Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"Just Another Primate"

An article about humans on display at London Zoo provides an exemplary account of British muddle-headedness. Had this happened in the States, the display would doubtless have been all about the superiority of evolution over intelligent design. As it is here, it is probably more about the endemic British desire to do ourselves and the entire human race, down. (Of course, in so doing, those who do it perversely acquire a covert sense of superiority.)

That aside, the thinking is shoddy not because there is anything wrong with the best theories of evolution, but because an exhibitor considers man "just another primate" and because another states that "when they see humans as animals here, it kind of reminds us that we're not that special."

Hmm, so being the only creature there who could possibly draw this conclusion, even if it is so spectacularly wrong, means that they are really not that special?

Thanks to Andrea for the link.

Placebo Effect Envy

With the news in the New Scientist that the Placebo Effect is real, (placebos delivers an opioid hit to the brain), it is not a great leap to conclude that Marx's dictum "Religion is the opium of the people" is even more apposite and literal than he intended. It seems quite likely that the sense of a Godlike presence delivers an opioid hit, creating a sense of meaning, comfort and purpose. The problem for atheists is that this opiate rush seems to be predicated upon believing that the source of strength is external to the self.

Marx thought the opioid hit a problem, but it seems quite likely that if someone is comfortable with effort, they are more likely to face it. They are more likely to set about looking after their families, working hard and enjoying their time.

So, given its possibly desirable effects, and given that the placebo effect seems to require a belief in an exterior force, how can atheists, agnotics, humanists and such-like, access it's power? Recent conversations with two atheists have offered some insights. To one, it was simply not a problem. The question surprised him entirely. He sets about his life with the required energy, confidence, excitement and peace. To the other, it is a matter of recognising the good.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Everyone for Tennis

Have recently discovered the secret of the most rewarding game of tennis: a Prince Thunder racket and three glasses of champagne. This is a sure-fire way to avoid mis-hits and double faults.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Home Ed Just Not an Option?

The absorbing discussion about home education and schooling continues at Expat Teacher with another poster, US teacher Mo-Lak Jedi, posing the key question: given that home ed is not an option for many families, how could the education system be transformed for the better?

With excellent responses from Chris O'Donnell, and Tim Haas and Daryl Cobranchi, both of HEOS.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Returning Children to Prison

Yet more Truancy Patrol Guidelines from the DfES and the Home Office were issued in July, and as usual if you replaced the word "child" or "pupil" with "adult" or "employee" in this document, you would end up with something so clearly Orwellian that anyone could see this. Yet somehow the vast number of parents in this country accept these conditions for their children. How do they expect their children to become responsible autonomous citizens when their children have to spend the first 16 years of their lives in a state of effective imprisonment?

The Guidelines contain the same old problems of yore, such the old "compulsory school age" hoax and are, as usual, so unclear as to due process, eg: in regard to Home Educators, that you wonder at times how this document could possibly be considered a guideline.

From the document:
"Home educated children and others educated outside the school system are not the target group for truancy sweeps. It is not always necessary to confirm a child's status as home educated but there will be occasions when officers will need to do so. Although legally not required to, some families do register with their local authority as home educated and are given accreditation. This enables easy discussions between home educated children, their parents and those carrying out the sweep. Local authority officers can also telephone their colleagues to confirm children's status if they doubt a child's status".

But aside from all these same old problems, there is a new level of Orwellian state intervention which has resulted from the implementation of the Children Act of 2004.

From the document:
"Local authorities have a duty under the Children Act 2004 to make arrangements to promote co-operation between themselves and various other bodies with a view to improving the well-being of all children in their area, including those educated outside the school system. This covers their:- physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by them to society; and social and economic well-being. In order to fulfill this responsibility authorities, when encountering children on truancy sweeps, may need to ask questions to help them access appropriate information".

Does this mean that a police officer can stop a child on the supposed basis of finding out if they are truanting and then start asking all manner of extremely personal questions? The fact that the child's emotional well-being is more than likely to be all the worse for being stopped by a truancy patrol could never possibly occur to these educrats.

Oh stop with all this punitive madness and start thinking creatively instead.

Friday, August 26, 2005

An Argument for Home Education

For an explanation of the likely superiority of HE over schooling, see David Deutsch's mail at theTaking Children Seriously Website

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the Argument for Schooling

There has been a tantalising exchange of views between Chris O'Donnell at his US Home School Blog and Expat Teacher.

Expat started it off by providing an argument supposedly for schooling, declaring that:

There are three options for the goals of education: Democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility.

To start with, if one is to take this particular hypothesis seriously, it is not immediately clear why it is supposedly an argument in favour of schooling. What we do have here is a theory about the goals of education and since schooling is not synonymous with education, the argument does not seem to answer the problem it purports to solve, ie: to provide the argument for schooling. It is not at all clear either whether schools can actually achieve these goals, or whether schools can uniquely achieve these goals. Expat also doesn't want to address the issue of why HE fails in this regard, so we cannot even infer a clear argument from this source either.

In point of fact, if one were to take these goals seriously, it is very questionable whether schools are the best place to achieve them. Schools, routinely being authoritarian institutions, do not offer a genuine model of democratic equality, nor when children are coerced, as they frequently are in schools, does it offer the chance to learn in a genuinely efficient manner in a way that would underpin genuine social efficiency. Finally, for good measure, by keeping children firmly in their place, schooling does not offer the chance of genuine, freely initiated social mobility.

By way of a contrast, rational criticism and creative thinking, which are the very tools that do underpin democratic equality, genuine social efficiency and the possibility of social advancement are much more possible outside of school, where the constraints of authoritarian schooling do not present a problem and where a parent can offer theories tentatively and help a child enact their autonomy.

For more explanation on what I mean here: the statement "There are three options for the goals of education: Democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility" can be used to demonstrate certain epistemological problems very nicely.

Firstly, it makes manifest the problems of authoritarian pedagogy. There is seems to be an assumption here that teacher knows best. Indeed it rather seems that the teacher believes themselves to know things for certain, that these ideas are irredeemably, infallibly right. Even if this is not the case, and teacher is holding these theories tentatively, there would, in a school situation, be very little opportunity to question these assertions deeply, which to all intents and purposes means that these assertions seem infallible.

This is, of course, very poor epistemology and one very good reason not to send kids to school, since it is a commonplace problem there. Knowledge is, of course, always tentative and up for improvement, and though we may dismiss bad ideas through falsification and criticism, we cannot know that even our best ideas are the very best. I only remember a couple of examples of this epistemology being modeled throughout my whole time at school. (University was significantly better in this regard, incidentally.) Most of the time we were led to believe that we should believe what we were told, since it was unquestionably right.

This declaration also seems to demonstrate the epistemological error of assuming that you can pour knowledge into the head of someone else as you would water into a bucket, since it is seemingly predicated upon the idea that the declaration of goals is sufficient to their realisation. This is not the case. Learning takes place in the mind of the learner when theories are active within the mind. The learner is responsible for this. Imposition of ideas into a mind that is not addressing the ideas results in coercion, ie: being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind. This in turn results in an inability to apply reason and creativity to the theory.

It seems to me that any goal of education should be constructed upon the basis of what actually happens in the learning process. To deny the basics of how the mind works in the setting of educational goals, is equivalent to deciding to walk round the world without addressing the fact that humans are not constructed in such a way as to make this possible. Given that learning takes place in the mind of the learner and that you cannot simply imprint an idea upon his mind, this being a physical impossibility, the goal of education should be to facilitate the theories that are actually active in the mind of the learner. Therefore, far better to respond to questions that the learner asks. This way one will have a much better hit rate with regard to providing information which will receive active criticism and creative thought.

Schools do not easily have a chance to do this. At the very least, they are frustrated in achieving this goal since they cannot address the active theories in the minds of a class of some 30 odd children. More often than not, though, this aim wouldn't even be adopted by the staff, since traditional pedagogy is the unquestioned ethos of most schools.

HE is frequently superior to schooling, since there is a much greater chance that an adult can be on hand to answer a child's questions, to address the theories that are active in the mind of the child. Plus, HE adults very frequently hold this as their stated intent.

So in answer to the question, "why do you teach your child?", I would say that education should, given that it takes place solely in the mind of the learner, be about giving children the opportunity to address the theories that are active in their minds. Given that theories are always up for improvement, I would not dream of setting a curriculum of pre-prescribed ideas, but will offer my theories tentatively. In addition, given the fact that a child will need to enact their autonomy within the context of society, it is almost inevitable that a discussion of issues such as civic responsibility (or the other goals that Expat mentions) will emerge. Indeed the learner may choose to adopt these goals, but this process does not involve an coercive imposition of any of these goals. What would be the point? Coercion limits rational criticism and creativity and therefore does not optimally or genuinely contribute to any of Expat's stated goals of education.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Science and Religion Mix, Cont'd

Problems with the criticism of religious faith.

From the article:
A certain Dr. Hauptman is of the opinion that "Belief in the supernatural, especially belief in God, is not only incompatible with good science, this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race."

Both these assertions are generalisations and are therefore at times, inaccurate. It is quite conceivable that a scientist could live with two entirely different systems of thought, and choose to practice one without reference to the other. It is even conceivable that a scientist could take those parts of either system of thought and transfer compatible elements from one to the other. For example, certain types of religious thought involve humility in the face of truth, an awareness that we cannot be certain of our knowledge. This is completely compatible with scientific enquiry, where theories may be falsified, but cannot be verified and best practice involves holding even our apparently best theories tentatively.

His second assertion, that religious belief is damaging to the human race, is not true. Religious belief MAY be damaging to the human race, e.g.: religiously based prohibitions over the use of stem cells may well have cost people their lives, but it is also the case that religious belief will have furthered scientific endeavors, for example, in giving scientists greater motivation to work harder in the belief that this is their duty to God and his fellow men.

The problems with the above criticisms are commonplace in attempts by atheists to discredit religious faith. Dawkins also frequently makes this kind of error which involves not dealing with the fact that religion is a complex mix of a huge variety of ideas, some of which are useful, meaningful, rational and constructive and tally well with and could inform good science. Good criticisms should attempt to deal with the object of criticism as it really is and recognise the value of the good parts.

Bush Didn't Lie

New Sisyphus has really done his homework on this one. He explains in some detail how the contention that Bush knowingly lied about WMD when he made the case for going to war is false.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Scientists on Mix of Science and Religion...cont'd.

Problems with the Defense of the Mix of Scientific Method and Religious Faith.

From the article:
Some scientists say simply that science and religion are two separate realms, "nonoverlapping magisteria," as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it in his book "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine, 1999). In Dr. Gould's view, science speaks with authority in the realm of "what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" and religion holds sway over "questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."

An atheist may be wondering here why it is essentially impossible to answer questions of ultimate meaning and moral value solely within the realms of both scientific and philosophical, as opposed to metaphysical, enquiry. Why is it that science, containing as it does, at least some fairly plausible part-explanations of how the universe works, is necessarily incapable of providing philosophy with sufficient material with which to construct answers to questions of ultimate meaning and moral value?

Atheists may reasonably assert that theories that purport to describe the world, be they scientific or philosophical, can indeed provide mankind with very satisfactory ontological and ethical systems. For example, a philosophical theory about how humans think and learn, provides an explanation for the effects of coercive behaviour. (Coercion is a matter of enacting a theory that is not active in the mind, with the consequent reduction in the ability to reason and be creative.) This simple perception has the potential to have all manner of ethical and political implications.

So the facts of the matter yield theories which explain what happens to humans. Explanations of the facts provide a possible basis for the development of an ethical code but the question then arises as to why and how we should ascribe value to these explanations. Do we not need a metaphysical force in order to convince us of the value of behaving well?

Of course, the presence of a problem does not necessarily mean that we can easily construct a meaningful answer to it, though you often would not be able to draw this conclusion if you were to take an oft-repeated argument in favour of religious faith seriously. This argument in favour of belief in God runs something like this: since we cannot apparently provide satisfactory answers to our ontological and ethical problems without a belief in a supernatural God, He must therefore exist. Hmm.

However, it is in fact perfectly possible to achieve a sense of worthiness and inspired imperative for our actions without the help of divine edict. We can quite reasonably choose to believe in the possibility that humans can subsequently solve any ontological or ethical problems that people may experience. In fact the laws of physics would seemingly suggest that such a thing is perfectly possible...(as described by Frank Tipler in his theories about the Omega Point, for example.) It may just be that people of the future will regard this period of history as almost unimaginably barbaric. Humans in the past have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to solve problems and we cannot know which problems we will successfully solve in the future. What we can do therefore is put ourselves in the best possible position to attempt to solve these problems. This vision of hope alone is sufficient to provide a sense of meaning that in turn provides the impetus and inspiration to enact a moral system. (Home Education is often a consequence of adopting such theories!)

So rather than absolving ourselves of the responsibility for creating meaning and value by transferring these tasks to a supernatural being, we instead assume complete responsibility for it, in a way that feels empowering and exhilarating since it involves affirming the unique nature and unlimited potential of rational man.

Some may argue that the tentative nature of this system is a poor substitute of the conviction of faith, but it needn't be. The excitement of thinking that solutions can potentially be found is inspirational and the satisfaction of knowing that dearly held theories (whilst tentative) have withstood every criticism so far, and are all the more credible for it, is more than enough to generate hope and energy in their application.

Further from the article:
Dr Collins, a scientist who came to religious faith after a period of atheism quotes an argument from "Mere Christianity," by C. S. Lewis. "In the book Lewis, an atheist until he was a grown man, argues that the idea of right and wrong is universal among people, a moral law they "did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try." This universal feeling, he said, is evidence for the plausibility of God".

More plausibly, it is evidence for the theory of evolution, since humans have evolved a number of capacities which have achieved a certain uniformity through the success of their characteristics and which therefore give rise to similar moral systems. It is not necessary to create another cause in the form of God here since there is no demonstrable evidence for it, there is a perfectly satisfactory explanation already and the existence of God simply creates further problems of demanding another set of explanations, such as about how was God created, and how he causes all of mankind to have similar views on matters of morality, even when they expressly do not believe in Him.

Also from article:
"Dr. Collins said, he does not embrace any particular denomination, but he is a Christian. Colleagues sometimes express surprise at his faith, he said. "They'll say, 'How can you believe that? Did you check your brain at the door?" But he said he had discovered in talking to students and colleagues that "there is a great deal of interest in this topic."

Yes but that doesn't address the issue of whether or not Dr. Collins has taken leave of his senses. A failure to address questions directly is often used as a way of attempting to defend religious faith from criticism.

Scientists on Mix of Science and Religion

Many thanks to Daryl at HEOS for this link to a New York Times article on how scientists square religious faith with scientific endeavour. I agree with him entirely that it is good to see Intelligent Design theory dismissed out of hand, and that the absense of snark is also very winning. But I would also say that neither the scientists' religious explanations nor the atheist attack upon them are entirely satisfying... for next post, I think.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Top Universities

The top universities in the world can be found ranked here. Home Educators of our acquaintance have recently got into the 2nd, 23rd and 26th ranked universities.

Apparently the table is based on a range of criteria, including research and academic excellence as well as the number of Nobel prizewinners among alumni. The list should also serve to give the lie to the notion that the States is incapable of producing the above.

Back to Normal

Phew, I have to say that is a bit of relief. He's finally gone. The strain of living with an downright gorgeous 20 year old, straight As, economics undergraduate and one of the best young golfers in the UK was beginning to tell.

It all started badly with me opening the door to what I imagined to be our postman who has long since got used to us, but there instead was W - Dh's younger brother. He didn't bat an eyelid at my dust-covered gardening T-shirt and the crinkled pyjama bottoms. It was only later that I also realised that the top part of me resembled nothing other than Batman's Joker on a bad day since I'd earlier lent my face to Dd for face paint applications. I still haven't established to my own satisfaction whether W didn't mention this fact out of habitual courtesy, or whether he simply fully expected our home to be constituted of mad-looking bag-lady types and children wearing little other than swimming goggles and grass-stains.

W then insisted on helping out with various jobs in the garden, which inevitably meant that he completely distracted everyone around him by taking off his shirt. A succession of mother friends have visited and have blatantly left their children unsupervised in the pool, whilst their attention has been distracted.

One very good thing has come of all this. Dh and his bf who has also been staying, have suddenly started to do an extra lap round the top field, and making the extra mile on the rowing machine! The competitive edge has been a definite plus point of W's stay, as has the amount of extra golfing practice that everyone has put in. With the extra coaching, Ds's chipping is now excellent... about 70% to the green on last count and his long game isn't bad either. Also, lots of cricket practice too...

What am I saying! Come back W!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Humanism Should Trump Creationism but Bets are Off

We here in the UK are lucky insofar as creationism is not pedalled in most of our schools. In the US on the other hand, no less than 13 States have applied to add it to the curriculum.

Perhaps though, we shouldn't be too sanguine about the situation on the UK. The moral education of our children is mostly woefully lax, with parents often abdicating all or most of the responsiblity for this side of education to the schools, and with schools failing abjectly in their brief. (For a start, how can you tell a child that bullying is wrong, when you are, like as not, being a terrible bully yourself?). There is, therefore, an obvious temptation to flail around looking for solutions to this failure in moral education, and creationism could be seen by some to fit the bill.

There are signs that this is indeed happening. The Guardian reports that the government's plans to create 200 new City Academies by attracting private sponsorship to the tune of £2 million pounds, with the sponsors running these academies in partnership with the LEAs, have backfired somewhat, in that almost half of these proposed flagship schools are to be sponsored by religious organisations. At least two of these sponsors, (The Grace Academy, with schools in Coventry and Solihul and the Emmanuel Foundation with three schools), either already teach or intend to teach creationism.

The Guardian also notes that:"In the UK, creationism remains a fringe movement - although the organisers of Creation Fest, a Christian festival held this weekend in Devon which is hosting several Creationist lecturers, say attendance has doubled year on year since they began in 2001".

It is not necessary, however, to fill the educational ethical void with unmitigated nonsense and we must hope that the good sense of the British people will prevail and that they realise there is a workable, rational alternative. By this I mean that we could start to take humans seriously. There are profound reasons for doing so, since humans can be awesome. We could generate prodigious inspiration and strength by acknowledging human achievement. We should be proud of the times when the human race has shown ingenuity, proficiency, confidence, intelligence and courage. We could look to maximise these qualities in ourselves.

However, here in the UK, those of left-wing persuasion have propogated a self-loathing of immense proportions, and elements of the right do little more than despise them for it. Taken altogether, this amounts to nothing less than a total dissipation of belief in mankind, human potential and progress.

Yet theoretical quantum physicists such as David Deutsch and Frank Tipler talk of human potential in truly inspiring and not incredible terms. Despite the commonplace denigration of human achievement and the ever present seductions of religious belief, there is no need to resort to mysticism for an ethical framework or for a reason to live.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Summer School

The past two weeks seem to have left me with the impression that all I have actually done is struggle to put Dd's armbands on and off, but when I come to think about it, we have also amongst other things: canoed, quad-biked, skateboarded, ridden Benny, watched the carnival, gone to select bits of a music festival, (the African percussion group combined with the seshion musicians were not to be missed), gone for a late-night scare-your-pants-off walk in the woods, go-carted, helped at a BBQ, made concrete in a mixer, built some stone steps, helped to clear up friend's burnt-out house, picked up an enormous amount of plums and donated boxes of these to friends, visited the ruins of a colliery, spotted a goshawk and a kingfisher, gone for a ride on a walzer with a sweet-faced blonde pal who earned extra spins and as a result have been unable to walk to quite some time afterwards, had smart meals in, smart meals out, plaster-casted, marble painted, made origami birds, waffles, pizza, and a dahl, played golf, football, cricket and card games, added to Lego City, played Sims, Alien Hominid and Age of Mythology, trampolined, and invented a dance school. In the course of all this we have seen a large number of childrens' friends.

Whatever the weather does from now on, it has felt like a proper summer.

Radio 4 on Flexi-Schooling

Flexi-Schooling does seem quite likely to result in a number of problems, such as keeping up with the curriculum; (teachers already have almost insurmountable difficulties managing fully attending, mixed-ability classes, so this comes as no surprise). I therefore wouldn't object to some of the criticisms of this particular arrangement, but full-time Home Ed came in for a few unjustified swipes along the way.

Shame Mike Fortune-Wood of Home Education UK didn't get more of a say. He comes over very well on radio and is, as a general rule, more than likely to talk complete sense.

It is possible to link to a recording of the programme here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Domino Effect

The domino effect must be familiar to even only vaguely involved parents. You know the sort of thing: you are urgently trying to find child's shoes, whilst same-said child, in what could pass for some sort of misapprehension as to the exact nature of what is going on, is off equally urgently hiding yours.

It is, for someone like myself, who occasionally despairs of the uncontainable, unpredictable nature of home life and yearns for the apparently more controlled environment of the workplace, rather satisfying to see that people at work experience the exact same syndrome.

A friend of ours had cause to hire two roofers to repair a hole in her flat roof. The unfortunate one of the two started his working day by falling from the top of his ladder, in the process of which he nearly did something particularly nasty to his left femur and very narrowly missed a six year old child.

As a result of his adventure with the ladder, he then drove his van very hard into the side of a car belonging to an elderly lady.

He was still obviously a little distracted by his two previous near-death enterprises since, following an event free lunch, he then set fire to the other part of the roof. Ten firemen and two policemen later, he went home safely.

Friend now has two reasonably large holes in both parts of her roof, and an issue with regard to knowing where to store her belongings.

Home Educators and Global Warming

Home Educators dare to think outside the box. This takes them a long way down the path of generating new and good ideas, but we all have our entrenchments which restrict our creativity. One that can stop UK home educators going the extra mile is a green agenda, the belief that the only way we can save the planet is to live simply, without oil, without waste and with loads of self-recrimination.

But UK Heers should be up for a new challenge, given that they know so well the value of being able to think freely. All they now need to do is apply this free thinking to their own dearly held assumptions that seem so fixed.

We can think our way out of this without losing our fridges, our PCs and our cars. This entry in the Adam Smith Blog offers a cheering, life-enhancing possible answer to the problem of global warming.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Home Education in China

Reading this China View article about Home Education in China, it brings it home yet again how important Home Education really is, not only for the open education of our children, but for the establishment of the proper balance between the individual and the state. More power to the people who manage to see it's value.

"It (HE) signals the educational advancement of China," Meng Siqing, a scholar in Tianjin Academy of Educational Sciences, wrote in his paper on home schooling. "From a long-term perspective, it is necessary to establish relevant laws and give support to those involved. By this, home-educated children's right to learn and the parents' right to choose how their children are educated can be protected," he said.

Although the Home Education described in the above article sounds slightly dated, with emphasis upon syllabuses and structure, it is infinitely preferable to the abuse that children suffer in Chinese primary schools, where battery is the norm and conformity the desired aim.

On the other hand, some HEers in China do sound as if they are fully up to speed, quoting the likes of John Holt, no less. One gets a great sense of the liberation of intelligence and the excitement of possibilities from a China Daily article about an American mother who HEs her son in Beijing. She finds that her son does his best work late at night, and she works with him accordingly. Across continents, we nod fervently in recognition and would like to tell you that we know precisely what you mean.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Endless Possibilities of HE

We were meant to be living it up in Tuscany within the next couple of weeks, but have cancelled for a number of different reasons. It isn't really so bad because the kids are immersed in enjoying the summer here and they say they don't want to miss it. And anyway, due to lack of schoolie-type commitments, we could easily go later in the year when the house there will be less full of rowdy, infuriatingly cheeky cousins who have teased me mercilessly since birth and Italians (themselves completely bilingual), who routinely forget I have completely forgotten the tiny bit of Italian that amounted to all that I have ever known.

No devastating excuses yet for Menorca though. We still look to be on target for that one. Hey ho, it's a hard life!

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Thanks are due to Daryl at HE&OS for his recommendation of the Bloglines facility. If anyone else is in the dark about this sort of thing, (site feeds, news aggregators etc), check it out at It's well worth it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

HE a Threat to School Monopoly

Just when it's more than reasonable to despair of the idea that anything even vaguely interesting on the subject of HE could possibly appear in a non-specialist paper, a nicely snappy article from The Conservative Voice.

Sadly, it is all about HEing in the States. Bring on the day when we can seriously say that Home Education challenges the UK state education monopoly.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Guardian Home Education Story

Yet another standard introduction-to-HE article in a mainstream paper, this time in the Guardian: "Bullying Main Reason for Home Educating, Says Survey."

Whilst we can only be pleased that Home Education is getting such a continous flow of relatively favorable, if utterly predictable press, (since you never know who may suddenly see the light and rescue their kids), there are always gripes with these articles.

There are the usual assortment of questionable assertions and slightly dubious inferences. The assertion in the title, for example, isn't necessarily supported by the argument in the text: whilst bullying may be the main reason why children are withdrawn from school to be HEd, I doubt whether this is the main reason why families who have never gone to school decide to HE and since this group make up a large proportion of the HE population, the title suddenly starts to look rather dubious.

At least around here, most of us choose to Home Educate because we believe, and can argue the case that HE provides the opportunity for a much better education (and that includes socialisation issues).

Not really sold on the Wit's End company name either, come to that.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Muslim Schools to Come Under LEA Control

One wouldn't wish Local Education Authority control upon anybody, what with this organisation mainly consisting of a useless bunch of busy-bodying bureaucrats, but the ramifications of the current proposal by Tony Blair to bring Muslim schools under state control could potentially be much wider and more serious than the simple, obviously unpleasant consequence of having to deal with an LEA official knocking on a school door.

From The Sunday Telegraph:

"The controversial plan would bring thousands of Muslim children now taught in independent Islamic schools - many of which operate in shambolic back-street conditions - into mainstream education.

An estimated 120 to 150 independent Muslim schools will be offered Voluntary Aided status, bringing them into line with the 6,850 Roman Catholic, Church of England and Jewish schools. It will bring them under the full control of local education authorities, which will determine policies on admissions and school timetables.

Mr Blair is said to be determined to end the current system which sees private Muslim schools operating behind closed doors, offering a religion-dominated education little different to the madrassas of Pakistan.

An important condition of state funding will be that Muslim schools operate an open admissions policy and take children of other faiths."

Firstly, one wonders whether this semi-compulsory enrolment is proportionate. Afterall, an education may quite acceptably be religion-dominated, so this is not prima facie evidence that the state should intervene at all. There would, on the other hand, be clear reason to intervene if the education included incitement to violence, but this is far from established.

Which brings me to the first reason to be concerned with regards to the implications of this proposal. It is yet another example of the fact that the government clearly believes that people cannot be trusted to educate their children as they see fit, and that we must be checked and cross-checked, all in triplicate, before we can be allowed to get on with things.

The second likely ramification, it seems to me, is that there is a strong chance that rather than submit to state control and dissipation of religious teaching, many Muslim families may choose to Home Educate. All well and good, you may be thinking, and in many ways I would agree. But the problem is, that if the main reason why the state seeks to control the schools is so as to keep a close eye upon the *content* of education, because of a supposed fear of incitement to violence, then it is hard to see how they are going to be happy with letting HE children off lightly.

Could it be that HEers in the near future will all have to produce much more carefully delineated curriculums in order to demonstrate that we are not spouting jihadist dogma?

Libertarian Support for War

Eric S. Raymond explains how someone of libertarian persuasion can sensibly support a government initiated war. I agree with him.

This particular view is a minority one in the Home Education community, or at least certainly the vocal part of it and the groups with which I am personally familiar. The most commonplace HE anti-war position does not result from the same anxieties that a anti-statist proponent is likely to express, but would be the end result of anti-capitalist, anti-American or pacifist inclinations.

I find it hard not to sympathize. War is horrid. I take the position I do because I believe the alternative to be worse.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

New Anti-Terror Laws a Proportionate Response

So it seems the time for tolerance and probably hopeless attempts at persuasion of physical jihadists is well and truly over, and the time for legislative enforcement is here.

From the Guardian here are the changes that are currently being proposed:

New anti-terrorism legislation in the autumn, to include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK.

Automatic refusal of asylum for anyone who has participated in terrorism or has anything to do with it anywhere.

The addition of the Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun Islamist organisations to the list of prohibited groups.

A consultation over powers to order the closure of a place of worship which is used as a centre for fomenting extremism.

Consultation with Muslim leaders about drawing up a list of those not suitable to preach who will be excluded from Britain.

Despite my natural inclination to resist the creation of any more legislation, it is hard not to think that this is about right. We cannot mess around with those who are extremely unlikely to change their minds in a hurry and who will murder others way before before they do. As always, the principle of proportionality applies here: debate over matters of theological interpretation and ethics with those of moderate persuasion who present no risk, and the hard hand of the law for those who won't listen and will kill. As Thomas Mann wrote: "Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil".

Incidentally, in announcing these measures, Blair distinctly pronounced the word people "peepil" a la Michael Howard, which seems to offer a clue as to why Mr Blair suddenly seems to be managing to construct some rather more cogent arguments of late.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

How Scared Should We Really Be?

A battle is afoot in blogland to win hearts and minds to the various different assessments of the implications of the London bombs.

In the mainstream media, however, the two different cases are rarely presented, and there is often a general concensus that, despite the protestations of Tony Blair to the contrary, we brought the London bombs upon ourselves with our interventions in the Middle East.

The Spectator is almost unique in presenting both cases. On page ten, it carries an article by Peter Oborne in which he makes the case that we have nothing to worry about from the Islamic world as long as we butt out of Muslim countries. He even quotes Bin Laden to this effect. "Free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain why we don't strike, for example, Sweden"..."every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own safety". It all sounds so safe and reasonable. Meanwhile on the very next page, (one of the reasons why I so love the Speccie is that it routinely puts both cases), Patrick Sookhdeo makes the case that the problem is essentially a matter of Islamic jihadism, that it will not make much difference to butt out of Islamic countries because a commonplace interpretation of the Koran requires Muslims either to convert everyone to it, or to defeat them and rule.

What are we to make of all this? Should the Western world simply get out of the Middle and Far East and leave them all to it, or are we really back to a situation where Islam genuinely threatens our way of life in our own country; in which case, should I, for example, be getting used to the idea that I must cover up and may be stoned to death for some of the things I get up to now?

As with the mainstream media, there is little conflict over the matter in posts on the UK home education where HEers seem fairly uniformly inclined to believe that the UK government has brought it upon ourselves with the interventions on Iraq. There has been no evidence at all of the alternative viewpoint. This is perhaps because there is a very strong anti-government bias amongst home educators which often stems from a general hatred of intervention in the education of our children. Thus many home educators would often prefer to blame the UK and the US governments than to address the knotty issue of Koranic interpretation and Islamic theology. Plus such a criticism would also be seen as way too un-PC and potentially inflammatory. There are a good number of Islamic HEers in the UK (Home Education being expressly permitted in the Koran) and any criticism of Islamic theology could be seen as potentially divisive and the critics would risk being labelled racist.

But read Gates of Vienna and you end up thinking that Osama was merely setting out to win the propoganda war in his statement above, and was a long way from saying what he really intended. In this scenario, it seems the real reason why he doesn't need to bomb Sweden is because the Swedes are as good as won over to the Islamic cause.

Whatever the case, there is no harm in calling for a more generally pacifist and freedom-loving interpretation of the Koran. Sookhdeo explains that whilst there are both pacifist and bellicose verses in the Koran, that later writings in the Koran are generally meant to supercede earlier ones. Unfortunately the later verses are the most bellicose.

Sensible theological and ethical debate seems to be in order, if you ask me. But this will not happen if people continue to refuse to acknowledge the problem in the first place, buried as they are in their relativistic, multiculturally tolerant and post-modernist confusions.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I.D cards Good for a Laugh

Have spent the last week dutifully handing out No2ID leaflets from our local No2ID rep to everyone I know. I thought I was probably wasting my time preaching to the converted, but it turns out that on occasion I wasn't. Some people are still not convinced that the cards will either turn us into a police state or will be a huge white elephant; others are yet to give their minds to the matter at all. Our rep tells me that he has heard from only two other people in the whole county, and this after publishing articles and letters in most of the local newspapers. Hmmm.

Words like apathy, sleepwalking, vigilance and liberty keep springing to mind but perhaps this would get people going.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Anti-Americanism is Waning

With the UK seemingly still in the grip of huge waves of anti-American feeling, (even now after all this time, watching any stand-up comedy program on BBC 1-4, you just have to wait for the first mention of the word "America" or "Bush" and watch the audience fall over themselves with utterly unabashed and completely baseless, ill-informed mirth ), it really looks as we here on this tiny isle may be amongst the last to realise that this hugely unfunny joke is actually wearing thin.

Even in countries where the US is characterized as the Great Satan, things are changing quickly. A poll reproduced in the LA Times describes how the US star is rising again in places such as the Lebanon, Jordan and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, we have to put up with this sort of appalling journalism from the BBC. E-mail correspondent Michael Mason, points out that "what the article doesn't mention is that the filibuster in question was Robert Byrd's attempt to defeat the Civil Rights Bill. Yes, THAT Civil Rights Bill--Martin Luther King and all that. And Robert Byrd was at one time a Kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan, so not quite the loveable character suggested in the article.

"The BBC often seems to prefer a simple picture of US politics in which the Republicans are always the bad guys and the Democrats are always the good guys, so they don't tend to emphasise anything that messes that simple picture up. In reality, the Civil Rights Act was supported by the Republicans and the northern Democrats, and opposed by the southern Democrats: this doesn't fit with the perception of the Republican party as racist ultra-conservatives and the Democrat party as supporters of equality-for-all".

Thanks for that Michael.

Life has Changed Everywhere

Criminals of the normal persuasion must be having a field day all over Britain, since the police are way too busy attending to other things. Throughout the weekend, whatever the public event we attended, the police presence was enormous and that's around here: rural England, some 30 miles from the nearest major city. Police would stand around in anxious looking huddles, with that distracted look which comes with trying to check out the population around you, whilst ignoring the usual suspects such as beer swilling, belligerent losers, and all the time listening to the stream of information coming to them via the little plugs in their ears.

So are we really to be the next target? I guess it is quite possible, since then the whole of the British population must be concerned for their safety.