Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Charlie Brooker on eBooks

“Until recently, I was an ebook sceptic, see; one of those people who harrumphs about the “physical pleasure of turning actual pages” and how ebook will “never replace the real thing”. Then I was given a Kindle as a present. That shut me up. Stock complaints about the inherent pleasure of ye olde format are bandied about whenever some new upstart invention comes along. Each moan is nothing more than a little foetus of nostalgia jerking in your gut. First they said CDs were no match for vinyl. Then they said MP3s were no match for CDs. Now they say streaming music services are no match for MP3s. They’re only happy looking in the rear-view mirror.”

― Charlie Brooker

What are the pleasures of the eBook that will replace the nostalgia for the written and printed book? Some of my eBook pleasures are as follows:

Longer Reading Times - I can read in bed when my wife has put the lights out.

Portability - my eBooks are with me all the time. I would need a 10 ton truck to carry my physical library around with me.

Quick delivery - eBooks ordered from Amazon arrive almost instantaneously.

You don't lose your bookmarks.

You can change the font size and style - very important as you approach your silver tsunami years.

Feel free to add more in the comments section.

Have a great day.


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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Virginia Woolf - an Orginal Product of Home Schooling

Born of free thinking parents, Virginia Woolf had an unconventional education mostly provided by her father, an ex Cambridge don. She was given the freedom of his library and as can be seen from her early journals she made good use of this access. Her reading was eclectic and prolific, a habit she kept up for her whole life. Her creativity and breakthroughs in stream of consciousness development were no doubt nurtured by her home schooling, which gave her great freedom.

I wonder how many potential great writers like Virginia Woolf have had their creative flame crushed and extinguished by our school system that caters to conformance and one size fits all?

I am thankful that her parents had the foresight to home school her and let her creativity blossom.


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fuelling my eBook Obsession

I have finally turned the corner and have become an eBook fanatic. I only have one book that I am reading in paper form. This transition has taken many years but I have now stopped buying physical books. Sure I miss having additions for my physical library but I now have a portable library on my iPad that is where I am at anytime. The Kindle App on the iPad is excellent and I just love having instant delivery from Amazon though I do miss the Smiley boxes from Amazon.

I have just pre-purchased the first volume of Robert Frost's Letters as an eBook, delivery due tomorrow.

Long Live the eBook!


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Taking Children Seriously as People

"We don't yet know, above all, what the world might be like if children were to grow up without being subjected to humiliation, if parents would respect them and take them seriously as people."
~ Alice Miller

Children are a unique gift to society due to their spontaneity, enthusiasm and curiosity. Parents and grandparents would agree that having children around adds a joyful presence to life. Seeing things through the eyes of a child is like being a child again.

Do we cherish this child's view of the world? For a while we do, but when our children reach a predetermined age we march them off to school where their view is unimportant and the rule, little children should be seen and not heard prevails. School is a humiliating experience for many children - the slow, the divergent thinkers, the gifted, the disabled to name but a few groups of disenfranchised groups within our schooling system. Not all children are ready for formal schooling at the age of 5 or 6. We know that boys mature later and probably don't "fit" into a school environment until the age of 7 or 8. In fact I would argue that none of our children are ever ready for school as it is institutionalized now. Schools are about social control, not education.

What do you think?


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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Buddha on Teaching

Believe nothing merely because you have been told it . . . or because it is tradition, or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conductive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings – that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.
- Gautama Buddha

This advice coming across the centuries is as important as the day it was spoken. The Buddha was a great teacher but he encouraged his followers and students to examine and analyse the teachings they received. His view that we should seek the good of all beings is at odds with today's schooling factories that turn out many blind learners without the skills to examine the world around them objectively. To use Gatto's term it is all about the interests of "the Combine" - big business, the military, transnational conglomerates and those who pursue wealth at all costs. For their interests to be served they need an army of unthinking people who are "educated" to obey without question, to endure boredom and have arid inner lives.

There are now millions of our young people who have been home schooled, deschooled or unschooled and who will not obey but rather challenge the mindless burearcracy that keeps the products of formal schooling in thrall to their masters.

May they turn the age...


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Leonardo de Vinci on Learning

“Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

Today's education system is very efficient in turning out uninterested students who are turned off learning. The desire to learn has been strangled by the educational strictures we put upon them. Schooling works to conform children into a mold that makes them into pliable, unthinking "educated" automatons.

Why do we allow this to happen? Surely we need learners who desire to learn and are self motivated. One size doesn't fit all in education or any other human endeavor.

It is time to release education from the teachers and give it back to the learners. Let children develop the keen curiosity they demonstrate before entering the formal schooling system.

It is our only hope for an increasingly complex future...


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Friday, February 14, 2014

Einstein on Education

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ”
– Albert Einstein

It is a sad indictment on our schooling system that it dampens and even kills curiosity. Our gradated system from kindergarten to a PhD is tightly controlled with many gateways to weed people out. The problem with this approach is that the A students tend to regurgitate what their teachers want. This is a trick learned early on, well before we hit college. The top students make the least mistakes when experience in the real world is built on learning from mistakes. The education system doesn't reward divergent thinkers and non conformists.

Young children are very happy to make mistakes, it doesn't worry them until they hit formal schooling. They will sing, dance, share their thoughts with abandon. By contrast try getting a group of adults to sing or put themselves into a situation where they might make a mistake in front of others. They tend to freeze or withdraw. Karaoke may be the exception, but most people won't try Karaoke until lubricated with alcoholic beverages. What would learning look like if we had not contacted the formal schooling system?

With the creativity of children and thirst for knowledge encouraged we would have a nation of learners: self-motivated, creative and curious, sharing a passion for life. Instead we have many children sidelined, left behind and ignored. So much for "No child left Behind"

The good thing is that some people survive schooling with their curiosity intact and go on to do great things. Conversely many home schooled or unschooled children get a great education and then excel at university.

Long live Curiosity.


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The Key is Fact Finding not Fact Memorization

“Our rapidly moving, information-based society badly needs people who know how to find facts rather than memorize them, and who know how to cope with change in creative ways. You don’t learn those things in school.”
– Wendy Priesnitz

Our educational systems are still fixated on teaching facts even those these facts are often out of date due to the explosion of knowledge. Today's facts are often tomorrows fiction. Technology and science are making very fast progress so memorization is inefficient.

I worked at a computer start-up company in the early 2000's and one of our engineers was a brilliant young man. I wondered why he didn't have any post graduate degrees. When I asked him why he replied, "I did a BSc in Mathematics and at the end of that time I had learned how to learn myself". He could speed read through technical manuals and remember all of the pertinent points. This man has had a very successful career to date because he is self motivated to learn and expand his knowledge base. He also applies his learning straight away.

Given the fast turnover in knowledge we all need to be self motivated learners. By the time someone has got to PhD level in the sciences the information gleaned as an undergraduate is often irrelevant. What is needed are not more PhD programs that take years to complete but more courses that are short, focused and applicable. Such short courses would allow one to keep up. This is where MOOCs are a breakthrough. Of course many of us just make our own courses based on our current interests and curiosity.


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Illich on Schools

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends upon knowing that secret; that secrets can only be known in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”
– Ivan Illich

Those of us who are readers know that knowledge acquisition is often serendipitous. We read many books, make connections and learn along the way. In fact we mimic the hyperlink system on the world wide web (www), or maybe the www mimics our reading!

Illich argues that society has made schooling into a system owned and controlled by an elite, who know the secrets. It is an educational coterie of druidic mystics. We are told that education is the key to success, that only teachers can teach and that we need the proper authorisations, grades and certifications to get to the next level. This approach constrains real learning and in fact makes the erroneous assumption that all people learn at the same rate, at the same age and that they all need the same content. Educating in this way extinguishes the flames of true learning and curiosity and then teachers complain how hard it is to teach kids who they themselves have constrained.

I celebrate the opportunities that the Internet brings to us all to liberate true learners from the shackles of the educational institutions and let them follow their own needs, interests and curiosity.


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Friday, February 7, 2014

What Exactly do we Learn at School

“There were no sex classes. No friendship classes. No classes on how to navigate a bureaucracy, build an organization, raise money, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what was important to me. Not knowing how to do these things is what messes people up in life, not whether they know algebra or can analyze literature.”

– William Upski Wimsatt

This quote by Wimsatt highlights a problem with today's schooling system - a lack of relevancy to life and living. People can do 12 years of education and still be unequipped to cope with independent living. Why is this? It appears to be caused by the professionals slicing out something for themselves from every day life while making children and young adults dependent on them and their tests, grading and diplomas.

Education should be about learning, not teaching. How is it that our children can learn their first language without any formal teaching? Children experiment, interact with others and learn naturally and spontaneously. Compare this with the foreign language instruction within our schools and universities. Some people come out of college with a degree in a foreign language and still can't speak the new language fluently and idiomatically. The academic approach is not the best fit to learn a new language. Compare this with young children who move to a new country with their parents. They pick up the new language by interacting with their peers. Children below the age of five who have not been stifled by traditional schooling are not afraid of making mistakes. FACT - you can not become fluent in another language without making many mistakes. Yet schools reward those who make the least mistakes with the best grades.

It has taken me a lifetime of formal education to realise how I have been cheated and robbed of real learning. I am rectifying this now at the advanced age of 58.


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The New Illiteracy

Today's quote is from a prescient thinker of the last century, Alvin Toffler. Alvin Toffler is an American writer and futurist, known for his works discussing the digital revolution, communication revolution and technological singularity. Toffler is a former associate editor of Fortune magazine. - sourced from Wikipedia

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

– Alvin Toffler

At the time this was written in the 1970's the pace of change was much slower than it is today. Toffler, as a futurist, was able to forsee that as change increased so would the pace of learning. But the interesting point is not about learning, but rather the unlearning and relearning required to keep pace with technological change. Formal education is not well positioned to react to the disruptive change that is increasingly appearing. In fact the university system as we know it may well disappear in the next 50 years as it loses relevancy to self directed learners, unlearners and relearners. Another influential thinker, also writing in the 1970's, Ivan Illich, visited this theme in his book, Deschooling Society.

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being "with it," yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.”
― Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

Learning, unlearning and relearning are all best done outside of the constraints of the formal education system.

Your literacy in this age depends on your own self-directed learning.


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