Friday, September 29, 2006

Confusion Over Coursework

Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, recently announced plans to scrap maths coursework, which looks good for Home Educators as coursework was difficult to manage without outside help. On the downside, he also said that all coursework in other subjects will be supervised, which will effectively put the mockers on HEors doing any GCSEs other than maths. International Baccalaureates may look like the better option.

As to the muddle - we thought coursework was originally introduced at least in part so that pupils could improve upon their research skills and learn to draw upon any source of good information, much as they would in the real world. Preventing learners from using these resources completely puts pay to that.

ECHR Gets it Very Wrong

That's a "NO" for German home schooling then.

(Thank goodness, yet again, for the British Liberal tradition and we resort to praying that it works in the face of European injustice.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Educational State We're In

Would the Rod Liddles and the Carol Sarlers of this world, who so eagerly defend the educational value of school against home education, be happy to explain the following?

Also from the same article, we have Chris Woodhead, former head of Ofsted, reported as saying:

"We know that millions have been spent on this problem so why does it continue? Why do we still have so few 16-year-olds that pass English and maths?"

Could one of the reasons be that the former chief inspector of schools makes grating grammatical errors himself?

James Bartholomew on Radio 4

James Bartholomew makes the case for home education on the Jeremy Vine Show (kindly made easy to access by Rowan FW). JB does very well for a newbie.

It emerges, however, that Rod Liddle isn't the only regular HE bashing hack. Carol Sarler, who has already achieved a degree of notoriety with her bad-tempered performance in a debate with Mike Fortune Wood, is back. Like Rod, she appears to have improved upon her arguments, being considerably better mannered and more thoughtful, but still failing to provide the devastating refutation of home education to which she clearly aspires.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Is Home Work from School Useful?

Here's Dr. Helen on the subject.

"I Smack and I'm Proud"

I missed this ITV production, but I am very reliably informed that none of the families came out looking good. The religious Home Schooling smackers apparently came out the best of the bad bunch, since they only used the technique very rarely, (though the threat of violence presumably hung over the children).

My informants were clear that smacking was completely unnecessary in every case, since that there were always other (better) options - for who wants to resort to violence when there are other easily available solutions?

Monday, September 25, 2006

James Bartholomew on Home Education

An almost identical copy of the article written by James Bartholomew in the Spectator (to which Rod Liddle responded the following week) can be found here.

(For my criticisms of Rod's article...pan down a couple of mails here.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Brainiac's Brain

We love Richard Hammond. Get well soon.

It can't be any coincidence that our two favourite presenters have suffered such terrible consequences. It was their derring-do that was endearing. They grabbed life and lived it to the full, relishing every moment and turning it to the good.

If this means the good have a habit of dying young, then so be it, and sod off Health and Safety.

The Guardian on the History of Worrying about Children

In case you missed it via ARCH Blog, go check out this one out. Any article that concludes that

"we perhaps need to go further in rethinking what childhood might be like. The first step should be to listen to what children say..."

can't be all bad, though there are some fairly disturbing inferences along the way, since the author doesn't clearly assign the role of tertiary responsibility to the state.

(Why tertiary? Well, if children are making the first call about their own lives, then parents would rightfully come second.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rod Liddle on Home Education!

First things first, there was a very positive article in the Spectator last week from James Bartholomew on his decision to home educate his nine year old daughter.

Predictably enough, given the Spectator's history of seeking balance, in this week's edition we have Rod Liddle setting about Bartholomew's article and home education in general. Rod doesn't appear to have changed his position on home education since the time he attempted to ridicule it on The Wright Stuff. Perhaps he still bears a bit of a grudge - the wry smile of a homeschooled girl spoke volumes in response to Rod's attempt to produce a valid criticism of home education on that particular programme. However, to give him his due, Rod has now clearly brushed up on his criticisms since some of them are no longer completely run of the mill. For example, he writes:

"...a growing number of parents from the middle class - and especially the media-monkey, metropolitan middle class - are incalculably pleased with themselves and think that they know everything; enough at least, to think that teachers are useless and that they can do the job themselves a damned sight better.

"Are they right? The obvious answer is a resounding "no" - and simply because a thing is obvious does not mean that it should be treated with suspicion. It is a colossal arrogance- and a self-indulgence - on the part of those 180,000 parents that a) their knowledge of such diverse disciplines as, say fine art and pure maths should exceed that possessed by the specialists; and b) that even were they to possess such encyclopedic knowledge, they may not have the necessary skills to impart the ground rules of those disciplines to children."

(See! My ad hominems were forgivable under the circumstances!) But seriously, where does one start?

First off, Rod, I haven't met a single HE parent who assumes that they have nearly enough knowledge to cope with every problem a child will ever face. (At least we are often clear that helping our children solve whatever problems they may face is something we are attempting to do with an education - an objective that all too often gets lost when maniacally trying to fulfill the often spurious requirements of the National Curriculum - for more on which see below).

What most HE parents do believe is that there are many ways of accessing knowledge that will meet children's needs. In case you hadn't noticed, we do actually live in an information-rich age. We use the internet to get information and feedback on almost anything, often from specialists we would never be able to access in school. We travel to lectures in science museums, art galleries, historical buildings, field trips and libraries and we skill share with other home educating parents, many of whom are teachers themselves. We take courses on-line, use various bits of software, and take exams through the usual boards. We hire tutors when necessary. We go to after school classes and activities.

In case you doubt that this will work, we know of home educated children whose parents never studied anything other than very basic maths, physics and computing, who have got into elite universities, achieving top grades in precisely these subjects and who have even been offered the chance of doing MScs during their first undergraduate year, so something in your argument clearly needn't stack up.

I also think you have the demographic wrong. I don't know any media monkeys. Perhaps it applies to the Notting Hill set, though it certainly doesn't if you go only a mile further north, since the Kilburn set with whom I am very slightly familiar, certainly don't match your description. In my part of the world, I haven't met a single arrogant or over-confident HEor. Most of us spend a lot of time worrying about what we are doing, being intensely self-critical, seeking out resources, wondering if we are providing enough and also fighting our corner, for there is nothing that many educrats would like better than to destroy this last bastion of educational freedom.

Luckily for many new HEors, they can join HE groups and see that Home Education actually works for a large number of children for whom school would often be an unmitigated nightmare and an educational black hole.

I'd say from my experience, that educrats would be most unwise to try to corral many HE children back in through the gates, since the learning style of many of these kids does not suit school. This doesn't mean that they won't be able to find work - simply that their learning style does not suit SCHOOL. Some children, for example, learn at very different speeds to the majority, either much more slowly or more quickly, or slowly to start with and then suddenly much faster; others like to focus intensely upon one area of knowledge, and find it difficult and pretty meaningless to have to be to seen to jump through loads of hoops to acquire a bundle of information that will never be useful to them again. Fitting all of these different learners into a classroom full of conventional pupils would be a nightmare for all concerned. And of course, many of those who HE have found their way there because the school system was failing them so dramatically.

It is a ridiculous meme, (an arrogant assumption if you will), that everyone must be made familiar with the contents of the National Curriculum. The sum total of knowledge is so enormous that restricting everyone to learning the same body of information looks like the most profoundly stupid thing to do, and that is even if you are only thinking about moulding children to suit the workplace, which of course is not the sole purpose of an education.

It is also ridiculous to assume that jobs require workers to jump from subject to subject. In fact, very often precisely the reverse is required, since an employee very often needs to focus attention in one particular area and strive to achieve an exaggerated skill in this, so you could argue that focused learning that is possible in the home is actually FAR MORE appropriate training for the world of work.

Rod also writes:

" There's another section of James's piece which is interesting, the bit where he is aghast that no school is prepared to teach Italian as a foreign language. Well, let us look at this problem rationally: there is a limited opportunity for children to learn foreign languages, particularly at such a young age as nine, and the finite number of languages; say, in Alex's case, 30. So you have to make your choice. Should Alex be taught a foreign language which figures in the top five of the world's most widely spoken tongues, (Hindi, Mandarin, English, Spanish and Bengali)?...

My suspicion is that the National Curriculum has it right and that Italian is about as much use in the wider world as
Inuit or Welsh, although of course your perspective will be very different if you rent a villa in Lucca every year."

James wasn't aghast at the fact that Italian isn't taught in any London preparatory school. He was merely making the point that it isn't. It seemed to me that his inference was almost exactly the same as the point you make above, namely that utilitarian judgments about the greatest relevance to the greatest number have to be made when it comes to choosing which languages will be taught in schools. He seemed to me to be concluding that personalized learning is the only way to overcome the problem of needing to acquire a specific kind of information that isn't available in schools.

It is the case, as you in fact at least partially concede in your last sentence, that there may be significant reason to learn an unusual subject. By way of an example, a chunk of my close family are Italian, many of them not speaking any English at all, which actually makes Italian a very attractive option for us, but we'd have to forget all that, should we choose to go to school where we would have to learn French.

Incidentally, a number of HE children in our part of the world do learn Mandarin (rather than the less, by your standards, useful French), so in this case, by your own argument, home education wins.

As to your point that the choice of subjects in the National Curriculum is usually wise, just over the border from us, school children are compelled to learn Welsh, despite the fact that almost no-one in this part of Wales actually speaks it. Many familles there grumble considerably about having to learn it.

Sorry, Rod, your arguments still don't stack up.

School Children Strike

And it's now in its fourth day. The children have had enough of injustice, and are out on the playing fields, refusing to budge. PJ is apparently very popular and normally gentle - the headteacher must be regretting not considering his motives as a mitigating factor when deciding his fate.

(PJ's brother is not only autistic and therefore defenseless, but reportedly also unwell in other ways. )

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Social Workers Oppose the Database

Yep, some of them clearly get it too!

Home Education in China

At first glance, it is possible to think "Good grief, same old, same old..." what with all the usual claims about the impossibility of socialising a child in the great wide world, but actually it isn't hard to spot the differences between the situation in China and the UK. Most obvious and yet unexceptional of these is the extreme high-handedness of the Chinese authorities - something that is yet to be matched in this country.

"China's revised Compulsory Education Law, which came into effect this month, says carers of any school age child should send them to school for nine years of education... home education is absolutely not advocated," said an official involved in revising the law. "

All in all, and despite the impending invasion of the family by the state as a result of recent UK legislation, it makes one grateful for the British Liberal tradition. Those in the UK government, despite their preference for taking over people's lives, would never dare to express themselves like that, or be so draconian, for however much they would love to do just this, they know that they will be letting themselves in for trouble. The habitual urge to limit the powers to the state is way too ingrained in us.

The Good Childhood Inquiry

Ahh, here it is. (Thanks ARCH ). Here's your chance to have your say as to what contributes to a good childhood.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Second Home Education Fair

Short notice, but reportedly well worth getting to, if you can:

The Second Home Education Fair is taking place

on: Saturday, September 23rd, from 1-5pm,

at: Westbourne Grove Church, Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London W11 2RW, (corner of Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove.)

"There is an exciting afternoon of activities with talks and workshops planned. Some of the support groups represented at the fair will be will be Education Otherwise, Choice in Education, Home Education Advisory Service and others. Other home educating parents will also be on hand to help answer any questions and discuss any aspects of Home Education relevant to individual families."

Tubes: Notting Hill (Central, Circle), 10 min walk
Westbourne Park (Hammersmith) 15 min walk

Buses: 7, 15, 27 and 36. (no walk to speak of).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Improvements for Children

It must be in the air. Following the letter from Susan Greenfield, Philip Pullman et al. in the Telegraph (which does indeed come over in a slightly more reasonable fashion than the related piece on the BBC), The Children's Society is now initiating research into the causes of childhood unhappiness.

The reason why the Telegraph seemed a more balanced piece? It didn't just bat on about screen culture and junk food. The authors dared to mention hyper-competitive culture and academic pressures as possible causal agents of childhood stress. This looks hopeful for any subsequent inquiry because it appears as if the researchers have been given permission to seek out causes of childhood unhappiness that challenge prevailing societal memes and requirements. By societal memes, I mean erroneous theories such as the one that school is essential to education and that it is impossible to socialise children anywhere else. Also that children must be achieving such and such at such and such an age, or else they will be forever compromised; or that they must learn such and such, or that they must compete to be the very best or they will not stand a chance. By societal requirements, I mean that school is used by adults as a form of childcare and often becomes an unchallengeable meme for this reason too.

Just how far the research will go in challenging these memes is another question. It may be all too easy to forge responses. For example, if you ask a child who has clearly been horrendously bullied over a long period of time how he would like to improve his life, he most likely won't even fully recognize that he is appallingly bullied, let alone know what he can do about it. He may simply have no context for recognizing the abnormality of the behaviour to which he is subjected. Or he may, perhaps, have cut himself off from his own feelings, having found that this was the only way he could cope. He may therefore have no idea that there is any problem, or he may want to appear as if he can cope with a superficial bravado or avoidant type behaviour.

You may say this sort of thing sounds impossible. It isn't. I spent at least six years of my adolescence living with moderately severe depression which never registered with anyone. Significantly, it didn't even register with me. I didn't realise that life needn't be utterly bleak. I knew I hated school but thought this was normal and that there was just nothing I could do about it. I therefore never mentioned it to anybody and probably would not have done so had anyone asked, since I barely recognized it as an abnormality and there appeared to be nothing I could do about it.

So my worry for this research: they may ask a child how to improve his life, and one way or another, he may not be able to give you an accurate answer. In addition, given societal norms, researchers may not really want to listen to his answer.

How would it be if the BBC Poll asking children if they would prefer to be home educated turned out to be about right...(and bear in mind that this figure is one which may suffer from the problem as mentioned in the preceding paragraphs)? What if more than 50% of children who have already said they preferred to be HEd continued to say that their lives would be significantly improved if they didn't have to go to school? Would the researchers dare to publish? Or would policy makers step in first and make sure it didn't get a proper hearing?

If, (blow me down), all of this happened, how creative could policy makers possibly get? If they really did have to confront such a statistic, could they really rise to the challenge?

My guess it that answers to childhood unhappiness are very often much more easily within our grasp than many of us have realised. If there were indeed a mass exodus from schools, we could find ways of coping: small co-operatives of families, working together in this information rich world! Easy peasy, and all the easier if we are allowed to think big.

There is a remote chance of bending Mark Thompson's ear within the next couple of weeks. It may be awkward, as I think I am meant to be working, but I keep fantasizing about what I would say to him. Something along the lines of: "Tell Mr Blair you need a bit more of a budget and he will be able to close schools. Then pile on the great internet resources, loads of free imaginative educational resources and you will end up saving the country a packet!"

Pipe dream or a genuine hope? Perhaps, with these sorts of initiative and research, the country really is gearing up to make significant changes for children.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Young Mums

We made it to a meeting of Home Educators that we've failed to get to for a while now. Full of new faces, and interestingly, many of them not fitting the usual HE parent profile in that quite a few of them were very, very young. I'm curious to know whether this is a nationwide trend, or simply a matter of there being plenty of first time buyer homes around this particular area.

There was also a mum who had been HE'd herself. She came with her mother. The whole family was wonderful.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The New (and Better) Moses

No...honestly, in many ways I mean it, since for me it is an extremely unusual experience to feel passionately that someone is producing deep truths, that these truths are vitally important and that they dignify human nature and endeavour.


We joined in with the International Beach Clean Up yesterday. The children loved it and I could see why. Leaving a beautiful beach looking spick and span - there can hardly be a better feeling.

The Museum staff also threw in free Geology and Marine Life lectures. A very satisfactory package. Only complaint - too much sun!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Breastfeeding Meme

How many children have you breastfed and for how long?

Two - (that's all I have). For seven years in total.

What were your reasons for breastfeeding?

I set out with the intention of managing 6 weeks max and this for the obvious health benefits. I didn't think I'd manage more than than this, seeing as there's a history of working mums in my family and I fondly imagined I'd be back at work as soon as the C section scar had healed.

How little I knew! My first born has taught me practically everything I really value, and this has included, " Hey, don't imagine you can play around with my attachment needs like that, you fool!"

Who was the most supportive member of your family?

My husband was very accomodating about it and didn't resent sharing the bed, which made the whole thing infinitely easier. (I learnt about co-sleeping the hard way too, having sat bolt upright in the baby's room feeding all hours God sends for the first six months. FOOL - again!)

My dear mum was supportive for the first year, and then started to get twitched up. By the third year, she admitted that she had gone to see the GP who had taken over her practice, in order to have a friendly, off-the-record chat about it all.

There are times when providence does indeed seem divine, for though this GP looked like the female equivalent of a stuffed shirt, she was actually married to a Lebanese guy who had encouraged her to think that it was perfectly normal to feed all your children until they are at least four, which she herself had done, thank you very much and so what was my mother talking about! Mum has been nothing but extremely supportive ever since.

Did you have any support from a group or Breastfeeding councillor?

Yes, LLL (La Leche League) saved my sanity at just the right moment. I was panicking when Ds reached the 15 month mark. We didn't seem to be close to weaning when everyone else we knew had stopped, apparently effortlessly, months before. Every time I tried to slow down on the whole proceedings, DS would seem devastated, and terrify me with an appearance of failing to thrive. You'd be right to think that I was in a pretty bad way when I walked into April's sitting room in Twickenham that sunny day, and saw a whole roomful of women feeding 3 and 4 year olds. It was a damoscene moment and just goes to show how ignorant someone with an expensive education can be.

Has breastfeeding changed the way you feel about your body?

Yep, I mostly ended up feeling powerful and useful but this wasn't just the breastfeeding, it was the pregnancy, the attempts to give birth, the skilled sleeping with the children and then the carrying as well. Good for the biceps.

What do you wish you had been told about breastfeeding?

That children don't clock watch and aren't interested in four hour gaps. This was something I'd been told I should be aiming for, and I do feel very angry that the health visitor didn't correct me. My son suffered for this.

What was the most surprising thing about breastfeeding?

I think the whole thing is quite surprising really. I can't think why I find it more surprising than say the miracle of birth or consciousness or the whole of existence, but my irrational response is honestly this: that yes, breastfeeding is a really surprising evolution.

Where did you first publicly feed?

I can't honestly remember. One of the first places where I got a negative reaction was in a church. (Despite not being a Christian, I know my liturgy, so it definitely wasn't an ignorance of this that cleared the pew.)

Is there anything you would change about your breastfeeding experience if you could?

Yes, I would transform the first 15 months of my first born's experience. He would feed on demand, we'd co-sleep and I would carry him in a sling. These things make sense.

What advise would you give to someone who was about to start breastfeeding?

I'd wait to be asked, unless there was anything glaringly obvious that required help, and then hopefully the advise would be appropriate to the problem. I don't have a thing about not offering advise, (a meme that has developed out of the counselling culture). Not offering advise when one patently could seems to me to be absurd, and a way of protecting professions from the threat of auto-didacts and the wisdom of the lay teacher.

Who are you tagging with this meme?

I dunno. A difficult one to tag, I'd say, as it is intimate, so I would rather hope that anyone who fancies would take it up.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Chimps and Early Hominids Interbred

Is there a creationist explanation for this, I wonder?

HT: Samantha

Home Education on the Politics Show

Oh goodness, poor Sheffield. Not only is it one of the areas where the Children's Database is being piloted, but they have a certain Mr Makin who seems to need to be put right. You can help him out in the Politics Show comment section.

IQ and The Nature of Talent

Hope it's OK to pull your comment up Tim, but just wanted to think further about it:

"While, as I would undertand, no-one has ever determined precisely what it is that IQ tests are measuring, if you turn things around and use them as predictors then they are quite reliable in predicting behaviours and performance. There is an interesting (American) chart called Economic and social correlates of IQ in the USA here."

Bearing in mind your caveat that no statistical analysis is going to predict the outcome for any individual, I gather this seems to be so (see below for exceptions/possible refutations), and wonder why exactly this should be the case. Could it at least partially be a matter of reliably being able to produce the goods on the day and that this consistency in problem solving translates well into the skills required for working environments?

Having been subjected to quite a number of IQ tests during my time (starting from the age of 4), I know full well that IQ results can be completely unreliable. At various times, I have produced scores with a difference of over 60 points, which would not seem particularly useful in terms of prediction. In fact I have just done two on-line tests to see how similiarly I score, and even within a space of 20 mins have managed a difference of some 14 points, which according to this list

IQ Career
140 Top Civil Servants; Professors and Research Scientists.
130 Physicians and Surgeons; Lawyers; Engineers (Civil and Mechanical)
120 School Teachers; Pharmacists; Accountants; Nurses; Stenographers; Managers.
110 Foremen; Clerks; Telephone Operators; Salesmen; Policemen; Electricians.
100+ Machine Operators; Shopkeepers; Butchers; Welders; Sheet Metal Workers.
100- Warehousemen; Carpenters; Cooks and Bakers; Small Farmers; Truck and Van Drivers.
90 Laborers; Gardeners; Upholsterers; Farmhands; Miners; Factory Packers and Sorters.

would mean that my life course would be different. Given my own experience of this variance, I find it hard to take IQ scores too seriously as a reliable predictive mechanism across populations, unless the consistency argument holds.

But on the subject of exceptions/possible refutations to the theory that IQ will, across populations, predict success, the New Scientist this week, in piece entitled "How to be a Genius" states:

"No accepted measure of innate or basic intelligence, whether IQ or other metrics, reliably predicts that a person will develop extraordinary ability. In other words, the IQs of the great would not predict their level of accomplishments, nor would their accomplishments predict their IQs. Studies of chess masters and highly successful artists, scientists and musicians usually find their IQs to above average, typically in the 115 to 130 range, where some 14 per cent of the population reside - impressive enough, but hardly rarefied as their achievements and abilities.

"The converse - that high IQ does not ensure greatness - holds was well".
(Study from a selective elementary school quoted).

What I cannot work out, with my absense of understanding of statistics, is whether your caveat about individuals applies to the situation of predicting genius, or is this a more general refutation of the notion that IQ predicts life outcomes?

Instead of IQ, the circumstances that did seem to contribute to the fostering of exceptional talent almost invariably involved the "10 year rule"; in other words, a decade of hard and focused work in order to master something.

"Pete Sampras didn't possess more talent than Andre Agassi, but he won 14 grand slams to Agassi's eight because he worked harder and more steadily. And as cellist Yo-Y0 Ma once said, the most proficient and renowned musicians are not necessarily those who outshone everyone as youths , but rather those who had "fire in the belly".

The 10 year rule of course requires resourses: time and space to work, a mentor, support and fire in the belly - a love of what you are doing.

"Bloom came to see great talent as less an individual trait than a creation of environment and encouragement. "We were looking for exceptional kids, " he said "and what we found were exceptional conditions". He was intrigued to find that few of the study's subjects had shown speical promise when they first took up the fields they later excelled in, and most harboured no early ambition for stellar achievement. Rather, they awere encourgaged as children in a general way to explore and learn, then supported in more focused ways as they began to develop an area they particularly liked. Another retrospective study, of leading scinetists, similarly found that most came from homes where learning was revered for its own sake."

From the editorial:

The notion that people love doing things because they're good at them is back to front- they're good at them becaue they love doing them and will spend hours practising."

All in all, although the reasons for doing it are entirely different, you can't help feeling that autonomous education is coming out of this pretty well, what with there being an explicit aim to help children foster their interests. Autonomous educators set out to facilitate the interests of their children because they believe it is the morally right thing to do to, not because they want to create a genuius; but the fact that this appears to be the way in which talent is fostered seems to suggest that the epistemology underlying the faciliation of freedom is sound, and that being able to enact the theory that is active in the mind does look to be the most effective way to learn.

There's more in the article about how the talented manipulate information, but I guess I shouldn't really blow the NS's last chance of a subscription.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.

Neuroscientist Prof. Susan Greenfield popped up on the BBC morning news yesterday, having put her name to a letter which claimed that children of a decade ago were notching up a good three more IQ points than our children can manage nowadays. The way the piece was introduced, you'd have thought there was some startling piece of research which somehow definitively pinned this apparent refutation of the Flynn Effect upon the usual suspects, ie: junk food and screen culture, but of course that was just the headline.

The Prof wasn't actually saying this at all. What she was saying was that this decline in IQ points had been observed, and although she had put her name to this letter which apparently did pin the problem on the above causes, she herself was maintaining an open mind, and wanted to know more about causes.

Hmmm...not entirely honorable, I'd say. Grab attention with a complete travesty of what you genuinely want to say, get this headline message across, then quietly say something entirely different. It is an old trick, but it constitutes a bundle of pseudo-scientism and will lead to a load of bullying of children which may well not be warranted.

Of course, it is very easy to pick on apparent causes that fit the prevailing memes and requirements of society, and much less likely that other possible causes will be sought. People want to hear what the Prof has to say because it only involves bullying children in order to put it right. It won't mean that grown-ups have to risk inconveniencing themselves in the process.

So what possible anti-memetic and inconvenient causes could there possibly be?

The other day, in fact the very day that DD would have otherwise started school, we went out to buy her a school uniform, because this was the only thing she thinks she missed out on by not going to school. We got the whole bundle in a sale and she wore the shirt and trousers proudly (risking the truancy patrols), for two consecutive days, though not for their entirety. She didn't look to be doing anything particularly unusual, but by the end of two days, the knees on her trousers were already wearing thin, the cuffs on the shirt were frayed and grey. All in all, the useful life of these clothes appears to be very short, and yet my guess is that they are expected to last most school kids at least a term or so.

It is hard not to wonder whether the lack of exercise caused by schools is not at least partially responsible for the problems that seem to be plaguing children, such as poor academic results and obesity. The amount of physical exercise DD takes in one day, when she would otherwise be sitting in a classroom, is phenomenal. If we have a day which is predominantly sedentary for one reason or another, she has the opportunity (because she doesn't need to go to bed at a prescribed early hour), to get out on the trampoline, along the monkey bars, over an assault course, belting around on her bike, one handed cartwheels, forward flipping, dancing, whatever. She never does not do this at some stage in the day, and the total amount of exercise would usually come to at least three hours of this sort of intensive activity. How many schooled children could manage this? Yet few of us dare to contemplate this as a cause, for school is such an integral part of the way adults cope with the world.

Here are some other examples largely unquestioned memes that seem to me to threaten the status quo and therefore don't get examined: that schooled children must eat at prescribed times, ie: not when they are hungry, but when they are told to and that children must have three good meals a day. How often in human history has this happened? Could some children do better with a different kind of meal set-up, such as five small meals per day, or missing breakfast, and having something at 10 am. I personally always remember hating eating so early in the morning, before we went into school. It always made me feel sick and neither of my children choose to eat before 10.00 am.

Or that screen culture is necessarily bad for you. There are numerous fMRI scans which reveal the oxygen uptake in brains undertaking various activities, but even these could look highly suspect and merely a confirmation of prevailing memes and societal requirements. We all feel the difference when we watch TV for relaxation or to learn something specific. Surely our brains are doing something entirely different when we are vegging out, paying only half a mind to the screen, or when we are dancing up and down and shouting at it, for example. Similarly, in a maths lesson, one child's brain may be flooding with activity, and the next may be staring out the window. It seems likely that the degree of activity of the brain has much less to do with the type of activity and much more about how the brain engages with it.

We also have no idea whether oxygen uptake correlates to functions of the mind. Thinking deeply actually registers very low in terms of mental activity on MRI. MRI scans could also therefore very easily be used to confirm existing prejudices and requirements.

The objection could be raised that children have been made to do this and that, and prevented from doing this and that since the introduction of effectively compulsory schooling, and that the proposed causes as above could not therefore account for a recent decline in IQ and increase in obesity. These problems must be due to something demonstrably different. But junk food has been around a while. So has TV. It is, of course, convenient to assume that these things are definitively responsible, but it could just be that there has actually been a change in other causal circumstances. For example, as a child, I was well aware of many other children being allowed to go to school without having breakfast. How often does this happen nowadays? There cannot be many children in the country who are not fed before they get in through the gates. Harrying by public services and cereal advertisers has made sure of that. We also know that the amount of sport in schools has declined.

But most importantly, so what if there really is a three point decline in IQ? Is it really going to be devasting to our way of life? Is it really the case that people will not solve their problems as efficiently, or that they will not be able pull upon intellectual resources as they require?

Indeed, is it necessarily adaptive and useful to have those three extra points. I personally find motherhood more frustrating when I know I am very fired up, with brain working in the sort of direct fashion that scores well on IQ tests. I find the multitudinous, distracting and sometimes apparently irrational demands of childcare harder to cope with. Perhaps skills that are not registered in IQ are more adaptive for parenthood.

But by far the most important point of all, and one that should inform this whole essay, is that we shouldn't be doing this to our children at all. An individual should be the master of his own mind. He is not a hoped-for end-product to be bullied and molded into shape. Fine if he chooses to be tested and wants to improve, but to submit him to a miserable, non-autonomous life on the basis that someone else thinks his brain should be performing in such and such a way, is to restrict fundamental freedoms that would genuinely allow for the actual development of his mind, for coercion - being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind - can only limit rationality and creativity.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Recommended Reading

Arch Blog is right. This article from The Friday Thing is well worth a read. It covers the subject of the thinking (or rather, lack of it) behind TB's recent plans to intervene in potentially problematic families.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Only Investigate if There Appears to Be a Problem

Dana has laid out the case against over-involvement of the state in home schooling. It may be specifically about Indiana but it applies universally.

Brain Training

We've had so much fun with Nintendo DS's Big Brain Academy! No glitches to speak of and it gets your prefrontal lobes going apace.

We've also gone for Brain Training, which does have at least two potential glitches, (it doesn't like high pitched voices and won't reliably recognise the number 8), but these problems are not overwhelming and the two games work well together.

The most peculiar effect of which I am aware is that they seem to have improved my eyesight, which leads me to the slightly alarming conclusion that the small failings that I had recently noticed with my vision are due to cerebral processing, rather than the more expected (given that my mother has been appallingly myopic all her life), alterations in lens shape.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Children's Views of the Database

I apologise for this, but I cannot help it: I TOLD 'EM SO. I've been batting on about the consequences of abuse of confidentiality since the inception of the database fiasco. The Guardian reports that children agree and that it will stop them using services.

(Could this be the hidden agenda after all?)


Friday, September 08, 2006

BBC Vote on Home Education

Last time I checked, it was 57% of children in favour of being taught at home - in their pyjamas.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Causes of Autism

We must all have seen this story by now, but the general reaction in the parts of the HE community I have encountered so far is that the MMR theory is not going away.

I, personally, am booking Dd in for her booster, and thanking my lucky stars that I married a younger man.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Dave Hill reports, (very enviably), that his daughter's mispronunciations frequently not only convey her meaning, but do so with added value.

If only the same could be said here. It can't because as a general rule, mispronunciations and misapprehensions in this household breed utter befuddlement, acute irritation and panic. I wrote not long ago about the cannonball/cannibal situation, but this, lamentably, is far from unique. By way of another recent example:

Me (trying to break into a run): Please hurry up. We're SO late.
Ds (9) (running, obligingly): Where are we actually going?
Me: We said we'd meet them at the Tourist Information Centre.
Dd. (4) (stopping, already ten yards behind): I'm not going.
Me: Oh for goodness sakes.
Dd: I'm staying here.
Me (Scampering back with rapidly diminishing hope that I might be able to mobilise her): Only two minutes ago you said you couldn't wait to see X and Y.
Dd: I don't want to any more.
Ds: Why on earth not?
Dd: We aren't terrists.
Me: What? Oh for goodness sakes, just run. (At a hobbling trot): Look, I do see what you mean. They can be a pain, but we're all tourists every now and then.
Dd: I'm not.
Ds: You are, derr!
Me: Shut up. KEEP MOVING. Look, we all are when we go on holiday abroad, say.
Dd: I'm NEVER a terrist.
Me: Actually, I think we could count ourselves as tourists right nowww....

Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Ds now has come to a halt with his index finger poking in the air.

Ds: "Aahhh, I see! (He approaches Dd, apparently helpfully.) Look, we're only going there to pick up some bomb making information and a free balaclava.
Me: SHUT UP. What are you talking about?
Ds: It won't take long. We could pick up a few land mines while we're there.
Dd: (now wailing), STOP, STOP.

At this point, we somehow actually reach the Tourist Information Centre which, to Dds very evident relief, is closed. There's no sign of the people we were supposed to be meeting and it's raining quite heavily. We take the opportunity to sit down on a wall in order to try to muster an appearance of knowing what we're up to.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More on the Child Snatchers

Here, with yet more appropriately strong language, we have The Devil's Kitchen on the impossibility of maintaining a genuinely open society when all your children are databased. I think it unlikely that he exaggerates the case. Children, once codified and checked over, will indeed effectively be owned by the state.

He also addresses the issue of awkward PR for those who campaign to expose the dangers of a kiddie database.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Data NOT Safe in their Hands

This week's Spectator (full article under subscription, but well worth a read) expands upon just one of the dangers of the database culture. Private detectives are, it seems, already onto a nice little earner, selling stolen confidential information from such places as the DVLA and the Police National Computer to anyone willing to pay. Information is apparently fairly easily acquired through blagging and the bribing of corrupt officials. The penalties for getting caught are not considerable.

This is London carries another story about corrupt officials doing it for themselves.

"Home Affairs spokesman Mark Hunter said: 'These revelations show it is folly to put all the precious personal data of our citizens in one place.' "

Given the above, the children's database seems to carry potentially terrifying implications for families at risk from abusive partners or the like.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More on Children's Database

Following the recent publicity in the Guardian, Telegraph and the Mail and on Channel 4, it looks as though there are more bloggers to add to the list of those opposing the establishment of a children's database.

For example:

A View From England

The Devil's Kitchen

The Last Boy Scout

IT Law in Ireland

Stumbling and Mumbling

Think Mojo

Unlimited Jargon

and an update, including appropriately strong language, from Mr Eugenides.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Causes of Childhood Obesity?

This Guardian article makes a good deal of sense to me. Thanks Jax.

It reminded me of a recent conversation during which the point was made that food should not be consumed as a way of satisfying anything other than hunger, the implication being that to do otherwise constituted a form of addiction.

Funnily enough, the gentle person who made this point had been a long term breast feeder and also had, I distinctly remember, breastfed her children when they hurt themselves. I missed the chance to ask her whether she regarded herself as having been responsible for creating and feeding an addiction, which is probably only fair, given that I think she is only harsh in labelling herself.

Anyway, my point here (which was not directly covered in the article) is that one of the key factors in the argument that breast feeding appears to help with limiting obesity may be that infants who are breastfed do apparently naturally seek comfort for things other than hunger. They use breast feeding both as a means of emotional support and a way of dealing with physical pain. Breastfeeding has this advantage over bottle feeding in that breast milk is very often instantly available in times of emotional need or when the child hurts themselves.

The fact that many breastfed kids are skinny, long-limbed and fit seems to suggest that eating when stressed can make sense and that this may actually not be a terrible thing, an addiction, a cause of obesity etc, but simply the body responding appropriately to it's needs. After all, many foods produce calming or analgesic hormones and neuro-transmitters.

Intentionally, self-coercively avoiding food in these circumstances may not actually help for any number of different reasons. It could, for example, set up a sort of self-loathing, and obsession with food, which could result in being unable stop thinking about it, possibly resulting in some sort of eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

Simply eating when you feel stressed could mean that you just eat less later on, when you would otherwise have been hungry.

Of course, I didn't manage to make the most of the above points . Instead the libertarian in me, predictably enough, kicked in and I think I made a point that the label "addiction" is simply a pejorative description of people's free choices, and that so labelled, the behaviour does immediately become more problematic. I could have added that the pejorative label may have evolved during times when food was scarse or difficult to produce in times of emotional need. Now we have microwaved hot milk on tap, so to speak.

Would I have been talking rubbish, do you think?