Friday, October 22, 2010


Watch this film about a person who made a robotic curtain for his workshop, which moves along with the passers-by and marvel at how humans love to play.  They play and learn things about how the curtain follows and reacts.  I am convinced that humans learn best when they are allowed to play, and that our schools should be more like those children's museums which are full of stuff to play and interact with. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Great article in the Guardian recounts an interview between Jon Ronson and Natascha Kampusch on her new book about her imprisonment, 3096 days.

It seems inexplicable that someone should kidnap and imprison someone and yet appear so normal on the outside, but instead of finding this inexplicable, Natascha explains that it was that gap between the person he was inside and the person he was on the outside that was the cause of his madness.  He couldn't reconcile the two, couldn't be the person he appeared to be, or yet the person he really was, and so she filled the widening gulf in between the two personas.  It is a profound insight which does ring true.  As people often say on forums nowadays *THIS*.

I have tried and tried to work out what happened when one day I suddenly saw the damage that can be caused by ordinary schooling, what it was that spoke to me so profoundly and made me know for sure that it would be wrong to continue to send my children to school.  It's this:  that schooling creates a widening gulf between the inner life and the outer life.  It insists that children learn certain things, behave in a certain way, gain acceptance and praise by conforming, by moulding their outer selves into something the schools can deal with.

The problem is that most of us are not conformist, not interested in the things which school wants us to learn, and not naturally as quiet and compliant as a good record at school demands.  How well we deal with the demands made upon us at an early age, may influence our success or failure for years, decades to come.

Many of us are therefore imprisoned inside a persona which enables us to function well within a school environment, which is entirely different from our natural persona, and which imposes a dual or multiple personality on us in order to succeed.  I don't mean to imply that Priklopil's madness was caused by his schooling, I don't know when or how he became the twisted kidnapper, rather than a fantasist... but I can't believe it can have helped. 

That gap between the person we know ourselves to be and the person the world sees, is responsible for an awful lot of evil in the world.  Whether our self-esteem gap means that we value ourselves much less or much more, it leads to trouble, depression, megalomania.

I feel that we need desperately to understand the difference between schooling, which involves telling children what it is right for them to be interested in, what it is right for them to learn, what it is right for them to do, and education, which tries to recognise each individual child as unique, and to draw out their unique gifts and talents.

The first takes a child, ignores their uniqueness and tries to mould it into the ideal, which appears to be an academic - something a relatively tiny proportion of the population is naturally inclined to be - and the second allows people to find themselves.  The first requires the system to ignore who a person is, inside.  The second allows children to align their exterior with their interior world, and to become the person they are meant to be.

I knew immediately which model I wanted my children to be subject to, once I recognised the difference... and it was literally like scales falling from my eyes.  I realised that a lot of what I had believed about schooling was merely propaganda, not what I had experienced myself.  I'm wondering how long it will take for the education industry itself to recognise the same thing.

I think that our experiences and our view of the world is influenced by the message we receive from other people about who we are, and so it is hardly surprising that Natascha appears to be somewhat introspective and disassociated from herself, observing herself.  She speaks in the interview about her irritation that her empathy for her captor is seen as a possible symptom of Stockholm syndrome, instead of a practical strategy for survival, which is what she thinks it was.  I wonder if she is right that her ability to see her captor as a flawed person first, was responsible for her survival; to have survived so long in a place which was virtually undiscoverable, means she must have been offering her captor something that he needed. Is that wrong or an indication of some sort of mental failure?  Or simply practical?

That she was psychologically capable of escaping her captor, after 3096 days in captivity, speaks of her strength and her will to survive the ordeal.  Many people, with much flimsier cages, never escape.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Does competition raise standards?

I was listening to some government suit on the radio yesterday, talking about the coming changes to the NHS, and he said something that you hear all the time:  competition drives up standards.  Does it?  Does it really?  I have been thinking about the other areas where there is no natural competition and the government has tried to provide some, to see if I think this has caused standards to rise.  I really can't say that they have.  The Post Office, British Telecom, and the National Rail network all seem to me to have lowered their standards since forced to compete. 

The Gas and Electricity companies, who still pipe the same gas and electricity into our homes, don't seem any different for the notional competition which has been introduced, except for the proliferation of scamming salesmen who tour the country trying to persuade elderly people to switch to another supplier without realisng what they are doing.

I've become a bit of a sceptic when it comes to the likelihood of competition driving up standards where there is no real competition... where the contest is simply contrived by administration and bureaucracy.  My feeling is that the main interest of bureaucrats is to create more bureacracy, and the main job of administrators is to justify their posts.  I don't see there being massive changes for the better and standards being driven up.

Even in the free market, I think a lot of the things which we are told about supply and demand are mostly bullshit.  Let me tell you a story.

I have enormous breasts.  I'm not saying that to draw attention to myself, but it is a matter of verifiable fact that the size of my breasts far exceeds the sizes stocked by such high street companies as Messrs Marks and Spencer.  Once upon a time, in 1998, when I was new to the internet and exploring online forums, I stumbled into a forum apparently for big breasted women.  I thought to find fellow sufferers, sharing tips on places to buy our corsetry without breaking the bank, and how to live with big breasts without breaking our backs.

Of course, it wasn't in the nature of a self-help group, but a group for men who like big breasted women and - as far as I could see - a bunch of women pretending to be accessorised with large breasts.  When I gladly disclosed the size of mine one of the people in the chat room offered me two chairs - one for me and one for my breasts, and the banter in the room made it plainly obvious that they did not believe me.  I was a little bit naive then... I am a lot wiser now.

Anyway... there is an international company of bra manufacturers which boasts that their Doreen design is the best selling bra in the world, with so many thousands sold every year.  It is little wonder, as these bras are the only bras commonly available for people of my size.  It isn't possible to obtain other bras unless you pay two, three or four times as much - and even then it may be impossible to get the right size.

This means that although there is a demand - a strong demand - from women of my size for different, prettier, more feminine bras to accommodate women with enormous breasts, the only type of bra available is this one.  Thus it becomes the most successful bra in the world, not because it is the bra demanded by women, but because it is the only choice... a hobson's choice of this bra or no bra drives women to buy it.  Or else small children may die.  I could easily crush half a dozen five years olds if I run without a bra at all.

So supply and demand doesn't necessarily mean having what you want supplied to you... it may mean having whatever is available supplied to you as the best of a bad bunch of options.

When competition is added into the mix, it tends to be that prices drop rather than competition raising standards.  If another bra manufacturer muscled in on the business, this would be the most obvious way to beat the others - by dropping the price.

I'd be very interested to know if anyone had any examples of times when competition between companies or suppliers, had actually been proved to raise standards.  Let me know in the comments if you can find any examples.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New thinking

I woke up this morning, turned on my computer, and did all the things I no longer evn think about:  they are second nature to me.  Checked my email, checked the news, looked on Facebook to see what people have posted there.  Followed a couple of links, one of which took me to the RSAnimation of Sir Ken Robinson's talk on the new paradigm for education which is here:

Then, I stumbled a couple of times... a funny about celebrating Columbus day by walking into someone else's houe and declaring that we live here now... and a trailer for a film about a film on David Suzuki which appears to be about population growth (and how it is too late to do anything about it, maybe?)

I realised that I have voluntarily submitted to two talks and that in the course of a week I voluntarily submit to many more - because they are about subjects which interest me, or because they are amusing or well made, or popular.

I do think it is true that people who home educate go through a conversion process, where they have to leave their old paradigm of education behind.  It saddens me that Sir Ken Robinson always talks in terms of public education as though there is no current alternative to the industrial machine of education which is provided by the government.  There is, and it is working, and it is called home education.  He barely ever acknowledges that it exists, when I think it could add weight to the idea that getting rid of ideas about what it is right for children to learn, and trying the education as growth model of education, works far better for individuals than the current model.

In any case, it seems to me that the education industry is struggling to keep u in some areas, particularly IT and computers... they can't print the textbooks fast enough.