Home economics

So, I’m updating this page on May 11, 2020, around two weeks after first writing it. I’ve been in lockdown for nine weeks, together with my wife (working from home), three sons and and 18-month daughter. Of necessity, with my own editing work fluid, a home schooling regime has been implemented.

As you would expect, this educational regime is essentially an extension of the organization that is Tolkien TV, which is to say that the theoretical design is derived from the linguistic philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.

My home schooling regime also contains a future oriented dimension. Specifically, I’m still more than a tad concerned about the perpetual surveillance machinery of the Leviathan that the virus is drawing out of the closet. The Eye in the Tower thus provides the blueprint for a single educational project. Oversight by a hidden tower will be the aim, as my children are unwittingly conscripted to build our own Dark Tower of Barad-dûr.

Bentham’s design for Barad-dûr, and a portrait of life inside at the top over a century later.

I begin with a hard, concrete fact, namely my youngest son, A. Today a boy of 10 summers who sees clearly but stumbles with words. A’s natural gravitation = Simpsons clips on YouTube. Since first penning this page I tried chess, which began so nicely, as recorded before, with the purchase of the book below.

I deem chess highly appropriate training in the symbolic algebras that work our modern world. A keen eye for the balance of malice is a valuable skill for those to be enlisted in the army of Mordor.

Unfortunately I have now shot myself in the foot. Having joined Chess.com so A could play online games of chess, I started playing games myself on the same account, driving the skill level way beyond A while polishing my own rusty practice so I now beat him easily when we play.

A has now refused to play chess.

So I try another project in my attempt to avoid following the course of studies laid down by his school (fractions). I’ll try him on Lewis Carroll’s Game of Logic, which Yi and Yii have tackled already (so hopefully they can teach him – the system in practice!). (By the by, I recommend this book to anyone in a similar situation: one has to input reading aloud but with luck the child will then do the hard thinking; I’ve taught this book twice and still don’t understand it).

With A stepping from chess to Alice through the Looking-glass his opening view on the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr is radically re-positioned. Chess is a marginal yet reoccurring theme in the discussions of machine intelligence associated with the great Victorian Charles Babbage.

To work on the art of the most noble and venerable game of chess is take a happy first step of an apprenticeship in the dark symbolic operations required in the labour of erecting our own Tower of Barad-dûr

Lewis Carroll, the celibate Anglican Oxford don whose proper name was Charles Dodgson, shows us another view from the Brandywine. His is a world of logic that knows no Dark Tower. The Game of Logic teaches you to make, first propositions and then syllogisms, by first making a proposition by placing counters on a board drawn into squares. A proposition, says Dodgson, is a sentence that employs the copula ‘is’ to predicate two attributes of a substantive thing. Logic, in this world, is a clarification of the grammatical rules for attaching adjectives to nouns (fairy story but hobbit burglar).

The class-based language of Python that must be used to code the system of the syllogism of The Game of Logic is not a predicate but a symbolic logic. To build a Dark Tower we echo Babel by employing queer signs that that not in the trade cannot fathom.

As J.R.R. Tolkien and his Oxford teachers of language knew well, the traditional syllogism attributed to Aristotle is a queer rational reflection on the peculiar use of the copula in Indo-European languages (Semitic speakers require an additional sign to learn the syllogism). The symbolic algebra that spells the foundation of Barad-dûr is another thing entirely from the mad Victorian garden party of Lewis Carroll (though it meets the logic of Humpty-Dumpty as must all who now speak about meaning). So A will start his home education again playing croquet in an unreformed Oxford version of the Garden of Eden, which is no bad place to start.

*

I turn now to Yi & Yii, who had opposing first zoom-class experiences a couple of weeks ago when I first put up this page. When the schools first stopped the Israeli education ministry attempted to impose a distance-learning regime, only for the mothers of the nation to cry No! One month later an improved distance-learning system has been rolled out and all 3 boys zoomed with teachers and class. A showed his class his baby sister, indicating a teacher with her head screwed on. The varying experiences of Yi and Yii, however, point to disturbing inequalities within our domestic economy.

Terminology: over the last year I have adopted Yi’s usage of Gollum to denote a state of classroom experience akin to living death, the endless daydream of the clockwatch.

Yi is now surfing the Gollum. He has put together a computer plus kit and observing today I saw how a carefully positioned cellphone, by which the zoom was conducted, framed his face but not his hands, allowing him to attend to his teacher while playing Assassin’s Creed. This is a kid who will raise chickens now for the next run on the supermarkets.

Yii is now Gollum. He was tricked by a cellphone as a birthday present, which he saw as an upgrade but now chains him to a zoom meeting with headphones that he cannot escape: an hour of a mindless teacher raping his ears.

Returning to all this a fortnight later I see that The Game of Logic was trotted out for Yii so he did not have to do this zoom again. Yii took to the syllogism like a fish to water, as also has now Yii (so I guess it is not so difficult!) But Yii snorted at this tame logic that excited his younger brother, declaring it inferior to the Python code he has been learning. And so, after some initial ground clearing and weeding, the garden of queer signs begins to grow of its own accord.

It was now time to introduce them to Adam Smith and Charles Babbage.

Home Economics

By S.J. Cook.

A textbook of home schooling…

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Organization
  3. Domestic Economy
  4. Dark Tower 

Introduction

Adam Smith begins the Wealth of Nations (1776):

The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.

According therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessaries and conveniencies for which it has occasion.

But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two different circumstances; first by the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its labour is generally applied;and, secondly, by the proportion between the number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed.

Commentary: what Smith says in 1776 about the wealth of a nation applies, mutatis mutandis, to the wealth of our home. Differences there are, with the much greater proportion of public expenditure of the household – food and kitchen appliances are communal goods. Nevertheless, the basic model is the same: we make and we eat and we can make less, a little or a lot more than we eat. Oddly enough, this first rule of economics is not self-evident to children.

The proportion between what we produce and how many mouths we are does indeed determine how wealthy (or poor) we are (modern school is a public good that first allows parents to work and only secondly aims to educate the rising generations). And the more unproductive mouths at the table, or so it might seem, the less food for each of us.

What Smith is driving at with all this, however, is a point that we need to make our first principle of home education, the foundational axiom on which we raise our Dark Tower. His treatise begins with the proposition that the level of “skill, dexterity, and judgment” of productive labour determines the wealth of different nations. Because of an intensive modern division of labour, he argues, itself dependent upon a global expansion of trade, the accommodation of an industrious and frugal European peasant “exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.” 

Our question, as neophyte builders of our own domestic tower, as framers of an ideal education, is what system of division of labour may be employed most productively within our domestic sphere, our home?

Lesson 1: Origin of Organization

Reading

Charles Babbage, Passages (1864).

(1) Chapter XXXIV, The Author’s Further Contributions to Human Knowledge, ‘Games of skill,’ pp. 465-71.

(2) Chapter V, Difference Engine, ‘Explanation of the Difference Engine,’ pp. 49-57,  ‘Of the Mechanical Arrangements necessary for Computing Tables by the Method of Differences’, pp. 57-63.

(3) Chapter VIII, Of the Analytical Engine, 116-41.

 

Lesson 2: Organization of the domestic economy

Reading

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book 1, ‘Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour, and of the Order according to which its Produce is naturally distributed among the different Ranks of the People’, Chapter 1, ‘Of the Division of Labour’,

Charles Babbage, Passages, Political Economy, ‘Division of Labour’, pp. 436-7.

—– On the Economy of Machinery (1832), Chapter XIX, On the Division of Labour, Chapter XX, On the Division of Mental Labour.

 

Lesson 3: Dark Tower

Reading

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-5).

A man found some old stones and built a tower from which he could look out to sea. When he turned round and looked inland he saw a monstrous tower of Necromany, out of which was an Eye that looked for him.

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