The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
June 18, 2010
Friday
Something is going on and you don't know what it is

There was nice irony in the juxtaposition of two news stories yesterday. In one of them, Ofsted said that almost half children are at schools which do not warrant the term 'good' or better.

In the article immediately below, it was revealed that the same Ofsted thinks that those who wish to home-educate should be questioned, registered and inspected.

So there you have it. Half of British state schools, registered and regulated by Ofsted are not good. At the same time, Ofsted thinks that registering home-schoolers is a great idea. Let us hope one day politicians and the publish will realise that registration and regulation is not what makes things work well.

Is Google successful because it is regulated? Obviously not. Is St Paul's School for Girls an outstanding academic school because it has been registered? No. Has registration make 'bog-standard' comprehensives which one former Labour Secretary of State for Education 'would not touch with a bargepole' excellent? Obviously not. There is something else that is key for good performance and, in the words of the Bob Dylan song "you don't know what is".

It is chilling to read the paragraph in which Ofsted says why many children are now being home-schooled:

Although some parents opt for home schooling for religious or philosophical reasons, the majority of those interviewed by the inspectors said they decided to act out of concern for their children's education and wellbeing.

In other words, some parents and their children are finding the state, registered education so poor or the encouragement to crime so bad or the bullying so frightening that they are taking the daunting step of resorting to home-educating. What is Ofsted's answer to this? To make saving their children from such problems even more daunting for parents. To face parents with registration, inspection and questioning.

This will deter parents from undertaking home education and will therefore result in more children than otherwise being badly educated, bullied and led into crime at state schools, nine per cent of which Ofsted itself describes as 'inadequate'.

Ofsted seems desperately keen to keep children at schools. This shows a lack of realism - a failure to recognise the truth of poor schooling which Ofsted itself has described. It shows a disregard for the true interests of children let alone the right of a parent to take primary responsibility for his or her child - not the state. It also shows the self-regard of the classic bureaucrat who thinks that control by people like himself or herself must surely be the best thing. It is the delusion of vanity.

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June 15, 2009
Monday
How I came to be arrested in Italy


We were staying in San Gimignano, a pretty Tuscan village with slightly bizarre towers, when I was arrested by the local police. I had left my daughter, Alex, then aged ten I think, in a café while I went round the corner for ten minutes to collect our washing from the laundry. I had given her some maths questions to do while I was away. On my return, I found two policemen in the grand costumes they wear there. They asked me if I was my daughter’s father and then required me to bring my daughter and both our passports to the police station.

As I collected the passports from the flat where we had been staying for ten days - learning Italian, reading some Italian history, visiting Sienna and Florence, viewing and learning about Renaissance art as well as keeping up the maths and so on - I told myself to stay calm. Reason would surely prevail.

In the police station one of the officers was clearly in two minds as to whether to put me in handcuffs. I suppose it might have been the sight of poor Alex clinging tightly to my arm that persuaded him to think that, actually, he would be doing her no favour by taking me away from her and into a cell.

Hang on a minute, you may say. This has precious little to do with the government’s intention, announced yesterday, to inspect parents who educate their children at home and ensure they teach in an approved way. Yes, there is a difference in the quantity of state interference which I experienced in Italy and what is proposed here. But it is measured on the same scale. What is more, the state has form on this issue. When it started to get involved in education in the early 19th century, it merely offered financial help. Then it decided it had better inspect the schools it assisted. After that, it came to believe – incorrectly - that as many as five per cent of children were not being educated . So it pushed further ahead with state education and then wholly free state education. This free education crowded out most of the private and many of the religious schools. The state then bought up their school buildings on the cheap. At last, it was totally in control.

The same happened with universities. At first the state just wanted to ‘help’ again. No strings attached, honest. But after some years, strings were duly stitched on and our universities now have the independence of a toaster. So when proponents of state interference in home-schooling say, “we’re only here to support you” forgive me if decline to believe it. Even for a start, the government wants to send an inspector into the home of every parent who dares to teach his or her own child. This inspector will demand to know what and how the child is taught. He or she will then have the right to insist that you, the parent, step outside to a different room to in order that your child can be interviewed alone. What questions will your child be asked? It is not specified. Perhaps, how does your parent treat you? How much work do you do? Does your parent scold you? Do you ever cry? You can readily imagine how a ‘wrong’ answer could put you on a “cause of concern” list.

The government wants to insist, from the start, on its own educational theories - teaching according to its own idea of a “broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated” curriculum. In due course, no doubt, if the government believes that the earth is flat, you will be in trouble if you teach open-mindedness and willingness to consider that the earth may be round. Or to use a more current example, the government believes that global warming is happening and is created by mankind. It is in the curriculum. In due course, a home educator who teaches open-mindedness to evidence on the issue would have a mark against him or her. Many would-be home-educators will be discouraged by this domination by bureaucrats and not undertake it at all – which is against the interests of their children who would benefit from one-to-one tuition in the vast majority of cases.

The report that led to the government decision to legislate on home education was prompted most strongly by a supposed fear that home-educated children might be abused. The report, as it emerges, declares that actually there is no evidence of any such correlation. But of course, once the process of making a report gets going, there is something in-built which causes the author to find reasons to say that inspections should take place anyway. Mr Badman, in this report, is full of pseudo-liberal reasoning. I say ‘pseudo-liberal’ because it has nothing to with the spirit of freedom, which lies at the origin of the word ‘liberal’. This ‘liberal’ is in the new and opposite sense of ‘we, the elite, will make you do the right thing’. We hear a well-modulated, reasonable tone. Beneath is the harder reality: they will come to your home. You will do as they say.

When I was young, in the 1960s, it was not unusual to hear people say, “It’s a free country, innit!” People used to scoff at the Germans and the Swiss for the bossiness of their governments. Now we have less and less reason to boast of our freedom – less and less reason to be proud that in Britain, if nowhere else, the state is our servant, not our master.

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June 11, 2009
Thursday
What is wrong with the government inspecting all home schoolers?

1. If the state starts to inspect all home educators, it will soon start to dictate to them. It will tell them what to teach, when and how. This is an infringement of freedom and free speech.

2. The parent is the correct person to have primary responsibility for a child, not the state. The state should be the servant of the people, not the boss. The state already has the power to take a hand if it has reason to think a child is being abused or not getting an education. Anything more than that would mean the state was taking over the primary responsibility of the individual.

3. Through inspecting and then prescribing what should be taught and how, the state will reduce the diversity of home education. In doing this, it will damage home education. Some children are currently taught in ways that are a response to the individual problems and opportunities that exist in the particular situation. For one child, lots of confidence-building activities may be desirable after that child has been badly bullied at a school. For another, trips to China, Egypt and elsewhere in the world may be possible and highly desirable to give a world perspective. Freedom allows the ulitmate in individualised education.

4.Inspection followed by increasing prescription of what should be taught will deter an unknown proportion of parents from home educating. This will deprive their children of the benefit that they would otherwise have had from home education. The benefit includes plenty of on-to-one teaching and a great deal of parental contact. Already some local authorities are somewhat hostile to home education. Further powers to inspect and regulate will give those bureaucrats greater power to obstruct and discourage parents who would otherwise have home-schooled.

5. Mr Badman has apparently said that there is no apparent correlation between home education and child abuse. In admitting this, he has removed the main argument for automatic inspection.

One supporter of moves to inspect all home educators every year said on Radio 5 Live that "We want to know where children are" as though this was a clinching argument. It is an absurd argument. For the vast bulk of the time, the state has no idea where people are nor does it need to know nor is desirable that it should know. We, the people, should be free to live our lives under the law. The state should not be monitoring us or dictating to us. The idea of "we want to know where children are" is based either on the notion that "the state knows best and had better be in control of everything" or else on some psychological problem which leads individual administrators or parties to want to control others. The first notion is wrong and the second is positively disturbing.

The whole history of the welfare state tells us one thing above all others: the state starts by inspecting, goes on to regulate and finishes by taking over. In the process, the state demoralises those who perform a service; it makes that service inferior to what it would otherwise have been; the bureaucrats dominate frontline providers; the numbers of bureaucrats increase and the cost of what it does escalates. So one ends up with an inferior service provided at great expense to the taxpayer. Both of these consequences in turn lead to damage to the economy and culture of a country.

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March 07, 2008
Friday
A better way of language teaching

I have had a Damascene conversion about the teaching of languages. Until now I have been a believer in the old-fashioned methods: learning how to conjugate verbs, learning the grammar, learning vocabulary and doing translations.

I have considered the modern idea of language-learning - particularly the idea of learning phrases - to be absurd and obviously misguided. It was, I thought, clearly a bad idea not to learn the meaning of individual words. I still hold to that view.

However there is a different, modern way of learning which I have stumbled across which seems to me an improvement on both (though it surely needs to be backed up by some of the old-fashioned methods).

I tried a CD course by Michel Thomas. I bought it with the idea of helping my 10 year-old daughter to learn Italian. There is a dearth of Italian language textbooks for children. She, I must admit, is not as excited by the CDs as I am. On the other hand, I think they are helping her a great deal. (My teaching of both Italian and French to her has, I confess, not been as successful as I had hoped.)

Michel Thomas' approach is clever in a number of ways, not all of which can I easily describe.

You are always learning something new yet also using something you have already learned. This gives you an encouraging sense of gaining knowledge and being able to say something new in a foreign language. But at the same time, since you are repeating something you already know, you are also sub-consciously re-inforcing your memory of that.

You thus are motivated to keep going and you are memorising without any conscious effort. You are also learning to speak the language from the very start.

I recommend the course certainly to adults and older children and probably for children down to the age of 10. And I am copying Michel Thomas's technique for my own teaching of French to my daughter.

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A better way of language teaching

I have had a Damascene conversion about the teaching of languages. Until now I have been a believer in the old-fashioned methods: learning how to conjugate verbs, learning the grammar, learning vocabulary and doing translations.

I have considered the modern idea of language-learning - particularly the idea of learning phrases - to be absurd and obviously misguided. It was, I thought, clearly a bad idea not to learn the meaning of individual words. I still hold to that view.

However there is a different, modern way of learning which I have stumbled across which seems to me an improvement on both (though it surely needs to be backed up by some of the old-fashioned methods).

I tried a CD course by Michel Thomas. I bought it with the idea of helping my 10 year-old daughter to learn Italian. There is a dearth of Italian language textbooks for children. She, I must admit, is not as excited by the CDs as I am. On the other hand, I think they are helping her a great deal. (My teaching of both Italian and French to her has, I confess, not been as successful as I had hoped.)

Michel Thomas' approach is clever in a number of ways, not all of which can I easily describe.

You are always learning something new yet also using something you have already learned. This gives you an encouraging sense of gaining knowledge and being able to say something new in a foreign language. But at the same time, since you are repeating something you already know, you are also sub-consciously re-inforcing your memory of that.

You thus are motivated to keep going and you are memorising without any conscious effort. You are also learning to speak the language from the very start.

I recommend the course certainly to adults and older children and probably for children down to the age of 10. And I am copying Michel Thomas's technique for my own teaching of French to my daughter.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Home education

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A better way of language teaching

I have had a Damascene conversion about the teaching of languages. Until now I have been a believer in the old-fashioned methods: learning how to conjugate verbs, learning the grammar, learning vocabulary and doing translations.

I have considered the modern idea of language-learning - particularly the idea of learning phrases - to be absurd and obviously misguided. It was, I thought, clearly a bad idea not to learn the meaning of individual words. I still hold to that view.

However there is a different, modern way of learning which I have stumbled across which seems to me an improvement on both (though it surely needs to be backed up by some of the old-fashioned methods).

I tried a CD course by Michel Thomas. I bought it with the idea of helping my 10 year-old daughter to learn Italian. There is a dearth of Italian language textbooks for children. She, I must admit, is not as excited by the CDs as I am. On the other hand, I think they are helping her a great deal. (My teaching of both Italian and French to her has, I confess, not been as successful as I had hoped.)

Michel Thomas' approach is clever in a number of ways, not all of which can I easily describe.

You are always learning something new yet also using something you have already learned. This gives you an encouraging sense of gaining knowledge and being able to say something new in a foreign language. But at the same time, since you are repeating something you already know, you are also sub-consciously re-inforcing your memory of that.

You thus are motivated to keep going and you are memorising without any conscious effort. You are also learning to speak the language from the very start.

I recommend the course certainly to adults and older children and probably for children down to the age of 10. And I am copying Michel Thomas's technique for my own teaching of French to my daughter.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Home education

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November 19, 2007
Monday
'Our Island Story' and a reading course

An email from Civitas:

Dear James Bartholomew We saw a couple of your recent pieces on your blog and the Mail on Sunday about home schools. I thought you might be interested to know about our special offer to home schools on one of our education titles, Our Island Story. Home schoolers can get copies at postage and packaging cost only (£5). You might want to pass this on to other home schoolers. We have also tried to be at the forefront of the current debate on synthetic phonics by publishing for the first time this year an established reading course, The Butterfly Book. Best wishes Nick Cowen -------------------------------------------------------- Nick Cowen Research and administrative assistant nick.cowen@civitas.org.uk www.civitas.org.uk Office: 020 77996677 Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society 77 Great Peter Street London SW1P 2EZ

I am using

Our Island Story
for teaching my daughter an overview of the course of British history. The history is probably no longer regarded as being wholly right but the author tells stories and children love stories. I did not know the one about the siege of Calais and it is very dramatic. This book has recently been supplemented by watching the video of The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth, which is excellent once it gets going, and also the video of the series in which Glenda Jackson starred as Elizabeth I. This is less compelling but has certainly also held my daughter's attention. The episode on the plot to kill her is particularly good. These TV series bring the Tudors vividly to life and they are, I believe, much more accurate than the recent film on Elizabeth.

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November 17, 2007
Saturday
Freedom and home-education

Apparently there is a candidate in the US presidential election who is particularly well-liked by those who home-school their children.

Homeschoolers for Ron Paul is a group of concerned home-educators who believe that parents should be free to make educational choices for their children without government interference. Ron Paul is committed to protecting parental rights, including the freedom to home-educate, and he has proven this with a consistent voting record and continued recognition of homeschoolers and their achievements.

Here is a link to the group of home-schoolers who are supporting his candidacy.

I orginally thought that my decision to home-educate one of my daughters for a few years was completely separate from my views on the welfare state. But I am beginning to see some connections. For one, the state in Britain has gradually increased its control of every kind of schooling, including private schools. Home education is inherently separated from this control - at least under the current legislation in Britain which, thankfully, remains unconstraining. But I believe the British government has already looked at increasing its control and in other countries, I understand, governments have already started telling parents what they should teach and, perhaps even what they should not teach.

I assume that the home-schoolers in the US who support Ron Paul are concerned about government interference.

There is something about welfare states: those who organise them hate to see anyone or any institution making their way outside their control. Perhaps it is offensive in that anyone acting independently is implicitly saying, "I can manage without your money or your regulations and instructions. I don't need you and, what is more, I don't want you."

This is crossing from analysing social policy into the psychology of politicians and government employees. It is a subject worth of study. I believe that the people at Human Givens have, perhaps among others, given it some attention.

Aspect facet of this is the way that the ideal of individual freedom has faded as a political ideal. In the French Revolution, they called for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. If they were having a revolution today, Liberty would be dropped. Again, I see a possibility that welfare states have had played a part in diminishing the ideal of liberty. But I will return to that another day.


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September 29, 2006
Friday
Recommended books for learning at home

I don't intend that this should become a home education website. Unfortunately I don't have the time or technological skill to set up a new site on the subject. So I may occasionally have some postings about it.

What are good books to base home schooling on? Any suggestions?

I have found the following good:

Ancient Rome by Peter Ackroyd. A concise and readable account of the entire history of the Roman Empire from beginning to end. Well illustrated, it included a great deal that I myself did not know. We took turns reading it out aloud.

So You Really Want To Learn French. It is hard work but Alex is 'really' learning French. It is a compromise between the old way of learning languages (grammar-based) and the new (through speaking and use of phrases). The main verbs and how they are declined are introduced gradually.


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