Thursday, February 19, 2015

What is an educated person?

I recently watched a fascinating documentary entitled Maidentrip about a Dutch teenage girl named Laura Dekker who is the youngest person to ever circumnavigate the world in a sailboat alone. She completed the journey at 16 years of age.

She would have done it sooner but for the Dutch authorities. They filed a custody suit, seeking to prevent the teenager from embarking on the voyage. They felt that the state, not the parents, should have ultimate control over such decisions.

The Dutch courts finally ruled in favor of Laura but only on the condition that she continue her state-approved education while conducting her voyage. I assume that meant learning such things as social studies, Dutch history, chemistry, and trigonometry.

That condition really struck me as I was watching the documentary. Here was a teenage girl who obviously knew everything there is about sailing. She had practically grown up in a sailboat, thanks to her father, who also loved sailing.

In fact, there is rather humorous story about Laura and her father. One day, her father received a telephone call from English authorities telling him that his 14-year-old daughter had arrived in England on her sailboat alone. The authorities told Mr. Dekker that he needed to come and get his daughter. He responded that he didn’t know she was gone and that if she could make it to England alone, she could make it back alone.

As I was watching the documentary, I looked up her biography and learned that this teenage girl could speak three languages — Dutch, German, and English. She was also able to read complicated sea charts. She could handle radio communications. She could maneuver a 27-foot sailboat in some of the scariest storms one could ever imagine.

What was also fascinating was to watch her spirited sense of individualism, optimism, and confidence — all the traits that the state smashes out of children with its system of public schooling.

To satisfy the condition that the Dutch court imposed on her, Dekker signed up for some sort of worldwide self-education course. Along the voyage, however, she mentioned publicly that she wasn’t keeping up with the coursework given the time she had to devote to managing a one-person sailboat on the high seas.

Well, as you can imagine, the Dutch public-school authorities and the Dutch mainstream press went ballistic, even suggesting that the girl had thrown her textbooks overboard and thus was no longer getting educated. That sure seems dumb to me, especially coming from people who presume themselves to be educated because they went through the state’s education system.

In any event, public-school officials in Holland were not amused that Laura Dekker wasn’t getting educated while circumnavigating the world on her own. Here is how the website explained the situation:

"Her lawyer Peter De Lange told Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that truancy officers issued her father a summons to appear late last year after a newspaper quoted her as saying in her blog she had not been giving her studies full attention.

Mr De Lange said the report was a misunderstanding, based on her saying she needed to concentrate on sailing while weather in the Atlantic was poor.

When her father refused to turn up, the truancy agency notified child protective services, infuriating the family.

“Who knows, maybe they’ll be waiting for her with handcuffs at the finish line,” Mr De Lange said."

Well, they didn’t have the chance to put those handcuffs on Laura Dekker because rather than return to Holland, she simply crossed the Atlantic again and headed to New Zealand, where she had dual citizenship.

The public-schooling system would obviously consider Laura Dekker to be an educational failure. I say she exemplifies the deep passion for learning and the thirst for independence and a high-spirited and confident life that characterize all children from birth to six, traits that the state schooling system has smashed out of children by the time they graduate high school.

Good for Laura Dekker! In my books, she’s a free-market education success story!


British PM  backs creation of first new selective State  schools in 50 years in major U-turn just months before the election

David Cameron today backed the creation of new grammar schools, in a major U-turn just months before the election.  The Prime Minister said good grammar schools should be allowed to expand so more children can attend.

Speaking in Hove near Brighton this morning, Mr Cameron also appeared to back the expansion of a nearby grammar to a new campus.

Critics say the move – which was blocked by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove – would effectively crate the first new grammar school in 50 years.

In opposition, Mr Cameron warned his party to drop its obsession with grammar schools, saying it was a key test of whether the party was ready for power.  At the time, he said there would be no return to the 11-plus exam and more new grammar schools.

But today, Mr Cameron said he wanted every youngster to be able to access the quality of state education enjoyed by his own children in London.

The PM said: 'I strongly support the right of all good schools to expand. I think that's very important and that should include grammar schools.

'Under this Government grammar schools have been able to expand and that is all to the good.'

The Prime Minister was asked if he backed the expansion Weald of Kent girls' grammar school in Tonbridge, which has bid to run an annexe in Sevenoaks.

He said: 'I don't want to pre-empt that decision, that's a decision for the Education Secretary to make. But the principle is very clear: good schools should have the freedom to expand.  'Look what we've done with our schooling system in this country. We've made much more independence for schools within the state sector.

'There is huge growth in academies that have more control over their admissions, more control over their finances, more control over their futures and it has helped good schools to expand.

'Because in the end I want for everyone in this country what I have for my three young children. They are at a good state primary school in London.

'It shouldn't be a lottery, it shouldn't be a postcode matter, it should be something everyone gets, the right to have a good school place for your children.

'The only way you can do that is to have more good schools and that's exactly what this government's programme has been all about.'

Mr Cameron made the remarks in a speech setting out the Tories welfare policies ahead of the general election.


Bright flight in Australia

Private schools are partly government supported in Australia so most affluent Australian parents send their kids to such schools -- at least for their High School years.  So ....

When I became a father at a frighteningly young age it was a mixture of ideology and lack of money that had me choosing the state system for my daughter. It didn't even occur to me that the state high school where I lived, in Sydney's prestigious eastern suburbs, could be bad.

It was worse than bad. "Bright Flight" had left only the poorest, roughest kids in the area. Girls in micro-minis and with texta drawings all over their thighs smoked cigarettes with slouching, morbid looking boys at bus stops around the neighbourhood.

At a school performance where parents were invited, screaming children ran down the aisles, prompting neither disapproval nor intervention by the seated teachers. At parent-teacher nights, teachers gave glowing descriptions of my kid's performances despite obvious flaws in essay techniques, in general knowledge and grammar.

Eventually, I sent her to a Catholic girl's school. Ten grand a year… ouch!… and I had to pretend I believed in The Almighty, but at least there was a modicum of discipline.

Later in life, when I was better equipped to afford a good school, I put my two little boys into the French system. I figured, I could spend a million bucks putting them through the elite private system and they might make a contact that could get them into the banking system or at least a few stock tips that might set them up for life. Or, I could choose a system that values philosophy, language, history and civil values and all bound in the most secular of educational frameworks.

Hours, days, months, spent on verb conjugation, on learning the poems of Hugo and Rimbaud by rote (and performed in front of their classmates), of complex forays into European history. And they come out of it able to speak, read and write at a high level in two languages.

I figure, I spend the money, I want something concrete. What a party trick...say something in French, kid!

"Bright Flight" is real. The state system, in whichever state you live, is too slack, too willing to let bad behaviour slide. A great student will be a great student anywhere. But an average kid, someone prone to slipping into bad behaviour, what most of us have, will at least have a shot at a decent future if he gets schooled privately.

It shouldn't be this way.


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