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Friday, April 02, 2010

Happiness and the Eleven Plus

At one time or another many families would have aspired to owning the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Thousands of people must have educated through the pages – long before internet search engines and wikipedia. An early contributor was James Mill (1773 – 1836) whose father was a village cobbler. Mills had nine children – and this is may have been one reason why he needed a continual supply of money. He was a tutor for some time to several Scottish families.

He became interested in a scheme to found a University of London and published an article on `Education’ in the fifth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Mill stated that the aim of education was to render the individual happy to both himself and to others. He did, however, acknowledge that the nature of happiness was a matter of controversy.

He selected:
Intelligence (knowledge and sagacity)
Temperance (command of natural appetites and desires)
Justice and generosity (benevolence)

Is there any connection between his ideas and those of our current eleven plus children? Naturally our eleven plus child must be intelligent and must be able demonstrate temperance (especially when called upon to do an unwelcome or untimely eleven plus paper). In addition the prospective candidate must be able to demonstrate justice and generosity – especially when one or either parent stumbles over some arcane eleven plus question. (They did their best.)

Mills maintained that a mere knowledge of facts was not enough. He wanted children to be able to develop the power to choose and develop ideas. There is great preoccupation in some eleven plus areas, for example, about the twenty one types of verbal reasoning questions. The current `educational’ theory is that if a child learns to cope with the twenty one types then he or she is fit to cope with a grammar school education. Shame on the protagonists of this narrow view of the eleven plus!

Mills himself started his three year old son on Greek and started teaching him Latin at eight. He also did not allow his son to have any holidays in case the habit of work was broken. (Shame on Mills!)

Is there a new eleven plus mantra for us to pursue? We want:

A happy child
An intelligent child
A child who can cope with pressure
A child with an inquiring and inquisitive mind
A child who is tolerant of the strengths and weaknesses of his parents – and who is not afraid to say thank you for what you have done for me.

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