Children Education Parents

Children – Let Them Get On With It

What usually grab the headlines are great disasters. The publicity aroused by the rescue of the Chilean miners was well deserved. This does indeed have a real reason for raising our spirits. For once in a while a lot of government money was put into equipment that was very expensive and the chances of it finding the right place was very difficult. The joy that went around the world was more than justified. The overwhelming courage of the trapped men touched everyone who might have been in the same situation. For once, here was the head of state, President Sebastian Pinera who put people before money and has now promised to do something about the hardships the miners had to put up with.

Last night I watched one of my favourite writers on politics, Andrew Marr. His subject was how Jack Kennedy won the Presidency for the first time by having had a vast sum of money from his father, whilst his opponents had far less. He also told some cruel lies about his opponents. He appeared as having no scruples whatsoever. He, too, was good-looking and charismatic and quite ruthless about lying and deprecating better men than he was. His oratory was his best weapon. Why are we all taken in by such things? Because we don’t think properly.

I have a feeling that most of us do not have a very good opinion of ourselves. If all of us, as individuals, were educated, from earliest days, to use words and conversations to help them to think clearly, they would grow up with a natural sense of their own worth. Would they still need heros and heroines? I think not!

Our children are our best hope for the future provided that we start now to change the way we talk with them and respect them. Throughout history children have been exploited by adults in all sorts of ways. Alice Miller called this Poisonous Pedagogy.

Children are small and weak physically in their earliest ages. But there is a wealth of wonderful potential in their minds. Anyone who pays close attention to these little ones know this. We do not need teachers who try to force on them what they do not want. All we need to do is to give them an environment full of things that would catch their interest and let them get on with it. Some of our greatest men in the past, Churchill, Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw were not regarded as geniuses by teachers. We must have always lost exceptionally talented people because of their being disenchanted through having missed out on kindly ecouragement from people who like and respect them.

Children Education Parents

Offsted – Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

I read in my Saturday paper that at long last pupils will be taught to spell and learn grammar. About time too and the younger the better. When I was a child I enjoyed doing spelling tests every week. I believe that the teaching of English grammar should be started at the same time as children are learning to read and write. This is the practice in some European countries. Another subject that could be taught in primary school is another language.

It is well known that up to a very early age, say 6 to 8, children can easily learn two or even three languages at the same time and we are talking about all normal children, not the brightest ones. The older we get the harder it is for children to learn another language.

I have heard from parents that when their children start school they are often very disappointed because they don’t want to play they really want to learn proper subjects. We have always underrated just how much small children can take in. Of course the methods for this early teaching need to be carefully designed. Let me give you an example. My nephew’s son has a Danish mother. They came to visit us when he was three years old and he was already speaking Danish and English. His wise mother spoke her own language to him from the start in tandem with lots of English from his family and friends.

As we were having lunch his mother was talking with him. “Did you answer in Danish?” I asked him. He looked puzzled and turned to his mother for help. She said “This is how Mummy talks”. His mother cleverly used this phrase instead of the word ‘Danish’. I realised that he could easily move from one language to another, but he hadn’t yet grasped the concept that there were many other languages. He just took all this for granted.

It occurred to me how useful it would be to to learn the grammar at the same time as we are learning the language. I had to wait until I was at grammar school to learn two languages, French and Latin and English grammar. I know I would have learned all this much earlier and easier with skilful teaching leaving me free to go further and faster later on.

If children learn real grown-up stuff, in their eyes, it would be a wonderful boost to their confidence and they would improve, not lose, their ability to concentrate.

One of many mistakes in education changes since I was a child, is giving homework to children under eleven. With good teachers, there is no need. Children need time to themselves to play and read in their own homes and put school behind them until the next day. Even worse, it is another great mistake for parents to try to ‘help’ with homework. That is not a role of parenting. Home is somewhere to relax and rest. There should be no interference between teachers and parents unless there is a serious problem that needs to be examined. However, most teachers who choose their job have the gift of finding their own way of passing on information. Busybodies, i.e. Ofsted, should stay away unless there is a real reason for help.

Children Education Power and Control

Motivate by Enthusiasm

If we want to lead a satisfactory life, we do work we enjoy in the most productive way to yield good results. To achieve this it is vital that we learn how to manage motivation and control. They go hand in hand. The best preparation is to have kind parents and kind teachers who don’t force their ideas on us but notice what we like doing most and and provide the tools for us to develop our own potential.

No-one can teach us motivation but we can create an environment for children to discover what arouses enthusiasm for them. It wasn’t until I went to grammar school and heard a pupil playing on the piano that my whole being was uplifted with the beauty of an impromptu by Schubert. It opened a whole new world for me and I have loved what we call classical music ever since.

If we could only do what we enjoy doing that lifts our spirits and makes life worth living, there would be no such things as bad behaviour, cruelty and lack of attention. Surely there must be a way where we can rule out compulsory subjects for those who dislike them. I can remember how I hated outdoor group games and found all kinds of ways to avoid doing them.

Motivation and control only work when they are the positive not the negative variety. It depends on the environment. Teachers can rarely motivate children unless they happen to be teaching a subject that a child is drawn to. Motivation comes from inside potentials that are awakened by something from outside. No-one can make you be motivated by something that you don’t like. Winston Churchill loathed Latin and loved English Literature and Language and what a genius he turned out to be regardless of the opinions of his classic teachers!

The increasing regimentation of teaching in comprehensive schools, where everyone is “taught” the same things in the same way is doomed to failure.

Control is profoundly necessary in everything that matters. In schools they call it “discipline” which “they” think is subduing bad behaviour:

a) it is impossible

b) it causes unnecessary exhaustion and misery to the teachers.

The only real control is self-control: something we learn to do for ourselves. Dominating parents and teachers that use forceful tactics arouse nothing but irritation and bad behaviour. Discipline in the armed forces is a different matter because it is in a different context. Children are obliged to go to school whilst young men (and a much smaller number of women) choose to join up. As I have mentioned before when a war breaks out there has never been a lack of volunteers. They accept all kinds of uniforms, orders, rules and hard physical work gladly. They know that they must learn to obey orders at once and willingly because those tactics are there to save as many people as possible in dangerous situations.

We pay a price for everything we want to do because we want to do it as well as we possibly can. That price is self-discipline, our own inner sergeant-major that makes us do whatever we have to do to achieve what we want to achieve.

Blog Education

Keep Your Hands Off Education

I’ve just read an interview of Nigel Fanshawe, an ex-headmaster of a grammar school who is nearly 100 years old. Like me, he came from a background that was very short of money, passed his 11 plus and worked his way through to university and then to teach in a grammar school. He took over an ill-disciplined school ravaged by wartime neglect and transformed it into one of the most successful schools in the country. Would he have been able to do this if he had government poking its nose into everything he did then? Of course not!

Like all heads in those days he took full responsibility for ensuring good discipline with punishment for bad behaviour. It is time that every adult needs to know just how much damage has been made by the government trying to get every child into a comprehensive school. You don’t have to be a genius to recognise that when children of all kinds are taught together, it is every child’s loss. It is nothing to do with money. When I was young everyone who passed the 11 plus from whatever kind of background had a good education and were not allowed to act badly. There were sanctions. No child should be permitted to destroy the sense of peace and order of those who want to learn. I know from personal experience that most children want to leave school at 16 and go out to work to earn money.

Trying to get everyone into a university, as the government wishes, can only result in a drastic lowering of standards, graduates who cannot find jobs and a dearth of good teachers because those who can teach well would not dream of teaching in a comprehensive school.

“Fanshawe regards the education system with a mixture of despair and anger. He believes the lack of good-quality graduates going into teaching is wrecking the system.”

“Governments have, for twenty years, been attacking the teaching profession, with the result that it is no longer attractive” he says. “Teachers do not want to spend their lives fighting 13-year-olds who couldn’t care less about education. It’s not fun to me. None of the brightest graduates want to go into teaching and that means comprehensives can never have the best staff at the top”.

I do strongly wish that the media would drop such words as “the rich and the poor”and “middle classes and working classes.” Society has immeasurably improved in our own country and many others since the end of World-War-2. “Working Class” ought to mean all those people, however much or how little they earn, who have done their best to find work that suits them. People, on the whole speak to each other in a friendly way and it is much more difficult for us to categorize people. Modern technology has, happily, ridden many of us of the exhaustions of the past.

We must all be quicker to complain when we see unnecessary injustices carried out by people who are supposed to serve us, i.e. bureaucrats of all types. Everyone should work harder at accepting responsibility and making good use of our freedom of speech.

Children Education

Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks

Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks did not prepare lectures. They went straight into the classroom and started to talk. Of course they were teaching in universities to young grown-ups who already had a stock of knowledge picked up from schools. However, the way that these three men worked must have come as something of a shock to their students. They were all treated as researchers, continuously picking up new thoughts and possibilities as they went along, being free to be able to think and make notes about what was being said and sometimes to respond in their own ways to their teachers.

These three men treated every lecture as a continuation of ongoing discoveries. I was particularly impressed by Wittgenstein, who thought out loud and often showed his feelings and frustration because the work he was doing was so hard. It must have been very encouraging for his students that the great man could also suffer as they suffered when they came across blocks as all researchers do.

How I envied that method when I first found out about it! I would love to have sat at Sacks’ feet and heard everything straight from his mouth! However at that time my university degree was behind me and I was in South America with my young family and I didn’t know about Sacks until decades later.

Another unorthodox aspect of such teaching was that all three men published very few books. They were too busy thinking and learning. Indeed, Saussure’s students took on the task, after his death, to put together from notes taken during lectures and publish what they had learned from him. Similarly, one of Harvey Sacks women students, Gail Jefferson, had the foresight to tape-record and transcribe most of his lectures and published them in a hefty volume. Introductions to each of the two parts were written by Sacks’ close friend and colleague, Emanuel A. Schegloff.

Clearly, such a method would not be suitable for children. They need more guidance, but nevertheless, education would work better when children were encouraged to take part themselves instead of having to be talked at instead of with. The best teachers have always done that as I have heard from my own children and others who experienced the same approach. You can’t put teaching into a straitjacket and expect to produce creative and enthusiastic pupils for the benefit of all our futures.

Behaviour Children Education

Perfection is a Waste of Time

You won’t believe this but Ofsted has interfered so much in education, with pressure from the government, that at the beginning of each new academic year all teachers in comprehensive schools are obliged to attend the day before to be taught how to teach no matter how much or how little experience they have had. The result is that many of the best teachers feel very frustrated and look for another job or take the earliest retirement they can whilst the worst, who don’t mind being told what to do, stay on. The truth is that teaching, like writing, music and all kinds of creative activities are inherited abilities, just as we all have the mental capacity to be able to learn to speak and we all learn to do so in our own individual way.

So it follows that the the best teachers have their own methods learned from their own inherited talents and experiences. Three of the greatest in the field of language, Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks, were all innovators. They were from different countries: Saussure was Swiss, Wittgenstein was German and Sacks was American. Saussure discovered that words are signs and symbols that stand for all things, people and ideas. Wittgenstein taught us that the meaning of words depends on the contexts in which the words are used and Sacks agreed with Wittgenstein and contributed his work on Conversation Analysis in all social talk in many situations.

Could you imagine any of these great men allowing anyone to tell them what to do? Certainly not. We should show the same respect to our teachers as was the case before the 1950’s when I was at school. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Standards have dropped drastically. Useful subjects are largely left out, especially English grammar, Latin and foreign languages. Note these are all the humanities on which we build the foundations of our ability to think clearly and understand human nature and the bases of our own cultures.

We must not let ourselves be taken in by examination results. Anyone who wants to can rig them and they do. Who are making the judgements? Many of those whose education has suffered from the constantly lowering standards of the last few decades. They are the people who think they are right and that there is only one way of doing things according to their own prejudices.

More than ever standards are dropping in the fine arts.

However it is not all doom and gloom. For example, no-one tells conductors what to do yet they work in perfect harmony and this is recognised by the constantly filled Halls of the most popular music, including those from the past as well as the present.

Simon Rattle is, I think, one of the best. On the radio he was asked the question “How do you manage the orchestra?” His answer was “I’m constantly challenging the orchestra to do better. But they are also challenging me, so it’s a series of continual failures.”

This is a sharp reminder that nothing is perfect. All researchers have to bear this in mind. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. The more times we get something wrong the further we move towards success. What do we do when that is over? All who are worth their salt start to look for a further challenge.