Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Reply to complaint

I wrote a very short note of complaint about this website Girls Science Kits. "Not impressed with Girls Science section. Patronising in Pink." I received this in reply-

Hi Jon

We acknowledge your response to our website. Yes, we do have a task to clarify why things look the way they are, and no we have not put the essence of the conversation below front and center of the website, which is absolutely what we need to do. Thankyou for reminding us. Grab a coffee ( or ...) and please allow us to explain.

The website is a bit complex. So maybe you did not have time to notice we have 21 products designed for a girl audience ( btw nearly all Cosmetic labs are organic chemistry and skin biology - not make up and absolutely not fashion.) , 6 for a boy audience and 17 more or less genderless. So that tells you we actually have a huge and feisty ball busting bunch of WILD girl scientists out there. The biggest girl following in all science kit providers we believe. Look a little deeper and you'll see that girls can make Bouncing Slime, rats gizzards and Flowery Fart Putty ( which is in the Perfume Kit!!) as preludes to their own fugues of inventiveness and creativity. We ask all the kids: girls and boys to take risks, be brave, believe their own experiences, question everything, create and share knowledge, test and test again. And the boys can make gorgeous Rainbow Icicle Trees, perfumed goo and more. In fact almost all the products are based on similar concepts, but we theme the stories and initial explorations differently, as sisters and brothers often want different kits. We'll come to that later.

So to the question, why Girls and Boys Sciences?
First : 'findability' . For our first 3 years, ( starting in 1997) all our kits were gender neutral. We used green background boxes, and 'genderless sprite characters' as art worked role models for Patience, Courage and Observational Skills on the boxes and booklets. The public that found the kits, loved them once they had used them.
But most buyers complained a) they did not know if the kits were 'for them'. Often meaning 'for boys or for girls'.
And b) why did we 'hide' the kits away!! The hiding was done by major retailers that had no easy-to-find place to put the kits. NOTE: About 60% of our kits were bought then by or for girls.

Thus we had parents and kids asking why we did not make it clear who the kits were for. And secondly, we had retailers not having a 'home' for the kits, pressing us to FLAG the kits for boys or for girls, so they can find a home.

Why not in the SCIENCE section? We are already there in speciality stores, but in larger practice that does not solve the issues above. Plus, our mission is to bring science to the kids and adults that would NOT visit the science section in speciality stores. Our mission is 85% bigger than the science section, it is to reach the unconverted kids who already 'hate' or are not interested in science. Marketing to the converted does nothing to convert! Thus we need to talk to boys and girls.

Patronising in Pink? Sorry Jon, we think this response is a little too mechanical but understandable. The Pink and Purple Arcade in big stores? WILD Girls have no trouble finding the kits there. They also know that the science inside is 'edgy and grungy'. The pink and purple is like the icon of a woman in a skirt signifying 'ladies toilet'. Rarely do jeans wearing extreme skydiving women complain about skirt-stereotyping in a mall toilet sign. Or a green light signifying go on a highway. But colour iconography and psychology is another science worthy of discussion.

Some hard line scientists ask why we do not use names such as 'Electrical science', or 'Bath Science' as more realstic and direct science names? This falls into our 'schoolishness' and science-centricity issue. We found that such an approach narrowed the appeal to the geeky and already converted ( BTW we are geeky and already converted). Plus it made the kits sound like school. Plus it misses out on our drive to introduce real invention and creativity into the science process for kids ( so sadly lacking in many school science classes). The majority of our buyers are regular mums uncles and aunties. William, why not dads do you ask? Hmmm - good question and it is a complex answer. About 85% of the adult public have negative feelings towards their science education (USA UK and Australian research). Particularly women who report they themselves had negative experiences in science classes but nevertheless realize scientific literacy is important for their own kids, and thus have very mixed feelings when buying a kit. We must use our messaging to help them get past those defences , plus deliver the exciting 'non schooly' experience promised inside.

Boys and girls missing out on each others experiences? As it happens, by flagging kits along gender lines, we can double our product variety! Yes, as we said, most of the Workshops, Labs and Factory kits have girl versions and boy versions. This is a practical, commercial win, plus a win for brothers and sisters as we can double the range of activities using the same 'ingredients' and same scientific concepts. But we do not duplicate the challenges - we create new ones. Girls still have more kits in the range than boys, but it is getting more even. Yes, boys do say 'yuck its for girls'. Girls tend not to say the opposite, so the WILD! world is bigger for girls so far. But read lower down before making conclusions.
Also , just for fun check New Scientist for gender based toy preferences in infant vervet monkeys.
also reported a while ago

All our biological kits tend to be Green - gender neutral, and thus tend to be confined to small specialist shops.

In all our feedback over 15 years or so we have found WILD! Science boys and WILD! Science girls to be questioning, thoughtful, inquisitive, determined, limitless, courageous, and funny individuals. Not pink or blue! Far from the impressionable young minds we fear will be subverted by the implied hidden curriculum. The 'colours' and our adult-fears of stereotyping just did not stick, if they had any real meaning in the first place. A great deal of educational research has shown similar outcomes in intentional gender neutral educational environments compared to laissez faire environments. Ultimately, kids are smarter and less impressionable than we think. Even tho' at a young age they seem to have distinct preferences which we seem to reinforce. Evolutionary psychologists have a lot to say about this.

You may have guessed, we try to stay constantly abreast of scientific and educational research into gender and stereotyping issues. Our writers and advisors are all parents, including university method lecturers, zoologists, educational psychologists and front line researchers in both school and institutional learning and unstructured/natural learning. Our educational paradigm is ahead of the curve - contributing to research in authentic pedagogy, leading in constructivism etc.

Sadly the issue is being where kids can find us. We can follow a paradigm of proactive neutrality and thus become invisible and unsustainable. Great in schools with captive audiences, but not in mass market - yet.

We are guessing you haven't actually checked what is inside one of our products? Or seen the messages on the back of the box, or read one of the Inspiration booklets ( especially maybe the Cosmetic Science kits which inflamed your ire)? Please take a risk sometime, and see what's inside and try it yourself. We think you'd be surprised. And please see what your 15 year old daughter thinks. We hope you enjoy being the human guinea pig - its a quick way to a nobel prize these days.

Thanks Jon for your email, and it is a thrill to be able to respond to it. We suspect this may not completely satisfy your concerns. But it may at least explain why we do what we do. And yes, we never ignore critical inputs such as yours, to the contrary we value them immensely.

All the best,

The Team at WILD! Science

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Been a Month

OK, it has been a month since my last post, and it looks like nothing has happened but that is just an illusion. I just haven't put the time aside to blog about it.

Here is a brief update-
I decided not to claim any benefits or to search for a job. I have plenty of other things that need to be done. I spent some time trying to organise a show of these Ken Saro-Wiwa posters by Emily Johns in the local library but the space is no longer available. So now I am planning a public showing of those posters at various locations. I have protested against the DSEi Arms Fair. The photo is me outside BAE headquarters holding another of Emily's posters.

But mainly I have been helping to organise the Rebellious Media Conference. Arranging accommodation for speakers, signs, stewarding and the stalls. So far those who have said they are coming- (apologies for the formatting, t'was a cut and paste job)

Active Distribution, Autonmedia, Ceasefire, Corporate Watch, Footprint workers co-op, Housmans, Feminist Library, New Internationalist, News from Nowhere, Open Rights Group, Peace News, Pluto Press, PPS-UK, Race and Class, Red Pepper, SchNews, Simpol, UK Feminista, visionOntv, World Development Movement, Zed books

Active Distribution, "Some time in the future we'll give a full history and explanation of why we do this but for the moment content yourselves with the knowledge that we are not professionals or even full timers. Active has always been a voluntary not for profit affair that may be best described as a "hobby gone mad".

In the meantime you may care to read the interview, done a few years ago.

Autonmedia, is an autonomous zone for arts radicals in both old and new media. We publish books on radical media, politics and the arts that seek to transcend party lines, bottom lines and straight lines. We also maintain the Interactivist Info Exchange, an online forum for discourse and debate on themes relevant to the books we publish.

Ceasefire, is an independent political and cultural quarterly publication founded in 2002, concerned with producing high-quality journalism, reviews and analysis. We cover a wide range of topics – from Arthouse to Žižek.

We aim to provide intelligent and thought-provoking discussion and analysis on politics, art and activism. We are motivated by a belief in the free exchange of radical and ground-breaking ideas. We are completely reader-sustained and accept no advertising or corporate/government funding of any kind.

Corporate Watch, Corporations have gained a power out of all proportion to their original purpose. We are a research group supporting the campaigns which are increasingly successful in forcing corporations to back down. Corporate Watch is part of the growing anti-corporate movement springing up around the world.

Footprint Workers Co-op, We are a small printers based in Leeds. We print booklets, zines, leaflets, stickers, newsletters, fliers, books, CD wallets and that sort of gubbins.

We are a workers co-operative, which means our business is owned by the workers. As we have no bosses we run it as we want, doing interesting jobs for interesting people.

Housmans, London's oldest radical bookshop, home to the weird and the wonderful, publisher of annual Housmans Peace Diary.We are a not-for-profit bookshop, specialising in books, zines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics. We stock the largest range of radical newsletters, newspapers and magazines of any shop in Britain

Feminist Library, The Feminist Library is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s. We support research, activist and community projects in this field.

We are based at 5 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7XW. Our opening hours are Wednesdays 6-9pm, Fridays 2pm– 6pm, Tuesdays (2nd & 4th of the month) 2-6pm, Thursday (2nd & 4th of the month) 6-9pmand the firth Saturday of the month 1.30-5pm.

The library is also open the first Saturday of every month for the Writer’s Space

New Internationalist, The New Internationalist magazine is published ten times a year. It sets out to explain and inform, giving readers the essentials of a subject in a concise, easy-to-read full-colour format with excellent photos and graphics. With over 30 years of publishing under its belt, and more than 45,000 subscribers worldwide, the New Internationalist is renowned for its radical, campaigning stance on a range of world issues, from the cynical marketing of babymilk in the Majority World to human rights in Burma. Publications from the New Internationalist are produced by an independent trust working as a not-for-profit cooperative.

News from Nowhere, are ...
  • ...a workers' co-operative - The bookshop is owned & managed collectively by the paid workers - tasks, responsibilities & decision-making are shared.

  • ...not for profit - No-one makes money out of the bookshop. Any profit remains within the business, paying for essential running costs & building up our stock. (Workers earn equal rates of pay - currently minimum wage.)

  • ...committed to social change - We hope that the literature we stock empowers & inspires people to make positive changes to the world - from challenging the power of corporate capitalism to breaking down prejudiced attitudes to others & ourselves. Over the years we've supported and promoted many struggles for justice - including anti-apartheid, Troops Out (of Ireland), the Liverpool Dockers, and currently the Stop the War campaign. We refuse to stock anything that is oppressive - racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise.

Open Rights Group, The digital age is transforming society: bringing us greater democracy, transparency and new creative possibilities. When these freedoms are under attack, the Open Rights Group is there to defend them. Founded in 2005 by 1,000 digital activists, ORG has become the UK’s leading voice defending freedom of expression, privacy, innovation, consumer rights and creativity on the net.

Getting into the political trenches in the UK and EU, we mobilise our supporters to stop bad laws. Working closely with other campaign groups, we lobby government and talk to the media whenever our rights are threatened

Peace News, Now in its 75th year Peace News is written and produced by and for activists, campaigners and radical academics from all over the world.

The editorial objectives of Peace News are to:

  • support and connect nonviolent and anti-militarist movements
  • provide a forum for such movements to develop common perspectives
  • take up issues suitable for campaigning
  • promote nonviolent, antimilitarist and pacifist analyses and strategies
  • stimulate thinking about the revolutionary implications of nonviolence

Pluto Press, Pluto Press is one of the world’s leading radical publishers, specialising in progressive, critical perspectives in politics and the social sciences. Based in London, we have been active for 40 years and independent since 1979. We have more than 800 titles in print by authors such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, John Pilger, Susan George, Ziauddin Sardar, Greg Palast, Eduardo Galeano and Vandana Shiva.

Project for a Participatory Society U.K (PPS-UK) We are a network of people based in the UK committed to progressive social change. We see war, poverty, climate change and many other problems in the world today as unsurprising consequences of particular forms of social organisation. We see the erosion of civil liberties, the abuses of human rights, the increase in inequality and other injustices as resulting from the core values and internal organisation of dominant institutions within society.

It follows from this observation that changes in institutional values and social structures can result in a considerable reduction in (and possibly the elimination of) many of the worlds problems and social injustices. To recognise this is a very important first step. However, it is at the same time only a first step - and by itself does not count for much. Individuals all over the world could draw this conclusion but unless these people come together then what difference does it make.

If we are serious about progressive social change then we need a serious organisation that can bring about such changes. We need an organisation that understands how the world works today. We need an organisation that offers a compelling and popular alternative vision. We need an organisation that develops practical strategy for social transformation. In short we need an organisation that is intelligent - to overcome ignorance, offers hope - to overcome cynicism, and is realistic - to overcome apathy.

Race and Class, is a peer-reviewed, ISI-ranked publication, the foremost English language journal on racism and imperialism in the world today. For three decades it has established a reputation for the breadth of its analysis, its global outlook and its multidisciplinary approach.

Red Pepper, is a bi-monthly magazine and website of left politics and culture. We’re a socialist publication drawing heavily on feminist, green and libertarian politics. We seek to be a space for debate on the left, a resource for movements for social justice, and a home for anyone who wants to see a world based on equality, meaningful democracy and freedom.

Red Pepper is completely independent, and whilst not rejecting party politics, seeks to help build the kind of pluralistic, dynamic movements which can fundamentally challenge our economic system, with its entrenched injustice, structures of power and oppression, and tendency towards war and environmental destruction. Although based in London, we have links around Britain, and have always covered events and perspectives from outside the capital.

SchNews, The free weekly direct action newsheet published in Brighton since 1994. SchNEWS was born in a squatted Courthouse in Brighton in 1994 as part of Justice? - Brighton's campaign against the Criminal Justice Act. A few bright sparks decided to start reading out the news. Some of those bright sparks then decided to put some of it on paper - nearly ten years later and we're still printing! Featuring- Party & Protest, Crap arrest of the week and much, much more!

Simpol, What? Adopt Simpol and drive governments to work together to solve the cause of the urgent global security problems affecting everyone’s lives. It’s obvious, problems such as climate change, global debt crises, poverty, war and bio-diversity loss, desperately need global solutions. There are thousands of Simpol Adopters in over 70 countries.

How? Through Global People Power! By Adopting Simpol you automatically inform your MP that those who sign the Simpol Pledge win Adopters votes and those who don’t, lose them. It’s still your choice, but if they don’t Pledge, MPs can only pretend to have the solutions. 24 UK MPs have already Pledged.

UK Feminista, supports people to campaign for a world where women and men are equal.

Why? Because despite massive advances in the status of women, gender inequality remains rife in the UK and across the world.

We believe that political, economic and social equality between women and men is possible – and it is a world that will be better for all.

But progress doesn’t just ‘happen’. It takes ordinary women and men to stand up and be counted and create the world they want to live in. Our aim is to inspire and enable people to do just that.

visionOntv, visionOntv aims for the widest possible distribution of video for social change. visionOntv enables you to create and collate video: we create shows to put news in context, and collate the best social change video from around the world. We also curate it so that it can be found and enjoyed easily by anyone who wants to. There are currently 5 main channels of rapidly updating films, which are editorially controlled to ensure a good mix of quality content. The visionOntv site is a "golden ladle on the data soup".

visionOntv is also a source of in-depth and verifiable news, with fact-checking links to reliable sources. "Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about." (Cory Doctorow) To that we add "and then take action about". That way leads to social change. Crucially we are creating social media toolkits around this content so that real communities of action can be built.

We enable members to build their own TV channel on their site. visionOntv aims to build flows of lasting and automatically-updating video content, not the "here today, and gone tomorrow".

World Development Movement, The World Development Movement (WDM) is a UK-based anti-poverty campaigning organisation. We have a worldwide reputation for tackling hard-hitting, controversial issues.We believe a fairer world is possible if together we take action. Just as campaigners stopped the transatlantic slave trade and won women the vote, we can end global inequality. "The World Development Movement is one of the most dynamic and successful NGOs I have known. I salute WDM!" - John Pilger, journalist and speaker at Rebellious Media Conference

Zed Books Zed Books is a critical and dynamic publisher, committed to increasing awareness of important international issues and to promoting diversity, alternative voices and progressive social change. We publish on politics, development, gender, the environment and economics for a global audience of students, academics, activist and general readers. Run as a co-operative, we aim to operate in an ethical and environmentally sustainable way.

I was looking for 93 people to support me as a Commons for £1 a week, and I have found 4 so far, and been given some very helpful advice. That plan hasn't gone away. I am still convinced that it is the best way forward. I just need to get this conference out of the way before I press on with that. I suppose what I have been doing for the last month is how I mean to continue...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Jon as Commons

I have been very nervous about posting this. I worried that it wouldn’t make sense or I would look foolish and naive, but hey, so what! (The following is not a final draft but then, what is?) I have recently lost my job due to the person I was supporting at work being made redundant. I was employed as a Communication Support Worker for a Maths Expert who is deaf. So I am now unemployed, I should be out searching for a job (apparently) but I came across an idea the other day and it got me thinking. It was a talk about Economics & Violence at the Peace News Summer Camp by Derek Wall . More on the theory another day but here are a few links to get you thinking reclaiming the commons and Derek Wall's Prosperity without growth, economics after capitalism, I was thinking about how this was related to my personal experience. I have found that a job is often demeaning and stultifying , claiming benefits is soul destroying, running a business for personal profit is to turn myself into a commodity and exploit people. None of these options appeal any more. I want to do good in the World. I have skills and experience I would like to use for the betterment of all. I have no desire to make a lot of money. I do have some financial costs that I cannot (easily) escape. I have rent to pay, food to eat, power to pay for. I suppose I could go off somewhere an live in a utopia, well whatever. I feel indigenous to where I live. I care about the people around me. I like London. I have few needs and offer all I have.

The idea I had was to declare my self a Commons- under the democratic control of the community. OK, a Commons- under the democratic control of the community, what does that mean?

Commons are a shared resource but they are neither Public nor Private. Traditionally they were common land or other resources, but you could also include Open Source Software. Modern life has removed the distinction between public and private. I see myself as a Commons, a resource available to the community, providing many different things; goods and services, yes, but also intangible benefits, like a smile or tea served from a teapot with home-made cake when you are down, or a timely piece of advice.

Under Democratic control. I am unsure of the best way forward. I don’t know whether I do the right thing or waste my time. Some advice and guidance would help me. Also, we need to start working together to build a new world for us all to share, why not start with myself?

Be the change you want to see in the world or Model the behaviour you want to see used. I want more people to join me. I want the Commons to be regained, defended and extended. I can’t ask you to share you life with others if I don’t do it by example.

You might think of this as a piece of Conceptual Art if you like. It isn't but you can think of it that way if it helps. I want to promote dialogue; The World it is a’changing! We need to start talking to each other about how we are going to organise things. The people who have been telling us that they are in charge have been shown to be self-serving, corrupt fools who have lost legitimacy. The demand for Growth, more goods, higher pay, business as usual cannot continue, and by trying this experiment I am hoping to put forward a different way of living.

We all want to do good. Jobs prevent us from being all we could be. Fear stops us giving ourselves freely.

We are more than a commodity. A job turns you into a commodity. I am closer to a forest. I have Multiple “fringe" benefits rather than one product. I have many different experiences to offer.

Trust. I want to trust in those around me, and be trusted by them.

Transitional Position. I don’t have all the answers but I am willing to experiment. To test ideas in the laboratory of my life.

Consume Less. Share More, Enjoy Life. We have to work together for this to work.

How I envisage it working
I (will) have a website. Projects that, I and you, want me to work on. My calendar, It will show my budget needs and have a way of coming to consensus or majority decision, and a chance for you to donate some cash eg rent or other resource eg food to help make it happen. You will get to decide what and how I do it through democratic community control. The commons is not public. To vote will cost you £1 per week of something in kind.

Things I will do
Essentially whatever the community decides.
Maybe you need someone to cover the office for a day.
Maybe you need help at the party.
Maybe you need someone to visit the chemist once a week.
Or whatever you decide
and you will be saying who else I should help and in what way. I will be an agent of the local civil society. I have a few ideas of my own so it may be best to work with what we have got.
  • Community. I have worked on community events, etc but I want to do more. I think we have to start talking and working with our local community. Ideas I would like to develop include: Weekly meals for all, public astronomy, litter picking blitz, residents associations, green spaces forums.
  • Theatre & Arts. I trained as a dancer and actor from a young age. I have performed in many productions. I also worked for 10years as a theatre dogsbody before specialising in Box Office and Marketing.
  • Food. I like to cook. I would be happy to cook for you.
  • Permaculture. Transition. Sustainable future. Going off Grid. Giving away your surplus. I have a piece of paper that says I was interested enough to pay and study Permaculture. Everything is about design. The more publicly held and understood the better for the commons.
  • Education. I have worked in education and training for many years; In-house theatre training, video production, I have also been a support worker for Deaf and disabled people in secondary and 16+ education. I like to learn and share what I learn.
  • Co-op. One of the long-term goals is to set up a workers co-op that will focus on Transition in peoples lives, their work and the wider world.
  • Graphic Novels. I have made a few. I want to make more. I have some ideas.
  • Volunteering. I want to work with established groups and help them flourish. Peace News, Unlibrary
  • Foraging. I want to explore the Common foods, make a urban forage map. Pick fruit in peoples gardens, turn some into jars of jam to give away.
  • Research. Collate information and disseminate it.
  • Communication support. I know British Sign Language. I have a 1st class Hons. degree in Deaf Studies, seems a shame not to do something with it.
  • Video. I have edited and made a few films in my time. I can help.
  • Life. Everything else.
I will have a calendar showing my appointments. Every appointment is a project that is open to democratic oversight; but you don’t have to vote on everything. Focus on what is important to you. You can propose a new project or amend one in existence. If you have chosen to pay £52 you will have a day dedicated to you; it will be up to you what I do.

What you get for your money
I am cheap. You can just give me £1 when you feel like it and receive 1 week of voting rights and be able to make 1 project proposal (which could, for example, involve me cooking/painting/gardening for you for a day) or go all the way and give me £52= £1 per week. I will even take payment in kind. For that donation to paying my rent (equal to one weeks rent) you get-

  • At least, 1 day of my total attention doing whatever you require. If the community thinks I should do more for you then that is what I will do but for £52 you will have 1 day dedicated to you to decide.
  • The chance to have a meal. Let me know and I will cook a bit extra, or I could cook at yours.
  • Stuff I make & do. You will get a bit of it. Puppets, Posters, Pickles, Planetariums, plants, poems, all the stuff I “own" am happy to share. Books, music, films, games.
  • Democratic control over Me. So you get to decide what I do everyday.
  • Feeling special. I don’t need lot’s of money. Just enough to pay the essentials, so I don’t want lots of people giving me money. I just need a few, as many as I could properly serve without breaking one of the rules of the commons; that it should be improved or in a better state of health after use.
  • You will be creating a new world model. We all know this way isn’t working, and will probably only get worse, never better. Unless we, that means you and me, start to do things differently. We need to start treating living things / reclaiming and defending the commons.

I am asking you to think beyond your personal gain (a bit) and manage a beautiful resource (me).
I am not really trying to offer you a commodity I am trying to work out a way to live as neither slave nor master. I am not selling myself; I am no one special. I am not asking you to buy something off me; I am offering it freely. I just need to pay the rent, and to feel that I am doing good in the World, and I need a bit of help and guidance. I think the Commons need reclaiming and defending; I am trying to set an example.

Things I think I need on website
Spectrum tool; where does everyone stand on a project? Agree <-----> Disagree
Voting by majority but option to go consensus if needed.
Project page in a format that allows votes to be cast, and time to be allocated.
Calendar: What am I spending my time doing?
Budget Visualiser: What am I spending money on?
Blog; I say something.
Forum; Community to discuss, all can view.
Twitter feed; all can comment, only the community decide in forum.
Way of donating Cash, in kind and keeping track of who does what.

Maybe I should just start “free” with Blogger etc? But I think I may have to spend more time maintaining the “free” option rather than paying some cash to get it integrated.

All will be open. I will publish weekly (or monthly, you decide) accounts.
Basically I need-
£52 per week at least for the rent which in total is £109:42 per week.
£25 for food (I plan to forage and grow more but would like to feed people communally)
£25 per week on other bills.

About £102 per week, and I would be very comfortable and secure.
£408 per month or £4896 per year.

If you have any queries or questions please feel free to ask. If you think I am unclear or you think I should expand or edit this post let me know.

Consume Less. Share More, Enjoy Life.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Inclusion is a delusion. Explain and discuss

Whilst at university I wrote an essay about Inclusion. I just re-read it, and I thought it was worth sharing with you.  So, here it is as written-

Inclusion is a delusion. Explain and discuss

To start with, we should have a concise definition of what Inclusion means. But this is not an easy task. The meaning of Inclusion shifts depending on who is using it and who they’re speaking to or about; who is being included in what and how are they being included. This is part of the reason why inclusion is a delusion, there is a no definition that is used by everyone but rather the term is understood and used in different ways. Inclusion is a political battleground with multiple participants; parents, children, teachers, the Government, disability groups that may oppose each other, etc. All these groups have a different vision of what Inclusion means. Therefore it is almost impossible to judge whether the policy of inclusion is effective or not.

The UNESCO Salamanca statement and framework for action on special needs education of 1994 states, to paraphrase, that every child is unique with different abilities and all children should have access to the same standard of education. This education should be in regular schools and the focus should be a child-centred pedagogy, taking the wide diversity of needs into account. This is taken as the basis of much policy related to inclusion. The incoming Labour government of 1997 introduced a Green paper that refers directly to the statement and subsequent policy documents use the statement as their reference point.

Inclusion can take on a meaning wider than Education to include Social inclusion. The idea that groups or individuals, who are seen to be socially excluded, can be reintegrated into society through Government intervention, not least with Education, is an idea shared by most mainstream political parties. Education is seen as a way of providing a highly skilled workforce that shares common values. The aims of Social Inclusion are not concurrent with Educational Inclusion. If people with disabilities are seen to be incapable of becoming members of the workforce (Not necessarily because they have a physical or mental impairment that would prevent them from working but rather that Employers are reluctant to employ people with disabilities.) and seem to be taking resources away from an able-bodied, but somehow social excluded group, wouldn’t the Government be justified in directing funding to the group who are more likely to provide future tax revenue?

Even if we restrict ourselves to describing Inclusion in schools for students with disabilities there can be different degrees of inclusion. Being physically in the same school building but excluded from other children, in class and socially, could be seen as inclusive. As would being socially included, at breaks and lunch for instance, but still being taught separately. Or it could be that the student is being taught in the same class but the teaching style or materials have not being altered. Maybe the student has a teaching assistant to provide additional support. All these different levels will be described as Inclusion. I would argue that the fact that there are different standards that are regarded as inclusion is an argument that inclusion is a meaningless term.

Assuming that the definition that we take is essentially the Salamanca statement, aiming towards total inclusion, then the stated aims of inclusive education are laudable, to provide every child with access to education of a similar standard, an education that takes particular regard to them as individuals, their needs, disabilities and impairments. But is this materially possible?

For a variety of reasons there is a rise in the number of children identified as having a SEN. Every year more parents try and get Statements of Educational Need from their Local Education Authority because they feel this is the only way to get the proper level of support for their child. More conditions and syndromes are identified as creating a special educational need. As more conditions are identified greater numbers of children are labelled as having one of these. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was unknown 50 years ago, now some doctors estimate that 1 in 7 children have symptoms of ADHD. Some conditions, such as Autism, are said to be on the increase. The figure of 1 in 5 children with some degree of special educational need is used by some Local Authorities (Kent County Council). Although the Government wants to reduce the numbers of children receiving Statements of educational need it is also increasing the scope of its social inclusion programme (Every Child Matters DfES 2003.  Early years NOA 2004 page 9) which if implemented will have an effect on teachers’ workloads and school budgets. Education currently costs around 4% of GDP (Figure based on OECD statement that UK GDP is £1000bn and Education spending is £45bn) and this is expected to rise. If a fully inclusive education was to be implemented to a standard acceptable to most parents of children with SEN the costs of providing high levels of individualised education are almost incalculable. Many parents feel that they have to fight for the minimal level of support their children currently receive. Of course these costs would only need to be paid if Inclusion was to be fully implemented with sufficient funding. Which brings us to another point of delusion, there is not sufficient funding (or will to fund) fully inclusive education. If Inclusion and all the additional costs are not sufficiently funded they do not work effectively. An aspiration could be said to be a delusion if the facts point to the aspiration never being met.

There is an increase in reliance on the teacher being the primary means of providing support- “Every teacher should expect to teach children with SEN”(Figure based on OECD statement that UK GDP is £1000bn and Education spending is £45bn). Truly inclusive education would require teaching materials and practises to be altered to suit the needs of the individual student. In a Class of 30 pupils with 1 in 5 with SEN there could be 6 pupils with very different educational needs. The teacher is expected to alter their teaching style to accommodate all these students’ needs. Although meeting these needs may not be contradictory they will still require additional preparation. Research and extra training may be required. The Government recently announced plans for all students to have Personalised Learning, including plans to remove grading in favour of continuous assessment and feedback, regular one-to-one meetings between teachers and pupils as well as plans to give parents access to lesson plans, amongst other proposals, most of which imply additional work for teaching staff. Teachers are being expected to be educational experts as well as fulfilling the roles, increasingly demanded of them, of bureaucrat and social worker.

Can schools alter social attitudes? Can they transmit cultural morals in such an artificial environment? The fact that classes are segregated by age militates against the transmission of cultural values. Young people do not see older people in normal everyday activities, instead they are taught by little more than a stranger in the artificial environment of the schoolroom.

Other factors militate against Inclusion. Schools are judged in League tables, none of these schools wants to be identified as failing behind. Students with SEN may not do well in exams and assessments thereby lowering the overall score of the school. Disproportionably large numbers of children with SEN are permanently excluded from school, meaning that their scores will not affect the schools League profile.

Is an increasingly interventionist schooling system even desirable? For deaf children this means an early introduction to a specialist team who will advise their parents on intervention options available. For large numbers of children the options provided are initially medical, for example, Cochlear Implants and hearing aids. Most parents of deaf children are hearing and would like their children to be like them. They may hope that an implant will make their deaf child into a hearing one. They are unlikely to know any deaf adults or sign language. The implant could seem like an easy option. But once implanted that child is forever an implant patient. The cochlear implant will not make the child hearing but a deaf child with an implant. Many parents will assume that learning sign language should be avoided for children with cochlear implants. Many deaf adults who were implanted when they were young find that they feel excluded from hearing society but they find learning to sign difficult later in life. Early intervention could also mean long hours in speech therapy learning how to speak, therapy that may continue throughout the Childs school life. Being sent to a mainstream school may lead to greater social exclusion especially if the only person able to communicate in the class is the Childs support staff. 

With deaf people the delusion is the mistaken conviction that they as individuals can be integrated into the hearing world of school with a hearing aid, a teaching assistant and a few hours of speech therapy. The trend is towards further mainstreaming of deaf children and the closure of residential deaf schools resulting in deaf children being isolated within mainstream schools. Residential schools for the deaf are seen by many in the deaf community as key to the continuation of Deaf culture. Many deaf people maintain close friendships with people they went to school with throughout their lives. Deaf schools may be the first experience that many deaf children have to share their experience with other people. All children have the capacity to learn a natural language through exposure and opportunity to practise. Most deaf children have little chance to acquire their natural language, Sign language, in their family or in hearing schools. If these children as sent to mainstream schools they will be isolated from their hearing peers and they will not have an early exposure to sign language leading in effect to a poor acquisition of any language. Residential schools for the deaf have been recognised throughout the world as focal points of the deaf community. In deaf clubs in Britain when two deaf people of any age initially meet one of the first questions asked is which school they attended. The creation of Nicaraguan Sign Language can be traced directly to the establishment of a residential school for the deaf. 

The Montessori Method of teaching developed a century ago and is based on the premise that children are competent beings capable of self-directed learning. Its development was stimulated by Maria Montessori who as a member of the University of Rome’s Psychiatric Clinic was prompted to develop her teaching theories whilst working with those who were classified as mental retarded or uneducable. Her experiences lead her to the conclusion that “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.”  She did not design special policies on inclusion but instead focused on what education is for.

And indeed the question of the purpose of education needs to be addressed. Is it to create a society of highly skilled workers who act as consumers in their spare time or a path “seeking the release of human potentialities”? What are we all being included in? Who makes the decision about what and how? The children don’t, their parents don’t, teachers don’t, All decisions are made by a higher power accessible only through the Courts.

Paulo Freire writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, "Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion." According to Freire, freedom will be the result of praxis--informed action--when a balance between theory and practice is achieved. Inclusive education as outlined here fails to find a balance between theory and practise. It becomes an inhibitor of freedom. Inclusive education for many deaf people is a denial of who they are. It leads to the destruction of separate schools for the deaf and the inclusion into the isolating experience of schools designed for hearing people.

Rights are gifts, entitlements. The philosopher, Max Stirner, wrote "Right is above me, is absolute, and exists in one higher, through whose grace it flows to me: right is a gift from the judge; power and might exist only in me the powerful and mighty". By this he meant that there should be no higher power than the unique individual. Rights are “spooks in the head” or delusions that we brainwash ourselves with. Rights are not the possession of the individual they are bestowed by some higher power and as such could be removed or altered. This idea is echoed the reality that many so-called human rights have been acquired by individuals expressing their own power and might. Actions by people like Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Millicent Fawcett, Bobby Seale, Steve Biko, Malcolm X. Human Rights are regularly abused by authorities at all levels.  A delusion is a false belief that persists despite the facts. It may be that human rights only exist if, like Freire’s freedom, they can “be acquired by conquest, not by gift.” The battle for conquest not being the right to inclusive education but the ownership and control of education to best suit your needs.

Deaf education and much of special needs education is colonial in its attitude. The recipients treated as incapable of making valid choices.  The deaf are not in control of their own education instead it is hearing experts who decided what will happen. The Audist establishment, that sees deafness as an impairment that can only be ameliorated by the ministrations of the hearing expert, is in control of the education of deaf people. There are very few deaf teachers. Most hearing teacher of the deaf teach using the spoken word, very few have anything more than rudimentary knowledge of sign language. As Harlan Lane outlines in his book The Mask of Benevolence the paternalistic attitudes of most researchers and educators of the deaf bears striking similarity with the attitudes of Colonial authorities towards the natives they were sent to govern. All colonial powers are reluctant to surrender their authority.  

"Authentic" education, according to Freire, will involve dialogue between the teacher and the student, mediated by the broader world context. He warns that the limits imposed upon both the coloniser and the colonised dehumanise everyone involved, thereby removing the ability for dialogue to occur, inevitably barring the possibility of transformation. Communication is only possible between equals. To move beyond the current colonial attitude in deaf education requires dialogue using a shared language. 

Christopher Alexander describes the Pattern Language, it is a design tool that is used to design cities and buildings. The patterns are a combination of the context, what could be seen as the problem and its possible solution. The patterns are interconnected and interrelated and as such constitute a language. It could be considered as a collection of rough rules-of-thumb. The point being that the patterns act as a language. They offer a solution to a problem in a particular context, but to be effective, other patterns have to be taken into account. The more the patterns are connected the more alive they become, creating a quality of life that people will feel. When patterns are understood and shared by people, as they were in the past with building construction, everyone instinctively knows how to design the built environment. Now the built environment is organised by experts; planning consultants, architects, plasterers, electricians, interior designers, etc. The patterns are fragmented into expert fields of knowledge. They lose their power. This leads to a built environment that seems hostile and/or soulless; tower blocks and drive-in shopping centres with municipal decoration.

Education is a social construct, as manufactured as any object or building in society. It is made of systems, collections of patterns, and bought to life by people. The systems/patterns are the buildings, policies, teaching methods, subjects, staff training, lunch provision. All these elements come together to create a collection of patterns.  Education has ceased to be a craft activity performed by the family and village and is now industrialised and enacted by specialist workers in factory units. If the language used to construct the systems is not shared by the people it will be dead and the systems constructed will lack the quality that brings a sense of wholeness and wellbeing. By handing education over to experts, we are creating the educational equivalent of the out of town shopping centre; It has easy access, all the staff are trained in customer service, there are a wide selection of products at all price levels, etc. But it fails to meet the needs of particular sections of the community. The shopping centre because it destroys local shops, farmers, etc and instead relies on global supply lines, homogeneous culture. Inclusive Education because it will be dominated by central Government with its own agenda on Inclusion, supported by various fields of experts with a vested interest in maintaining their authority. This will create an education system that is increasingly colonial in attitude and fails to create an inclusive education, even on its own terms.

A healthy human being is able, essentially, to solve problems, to develop, to move towards objects of desire, to contribute to the well-being of others in society, to create value in the world, and to love, to be exhilarated, to enjoy. The capacity to do these many positive things, to do them well, and to do them freely, is natural. It arises by itself. It cannot be created, artificially in a person, but it needs to be released, given room. It does need to be supported. It depends, simply, on the degree to which a person is able to concentrate on these things, not on others.
 Alexander, C, The Nature of Order Volume 1, Oxford University Press 2001 p373

Many deaf children, because of inclusive education, do not have the opportunity to just “concentrate on these things, not others” instead they have to learn skills that are expected of hearing children, like speech, skills that are time consuming and difficult to acquire. It would be possible to have an inclusive education in an inclusive society. As they say, School is a reflection of Society. Except that there probably wouldn’t be the institution of School in that truly inclusive society, Education would be an inclusive part of everyday life.


Alexander, C, The Nature of Order Volume 1, Oxford University Press 2001

Alexander, C, The Timeless way of building, Oxford University Press 1979

Alexander, C, A Pattern language, Oxford University Press 1977

Freire, P, Pedagogy of the oppressed, Pelican Books, 1972

Lane H, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf community, Vintage Books, 1992

Lillard A, & Else-Quest N. "The early years: Evaluating Montessori education." Science. 2006 Sep 29; 313 (5795): 1893-4.

Polich, L, The emergence of the Deaf community in Nicaragua. Gallaudet University Press, 2005

Stirner, M, The ego and its own, Rebel Press, 1993

Early years: progress in developing high quality childcare and early education accessible to all. National Audit Office report 2004


Removing Barriers to Achievement: The Government’s strategy for SEN, Department for Education and Skills, 2004

Salamanca statement and framework for action on special needs education, UNESCO, 1994

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Earth Oven 3

Build Overview

I am going to give a run through of what I do when constructing an oven. Don't worry if you feel that you do not completely understand the details of the process, I will go into those in subsequent posts. I think it is important to see the whole process unfold, so that you can plan for what comes next. You shouldn'r slavishly follow every particular of what I do, instead  look at what you want to achieve and the materials available, and amend to suit your purposes.


Cooking and eating are fun communal activities, unless you stick your oven in a distant corner and then using it becomes a chore. But remember an oven is a fire hazard (It has got a fire in it) and it will smoke, so don't necessarily place it too close to the house.
Think about-

  • Access to the kitchen, 
  • Nearby seating, 
  • A place to store fire-wood, 
  • The oven doorway should ideally face away from the prevailing wind so that it draws well, 
  • Where will it look best from?

The Base

You could build your oven straight onto the earth but apart from the fact that you would have to crawl on the floor this would also mean losing heat into the ground, and your oven will act like a wick drawing moisture from the ground. For a temporary oven this may be ok but for a more permament oven it is best to build a base. From personal experience this is the most time consuming process of construction. It also uses huge quantities of stuff; sand, rubble, bottles, bricks, clay, straw/wood-chip. This is the point where you might give up, if you don't do some planning. The excellent Build your own Earth Oven  book focusses primarily on oven building and leaves you to decide the best way for the base. The base serves two functions, one,  to raise the oven door to a comfortable working height, and the other, to provide insulation under your oven floor. Here I will outline the way I build a base.

I start by marking out a circle 3-4 feet in diameter. The oven I am describing will have a 22 inch diameter cooking surface, this is surrounded by 3-4 inches of clay/sand 'oven mix' , which is surrounded by 4-7 inches of cob 'insulation mix'. The oven mix could be thinner but it is harder to use, and the oven is going to be trickier to make. The insulation could be thinner but more insulation means a more efficient oven. A smaller base is easier to build but leaves little wriggle room in the final stages, on the other hand a larger base requires a lot more work but you end up with space to add additional insulation or extra features; a seat, preparation area or wood-dryer.

I might remove some of the topsoil and tamp the soil down. Into this depression I put gravel/rubble for drainage. In the centre of the circle I build a brick column. The column is designed to support the load of the oven and stop the walls of the base buckling. At this point I use cement. I tend to avoid cement in favour of cob for the majority of the construction. It is nice to work with and it is very forgiving. Cob in contact with the ground will pull moisture from the ground into the oven. I try to avoid this by using cement for the support column, and the first course of bricks in the outer wall of  the base.

The photo above shows how things proceed. With some chicken wire I make a tube just inside the where I will lay the outer course of bricks. I find something (old copper pipes, poles from old estate agents signs), anything to weave in-between the chicken wire and  bash into the ground. Next the last use of cement. This is used to lay the first course or bricks. After that rubble/hard-core is added around the column.

From this point on it is all cob. The bricks are mortared together with cob, and cob is added on the inside surface to bind the chicken wire to the outer wall. Rubble is added to the centre until it is level with the top of the support column. At this point you will have a cob/brick outer wall, built as high as needed for a comfortable end working height.

 Inside this walled enclosure the rubble will come around half-way up you base. It will look a little like this photo.

This hole is going to be filled with insulation. We want to keep the heat generated by the fire trapped inside the oven. The outside is going to be covered with insulation, and this under-level must also be insulated. I use glass bottles.

I prefer to stand them head-to-tail with the bottoms up, as this leaves a level area to work up from but on their side is fine. 
If you have a mix of sizes I suggest the large ones on the outside as a ring around the soon-to-be oven floor. 
In-between the bottle I used to make straight cob (clay, sand, straw) to hold the bottles in place but I now use a mix of sawdust and a slip (clay and water mixed to consistency of cream). It is really easy to make and I  have easier access to sawdust than straw. This insulation layer to built up until you have a level surface upon which the refractory bricks are to be laid.

The building continues in the next posting.

Toodle pip!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Earth Ovens 2


There are three types of Heat-

  1. Convection
  2. Conduction
  3. Radiation
How does this work in an Earth Oven? (I hear you cry) You stick a heat source, like a blazing fire, in your oven. The heat from the fire is absorbed by the (well-insulated) walls, and into the refractory brick floor. Some of this heat is conducted through the direct contact made by the Pizza/Bread/Food with the refractory brick floor. Some heat absorbed by the walls and is radiated back from them. And some of the heat swirls around, or is convected. inside the oven in the air and steam. End result; crispy pizzas and crusty bread. The oven will remain warm for around 6 hours without rekindling. At the start of the cooking cycle , after the oven has been fired for about two hours, the temperature can reach 700 degrees, or so I'm reliably informed, I place my fist at the oven door to guesstimate. This will cook a pizza in minutes. After pizzas, the oven has cooled for Sourdough  bread, then cakes and biscuits, roast meat/veg, fish, fruit, etc., maybe end with yoghurt.

The activities can last all day, if you want. It encourages sociability; why make pizza just for yourselves? Why waste the heat? Invite neighbours to bring their favourite toppings for a pizza brunch. Bake bread with friends, and everyone goes home with a loaf. Roasted peppers, anyone? Once a month for the full moon come together, make some heat, bake and celebrate!

Your indoor oven is not so much fun, and it doesn't cook food in the same way in its use of heat as the Earth Oven (see above and look at your indoor oven), therefore it does not taste as good.