Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Curriculum Crapulissimus

Your self-critical yet earnestly pedagogical Pedant-General is nothing if not a "follower-in-the-footsteps-of-Socrates". I know enough about the ugly, messy, hilarious and infuriating business of rearing children to know that I know really very little indeed.

To demonstrate just how little I do know, I shall make a wild assertion, entirely unsupported by clinical trials or any credible scientific methodology:
The process of bringing up children to be worthy, law-abiding and productive citizens shares one remarkable similarity with the efficient operation of a market ecomony: It is not possible to gather sufficient information to allow it to be planned from the centre.
To paraphase a popular slogan untimely ripped from a televisual advertisement, whilst I may be entirely ignorant on these matters, I do know a man who isn't. But then, she isn't a man either.

Enter the simply inestimable Dr Miriam Stoppard, who rounds on the absurbd plan for an infant curriculum with vigour, precision and decades of experience in the field. As usual, all I can do here is to implore to read her article in full, then write to your MP (or other such freeloading bandit or loser as may claim to represent your best interests whilst frittering away your hard-earned cash on taxis and fact-finding trips to the Caribbean).

I can do one more thing though: I can demonstrate just exactly what a crock of sh*te [forgive me - this topic always makes me cross] is the idea that "the man in Whitehall would know what is best" for my children.

The idea that there can be an infant curriculum is just so obviously laughable as to be, well, obviously laughable. Every child is unique. Each develops in his own time and in his own way, with his own character, with his own likes and dislikes, his own strengths and weaknesses. Worse still, the mark of a healthy, normal child - the irrefutable evidence of a parent that is doing a "good job" - is the degree to which the child appears to be an individual - i.e. that resists attempts at box-ticking.

Consider, if you feel up to it, the three young masters Pedant-General. They come from the same stock [aspertions to the contrary will be met by stinging writs from a pretty vicious lawyer wot I kno - what are you saying about my wife?]. They have been raised by the same people and under the same conditions of faded glory, noble rot that sort of thing. In short, they share both nature and nurture, yet they could not be more different.

The Eldest Master Pedant-General:
  • walked at 16 months;
  • talked at 16 months;
  • had conquered the word "Paediatrician" [which I can still barely spell. Ninme, before you get excited, you spell it wrong in the US] at 18 months;
  • wants to be a scientist;
  • probably will be an artist of some sort (see here and here, bearing in mind that he is only 5 and a half);
  • indulges his own interests regardless of what his peers might think, yet;
  • is incredibly easily led astray and joins into small child mob bad behaviour unless kept on a very short leash;
  • can't kick or catch a ball to save his life;
  • frankly isn't remotely interested in being able to kick or catch a ball;
  • talks loudly and incessantly, particularly in the morning;
  • has no time for jigsaws;
  • cannot be prised from a book - indeed I have had a letter published in the Times on the topic of his fondest for books;
  • never follows instructions when building lego: he builds what he wants to build;
  • can discern - correctly - citrine from quartz, malachite from tourmaline and a Tornado from an F14 Tomcat;
  • goes about in a sort of amiable daze, deeply consumed with his own thoughts.
By contrast, the Middle Master Pedant-General:
  • walked at 14 months;
  • talked at 18 months;
  • wants to be a cowboy or Robin Hood;
  • currently is a knight and a very chivalrous one at that;
  • is canny beyond measure - his favourite phrase when caught in the act of some misdemeanour is to bat his eyelids at Lady P-G and say "Mummy, you're so boooful". Those who suggest, scurrilously, that her teeth are Lady P-G's softest part will need to revise their estimation of her on seeing her reaction to this;
  • has a natural eye for a ball;
  • loves jigsaws;
  • doesn't really draw;
  • climbs anything and everything - he is a regular little spiderman;
  • Runs with the pack, but knows how to deflect trouble.
The youngest:
  • walked just before his first birthday;
  • isn't talking yet;
  • weighs more than his middle brother and can pin him to the floor if required (He sometimes does so when it isn't strictly actually required, but there we are);
  • doubles up as an automatic custard-eating machine - you never know when you might need one;
  • might actually be a Pterosaur, rather than a small boy. It is possible that this might discount him from the analysis on the basis that he is an unreliable data point, but hey, who said this was a scientific survey.
In short, I defy anyone to come up with a meaningful and useful checklist that would capture , codify and compare the qualities of these three children, yet they are all fantastic in their own way. Even at the earliest stages of their lives, when you have to beat off the Health Visitors with a big stick to stop them measuring and weighing and charting, such an approach is fruitless. In my experience, there are two types of Health Visitors: ones that measure and ones that don't. A measuring Health Visitor frets when junior fails to gain his statutorily decreed 0.348kg or whatever it is that week. By contrast, a good Health Visitor peers round the door, looks at a happy gurgling thing chewing a rattle and declares:
There is nothing wrong with your child. Need anything else?
There is only one box that needs ticking: It would be labelled:
Is this child happy, healthy and displaying an interest in the world around? Or not?
We don't need a government inspectorate to answer that and no government inspectorate is going to be able to create the conditions for it to be answered satisfactorily if such conditions do not exist at the time of inspection. In essence this approach is almost a parody of this ghastly Nu-Lab government. It is about symptoms, not causes. It is about equality of outcome, not opportunity. It is about state control not individual freedom.

What we do need is are parents that are prepared to put in the time, love, effort and commitment - not money, mark you - to encourage their children to be the best that they can be. If that condition is not met, no amount of nannying and no amount of taxpayers' money is likely to improve the lot of the hapless child. Why is this not blindingly obvious?


Thersites said...

As Peter Hitchens has written:
"Perhaps more galling for those who believe that government action solves all problems, a fully functioning family does not *owe* the state anything much. If it feeds itself, clothes and schools its children and cares for its old and ill, it does not need to show the almost feudal fealty to government demanded of the rest of us in an age where the authorities, rather than God or the Squire, seem to be in charge of everything and to require most of our money to pay for their services."

Deogolwulf said...

A fine disputation, P-G.

ninme said...

So there I was, admiring the gravitas and Greekiness of a certain word spelled properly, and just as I was about to embark on a wistful sigh, what do I see but an insult to my own intelligence!

Your eldest child, should he ever need an extended holiday abroad, an overseas babysitter, or an American nanny, I shall be entirely at your disposal, with all my colouring supplies, watercolours, oil paints, heirloom children's books, calligraphy pens, and Japanese ink and brushes.

"do need" is two words.

Thersites said...


“What we do need is parents…” might be better written as “What we do need are parents…”, or have I just made a fool of myself?

Your obedient servant,

The Three Gates said...

Current thinking seems to advocate anything that will repress fun, original thinking, fun, getting down and dirty, fun and anything that doesn't tick a box. Sod them: your kids seem to be in good hands.

dearieme said...

Your wild assertion is really rather good, but won't fit on a t-shirt. Have you got a boiled-down version?

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Thersites: quite so. I couldn't agree more.

Deogolwulf: Thank you.

Ninme: There was, in fact, a considerable eulogy in the "title" attribute to your link, but blogger saw fit to munch it, along with a number of edits, proof corrections etc. It also auto-corrected the spelling of paediatrician several times, which would rather have destroyed the point of the sentence. Blast this cultural imperialism.

Anyway, I shall correct the missing space (again).

Thersites (again): Gaaah! Your obsessive and niggling P-G spots four of these errors before breakfast. Not today....

Indeed you are an obedient servant. A more valuable servant might be one that would send me an email rather than broadcasting his master's failings to the world.

Three Gates: Welcome (all of three of you) to my modest abode. I have just (well very nearly) finished Tim Collins' rant on the conduct of the Army Top Brass in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It strikes me that your (otherwise unimpeachable) list of qualities-that-are-vital-to-life-yet-defy-box-ticking would be benefit from the addition of one item: morale.

And thank you.

Dearieme: We must get our finest brains working on this forthwith.

A first feeble attempt: "Central Planners eat your children."

It's not strictly true, but then truth does not appear to be the hallmark of the best slogans...

Toodle Pip!

Akaky said...

absurb, sir? I hold little hope for the future of your pedantry if I get as far as this and see this. What will be next? Dangling participles and solecisms committed with underaged miners? The imagination boggles at the prospect!

Akaky said...

Why is this not blindingly obvious? Surely you jest, good sir. The reason it is not blindily obvious is that governments in general, and socialistic governments in particular, acknowledge no realm of human life that ought to be free of their ministrations. There is no point to having the coercive power of the state behind you if there is nothing to coerce, and since it is the nature of governments to expand their sphere of influence to the nth degree, I shortly expect to hear from the Vatican or some other religious authority that Satan is now being required by the appropriate government agencies to lessen the temperature of hell's fires lest they give off harmful greenhouse gases and adversely effect the environment. I am told that the Almighty himself is stuck in an office somewhere doing paperwork about that whole every sparrow that falls thing and whether or not Heaven meets the racial diversity goals set by the government, and if not, why not, and is further action by the government needed in this area?

dearieme said...

Very boiled-down and likely to have a short shelf-life "TB kills". And when G Broon replaces him "GB kills".

ninme said...

Have I missed my own eulogy? My word.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Dearieme: I will agree that "TB kills" has the merit of brevity, but it is open to misinterpretation, on a medical level anyway.


Reports of your death have indeed been greatly exaggerated, but then the term Eulogy need not necessarily denote necrosis.



"There is no point to having the coercive power of the state behind you if there is nothing to coerce..."

There is plenty of coercing that the state needs and ought to be doing but which it is not. Funnily enough, it is easier to coerce 2 year olds (actually, now that you come to mention it...) than those that really merit a good dose of coercion.

But then again, that might smack of a meritocracy and we can't have that...

Keep the corrections coming - For the time being I am blaming blogger.

ninme said...

Curses. I thought my life was about to get more interesting.

Anonymous said...

P-G, I entirely agree with you about health visitors, BUT a few data points may nonetheless be useful when dealing with people who don't know a child and therefore cannot see a trend.

When my daughter was 14 months old, over the course of three weeks she went successively off playing, food, walking and drinking - my GP could find nothing and eventually sent me down to casualty where the only thing that got me taken seriously was the fact that I had her red book to prove that she weighed a pound or two LESS than the weight recorded there three months previously. This prodded them into doing a chest X-ray discovering her pneumonia and taking her in for treatment, not before time.