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1. Vote Lies

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.

There is an election today. In a few hours adults will be voting to determine the government of the country in which I was born. I am not there and do not know what I would do if I were. The Labour candidate in my old local area is apparently anti-war. The first past the post system in Britain favours the two main parties. The seat is a marginal. Not voting for Labour could allow the Tories to form a government and the Tories have been running a cynical racist campaign edged with nastiness. But though the Tories have supported the invasion of Iraq it was Labour under Blair that actually ordered the attack. With Blair as leader a vote for Labour is essentially a vote for a mass murderer.

Sorry, I'm prejudging the issue. Perhaps Milosovitch could move over a little and make some room at the Hague. The Athens Bar Association filed a suit against Tony Blair and other senior British government and military officials for crimes against humanity on the 28th of July 2003. Since the United States has refused to recognise the International Criminal Court charges against George Bush could not be brought directly. Accordingly, he has been accused of acting as a collaborator.

I don't know what is happening regarding the charges. But I do know that the British Election, like the Presidential Election in the United States has very little to do with democracy. An exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils - or simply evil exercising itself?

Perhaps it is time to stop indulging in such charades and do something else. How does the old slogan go? "Don't vote - it only encourages them" Another possibility is to follow the advice given in a ditty created by my father during an Australian election many years ago. Written to the chorus of A Bicycle Made For Two it goes like this:

Vote, vote, vote for yourself
You're the only one you can trust
Vote, vote, vote for yourself
A vote for yourself is a must
Just do yourself a favour
Forget about Libs and Labor
And cut your loss
By putting a cross
In a ballot box just for you.

So in this issue it seems once more I'll be focusing on democracy. Tis the season for it.

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2. Taking a Stand

The citizen who sees his society's democratic clothes being worn out and does not cry out is not a patriot but a traitor.

I've moved half way across the country and started a new job. I almost didn't take it. In fact there is still an element of doubt. I've begun work but have yet to sign the contract and might not do so. It depends upon which one I'm finally asked to sign. There are at least three. The one I have most copies of tells me that I'm responsible for teaching lessons including formative testing. I'm working at a kindergarten. This contract I won't be signing.

I was first offered a job at the kindergarten two years ago. At that time I turned it down because it wasn't part time and I would be expected to make up a full schedule of hours travelling around to other classes. This time around I was told that I was only expected to teach at the kindergarten. Every day would be spent with one class. I could teach the children, I could eat with the children and I could play with the children. Thinking the program had a lot of potential I said I was interested. I'd virtually agreed to go but then I discovered that I was expected to grade the children. I could chose my own criteria but would need to rank the children with A's, B's, C's and D's. I would need to do this at the end of every term.

Just what are we doing when we grade young children? Without formal testing we end up making subjective judgments. But the more we make our judgments objective the more we make them artificial. The more we make our judgments objective the more we end up objectifying the children. They become little more than products on an assembly line.

Think about it. Rather than allowing each child to grow and develop naturally and individually grading measures children to external criteria. Standards are created and children are expected to conform to them. This model essentially assumes that learning can be imposed from without. If a child fails to learn the required material at the required rate then generally it is assumed that either the teacher, or more usually the child, is at fault. The notion that the whole philosophy is flawed on several levels is seldom considered.

Why should children be required to subvert their own interests to those of a teacher? This isn't democratic. I think the role of a teacher should be to stimulate curiosity and offer support to enable children to develop their interests and skills. But even if it is assumed that there is a body of information that the teacher should in part it still doesn't follow that children can and will acquire it in the same way at the same time, but this is what grading is demanding.

Take for example, reading and writing. Children develop fine motor skills at different ages. The age at which they are ready to read also varies. In this respect I was a late developer. At one stage I was put in a remedial reading class. Fortunately, I later had a teacher who knew something about learning. Rather than focusing on my lack of ability he simply got me interested in books themselves. He had a book club and we were allowed to choose books. Rather than teaching me into stupidity he trusted me to develop at my own pace. Grading, on the other hand, externalises learning and helps kill it.

So I refused to grade. Instead, I said I was prepared to do assessment. Fortunately this proved to be acceptable. So now we have ten criteria which can be checked. They are as follows:

Initiates English
Uses English During Break
Uses English With Other Children
Participates In Class Actively
Is Good At Mimicry
Sings In English Confidently
Speaks English Confidently
Shows Understanding Of Spoken English
Enjoys English Storytime
Enjoys Physical English Games

Hopefully these will be observable and of interest to parents. Hopefully, we shall see.

3. Seen and Not Heard

In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.

Unfortunately grading isn't the only issue I'm having issue with. There is another - more nebulous and more nefarious and quite possibly impossible to resolve. That issue is discipline. Apparently, parents are expecting the children to learn to behave, to learn to eat all their lunch and to learn to obey. Apparently if children sit still on their chairs, face the front and listen to the teacher they will learn English by the bucketful. You can bank on it.

Why is this idea so popular? How many children behave like this naturally? Why do parents think that children can only learn by doing something that doesn't come naturally? In the book Summerhill A. S. Neill comments that in the unhappy home discipline is a weapon of hate. In a way, I think that discipline is anti-life. Youth has a kind of joyous energy. Discipline is the tool of the vampire.

I should be careful. Discipline comes in different forms. The kind of discipline required by an orchestra or football team is different from that required by a drill sergeant or some parents and teachers. Perhaps I could term it the difference between communal discipline and authoritarian discipline. Communal discipline is shared and helps the group to achieve a desired objective. Authoritarian discipline demands discipline as an end to itself.

This idea that children must learn to obey the teacher in order to learn further redefines the children as objects to control. They must obey because the teacher says so. It has nothing to do with life and everything to do with death, or if this is too strong, with fear.

I guess very few parents hate their children. On the contrary, I think most parents worry about the future of their children. But all too often they equate learning with studying. It is this that probably accounts for the over-concern with discipline.

I think that studying is one method of learning, a method I am personally very poor at. Studying is done with the head. I think the younger we are the less studying has any place and the more learning is done from the heart.

I've noticed than when a group of young children have focus they can learn quickly. But young children will only genuinely focus on something that engages their imagination - something that engages the heart rather than the head.

But having said this, why should children feel obligated to learn? Most schools have obligation built in. Different kinds of schools focus on different kinds of learning, but almost always there is some curriculum to dictate what kind of learning takes place. For example, Montessori Schools get children to learn through structured play. Waldorf schools focus on relating learning to particular developmental phases identified by Rudolf Steiner. Neither, as far as I know, offer children a choice about what learning is. Democratic schools allow children to define what learning is for themselves.

4. What's New?

Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

A whole new section on teaching techniques has been added! Some more pages from the old site have returned. Here's a (possibly complete) table of additions since the last Wise Hat News:
Always On Top A technique for presenting flashcards
Beyond War An article for the TLC Newsletter
The Cancer of Competition An early article, competition is just as bad...
The Four Agreements An article for the TLC Newsletter
Random Selection A technique for choosing student order
Upside Down! A technique for reading a picture book
What's This? A technique to make this question real
The Time and the Place A Think Tank Article about politics and religion.
Tickle Time! A game for young children.

5. Wasting On Results

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.

A week has past since I first began writing this. I was hoping that Britain would end up with a hung parliament. It didn't happen. Labour was elected by 36% of those who voted, the lowest winning percentage ever. They got 355 seats out of 646. The Conservatives got 33% of the vote but only 197 seats. The Liberal Democrats got 22% of the vote but only 62 seats. And this is supposed to be democracy?

Somehow, I think that if schools were democratic say in the way that, for example, the Albany Free School is democratic, nobody would put up with such nonsense. It's only because there is so little democracy in day-to-day life that institutions like the British Parliamentary System can be called democratic. I think genuine democracy is a way of life. To exist it would need permeate through society, through institutions and through the culture. If it existed people would have direct control over their own working conditions, living conditions, taxation and the rest. Certainly the government wouldn't be able to go to war as it saw fit. Government would almost certainly be in a different form.

As it stands at the moment people have little to no experience of democracy. I think as long as schools exist they should provide experiences in direct democracy. They should be places where children can experience freedom and learn what it is and what it is not.

Today I had the principal of the kindergarten observing one of my classes. Except that she did more than observe, she talked with my assistant at the back of the class. I wouldn't have minded if they had gone outside. I wouldn't have minded if the school was relaxed and didn't have rules about talking in class. But it does. So some example that is set! A. S. Neill describes this as licence. It is not an example of freedom but of disrespect. In itself, the action is very slight, but somehow I'm reminded of the moon. Over the millennia it has been pock-marked and scarred by meteors. In the same way democracy is bludgeoned until it is unrecognisable from its pure self.

I do see a relationship between authoritarian discipline and the lack of democracy in the world. When teachers snarl at children and tell them to shut up, face the front and pay attention I feel they contribute, ever so slightly, but remorselessly to the paucity of the human condition. Children deserve better. So do we all.

We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time or interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift, our personal association, which means so much to them, we give grudgingly.

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I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

(Quotes this issue by Mark Twain)

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