30 July 2008

Police state schools

Apologies to the Daily Mail, but this was too good to resist.

And the scary thing is, it's probably less remote from a possible future than one would like to think.

27 July 2008

Shock News: Schools are not so bad!

Charles Murray in the WSJ here :

"Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated."

The truth is, of course, that the most important factor in educational "outcomes" is the intelligence of the pupils being educated. Apart from effectively teaching the majority of schoolchildren to read, write and add-up and enforcing discipline, if only by allowing the majority of pupils to leave once this aim is achieved, there is nothing more even the best school can hope for. That would at least allow the minority of children with above average intelligence to pursue an academic career unmolested by those of a more prosaic outlook. The idea that education can be used to pursue some form of social engineering is arrant nonsense and dangerous to boot.

As Murray says:

That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst."

26 July 2008

An anecdote for the holidays

Scottish schools broke up at the end of June but I'm just back from sunny Buckinghamshire where my niece has just finished her first year at the local grammar. I appreciate the sort of people who support this blog are unlikely to agree with this but as far as I'm concerned, the crucial benefit of grammars, as with private schools, is that not everyone goes to them. In comps we take the lot, have to take the lot. A melancholy thought that sometimes floats through my brain is that tomorrow's rapists and murderers have to go to school somewhere - and I think I've seen a few of them.

Anyway, since it's been in the news recently, I thought I'd share a wee tale from Glasgow East where I was teaching last session. It's not that I don't think conditions like ADHT or dyslexia don't exist - it's just that they tend to be over-diagnosed. There are two reasons for this, in my view. One is that ordinary mechanisms for social control have been progressively delegitimized by people often described as, um, progressives. Hence the tendency towards the medicalization of mundane social problems. (LBS - lazy bastard syndrome.) The other reason is there are incentives involved. Those diagnosed with such conditions get Learning Support, extra time in exams, general excuses made for them and so on.

So when you're told that a pupil has ADHT, I have to confess my initial response is to say, "Yeah - right." Not always though. When I was informed that a particularly 'challenging' pupil of mine had this condition, I said, "Are you sure that's all that's wrong with him?"

Because he was, I'm sure through no fault of his own, mental. And I mean totally. Completely unteachable, almost uncontrollable, took tantrums - the works. He was, for example, chucked out of the final exam in my subject after about ten minutes. It takes a special kind of loon to achieve that.

Anyway, towards the sunny end of term, a couple of us were doing a little al fresco smoking as is our want obligation when we noticed our friend - let's call him Kevin McDiddy - wondering into school after the exams. Since he's over sixteen and has hitherto done a very good impression of someone who loathes school with every fragment of his DNA, we wondered what the hell he was doing there. Buying a senior school tie is what he was doing. He thinks he's staying on! It's not that pupils like him don't hate school - they just hate the idea of leaving and having to organise something else to do - like working - even more. I hope his 'pastoral care' teacher has disabused him of this whole staying on plan of his - although these days you can never tell. Anyway, you'll have guessed already the point I'm going to make. Imagine a situation where the school was obliged to take him for another two years. But if you teach in an English school, you won't have to merely imagine much longer. Two more years of compulsory education; what a mental idea. As mental as Kevin McDiddy as a matter of fact.

25 July 2008

Barack's Big Idea

Our New Messiah's education policy is here. More tedious detail here, for those with the stomach for it.

A particularly nauseating bit is this, I think:

"Zero to Five Plan: Obama's comprehensive "Zero to Five" plan will provide critical support to young children and their parents. Unlike other early childhood education plans, Obama's plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state "zero to five" efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school."

Now I know that the word "voluntary" is used but seriously, how long do you think it would remain so with all that nice federal money available? Not to mention all those government jobs and power. Power over other people's children.

Remind you of anything? This perhaps?
"Teachers are directed to instruct their pupils... and to awaken in them a sense of their responsibility toward the community of the nation.*
Then possibly this:
"The education of all children, from the moment that they can get along without a mother's care, shall be in state institutions at state expense."**
Or this:
"We must create out of the younger generation a generation of Democrats. We must turn children, who can be shaped like wax, into real, good Democrats.... We must remove the children from the crude influence of their families. We must take them over and, to speak frankly, nationalize them. From the first days of their lives they will be under the healthy influence of Democrat children's nurseries and schools. There they will grow up to be real Democrats."***

Nationalization of education is exactly what Obama is talking about. Central government control of education, presumably a national curriculum, set text books, teachers employed by the federal government rather than local school boards, targets and political interference. Yeah! That should work! It works in Britain after all!

It all goes to show that nothing can fail so badly that some idiot politician can't make it worse.

*Bernhard Rust, Nazi Minister of Education;from "Racial Instruction and the National Community," 1935.
**Karl Marx, "The Communist Manifesto"
*** Communist Party Education Workers Congress (1918) (Obviously I've changed "Communists" to "Democrats").

16 July 2008

Back to school

(There is a posting over at Samizdata by Johnathan Pierce on the topic of school holidays, child labour and youth crime).

The weekend just gone, I spent much of Saturday visiting my old school that is shortly to be demolished due to a move into a new PFI school next door.

I spent much of the time chatting to teachers about then versus now. With a couple of them, I shared my own experiences of getting bored during my 6th Form and coasting towards failure. I was reassured that this would be recognised and handled properly these days, through various means such as gifted & talented schemes, mentoring or behaviour support.

Of course it was recognised and handled in my time through a combination of carrot & stick, the stick being a leather strap. One application of the latter (for persistently failing to hand in homework) was sufficient to ensure I avoided getting another leathering.

On reflection though, it was (and remains) a cure for symptoms, not the actual problem that I didn't actually want to be there at the time even though it seemed a good idea the year before.