No, We Are Not Civilized. Or, Why the 21st Century is Still Stuck in the 12th (The Persistence of Middle-Ages Mentality in the Modern Age)

Hans Rosling has shown us that the world is getting better. We have by far the greatest proportion of humanity moving out of absolute poverty that we have ever had. At the same time, Stephen Pinker proves that, remarkably, we are also becoming less violent as a species. We have the internet to exchange ideas, and hundreds of thousands of social justice and environmental movements are springing up demanding a better world.

But in so many ways, we are still enormously backward. So medieval, in fact, that I do despair sometimes. How can we be simultaneously becoming so enlightened and still suffer from these plagues to our collective progress:

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Student Appraisal of Teacher (Form)


Feel free to download and modify this form.

Suggestions are welcomed.

Student Appraisal of Teacher


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Why I Am Frightened of Getting Old

I like getting older. Age brings simplification; a channeling of the raging torrent into an essential trickle. I enjoy the clarity that this narrowing-down brings.

But I am also mortally afraid of getting old. I am afraid that I will stop appreciating the intricate workings of the world around me. I am terrified of losing the ability to see from a divergent perspective and to catch on to change. I am scared of no longer being surprised.


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The Humanistic Physicist (Kurt Vonnegut)


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I Have a Dream: The Future of Education

I have dream that one day students will be more important than syllabi.

In the not too distant future, education will be a collaborative enterprise, with teachers and students assuming shifting roles as coaches, mentors and learners.

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Bad Teachers Win

You win. Your students get better results in your subject than they do in mine. You must therefore be a better teacher.

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A Bangarang Peter Pan

Here’s what Barrack Obama had to say about celebrating the life of the man who could make everybody laugh, except himself:

Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.


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Dear Teacher: Welcome to Teaching. You’re Going to Like It Here.

Dear teacher*:

Now that I have scoffed at your youthful enthusiasm and use of university lingo the customary fifty-four times, it falls to me to welcome you officially into the fellowship. I know you are still running on adrenaline and trying to keep your head above the administrative floodwaters, but spare me some time. There are a few things you should know.

Firstly, you need to figure out why you are here, doing what you do. And please make it more specific and detailed than 'change the world' or 'make a difference'. If your overarching goal is too vague you will never reach it, no matter how hard you try. (Mine is to motivate kids to think more clearly, independently, critically and creatively than they did before arriving in my class.) Oh, and if your goal is to help kids get good marks so that they can become successful, you really need to have a rethink. There isn't a simple correlation between these two things. Aim a little higher.

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Teachers: 11 Steps Towards Becoming a Recognized Professional (A Message From the SOTP)


Dear teachers

We are considering officially recognizing your vocation as a profession. We realize that you have all felt that what you do has always been a profession, but honestly, we at the Society of True Professionals have had some abiding concerns about the way you conduct yourselves on a day-to-day basis, and hence have withheld certification for a number of decades. Nonetheless, we are prepared to reconsider your status as ‘soft professionals’ if the following conditions are met by all of you in a consistent and meaningful manner:

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20 Really Bad Things Some Teachers Would Say If You Forced Them to be Honest

There’s a very funny list floating around the interwebz on 10 things teachers wish they could say but can’t. It goes like this:

10 Things Teachers Wish They Could Say

  • Since my last report, your child has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.
  • If this student were any more stupid, he’d have to be watered twice a week. Continue reading
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The Most Insidious Thing a Teacher Can Say About a Student.

Perhaps the single most damaging and insidious belief in education over the course of the last century is the notion that any ability (and intelligence in particular) is hereditary. You either have 'it' or you don't. To this day, teachers, students and the general public take it for granted that intelligence is somehow genetically encoded – like curly hair or blue eyes. It is an ingrained belief that your IQ is somehow naturally determined, and this in turn sets a course for your life. This kind of Social Darwinism has no doubt resulted in the waste of enormous amounts of human potential, innumerable wilted dreams and many, many muted lives.

But none of it is true. We now know that genetics plays the smallest role in determining intelligence.

And then we write student reports or comments that include a phrase that goes something like this:

“Johnny has achieved to his potential this semester.”

The only thing this does is reinforce the tired and silly notion that Johnny has some kind of limited range within which he is capable of operating. The underlying notion being that Johnny's genes have determined that this is as well as he can possibly do.

I've said this kind of nonsense to students and parents before. And apologise sincerely to those who believed me.

From now on I am only telling Johnny that his results are commensurate with his level of effort. To improve, he need simply work harder. Any other limitations he experiences academically are entirely of his own making.


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The Future of Technology in Education (Part 2: How The 2014 K-12 Horizon Report Gets it Wrong)


The Future of Technology in Education (Part 2: How The 2014 K-12 Horizon Report Gets it Wrong)

Please see my previous post titled ‘The Future of Technology in Education (Part 1: How The K-12 Horizon Report 2014 Gets it Right.)’ for an introduction to the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition (HR14) in which I summarize the many exciting findings of HR14. In this post I will only be considering the oversights and misconstructions contained in the report. Continue reading

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The Future of Technology in Education (Part 1: How The K-12 Horizon Report 2014 Gets it Right)


The Future of Technology in Education (Part 1: How The K-12 Horizon Report 2014 Gets it Right.)

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition (HR14) is an annual summary of key technologies which are having , or are likely to have a meaningful effect on education. It also considers certain key implementation challenges these technologies may face.

The most interesting aspect of HR14 is the constant emphasis on the fact that these emerging technologies go hand in glove with reinvigorated pedagogies and attitudes towards education. This is true to such a strong degree that HR14 might be considered as much an exposition of future educational methodologies as it is a consideration of future educational technology.

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Big Brother is Judging: The Insidious Effect of Big Data & Learning Analytics in Education


I know, let's gather all the information we can about our students.

We'll tell people we're using it to personalize and enhance kids' learning experience. We'll call it Educational Data Mining. No wait, the acronym for that would sound like someone battling to say the word 'idiom' – and the 'mining' bit sounds vaguely insidious and exploitative. How about 'Big Data' – that's got a cool ring to it doesn't it? Sounds a bit like something that you'd get up-sized with onion rings and a shake. Although maybe some astute souls might see a reference to Big Brother in there. So no, let's keep it sober and safely euphemistic: Learning Analytics.

Here's what we'll do:

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How Training Cats is Like Teaching Kids

Ever tried to train a cat? I'm talking the kind of training it takes to get them to do tricks – not potty training or not-scratching-the-furniture training. I can't say as I have ever tried. It must be nearly impossible, but it must be doable. However, knowing cats, I do think you would have break the poor thing's spirit a little and stifle a good chunk of its independence to get it to do what you want, the way you want, when you want.

I reckon teaching kids (of any age) is fraught with the same potential pitfalls. But it does get a little easier as they grow older because they've so often had their wilder spirits squashed before they reach you. The good thing, though, is – unlike trained cats – human children do not need to spend the rest of their lives cowering skittishly, they can have their spirits lifted and their independence reinvigorated.


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A Terminal Tailspin (Why We Need a New Economic Order)


Even as the world economy falters, its champions are already predicting that the disease which afflicts it, though malign, is not terminal. They predict an ‘up turn’ within a few years of what is a very expected and ‘natural’ ‘down-turn’. The truth, though, is that the symptoms of the current ‘global recession’ are without precedent and point to a far more malignant diagnosis: the world economy (as we know it) is dying… and it is dying quickly. Continue reading

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10 Laws for a New World


Once, I started writing a science fiction novel about a society recovering from the end of civilization. Then I realized it wasn't particularly good. The rules I made up by which this society functions, though, were worth something, I think. I do reckon that maybe a new society could function under these laws. And maybe we don't need the world to end and be rebuilt for them to work. Maybe. I called them the 10 Laws of Tribe. Let me know what you think…

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Questions From a Pangalactic Anthropologist (Batch #1)

I met a very strange and interesting individual called David a few days ago. He asked me if I would use my blog to help him find answers. He seemed particularly agitated and a little sad (quite pathetic, really), so I agreed. Please feel free to reblog this post. David needs answers.

Skip directly to the questions by clicking here

Questions From a Pangalactic Anthropologist

A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing. Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golfclub. (Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Breakfast of Champions)

Alien Thoughts

I have worked hard to understand. I've been here as long as many of you. You all seem to understand what's going on. You seem to get how things work. You seem OK with it all. You function. I don't.

The difference is, I think, that I'm not from around here. And by 'here' I mean this solar system. There, I said it. But before you run away – bored, most likely, by yet another weirdo on the internet pretending he's a little green man in disguise, let me say this: I need your help. Yes, you. Please. I need you to help me. This is serious.

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To the Class of 2014: Life Is Long, Do Something Big


Dear Class of 2014

In just a few short weeks, your time at school will be over. And that time is going to fly. In many ways, though, the rapid passing of the final part of your schooling sets a bad precedent for the rest of your life. You'll leave school thinking all time passes as quickly as these last few weeks will. But it doesn't. Life is incredibly long, and there will be ample time for you to do great things.

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On the Wretchedness of Memory

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