Free Schools or No Schools

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Serious question: Why are we so comfortable with imprisoning children for 12 – 14 years? It seems the answer is we’ve constructed an economic system that requires both parents to work, for most of each weekday. Schools act in loco parentis, helping to tame children in preparation for an adulthood of service to industry. They take in creative, artistic, anarchic individuals and release obedient, ambitious conformists. But there is another way.

BBC News recently ran a great retrospective on the free schools of the 1970’s. Free schools, also known as ‘democratic schools‘ serve a caretaker role, without indoctrinating learned helplessness, conditioning obedience, and training respect for unearned authority. What the article doesn’t mention is that free schools, despite having almost disappeared from the UK, are far from extinct. In the United States Sudbury Valley Schools are an increasingly popular alternative, offering a playground for learning, rather than a cage for ‘education’.

Beyond Sudbury, ‘unskooling‘ (a secular equivalent of ‘home schooling’) is a growing movement in the US, as parents (wealthy enough to have the the choice) remove their children from an increasingly unequal, militarised public school system.

Here’s the thing. We pay lip service to entrepreneurship and ‘life long learning’, but if we really want a society of empowered creative individuals, we can’t expect it to emerge from a cookie cutter approach to ‘training’. People learn, dogs are trained.

A kind of amnesia occurs in parents, who forget just how stifling and uninspiring most of their time spent in school actually was. It’s precisely because the majority of school is spent ‘keeping the head down’, trying to placate capricious teachers, and stressing over exam results, that we remember the teachers who went against the grain and genuinely inspired us.

So what can well intentioned parents and educators actually do? After all, we need an income to survive, and fewer of us than ever have access to the extended alloparenting arrangements that our ancestors enjoyed. The answer isn’t simple or easy – but it’s clear. The twentieth century, 9 – 5 employee / business arrangement doesn’t work. It doesn’t allow us to be citizens invested in our communities. It incentivises employees not to rock the boat, as financial institutions mismanage and outright steal vast quantities of global wealth. It trains us to defer to higher authorities, even when they display no real concern for our best interests.

All these issues are connected: the revolution in robotics that will put most manufacturing and service industry workers out of a job in the next twenty five years. The increasing inequality of the globalised economy, concentrating ever more of our wealth in the hands of a tiny group of literally jet-setting plutocrats. The economic necessity of basic income. The enormous possibilities for learning created by the internet, and the bonkers dropout rate of online courses.

Years ago I volunteered at Seomra Spraoi, a consensus run communal space off Gardener St in Dublin. At the time, Seomra had a parent run Steiner playschool, where a group of volunteer parents put into practice the art driven principles of Waldorf Education. What they shared wasn’t any formal pedagogic education, but a real concern that their children should become rounded human beings.

Here’s the thing – we can all do this. Teaching doesn’t have to be a profession – in fact, I’d argue that (like political office) it should never be. Learning doesn’t have to be something you only do from age four to seventeen or twenty two. Anyone running a business or practicing a profession will tell you that the first couple of years at their job were far more informative than the dozen or more spent in the classroom.

No magic bullet is going to make our education system fit individual kids, rather than the amorphous mass of students. No curriculum (online or off) will erase individual differences, or inspire the way allowing a person to follow their innate interests and talents will. Learning and teaching need to become part of how we operate as people. It might be simple things like creating community education programmes, volunteering at libraries, or teaching as part of our businesses, studios and factories. It might involve working less, taking on less or no debt, and living a more modest life – accepting that we won’t own the latest consumer goods, but will have time to learn to teach and to create, in other words, to live. If we do these things – if we undermine the systems constructed to inhibit us, we’ll empower citizens capable of genuinely changing a system enabled by mediocrity.

Reading Plays – Episode 8 – Doubt (Part 2)

philip-seymour-hoffman-doubt

Reading Plays - Episode 8 - Doubt (Part 2) by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Reading Plays – Episode 8 – Doubt (Part 2)

We conclude our discussion of JP Shanley’s classic play, doubt.

Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.

Next weeks play: ‘The Bald Soprano‘ or La Cantatrice Chauve by Eugène Ionesco.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.

Reading Plays – Interview – Cast of ‘Welcome to the Ethics Committee’

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Reading Plays - Interview - Welcome to the Ethics Committee by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Interview – Cast of ‘The Ethics Committee’

Bit of a departure for you today. We interview the cast of the recent Smock Alley production of ‘Welcome to the Ethics Committee’.

The play was based on the collaborative fiction project, The SCP Foundation, and was written and directed by Katherine Farmar. We spoke to some members of the cast – Elitsa Dimova, Libby Russell, Jack Beglin, Liam Hallahan, and Declan Gillen.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.

Reading Plays – Episode 7 – Doubt (Part 1)

betrayal

Reading Plays - Episode 7 - Doubt (Part 1) by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Reading Plays – Episode 7 – Doubt (Part1)

In the introduction to his already classic play ‘Doubt: A Parable’, JP Shanley writes ‘we are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment, and of verdict’. In the decade since the publication of the play, as the culture wars have expanded, his words have seemed ever more prescient. Doubt is a work with uncertainty at its heart. The play deals with a monstrous allegation and it’s consequences, but its theme is really the consequence of ignoring such allegations. Shanley challenges us to acknowledge in doubt, the possibility of growth, to chose a shared illusion a little less distant from reality, to sacrifice the vestments of perceived virtue for robes of uncertain good. Doubt was awarded the Pulizer prize for drama as well as a Tony Award for Best Play, and has been adapted into both an opera and an academy award nominated film.

Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.

Next weeks play: We continue our discussion of Doubt by JP Shanley.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.

Reading Plays – Episode 6 – Arcadia

arcadia-1809

Reading Plays - Episode 6 - Arcadia by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Reading Plays – Episode 6 – Arcadia

Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.

The titular Arcadia is Sidley Park, Estate of the earl of Croom. We enter Sidley park at the dawn of the 19th century, and today, as two parallel storylines converge to resolve a literary mystery. Arcadia is a Wildely brilliant farce, which examines the spirit of an age and it’s relationship to time, the mathematics of chaos and it’s relationship to determinism, and whether knowledge is ultimately discovered or created. The play was written in 1993, and first staged at the Lyttelton Theatre in London, starring Rufus Sewell, Felicity Kendal and Bill Nighy. It was awarded the Lawrence Oliver award for best new play, and the Tony for best play. Today we discuss whether the work achieves its aim of marrying rapier wit to intellectual rigor, or merely orders the chaos of half understood ideas to don a costume of regency verbiage.

Next weeks play

Doubt by JP Shanley. We’re actively soliciting suggestions for what plays to read in the coming weeks and months. If there’s a play you’d like us to discuss – especially if it’s less well known, or if there’s a production of it coming to Dublin soon, let us know in the comments below.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.

Electrafied

unabridged

For Christmas, one year in college, I received the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. Inevitably, I spent a few months infatuated with Plath’s maudlin hyperlyricism. Few writers can make self absorption as compelling; Kerouac maybe, JT LeRoy (were he not fictional). There’s something hypnotic about Plath’s verse, drawn from a well of caustic freudian melodrama, expertly decanted through surrealist imagery. Anyway, this is just a little love poem to Sylvia, written by a smitten boy in his twenties, falling for her verse. Recently published in the latest issue of Saul Bowman’s ever more nominally diverse zine ‘This is Not Where I Belong’.

Electrafied

Sylvia,
My guess, your dress, of words
has been deflowered
As leonine, base,
As of a caul of death
That icy slick, your scald, has shed
and glitter split
a wax chrysalis

Sylvia,
What is a boy to do,
to impress you
to vain a chalk scratch
in the hoof print of your metre
Quirk a smile, from that
flatland greyscale snap of you
American, at twenty two
and possessed

Sylvia,
let us abide
in the bower of crafted elm
like wickedness
Crowd to the quick and conch
the tug of undertow
your terracotta emblem,
pity deep the mournful flow
trawling last words

Sylvia,
the ruddy microns of the air
are hefting Hughes and you
in this splendid friction of April
crackling diaphanous specters
rising ever to the heat
vague as notes
red as balloons
unbound Ariels

The Cheap and Easy Guide to making and releasing a Podcast, 2014 edition

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Podcasts are internet radio shows. Anyone with a computer can make one and publish it to a potentially enormous audience, for less than 100 dollars / euros a year.

After a decade releasing podcasts, here’s the simplest, cheapest and most flexible way I’ve found to distribute one. It’s not free but it’s inexpensive. Podcasting can certainly be done for free, but you’ll pay in time and effort later on, especially if your show takes off.

The beauty of this method is that you can actually host multiple podcasts and an essentially unlimited audience from the same website (without any additional cost). You don’t need to worry about bandwidth or additional fees. This is my current workflow, and once it’s all set up, it only takes about five minutes to put out a new podcast episode.

Note: The following guide assumes you’re using a Mac. It’s just as easy on Windows / Linux, but the software for recording, tagging etc is different. If you’re using windows, just use the substitute software MP3 Tag for Tagr, and CDEX for MAX.

The Guide

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1) Record and edit your first episode

You can do this directly through your laptop in Garageband (free), or on Reaper (reasonable), or Adobe Audition / Logic (expensive). Or you can use an external recorder, or even in a pinch a smartphone. For more details about a decent recording setup see here. Export your final show as a WAV.

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2) Convert your episode to MP3

I’d suggest using the free OSX conversion programme MAX. It’ll make smaller higher quality MP3’s than say Audition, Garageband or Reaper. In MAX, go to preferences -> formats -> MP3/ and set encoder quality to portable.
Now click on File -> Convert files and find your episode. Encode your WAV file to MP3.

3) Create a graphic for the podcast.

There are any number of ways to design a logo. Probably the simplest is to use a logo design app like Logo Design Studio Lite (3 dollars on the OSX app store). You’ll need a 1400 * 1400 pixel JPG graphic to use for itunes etc. You can upscale one from a smaller resolution, provided it’s the right aspect ratio (i.e.: provided it’s square). You can do this with Preview in OSX. Save a smaller version for your website and episode art (say 500 * 500 pixels).

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4) Tag your MP3

I’d suggest using the OSX tagging programme TAGR. It’s 10 euro from the iTunes app store. You can drag your episode art into the box on the bottom left of TAGR (marked ‘artwork’, see image above). This will be the art that appears on smartphones and MP3 players when listeners play the programme. Enter the name of the episode and programme and all other relevant details. Save the file.

5) Set up an account at wordpress.com

Lots of people will suggest buying your own webspace and installing wordpress from wordpress.org, or some other blog software. You can do this, but I’d recommend against it unless you’re a professional web developer. WordPress.org is easy to install, but difficult to keep secure from hackers, and time consuming to maintain. WordPress.com is cheaper and more than good enough for podcast hosting.

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6) Purchase a domain name & space upgrade

Go to the wordpress store – your link will be something like https://YOURACCOUNT.wordpress.com/wp-admin/paid-upgrades.php

It’s 15 euro for registration and mapping.

It’s 40 euro for a 25 gig upgrade, enough for well over three hundred, two hour long podcasts.

7) Make your first WordPress post

Make your first post with an audio file attached. To do this, upload the audio file in wordpress’s media uploader, and then paste it into the body of the post.

Don’t forget to name your post. E.g.: ‘Great Podcast – Episode 1 – The Beginning’. Now create a tag in WordPress for your podcast, which you can add in the Tags box, on the bottom right. This tag can be anything, usually the name of your programme: But make sure it’s all one word.

Now when you go to https://YOURACCOUNT.wordpress.com/tag/YOURTAG – you’ll see all the episodes of the podcast.

Copy the link to the tag RSS feed, which should be – https://YOURACCOUNT.wordpress.com/tag/YOURTAG/feed

9) Make a Feedburner Feed

Go to Feedburner.com and ‘burn’ a new feed, using the RSS feed you copied from your wordpress tag above. Give the new feed the name of your podcast and go through all the set up on the feedburner site. The resulting feedburner feed is the feed you’ll submit to itunes etc.

14) Create a graphic for your podcast

You’ll need a 1400 * 1400 pixel graphic to use for iTunes, which you again upload directly to WordPress, and link via your feedburner settings. If you don’t have one big enough, just expand an existing image, no ones looking at it in that definition on itunes away. Check the feed is working by viewing it on feedburner.

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15) Submit your podcast feed to iTunes

You can do this here. You’ll need iTunes installed for this to work, and you’ll need at least one episode already in the feed to have it approved. Approval usually takes a couple of days to a week. Make sure not to include profanity in the podcast name or description as this will get your feed rejected. If your show is explicit, tag it as explicit at this stage (and in Feedburner).

16) Making Additional Episodes

Be sure to include the relevant tag every time you make a new post. Each new post, correctly tagged and with an audio file attached, will become a podcast episode. The name of the post will be the name of the episode in iTunes and in the podcast RSS feed on Feedburner.

17) Publicise

Submit your Feedburner RSS feed to Stitcher and any other third party podcast lists you’d like. Stick your show up on Facebook etc.