Spot The Difference

April 2nd, 2015

How many differences can you find?

See this page at War Is A Crime for more information.

Hardly Talk

March 31st, 2015

Last week Stephen Sackur spoke with Nick Hanauer in the BBC flagship show HARDtalk. This American dotcom billionaire businessman, who apparently only has one suit, had one or two interesting things to say about capitalism:

If you allow wealth and income to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands over time, that in the end can’t be good for anybody, particularly people like me. You show me a highly unequal society and I will show you a police state or a revolution. There are no counter-examples.

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Happy Fall Of Sauron Day!

March 25th, 2015

Reading Lord of the Rings

It’s March 25th, it’s the second day of my birthday and it’s Fall of Sauron Day – better known as Tolkein Reading Day. In England it’s also Lady Day which used to be the start of the legal year and not nearly as interesting to write about.

I got Lord of the Rings one Christmas in my youth. I read it straight through in three days and after that had no interest to look at it again. In comparison to The Hobbit which I really enjoyed, I can’t say I found it very compelling apart from the Mines of Moria.

The same, too, goes for the movies, won’t grace them with the title films, directed by Peter (I love seesaws) Jackson. The only thing of interest in those is the scenery. I remember actually going to see the first one without knowing it was only the first book. Near the end I was desperate to go to the toilet and was thinking, “God, it’s not even half way through!”. I was relieved when the end credits came up but  felt so short-changed.  The Moria scenes were so unlike those in my mind I ended up snorting my disgust. Dreary me!

Do You (Still) Do Tests?

March 21st, 2015

Recently, there has been discussion on the ETJ owners list about how to deal with mothers – it’s usually always mothers – asking about their offspring doing the EIKEN test. Set by the Society for Testing English Proficiency and deeply ingrained in the Japanese school education system this test comes across as almost mandatory for serious Japanese students of English. Traditionally, Junior High school students would take Grade 5 (the lowest level) at the end of their first year of English study and repeat with Grade 4 and Grade 3 in subsequent years. Further grades could then be pursued in high school.

Perhaps because of the push towards introducing English at elementary level there has been test creep with younger and younger children being propelled into taking it. Five year olds passing Eiken seems to becoming all the rage now with Japanese “Tiger” mothers. One school owner reported a mother wanting her soon to be first grade elementary son to take Eiken Pre-2: “Oh, the only problem is he doesn’t know all the words.” Read the rest of this entry »

Think Like A Champion (Horse Bites Dust)

March 14th, 2015

The Guardian published a long read this Wednesday just gone. The revolution that could change the way your child is taught by Ian Leslie is a kind of infomercial subtly promoting Doug Lemov and his book Think like a Champion.

Whenever I hear the word “Champion” two thoughts invariably gallop roughshod through my mind. Foremost is Champion the Wonder Horse – make that Cha-m-pion! THE Wonder Horse! The opening jingle has permanently scarred my mind. This old clean-cut American black and white (in every sense) 1950s TV show was a staple of Summer holiday mornings when I was a child. Go Champion! Go Ricky! Go Rebel the dog – right the world, or at least your dusty corner of it. More morose is the second thought, the Queen anthem that has no time for losers (though I always heard it as “you are the losers”) – unilateral, unambiguous and uncompromising. Torture for the soul. Read the rest of this entry »

Florence on the Elbe

February 13th, 2015

February 13th, 2015, St Valentine’s eve, Japan. I stumble out of bed and flick the internet on. What has the world got to tell me today? Scientists at SETI think the time is right to go beyond listening for signs of intelligent alien life and start actively seeking it out. A new theory of the Universe maintains that there was no Big Bang and that the Universe has existed forever. President Obama is silent about the murder of three Muslims at Chapel Hill. US drones continue to kill children. Dresden was bombed 70 years ago to the day. The BBC said so.

I will admit to being surprised to see the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden mentioned on the BBC World News. Every year I watch out for what is said about Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dresden usually passes by without a murmur. This time they mentioned refugees fleeing the Russian advance,  slave workers and POWs . This time they had a graphic interview with a British prisoner of war. He saw people sucked into the air and burnt alive. People stuck in roads that were rivers of melting tar. Bodies that became so hot they exploded. The BBC then went on to assure me that there is no moral equivalence between the war records of the Allies and those of the Nazis. I wonder why. Read the rest of this entry »

Are We All Charlies?

January 21st, 2015

Stop the press! 7th January 1785: First Crossing of English Channel by hot air balloon. 7th January 1911: first experiments with dropping bombs from aircraft. 7th January 1953: President Truman announces the Hydrogen bomb. 7th January 2015…

Its now been two weeks since the terror attacks in France. Time enough, perhaps, to reflect upon events without  a knee-jerk or goose-step. Except that events never stop. As I write this Islamic State (IS) is demanding 200 million dollars from Japan for the release of two Japanese Nationals and Shia Houthi rebels are attacking the home of the President of Yemen. There is no vacuum to write in, no isolated ivory tower, no distant serene mountain top from which to shelter from events. Or as Howard Zinn observed, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.

This doesn’t mean accepting President Bushes dictum “you’re either with us or against us”, which sounds like it could equally come out of the mouth of any Isis fanatic.  Rather it means engaging in a consistent critical analysis of our history and our actions and our beliefs and desires. Read the rest of this entry »

A Mini Primer On Democratic Education

February 2nd, 2008

No Homework And Recess All Day

Jerry Mintz

Bravura Books

ISBN: 9780974525204

Year: 2003

Pages: 139

This slim book serves as a great introduction to the Democratic School Movement, and it is a movement. There are democratic schools of various kinds all over the world. There is no simple definition but all schools that claim to be democratic have meetings. Depending upon the school members may, or may not be required to attend. Likewise, what the meeting has power over varies from school to school. At Sudbury Valley the community has control over every aspect of school life. On the other hand, at Summerhill, the oldest democratic school in the world, the children have no control over the appointment of staff or whether a child should be kicked out. The school belongs to Zoe Neill Readhead, the daughter of the founder A. S. Neill. She controls the purse strings which is not democratic, but Zoe maintains that if the school had been run by a board of governors it would have caved in and collapsed when the British Government threatened it with closure in 1999.

From the histories of other schools described by Jerry, it does seem that to be successful schools need strong, charismatic leaders. But this is probably true of any kind of organisation that operates outside conventional norms. One essential point is that whatever kind of choices are given to children, they must be real. Children are not fools and won’t lend their energies to being conned. So, when setting something up it is important to be clear what power is available and then do nothing to undermine or circumvent it.

For Jerry, the heart of any democratic school is the school meeting. He is distrustful of meetings that rely on consensus and favours a method used by the Iroquois Confederacy. A whole chapter of the book is devoted to Iroquois Democracy. The Iroquois used a system of majority voting, but after a vote those in the minority would be invited to talk about why they had made their choice. Anyone would then be able to make another proposal and the process would continue until no-one had anything more to say. In this way a minority would not be sidelined or excluded by a vote going against them. The process is more communal and not adversarial. As Jerry says in the penultimate chapter :

The meeting process, and democracy itself, is not a science it’s an art.

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2008

2008 is the Year Of The Rat . Notable Rats include Prince Charles and the Rapper Eminem. Princess Diana was a cow, or perhaps I should say an Ox, since I’m one as well. Curiously, rats and oxen are supposed to get on well. The Rat is the first sign in the Chinese Zodiac and the Ox is the second. There’s an old story about a race being organised to decide which animals would appear in the Zodiac. The rat got a lift on the Ox’s head and dashed across the finishing line to win first place. How an Ox came to be in the lead compared to other creatures like the tiger and the dragon is something I’ve not heard explained.

Anyway, here’s a did you know to finish my first entry of the year. Did you know that the British planned to use exploding rats in World War Two as weapons of mass destruction? Neither did I until to day, but it’s true!

Halloween Horror – Four Parties In One day

November 1st, 2007

Trick or Treat, trick or treat Halloween’s here, move those feet! Run Away!

When I was a child Halloween was little more than bobbing an apple or two in a bowl of water or dangling one from a piece of string. At that time in England Plot Night on November 5th was much bigger than All Hallow’s Eve. Now, I hear my nephew and niece go out Trick-Or-Treating and Halloween is all the rage. I guess with all its sights and smells there is something to be said for what could well be the oldest European festival though personally I still feel trick or treat is a form of extortion. But beyond that, it is just bloody, hard work! Preparing and running Halloween parties is tough! Here’s what we did at Wise Hat English this year. I write we, though Hideko, my wife, did the lion’s share of the work, as well as the witches’ and the elves’. I just got the bloody knees.

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