Home economics

August 2020. With an eye on September and the dawning of a new school year that will at least begin at home, I am working up a curriculum for my three sons (ages: 10 to 15) that goes beyond the lazy summer chores of cleaning the toilets, making a fish pond, and (occasionally) cooking supper.

Two aspects of the day can pick up from last spring: (i) as the days cool, the rains come, and the snakes hibernate we can return to starting the day with a walk; and (ii) we can return also to working outside in the garden.

For each child the school gives some work worth grappling with at home. Each must cover the mathematics for their age while my youngest son, A., must also learn to read. I need to look over the different mathematics required for each.

In addition to the reading and mathematics, I would like to see A. learning from the chess instruction on chess.com, which includes various video series by chess masters and puzzles. I think that, in contrast to reading and mathematics, A. would see visible progress before too long and, so encouraged to continue, learn how to learn something.

For the moment I am leaving B.’s reading in the hands of his mother and, for my part, thinking of practical projects that use his hands. The two of us are now cooking together and I’d like to involve B. in the  heavy garden work to come – making some decks and maybe building a turtle pond out the back (we’ve been watching lots of turtle pond you tube videos).

C. will be given work by his school in addition to mathematics and has his own projects in Python. The way to engage with C. is by way of a new video series, reengaging his interest in the camera and microphone. So long as I present something, C. is happy to make a series in which I do the talking and he manages the equipment. (The issue will be: who is responsible for the editing? With a little luck B. and A. as well as C. will want to do this, and I can step out of it myself – which would no doubt improve production.)

So what direction to take a video series? My idea is that I can use the video making to introduce educational content close to my own heart. In the first instance, I approach this project as if I was designing a course of lectures (no doubt sealing the artistic fate of the videos in advance, but I am a product of the university system).

This is to pick up on the ‘DIY Dark Tower’ that was the original form of this page, with its readings from Adam Smith and Charles Babbage. On this second time around, however, I will take things slower and bring these astonishing ideas to the screen. Here are some discrete yet related topics I would like to talk about – a letter is a you tube video of, say, 7 minutes.

a. Adam Smith on the institutes of education. This is where I began my 2009 book on Alfred Marshall, the Cambridge economic scientist, and I did so for good reason. Smith argues that the Anglican establishment of Oxford University is a monopoly and that English national education would be better if the teachers were held to account by their paying students (as in Smith’s own Glasgow University). In the same section of The Wealth of Nations (1776), however, he argues that the social value of education is such that the statesman would be advised to spend from the public purse on schools for the common people.

b. Alfred Marshall’s vision of education. So, this is simply to follow the introduction of my 2009 book with the argument that followed, or at least that part that pertains to Marshall’s reworking of economic theory in light of his reconfiguration of the value of a liberal education. The question that Marshall leaves us with is what went wrong? His vision is so optimistic, and at least parts are surely correct. But his is a pre-WWI mind, with no inkling of the fracture of science and morality revealed at the Battle of the Somme. Once we step over this historical fissure the promise of enlightened learning proclaimed by the late-Victorians becomes the educational nightmare and institutionalization of the Pink Floyd (‘Brick in the Wall’) and Madness (‘Baggy Trousers’) videos that capture the two faces of 20th-century education in Britain (reflecting a cynicism about school incomprehensible to the Israelis around me who wish to send their children to school in the midst of a global pandemic).

c. Moral science & Aryan history. I must have spent as much time (and better organized and with greater passion) thinking about Tolkien’s writings as I have Marshall’s (a decade each). This video marks a bridge between Marshall and Tolkien, two professors of the modern age of English university life as different in the life of their minds as could be imagined. In this video I don’t plan to say much if anything about Tolkien, but I advance to him by way of framing the gulf between their universities in terms of the story that I discovered of how, through the intense reading of the young Marshall in the early 1870s, the idea of the Aryan found its way from Oxford comparative history into Cambridge moral science. (A source text for this video is my Blanchi lecture on the ideas of race and nation in Marshall’s Principles of Economics.)

d. J.S. Mill’s mark and ye machine.


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