What is real education worth?

by ammophila

Next regular posting for 31-10-2017; but nb supplementary post 3-10-2017

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Editorial notes: (1) Urgent need of an intern continues.  (See ad in previous posting).  May have to warn Lady W and Chinese friends of risk of journal suspending publication.  Cannot expect a man of my seniority to do all my own office business.  (2) In the short term, glad to welcome another piece from tried-and-trusted Berthold, as well as an unexpected gift (unfortunately useless so far) from Simon’s mother, returned from trip to Belgium.  She had bought a device, advertised as a ‘boorebot’ said to automatically produce ‘Thoughts of the Day’ by the yard (or in her case by the metre).  The package explicitly claimed a link to our hugely respected patroness Lady W who was of course the founder of Old Boore’s Almanac© (and is still a sea-swimmer in her nineties) though I have yet to learn if they had been authorised to do so.  In the instructions it said all you have to do is set it up as if you want it to produce ‘tweets’.  I did that with the help of Kevin from the police station (who moonlights as a computer repair man), and it’s obvious to me something is not working as it should even if Kevin swears what it extrudes could be taken as perfectly normal ‘tweets’.  As a possible guide to anyone contemplating purchase of such engines, here are five ‘Thoughts’ which I got from a recent run, once I’d switched it from French to English.  To me they’re not unpleasant  enough to be tweets though they do suggest mental derangement (attempted poetry?).  But actually I’m not sure they’re any worse than some of the stuff in the mainstream press (which admittedly sets the bar about ankle-high)

In Arcady where lies the autumn crocodile

Celestial infancies dream indefatigable tangents

Friends of the semicolon unite

Tyre treads smirk at Fiona’s thimble

Whence the rosy footprints on my cake?

The marvels coming at us from the cutting edge of high tech progress are indeed things of wonder.  GPS implants in your very own body, free!  Free government tracking services ‘in case you get lost’ (but legal action or well placed friends may be necessary to get access to the data yourself).  In the UK, free portrait of you in a natural setting, courtesy of the police service.  Refrigerators which order fresh supplies of food and drink whether you want them or not.  Driverless cars which can convey you without effort to a place of their choice.  True, most stuff like that could be achieved by any housemaid with a couple of weeks of the right training after flying in from eastern Europe.)  But the results of tech wizardry don’t stop there – e.g. free information on 38 new video games similar to the one you bought your least favourite nephew three weeks ago.  Current contact details and helpful reminders of your passport data distributed to all your friends and others with need to know, free of charge, by a whole variety of organisations working with the internet. Privacy protocols so efficiently enforced they can lock you out of your own account.  As for the things you can find out by searching on the net, the mind boggles, wondering (a) who else might be finding them (b) whether anyone else knows that you are finding them, and (c) whether the programme to delete your search history really works.  

 These musings were prompted partly by Berthold’s piece (below) but mainly by a tear-stained letter received the day before through the cleft-stick post from one of our occasional correspondents, Rosa Tweedell fn.  That letter together with various other notes gathered over the years have been put together into a one-off supplementary posting on computerspeak, to appear 3-10-2017, which also gives a proposal for naming this journal.

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 fn currently living at 3, The Old Paddock, Toraha Creek (population 3 adults 5 children) Kevin told me when I happened to mention our need of an intern.  Aged  49, divorced, two children, currently employed on temporary contract, no right to remain in Australia after 31-12-2018, passport number PQZ 67068N992, Health Security number W428559/O/67, member of Trotskyite group 1987-89, no other criminal record.  Facsimile of her signature held at QIRS3 Canberra.

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Berthold Featherstone-Haugh Cheems writes:

Yet another ‘curriculum event’ at the Institute last Thursday to Sunday.  Just another, I suppose, in the ‘outreach’ category; that is, institutions reaching out to see if they can touch the wallets of the gullible masses who believe that going into a building with a high ceiling and uniformed porters, then listening to a man with horn-rimmed glasses and glossolalia who is introduced as a ‘leading expert on’ (almost anything), and finally buying a copy of his book on the way out will add a few microns to their intellectual stature.  I went up the outside fire escape to avoid any risk of being swept into the auditorium by the educational tide, but as I struggled past the lifts I heard this closely argued exchange, verbatim: “Every kid should learn how computers work.”  “Yeah, every kid should learn how computers work”.

  Why, for goodness’ sake?  The answer to the question, cut back to the bare essence, is invariably along the lines of “Well, there’s a lot of computer stuff about”  (though the answer is almost always expressed at much greater length, and almost never with as much naked clarity as that.).  This is an even feebler piece of reasoning, if we can call it reasoning, than post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Its disastrous prevalence in modern life is such that it needs a name.  (How about Proof by social media?)  The distortions of society in which it plays a part – electoral democracy is but one – are so serious it is a wonder to see it considered to have any relevance to school curricula: ‘There’s a lot of ‘X’ about’ so we should thrust courses about ‘X’ into anyone who can be ordered or tricked into receiving them’?  Bunkum.  Would you like to try it out with other subjects?  ‘There’s a lot of pornography about’.  If heads of school take that approach how are they going to deal with the mobs of parents howling for morality (however incongruously in many cases) at the gates.  (Anyway as my mother used to tell me, you don’t need courses on pornography if your imagination is in good working order, and if it isn’t, merely puttering along like an electric bicycle, why let anyone stir up trouble for you?)  ‘There’s a lot of weather about’.  Are we going to have courses on meteorology for Third Year students?  “Aha!” the professional objector will say, “That’s different.  There’s nothing much we could do about the weather even if every schoolchild learned all about it, so there’s no point having the courses.”  Actually I think one of the premises may have collapsed there (foundations washed away by a storm surge perhaps).  The word coming out of good class meteorology centres round the world is that we have been doing a great deal to modify the weather over the past 40 years, and the sooner victims of the recent hurricanes get some top-class American lawyers writing letters to various governments demanding compensation in trillions, the better for a great many of the unconsidered ‘little people’.  But I don’t intend to be dogmatic about this.  In some subject areas the right course of the right length presented in the right way could do some good, and that could include courses about girls – there are after all a lot of girls about – presented in such boys-only schools as still blot the educational landscape.  What is obvious to all except those who put on mental blinkers with their underpants in the morning is that the overlap between what is currently taught intentionally in schools and what most students want to learn may be small but it is still far larger than the overlap between either of those great areas of human confusion and the sort of learning which for all but 2% or 3% of them will actually be useful to themselves or society at large if they make it through to adult life (maybe even to paid employment).  This more or less completely rules out of the curriculum courses about how computers work, just as it rules out courses on how cars and their engines work.  What a curriculum could reasonably offer in those fields would be courses on how you can, cannot and should or should not use those devices if or when they do work.  (To lob up an easy one, which a few schools might actually keep out of their wicket: how many students are challenged to get a car out of deep mud on a moor in a rainstorm?)  But these subjects will of course only take a small fraction of the time allowed to schooling.  Specialists will learn their special skills in the best possible place, on the job.  For all the rest, let there be a realistic reappraisal discarding government-sponsored idealism, and genuinely helping them deal with the lives they may face in years to come.  I borrow, with full permission and minor adaptations, the suggestions of an excellent friend of mine fn:  ‘What is needed is a curriculum which will see you armed for situations in life which could cause real physical, psychological, or financial harm, not mere cut fingers or e-mails lacking musical animation or gender-based embarrassment.  School should teach what to do faced with an aggressive drunk or a resistant tax inspector, how to recognise a plain clothes policeman, what records to keep and what records to burn, judging the best reaction when your car is hijacked, how to make one’s excuses and leave (if caught in that kind of situation), recognition of rabies in dogs, cats, bats and travelling salesmen, how to identify oneself as harmless to soldiers of a foreign army temporarily occupying your country to restore democracy, and how to retain one’s dignity, and legal advantage, on finding one’s  spouse in bed with a stranger.’

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fn  (Les Cousins, writing in 2008)

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Gone but not forgotten

A former leader on the European political scene, Muammar Qadhafi, speaking in Rome on migration 30th August 2010  “We do not know what the reaction of white christian Europeans will be, faced with this flood of hungry, uneducated Africans.”  Well we have a much clearer idea now.

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Note from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems I see I used the word ‘hurricane’ in my little article.  I should like to point out to those whose ‘modern’ schooling has left them trying to work out pronunciations from the spelling that the proper pronunciation of this word is ‘hurrikun’, not ‘hurri-cane’.  And by the way my name – please note – is properly pronounced ‘Fanshaw-Cheems’.

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Challenge of the week. Which country was recently described by a delegate at the UN General Assembly as the most heavily armed kindergarten on the planet?

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A small far away country of which they know little?  A recent UN report (and they’re supposed to be the ones with high moral standards) said that the Saudi bombing campaign to restore democracty in Yemen was having little effect on the ground; it also included the estimate that 10,000 civilians had been killed.

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North Korea vs Donald Trump  It would be wiser not to place bets on the imminent demise of either leader in this argument.  See Berthold’s piece on the Express Exit tactic, the ‘XX play’, posted 8-5-2016

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