[wisehat] Wise Hat News #18

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  • Date: Tue, 01 Jan 2008 20:13:29 +0900

Wise Hat News #18
1 January 2008

The online version is available at:

1. Congrats
2. Aristocrats
3. Democrats
4. What's newish (for packrats?)
5. Technocrats
6. Administrivia


**Human history in essence is the history of ideas.**

The Earth has turned and people everywhere are marking the return of the
new year. A time for reflection, a time for revelry, a time for
resolutions. A time for resolve. A time for a photo of me dressed up in
red with a beard...

A small time ago I got an email suggesting that I put a face to the
words I write on Wise Hat. I'm taking the advice to heart. Words
shouldn't be disembodied. I've never meant to appear anonymous or aloof
or academic. Anyway, expect to see a little more of me this year! All
the best,


PS Here's a link that takes you to this year's New Year Card:


** It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should
not stake their own. **

Is Santa an aristocrat? He has a gang of underlings to do his bidding,
fine steeds to convey him wherever he likes and he only works one day of
the year. Perhaps a true blue aristocrat never works at all, or never
needs to.

Wikipedia tells me that the terms has different meanings in different
cultures. In Ancient Greece the term applied to military leaders
entitled to keep slaves. In Ancient China, the Emperor and his
descendants held this status whereas in Japan it referred to the Emperor
alone. Curiously, under Islam the term could extend to all classes of
society and related to whether an individual had blood ties to Muhammed.
The question I am interested in, is whether it is inevitable that human
beings will want to create elites.

We are a little way into the twenty-first century. Do we still need
aristocrats? Should we put up with autocrats? Is a classless society
achievable or desirable? How about a classless classroom?


** Human history becomes more and more a race between education and
catastrophe. **

Over the holiday period I've been reading Jerry Mintz's book No Homework
And Recess All Day. This is a very readable account about democracy and
freedom in schools and education. There is no one, single approach but
what Jerry makes very clear is the importance of being honest. He says
it is critical that whatever power is offered children be real. He writes:

It is possible to have a democratic meeting even when it has a very
limited sphere of decision-making power., as long as it is clear what
power it has and that power is never thwarted, co-opted, or counteracted.

The point is to avoid empty promises and be clear about what autonomy
can be offered. In the book he gives an example of a table tennis club
at a Boys and Girls Club. The organisation itself is essentially
authoritarian with staff having power to do as they please, but the
children who attend the table tennis club have total faith in the club
meetings because they have seen that the decisions that it makes are real.

One area where alternative schools differ in their policies is whether
lessons are compulsory or not. Some schools are set up where skipping
lessons is not an option. At Shaker Mountain, the school that Jerry
Mintz set up there came to have a Must Do Class, a kind of extended show
and tell presentation either by a student or a teacher. The class was
compulsory, although it could have been done away with at school meeting
everyone felt that having it was worthwhile.

Personally, I think that the most significant change that could be made
to general education would be if lessons were non-compulsory. At the
very least, to attract students teachers would need to learn how to make
their classes relevant and if not useful, at least effective.

But the reason I'm writing this is to explore the idea of bringing
freedom and democracy into non-democratic situations like classrooms.

In my last newsletter I wrote about the idea of using Activity Cards,
each card representing an activity. My idea was to allow children to
control what was done in the class by choosing particular cards. I still
think the idea is a good one but I totally failed to follow through with
it. The cards did not become an integral part of our classes but rather
a novelty. They remained at the level of a game rather than becoming the
structure that defined the class and the classroom.

I think the idea as it exists right now could be made to work with newly
formed classes without any history but to use them with existing groups
something more is required.

How are social paradigms created. How are they born? When examining the
Public Education system in the United States Jerry Mintz uses the
analogy of a balloon. Some innovator such as John Taylor Gatto might
start something new that starts to push the system and change the shape
of it locally, but as soon as that innovator moves on or tires, the
system, like a balloon pops back into its original shape. I think the
analogy applies not only to large complex institutions but also to
individual classes. Habit is habit.


** What really matters is what you do with what you have. **

2007 saw very few pages added to Wise Hat. Actually, I've been thinking
about how and whether and when I want to start a kind of Wise Hat Club.
I think I would like a system that gave people the opportunity to
download actual material, for example games and flashcards. One idea
that attracts me, but which I have no idea how to execute would be to
have a system of credits. Making a download would use up a credit,
giving some feedback on some material or offering an idea would generate
a credit. That way the process wouldn't be one way and could be more
communal. I'd very much like to get feedback on this idea. Anyway, here
are links to the pages that I think have been added since the last

Centipede - A tough variation of the vocabulary game snake

Dorrila - A phonics game that gets young children laughing

Halloween Escape - A game for reviewing vocabulary and using logic

Letter From A Morlock - Lyrics from an unfinished Song

Miscounts - A technique to get children counting

Pocket Bingo - A physical bingo game

Snowballs - A physical game (or two) to break the ice at parties

Stop Please! - An active song focusing on starting and stopping

Whispered Answers! - A technique to give reticent children time to answer


** Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes
should not choke the fire they have lit. **

Throughout human history we have had different systems of governance.
There has been rule by aristocrats, theocrats and plutocrats. Some have
suggested that rule by technocrats or meritocrats would be better. I
think I'll make a joke (or should I say word puzzle) and ask who wants
to be ruled by rulers with beady eyes, long tails and sharp teeth?

All the systems I've outlined above accept the idea of hierarchy. There
are those that rule and those that don't. There are those entitled to
rule and those that are not. My feeling is that it is this kind of
thinking that has led us closer and closer to oblivion. At its heart
this kind of thinking is based upon licence which is a denial of
freedom. Freedom is no easy thing to define but one should be free to do
what one likes to the extent that it doesn't take away or limit the
freedom of others. Freedom becomes licence precisely when it impinges
upon the freedom of others.

Those with power tend to claim that power as legitimacy for their
actions. Children should do what the teacher says because the teacher is
the teacher. That is tautological and it is a form of licence. But
conversely if a child is disruptive or noisy in a class that child is
affecting the freedom of the other students. I agree with Jerry Mintz
when he says that resolving such contradictions is an art. Here are the
closing words from his book

The single most important thing we need is to create a new world in
which adults know how to listen to children and to respect them as
legitimate human beings. Developing the ability to listen to young
people is the key to change.

The hierarchical systems I mentioned lack mutual respect and respect is
the key. Not just for young people but for the planet as a whole.

Have a happy and respectful 2008.


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** Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the
future of the human race. **

(Quotes this issue by H. G. Wells)

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  • » [wisehat] Wise Hat News #18