Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Monastery and cathedral schools trained churchmen. The earliest monastery schools I know of are ca. 800 AD in the Carolingian empire. The main purpose was to teach Latin through memorising (singing by rote) first the Psalms and then Latin hymns. Once the novices had this basis they could take part in the liturgy. Later training was based on the seven liberal arts, all of which equipped students to be effective monks/clerics (eg arithmetic and astronomy were important for calculating the date of Easter). These schools provided a focused vocational training.

Secular schools developed in urban centres in the 15th century. European grammar schools (Lateinschule in Germany) came from the desire of urban merchants to prepare their sons for the professions (law, medicine etc) without necessarily tying them into a career in the church. To enter such professions, the boys were expected to know the sorts of things that the products of cathedral and monastic schools knew, concentrating on the acquisition of Latin. Such families were unlikely to be able to afford individual tutors. They set up charter schools to spread the cost of educating their children.

Schools were often set up by urban guilds as a perk for the sons of their members; some still survive in England (eg Merchant Taylors; Haberdashers; Christs Hospital -
still run by the Almoners' Guild...)

So even at this stage, schools had moved beyond providing a vocational training to providing an arbitrary passport (Latinity) to the desired profession. IMO, this peacock’s tail is still the primary function of schools – they rarely supply the information or offer the training that people want; instead, the qualifications are interpreted by employers or universities or whoever as indicating a certain level of staying power and determination to proceed to whatever goal it is that the person has in mind.

It is quite possible for a person to spend many years (not just finishing high school or a Bachelor’s degree, but a Masters as well) chasing the peacock’s tail which will supposedly finally allow one to start learning how to do what one actually wants to do.

The most valuable areas of training preserve their vocational aspects – music, dance, art, sports… – and mostly people pursue these areas outside schools through: private tuition with an expert; self-directed practice and study; joining a club/team/orchestra; engagement in the pursuit with others of similar ability, etc. IMO, the methods by which people find and train for their vocations are much better models for pursuing any interest at any age than the school model, which purports to provide a generic preparation for specialisation later.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

circumcision and nappy rash

On the TCS list, someone likened infant circumcision to changing a diaper when child has a rash - it will hurt the child but parent knows it is the best thing to do and goes ahead regardless of inflicting the pain.

In the current case, the mother (father / caregiver / whatever) often has to make decisions for the eight-day-old boy because she can't communicate why some things are happening, he's not yet prepared to understand the range of options, and he can't communicate his opinions except in the most basic ways. Under those circumstances, making many decisions for him is necessary, not irrational. For example, he might not want her to change his diaper, perhaps because he has a rash and the wipes cause pain. Yet the mother, if she is rational, will change his diaper anyway because she knows that to do otherwise is far worse for the child. This is coercive, but rational. There's no alternative. (She will likely mitigate the pain however possible, of course, but she'll still change the diaper and the child will still hurt.)

No. Changing the diaper regardless is unneccessary coercion. Here are some possible solutions which would not hurt the tiny baby:

Get in bath with tiny baby. Instead of using baby wipes, the water will gently wash the baby clean. No pain.

Change diaper when child is asleep and won't notice.

Instead of using wipes, gently wipe the baby with a soothing anti-rash cream (yes, fingers in poop and all). After a few minutes, it may be possible to use wipes without hurting the baby. Wash hands thoroughly in between obviously ;-)

Instead of wipes, use a soft damp cloth?

Lose the diapers altogether and leave the bottom half nekkid until the rash goes. Might be a chance to experiment with elimination communication. And honestly, 8-day-old baby pee or poop on one's T-shirt is not a disaster. It can just join the half digested milk :lol:

To say "In most cases, I try not to coerce my child, but in circumstance X there is no alternative" signals a failure of creativity not a grim reminder that life is inevitably painful. Sure, we all have failures of creativity from time to time, but we mustn't pretend that they are anything other than failures, which we can learn from and do better next time.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


The infant circumcision rate in the UK is less than 1%. In this country circumcision is generally regarded as barbaric genital mutilation, undertaken only by a tiny proportion of the population, for religious reasons. I was astonished to learn today that the circumcision rate in the US is more like 60%.

There are various possible health benefits to circumcision, but the American Academy of Paediatrics said in 1999 that they are not sufficient to recommend routine infant circumcision. There are some STDs which are more difficult to catch with a circumcised penis (because there are some cells in the foreskin which easily absorb whatever is going around), but there are simple ways of avoiding STDs which do not involve genital mutilation. Several of the risk factors can easily be dealt with by basic hygiene.

On the reverse side, there are risks associated with circumcision itself, from bleeding to infection and much worse. Estimates of the percentage of baby boys affected by such things vary between less than 1% and 10%, depending on who is counting. Use of anaesthesia is by no means universal, although the procedure is certainly painful. Duh.

Circumcision is not easily reversible, and affects sex. It makes it much harder to keep penis and vagina lubricated during sex. It reduces sensation in the penis and can affect the erection. It takes longer for circumcised males to come to ejaculation (some might find this an advantage of circumcision).

There is no guarantee that one’s son will thank one for having circumcised him. The surveys of males circumcised as adults cited on Wikipedia indicate that the satisfaction rate is only about 60%. There was nothing to indicate how many men circumcised as infants were happy about it.

If your son decides as a teen/adult that he wants to be genitally mutilated, that’d be the time to do it, IMO, when he can decide for himself.

I find it hard to imagine a viable justification of infant circumcision unless there are religious factors involved, and that deserves another post, which will have to wait till I have time to write it.

Friday, March 03, 2006


well, I assume noone is sitting patiently out there waiting for me to write.

I've changed my links so they reflect what I'm actually reading.

Thoughts about other things are still cooking...