Updated: 05/09/2003; 6:43:37 AM.
Why are so many having trouble at school and in life generally? What can we do about this? What is the opportunity of the Early Years?

Friday, September 05, 2003

Stuart sent me this. It is the best piece I have seen yet on why so many of our kids are in trouble
6:42:13 AM    comment []

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Doug Adler and Dave Pollard on what school is really about.


It has always been in the interests of industrialized countries, or rather their captains of industry to have:

  1. a large pool of uneducated workers
  2. a rate of unemployment around 6%
  3. Bread and circuses to divert the great unwashed.

It keeps the public's minds off how they are being manipulated. The purpose of school is not to educate but to socialize individuals, to get them ready for the rat race.

So, why is this becoming a hot topic again now? Maybe it's because the inherent tension between a system designed to numb minds and dedicated teachers who are tring to stimulate those minds has reached, through the constant de-funding of education - a breaking point. Maybe it's because the actions of our politicians have become so blatantly harmful that John Q. Public can't be distracted enough anymore to totally ignore them. Maybe the world has become so tumultuous and patently dangerous place, particularly for Americans, that the lotus eaters have started to awaken from their stupors and have begun to see reality through their dreams. Maybe Ajmerica is in the act of swallowing the red pill.. I don't know the reason - I can only hope that America is finally waking up.

8:26:45 PM    comment []

Campaign to tackle bullying. Behavioural consultants are to be drafted into schools in attempt to stem the rising tide of bullying in the classroom. [BBC News | News Front Page | UK Edition]

There is a bullying epidemic going on in many schools all over the west. Is this because there are more "bad" kids? I don't think so. Maybe it is because there is so little structural identity available anymore. What does this mean? I think that we all need to know that we fit in somewhere. If a school offers no formal tribal structure such as "houses", the kids will make their own. In this Darwinian alternative tribal system, the strong and the cool persecute the outsiders - the different, the uncool and the weak.

Yet we persist in thinking that bullying is an individual issue. Why are we so blind?

7:54:28 AM    comment []

Ivy had an educational technology breakthrough las .... Ivy had an educational technology breakthrough last week: she learned to use the computer mouse. Apparently this is not evidence of prodigy status, as there is already a booming market for toddler-targeted software. The article isn't particularly well written, and I found the idea of parents spending $2.8 billion on educational toys (including multimedia) sort of repulsive. Overzealous moms collecting every Baby Einstein title and talking about the importance of a good college for their 16-MONTH-old's future...isn't it all a bit disgusting?

Pushing very young children into predefined learning activities seemed rather odious, but that first impression may not be entirely fair. And the definitions of pushing and learning are tricky. I spend a lot of time online, and my two-year-old wants to participate, so we've found a few things that we enjoy doing together online. It's certainly learning -- play and learning are completely intertwined. I had shown Ivy how to use the mouse a couple of times before, and she enjoyed zooming it around the mousepad for its own sake, but had never made the connection between the physical motion and what was happening on the screen. The week before in the SuperDuperDolphin game, she suddenly understood that the dolphin did tricks when she clicked on the pail of fish, but she couldn't figure out how to move the cursor over the pail.

Last week's breakthrough came while playing a Flash activity called Sing-a-Song Clay-Along from the Disney empire (see screenshot). It's a simple piano with four characters, one of whom is performing at any given time. I gave her the mouse and showed her how to click the button again, then let her loose on the virtual keyboard. She was concentrating intensely, but smiling when the character would sing different notes as she clicked the keys. Then I asked her to try getting the pig to sing, and she slowly moved the cursor over the pig and clicked...then went back to the piano and started clicking virtual keys. Oink, OINK, oink...to her great delight.

I suppose this is happening for young kids all over the world these days, and shouldn't be a big deal. But for someone who believes in the power of the web to transform learning and knowledge, it seemed like a significant milestone -- a symbol of the online access Ivy will have to ideas, entertainment and other people throughout her life. She won't remember the first time she used a computer, mouse or software...it's just part of her environment. I wrote a bit about Ivy's favourite online activity from her pre-mousing days: The Snake Game, using me as a guide and the Google image search as her playground. It's a great way to spend time, but her new skill gives her more control over the world...well, the virtual world, anyway.

I guess I have this vague sense of lingering guilt that she's too young to be sucked into the digital vortex, but I think that's the Luddite in me. These things she's experiencing online are more interactive than anything she'll see on TV, and allow her more control to create, explore and manipulate than any reading session might offer. But $3.8 billion is just ridiculous -- one of the coolest things about the web is that this stuff is all free. [Jeremy Hiebert's headspaceJ -- Instructional Design and Technology]

I think that games have a lot to teach us about learning. Our instructional model is wrong. How we really learn best is by "Playing". Why boys love games and hate school.

7:35:38 AM    comment []

Friday, August 29, 2003

Enrollment for the media courses at our community college is way down this year. Is this part of the dot-com fallout or is something more going on?

What is on offer is a one year full time class based course that costs $10,000 and teaches you to create web pages. I asked my blogging friends on PEI, none of whom are older than 24 and most younger and all of whom are experts in web based communication, - note I did not say experts in web creation.- to tell me how they learned to be so good.

  1. They were all highly motivated and started to "play around" on the web when they were very young 
  2. They learned from each other and still do
  3. None of them see learning about a tool or a technique as being central - one said that when they see a resume that states that the person has mastered a set of named software, they bin it immediately - wrong approach. They do not take a product approach but a holistic approach

So who takes these courses? Maybe folks who have no talent but who think that the web is hot. What happens when they enter the workforce - they meet the web version of Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck with a high school band talent - result they are peons not masters.

So what do you do if you are our community college? Maybe you have to link those who want to learn to those that can teach rather than try and teach the sheep. This is a huge shift. Does it only fit with IT?

What about automotive trades. Until now you could go to a college and learn how to fix a car. But what about Hybrids and soon fuel cells - who will stop the train for long enough to create a conventional curriculum? It can't be done. We will have to learn on the job as the job will be changing too fast. So what does the Community College have to do to create the learning environment. The same process is true for many areas - think even of construction - post Kyoto we will change radically how we build and the material will change very fast. You can't teach stuff that is 3 years out of date.

Who can we learn from? eBay I think. They have made a business through creating a safe community where people can do business with each other.

For me the big challenge is how can we create a safe community where we can learn from each other?

eBay have revolutionized retailing as a result. No inventory! You think that education has no inventory - think again - it is all about inventory - they are called courses and departments - they build and sell. Changes in inventory are exceptionally slow. But the pace of change is accelerating. Formal learning cannot keep up and will only fall behind.

It is also all so expensive. Canadian university fees were up 7% this year while inflation is about 3%. School costs are rising much faster than inflation and the degree is falling in value as more kids enroll. Student debt will be cancer on the next generation. But if you get out of build and sell you get out of your main costs - inventory.

So here is the challenge. What small place that knows it cannot compete with the large traditional centres will have the balls to set up the eBay of learning?

10:42:35 AM    comment []

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Missing the Librarians for the Trees.

The Myth of Generation N

"For decades, social scientists and technologists have alternatively predicted the emergence of 'computer kids' or a 'net generatio'”—a cohort of children, teenagers, and young adults who have been immersed in digital technology and the digital way of thinking since their conception.

This new generation, the thinking went, would be everything that their parents weren’t when it came to technology: They would know how to type, partake in electronic communications, and be able to rapidly figure out how all this stuff worked. They would be so adept at using computers that calling them 'computer literate' would be an insult. They would see society as something to be mastered and hacked, not something that they need to fit inside.

Certainly, a lot of evidence supports a 'net generation' effect. Although there are no reliable statistics on computer literacy, good figures do exist on Internet usage, thanks to the Pew Internet Project. According to its survey released earlier this year, 74 percent of people in the United States age 18 to 29 have Internet access, compared with 52 percent of those age 50 to 64. Among the over-65 set, Internet access plummets to just 18 percent. And in my own age group, 30 to 49, 52 percent have some kind of Net access. These figures certainly argue for the existence of a 'Generation N.'

But the more time I spend with the kids who should be members of Generation N—today’s high school and college students—the more convinced I am that the notion of universal computer competence among young people is a myth.  And the techno-laggards among us risk being relegated to second-class citizenship in a world that revolves around, and often assumes, access to information technology....

Experts in human-computer interaction say that the real difference between teenagers and their elders is teens’ willingness to experiment with computers, combined with their acceptance of the seemingly arbitrary conventions that are endemic to contemporary computer interfaces. In other words, teens aren’t worried about breaking their computers, and they’re not wise enough or experienced enough to get angry at and reject poorly written programs. The teens just deal with computers, as they are forced to deal with many other aspects of their lives. These strategies, once learned and internalized, are incredibly effective for working with today’s computer technology....

...Unfortunately, with the changes overtaking our society, today’s kids who don’t have tech experience and tech aptitude are going to be left behind much faster than their elders.

And that’s the danger in believing that time will give us a population that’s completely computer literate. Remember, the Pew study found that 26 percent of young adults do not have Internet access. An even bigger determiner than age is education: only 23 percent of people who did not graduate from high school have Internet access, compared with 82 percent of those who have graduated from college.

Certainly, more kids today are growing up wired—but millions of them are not. Meanwhile, we’re rebuilding our society in ways that make things increasingly difficult for people who aren’t online. For example, people who don’t want to (or can’t) buy their airplane tickets on the Web now typically have to wait on hold for 30 minutes with the airline or go through a travel agent and pay an agency fee—sometimes as much as $50. When I needed to renew my passport, the local post office didn’t have the form: they told me to download it from the Internet.

This is a problem that won’t be solved through more education or federal grants. As a society, we need to come to terms with the fact that a substantial number of people, young and old alike, will never go online. We need to figure out how we will avoid making life unbearable for them." [Technology Review]

First of all, bad title because when you cite statistics such as "74% of Americans ages 18-29 have internet access," that's pretty much a "generation." Did every member of the "greatest generation" fight in World War II? No. Did every member of the "baby boomers" smoke pot and protest the war? No. But yet 74% of a generation that has internet access doesn't qualify as a critical mass.

Actually, I don't even think of kids ages 18-29 as netgens. My personal definition would be kids age 15 and younger. If you're generous and figure that the internet has been mainstream for six years, then you really need to look at netgens as kids that have grown up during that six year period and their younger siblings. I know the 18-29 age group came of age with computers, but the internet is a whole new ball of wax. Email, the web, and instant messaging are changing our society even faster than computers did. And these kids that grow up taking this stuff for granted are already ahead of my 35-year old self in how they assume and assimilate an interconnected world.

I know folks like Walt will sigh when they read that, but it's true. The way we take time-shifting technologies like VCRs and walkmans for granted is how these kids take the internet and wireless access for granted. It's just there, as it should always have been there. You mean it wasn't always like that? As I've noted before, my kids think every laptop can connect to the internet, and at high speeds, too. They have no idea that you might ever need a cable to do it, either. They think every camera can instantly display the picture it just took and pretty soon, they'll think that all cell phones can take pictures.

But what about the author's original point that 26% of this generation won't be computer or net-literate? Well, my question is how sad is it that he doesn't note the single most important support net for those people - libraries? Who could teach them information literacy in the digital age, either in school or in general classes at the public library? Who can provide them with free access to purchase that airline ticket or download that form? Who can provide them with the backup print resources that they need? Who can find information for them when they can't do it themselves?

The same folks that are there for every other past or future generation - librarians. And you know why the article's author encounters high school and college kids who aren't information literate? It's because politicians keep cutting library budgets, insisting that they're not important anymore. In some states, like California, they cut school librarian positions until there are almost none left. In some states, like Florida, they decide that critical institutions like the State Library are expendable and no longer need to be funded.

So how come Technology Review doesn't mention that?

[The Shifted Librarian]

I have been talking  about the low levels of traditional literacy on PEI. This article and Jenny's comments reveal an even greater need to be able to read. If you cannot read - you cannot participate in the online world. Soon there will be no alternative. Government services, business and social communication will increasingly go online and the alternatives will dry up. Maybe the Libraray will be the home of the illiterate? What a concept!

7:01:50 AM    comment []

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I had coffee with a colleague yesterday who has a 7 year old son.. We were talking about education - specifically about the poor literacy rates on PEI. She works at our Community College we are working to find better ways of remediating this problem. But then we turned personal and I asked her how her son was doing. He is 7. A month into grade 1, she was told that she/he had a problem. Her son was too active. Here is a dialogue from another page but I think it sums up what she heard.

Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
Is That What Little Boys Are Made Of?

Anyone who has had a little boy knows that the little darlings can run you ragged. Even before he crawls, he is naturally more active, more exploratory about his surroundings and more mobile than most baby girls.

          By the time your little boy is five, he's still as cute and playful but all the more hard to control. Is it only your child, or is it all boys?

          Soon the innocence of boyhood yields and it seems that the natural ants-in-the-pants that our boys have always had is an invitation to diagnose problems. That which was once considered normal behavior is now a cause for alarm.

          What happened?

          From infancy to the early toddler years, parents accommodate little boys. Experts say all toddlers should roam and explore, but it just so happens that the more unbridled sex is the male. Until he starts school, even the most disciplined little boy is not satisfied with long periods of quiet time. Then school begins, and the environment that once understood the boy for what he is now expects him to act complacently, quietly, and without the motion that predated his school years.

          "This child has attention problems," the Kindergarten parent hears.

          "Your boy is very sweet, but easily distracted," reports the first-grade teacher.

          "We've told him repeatedly that he is not allowed to wrestle and push others," the third-grade teacher sighs.

          "He's had four warnings and he still doesn't bring in his homework," hears the ninth-grade parent.

          Sound familiar?

          Much of the current drive behind school reform stems from the belief that the cookie-cutter approach to education doesn't work. Perhaps what is expected of a boy these days is in conflict with normal male energy and curiosity.

          Schools, for the most part, are dominated by women, and boys are taught to the "rhythm of girls," says Archibald Montgomery, headmaster of the all-boys Gilman School in Baltimore, Maryland and treasurer of the International Boys School Coalition. It's not an evil conspiracy, he points out. But it does lead to some troubling outcomes.

          For example, boys are ten times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, according to a 1997 American Psychologist article. Is it because they are more prone to ADD or have we ceased to distinguish between the different nature of boys and girls? It's partly both, but experts agree that ADD is often abused and overdiagnosed.

          Dan Kindlon, along with Michael Thompson, is the author of Raising Cain, Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (Ballantine). He points out that a more effective approach to dealing with ADD-like problems might be to fix the environment, rather than focusing on a fix for the child. In other words, high-paced, hyperactive schedules can lead to lack of sleep and high-paced, hyperactive behavior.

          A mother of four boys recalls when her youngest was two and she took him to the doctor. Anne Roche Muggeridge describes what happened:

          "He was one of those kids who is never out of motion while awake. During the examination, he kept reaching out to the interesting medical paraphernalia around him, and I kept gently fending off his little fingers."

          "Is he always like this?" the doctor asked.

          "Yes, he is always like this," she replied.

          "Perhaps we should put him on Ritalin."

          "Over our dead bodies," said Mom. "He is not disturbed. He is disturbing."
Muggeridge has an intuitive mother's insight into the different nature of boys. They are more tactile, "squirmier," more active - especially in group settings - and often develop at a slower rate than girls.

          Parents who take time to question the suggested kid-fix often look to boys' schools for more understanding. When a school environment is designed to suit the needs of boys, that school then has the luxury - "the honor" Montgomery calls it - of structuring the curriculum to boys' special needs. Because their fine motor skills don't develop as quickly as girls, for example, he doesn't schedule cursive handwriting into the curriculum as early as it might appear in a co-ed setting. Boys at his school are also allowed to move around the classroom more and allowed to be tactile. Their activity level is celebrated.

          Not every parent can afford such an environment, and many would prefer the traditional co-ed school. But a parent can have a huge effect upon how her boys are treated. For starters, don't immediately accept the "Billy has a problem" approach from the educators. While they may mean well, it could be anything from the kind of reading instruction to the level of rigorous coursework (or lack thereof) that is making Billy fidget. While you want to cooperate, explore deeper into how the school is structured. Are there cooperative groups for the children? Oftentimes boys don't excel while facing other classmates as the teacher is teaching. Boys are naturally more competitive and less group oriented than girls.

          Is there enough activity time? Are children engaged in creative play throughout their school years and given a chance to express themselves through various art venues? Finally, does the school allow enough flexibility for teachers to address the uniqueness of their classes with materials, activities and special events?

          At one all-boy school, science class is done almost entirely outside. The boys engage in earth, wind and sky observations and the excitement of preparing for their "natural history" class is used as a carrot by the teacher when trying to get them through the more passive English or math classes.

          Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails? You bet. Rather than try to change their nature, we should find educators who see the challenge in it" (Parent Power)

How's it going with your sons? Is he a problem or merely a boy? Surely when more than 30% of boys are failing at school it is time to look at the school rather than at your son?

"Ha revenge!" you say as a woman. So what kind of man would you want in your life or in your daughter's life? An aware and capable partner or an angry deadbeat who is frightened of where women are in the world today? Behind PEI's bucolic vistas, are dark homes where sad men take revenge on capable women whom they fear. Last summer a young woman who was studying at our community college and breaking out of her life trap was murdered. Her murder has not been solved. So what might have been the motive? A visitor from away who is a serial killer motivated by deep desires or someone whom she knew motivated by fear of losing her? You make up your own mind.

8:58:30 AM    comment []

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I had lunch with Dan and Steve yesterday and one of the items we talked about was why boys are so turned off by school. Our bottom line that real learning was as much about motivation as any other factor. Becoming expert at something seemed linked to motivation. Is this why boys like games so much? Is there a lesson for so called educators like me?

Jeremy Hiebert has some great stuff on learning and play.

I read last week that boys are starting to turn away from action flicks. The stated reason was that they preferred the interactivity of games and th amount of contro that they had in games.

I am old but here is a question for the young turks out there. Is there something deadingly passive about the instruction method used at school? Is there somthing about the teacher being a "Mom Clone" that pisses boys off?

Is part of the appeal of most good games that they demand real skill and that the skills cannot be learned quickly? Is another part of the attraction that the good games have compelling ladders of challenge? Is another part of the appeal that truly amazing games have all of this and allow you to compete with a large community?

Finally what if we made school more like games? Anyone read Scott Orson Card's books?


11:27:06 AM    comment []

As the debate about Gay Marriage builds, I wonder what is the "natural state of marriage". Much of what I read in our local paper righteously informs me that Jesus, God and the church determine what marriage is all about. In short in this view, marriage is a union of one man and one woman whose role is to have children.

Just for fun, let's explore the history of the union of adults a bit further than the few thousand year perspective that the CW allows for.

For most of the 4 million years that humans and our predecessors have been around, our primary social unit has not been a union of two adults of opposite sex but a small tribe of between 15 and 25. 25 appears to be the optimal size with the right threshold of complexity for survival. These tribes were in turn linked into their surrounding tribes into "nations" of about 150. These in turn were linked into federations of around 500-600. Why these numbers?

The Math of Genetics - There is also a genetic link to group size and Magic Numbers.

A person living alone has a "half life " of about one year. Set ups of one lose half their number in one year, half in the next and so on. Living alone is a very weak strategy in a natural environment where there are many risks and challenges. Today the power of the state is encouraging us to live this way - the state is the dependency creating family and its not a healthy relationship.

The half life of a group of 5 is a generation or about 20-40 years

The half life of 25 people is 250-500 years. 25 seems to be an ideal blend of comfort and complexity. A company that lasted 250 years would be a remarkable organizations. In a tribe about half a group of 25 would be adults - say about 8 men and women - now we see the core underlying magic number revealed. It is the ideal single sex work group derived from the ideal familial work group, the tribe.

The 500 person group is the ideal "marriage gene pool" Incest taboos prevent breeding in the 25 person tribe. Wives and husbands have to be found outside this group. But not too far outside. After all we don't want our daughter to mary a stranger or worse someone who cannot add wealth by his connections. We also want them to speak the same language and worship the same Gods. So being close means that we can enter your wife's family hunting ground and that it creates the potential to have large scale group hunts on occasion. 475 people = the ideal gene pool of 19 x 25 member bands.

Dave Pollard writes eloquently about how great it would be to live/work in a group whose sole aim would be mutual support - this is what this tribal set up was all about.

The reality is then that for most of human time, we lived not in units of two adults but in social units of 25 that include about 8 adults. The purpose of this tribal unit was obviously to raise the next generation but to do so in the context of doing all of the related work as a large team. This was above all a social and economic unit.

There was no clear line between work, play and society. No Work/Life balance issues here. Belonging to the tribe and having a tribe that functioned well was in every member's survival interests. No individual was safe on their own. No child could depend solely on her natural parents. They needed the power of the larger group. If we are honest with ourselves, this issue of safety and the need for a support group has not changed. The game can disappear - we are fired. Partners and children die. Our kids need a job. We get injured or sick. In our diminished social world, we now look mainly to the state or to insurance companies for the benefits of the protection of the group. The most important unit in our history was not the "family", it did not exist, but the tribe.

Ah but you have left out the best bits you say. So what about men and women and sex? Any study of primal people tells us that there are many arrangements for how sex was accommodated. There are tribes where the big man has most access to most women. There are matriarchal tribes where the power and the choice is in the hands of the women. There are tribes where most of the sex is homosexual and where mating for children is a by product. In most tribes your own gender is where your primary social and affection relationships reside.

My point? The tribe is sacrosanct - sex and sex partner rules are diverse. The point of the tribe is to raise children not simply to produce them. No two parents in a tribe focus on only their own offspring. They look after all the children as do all the other adults. With all property belonging to all members, there is no need to make a strong link of who was the father.

So where does this leave us now?

The reality is that most so called families are now one adult organizations lead by a woman. This is as small and as vulnerable a unit as is possible. Even with two parents, most are so stressed out at work that they have little energy for their children. We see the results in grade 1 when 30% of the kids have behaviour problems that are so overwhelming that they are unlikely to make it through school. Many families are blended but are so hooked into the CW that they blame the other for the breakdown and have little or no contact. So the children can be cut off from Grandparents and are shuttled between warring parents. Many blended families have the potential to be tribes if only the warring parents could see through their anger and see the potential.

Our view of jobs has meant that work and social life have been split apart and we vainly try and find a balance. Our social structures have been destroyed. In desperation we turn to the state or to the company benefits plan or help for those times when we as individuals cannot help ourselves. .

What marriage really means now is a legal construct by which the benefits of the state and from insurance companies, pensions etc, can pass from one party to a related party. This is what most Gay couples want - legal recognition and access to the state and company tribal benefits.

The church is fixated on sex. No surprise that this is its own weakness. The church assumes that we organize around sex which makes the conventional marriage the central organizational unit. BUT the observed fact is that humans do not naturally organize around sex - we organize around work and survival. Human social organizations are not built for procreation but to raise children so that they can take over the leadership of the tribe. Sex is not why my Gay friends want the recognition of their union. They want the protection of the state tribe. Most importantly, they want to be able to raise children so that they too have the ultimate benefit of dying in the knowledge that they have raised good people who will remember them as their ancestors.

8:46:38 AM    comment []

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"The last obvious policy is in education. There is already a gathering counter-consensus in the UK around educational reform, led by voices like Tom Bentley of Demos, CreativeNet and the Scottish Council Foundation: they want to stop "factory schools turning out factory minds". The creative child can imagine new problems (rather than have them handed down to them); mingles ideas easily from one realm to another; makes mistakes, as long as they lead to more interesting solutions, and focuses on goals with all their powers of attention. That's a text-book list of the psychological attributes of play.

Yet creative education should be about more than producing fodder for the "creative industries", or a better class of info-worker. The democratisation of creativity could save lives - or at a minimum, turn those lives away from self-destruction. If the play ethic means anything tangible, it is about occupying the gap that drug culture occupies in our poorest communities. And that gap is created by the distance between "work" as it stands - job-seekers allowances, McEmployment of all kinds, the spiritual tedium of "workfare" Britain - and the individuals who cannot (or will not) conform to its dictates.

Drugs, you could say, are the dream-seekers' allowance: the most expedient way to boost your sense of human potential, when all the official routes heading towards that end seem rubble-strewn, or impossibly long, or depressingly unrewarding. This also explains the traditional hot-link between narcosis and pop culture. If your chemical dreams spur you to activity, then dancing, socialising and fucking - or making other people dance, socialise and fuck - is often the most gratifying way to make your mark on the world; to align your inner state with your outer reality.

What Ibiza has really "uncovered", for all its reckless, oafish hedonism, is an inarticulate but deeply-felt rejection of the false dignities of contemporary labour. "I’m largin' it" should be taken literally: it means, My precious self is bigger than this mousy, pointless social role.

An education for creativity which wanted to be truly “inclusive” would have to listen to this elemental and popular desire for playfulness. It’s an unruly vigour which has its subterranean link to an earlier, more carnivalesque Britain, evidently not entirely swept away by industrial capitalism. A time of "happy Mondays" and "the soul's play-day", when 18th century Gloucester bishops complained about "loutish mobs that are drunk with the cup of liberty".

Teachers would have to find ways to tap into these disruptive energies, and turn them into a repertoire of usable life-skills. That means, among other new approaches, that the much-abused "media and cultural studies" would at last get its proper curricular due. Bringing context and history to pop songs, computer games and tabloid tv could provide kids with an exit route from the cul-de-sac of these escapisms, into richer areas of cultural tradition and understanding. From Big Brother to George Orwell (or from Ibiza Uncovered to Epicurus) is surely a worthwhile educational gambit.

Economists who've read their Marx often talk about education as part of the "reproduction of labour" - the place where the character of the good worker is made. The play ethic wants an education which aims at the reproduction of creativity, the nurturing of the good player’s soul. Children should leave schools feeling motivated, in command of their faculties, and capable of expressing themselves in forms and behaviours which both please themselves and others. Why would such a child choose the temporary utopia of drugs, over the actual joys of skilful self-creation? Why would they not choose to play?"

If you woke up and found that you were 8 again and had to go back to school, how would you feel? Would you not want a school that was more on Kane's lines than the one you send your kids to now?

8:29:36 AM    comment []

Here is an extract from Pat Kane's body of Work on Play - Thanks to Ross Mayfield for the link

"Yet why believe in work, when work doesn't believe in you? The constant watchwords of the new capitalism are flexibility, creativity, self-improvement. Workers are urged to "get up to speed" with a runaway world: we must become mobile and tensile, enterprising and capable. We must harness our chariots to the sun of intense global competition.

Yet these injunctions come from companies which hire you for a year, six months, maybe even less; who might be taken over at any time in some City of London or Wall Street manoeuvre; who try to wriggle out of long-term entanglements like pensions, wage and holiday agreements; and who shed labour whenever their position in the global marketplace shows the slightest competitive disadvantage. Trying to excel for companies that are themselves transient, provisional and unforgiving might come to seem like the grandest folly.

When that realization comes - that is, when the work ethic crumbles before your eyes - then an intellectual vacuum opens up at the heart of contemporary capitalism, which desperately needs to be filled. Over the last decade, a procession of not-big-enough ideas have tried to fill the space - "downshifting", "work-life balance", all those slackers and idlers. None of them with much success or distinction.

They all try to speak to our deep common anxiety: that if we keep up our loyalty to the work ethic, in a world where competition, mutability and innovation rule supreme, we will destroy ourselves. The LSE's Richard Sennett calls this the "corrosion of our characters" - where the acids of the new capitalism eat away at the old industrial virtues of self-discipline, sacrifice and duty.

We need a new, similarly powerful social ethic for these hyper-demanding times. Some other world-view that can give a coherence to the frenzy of activities and interests that we scatter across our busy lives. Something - anything - that could make all these demands for "creativity" and "achievement" even worth the effort.


Welcome to the play ethic. First of all, don’t take “play” to mean anything idle, wasteful, frivolous or even necessarily childish. The trivialisation of play was the work ethic's most lasting, and most regrettable achievement. This is "play" as the great philosophers, and recently mind scientists, have understood it: the experience of being an active, creative and fully autonomous person.

“Man plays only when he is in the fullest sense a human being“, said the great German Romantic Friedrich Schiller. “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play", agreed Jean Paul-Sartre. The classic 20th century psychologists - like Jean Piaget, Donald Winnicott and Erik Erikson - all understood play as our most effective way of mastering the complexities of our world, rather than submitting to its routines.

And now that we can watch the very synapses of our minds perform, through medical neuro-imaging, the powers of play are even more confirmed. Those who clear space in their lives for activities that are pleasurable, voluntary and imaginative - that is, for play - have better memory, sharper reasoning, and more optimism about their future. As the dean of play studies, the University of Pennsylvania's Brian Sutton-Smith says, "the opposite of play isn't work. It's depression. To play is to act out and be wilful, exultant and committed, as if one is assured of one's prospects".

So to call yourself a "player", rather than a "worker", is to immediately widen your conception of who you are, and what you might be capable of doing. It is to dedicate yourself to realizing your full human potential; to take an essentially active, rather than passive stance towards your environment; and to be constantly guided in this by your sense of fulfillment, meaning and satisfaction.

The play ethic is what happens when the values of play become the foundation of a whole way of life. It turns us into more militant producers, and more discriminating consumers. It causes us to re-prioritise the affairs of our hearts, to upgrade the quality of our emotional and social relationships. It makes us more activist in our politics, but less traditional in their expression. And most of all, the play ethic forces us to think deeply about how we should pursue our pleasures - and how we reconcile that with our social duties.

So, like the work ethic, the play ethic is a set of feelings and principles about how we should be active in the modern world. But the difference between the two is huge. Work is always (to coin a phrase) the involuntary sector - the realm of compulsion and necessity, where men and women have to do what they have to do. But as Sartre says, play is what you do when you feel at your most free, your most voluntary. When every positive decision you make about your life carries both a risk, and a promise, of something new and challenging taking place. This is why the play ethic isn’t “the leisure ethic”: the last thing it involves is slumped relaxation."

This is an extract from a 4,00 word piece and a wideranging site with tons of material

8:18:47 AM    comment []

There is a North American problem for boys and school. Boys are doing very badly in the education system. But on PEI, we have reached a crisis.

We have the highest drop rate  for males in high school at 22.6%. Male literacy is in the basement. In 1998 82% of females could read at a level 3  compared to only 60% for boys. Way below the national average. In a 2001 survey of grade 12 - 62% of females said that they planned to attend university. Only 42% of boys made the same claim. UPEI is granting 1.8 degrees to women for every one for men. In 1998 28% of women in the 25-29 age group had degrees, in line nationally, but only 17% of men.

Anecdotally I hear that in 2003 70% of freshmen are women at UPEI. I hear that medical schools, law schools even engineering are packed with women. There have been rumblings about boys doing badly but this is surely a crisis? We surely cannot accept that it is all the boys' fault.  There is something really wrong about how we raise and school boys.

We have to have a serious look at schools and ask what is it about how we run them that turns boys off. We have to look at how we as parents raise our boys as well. How have we taken their desire to achieve away?

There have been rumblings about this issue but surely we are on such a poor track that we have to step back and apply our best efforts to re- engage the male gender in their education.

7:52:09 AM    comment []

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