Posts Tagged education

“So you point to a tree and say, ‘See that car?’

Jon Rappoport writes some pretty interesting stuff.  Today he came up with something that wraps up in a nutshell a recurring concern I have, like a sore that won’t go away,  about “education”: “Education tends to define what is there before a person can experience it on his own.” Here’s the context, but click the link below and read the whole thing. It won’t take a minute and might throw you for an interesting loop.

“If you hand a person a fig and tell him it’s a plum, there is a chance he’ll see a plum.

“If you give a person a copy of Nabokov’s Lolita and explain its ‘themes,’ there is a chance that, as he reads it, he will find those themes and consider them the most important result of his reading. “Instead of relying on his own imagination and perception, a person imagines that what he is told is what he is looking at.

“So you point to a tree and say to a friend, ‘See that car?’

“Education tends to define what is there before a person can experience it on his own.

via IMAGINATION UNTITLED « Jon Rappoport’s Blog.

Salvador Dali's "The Temptation of St. Anthony"

Rene Magritte "This is not a pipe"

Rene Magritte "This is not a pipe"

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“Hours of idleness”

Pop quiz: how old would you say the writer of the following lines was?

In submitting to the public eye the following collection, I have not only to combat the difficulties that writers of verse generally encounter, but may incur the charge of presumption for obtruding myself on the world, when, without doubt, I might be, at my age, more usefully employed.

40? 50? OK, people don’t write like that any more. Still, when they DID write like that, how old would the writer be? No? Read on:

These productions are the fruits of the lighter hours of a young man who has lately completed his nineteenth year.

Preface to the first edition of “Hours of Idleness” by Lord Byron, first published in 1807.

What kind of education did he receive, to write like this at 19? With such confidence over multiple subordinate clauses? With such easy grace and self-deprecation which does not jar but rather charms? An education that included not only a great deal of reading (his preface is headed by three quotations from Horace (in the original Latin), from Homer (in the original Greek) and from Dryden), but also learning graceful good manners.

I admit I know nothing about Byron, other than that he was a poet, a ladies’ man,  an adventurer who spent some time gallivanting around southern Europe and the Near (possibly also Middle) East, who died young and swam the Bosphorus. Possibly not in that order. Read the rest of this entry »

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New York public schools do not enforce discipline

David Roemer writes:

I was a teacher at three public high schools in New York City. Students got an excellent education at two (Edward R. Murrow and Midwood) and a poor education at one (Erasmus). The reason was that there is in NYC a two-tier system. At good schools high demands are made on teachers and students. At poor schools low demands are made on teachers and students. The following is testimony I gave about discipline in NYC public schools to the New York State agency governing public schools:

Read more: The Trouble with No Child Left Behind — Mises Economics Blog

In his testimony, Roemer accuses the public schools of failing to maintain order by not suspending or expelling delinquent students (contrary to the State’s Discipline Code). After distinguishing between “two types of offenses: violent and non-violent” he states (my emphasis), “A school is disorderly because the administration is unwilling to prohibit non-violent misbehavior. Enforcing the rules of civility and decorum will immediately cause students who come to school only to fool around to stop coming to school. This type of student is one of the main sources of disorder and violence in lower-tier schools.

In other words,  non-violent misbehaviour not summarily or effectively dealt with by the school begets violent behaviour: The fault, as I have been saying, isn’t the “behavior of a small percentage of students” but the policy and practices of the Board of Education’s superintendents and principals… violence can be eliminated in schools by enforcing the various rules that require students to behave in a civil and mature manner.” This is exactly the point repeatedly made by a secondary school teacher in Britain who blogs at Scenes from the Battleground.

Roemer gives the specific example of students cutting class, and what one particular school  failed to do about it. After 80% of the faculty at a poorly performing school petitioned the Chancellor about lax discipline, the Chancellor’s response was “We are all committed to enforcing the discipline code so that our schools are conducive to learning.”

Roemer points out that “[t]here is a strong correlation between failing a course and the number of days absent from class”, then provides the evidence:

A computer printout of the names of students at Erasmus Hall High School who cut class in a two week period in May of 1994 shows that 1365 cut class at least 3 times. Since the average daily attendance is around 1500 this means that the overwhelming majority of students cut classes repeatedly, week after week… The extent of the administration’s response to cutting is to send a postcard to the child’s home. This means the burden of disciplining students who cut classes falls entirely on the parents of the child. This state of affairs is not consistent with the Discipline Code…

Roemer makes the issues at stake crystal clear (my emphasis). He points out that the rules necessary to maintaining discipline are already in place, but they need to be enforced; in addition, he explains why they are likely to work if they are enforced (my emphasis):

After repeated reprimands and counseling, a school should summon the parents for a disciplinary counseling session. Such a demand for a conference creates a family crisis…The family crisis a summons to school creates is one that enhances the parents’ standing with the child. The letter or summons means the child is in trouble with the school authorities. This places the child in the position of needing its parents to get him or her out of a predicament. If the parents refuse to go to school, they are giving the school its tacit approval to take what ever disciplinary action the school wants, for example, an out-of-school suspension.

The prospect and threat of suspension is a strong deterrent for cutting and will help children make the right decisions. Children want to be successful in school and know, or should know if they are being properly counseled, that cutting will diminish their chances for academic success. Students cut, nonetheless, because they are human beings and do not always follow their best inclinations and desires. Many are tempted to cut by the example and urgings of their peers.

…While disciplining a student for cutting, all members of the staff must be able to say truthfully that: “cutting is against the rules.” This does not mean that cutting is not recommended, it means precisely that a student who doesn’t obey this rule cannot attend school.

The whole thing is well worth reading. Roemer has prepared a very thorough testimony.

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Book Notes – Deschooling Society (2)

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Following on…

For most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school. ((From the introduction.)

the existence of the university is necessary to guarantee continued social criticism (p. 37)

The man addicted to being taught seeks his security in compulsive teaching. (p. 39)

once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all non-professional activity is rendered suspect. In school we are taught that valuable learning is the result of attendance; that the value of learning increases with input; and that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates. (p. 39)

School teaches [the myth that] instruction produces learning. The existence of school produces the demand for schooling. Once we have learned to need school, all our activities tend to take the shape of client relationships to other specialized institutions. (p. 39)

Knowledge … is conceived of as a commodity put on the market in school. (p. 47)

School makes alienation preparatory to life, thus depriving education of reality and work of creativity. (p. 47)

Knowledge is not a commodity which can be forced into the consumer. (p. 50)

[Schools should]

  • be convivial places which folk do not have to be convinced to use (p. 55)
  • move towards praxis (action) and away from poesis (making) (p. 62)
  • increase the opportunity and desirability of human interaction (p. 63)

Institutions men use without having to be institutionally convinced that it is to their advantage to do so… (p. 55)

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Book Notes – Deschooling society

Ivan Illich
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Here are some quotes from chapter 1 of  Ivan Illich‘s classic Deschooling Society, which I recently re-read. The quotes are sentences or ideas that caught my attention. They are not necessarily representative, either of the book itself, nor of Illich’s or my thinking; that is, you won’t get an objective summary of the book by reading these quotes.  (For a 1971 libertarian review of Illich’s book, click here). With that disclaimer out of the way, here we go.

Chapter 1: Why we must disestablish schools.

[Schools school students] to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, … the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

… In these essays, I will show that the institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence. … I will explain how this process of degradation is accelerated when non-material needs are transformed into demands for commodities; when health, education, personal mobility, welfare, or psychological healing are defined as the result of services or “treatments”.

The ideology of obligatory schooling admits of no logical limits. [Illich goes on to illustrate using as an example the proposal of]
Dr. Hutschnecker, the “psychiatrist” who treated Nixon before he was qualified as a candidate, recommended… that all children between 6 and 8 be professionally examined to ferret out those who have destructive tendencies, and that obligatory treatment be provided for them…. Indeed, preventive concentration camps for predelinquents would be a logical improvement over the school system.

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“The students will not tolerate the teacher having power in the classroom”

This is a reply to a comment kindly left by OldAndrew of Scenes from the Battleground blog, which was a reply to this blog entry. I originally just replied to OldAndrew’s comment in a comment, but my reply got too long for a comment.

if students object to the very idea of the teacher being in charge, then there is nothing the teacher can do and still teach. You can make all the points you like about how the teacher is “responsible”, the point is that in that situation the teacher has responsibility without power.
Quite right. The situation is worse than I thought and I have edited my comment here from my original, flippant response. Obviously, little learning or teaching can take place in chaos.

You’re caught between a rock and hard place: you are denied the power (or authority) to act responsibly, and yet blamed for not acting responsibly or authoritatively. It seems a Catch-22 situation. The problem seems to be largely a legal and political one, yet also an ideological one in that a few teachers are not enough to make a difference, and if the school as a whole from the Head downwards is not backing up a serious attempt to impose order in the chaos (e.g. by recognizing, as OldAndrew says, that appeasement does not lead to increased order but the reverse; that some of the dearly held beliefs about children, their nature, and human behaviour may well be not only wrong but contributing to the problem), then most attempts will fail and the efforts of OldAndrew and his ilk will be limited. (I’m thinking of the example of Marie Stubbs, who was headmistress and managed to either bring around most of the staff to her way of thinking or hire her own replacements.)

I have found OldAndrew’s blog to be a fascinating source of information about British secondary school education. I especially recommend his Guide to Scenes from the Battleground

I recall reading about an incident earlier in 2009 in a British school, when a teacher was fired for forcibly removing an obstreperous student from a classroom: he physically grabbed the boy by the collar and the seat of his pants and pushed him out of the classroom. The police were called, and I don’t know what happened to the young man (15 or16, I can’t recall exactly), but the teacher had the book thrown at him: defrocked, disrobed, you name it. The poor guy was approaching retirement age, but I doubt if this is the way he had imagined leaving the profession. (I wish I could find the link).

(I’m reminded of the entrepreneurs and industrialists in Atlas Shrugged, forced to somehow continue inventing and producing despite a plethora of laws and regulations that effectively demotivate and prevent them from making a profit.)

“if the teacher were to slap anyone’s face the teacher would be suspended, fired and probably prosecuted.” I realize that times have changed since I went to school.

“the change in the law prohibiting this and all forms of corporal punishment in state schools was passed by Mrs Thatcher’s government, so I’m not sure where the “dominant socialist” thing came from.”
I interpreted the push for group work and mixed ability classes as coming from an ideology that said elitism is bad, ranking and streaming students is bad, hence (by implication) achievement is bad (or at least should be downplayed), in other words egalitarianism or socialism. I don’t equate socialism only with the left wing, or the Labour party (Hitler’s party was the National Socialists). I had not realized Thatcher’s specific responsibility, but it does not surprise me.

Thanks for commenting.

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Scenes from the Battleground responds

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OldAndrew, blogger of Scenes from the Battleground, took the trouble to comment on my earlier post (his comment is here, my original blog post is here). Thank you, OldAndrew.

I’ve been reading more of his blog posts. At first,  it was horrified fascination that kept me reading his stuff, kinda like rubbernecking a traffic accident. I kept asking myself how I would react in this or that situation; could I handle it? How?

Our situations are so different, it’s presumptuous of me to comment. I obviously have no idea what it’s like, and what works for me in my situation (with docile, well-behaved young adults for the most part, in a culture that avoids confrontation) would clearly not work in his.

Andrew wrote,

in many cultures young people in at least part of this range would be considered to be adults, so we should be very careful about excuses based on the idea that they are too young to behave.

I was not suggesting that children’s bad behaviour should be excused simply because they are young, nor that, because they are young, they are therefore likely to misbehave. I wrote that, the teacher is the (oldest) adult in the room, the master of ceremonies, and a representative of the institution (he belongs there more than the students do, at least), and therefore it seems more reasonable to expect the teacher to modify his behaviour if students are not cooperating or whatever. Modifying his behaviour does not mean capitulating; it means, “stop doing what isn’t working, or leading to escalation, and try something else.”

If you’re the adult in the room, the responsibility is on you; you are more likely than the students to act responsibly; you are the one who should act responsibly. That doesn’t let the students off the hook for irresponsible, rude, violent or whatever inappropriate behaviour, of course, but someone’s got to make the first move, take the initiative.

Stories about my successes would soon become stories about people who tried to stop me, or what I had to do to avoid being stopped. (Similarly, for the successes of other people I know.)… With regard to the claim of focussing on the negatives, I would suggest that this is how you change things. I am interested in improvement, and the biggest single obstacle to this in most schools is the attitude that it is “negative” to identify what isn’t working.

Well, is he changing things? Is focussing on the negatives working as a strategy? I agree that not looking squarely at what’s wrong is a huge hindrance to solving a problem.

I’m reminded of chapters in John Taylor Gatto’s book, in which he recounts, blow by blow, the mind-numbing stupidity, red-tape and petty-mindedness of administrators and bureaucrats that he came up against in 30 years of teaching in New York, at the end of which he quit:

An accumulation of disgust and frustration which grew too heavy to be borne finally did me in.

I read the Scenes from the Battleground blog for different reasons than OldAndrew writes it: I read it to learn, to put myself by proxy in new situations and try them on for size. When I read an article like the F… off Factor, for instance, I want to read OldAndrews wise words of advice on how to effectively deal with such a situation. Instead, I get a long-assed transcript of some such exchanges that he or a colleague experienced, followed by all the things the school didn’t do to penalize the student. OK. We got the picture. Bad behaviour where OldAndrew is, is often either unpunished or not punished effectively enough.

When I was a schoolboy, a large, rugby-playing tough-guy pupil, in the corridor waiting to go into class and with his back to the door, started an imitation of the teacher to amuse his friends. The teacher himself suddenly came out and stood right by Rugby Player, who, noticing everyone had gone quiet, turned around. The teacher promptly slapped his face, and while Rugby Player stood there, in shock or pondering which wrestling move to use on this teacher, the teacher snapped, “Well don’t just stand there or I’ll do it again!”

Now that’s a success story: an example of bad behaviour promptly and sucessfully quelled (leaving aside the question of whether the punishment fit the “crime”). It also worked well as a deterrent because there were about 30 students watching. That’s what I want to read.

OldAndrew does a great job of giving an alternative point of view to the dominant socialist one. His blog is up there on my “every teacher should read this” list, along withMelanie Phillips’  All Must Have Prizes, Gatto’s Underground History of American Education and E.D. Hirsch’s The Schools We Need (and why we don’t have them).

Only OldAndrew can tell what will work and what won’t in his situation. Looking at his situation from my armchair, thousands of miles away, my considered opinion is that, it’s hopeless. I see no way out left by OldAndrew’s stated views except increased coercion in some form or other. Maybe that will work. I’m not holding my breath.

OMG, one of Zemanta’s “related articles” below is to a Guardian article about infant drop-outs. It’s a strain to read this after Scenes from the Battleground. Have your paper bag ready in case you feel unwell:

With about 1,000 primary-age pupils now permanently excluded from schools each year, the programme aims to use early intervention to nip behavioural problems in the bud. The scheme, based in a vocational education centre for older pupils in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was launched this autumn at the request of a group of local schools. Each week, 12 pupils will spend a day here, learning a range of vocational skills including construction, hairdressing and catering… “We left this blank,” explains the regional support manager for the project, Sandra Ladapo, “so the children could make this their ‘feelings wall’.”… The thinking is that if children are unable to settle at school and are badly behaved or can’t communicate with classmates, there are probably deeper issues that need resolving. One of the jobs of the staff here is to give the children space to express themselves. “From our side, it’s giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, to start engaging them so they can begin to read and write,” Ladapo says.  … Away from the melee, she produces some of the notes she’s received about her new charges: “Challenging – needs constant reminders about tasks and accepted behaviour; poor social skills; little respect for females both in class and at break; fights and chews his T-shirt; doesn’t feel the need to be in school.”.. the children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre’s main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls…. Claire has settled down with Brad, five, Sam, six, and Neil, seven, to make a “happy chart”. The idea is to set out how they feel they should behave while they’re here

The scheme, based in a vocational education centre for older pupils in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was launched this autumn at the request of a group of local schools. Translation: Please take them off our hands, please!

their ‘feelings wall’ This just sounds manipulative: what child would feel a need for or an interest in his or her own “feelings wall”? Or are we talking PTSD here?

doesn’t feel the need to be in school.” What child does? Gimme a break!

“From our side, it’s giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, Is it possible to give someone self-esteem?

children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre’s main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls. Didn’t Montessori figure all this out about 100 years ago?

Claire has settled down with Brad, five, Sam, six, and Neil, seven, to make a “happy chart”. The idea is to set out how they feel they should behave while they’re here What’s a “happy chart”? And what’s it got to do with clarifying to these tots how they should behave?

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Scenes from the Battleground – a secondary school teacher reveals the horrors of British classrooms

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I’ve just spent the last few hours reading the Scenes from the Battleground blog. Andrew Old is old-school: a believer in teaching facts and knowledge, in the importance of effective discipline, and he does not believe in progressive education.

He writes well, with zest and humour. Here’s a good example: someone sent him an email asking him to review the trailer of a documentary about education called We are the People We’ve been Waiting For.

After copying the original emailed request into his blog entry, Andrew provides his review:
Why Lord Puttnam Can Stick His Stupid Documentary Up His Arse

Andrew is not going for shock value here, he is genuinely furious:

But it takes the insanity of the zealot to blame educational failure on the academic focus of the education system, when anybody familiar with our schools can see that there is no academic focus for these children. This is a rant against authority in education, by the kind of people who do have authority in education. This is an argument for failed orthodoxy by presenting it as a radical departure. This is a polemic against academic standards by the kind of people who have already lowered the standards to nothing. This is an attack on the curriculum by the people who gave us the curriculum we have. This is an attempt to blame the failure of the educational system on the very values the system has already abandoned. This is a prolonged assault on a strawman education system that not only doesn’t exist, but would be far better than what we have now if it did exist. This is shameful lies combined with self-righteous sermons.

OldAndrew is intelligent and eloquent and knowledgeable (I’ve bookmarked his brief history of British education since WWII), but his blog entries pall after a while: it’s all rather negative – there are no success stories. It may be that success stories are impossible, given the kind of environment he describes (few serious consequences for children who misbehave, for instance, little or no backup from administration, and a steady stream it seems of arrogant, snivelling, rude young people who are never held responsible for their actions), yet I can’t help responding, “If you’re so clever, why can’t you make your approach work?” Maybe it does, but Andrew doesn’t seem interested in telling us the things that work. It’s more fun slagging off the students, or the staff, or the administrators, or the parents (everyone gets some stick at some time or other on his blog, including commenters).

He does a service, I think, to blow the lid off the “phony” approaches, such as Brain Gym and others that might be lumped together under the heading Snake Oil. (Here are similarly critical examinations of Learning Styles. The dominant philosophy of the times is in favour of such approaches, so it comes as a bit of a (healthy) shock to read a contrary opinion.)

A fairly frequent commenter on Andrew’s blog is Newsisgood. Here’s a question posed by Newsisgood to Andrew, with Andrew’s response:

Is it at all possible that a students’ misbehaviour could be down to unfair punishments from the teacher, or unfair discipline from the system?
If it is possible, would you still blame the student anyway? (You have said before that you must presume that the teacher is always correct when a teacher and student disagree). by Newsisgood June 4, 2007 at 10:11 am

“Is it at all possible that a students’ misbehaviour could be down to unfair punishments from the teacher, or unfair discipline from the system?”


Strangely enough a student’s misbehaviour is down to the student. (The clue was in the word “student’s”.)

by oldandrew June 4, 2007 at 10:29 am

Andrew seems a mite intransigent. I don’t think the situation is as black-and-white as he sees it. For a start, he’s dealing with children, who by definition are not fully formed adults. In other words, it seems non-productive to insist that young people take full responsibility for their behaviours and choices as one might expect of adults. A lot of children’s behaviour, particularly in school, is a playing out of child/parent roles, in other words it is often a response to adult behaviour (tho the adult in question may not be in the classroom).

Andrew has repeatedly stated on his blog that he considers the bad students as people who bring their bad behaviours with them to school: he recounts experiences of students being rude and abusive to him or to other teachers whom they did not know. He feels stung by the (apparently) often repeated suggestion that teachers whose students behave badly are responsible, and that the solution lies in a better relationship with the students. Andrew dismisses this out of hand: “there IS no relationship” and yet students behave badly.

I feel Andrew is stuck in his situation. His attitude seems to preclude any satisfactory solution. I haveto admire his fortitude in staying instead of giving up. He sounds more intelligent than most of his fellow-teachers, which must make it increasingly galling when he is called to account by some dippy higher-up.

Update: here is another example of Andrew’s negativity andclosed-mindedness. What would be more helpful, then? “Focus on the negatives! Let the buggers get you down!” perhaps?

I think we all struggle with the attitudes of students and SMT alike. The trick is NOT to let it affect you. Life becomes a lot easier in schools if you can go around with a smile on your face and attempt to focus on the positives…after all, most kids are great.

It seems rather self defeating to allow the misery of a few morons to determine your own mood.

Who are the adults here?

     by treeman December 7, 2007 at 10:43 am


“The trick is NOT to let it affect you. Life becomes a lot easier in schools if you can go around with a smile on your face and attempt to focus on the positives…after all, most kids are great.”

Thanks, I forgot to mention that one.

That’s definitely one of the most unhelpful things you could ever say to somebody working in a stressful environment and only somebody who really didn’t get it could ever say it.

     by oldandrew December 7, 2007 at 2:32 pm

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The truth about (American) colleges

Gary North writes regularly for the libertarian, free-market economics website I’ve been impressed by his no-nonsense, fact-filled, humour-laced style (a combination of honest businessman and high-powered professor).

Links in these articles led me to Dr North’s own website. Here, there’s free stuff and a subscribers-only area. The free stuff includes sections on college finances and study habits, both of which I found fascinating. The latter especially I found of potential practical use, especially the sections on note-taking and on writing book reports.

Somewhere amongst the numerous articles and reports, I found a reference to this Forbes article Is College Worth It?, and this New York Times 2006  one on Brand U. This article included the following, which caught my eyes as discussions about changing names (of the department, of the faculty) pop up fairly regularly in formal meetings where I work in Japan.

I RECENTLY did some research for a satirical novel set at a university. The idea was to have a bunch of gags about how colleges prostitute themselves to improve their U.S. News & World Report rankings and keep up a healthy supply of tuition-paying students, while wrapping their craven commercialism in high-minded-sounding academic blather.

I would keep coming up with what I thought were pretty outrageous burlesques of this stuff and then run them by one of my professor friends and he’d say, Oh, yeah, we’re doing that.

One of my best bits, or so I thought, was about how the fictional university in my novel had hired a branding consultant to come up with a new name with the hip, possibility-rich freshness needed to appeal to today’s students. Two weeks later, a friend called to say it was on the front page of The Times: “To Woo Students, Colleges Choose Names That Sell.” Exhibit A was Beaver College, which had changed its name to Arcadia University. Applications doubled.

There was a Japanese newspaper article on specific cases of this type in Japan just a couple of months ago which my wife pointed out to me. I’ll post the link later.

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Something is destroying British education, says former Chief Inspector of Schools

Henry Hazlitt
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Chris Woodhead, a man many teachers loved to hate when he was Chief Inspector of Schools under the Conservative and then Labour governments, 1994-2000, has written a book in which he expresses his views about British education. An excerpt was published in the Times (online), May 10, 2009.

Fifty years ago the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch asked whether we could maintain educational standards while making education more “democratic”. The experience of the past 12 years has taught us we cannot.

John Holt, in Freedom and Beyond (1972), wrote about a fallacy of universal education: the idea that if everybody was equally educated, everyone would have a better job. (I don’t have the book, and could only find online this excerpt, which is not quite what I was looking for, but close).

Woodhead, in this excerpt, does not closely examine this fallacy, or delve too deeply into the possible meanings of “democratic”. He refers to Murdoch writing 50 years ago, which certainly predates Holt by about 25 years.

Woodhead goes a little deeper into what he means by freedom:

By freedom I mean an appreciation of what the greatest human beings achieved; a sense of what other people in other ages knew to be important and possible; a liberation from the tyranny of the majority view; a release from the monotony of the quotidian. I want every child, every “disadvantaged” child in particular, to walk as far as they can down that road to freedom.

Why “every disadvantaged child in particular“, and would this mean that disadvantaged children would be given preference (in an ideal, Woodhead world) to others? It’s impossible to tell from this excerpt alone, but leaving that aside, this concept of freedom seems rather threadbare: there is no suggestion, for instance, of the freedom to create new, exciting realities, only a typically conservative reliance on the past – “what the greatest human beings achieved… what people in other ages knew…” Nor is there any awareness of any form of tyranny other than “the majority view”. What about the tyranny of ruling elites, or of the state?

Woodhead goes on for a couple of pages which could easily have been expressed in a single word: egalitarianism.

I am reading a fascinating biography of Murray Rothbard, which mentions an essay of his on egalitarianism (pdf warning). Rothbard is an exciting thinker to read: highly knowledgeable, and with a flowing, readable style which leavens the erudition with a mordant wit. I am looking forward to reading Rothbard’s essay: I expect to learn much about the history of the egalitarian concept, as well as a barrage of solid arguments against it. Another great thinker whose essays and books are available on the Mises Institute website is Henry Hazlitt. In The Science of Thinking, Hazlitt makes this suggestion for choosing what books to read:

you should endeavor to get, in as short a time as possible, the greatest number of important facts and the main outlines of the best that has been thought. So if you sincerely intend to master any subject, the best way to begin is by the selection of the most comprehensive and authoritative work you can secure. … If you take up the most thorough book first you need merely glance through the smaller books, for the chances are that they will contain little that is new to you, unless they happen to be more recent.

I recommend Hazlitt, and Rothbard. If you want to learn about freedom and egalitarianism, reading Rothbard will be more profitable than reading Woodhead.

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