Saturday, March 26, 2005

School dinners

Well, it's probably old news by now, but I only recently heard about Jamie Oliver's School Dinners campaign.

UK schools feed JUNK to the children. More than 200,000 people have signed his petition to do something about it but I don't think demanding more government money is the answer.

I think of all the mothers carefully spooning expensive organic baby food into their 6-month olds. How is it that less than 5 yers later they have so completely abdicated responsibility for what their children eat? Because they think that the State knows best.

A good outcome of all this would be if children were not fed garbage at schools. An even better outcome would be if parents did not trust other people to nurture their children for them, intellectually or physically.

The Hurried Child #3

Conventional Western parenting is a funny old mixture.

On the one hand, many couples have persuaded themselves that both people need to work outside the home full time in order to fulfill themselves/ keep themselves in the style to which they have become accustomed. The inevitable result is that they do not care for their children properly. Many mothers whizz their children through weaning in order to make child care arrangements easier. Many parents talk sentimentally about "all Ronnie's little friends at nursery" when anyone who spends time with their children knows full well that children don't engage in cooperative play at 9 months old; the other children and the nursery staff may be familiar faces, but they are no substitute for family. At the beginning of childhood, many parents are trying to push theit children into independence BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT SUITS THE PARENTS. It doesn't suit children, but it doesn't suit society to say so. Our governments therefore constantly bring out new initiatives to subsidise nursery care and enable parents to abdicate responsibility for parenting.

Fast forward 16 years. Those same neglectful parents are by now interfering in their children's lives. They ring up universities to book their children onto open days for courses the parents want the children to do. They still wish to control their offspring's social calendars well into their 20s. They put pressure on their children not to smoke, to wear clothes the parents approve of, to take up socially acceptable hobbies.

It's odd that in the early years so many parents are so keen for their children to be conveniently independent, and then later they want to rein in their children's independence.

I think Elkind is in a muddle too. He writes that "we infantilize [children] by permitting them to have messy rooms... to get up at odd hours". Apart from disliking the derogatory use of 'infantilize', I think he is picking some odd battles here. Parents interfere unasked in arbitrarily chosen parts of their children's lives - rooms and sleep patterns, here. Actually not so arbitrary - often parents interfere to try to increase their chance of reflected glory, or to minimise the social damage done to them by having visible offspring.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Racist violence in high schools

I was recently told an anecdote about some high school gangs in California whose aggression towards each other finally resulted in them all being given anti-racist counselling by their teachers. It might be apocryphal, but in any case...

School pupils are denied the right to freedom of association. They are forced to spend time in close quarters with an artificial cross section of the population (ie other people the same age). It is a completely understandable response in such a situation to protect oneself from intimidation by forming cliques or gangs. Frankly, I doubt whether the colour of the skin is really such a big deal. If it was an all-white area, the gangs would have been preppies vs goths. Or mods vs punks, just to choose a random example from 1970s Britain.

I don't excuse gang violence. But responding to it with anti-racist training? puhlease.

If you are engaged in something constructive, you evaluate the people around you in terms of their value to the project, not the colour of their skin.

The best solution would be to stop locking children up in schools all day. Help them find constructive things to do rather than spending years trying to make them docilely accept being bored by "education".

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I love google

"Spoiling the dignity and repose of the tea party" has been a familiar expression in my family for counter-cultural behaviour for as long as I can remember.

And now I know where it comes from.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

flying rather than A levels

This story is very exciting because travelling from Oxford to Cambridge will no longer entail a train journey via London (including changing railway stations in London) or sitting on a travel-sickness inducing coach for three hours. There are about 50 roundabouts on the route (no exaggeration - the route goes through Milton Keynes). I don't travel from Oxford to Cambridge very often, but whenever I have it's been horrible. So w00t.

But the most excellent thing about the story is that the person who has made this happen is still only 18 years old, and gave up his A'levels to pursue the dream. So much for Keeping One's Options Open. And so much for Teenagers Should Be In School Getting Educated. I hope he gets very rich indeed.

I will be making sure everyone I know who ever travels between Oxford and Cambridge knows about the new flying option. Brilliant.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The hurried child #2: the competent child

Elkind attacks the idea of the Superkid, competent to cope with anything that life, and particularly his parents, throw at him. He writes that by assuming our children are competent, we abdicate responsibility for nurturing them properly, putting them through early and prolonged separations, for example, or pushing them to learn to read or write at the age of 4.

Assuming that one's children are made of rubber and will always bounce back is a cheap excuse for not doing one's best as a parent. It is a cheap excuse for seeing one's children as reflections of one's own social status rather than helping them achieve their own goals.

The ideal, I think, is to 'spot' one's child. Assume they are competent to do what they are trying to do rather than hovering nervously, band aid at the ready, but be ready to offer help when wanted. And don't push them to join a football team so you can vicariously rekindle your boyhood dream of playing for Manchester United.

I think I'd be better off reading this, probably

The hurried child #1: independence

I am reading David Elkind's "The Hurried Child". It is certainly thought provoking.

Elkind writes too much about what parents should or should not let their children do, rather than thinking about why children develop certain preferences. The authoritarian undertow of the book is pretty wearing.

But he made me think once again about independence. Many parents are keen to encourage their children to become independent, by sending them off to nursery at less than a year old, say. Over-protection is not the only alternative. From the moment when a child first wriggles out of hir mother's arms to roll on the floor to the moment when the chils starts offering hir parents a loan for a new car, children will embrace independence at their own pace, given the freedom to do so. Knowledge of parental support whenever needed (being rescued from the sleep-over party that the child wanted to attend but became homesick at, for example) gives a child the inner security and confidence to experiment and push the boundaries of their independence.

I believe that children whose parents withdraw their time and assistance in the name of 'promoting independence' become less confident, and less able to navigate the challenges of life without help.

Note: independence is not the same thing as autonomy, which we have, and which should be respected, from the start.

Friday, March 11, 2005

hitting children ps

Now I've looked at what the school was proposing the mother should hit her child for. Talking too much in class, chewing gum, and bringing toys to school.

Gum chewing makes my jaws ache, personally, and I hate the way it stops tasting of anything after about 10 minutes, but if someone else wants to chew it, then that's their lookout.

But it is very clear why gum chewing and the other things have riled the school so much. It means the boy was not paying enough attention and trying to entertain himself in other ways - by having a conversation and playing with toys. Instead of addressing honestly why toys and friends might be of more interest than whatever activities the teacher was forcing the children to participate in (could it be just possible that the school might be at fault for so blatantly not meeting the needs of its pupils?), a SIX year old is branded as naughty - a label which can follow a child through their entire school career - and the school deems that he should be hit for not being interested in what they have offered him educationally.

Thank G-d homeschooling is an option in that state.

School demands parents hit children

I'm horrified that a school would require a parent to hit their child as part of the school's disciplinary procedures. How on earth can a parent advocate for their child if they are pulled into being part of the authoritarian machinery?

Hats off to the mother for taking her child out of the school and planning to home school him for the rest of the school year.

Almost the most ghastly thing is that in the survey on the same page, only 13% of respondants never spank their child. That's an awful lot of people resorting to violence rather than reason. :-(

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Lord of the Rings link

this is very funny

A homily on teaching and guidance.

Thank you to JSB for his comment below; I’m sorry it took me so long to respond.

I think it is important that any guidance of a child starts from an acknowledgement of that child’s autonomy. We can offer our best theories; if we fail to convince our children, then it is time to reassess our theories, look for the theories’ flaws, and help our children to achieve what they are aiming at in ways that do not harm them.

If a child acts in certain ways which contravene society’s social codes, se will find it hard to realise hir goals. As a parent, why would I not share my best theories about the effects which my child’s behaviour might have, and give advice, when sought, as to more profitable ways of interacting with the world? The only difference between my view and that of JSB in his comment below is that where he thinks

“The trick is finding the line between making your child do something that is generally appropriate and not making your child do something that is your own personal preference”

I think the trick is not to make one’s child do anything against their will. Authority is a poor basis for persuasion (“Eppur si muove” said Galileo, allegedly, under his breath).

I do not subscribe to the bucket theory of knowledge, where we pour our wisdom into the heads of children and they emerge as knowledgeable adults. The acquisition of knowledge and understanding requires one to crave that understanding oneself. No amount of well meaning advice or instruction will permeate the mind of someone who does not want to know. If my ideas are any good, and the child is interested, then bingo.

As parents, if we are brave enough to trust our children, to trust their intellects, to be their advocates and advisors, and to be prepared, with our children, to contravene the basic rules if we cannot rationally justify them, then there is no reason why we should “all have to do things that we don’t like to do”.

We only do things against our wills because we haven’t yet been creative enough.

silly quiz

Amazing what you find when browsing...

You are 'programming in QBASIC'. This programming
language (of which the acronym stands for
'Quick Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic
Instruction Code'), which is so primitive that
it cannot easily be used for any purpose
involving the Internet nor even sound, was
current more than a decade ago.
You are independent, in a good way. When something
which you need cannot be found, you make it
yourself. In writing and in talking with
people, you value clarity and precision; your
friends may not realize how important that is.
When necessary, you are prepared to be a
mediator in conflicts between your friends.
You are very rational, and you think of things
in terms of logic and common sense.
Unfortunately, your emotionally unstable
friends may be put off by your devotion to
logic; they may even accuse you of pedantry and
insensitivity. Your problem is that
programming in QBASIC has been obsolete for a
long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
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