Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Respecting Your Child's Choices. Why Bother?

Questions have been asked elsewhere: "Why respect the choices of your child? Why put in all that effort? Hasn't one just fallen for the con-trick of psychiatrists who say that if a child has a substandard childhood, he will suffer for it for the rest of his life?"

It may seem a tad disingenuous to say that I don't think the answer should rest with the last question, but to look at possible answers to this question nonetheless. Unfortunately for my own conscience, that is precisely what I am about to do, so here goes...

The New Scientist, 26th November 2005, carried a piece entitled "How life shapes the brainscape". The full article requires subscription, so here is the bit that seems relevant here.

"Early trauma seems to cause changes in the brain too. In imaging studies of the emotion centres, the response of people to positive and negative images was analysed. Those who had been through an early life trauma had a blunted response to positive stimuli and heightened reactions to the negative. There were also structural changes in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory".

And then, of course, there's John Bowlby who developed his theories about Attachment Parenting after his early life negative experiences in British boarding schools. His studies of severely neglected children, (in a Romanian orphanage, if I recall correctly), revealed that these children suffered irrevocable and terrible damage for the rest of their lives.

But all this should be an aside. The real answer should be: "I respect the choices of my child because he is a human being. What quality about him means that he should only be viewed as something that only lives fully in the future? I do not believe that there is any vastly different quality in children that distinguishes them from adults and since I believe that life is to be lived to the full in every single moment, then it would be very wrong not to help a child live this way.

If one tries to make the argument that children only deserve to exist for their future selves in the course of which it is right that they may suffer, since they are incapable of making good decisions now, I would say "Well surely this argument equally extends to many adults. We are all irrational at times. We all make mistakes. Does this mean that all humans should only live for their future selves?"

Even if you do take the argument that children should only exist for their future selves seriously, would it not be better to help them practice living responsible, autonomous free lives as they will need to do as adults?

Also, in not respecting the choices of the child, one is effectively coercing them. This means that they are being forced to enact a theory that is not active in their minds, which in turn means that the learning that is going on in there is suboptimal, which in all likelihood will mean that the notional level, as set by some irrationally decisive judge, at which a child reaches the age of being able to enact his autonomy will be even furthur delayed.

Finally, what is in it for the adult? It is often assumed that respecting the choices of your child is very hard, pure grind, a matter of sacrifice on the part of the adult. It needn't be, and indeed shouldn't be, since very few children want to see themselves as a terrible burden to their parents, and therefore the onus is upon the parent not to feel put upon when respecting the choices of the child.

Not respecting the choices of your child is likely to be sheer hard grind. How many parents feel really good about taking a screaming child, who clings desperately to the doorway as the parents try to pull them out the home, into a school where they are utterly miserable? Isn't so easy afterall.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Discovering Home Education

With regards to trying to understand how people react when you talk about home education, Leo asked in comments below: "Did you always believe in HE? Perhaps going back in time on your thinking could help you understand other people reaction's now".

That could be a very helpful question, though I think that my answer helps to explain my mystification with the sort of ambivalence one does experience. I personally vividly remember the first time I heard about Home Education, much as people remember where they first heard that about the WTC, or Reagan being shot. I had been worrying about submitting my child to the horrors of the British educational system since prior to his conception. He was 18 months old and I was desperately worried that I still hadn't solved this problem when a woman I barely knew (who subsequently, not altogether surprisingly became a good friend) told me that she had been reading about HE in the Natural Parent magazine. We were sitting rather shyly and a bit primly in her beautifully coiffured back garden but at that moment, I had to severely restrain myself from knocking the tea table out the way and hugging her effusively. The relief and the sense of the rightness of the idea were immense.

Perhaps this is why I find it hard to understand how people cannot immediately see that it could be the right way to go, (should one's child happen to choose it)...but perhaps the difficulty with realising the dream is what is informing the complex reactions one sees...I don't know.

Incidentally, Dh isn't a great deal of help in terms of trying to understand negative reactions. Whilst he was initially firmly of the opinion that Ds would go to school by the time he was seven, he immediately saw that HE was right for the first few years. Ds is now past Dh's required school entry age, so it was with some interest that HE friend and I eaves-dropped upon his recent conversation with someone unacquainted with HE. He sounded like a true believer, a proper advocate, with a full understanding of the idea of autonomous education and all this for children of all ages. Friend grinned about this from ear to ear!

I would love to hear more about your doubts, Leo. Am I right in thinking that you are concerned about foreclosing on your child's choices by not being able to offer him a full range of knowledge? Or is it more a matter of difficulty with managing the logistics?

For more stories on how people first heard about HE, there's this page at the Education Otherwise site.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Nationalisation of Children

The Spectator Leader this week makes a cogent and powerful attack on the increasingly authoritarian approach that this government is taking in the realm of private life, and all this without a single mention of the word database.

Just in case the Speccie site starts demanding a sub...here are a couple of select quotations:

"The philosophy of the present government is that while parents should generally be allowed to bring up their off-spring, they can never make as good a job of it as trained health professionsal can. Therefore it is in the interests of child welfare that the state intervenes in child-rearing wherever it can. We disagree absolutely with this philosophy. There are, of course, some bad parents, some so very bad that it is necessary for their children forcibly to be removed from them. But given the appalling record of abuse and neglect in state-run children's homes, we suspect the evidence points the other way: that the state generally makes a much worse job of raising children."

Apart from merely inserting state-run schools after the children's homes, we would concur entirely.

"Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown we won't see the nationalisation of shipbuilding or steelmaking but the nationalisation of children is fully under way.

Recycling Paper

A quick canvass at the two home education meetings we've attended in the last two days produces the information that almost everyone whose child is about to reach school age has received forms telling them that they must state their choices of state school or otherwise inform the authorities about how they intend to educate their child. The system appears to be getting much more systematic, since many families did not receive such forms for their older children.

Most of us have just recycled the paper and have done nothing more about it, the reasoning being that the authorities will now catch up with us anyway and we may as well slow up the process as much as we can. Thanks are due to those on the UKHE list for their encouragement in taking this line of action. I might have lost my nerve worrying about whether this course of action will prejudice them against us when they eventually come knocking at the door. It just might do exactly this, but on the other hand, I would have hated myself had I just rolled over and offered up the information.

The Danger of Good Intentions

Thanks so much to Julie for the detective work in tracing the ARCH revelations about the e-government agenda behind the Children's Database. It does indeed seem to catch the policy makers in an outright lie, insofar as the formulation of the database does not appear to be any sort of response to the Laming enquiry, as the government claimed, since the format for the database had been framed prior to any report from the enquiry.

Given the fact that these guys seem to have been caught out, how can I possibly say that they can often be essentially well-intentioned? OK, so I cannot read minds, I do not know these people personally, and I cannot know for certain either way, but the reason why I've made the point that good if misguided intentions may be informing their thinking is because I think it may make these people even MORE dangerous to the population. Believing that you are doing the right thing for other people is the easiest form of justification for intrusion and control.

On the other hand, if these people were to have a degree of cynicism about their role, they would realise the limits of their legitimate sphere of action, and would be more likely to be aware of the possibility of being caught out. This would limit their actions and make them less likely to lie. In this case though, I suspect the head honchos actually really believed their own publicity as to the benefits of e-government. They honestly think that it will successfully facilitate the implemention of services or some such bureau-speak. They honestly think they are doing the country a favour by supporting the production of a potential IT export.

So what to do? We need to be part of the movement to demonstrate as widely as possible that good intentions can have evil results and all the while in doing this, we need to be alert, (as Julie and ARCH have been), to the possibility of the existence of underhand good/misguided intentions, so that these may be effectively refuted as well.

Whilst theories of evil intent can whip people up into an essentially anti-statist frenzy, this situation usually only eventually results in a sense of hopeless oppression since what hope could there be for a populace so routinely oppressed by something so intentionally evil? I still therefore think that we are best off taking the apparently well-intentioned arguments seriously, since this way we can show whether these arguments really do stand or fall, and if they do fall, the government then does not have a case. And of course, to dismiss the arguments as the products of evil intent is to risk being peremptorily dismissed from the debate, and also increases the risk of a sense of being hopelessly done over.

Criticisms of Home Education...Post Removed

The previous post here has been removed as there was a strong possibility that it may be a matter of feeding the trolls.

But my curiousity about a wider perception of HE still remains. As I said in that post, almost always nowadays, when I tell someone who sends their child to school that we HE, I sense a complex series of strong emotions about which they are not forthcoming...and I would love to know exactly what they are thinking.

Perhaps it really does all boil down to guilt - if you do get an explicit reaction, (which sounds as if has been squeezed out just in time, through heavy editing), it is "Oooh, you are SOO brave. I couldn't do it myself."

Perhaps I should be grateful for these social skills and not ask what else may be going on in their heads, but I get the feeling that it could be helpful to understand their reactions, since this may help us to confront issues that we prefer to ignore, such as the issue of whether an HE based economy could really work.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Motives for the Database

The issue of the genuine motives behind the creation of the Children's Database has been raised in comments in the post below. Given the curious nature of the whole caboodle, and the frightening increase in power that educrats have appropriated for themselves, this isn't altogether surprising.

I suppose though that it is nigh impossible to second-guess what individual educrats may be thinking with regard to their own motives, and probably just as difficult to ascertain whether there really was a collective conscious or unconscious conspiracy going on in the very highest echelons. Perhaps the ptb were indeed aware that the IT export component was evaluated a significant factor in the equation, but it seems likely that if this was a considered motive, that it was then collectively justified by being regarded merely as a perk in the general thrust of rescuing children from abusive parents. I say this because had the IT export component been the stated sole or principle consideration behind the creation of the database, someone would have broken ranks and blown the whistle, since there are doubtless some of good (if often misguided) intent who would realise that this amounted to a decision to defraud the taxpayer in favour of a private IT company.

It may seem pretty difficult to present arguments against the database, given that it is almost impossible to accurately establish the motives for it, but I don't see that we need despair because either way, arguments in favour of the database don't stack up.

Generally speaking though, it seems it would be a good idea to take the stated arguments of the ptb at face value, - in this case, that the database is intended as a means to identify more children who are at risk of abuse from their parents, since by refuting the stated argument, the ptb then don't have a leg to stand on in public. It is simply necessary to show that the database will be a waste of time and effort and therefore money, and will do very little to help pinpoint children at risk, will not get more social workers onto the front line, and will not prevent abusive situations from occurring. Indeed, as anonymous pointed in the comments section here, government officials have already conceded as much.

On the other hand, to attempt to accuse the ptb of hidden, and more malicious motives, is like as not to forestall the argument altogether, since the ptb will undoubtedly simply flatly deny that the hidden motive was real.

In the unlikely event that it would be necessary to deal with the proposed financial motive, it could be easily dismissed, since if looked at objectively, the sums are highly unlikely to stack up in favour of the UK. We know that the database will cost an enormous amount of public money, that that raising taxation slows the rate of growth, which will eventually reduce the amount coming into the coffers, so even if this was really uppermost in the minds of the creators of the database, this argument for it looks very shaky.

(Oh, completely off the point, did anyone by any chance pick up Ds's swimming trunks and towel today? )

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

De Facto Registration, Part ii.

The dual pincer movement that results from the Children's Database and the Children Missing from Education initiative has finally skewered us. An impatient sounding red letter informs us that we have already once neglected to inform the Education Dept of our local council about how we intend to educate our youngest (which is true, since we ignored the first letter).

So now we're stuck. If we reply to the effect that we intend to home educate, we will immediately become subject to informal enquiries, with all the vagaries of the LEA officials that this may entail. If we don't reply, we will become subject to enquiries from those investigating children missing from education. Either way, our right to privacy in family life appears to have gone by the by and we should also kiss goodbye to the idea of genuine parental choice - a concept so apparently dear to the very same policy makers who go about restricting it, since it is our choice not only that we be left alone, but that we make decisions about how we go about educating our family in our own good time, and not necessarily by Friday at the latest.

Generously, given the imperious nature of the rest of the letter, the admissions manager informs us "If you feel you have any exceptional circumstances pertaining to the non-return of the application, please outline them in writing no later than 27th January 2006." I guess I could say that I disagree in principle with everything for which this letter stands, but to deign to reply would seemingly dignify the letter far more than is due.

As usual this particular road to Hell is paved with good intentions. These people believe that they are on a virtuous highway, with the urge to seek out neglectful and abusive parents driving them on, and all the while they don't look in the mirror. They don't see that they themselves are instituting a form of abuse that is far more pernicious to a greater number, far more corrosive of parental responsibility, freedom and choice, and that they leave in their wake a multiple pile up of damage in the arena of individuals developing the art of freely and happily accepting and fulfilling their own freely chosen responsibilities.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blogging Pause

Blogging will be on a completely unavoidable pause for a few days. Should be back Tues night.

Website Documenting Iranian Atrocities

Anne Applebaum links to a website created by two expatriate Iranian sisters in which they bravely document human rights atrocities that have occurred and are still occurring in Iran. Browse the Memorial and you'll find over 9000 names - and growing.

"A nurse in Iranian Kurdistan in 1980…
...She encouraged two French journalists to report on the "butchery" they had witnessed. She hoped that international intervention would stop the Iranian army from shooting at ambulances and would allow the delivery of urgently needed medical supplies. She was arrested and charged with making "counter-revolutionary" comments published in a foreign newspaper. Executed on June 17, she was thirty years old

"A young girl in Tehran in 1981…
...Arrested for swimming in her home pool in a bathing suit, she was found guilty of causing "a state of sexual arousal" in a neighbor from whose house she could be seen. She was sentenced to sixty lashes in April 1981, but she died after the thirtieth lash."

"Atefeh Rajabi , a 16-year-old schoolgirl: Executed by hanging in Neka, Aug. 15, 2004, for "acts incompatible with chastity."

The purpose of the site?

"At the minimum," Ladan says, "we are creating a database which academics and scholars will find useful. At the maximum, we start a real public debate about the regime's crimes in Iran -- and ultimately about accountability, due process and democracy."

Let's go for the max!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Tired but Good Tired

Whoa...it is starting to get seriously busy now! Workshops, social gatherings plus workshops, sporting opportunities of various sorts, friends for sleepover, after school classes, and me actually attempting to do a day of paid work for a change - and all within the week. Must pick self up off floor and get ready for weekend which shows no sign of offering a chance to draw breath.

The problem is we don't want to miss a thing, we love it so much.

Article about Home Education by LEA Officer

From The Independent, an article on Home Education by an LEA officer. Perhaps I'm grumpy in the middle of the night, but I felt it could be perceived as a subtly undermining piece.

For example, Mr Mooney clearly would like to convey the message that he is a learned individual with plenty of experience, and yet he STILL wouldn’t consider HE in case he let his kids down! (ie: what on earth are all you HE nutters out there thinking of?)

He also makes a big play of many HEors not getting GCSE’s but then says (in support of his contention that one must be balanced in one’s perceptions), that many HEors go on to college without qualifications but with no problems. It is then dishonest to conclude that we mustn’t ignore the problems with HE because this implies that there are some, even though he hasn’t actually pointed to any problems which are not actually potentially easily soluble for HEors.

HT: Daryl at HE&OS

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Not in the National Curriculum

Peculiar facts one acquires on a fairly standard HE day, (not ideal for the faint hearted): that local poachers when captured, used to be punished by being "torn off a strip". This involved making a cut, about an inch in width, in the culprit's shoulder, with the skin being pulled down from this point to the wrist.

In the late 1800's, the crowd of onlookers pushed forward just at the moment that the local iron foundry chimney was demolished, and a little girl was killed by a flying brick. The demolition man never recovered from the shock.

That a group of people still meet annually in one of our locals to see who can eat the most raw onion. This year's winner ate 17 ounces of the mouth-ulcerating, gut-churning stuff.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bad Publicity

It's very hard to bring oneself to link to the latest bit of Channel 4 rubbish supposedly about home ed, but actually clearly initiated in response to press releases from First College, an on-line school and therefore not about HE in the UK as we know it.

The on-line school angle leaves HE apparently wide open to the oldest redundant criticism you can imagine...the socialisation issue, which was left completely unanswered.

The telly nearly landed up in the garden, frankly. It's all so unjust: we spent that day in the company of some forty others of all ages, mixing with such an intensity of happiness and complexity that any school play ground situation would pale in the comparison.

And of course, there is no duty upon LEA's to visit all HEors. This is a misrepresentation of the law.

It is interesting that they got Chris Woodhead in on this piece with it's sex offender angle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

One Man's Diversity is Another Man's Death Sentence

The eminences at Birmingham University have awarded a certain Mohammad Naseem with an Honorary Degree. Check out the story at Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War to see if you think he deserves it.

Lost Comments

Errgh. Bother. Just a note to say that I lost a few comments: Ron, David and Anon, when trying to moderate. I didn't intend to delete yours and please do comment again. I am new to this process and may have pressed the wrong button, or it may have been the system that let me down, I don't know!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pet Hate Assumptions

And in what looks like a bid to stir things up all over again, here are two of my pet hate statements that I also happen to have heard in the last 10 mins.

1. That death is inevitable.

2. That Darwinism is the most serious challenge to creationism and it's anthropocentric implications , when we have physicists taking multiverse theory more and more seriously by the day. These other universes would not have the same physical constants that make life a possibility in our universe and there are billions of these...

Do tell of your pet hate statements of the last 10 mins!

The Point of Tax?

The Sunday Times reports on the French wealth tax - the Impôt de Solidarité sur la Fortune (ISF).

Just how counter-productive can such a thing really be? Not only as the accountant put it, does the tax "probably costs more to collect than it brings in".

but it shouldn't even work to, as she puts it again, keep "the poor happy knowing that the rich and foreigners are having to pay.”

The reasons why the poor should be unhappy? Well, if the net gain is minimal, they won't see any improvement in services (not that they are likely to anyway, but that is another argument), and the wealthy, who could quite possibly generate more wealth for others with freely dispensed cash, are leaving in large numbers to spend their money elsewhere.

It also encourages a nasty tendency in society, (last seen in pronounced form in communist bloc countries) of spying and reporting on your neighbour and related to this, it also appears to legitimise envy rather than promoting personal responsibility and energy to solve ones own problems.

Whoops..am stopping...this was meant to be a quick link!

Moderating Comments

Dear all,

I am very reluctant to moderate comments, not least because I would hope that people could be sufficiently responsible to consider the impact of their words on others, and, given that many of us are home educators who most often need the skills of independent, responsible thought, that we could demonstrate a capacity for self moderation and fine judgment!

However, it could be that people may be put off commenting if they feel that their comments are most likely to be misunderstood or overly harshly critiqued. So this here stands as notice that I will require people to try to consider the likely impact of their words upon others, to try to find ways of expressing themselves which will not alienate others, and which will instead actually further the debate and offer opportunities to learn.

Generally speaking:

*ad hominem comments will be removed.
*comments where there has been no attempt to understand the other person's point may be removed.
*comments that are likely to inflame by being overly strongly worded are likely to be removed.

On the positive side:
*Please make every attempt to understand what the other person is trying to say.
*Attempt to improve on their argument before you critique it.
*Critique the best point they make, rather than the weakest for this will genuinely further debate and genuinely test whether an argument holds water.
*Throw as many critiques as you can at your own comment before you post it. Does your comment seem truth-seeking? Does it genuinely appear to match the data available? Does it contain a good explanation? Is it self-contradictory? Is it apparently logical? Does it fit with other good theories that you hold? Is it likely to help someone improve their ideas, or is it more likely to irritate or alienated?

Of course, these last are high standards, and I couldn't possibly claim that I have managed this quite a lot of the time. Whilst it is worth making the attempt, failure in these regards will happen and will most likely not require removal from comments...

All in all: Happy Commenting.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


The Brussels Journal carries a report of employees of a Danish newspaper undergoing a Rushdie-style Jihad.

"The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten is being protected by security guards and several cartoonists have gone into hiding after the newspaper published a series of twelve cartoons about the prophet Muhammad. According to the Islam it is blasphemous to make images of the prophet. Muslim fundamentalists have threatened to bomb the paper’s offices and kill the cartoonists".


"Jyllands-Posten was also included on an al-Qaeda website listing possible terrorist targets. An organisation which calls itself “The Glorious Brigades in Northern Europe” is circulating pictures on the internet which show bombs exploding over pictures of the newspaper and blood flowing over the national flag of Denmark. “The Mujahedeen have numerous targets in Denmark – very soon you all will regret this,” the website says."

And further from the The Brussels Journal:

"...after last week’s rejection of their complaint by the public prosecutor, Danish Muslim organisations have announced that they will take the newspaper to the European Court of Human Rights over the controversial publication".

Letters in defence of freedom of speech seem to be in order. Might start with the editors of the various newspapers who were right-minded enough to print the cartoons and to our Danish embassy at lonamb@um.dk .

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Secular Thought for the Day.

The Independent reports on the possibility that Radio 4's Thought for the Day may include secular contributions. This seems like a good idea so long as the slot is not dominated by religious naysayers.

Far better to work on constructive secular messages. Atheists may well be in need of answers that are not predicated upon the miraculous. For example, this question as posed here by the Rt Rev Richard Harries may often be as relevant for the secularist as for the Christian.

He asks: "How can we deepen our awareness of the person before us as an other, an other who feels as we feel and can be hurt just as much as we can be hurt?"

His answer could just about work for the secular amongst us:

"A figure looms up in the fog of our self-preoccupation and self-assertion. The fog needs to clear for us to see them as someone in their own right - with an essential affinity to ourselves. That involves a kind of miracle, more likely to be produced by families, faith communities and schools than by politics alone".

but he very is likely to lose us with his reference to miracles and faith communities, (and we won't go there with the school issue!)

Families though - there's a good answer; and he could have added in all sorts of freely formed communities, not just the faith-based variety.

Whenever the going gets tough, and I feel as if I'm not getting my slice of the cake, it's worth thinking about a dash of "How is everyone else feeling and if they are feeling not so good, what can I do to feel good about helping them?"

And this doesn't take that much of a miracle, either. Just a tiny bit of a pause for thought, a little bit of data gathering, a bit of imagination and a bit of awareness of fallibility.

I personally need reminding about this quite a bit and this post is here to hold me to account. Had better go do it!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ed. Psychs

From the BBC Education site, news that the new graduate training programme will exacerbate a shortage of Education Psychologists in schools, since they will now need a three year Doctorate rather than an MA and there will be a gap of two years with no newly qualified psychs seeking employment.

We have to admit we aren't desperately concerned about this. Whilst we have bfs who are in the psychology profession who have the best possible ideas for enabling other people, others we have heard of in the educational arm of the profession are manipulative, conventional power-mongers who believe that children are akin to animals and respond best to positive reinforcement and other delightful behavioral maneuvers. This is not altogether surprising when one considers that the current training programme includes the intellectually laughable Post Grad. Cert. of Ed. (which comes in for a regular bashing on this site).

Perhaps the new Ed Psych course could include a new section on the clearly frequently novel idea that home education can work for many children who fail in schools.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fact Check?

Talking of irresponsible blogging, and not applying the same standard of criticism to your own arguments as you would to the assertions of your opponents...Wow, what fun it is! Spent a large chunk of last night in a libertarian bitch-fest which resulted in not much that I can remember, save for this:

There were 2000 officials responsible for running the British Raj. There are 5000 officials running the Isle of Wight.

I've tried to check this out, but have run up against various walls. If anyone knows better, do tell, but it afforded just the right amount of outrage and indignation at the time.


Criticisms of schooling theory continue to pour forth from PGCE student friend. She tells of a consistent inability of lecturers to follow through on the consequences of their arguments, and of an almost unfailing inability to notice the contradictions inherent in what they are saying, so that directly opposing arguments are often consecutively presented without any explanation as to how these two arguments are supposed to co-exist. This happens particularly with regard to the issues of respecting personalised learning and dealing with a classroom of thirty pupils.

All in all, this story of failing schools strikes one as really rather surprising. If teachers are supposed to swallow this bunkum, how is it that not all the schools are perceived as failing? But then again, those who are doing the judging are likely to be educated in school, so there we go.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back in the Swing

We are now fully back into the swing of things after the Christmas patch. It feels wonderful. We emerged from the fog on the motorway into a colourful, joy-ridden place and thought, "Ah yes, all's very right with the world".

Thanks to all responsible for organising this new meeting of HEors.

Mouse in the House

This story from the Seattle Times would, as a rule, come with the words "Urban Legend" stamped all over it, but times are not normal and the story is actually entirely credible.

Mice are, if not quite the root of all evil, very, very close to getting that way. For example, they torture humans with sleep deprivation, as cairn crosses nightly try to dig up the furniture and wolf hound impersonators stare benignly at proceedings, nearly killing human on-lookers with frustration when mice flushed out by the cairn, run up his nose and down his back.

Whatever line you take, mice will get to you. There's no point making friends with them. Take the story of K, HE mum of very good heart, who sat up in the middle of a dark and stormy night, riddled with a high form of compunction which compelled her to set off down the pitch-black, muddy lane that leads from her home into darkest rural England, humane mouse trap in hand, in order to release the enclosed vermin within the prescribed four hour limit. She eventually stumbled the necessary distance, ie: a mile from her house, at which point she found out that the trap was empty.

But loveless attack doesn't work either. We scatter poison about the place and leave out those snappy little traps, but this turns out to be neither here nor there. These things don't actually do anything. The cairn and the visiting spaniels eat their heads off and chase them down the loo, and still they're back.

I suspect the hamster has something to do with it - he may be the traitor in our midst. He certainly seems to be giving them food.

All in all, it comes as no surprise to hear news of suicide-arsonist mice.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Very Expensive Telephone Directory

I missed this Guardian article in the Christmas run-up, but it's definitely worth going back to since Terri Dowty from Action for the Rights of Children was hitting where it hurts here with regard to the Children's Database.

After giving the proposed costs a healthily sceptical auditing, she concludes:

"The government has been forced to recognise that the excessive proposals suggested by Every Child Matters are unacceptable. Thus, the children's index will not hold case records or flags of concern and it will not be readily accessible to most professionals. It will not necessarily prevent child protection disasters or save money. So what exactly will it do? As things stand, it seems likely to become an expensive telephone directory, and a poor substitute for adequate social care staffing and direct communication with families".

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Atheists Ready to Believe Anything?

Madeleine Bunting has written a piece entitled: "No wonder atheists are angry: they seem ready to believe anything. Richard Dawkins's latest attack on religion is an intellectually lazy polemic not worthy of a great scientist. "

The nature of a recurrent flaw in the ensuing argument is all there in the title! It's a relief to see that Norm, as reasonably as ever, sorts it all out...but I still can't resist the cheap riposte, "Dear Madeleine, I don't believe your first assertion."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Teaching the Teachers

And more reports from inside the den of iniquity which is the teacher training Post Graduate Certificate of Ed. A lecture by Ed Psych, unreconstructed behaviourist, philosophy-trained bully - oops, I mean - teacher trainer included amongst other gems, these two unqualified assertions:

1. Don't make generalisations

2. All bloggers are irresponsible.

An A* goes to our informant for restraint in the matter of derisive snorting.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Back to School Bullying

There's more on bullying in schools from Home Education in Victoria. OK, so we are familiar with much of this stuff. There is the almost incomprehensibly tragic waste of life:

"During the holidays Marie Bentham cried as she told her family of the relentless bullying she had endured at school. It was not the first time Marie had suffered in this way and her concerned mother had already contacted the school which had followed its bullying policy and fully investigated the incidents. The bullying had not stopped. The day before school was to resume, Marie flatly refused to go back. Her mother was unsure how to deal with the situation and sent Marie to bed convinced that children must go to school. Eight-year-old Marie Bentham strangled herself with her skipping rope that night - it was her only way to ensure she would never have to face those bullies again".

But there are still myths that need refuting, such as the fairy tale that school bullying policies are up to the task:

"school 'bullying policies' are unable to prevent bullying. The great majority of bullying is not reported to teachers or noticed by them. A Canadian study videotaped children playing in a schoolyard and found that teachers were aware of only 17% of the bullying observed by the researchers. Of the incidents they did see, they only chose to intervene 23% of the time which gave an overall intervention rate of 3.9%."

And what a relief to see that people can stretch their minds to this concept: "Teachers also bully children".

And crucially:

"The Kidscape survey concluded that 'contrary to popular opinion, bullying does not help children to cope better with adult life. In fact it has the opposite effect. Adults who were bullied as children tend to have problems with self-esteem, feelings of anger and bitterness, suicidal thoughts and attempts and difficulty relating to people. Many were afraid of new situations and easily victimised."

Sensibly later:

"Children need to learn skills which will enable them to cope with bullies in later life but school is not the best environment in which to learn those skills. 'The education culture highlights the difference between children who are aggressive and those who are not. Rewards and distinctions tend to go the former,' say Marr and Field. Children absorb values, beliefs and morals from those around them. They can learn these more effectively in the safe environment of their home and naturally widening social circle as they grow older. Ideally their parents will model assertive behaviour and conflict resolution skills in their interaction with others and family relationships offer endless opportunities to practice these skills. Children can learn to confidently communicate and stand up for their point of view in a supportive and safe environment. This is far superior to a school situation where bullying is endemic and the whole system is based on power and control".


Proposed Re-Introduction of Slavery

Just when I was beginning to think that my anti-statist tirades of the past few posts were perhaps best characterised as slightly over-egged, viral-induced hissy fits, I read this at Setting the World to Rights and instead thought "How right I was - and I'm not feverish now!"


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Banning Schools a Dangerous Idea?

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a great surprise that the Telegraph article about the recent Edge Question is headlined with Roger Schank's answer. The question, which was posed this year by Steven Pinker and was answered by some 119 scientists, including the likes of Craig Venter, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies, Matt Ridley and Frank Tipler, was "What is Your Dangerous Idea?

Roger Schank, psychologist, computer scientist and chief learning officer replied "Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them."

Perhaps it is the case that the writers at the Telegraph really do think this the most dangerous idea of the lot. It would make a good deal of sense in that quite a number of Conservatives ascribe, at least in principle, to the idea of the free market and a small state, but all the while they refuse to contemplate the idea that you could do anything other than bully kids into submission in horrible institutions called schools (preferably boarding ones).

Schools Fail as Places of Social Engineering

If the last four paragraphs of this Guardian article don't substantially prove the point of the contention in the first part of the article, I am not sure what could! I mean to say the first bit contains the assertions that employers feel that schools don't prepare pupils for the world of work and that at least 71% of employers would take on those who have useful work experience rather than good exam results, and in the second bit you get ministers (presumably all schooled as far as we are aware), responding to the survey by claiming that :

"We have got the best primary school, GCSE and A-level results ever."

Ho hum. Not that home education is about the sort of social engineering that aims to slot people into the prescribed jobs, since it works the other way about round here. How it works is that HEKs are out there, finding out about genuine problems, and discovering for themselves which ones they are genuinely interested in solving.

Happiness and Fury!

In the midst of a general aura of well-being, induced (despite a brain-fogging cold) by a combination of seasonal good cheer, gorgeous, sometimes semi-naked guests (Dh has very wisely built an invigorating shower in an outhouse), days away, nights out, and last but by no means least: a light and airy new kitchen and dining room (huge thanks due to DH who rebuilt all this in about a week), there is but a tiny slither of discomfort that periodically gives rise to a mounting sense of panic.

It is a growing awareness that we simply cannot continue to live with all this redundant bureaucracy, state interference and illegitimate legislation. It's not that I particularly objected to the startling increase in police presence in the capital, where every second car now quite clearly belongs to the Met. It could have more to do with the thought of surveillance satellites in the stratosphere peering in through our attic windows to see if we have added value to our assets. Combine this with the prospect of feeling the effects of the Children Act and its database, and not to forget the effective imprisonment of children which results from the 'Children Missing from Education' initiatives and the general sense of suffocation starts to mount. It reaches crisis point when one considers the news (thanks to Andrew Neil, Spectator for this) that "British public spending has surged from almost 38% of GDP in 2000 to a predicted 44% this year; and a European-style 45% in 2006." Or that regulation has added almost £40 billion to the cost of doing business in this country since 1998...

As Neil goes on to say "Hayek would consider today's levels of European public spending, tax, red tape and state intervention to be in the red zone that is dangerous to economic health." Too right he would.

I could go on but it isn't making me feel any better. The only conclusion seems to be that we must get out of here, damn quick... but where? Europe, despite the temptations and easy connections, is out. We couldn't justify living anywhere in the land of the Euro - and what with Italy and France being in such a state, well that's all a no-go...

You'd think the land of the free may be calling and perhaps I'm being too grouchy for my own good now, but I don't fancy a country where some of the north west is likely to disappear in a cloud of lava, another part of the west coast is going to drop off, a huge wave is going to wipe out the east coast and the president is intent on testing the "mental health" of all teens in schools on the off-chance that they may commit suicide. I also do wonder whether I'd have even more of a problem fitting in in a place where evolution is somehow seen as a big problem for so many Christians. Even I, from my very different perspective, can see that evolution and faith in God are potentially compatible beliefs. How much of a diversion of useful energy does one need?

OK, so it's decided. I love it here. I won't try to persuade the rest of the family to leave this land "sodden towards sundown". Am off to turn and fight.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Voucher Issue et al.

For any UK readers who haven't yet caught this one: from a US Republican site Gop3.com, an article about home schooling that is generally spot on, with Daryl picking up on the only points of contention, namely the issue of education vouchers and the probable effects of these upon home education.

It seems that the voucher proposals in the US raise pretty similar issues to those we have here, ie: vouchers would probably only be used for schools, (which would marginalise home education all the more), and if they were permitted to be used for HE, they would doubtless come with strings attached.