Friday, April 29, 2005

One Step Better?

So how do you go one step further away from state control than autonomous home education? You simply don't deign to designate your life as a matter of education. OK so learning takes place all the time simply as we go about our daily business, but in having to see ourselves as "home educators", are we not already genuflecting, hats off, to the state perception of ourselves?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Problems with the Solution

Of course, every solution presents a new problem, and a problem that can arise from the solution of the adoption of the theory of parental fallibility and a reasoned preference for attempting not to bully one's children, is that the parent can be so clear about the issue of the suboptimal nature of bullying, coupled with the effort that is sometimes required, (if one is feeling knackered it seems easier to scream an order than change preferences 20 times), that all this, ie: the effort all this entails and the guilt about failing, can result in negative parental emotions that perhaps the child would rather avoid even more than a simple case of bullying!

Of course, this is no solution at all, so how can one improve upon this? Well, maximising the use of all one's resources definitely helps: setting out to seek help, using creativity and ingenuity in thinking ahead to conjure up those resources and being prepared to actually use them. There is also the more instant solution of simply not feeling the guilt too heavily. One can see it instead as an opportunity to improve the situation, even if only with an apology.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Further Excuses for Parental Bullying

One of the more common explanations for why parental bullying is, if not optimal, at least morally permissable, is that it simply impossible to avoid doing it. This particular excuse is usually unconsciously premised upon the idea that that children are so ignorant or evil that bullying simply must come into the equation.

Often the parent who offers this excuse also knows that bullying is in some way suboptimal. Sometimes they may even be clear that when they bully they are forcing their progeny to enact a theory that is not active in the mind and they realise that this is a poor way to live and learn. However, because they believe their children to be deeply ignorant or evil, they feel that bullying occurs, a bit like abortion, as a necessary evil in their lives.

Why is this parental position suboptimal, for it would seem that in the best possible world and the happiest families, some parental bullying will occur? The reason why one could look to better this situation is that the premise that children are so irrationally difficult or evil, predisposes one to the bullying position.

Instead, if possible, the best position on the matter seems to be to accept one's own fallibilism and to understand the limits of knowledge. With this humiility about the extent to which one can apply one's reasoning to another, one starts to really listen to one's child and they can suddenly start to make a lot more sense. The parent may still feel that the child needs further help with sorting out the issue, but again, all theories offered by the parent will be tentative and may be rejected by the child. He will only take them on board when they actually make sense to him and true learning, with conjecture, refutation through critique will have taken place. The premise that children are grotesquely ignorant or evil simply disappears. The apparent egoism of the toddler should vanish when it becomes apparent how desperately they need the parent in order to survive, for example.

All this is written as a reminder to myself. In the course of the last month with the physical exhaustion resulting from illness, it has been all too easy to imagine that almost any demands made upon me were the result of evil intent. My goodness, this has been so wrong and so sad. But we had a lovely time yesterday evening, playing, writing and drawing till just before midnight. Perhaps things are looking up.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Immoral Justifications for Parental Bullying

In recognising that the bullying culture in schools extends beyond that which children do to one another into the reaches of the fabric of the institution, eg: the assumptions that attendance is compulsory and the way that the adults there generally treat the children, we must, as a consequence of this recognition, make a case if we wish to continue to bully as a parent. Put simply, how can we say that bullying within schools is wrong, but bullying within the home is right?

Well, there are a variety of approaches to dealing with this conundrum. One of the most obvious strategems was demonstrated in the Home Education Wife Swap Programme in which an HE family of strongly Christian inclination saw nothing second rate about beating their children with a leather strap. For them the notion of original sin is very real and a very necessary justification for their behaviour.

Certainly the authors of the Bible were eager to perpetuate this notion "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him...The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame...Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest: yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul." Inherent in this call to punishment is the idea that at some stage, such punishment will no longer be called for; that a nirvana of moral perfection will be reached and the leather strap put away.

Another strategy involves accepting as a premise that children are born not so much evil, as ignorant. This is another tempting explanation for the observed rebelliousness of children and of adults not educated harshly enough. One of the assumptions here runs something like: moral ignorance contributes causally to conflicts, and in order to prevent this, a knowledgeable person will be justified in hurting the ignorant person. It becomes the responsibility of the parent to ensure, come what may, that the necessary minimum of moral knowledge is imparted.

However, that moral ignorance contributes materially to conflicts and makes it likely that a knowledgeable person will be justified in hurting the ignorant person is not a self-evident fact. It is an idea that must date back to prehistory and is part of the mythology of all static cultures -- for instance, in the doctrine of original sin. It provides a plausible explanation for the observed rebelliousness of children and of adults not educated harshly enough, and of the repulsive behaviour of people in other cultures, and it provides a plausible justification for (virtually all) traditional patterns of suppressing all that.

If children are deficient people awaiting receipt of that golden minimum measure of moral knowledge that would make it unlikely to be necessary to hurt them, it follows that adults -- or to be exact, only certain special adults who have that knowledge -- are whole people in this regard. Obviously there are many wicked adults around too. Why? Because either they were inculcated as children with deficient or immoral knowledge by parents who were themselves deficient or immoral, or else because their parents, despite being among the Elect who have the right knowledge, failed to inculcate it for fear of hurting them. The appalling irony and tragedy of such an outcome for all concerned is presented in each generation of our own society as a new discovery. Yet it must be as old as the human race and is a truism -- the central truism -- of every static culture.

On the other hand, someone who takes the same view of the effects of moral ignorance but without believing in the attainability of a final truth, is forced to be even more pessimistic than Proverbs. In this view, the boot, as Orwell put it, is going to be stamping on a human face for ever -- and it will be right to do so.

But the truth is that ignorance, including moral ignorance, has no necessary tendency to cause conflict. (Of the kind that hurts, that is.) If it did, we should all be in deep trouble because, as Popper pointed out "our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite".

Home Education and its Constraints

Realistically there are constraints that make home education either a doddle or a struggle, but in a bid to present the best possible world, the difficulties are frequently presented in the HE literature as being perfectly surmountable. The situation of single parenthood and low income, for example, are usually documented as being no barrier to successful HE. And I would say that this is often the case, but that this often involves an effort of will and an admirable courage.

I say this is in all due humility because it is only over the last few days that I have gradually emerged into the realms of normality from the constraint that I hope was at least flu. Come the day that SARS or bird flu head in our direction, I realise without doubt that I am for the chop. Whatever this was laid me horribly low for about 5 weeks and still gets to me when I least expect it. I used to be an arch sceptic about chronic fatigue syndrome. I am no longer. It definitely exists, at least as some sort of post viral consequence. Just when you think you can start living as normal, it wangles it's way up to consciousness that your legs and lungs are incapable of genuine effort and that lying down and preferably sleeping are the only truly desirable activities in the entire world.

So I am suddenly deeply in awe of people who do struggle with circumstances that could mitigate against HE. Tbh, during the last 5 weeks, I have not lived according to my highest or even my lowest, come to that, ideals. It seemed desperately hard to remain reasonable when even bending over to pick something off the floor felt like a monumental effort and an absurd demand upon the body.

The only saving grace seems to have been that the theory about why the immune systems of humans all vary so much, bore itself out in our family. The children were comparatively only mildly ill with the same bug and DH didn't get it at all. All of us got it at different times. The theory about this goes something like: immune systems vary so much in order that tribes could get through patches of illness with at least someone being healthy at any one time.

There is another theory that some people are better at fighting viruses, and others bacterial infections; related to blood group as I recall and again, this seems to apply in our family. For yet another theory about all this, some bod has come up with the idea that being compromised in one area of immunity or health actually increases one's ability to fight off other sickle cell trait leaves one less susceptible to malaria. I am not quite sure that I see this at work in our family. DH is consistently more healthy and I am yet to find his immunological Achilles heel.

So how is that people with severe, debilitating illness cope with HE, for I know of at least two vivid situations where this is the case? It is truly awesome, and you are extraordinary.

Also, I owe my family thanks and apologies for all that extraordinary testiness and lassitude. It has left its traces and this makes me sad. Some remedial effort is now required on my behalf!

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Difference between Bullying and Self-Defence

The friends of Nathan Jones, the boy who committed suicide as a result of bullying at school, have had their website closed down because of a complaint about the poem, which can still be read here... , from someone who allegedly bullied Nathan.

We here unequivocally salute the efforts of Nathan's friends to give him a fitting epitaph and to make manifest the truly terrible effects of bullying. We feel their actions were brave, fitting and desperately urgent. Too often we hear of instances of people playing down, ignoring or paying politically correct lip-service to the issue of school bullying. Finally, no longer. After reading this poem, no bully can go away without doubts about his behaviour and everyone else will realise that they must take this problem seriously and that this may require momentous change and creativity.

So how can it be right, when we deplore bullying, that someone feels bullied and upset by the poem? Quite simply, there is a moral justification for the actions of the poets. There is due cause to create upset since there is a difference between freely chosen, unprovoked bullying and legitimate self-defence. The poem falls into the category of the latter: the victims of bullying daring to stand and simply and importantly tell the truth.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Home Education - Here it is.

And now for the real reasons why one should home educate:

What would your Child Choose?

Here's a reason to make quite sure your kids know that they could home educate if ever they want to, and that they needn't even tell you why they want to.

A conversation today:

Mum A, "She (referring to me) home educates"

Mum B, (who is just about to take a music class for about 30 toddlers and their mums), "Ah, why?

Me: Um, well, schools aren't right for all children.

Mum B: In what way do you mean?

Me: Well, some children are very self-directed learners, and then there is the problem of the bullying culture.

Mum B: I was bullied at school. All of my time there, apart from the first term.

Me: (temporarily shocked) You? Someone like you? Ah yes, actually that figures. You're so competent in every way.

Mum B, (as class start time draws closer and choosing words with great pain, describes the bullying, which included unremitting exclusion, stone throwing, threats that she must fail at things or else.)

Mum A, (mockingly because embarrassed), Oh you're so scarred.

Mum B, (starts crying, whilst desperately trying not to), I wish I'd been home educated. I can't believe I've said all this. I never told my parents. I can't say any more.

Class starts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Nathan Jones from Essex

'April 2005. A 12-year-old boy found hanging at his family home was driven to kill himself by school bullies, his friends have claimed.'

Monday, April 18, 2005

An Answer for Roger Scruton

David Brooks of the New York Times


"The fact is, sex is more explicit everywhere - on "Desperate Housewives," on booty-quaking music videos, on the Internet - except in real life. As the entertainment media have become more sex-saturated, American teenagers have become more sexually abstemious. Teenage pregnancy rates have declined by about a third over the past 15 years. etc.."

And also:

"No doubt some people will continue these stale kabuki battles on into their graves: the 50's against the 60's, the same trumped-up outrage, the same self-congratulatory righteousness, the same fund-raising-friendly arguments again and again. But today's young people appear not to have taken a side in this war; they've just left it behind."

At last some sense. And could we now possibly continue in this same sensible state of mind and apply the same argument to simulated violence. Even if figures happen to show rising rates of violent crime, I'd be very happy to bet that simulated violence on TV has nothing to do with it. Other contributory factors are far more significant, not the least of which is the fact that children are forced to go to degrading schools where they are compelled to act the yob to survive.

Robert Winston, in the "Child of our Time" BBC documentary series, debunked the myth that simulated violence causes real violence. He featured a 5 year old boy who played 'Halo' and 'Time Splitters' almost to the exclusion of any other activity. This child turned out to be the most popular kid in his class, being both empathetic and a good problem solver. What is more, the boy, whilst teaching Winston the game on dual player and despite provocation from Winston, refused to take easy advantage of him.

Good Faith, Bad Faith.

OK, so this whole entry is triggered by a below-the-belt suspicion. There is no real reason to suspect Paul Johnson, long-term Spectator columnist, of bad faith, but his current article in this weeks edition,, puts me irretrievably in mind of someone who is having doubts, and he shouldn't be, given his Catholicism.

As a general rule, the outer edges of amateur physics seem to be the natural conclave of atheists. They are drawn towards black holes, parallel universes, and the like. But Paul Johnson, professed Catholic, who is nearing the end of his life, suddenly winds up there. OK, he's a renaissance man who has demonstrated a wide interest in everything, but why now? Why now is he suddenly interested in string theory and wormholes?

So this is being nasty, but more usefully could this point to an essential inequality between those who profess a faith and those who don't? Uncertainty does not work in the issue of faith. You either have it, or you don't, and since the whole religious structure is founded upon it, the whole thing should collapse when you take faith away. (Please tell me I'm wrong here!)

Sensible atheists know that they live with uncertainty: that it is a matter of working with the most rational explanation available, and accepting that our theories in forever merely being renditions of the truth may always be subject to change. It may be that God will put in an appearance, but so far he hasn't and he doesn't provide good explanations anywhere right back to and beyond the Big Bang. We get on with living with uncertainty and the best ideas we have so far. (Some of these ideas seem pretty damn good, mind you, eg: the simple but startling idea that moral explanations are derived from factual ones.)

The Morning After

Saturday night and a combination of workable car, perfect music, fine company, the dark river, super novae sky and OK, just a few Cote de Beaune (sorry there never really was any embargo on the wine front), I had a sort of libertarian epiphany, when all the loose ends seem to crystalise around the central heart of the wisdoms that remain only tentatively in the world of doubt. It seemed perfectly conceivable that the whole universe should be overlaid with this skein of wisdom and that Popper must be wrong! This solution posed no further problems.

Then we went on to another pub and I completely forgot what on earth I was going on about, (which was, I now realise, a great relief for several people.)

But actually I wish I could remember since, Sunday am, I found myself on a hill top with no space between it and rampant emptiness. The momento mori of hills. I suppose, as an atheist, I shouldn't be in the least surprised to find a place god-forsaken, but even so, this spot took took the biscuit for terrible, desolate nothingness. Even the other mother there, who it turns out, is a card-carrying church-goer, was spooked. Two leafless giant trees rustled and ghost houses scattered over the other hills, stared blankly back. It was actually a relief when a kestrel landed on a pole and stared predaciously at us. Life affirming in a way, since in wanting us dead, he at least was serious about the business of living.

My sister can create the most extraordinary paintings about this boundary, the stepping over into existential crisis. These pictures do not flatter and are not easy to sit next to during dinner. I don't mean all that "Scream" type stuff. There's no hysteria. Rather they can take you, through the counterpoint of intimate detail and space, the whole journey to total terror and mercifully beyond. Equipoise of terror and wonder, serious beauty and attainable peace! Quite a subject eh! And I love her. She's seriously gorgeous.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Roger Scruton's Prejudices

Roger Scruton is one of those writers, (like Paul and Boris Johnson, but unlike Mark Steyn who is pretty consistently right), whose arguments can by the moment change from the completely subtle and awe-inspiring, to the utterly wrong within the space of a comma. To see what I mean, you may have to subscribe to the Spectator at, for his current article entitled "Shameless and Loveless."

To sum up, the article laments, in the fairly traditional way of conservatives inveighing against the modern world, the loss of the Arcadian era, pre-1963 when people knew how to genuinely go about the project of love. He writes: "In pornography, desire is detached from love, and attached to the mute machinery of sex. This is damaging to adults in just the same way that modern sex education is damaging to children. For it undermines the possibility of real erotic love, which comes only when the sexual act is hedged round with prohibitions, and offered as a gift and an existential commitment".

He insists: "By focusing on the wrong things we pollute and diminish the right things."

Why this either/or equation? Does this not simply gives us all more possibilities? Sex workers are most often quite clear about the distinctions between their work and the project of love and they take the latter one just as seriously as humans ever did and this usually involves a number of prohibitions, which though these may have changed in some regards, are not the less life-enhancing for this. Most children find sex education classes only relevant in so far as they are good for a laugh.

Rog...get real and actually talk to real people without prejudice, for a change.

Friday, April 15, 2005


There are out-takes and there are out-takes. We found this one again this morning, when looking for something else (of a much more obviously educational nature, you understand).

An Irish reporter was on location investigating Laughter Therapy. A laughter class was being held outside in a lovely little grotto-type garden, with pupils and class guru standing in a circle. They were making a variety of noises, including chuckles, chortles and a parpy sort of sound.

Reporter, sceptically ..."So how does this work then?" The class guru, by way of response, emits a high-pitched giggle and the class obligingly chortle and parp back at him.

Reporter manages "Well, I think you's is all mad", before snorting uncontrollably and falling head first into a bush. There are off-camera clanks and strange camera angles which suggest the crew are also corpsing.

Social Graces

Uncontrolled corpsing is not, sadly, confined to TV land. I think I may owe someone a signficant apology since there is a reasonable chance that I have just rendered a perfectly innocent elderly gentleman with a perfectly acceptable hair cut, completely incapable of leaving his house for a couple of months until his hair grows a bit.

We were down in what now passes for our local with a couple of friends, discussing one of those subjects that even in the best possible world, one simply cannot imagine discussing with one's parents, when in walks her dad. Her partner's double-take fell directly within my line of sight and caused me to fall sideways off my chair, as if trying to find something extremely important under the table. Once it became apparent that there was absolutely nothing of significant interest anywhere under there, given the circumstances, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to come up with the haircut excuse.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bully Boy Tactics?

A wonderful day at an HE meeting, with over forty people present. There was not one, NOT ONE even minor instance of bullying there, not between children or between children and parents.

It occurs to me that seeing as everyone else seems to be allowed to prove a pre-conceived point by doing what is in reality a completely bogus 'scientific' experiment, why don't we do a similar 'scientific' study to prove that school causes bullying?

Ok, so we wouldn't stoop so low. Plus, there's no need. We have good arguments which contain strong explanations as to why the incidence of bullying looks to be such a feature of school life, and as to why this stands in such vast contrast to the levels of bullying in the HE community, where by example it seems quite clear that bullying is far from being the congenital feature of childhood that it is all too often assumed to be.


What do hamsters and marijuana have in common? I'll tell you. They are both perfect examples, should anyone be in any doubt about the matter, of the fact that evolution is the theory of choice, both when it comes to explain the origin of species, and also how it is that one can end up with one's head apparently stuck to the sitting room floor.

All those years ago, spliffs were just a sort of barely considered adjunct to an evening. One only eventually gave it all up once it finally sank in that it was hindering one's chances of finding the 24hour corner shop. So, woe betide anyone who even sits in the same room nowadays. What now happens is that one ends up lying down somewhere immediately to hand, trying to come to terms with the fact that one's brains have been sucked out and replaced with a bundle of straw.

Then the hamsters. Am I completely wrong in remembering these as ponderous little animals which could be easily cut off at the pass? They aren't now. They dart about rooms with people desperately scrabbling at them, rather as cats try to catch a waggled torch light.

Evolution in a few short years. Quite why hamsters should have sped up to quite this extent, I have no idea. Or could it be that it is only the plant derivative that has evolved?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Spiked has the Measure of this Issue

The beeb, with characteristic false self-deprecation, seems to be quite happy to promulgate the oldest urban myth that TV viewing screws up your child. The version of this rubbish is updated to fit the zeitgeist. Seeing as bullying is the issue of the moment, the current theme is run out as "TV viewing will turn your child into a bully".

Spiked seems to have the measure of this issue.

Yep...this sort of research is rubbish. It is entirely pseudo-scientific. Not one of the so-called facts is falsifiable. Every single possible explanation cannot be tested against the data, since all other possible explanations could also fit. ie: children who watch more telly may bully more, (if that is indeed the case), because they watch telly, or because they eat more junk, or because they don't get the moral information that they need, or because dad tries to get them off the telly all the time and they build up a lurking resentment which they then let loose on some unsuspecting victim or because they are being bullied so badly at school that TV and bullying provide them with the only forms of escape and retribution, etc, etc.

These studies are a fine example of foul play. What happens is that someone with an entrenched, and therefore beyond rational criticism, idea of the high principle of self-denial, sets out to prove his hypothesis with an investigation that cannot, in principle, be categorised as science, but which will pass for such with quite a few of us saps.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Panorama on Bullying

The best that can be said about the situation in schools as portrayed in this programme is that at least severe bullying is at last being taken seriously to some extent, and given that this is so desperately overdue, it is hard not to be grateful for even this tiny titbit, but generally speaking this was probably the only consolation in this painfully sad programme.

The muddle-headedness of the thinking that emanates from all those who cannot think outside the box of 'school is good' shines forth from programmes such as these. The protagonists, headmasters, LEA representatives, schools ministers, even parents simply cannot imagine a better idea than school and it clouds their ability to think at all clearly.

How can the people in such a system, which in illegally promoting the element of compulsory school attendance, and which condones the usual relationship between teacher and pupil, which in any other situation would be unquestionably be categorised as a bullying one, how can the people in such a system honestly and with a clear conscience deal with the issue of bullying, since they themselves frequently on a minute by minute basis, perpetuate the crime themselves?

One of the ways in which many schools set out to deal with the problem of bullying is to use what is known as the 'No Blame Approach'. The irrationality and moral relativism of the No Blame Approach to bullying just makes you want to scream. Such poor thinkers should really not be allowed to be responsible for our children. The' No Blame Approach' is laughable for several reasons. Firstly, the relativism implied by the title is one of the most corrupting influences in Britain today. Relativism in all its forms is demonstrably profoundly illogical, and redundant as an philosophy and an ethic. We cannot allow this type of thinking to be promoted in places of learning. Secondly, in practice it was not at all a 'no blame' approach, insofar as it involved putting the bullies into a group setting with children other than the victims, where the bullies were then in theory, helped to understand the consequences of their actions. Helping someone develop better theories implicitly suggests that they were previously holding bad ones, and therefore that they were to blame for their actions. DUH.

How are we expected to raise our children to think rationally when such blatant contradictions surround them all the time? How are we expected to raise our children to be responsible autonomous reasonable citizens when they are given no experience of exercising responsible choices? The only way in which bullying is going to let up is to remove the element of compulsion over the issue of going to school. It would be nice if to that end, more genuine support for home education could be demonstrated by government, if in practice this just means leaving us alone.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My Laptop

Ouch...Have lent my laptop to the wonderful individual who periodically restores our computers to a reasonable standard of health whenever DH reaches the limits of his knowledge on the matter, who also teaches us the rudiments of Tai Chi (which is surprisingly extraordinarily sensual), who also cooks us delicious meals and in the bargain also helps us realise that autonomous education is the only thoroughly civilised and successful way to go.

Really I shouldn't begrudge him anything, let alone the little black slab that normally sits collecting dust in the corner of the library. But it means I can't easily blog when we go away, so am in a panic and am cancelling all outings as of now.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Fair Trade is not Fair

Last week's Spectator carried an article by Leo McKinsey about the inequities of the Fair Trade boom, as promoted by organisations such as Oxfam. One of the best points he makes, in the course of the usual defence of free trade, is that we cannot possibly support all farmers through Fair Trade, so some are being severely impoverished by this activity. Plus, we are of course, creating a Third World equivalent of the EU butter mountain, with way too many farmers now producing the favorite Fair Trade commodity, coffee. Coffee prices are therefore, despite Fair Trade purposes, dropping on the world market and those farmers who should have committed themselves to producing other crops are finding themselves up the creek.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Improving Truancy

Shame on you Sir David Normington, Permanent Secretary to the Department of Education and Skills. I was watching you. You might think you can get away with this but I taped you and I heard you saying at the meeting of the Select Committee (Public Accounts), of 28th Feb, that education in school is compulsory from ages 5 to 16, which of course, is is is NOT. You, of all people, should know this.

The debate was amusingly accidentally entitled, probably by the Beeb: "Improving Truancy." As home educators, we would, if this was really the aim of the debate, have been very happy to have joined in. As it was, the debate was really about improving school attendance, a debate which would benefit from the wider scope of the HE perspective, but from which most HEers would shy since we have no desire to be confused with truants.

Anyway, why can't we improve truancy? This seems to me to be the first good idea the Beeb has come up with in a long time. The theme of getting them all back to school was thoroughly depressing, infuriating in its lack of imagination, and predictably useless. School inattendance, despite all the huge sums of money poured into the truancy sweeps, remains almost exactly the same over the last decade with some 450,000 pupils staying away on the average day.

As a side issue, the Chairman tried to insist that the Dfes make it categorically impossible for parents to take their children out of school for holidays. How is that these idiots cannot realise that little Johnny's sojourn in San Giminiano will be far more informative and educational than any year long collection of geography lessons? You can learn far more about the geo-politics of the Middle East for example, in a month of nearly being conscripted into various armies and getting food poisoning than you ever can sitting in a boring, boring classroom where the relevance of all these problems seems so remote.

Rational Children

There has recently been a long and deletable discussion on the frequently excellent home education email list, ( UK-HOME-ED@LISTSERV.AOL.COM ), about the bloke who stuffed himself full of McDs in order to prove something or other. The part of the discussion that I find most annoying however, is the assumption that our kids are somehow so deeply vulnerable, so endearingly impressionable, so innocently undiscerning as to fall for the apparently appalling Machiavellian techniques of advertisers. The suggestion is that our children are now, through absolutely no fault of their own, set for a life of unremitting obesity, disease and malnutrition.

This attitude is implicitly deeply patronising. How is that some people can see so clearly that they should not make a habit of eating McDs night and day, despite the advertising, but then others are simply unable to grasp this concept? Could the implication be that the unenlightened are actually way too thick?

For the record, children are NOT too thick. 2 year olds can understand the idea of what constitutes healthy food. They can even decide to refuse the unhealthy option. We know of 7 year olds who hate McDs. Given the chance, the information and attractive choices, they are quite capable of being extremely discerning. In fact we suspect that this last sentence may hold a key to the problem. All those parents who would never dream of letting their kids put a foot through McDs door, probably do find that their children seem woefully susceptible to the charms of adverts, but this is actually because these children do want to gather the information as to what the product really is like. OTOH, those children who are given ready access to it, and are also given better choices, and are allowed to eat when hungry, etc, ie: to listen to what their bodies say, these kids more often than not, realise that McD's is tasteless and boring and gives you belly ache.

We didn't mean it as some sort of terrible sociological experiment, but we couldn't help but notice, on the occasion of taking 2 sets of children into ToysRus, that the children who had had to subsist on making their playthings out of mud, sticks and stones were the ones who went shop crazy, dragging all manner of toys off the shelves and refusing to return them etc, etc. The kids who had grown up with the idea of all this stuff were, otoh, so discerning. They knew precisely what they wanted, which was a 50p extension to a Beyblade, which was completely hidden from view at the back of a shelf. That was all they wanted. They also could spot a rubbishy product from a mile off and were not in thrall to any of it.

The assumption that children can never be rational frequently precludes us from even giving them the chance to be so.

In this vein I would just like to add, 2 year olds can watch GTA and not turn into psychos. They do know the difference! "Muuumm, it is just pretend, though you shouting at me isn't".

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Autonomy Respecting?

Good grief, even the Telegraph is catching on. That surely means that Libertarians everywhere must have sorted this issue out? Well, er...

Anyway, the link:


Even in the most oblivious of times, there are facts that resonate enough to penetrate a very dulled brain. It must be possible to tell a good deal about a person from what sinks in in these moments. I clearly found these facts quite remarkable!

That Dirk Bogarde has been outed as a raving narcissisist who lied and manipulated others throughout his life. He wrote of the death of French actress with whom he pretended to have a long term relationship that her body wasn't found until the flies were at her lips, which was completely untrue, (as well as gratuitous and unfeeling), since she died in the arms of the ambulance man.

That Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge were motivated by a noxious mix of Marxism and the anti-individualism of Buddhism. (Will have to investigate further as had not realised that Buddhism could be fingered in any of this.)

That in 1606 there seems to have been a tsunami that struck coastline of the Bristol Channel, taking swathes of the agricultural populations from the Gower Peninsula right up the Severn Estuary. A headland off Cardiff bay was completely carved up by it. Granite is no object apparently. So get ready to grab those beach towels and run for the hills. The fault that caused the wave, which is just off the South coast of Ireland, is still active.

That the Cuban Missile Crisis really was as scary as it is always made out to be. It seems that the world could have been bombed to non-existence merely because a lift got stuck. The person carrying the crucial message of retreat from Moscow got stuck in the lift just before the deadline was about to be reached. Cripes. Even if apocryphal, it does capture the fearfully unstable nature of the whole situation.

During the most serious ice age, water levels were 150 meters lower than they are today, which made Florida look like a big fat pineapple rather than the banana it is today. There were no ice caps at all during the time of the dinosaurs. The carbon cycle is subject to so many variables and it is really only in the last 8000 years that there has been any semblance of stability about our climate. It could be that this stability accounts for the development of human civilisation but now that we have it and are reasonably canny as a result, are we really not up to the changes that we are about to incur?

An Extra Eight Years

It really does seem to be the case that religious belief is good for you. From the British Medical Journal, believers live 8 years longer than atheists. Hmm. There was some sort of hypothetical explanation but was too upset to take this on board. Not only do they not mind dying, they then get an extra bonus of nearly a decade. This is not fair.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Who's Got the Power?

According to the Sun of March 26th, NUT members were infuriated by promises made by Education Secretary Ruth Kelly to put "parent power" at the heart of education policy. The NUT labelled this idea "patronising" to teachers.

I have to say I'm rather surprised at how the NUT members seem to be reading Ms Kelly's policy statements, since whenever I've looked at her speeches and statements, they seem to suggest that behind the rhetoric and hot air, the only genuine priority in Labour's education policy is that we prepare our children to fit in with the needs of the economy, (as if the economy is not actually driven by the desires and motivations of human beings, but anyway).

But it would be interesting to know how parents of schooled children feel about being regarded with such implicit contempt by teachers. Not of course, that we have to resort to such real politik in order to convince people of the likely superiority of Home Education. There are hundreds of good arguments in it's favour, such as:

Do you want your child to be moulded to fit the workforce, or do you want him to grow as he would and make the workplace his creation?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Set a Thief to Catch a Thief

The people at ARCH are, as has been said, generally right-minded, but there could be a niggling doubt as regards the wisdom of invoking the Human Rights Act 1998 in the fight against the proposal to implement a database of information on all our children. ARCH are going to make the case that the right to a private family life, as detailed in the HRA, will be infringed by the database.

Whilst it is quite clearly the case that the database will infringe the privacy of families and we firmly oppose this as a universal measure, we cannot help but wonder if two wrongs can possibly make a right. The first wrong is, of course, the database, and the second, perhaps more surprisingly, is the HRA.

There are at least five good reasons why the HRA is a bad idea. (There are probably many, many more but have a head cold and cannot think of them right now). One of the main and most memorable reasons why I think the HRA a bad idea is that if the state is allowed to define our rights, we surely sacrifice a fundamental aspect of freedom, namely the principle to be self-directing in the matter of how we perceive the issue of rights, how we argue the case for them and implicitly, how we choose to enact them. Even if these rights as defined in the HRA happen to make a good deal of sense, (as often seems to be the case), we have implicitly lost any hope of genuine autonomy.

We cannot expect the state to set us free. Far better that we are free until we run up against the law than have our freedoms or rights defined for us, the other anxiety being that once the precedent is set that the law may define our rights, what is there to prevent them from taking what appear to be less rational approaches to the issue?

Also, the HRA can contribute to the already widespread misconception that rights are a natural consequence of human existence. By making the issue of human rights a matter of law, many will simply never stop to question the moral legitimacy of these rights since the law seems to suggest that there is no question on the matter. People risk never considering the fact that rights are not implicit in the human condition and that human rights do not exist outside of a social contract or law. The fact that we may be confused into thinking that they do, can mean that we end up feeling constantly aggrieved that our rights are not respected. We develop a litigious and aggrieved society which relishes victimhood and instead of standing firm and fighting to uphold rights which make good explanatory moral sense, turns weakly to the law for protection. Legislating on the matter of rights turns rights which may be argued for and contain sound moral explanations into thoughtless claims.

Then the is the fact that the HRA trumps all other laws, which can lead to some severe inequities that would never result from more negotiated settlements.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty, HRA legislation writers realise that rights must come with all sorts of exemption clauses. People, for example, have a right to education, but in British HR law, they sacrifice this right when the money runs out. Families sacrifice the right to privacy under certain circumstances, such as when their children are at risk. There are some very nebulous terms within the legislation (eg: proportionality) which are necessitated by the unforeseeable complexities of individual situations but the problem is here, that these can always be used against the complainant.

But is there any specific reason to be anxious about trying to prevent the implementation of the database with the HRA? Aside from the fact that the action may fail, - that the judiciary may disagree with the Information Commissioner (whose name escapes me...sorry cold is worsening), who said that he thought the universal database a disproportionate measure, I don't suppose there is much to worry about, since precedent in acknowledging that we have abandoned our claims to autonomous decision making over our rights, is already well set.

Oh, OK then people at ARCH, set a thief to catch a thief. Am going to bed with a hot toddy, to see if this helps with the matter of thinking about this more clearly.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Reading and Writing

There are, atm, all of two readers out there, two people who know of the whereabouts of this blog and both are kind enough to actually talk to me directly with any comments. This is so lovely and am tempted to keep it this way forever.

Don't you Dare

If this doesn't cause most parents of schooled children to seriously stop and think about their choice of place of education, then I'm not quite sure what will.

The right-minded people at ARCH (or Action for the Rights of Children: ) have just put out the following press release:

Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) is alarmed by suggestions from members of NASUWT that pupils should be excluded from school and prosecuted for making 'malicious' allegations of abuse against teachers."We appreciate that false allegations are distressing to teachers, just as they are to police officers and other professionals - or, indeed, to anyone wrongly accused of a criminal offence, " says Terri Dowty, Policy Director of ARCH. "However, we are concerned that the threat of prosecution would deter pupils from reporting abuse."

News reports from BBC Online show that during March 2005, 4 teachers were sent to prison for sexually assaulting pupils, and another for making indecent films of children. During the Autumn term, 20 teachers and 2 teaching assistants were convicted of child sex offences."Some of the convictions relate to offences going back over several years, illustrating just how painful it can be for children to reveal sexual abuse.

It is an offence that is often difficult to prove, and any risk that an abused child could face exclusion and prosecution, having already endured the ordeal of giving evidence and being disbelieved, is simply unacceptable."

Friday, April 01, 2005

Growing Old

It was my birthday yesterday, hence no blogging, and the now rather persistant physical reminder that this was indeed the situation.

Either by complete chance or much more probably, due either to the devious machinations of DH or to the wonders of the free market surveillance society, I received a unsolicited copy of "The Oldie" Magazine. Worse still, I rather enjoyed it, not least because the front cover announced that the issue contained the results of a sex report, and I couldn't find a single reference to it on the inside.

Says it all really.