Rant. Podnosh has unearthed a true gem: in a document called Public Benefit and the Advancement of Education, the Charities Commission are puzzling over whether educational institutions like posh schools can count as charities.
There are two main aspects to educative merit or value:
• is the subject capable of being of educative value; and
• is the process such that it delivers educative value?
I don’t care which way they jump on schools, but I’m very interested in the examples they use to illustrate their point. There’s a bit of chat about educational websites (yeah, they’re always riveting) before this charmer:
An individual’s blog, on the other hand, is not likely to be of educative value, as neither the subject matter nor the process is of educational value.
This is regrettably crass.
Bloggers often do things better than anyone else. In the Dore story we saw how a collection of bloggers were more capable of critically appraising and explaining the published academic evidence on a miracle cure for dyslexia than the entire British news media, and even better at offering practical advice. While the media pour praise over the work of vitamin pill salesman Patrick Holford, only bloggers have troubled themselves with an assessment of the evidence for his claims. In the comedy corner of homeopathy alone we have recently seen an online journal club that helped produce a critical commentary which was actually published in an academic journal, not to mention proper physicists pulling apart handwavey quantum claims and experiments designed to give false positives. The people at sciencebasedmedicine are constantly walking us through epidemiology, evidence based medicine, and applying these tools to everyday issues.
That’s just one tiny atom of the internet. The Make blog has more stimulating art, tech and engineering content than almost any school classroom; waxy.org and boingboing will fill your head with interesting ideas about how to deal with the changing nature of knowledge and copyright under the cover of geek funnies; Mindhacks is more interesting and informative than almost any educational resource I can think of; and Oliver Kamm, although I disagree with him on many things, will teach you how to call someone an arse using only posh words.
Without even thinking about what effect it might have on the people who read it, I can say for certain that writing here has had a huge impact on the way I work and think: it has made me more rigorous and more transparent in my reasoning, because I can get away with nothing; it has made me think about the importance of finding and linking to primary references, attributing ideas, sharing workloads, and collaborating. It’s also reinforced for me the value of open access publication, as I’ve seen more and more people from outside of academia who wanted to read academic papers, simply for their own interest and edification.
In science, the mainstream media has completely failed, dumbing everything down to the point where it would be comprehensible to a mass market which was never very interested, and neglecting the intelligent and informed. Schools don’t seem to do much better. Failing to stimulate society’s geeks has massive economic and cultural consequences: blogs – or should I say “people” – have stepped into that breech, doing it with no interest in money whatsoever, and if you’re too thick to spot that, then you’re too thick to make decisions about what counts as charitable.
Amusing titbit from Scott Walter.
Sharmila Nebhrajani is one of the commissioners of the Charity Commission. Sharmila is also COO of BBC Future Media & Technology, and this is where I get confused. The commission has a member who runs the BBC department that handles its digital content, website, and (I would assume) blogs and podcasts. The commission doesn’t see blogs as educational, yet the BBC continues to support Sharmila’s department in spite of a £36 million overspend.