SpongeBob SquarePants

Unquenchable supply of SpongeBob jokes are still being directed my way, courtesy of Ds.
Here are three of them that I remember immediately:

Krusty Krab..(the manager of cafe) "Patrick, you're fired."
Patrick..."But I don't even work here!"
Krusty Krab "Well, you can start now."

The Flying Dutchman (pirate ghost, intimidatingly)..."Sponge Bob, you'd bet your life for a couple of bucks".
Sponge Bob: "I'd bet my life I wouldn't."

SpongeBob and Patrick are apparently caught in an avalanche.
Patrick, desperately, "SpongeBob, my legs are frozen solid. You must cut them off."
Sponge Bob "I can't DO that Patrick".
Patrick "Why not?"
Sponge Bob, "Because I've already cut my arms off."

Ds finds this all belly-laugh funny and extremely luckily, I also appreciate the fact that the jokes are sort of taut and attentive to language and there are also some really creative riffs on some the meme about what a child is meant to be able to do with a cardboard box. Having said all that, am very glad Ds does the filtering and I don't have to watch whole episodes.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A No-Brainer but Here it is Spelt Out: The Right Tax Cuts Create Growth

from The Adam Smith Blog, 12th June

And just in case this gets lost in the text: Tax revenues in the US boomed after the appropriate tax cuts of 2003.

While Gordon Brown was busily raising taxes here in the UK, the Bush administration in the US cut them in both 2001 and 2003.

Economic growth after the 2003 cut has been 4.4%; after the 2001 cut it was just 1.9%. Net job creation after the 2003 cut is 150,000 a month; after the 2001 cut, jobs declined slightly. Tax revenues boomed 6% after the 2003 cut; compared to falling revenues after the 2001 cut.

Of course, tax cuts are just one factor in the US economy. But Mitchell points out they can only stimulate productive action if they lower its price. The 2001 round focused on rebates, tax credits and lower thresholds for needy families, with a negligible impact on enterprise, and grudging cuts to income tax and death tax, which did very little.

By contrast the 2003 round included a cut in tax on new business investment, faster income tax cuts, and a reduction in the double-taxation of dividends and capital gains - all of which had significant pro-growth impact, says Mitchell. The right tax cuts mean more growth, producing a wider tax base that allows tax rates to be kept at a lower level: a virtuous spiral.

It is all in great contrast to Gordon Brown's policy. Yes, there have been some reductions in corporate taxes. But income taxes have risen (more people being dragged into the 40% bracket, rises in national insurance), and tax credits and other tweaks have made the system unfathomably complex.

The fact is that Brits work far longer for the tax-collectors (until May 31 this year) than Americans. And a lot of them are starting to think, quite understandably, 'why bother?'


A Wonderful Blog

There are at least two IMMENSELY gratifying things about this blog:

Firstly, it is written by someone I have just met, which means that it is triply fascinating and am off to read all the archives.

Secondly her most recent post is just so complimentary about our group. This may not seem altogether surprising, given that this eminently sensible person intends to home educate, but in fact the compliments came from an acquaintance of hers who knows little about HE.

Watson, I hope you have a moment to go and read this. Made my heart leap at the rightness of it all.


It has been gradually dawning upon me that since becoming a parent, there has been a massive change in how I perceive risk and danger. Quite a few people may well be saying here..."Duh, about time", because in truth, I can trace the onset of an increase in anxiety about this sort of issue to the very first day I realised I was pregnant with my first quite some time ago.

At this time, and subsequently, it has seemed to me that whilst it was OK personally to make the choice to face life and all it's attendent risks, and that in fact this could be variously exhilarating, mind expanding, emboldening, and a source of hilarity, and often all four at once, it was hugely presumptious to ask another human to do this. And since there are so many innumerable threats to life on earth, how could I possibly justify creating another life whose annihilation is almost 100% certain?

Without really directly addressing this issue, and therefore failing to solve it, I became unconsciously deeply afraid of dangers and routinely attempted to reduce risk-taking behaviour to a minimum.

Again the response to this should be "Duh". Given that life has been generated, and given that risk is inherent in this creation, why not have a better attitude towards dealing with risk? I should liberate that long captive risk-taking animal within me and help to make sure that this animal is also free within my children.

How best to do this? For me it means recapturing the essence of not caring too much about the self, to see the bigger picture, to enjoy the risk, to delight in danger, to seize life by the scruff of the neck and to relish it, even if this means relishing it for the risks and pain that it offers. It means putting a stop to worrying about the responsibility of having generated people who will have to face risk, and instead help them to acquire whatever traits they most desire in order to face life's dangers.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Mea Culpa

There I was, a couple of months ago, bemoaning the fact that our way of life appeared to be rather closed in and hibinatory during the winter months, and now during the summer months, there are times when our level of outdoor physical activity would only be matched if we were training for the marathon.

So the reason for the guilt? Well, we have categorically overdone it this week. The little one was totally exhausted by early this afternoon, and needed carrying round a castle, up and down banks, over ruined walls, up and down steps, all of which put me in a slowly fulminating temper. Poor child. It took just one more trigger and I was off...listing her mistakes, and misunderstandings of the day, one after the other, in the manner of the idiot grudge-holder that I was. She cried and then fell asleep before I could apologise.

What an unmitigated fool I am. I have subsequently talked with the most wonderful, understanding adult who has roundly sorted me out over a bottle of white, and I have gone back and whispered apologies into Dd's sleeping brain, in the desperate hope that they register in her unconscious. I will apologise formally tomorrow when she wakes.

Ds however, has had the week of his life. He loves the ice-skating, the skateboarding, the frisbee, the game of cricket, the wall climbing, the card games, the skateboarding, the trampolining, the go-carts, the gymnastics, the sloping castle and the skateboarding. He loved the lecture on weapons, with one of his much beloved mates acting the foil to the genius teacher...Teacher on weapons "So tell me someone, what is a pike?"...JM "A fish". Teacher.."Yeah right, I can see them now, wading into battle all wielding a medium-sized fish". Incidentally, the genius teacher is also actually a Home Educating dad.

How to solve the problem of meeting both children's differing needs. Must work on achieving those common preferences again...Have no immediately brilliant solutions but will think again when Dh returns and my capacity to think will hopefully also return!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Vote for Favourite Philosopher

To show that humanity is heading in the right direction, vote here:

preferably for Karl Popper: for his tirelessly truth-seeking attitude, his clarity about the nature of knowledge and its limits, for his perceptions on the nature of scientific method and falsifiability and his critiques of totalitarian societies.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Aspie Quiz

Nature or nurture...either way, you can see if you fit the Asperger mould at this address.

Clearly not to be taken at all seriously and am off to do the whole thing again, as also clearly, have not answered the questions properly.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Contradictory desires for Community and Autonomy


Francis Fukuyama in his book "The Great Disruption" writes:

"Contemporary Americans, and contemporary Europeans as well, seek contradictory goals. They are increasingly distrustful of any authority, political or moral, that would constrain their freedom of choice, but they also want a sense of community and the good things that flow from community, like mutual recognition, participation, belonging, and identity. Community has to be found elsewhere, in smaller and more flexible groups and organisations where loyalties and memberships can be overlapping, and where entry and exit entail relatively low costs. People might thus be able to reconcile their contradictory desires for community and autonomy. But in this bargain, the community they get is smaller and weaker than most that have existed in the past. Each community shares less with neighboring ones, and the ones to which they belong have relatively little hold. The circle of people they can trust is necessarily narrower. The essence of the shift in values that is at the center of the Great Disruption is, then, the rise of moral individualism and the consequent miniaturization of community".

1. Does this hypothesis seem to be borne out by the facts?

2. Does the description of the fractured, miniaturized and weakened community that allows members easy entry and exit, apply to the Home Education community?

3. If so, does this have significantly negative consequences or is the balance all positive?

4. What do you imagine the future holds with regard to how the community at large will structure itself?

High Schools Disrupt Natural Teen Sleep Schedules

What does Future Pundit's most recent article of June 6th say to you?

"High Schools Disrupt Natural Teen Sleep Schedules"

What it says to me is that home education makes total sense!

Plus, if anyone is worried about child not fitting into working patterns of the future, how about more companies adopting the work practices of that Brazilian company (whose name completely escapes me currently), which let their workers decide their work times and which provided hammocks to which the workers could retire as they saw fit. This company increased it's output six-fold and IBM and other huge companies were to be found beating a path to the management's door in order to find out how this all worked.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Future pundit discusses the genetic roots of intelligence, the evolutionary reasons for it's advancement and the possibility of artificial enhancement in his 4th June article:

On The Evolution Of Ashkenazi Jewish Intelligence

He does dare to think and say!

Watson's Blog

What more can one ask? Just after I'd been grumbling about the lack of meaningful blogs, problem now solved:

New to blogdom but already just the ticket! Hilarious, polemical, fluent, ribald and highly original and that's only after 3 posts.


Peculiar weekend, dogged by total exhaustion. Weird effects thereoff: being unable to absorb 99% of the available information so that the images that did penetrate, burnt themselves in: mostly faces: friend's features refracting through vodka glass, a look of ferocious concentration on brother-in-law's face, another friend's index finger spouting blood like a volcano from the tip of it, trying to dress it, he completely sanguine, me shaking.

Another effect: dreams seemed as real, if not more so, than waking moments. These disturbed the peace.

Couldn't read to or with children as would fall asleep almost instantaneously. Played snap alot instead and Dh took over.

Then the occasional surprise that would wake me up for minutes at a time: one half of a couple who have happily and productively lived in an open and autonomy-respecting relationship for at least four years, suddenly and completely unexpectedly went suspicious on the other - tracking him down with clearly spurious phone calls. Couldn't establish what was happening by talking to the man of the couple. He was persistently flippant and jocular, which perhaps accounts for her alarm, am not sure. Will ask her asap.

Am panicking somewhat as am still exhausted and Dh away for the whole week. There are HE activities lined up for every day but cannot quite put this all together with this hallucination-inducing tiredness.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Ouch, am all achy and sad again but am actually getting a handle on this Empty Nest Syndrome. Have realised that it is entirely related to the fact that am missing Dd, who has taken to sleeping over with a friend as often as she can and it's me who ends up with that feeling like the first day back at boarding school - an ache that sits between head and stomach, as if I must see her and touch her NOW. She, meanwhile, will be fast asleep having had the time of her life all evening. How dare she be so independent at her age! Am writing now so as not to do something more antisocial, like going and getting her in the middle of the night and to put it on record that for all our strong differences, I love her SOOO much.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Yesterday's Quote

On being asked his name, and being aware that the inquirer had already watched an interchange between myself and the kids, ds said " I'm (he gave his name) and my sister is called 'the pair of you'."


Oh gawd...cannot resist getting all fluffy again. I am just so excited. There are days and days, and I genuinely think that we did have had a rough beginning to the year. Children were ill, I was ill, everyone tired and easily tetchy...but there are whole days now and nearly whole weeks where the children just seem to be thriving, and in some newly challenging situations too. On top of that I keep falling in love with the people all around me.

According to, this is probably just my oxytocin levels (am still feeding toddler), but to me it is simply a matter of watching one's kids having the most memorably brilliant times in the company of some seriously wonderful kids who are the progeny of some seriously wonderful adults.

Btw, we missed you yesterday, those of you who had sodded off to the Extreme Sport thingie or who were actually working. The pottery class was hilarious...the 3 year olds stood together tinily, dutifully making the amphorae (?pl) precisely according to instruction - which seriously shocked the administrator; Ds, white-lipped but determined, took the teacher entirely at his word and totally out of the blue produced this thing that you could have sold to any self-respecting Roman Senator. The kids then ran for hours in the amphitheatre, performing the most daring physical tricks that put the Brownie pack to shame, frankly. Home educated kids never look that sedentary or restricted. Then we went back to stunning new home of one of the dearly beloved, which turns out to be the best for tag and chilling....though you do need a half-pipe!

Favourite Blogs

Have given up on trawling through new blogs and getting hopelessly annoyed for no reason. Am returning to my regulars for the moment. For the record these are:
The most elegant blog ever. The logic is impeccable and it is written so sparely that the odd isolated metaphor leaps out and grabs you. Ideas are always taken that one step further. Indispensible and seriously life-enhancing.
Meaty. Nearly everything that one would ever need to know, plus intelligent commentary.
Admirably fulfills the contention that the more you know about something, and the greater the accuracy of that knowledge, the clearer you will write about it. These guys know their stuff and are comfortable with their knowledge, so they lay it out plain and simple.
Great fun. Dares to speculate on tomorrow's impact of today's discoveries.
I initially thought this one just a blog of the day, but find myself returning to it with much greater frequency than I at first imagined. It is as close to a personal diary as I am likely to tolerate, but it has the added advantage of a regular dose of good insights and often sensible perspectives. It is also entirely and refreshingly honest and down to earth. Plus, she is an autonomous educator who is familiar with the theories of libertarian parenting, or taking children seriously ( as it is sometimes designated. I also find the fact that she doesn't necessarily ascribe to libertarian values across the board actually quite provoking and constantly wonder how she manages to tally this in her own mind.

Stalinist USA?

If you thought the Anti-Social Behaviour Legislation rather dubious, check out this proposed US legislation:

Put simply, if you happen to witness certain drug offenses taking place, or even just learn that they took place, you would be required to report the situation to law enforcement within 24 hours. Being caught in the act of failing to do so will result in a mandatory 2 year sentence.

It doesn't matter one jot if you happen to think the drug laws illegitimate in the first place. In you go. It is hard to imagine how most of the population shouldn't, by rights, be banged up as a result of this law. How many of us can honestly say that we don't turn a blind eye to this sort of thing at least twice a week? And how does this kind of neighbour on neighbour snitching differ from the behaviour that underpinned the Soviet state?

Urggh. Republicans (of the non-libertarian persuasion) really can be just as infuriating too.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Quotes from Yesterday

There were quite a number of helpful suggestions that were offered on hearing that my Dh had suddenly and unexpectedly built a completely unwarranted water feature in the garden. Amongst these were: "Do something equivalently unconcensual. Buy some homo-erotic art and hang it in your bedroom, opposite the bed."
and "Stick a sign on the feature saying: 'This has nothing to do with me'".

5 year old: "I went to a barbecue yesterday and I didn't get burnt."

Talking of the issue of locking one's Dh in or out of things, I was reminded of the incident at an HE meeting at the home of a normally quite normal HE family. It was one of those sort of days that had stretched towards evening without any sign of letting up. The stipulated end-time had been overrun by some four hours or so. Just as the hostess was opening what must have been at least the third bottle, a look of panic spread across her face, she let out a high pitched yelp, and grasping said bottle, left the room at some speed, to be seen a few seconds later belting down the garden, knocking children out the way and disappearing behind a hedge. It emerged that since the HE meeting looked to be a very busy one, she had considerately locked her Dh in his office shed for his own safety.

Continuing with the theme of locking Dh's in and out of things, which is proving curiously fertile, it seems... In one of our previous homes, I used have a on-going struggle with the ladder and it's accompanying attic. The ladder always seemed to be sitting there on upstairs landing, deliberately getting in the way, and the attic was one of those awkward ones which you have to get into by leaning sideways off the ladder, because the entrance to it came out directly over the stairwell. So, as per usual, I moved the ladder and then went to Sainsburys. When I got back, I was reliably informed by a rather distant voice, that Dh had spent the last 45 minutes contemplating the probable effects of a 30 foot drop and this after spending the first 45 mins trying to drag the ladder to him with an ingenious contraption involving fishing rods and an old door handle.

Finally Something Eco-Aware (but yet Free Market)

Could this possibly be as good as it seems?

British Gas has signed a deal with a company called Windsave to install and supply 5 foot wind turbines on people's roofs in a pilot project in Scotland and the South West. These turbines are expected to deliver about a kilowatt of electricity which is enough to power a TV and DVD, plus computer, fridge and freezer and several lights. If successful, the project is expected to go nationwide. This could cut electricity bills by about a third! (Can we have three please?)

This kind of thing has previously, according to my eco-aware friends, not been possible not because of a lack of technology, but because of restrictive regulations, which effectively prevent anyone from generating their own electricity. S'pose had better get eco-friends to read the fine print before we get too excited about this.

Also amusing and probably rather telling that it is British *Gas* who made this all possible.