Tuesday, April 24, 2012

12 Formative Years in a Child's Life

Lotte Time Lapse: Birth to 12 years in 2 min. 45. from Frans Hofmeester on Vimeo.

Video Source
Whether a child grows to be a dangerous child or just a ditzy party girl (or worse) depends largely upon the choices to which she is exposed during her formative years. Very few children will lie dormant all those years. Give them the opportunities to learn about the world and their unique interests in the world, and set them up to run with the knowledge and skills they will acquire.

The brain is a hungry hunter. The growing, developing brain is a particularly hungry hunter which is capable of feeding upon a wide range of conceptual fodder. The mind grows up to resemble the things it ingests, digests, and incorporates into the mental machinery.

12 years is plenty of time for a child to begin to become very dangerous -- in many good ways. Don't waste that time.

Foundations for Maths Must be Built Long Before School

The educational-industrial complex of the US is successful at one thing: Creating generations of psychological neotenates. The entire approach to education as taken by government schools is self-serving and self-perpetuating -- more concerned over the system itself, than for the welfare and progress of learning children.

It is wrong for parents to surrender the education of their children to corrupt bureaucratic institutions. But it is also wrong for the educational-industrial complex to pretend that it is safe for parents to abdicate this responsibility.

Let's take maths in particular. Educational researchers have decided that students must be switched onto maths, to reverse the disastrous trends in maths failure that have become so commonplace. Other educational researchers have decided that maths teachers must be better trained, in order to reverse the disastrous failures in maths education.

But the truth is that if the mental foundations for maths are not constructed long before school curricula finally get around to needing them, it is probably too late for most students. This means that parents must expose their children to the patterns and mechanisms of real world forces and events, rather than leaving the education of the child up to television, video games, teachers, peers, and popular culture.

Mathematics is not about numbers, primarily. Mathematics is about patterns -- both static and dynamic, and sometimes chaotic. Number sense should be developed early, utilising game forms. But number sense is just a preliminary foundation for pattern sense, and relational sense. Learning these more complex forms of maths foundational skills requires exposure, which is not likely to occur accidentally.

The most optimal ways of learning these foundational conceptual skills have not been devised yet. Educational researchers are decades away from even understanding the need for them. Researchers into neurodevelopment and developmental psychology are likewise too often barking up the wrong tree, following the leads of the organisations which supply research grants.

It looks as if the rest of us have a lot of work to do to compensate for the incompetence and distractedness of "the experts."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mastery of Music: Building One's Own

Master craftsmen are protective of the tools of their trade. They are often the proudest of the tools which they have made themselves. Tools that you have made, modified, and maintained yourself -- and tweaked just the way you like it -- can teach you more about a craft than almost anything else.

Very few graduates of government educational systems ever learn to master a craft. Practical skills and competencies have come to be viewed as inferior to politically correct knowledge du jour, and trendy didactic concepts of the day which are most highly valued by teachers and professors. In other words, most children are sent to schools for hours a day, years on end, and finish with little more than obsolete and erroneous "facts" -- and dozens of squandered opportunities to utilise limited windows of learning and development.

If you send your child to government schools, you had best face the fact that your work is cut out for you. If you are to compensate for the cruel failures and designed obsolescence which is built into the mass-production cookie-cutter system of government schooling which passes for "education" these days, you will need to put in a lot of time and effort to make sure your child does not become just another psychological neotenate. A perpetual adolescent of matchless incompetence, suited for nothing more than a basement existence playing video games, drinking beer, and secretly building a porn collection.

One of the best arts to teach a child -- a skill that keeps paying dividends through the years -- is the art of music, music-making, and building his own musical instruments. If the child learns to make a variety of musical instruments when young -- and is encouraged to experiment with variations on construction themes -- he is likely to get an early feeling of mastery in making interesting things.

The simplest musical instruments are the basic percussion instruments: sticks, rattles, table tops, simple drums, etc. But the art of handmade and homemade musical instrument making spans a wide range of skills and complexities, and is worth becoming acquainted with even if one is not assisting a child in learning skills mastery.

Dennis Havlena
There are a number of individuals on the web who are willing to share their wide experience in the art of homemade musical instrument making. Here are some links that will help you approach a variety of projects:

  • How to make Highland pipes from PVC pipe
  • Construct pipe bags from naugahyde/vinyl
  • Simple bellows for smallpipes & Uillean bagpipes
  • Build a bagpipe practice goose from a wine-box bladder
  • Make an extremely quiet chanter for pipe practice, from a tinwhistle _Dennis Havlena

  • Tinwhistle/Pennywhistle -- This is the instrument i started out with. It's easily constructed out of copper plumbing pipe or any other metal tubing you happen to have. You can build one to play in any key you want, especially those hard-to-find low or "in-between" keys.
    Scottish small pipes -- A nice sounding bagpipe that is quiet enough to play indoors and with other instruments. These pipes are pitched in A, and use the same fingering as the Great Highland Bagpipe. The bores are straight and therefore easy to do with hobby-shop brass tubing. This is a challenging project but is eminently satisfying. (Note that the bellows, bag, and blowpipe sections are also applicable to any bellows-blown bagpipe. For example, when combined with David Daye's Famous "Penny-Chanter", you have all the makings for a home-built uilleann pipes practice set!)
    Windchimes -- A musical instrument? You be the judge! :) These are fun to build, and very simple once you know how. Again, you can use just about any metal tubing you like.
    Links to other instrument/building sites.

    _Eric Reiswig

    _John Fisher

    There are instructional websites, videos, and tutorials on instrument-making which range from the extremely simple to the exceedingly complex and sophisticated. For children, it is best to begin with the very basics as soon as the child shows interest or aptitude. Some children will shoot ahead and beg for more. Others may begin to get bored quickly. Such differing reactions should assist you in planning your next move.

    When the child finds a project that captivates him, he is taking the early steps toward mastery of at least one small skill. It is good to acquaint the child with the feeling of mastery as early as possible, combined with the feeling of satisfaction in a job well done.

    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    Dangerous Child Basic Skills: Knots

    Dangerous children should be introduced to boating, climbing, fishing, and camping no later than the age of 10. But before a child can enjoy those activities, he will need to be able to tie basic knots. Basic search and rescue knots are pictured below, as a good overview of useful knots. Different activities may require other knot skills.
    Animated Knots by Grog

    The website, Animated Knots by Grog, provides several pages of useful knots by activity, along with animated illustrations of how to tie each knot.

    The US Search and Rescue Task Force also has a useful webpage on ropes and knots. This page is useful as a quick reference or basic review, once one has already learned the knot.
    This video, "Six Knots You Need to Know," is interesting, but is perhaps most useful as a quick way to get to the knot tying videos on YouTube.

    All dangerous children should learn basic first aid and basic rescue techniques by the age of 10. Knot tying is a basic part of rescue skills. The first knot that children tend to learn to tie is the bow knot when tying a shoe. But the bow knot is actually a very poor knot for tying the shoe, since it comes untied so easily by accident, sometimes leading to accidents. A better way of tying one's shoe is by one of the variations of the Ian knot. The sooner the child learns such superior knots, the better off he will be in even the most ordinary situations.

    This might be a good time to clarify simple terminology. Some readers assume that a "dangerous child" will be a violent child, and that teaching a child to be dangerous is the same as teaching the child to be violent. But that would be a basic misapprehension of the intent here.

    The "Al Fin Dangerous Child (AFDC)" is dangerous mainly to those who want to confine and control him, to abridge his rights in some way that is convenient to them, but unjust to the child. To everyone else, the AFDC is a lifesaver and a fount of useful and creative ideas.

    The AFDC is nothing if not skillfully versatile, and generally competent all around. But different skills need to be taught at different stages in development. Many skill require the prior mastery of other skills, to be mastered in their turn. And since each child is different in terms of strengths and interests, teaching a child to be maximally dangerous, in the Al Fin sense, requires some delicate loom work and knot tying in itself. Stay tuned.

    Friday, April 20, 2012

    Peter Thiel's Avalanche Effect on College Education

    Peter Thiel is a successful entrepreneur, visionary, and venture capitalist. One of his recent investments involves sponsoring youth under the age of 20 years old, in the starting of their own enterprises. The young people must forego a college education during the time that they are engaged in their intensive entrepreneurial training and startup experience.

    Interestingly, one of Thiel's young hopefuls -- 19 year old Dale J. Stephens -- has embarked on an entrepreneurial campaign in opposition of the phenomenon of excessive college education. The excerpt below is taken from Stephens' article in CNN: College is a waste of time:
    I have been awarded a golden ticket to the heart of Silicon Valley: the Thiel Fellowship. The catch? For two years, I cannot be enrolled as a full-time student at an academic institution. For me, that's not an issue; I believe higher education is broken.

    I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.

    ...College is expensive. The College Board Policy Center found that the cost of public university tuition is about 3.6 times higher today than it was 30 years ago, adjusted for inflation. In the book "Academically Adrift," sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa say that 36% of college graduates showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or writing after four years of college. Student loan debt in the United States, unforgivable in the case of bankruptcy, outpaced credit card debt in 2010 and will top $1 trillion in 2011.

    ... Learning by doing -- in life, not classrooms -- is the best way to turn constant iteration into true innovation. We can be productive members of society without submitting to academic or corporate institutions.

    ... We who take our education outside and beyond the classroom understand how actions build a better world. We will change the world regardless of the letters after our names. _College is a waste of time
    Brave words, which will need to be backed up by braver actions. Stephens will receive $100,000 and access to expert advice and assistance in reaching his entrepreneurial goals. Stephens has already been signed by Penguin Press to write his first book, "Hacking Your Education."

    What is most interesting about this phenomenon is that Thiel's initial investment is spurring a downstream expansion in interest in entrepreneurial alternatives to mainstream college education. And this downstream expansion is likely to spawn further downstream expansion, and so on etc. . . .

    Wise people understand that school is not the education. Life is the education. The efforts of modern society to place emphasis on the educational effect of schools at the expense of the educational effect of life, has led to a society of Peter Pans and Cinderellas, perpetual incompetent adolescents of the psychologically neotenate variety.

    Peter Thiel aims to change that emphasis back, in an effort to help save at least a few youth from wasting their time and lives. Peter Thiel aims to misbehave. And he is hoping that the attitude will be catching.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    Approaching a Curriculum for The Dangerous Child

    The dangerous child is a child who is self-motivated, and resistant to outside coercion. He is in many ways the opposite of the modern psychological neotenate -- the lifelong incompetent adolescent -- which schools are currently spitting out into the public ways by the gross.

    Dangerous children enter into their education quite early in life, and never truly exit the process. It should be clear to all educated people that children need to learn multiple languages at a relatively young age, to encourage a more powerful brain development. It should also be clear that besides being exposed to music, children should receive some type of musical training at a fairly early age. And it is also highly probable that children could benefit from early childhood foundational training in mathematics.

    All three of those crucial early childhood educational topics could be easily incorporated into a normal playful upbringing, without the need for expensive private teachers or institutional enrollment.

    The human mind is instinctively primed for language, music, and probably mathematics. The developmental windows for those areas open up relatively early in life -- although each child is different and should be approached as an individual when planning and unfolding his curricula.

    The younger the child, the more crucial the aspect of play. Play is incorporated in Montessori education, in Waldorf education, and in most other forms of effective alternative curricula of early childhood. But the sheer vast breadth of play has hardly been explored in this regard.

    The foundations of music, maths, and multi-lingual language learning cause changes in brain development which permit a higher level of learning at an earlier age, than would otherwise be the case. The more skillfully the training can be enmeshed in play, the earlier the foundation building can take place in an intentional manner. But the play must be real, and not "pretend play." Children can generally tell the difference through non-verbal cues. Don't be a parental putz. Let your inner playful child emerge, it will help both you and your child.

    Besides music, language, and maths, there are a number of other foundational beginnings which need to be laid, if one is to take advantage of the opening of the critical developmental windows in the child's brain. But these other areas are less well known to modern neuroscience or early education, and should be discussed discreetly, between responsible and qualified practitioners and serious parents and prospective parents.

    As in the Garcia curriculum, the dangerous child will be trained in areas practical, philosophical, artistic, and technological. As in the Robinson curriculum, by the time the child is 16, he will be well prepared for advanced college-level work in a number of areas -- particularly math, science, and engineering.

    But in addition, by the time a dangerous child reaches the age of 16 to 18, he will be able to financially support himself in the world at least 3 different ways. He will already have a significant nest egg saved, and will have several ideas for lucrative enterprises reasonably well planned. And that will be just the beginning of whole-life education which by then will be almost entirely within the hands of the dangerous child himself.

    Ridiculous!, you may say. And judging by the potential of virtually every childhood curriculum you have been exposed to, you would be absolutely correct. But for those with the fortitude to work their way through the materials to be provided in future entries to this series, it is likely that you will begin to see how the threads can come together.