Saturday, October 6, 2012

Recently Read: The Megalithic Empire

I've recently finished reading The Megalithic Empire by M.J. Harper & H.L. Vered.

My first introduction to this book came about a year ago when I first started visiting The Applied Epistemology Library - the on-line home of the authors. I was lucky enough to read a rough draft of it then. It blew me away at the time and I felt quite privileged reading it. It felt a bit like seeing a great band before they became famous. You could just feel there was something special going on and it was good getting a little peak through the window. Anyhow, I was consequently really pleased when the book got released last month.

When I read it this time round I was once again left with the same feeling - basically, the feeling that it's an important book. It's changed the way I look at history. British history in particular, but also human history in general. It's changed the way I look at crows as well.

The book is full of original, and I mean truly original, ideas. It's also full of fascinating information and bits of folklore. I won't go into too much detail, all I'll say is that people with a genuine curiosity about history will love it. If you like plodding the same beaten path you might find some of the stuff in here a little beyond the pale, however if you're like me and you enjoy reading about history but get bored very quickly you'll probably think it invaluable.

Finally I'd say the most impressive thing about this book is the way it manages to add colour to the otherwise darkened pages of pre-history. The massive gap between caveman-type people and literate moderns is for the first time given a bit of daylight. The bit in the final chapter about plant domestication is probably the first time anyone's tried to explain the leap to agriculture in a fully thought-through manner.


There's also a website n forum to accompany the book;

Abolish Education: Practical Changes and Problem Children

Okay, so I've been having a bit of a whinge about education... I guess it's now my turn to put a few ideas on the table. I admit it might not be practical to get rid of the entire education system in one fell swoop. Although saying that, personally I don't think it would be that bad if we did. People tend to think that society is going to suddenly collapse if children stop going to school. Well, don't worry, it won't. Either way I think I'll provide a halfway house and offer something a bit more practical.

I'll start by going back to a topic I touched upon in one of my earlier posts - the length of the school day. It would be easy to improve things by simply shortening the school day. If I was running the country right now I'd seriously be considering plans to cut the school day in half. Why does school have to be like work? Shouldn't it be joyful?

A second change I would make would be to end this thing where we're threatening parents with jail if their children play truant. Taking someone to court and possibly jailing them because they don't get their child to school is just appalling. We're essentially criminalising people because they have a problem child, or because they themselves have problems raising a child. If a child doesn't want to go to school we should find out why they don't enjoy it and then try to find ways of making it more enjoyable and bearable. Threatening a parent with jail (even if it's only a threat) is just making life harder for everyone involved.

This brings me to an even bigger problem - the problem of dealing with difficult children. A big point of issue at the moment seems to be this idea that teachers don't have enough power and respect in the classroom. We used to use corporal punishment (essentially violence) in schools in order to enforce discipline, now we've abandoned that way of doing things we simply don't know what to do any more. The problem essentially being how do you discipline pupils without resorting to the use of force? Well, the answer is that you can't. Shouting and screaming, if it isn't backed up by the use of force, is just an empty gesture and after that there's pretty much nothing else a teacher can do. This is why you often hear people calling for the reintroduction of corporal punishment.

However, the true answer to this conundrum is that we shouldn't really be using discipline in schools at all. Children should be in school because they enjoy going and they shouldn't need to be forced to be there by any form of aggression (even if it's just raised voices). If you do get children that genuinely do have behavioural problems. Particularly problems that involve violence or aggression towards other people then those children simply should not be in school.

Like I said earlier, we have this notion that all children must go to school all the time. But I ask, what's the point in sending a child with genuine problems to school? How can you expect a child to do well in maths class if they have serious problems in their home life or serious behavioural problems? Wouldn't it make much more sense to tackle those problems first, and look upon education as a secondary issue. Surely it would be better to produce a happy law abiding citizen that's poor at maths than to simply produce a criminal. Why focus on maths (or whatever else) and ignore the core social problems.

If someone misses a lot of maths, so what? If they grow up to be a decent person that's the main thing. You can always learn Pythagoras later when the more important problems have been dealt with.

We have such a strong belief that going to school is important that it's become almost sacrilege for a child not to go. So much so that we're using the threat of jail to enforce our belief. But is it really that bad if a child doesn't go? Especially if that child is making it difficult to teach other children that actually want to be there. A more laid back attitude towards school attendance would be better for everyone. If a child is seriously aggressive and disruptive then simply take them out of school. Social problems should be for social workers not for teachers.

Abolish Education: Whose Idea Was It To Send Nineteen Year Olds To University Anyway

A little bit about university now. I should start by saying that I do have broader views in regard what should happen regarding further education, but at the moment I can't be arsed going into it all. Maybe I'll do a series of posts about it at a later date. However, one point I would like to make is about the age at which people go to university.

Am I the only person that thinks it's madness sending people there when they're in their late teens or early twenties? Whether it's state-funded or privately-funded it seems crazy that we're spending so much money trying to educate people who are at precisely the wrong age to be educated. When people reach the age of eighteen they're experiencing adult life for the first time in all its glory. Alcohol, sex, living without parental supervision, live music, political activism, drugs (can I say that?), and so on and so on. Expecting someone at that stage of their life to sit in reading and learning is a bit like sending someone to a fairground and expecting them not to go on the rides. Not very realistic at all.

Often when you hear older people talking about their university life they'll say things like "...if I knew then what I know now I'd have spent more time studying and less time partying." That's because adult life gets boring fairly quickly, and they realise that university was a once in a lifetime opportunity that they never made the most of. Having realised this they then try to impress (without any success) the importance of education upon the next generation. Futile.

Wouldn't it make more sense to just have the university experience later in life. If I was in charge no-one under the age of twenty-five would be allowed to go. People are living to over a hundred these days. Why are we wasting university on the one bunch of people that actually have a social life to lead? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Abolish Education: Classic Example

I read this article a couple of days ago in the Independent;

One third of UK schoolchildren clueless about Shakespeare

Articles like this pop up all the time in the press and they're a classic example of how odd our attitude towards education is. Sometimes these articles complain that children don't know who Churchill is, other times it's Henry VIII, sometimes it's that they've never heard of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. It's always something both historical and British.

This particular article was about Shakespeare - another person that British children are expected to be well aware of. For the record it basically states that 30% of them (six to twelve year olds at that) don't know who he is - as if this is a massively bad thing.

I ask, why is it such a big deal that children don't know who Shakespeare is? Most adults rarely, if ever, read Shakespeare, yet there's a mini-outcry when it's mentioned that some children aren't aware of the guy. Children under the age of thirteen are generally too young to read Shakespeare anyway aren't they - yet still minor-outrage.

Why so much emphasis on knowing random bits and bobs about history? Who decides what's worth knowing and what isn't? Or who's worth knowing and who isn't? Why is Shakespeare so special? Is it because he's English? Is this about nationalism or is it about education?

You never hear an outcry in the British press because children don't know who Chairman Mao is. Or because they haven't heard of Alexandre Dumas or whoever. It seems educated people basically want children to know the stuff they know. Their attitude is pretty much "...we're brilliant and educated, you need to know what we know in order to be brilliant and educated yourselves."

Latin's an even better example. Every six months or so there seems to be some big thing in the press and the media saying we need to start bringing Latin back into the classroom. And surprise, surprise the people calling for this always tend to be people who learnt Latin themselves as a child, "...I'm brilliant, I can read Latin, we must make all our children as brilliant as I am!" They're never outraged that children aren't being taught Korean or Polish or any other language they don't have a clue about. Always Latin.

It's obvious to me that these people have spent their entire lives learning stuff just to impress people. Better to look like an idiot I say.

Abolish Education: Sex Education; The Cool Teacher Problem

Whilst on the topic of education I'd also like to throw in my two cents in regards sex education. I feel a little embarrassed broaching the topic, but it is a big problem and I do feel the way it's taught is really making the problem much worse.

Essentially it's a problem of psychology. Teenagers are generally quite anxious when it comes to the issue of sex. The biggest fear being that everyone else is doing it and that they're not. Even adults fret about how many people they've slept with - as if it's some sort of indicator of how successful they are in life. So it shouldn't be surprising really that teenagers are fearful that if they don't lose their virginity they're gonna get left on life's scrapheap. Everyone wants to be normal, and if most 'normal' teenagers are having sex then you don't want to be the one person that isn't. Ultimately, it's all about being accepted socially. We all care what others think of us (sadly), and no one wants to look like a loser.

Thus, the reason why teenage boys lie and brag about sex is to impress other people, and that need to impress others is a much bigger factor in young people having sex than the natural desire to do so. This is essentially where sex education falls down. It makes it seem even more 'normal' that teenagers should be having sex. Putting even more pressure on young people to do so.

I remember being about fourteen/fifteen. At that time it seemed like a lot of people my age were having sex. Of course, that just wasn't true. The fact was most people I knew weren't having sex - and of the few that said they were, most were just lying and making stuff up. Still, at the time it did seem like a lot of other people were doing it and I wasn't. And I had the same anxieties about it, and the same fear that I was gonna get left behind by everyone.

These anxieties were made much, much worse by 'cool' teachers.

For instance, I remember teachers at the time teaching sex education by trying to make it look like they were on the same wavelength as the teenagers. Saying things like " listen, when I was your age I got up to some things as well ...I did this, I did that, yada, yada, yada." As if when they were younger they themselves were very rebellious and sexually active. They were basically trying to empathise with the pupils by making it look like they were 'normal' teenagers that had sex and had fun when they were young.

Now for me, personally, these 'cool' teachers just made things a million times worse. I remember at the time hearing this sort of stuff thinking "Oh! my God, even the teacher was having sex when he was fifteen, and he must have been really geeky and studious." It made it seem even more normal that teenagers had sex, and made me feel like even more of an unattractive loser for not doing it. The pressure to go out and have sex was immense. The fear that I was missing out on something important and being left behind enormous.

Advertisements on TV by groups that campaigned about teen pregnancies and safe sex also had the same effect. Those adverts always tried to look so cool (and still do). It would always be a bunch of really trendy teenagers at a party or something casually talking about sex - someone would mention the risk of pregnancy, a discussion would ensue about condoms. But those adverts never made me think "Ooh, when I have sex I think I'll wear a condom", they made me think "...argghhh! everyone else is having sex and I'm a sixteen year old virgin! I desperately need to do something about this!" Again they always made it seem like it was so 'normal' for teenagers to be having sex.

And again this is why sex education fails so massively. It normalises teen sex and just ups the ante even more for young people.

It would have been so much better for me and many other people if sex education had just been taught in a matter-of-fact way and if teachers had just downplayed the importance of it all. If I was a teacher teaching sex education I would just say;

"...listen, most people your age aren't having sex, I wasn't having sex when I was your age, most your friends aren't having sex, the ones that say they've had sex are probably just lying, and the few that actually have are the exception not the norm. More to the point, it doesn't matter when you lose your virginity - some people through choice go their entire life without having sex, others wait until they're married or until they meet the right person. It's really not that big a deal. And at the end of the day if you still care what people think and it really is bothering you that much, at worst you can always just lie about it ...that's what most people do when it comes to sex anyway."