We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Discussion point: is there any good reason why Momentum shouldn’t have a children’s wing?

From the Guardian:

Momentum to start children’s wing to boost ‘involvement in labour movement’

Momentum, the social movement set up to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is launching a children’s wing called Momentum Kids.

Momentum is organising a fringe festival, The World Transformed, alongside next week’s Labour party conference in Liverpool and Momentum Kids will launch with a creche for parents attending the event.

Momentum claims it will then spread nationwide, aiming to provide cooperatively run childcare, including breakfast clubs, for parents who want to get involved in political activity but find it hard to fit around their caring responsibilities.

The new group is also aimed at “increasing children’s involvement in Momentum and the labour movement by promoting political activity that is fun, engaging and child-friendly”.

A delaying action

The SNP’s majestic advance to state surveillance of every child in Scotland has been slowed.

The Guardian reports:

Scottish plan for every child to have ‘named person’ breaches rights

Judges at the supreme court have ruled that the Scottish government’s controversial “named person” scheme for supporting children risks breaching rights to privacy and a family life under the European convention on human rights, and thus overreaches the legislative competence of the Holyrood parliament.

The supreme court has given the Scottish government 42 days to correct the defects in the legislation, which has been described as a snoopers’ charter by family rights campaigners, but said that it recognised that the aims of the scheme were “unquestionably legitimate and benign”.

The Scotsman has a slightly different, and I regret to say more realistic, take on the story:

Court rules against Scottish Government’s named person policy

The Scottish Government insists controversial new measures to appoint a named person for every child will still go ahead despite the UK’s highest court ruling the legislation at present is “incompatible” with European human rights laws.

[…]

The court ruled that information-sharing provisions proposed under the 2014 Act may result in disproportionate interference with Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a family and private life.

Note that the European Convention on Human Rights predates the European Union and its predecessors and is adhered to by several states outside the EU.

You can not carry that

Today I learned that Stansted Airport security will make you put your child’s comforter through the Xray machine. And before you get it back, if the beeper goes off, ask him to stand still on his own to have a wand waved at him.

My two year old boy sat down and screamed at the man. I was very proud.

Something they don’t want you to think about

Oh, they’ll report it. Every now and then, tucked away among “other news”. But not in any depth. The evasion is not conscious. Such a strange and disturbing story unsettles their deepest assumptions about humanity, about what is happening to the world. They would rather not think about it.

Link.

Sixty pages

Tom Peterkin of The Scotsman reports:

Revealed: what can happen when a Named Person reports on your children

The Named Person scheme is to be rolled out across Scotland in August but one father’s experience of the pilot rings alarm bells for its many opponents

The handwritten note on an official form read: “Mr Smith feels it is impossible to stop his youngest son from sucking his thumb as he needs it for comfort. Did not appear to take advice on board fully.”

The words, written by the two-year-old thumbsucker’s Named Person, sent a shiver down the spine of Andrew Smith [not his real name], a father-of-two young boys and a respected academic at one of Scotland’s leading universities.

Contained within a 60-page document that had been compiled about his family, the note referred to a blister which had appeared on the toddler’s thumb as a result of the childhood habit. It also suggested Smith contact his GP if the blister became “hot to touch or very red”.

Smith, whose name has been withheld to protect the identities of his children, grew more alarmed as he leafed through the document, the vast majority of which had been redacted.

The surviving extracts appeared to indicate that the minutiae of his family life had been recorded in painstaking detail for almost two years, under a Named Person scheme which has been introduced in his part of the country ahead of its final roll-out across all of Scotland in August. A separate note made by the Named Person charged with keeping an eye on the academic’s two little boys was concerned with nappy rash.

It says elsewhere in the story that someone – exactly who was redacted – had reported this man because his kid had a snotty nose. It is a standing joke how quickly you go from tut-tutting at that sight to sympathizing with the parent once you have children yourself. As one of the commenters to this story, “Badenoch”, says,

There is a lot in this act which gives control over a child and it contain some ‘deceptive’ language with words like ‘wellbeing’. What does that mean legally?

Excerpts from the act.

“the wellbeing of a child or young person is being or would be—promoted, safeguarded, supported, affected, or subject to an effect.

“assess the wellbeing of the child or young person by reference to the extent to which the child or young person is or, as the case may be, would be—Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible, and Included.

If a child picking blackberries falls into a shallow burn and siblings, friends or parents laugh at the child’s misfortune. Has the child been placed in danger, poorly supervised, bullied and excluded? Or Has it been encouraged, active, nurtured and included? Who decides and once written down, and read by a third party, can it then change into something sinister ?

Revealed: papering over the cracks does not actually repair them

More than 50 years of education reforms ‘have not helped social mobility’, “reveals” the Guardian

That is because the reformers’ response to observing the problem of underachievement among poorer children was not to cure it, nor even to explain it, but to conceal it.

What the GIRFEC?

I am not even completely sure this is really a thing. Surely Andrew Duffin is having a big laugh at my expense. That has to be it.

The Scottish Parliament has passed legislation to appoint a ‘Named Person’ for every child in Scotland.

How bad can it be? Says a leaflet: “Being responsible means things like…Your child says sorry when they do something wrong…People who work with your child will check your child is responsible.”

Just take that in for a moment.

“Being respected means things like…Your child gets a say in things like how their room is decorated and what to watch on TV…People who work with your child will check your child is respected.”

How are they taking this over at Netmums?

I understand some could think it was intrusive, but I suppose the answer is if you are not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about. This country has nearly 70 million people in it now, but if this scheme saves one single child from abuse – then it has to be worth it.

A welcome slap in the face from the Magistracy for the Education nomenklatura

A gentleman living on the Isle of Wight took his school-age daughter on holiday to Florida in term time. The child’s absence from school was noted…

The Local Education Authority issued him with a fixed-penalty notice for £60, for failing to ensure that his child attended school regularly. He refused to pay this ‘penalty’ (a bureaucratic alternative to prosecution). The ‘fine’ was doubled (by the bureaucrats) to £120, he refused to pay, so he was summonsed to the Magistrates’ Court by the authority to face a charge under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 (from John Major’s time).

Sure enough, he argued, my daughter wasn’t in school, big deal. The offence was not made out. Here is the wording in question.

Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.

(1)If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.

So, for those (many) parents harassed, threatened and fined by bureaucrats, they have been acting as if the law required total attendance at school.

The rule of law has prevailed, the offence was not made out, on the prosecution’s case, the case failed. What troubles me is that I find that, in England in 2015, refreshing.

But as Mrs Thatcher once said ‘Just rejoice at that news!‘.

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s almost as if the NSPCC wants there to be an epidemic of child abuse. Which, in a way, it does. Not because it’s peopled by sadists, but because, as a semi-state-backed organisation established to protect children, its very raison d’être demands that it has some threat to protect children from. It has a vested interested in establishing child abuse as a clear and present danger; it is institutionally determined to ramp up fears of child abuse.

Tim Black

Raised in the fashion of their tribe

Tonight four terrified children are going to sleep among hostile strangers, torn away by force from their homes and their families because their parents committed the crime of living differently.

Tonight four children rescued from imprisonment and abusive parenting are able to take their first wondering look at the the wide world that had been denied to them.

Which is true? Search me. In my post of a month ago, “The morality of not teaching your child English”, I asked at what point the right of parents to raise their child according to their values must give way to the right of a child not to be cut off from the world. Language is not an issue in the real life story of the recent raid by the French police on the community variously known as the “Twelve Tribes” or “Tabitha’s Place”, but many of the other elements of my thought experiment, such as a self-isolating group not permitting their children to watch television or use the internet, are – allegedly – in place.

The Times reports:

Christian cult’s ‘racism, violence and child abuse’ leads to ten arrests

Police raided a fundamentalist Christian community that seeks to follow a 1st century lifestyle, arresting ten people and placing four children in care amid allegations of maltreatment.
The raid came following the launch of a criminal inquiry after a former member told prosecutors of the corporal punishment meted out by the Twelve Tribes community in southern France.

The group’s communities in France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere have long faced accusations of racism and of violence. They deny the claims and say they are misunderstood.
Jean-Christophe Muller, the state prosecutor in Pau in the Pyrenees, said 200 gendarmes accompanied by doctors had intervened at the group’s French base, a château in the hamlet of Sus, on Tuesday.

He said officers had been tipped off by the former member, but were stunned to discover a community of about 100 people cut off from the modern world.

“The children have never seen television or the internet and do not know what football is,” he said.

The Times story is quite similar to other reports in the French media. The sect has its own website, which has an English version. The existence of this website suggests that the Times may be wrong to claim that this sect prohibits the internet. Or the prohibition may not be absolute, or it may be applied to ordinary members but lifted for the elite or… any number of possibilities. One does not know which account to trust. No, make that “one does not know which account to distrust more”. Cruel and abusive cults do exist, but so do cruel and abusive governments.

The Twelve Tribes website gives their account of an earlier occasion when some children had been taken away from their parents by the German authorities in this link:

The parents of the children who were taken away permanently by the OLG Nurnberg are appealing the decision to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. There are a number of constitutional violations in the OLG rulings that must be heard by the honorable court. Here are some of them:

The court in its ruling admits that there is no evidence of abuse in the children. However, they reason that the mere beliefs of the parents are enough to justify taking away permanent custody.

In its reasoning the court takes the position that all spanking is abuse. The Jugendamt handbook says that all spanking is not abuse which supports what Parliament made clear in 2000 that the intent of the law was not to criminalize parents who spank

Ambitious police chiefs love operations like this. In 2008 David Friedman wrote a series of posts about the time when Texas police raided a ranch belonging to a group of fundamentalist Mormons and took large numbers of children into custody. Few of the dramatic initial claims of abuse were substantiated and the vast majority of the children were later returned to their parents, but only after many prevarications by the authorities that seemed motivated by a wish to deflect criticism of their heavy-handedness rather than out of any concern for the children. In “Taking Children from their Parents: The General Issue”, Friedman wrote,

Which raises the general question: Would it be better if governments had no power to remove children from their parents? It is easy to imagine, probably to point out, particular cases where such removal is justified. But in order to defend giving government the power to do something, you must argue not only that it can sometimes do good but that, on net, it can be expected to do more good than harm. Judging by what we have seen in Texas over the past two months, that is a hard argument to make.

This leads to a second question: Are there alternative way of protecting children from abusive parents? One obvious answer is that even if the state cannot take children away from their parents, it can still punish parents for the crime of killing or injuring their children. In my first book, I suggested a different approach: shifting power away from parents not to the state but to the children. Weaken or eliminate the legal rules that make it possible for parents to keep control over children, especially older children, who want to leave. Make it easier for adults who care about the risk of child abuse to offer refuge to runaways.

Wear it wild

Here is the current draft of a letter I am considering sending to the head teacher of my son’s school.

I am writing to share some thoughts about the upcoming Wear It Wild day and similar events. There is a good chance that none of this is news to you, but I want to make sure because I do not think that communication to schools from the Worldwide Fund for Nature conveys the whole truth about that organisation.

I am sure that on “Wear it Wild” day the children will have lots of fun at school and learn a lot.

However, while helping animals in need is uncontroversial, the Worldwide Fund for Nature is a political organisation and its ideas and methods are not.

The WWF espouses a particular worldview, philosophy, moral outlook and political agenda. The organisation lobbies governments. As a small example, before the UK general election they published a report entitled “Greening the machinery of government: mainstreaming environmental objectives”, which is currently available from their website under “About WWF” / “News” / “Make the government machine go green“.

This report reads like a party political manifesto. It contains recommendations about the role of the state, the structuring of the economy, the allocation of resources, the redistribution of wealth and the regulation of industry.

All this means that it is reasonable for people to disagree with the objectives and teachings of the WWF.

Wear It Wild is a very clever piece of public relations. Children are encouraged to dress up in return for what a recent text message from the school describes as a “suggested donation”. Since no child wants to be left out, this strategy relies on peer pressure, leaving no real room to opt out.

While I am not suggesting that the school should not participate in such events, I do have some ideas about how they might be treated:

  • I hope that the school treats organisations such as the WWF with due criticism and skepticism, in the same way that, while visits to and from industry are educational, National Coca Cola Day would be treated with criticism and skepticism.
  • I hope that ideas and information from the WWF are filtered before they reach the children by teachers who are aware of the nature of their origin.
  • I hope that primary-school-aged children are not made to worry unduly about how terrible the world is because it is full of evil people who are deliberately destroying nature. I am not intending to exaggerate but rather am predicting how my five-year-old son is likely to interpret simplified explanations of some of the WWF’s communication. For example, without due care, what the WWF calls “habitat destruction” and might be described by others as farmers trying to earn a living and to feed their neighbours, could be described by my son as “baddies hurting tigers”.
  • In future communications to parents about similar events, please stress that donations are voluntary and that participation is not dependent upon them.

Please take my ideas and concerns into consideration in this and future dealings with outside organisations.

Enid Blyton

I recently returned from a family holiday in a rented cottage. A nice thing about staying in such places is poking around in the bookshelves, and having time to read random books. I ended up reading aloud to my son Five On a Secret Trail by Enid Blyton, partly for the nostalgia.

The Internet didn’t exist when I first read Enid Blyton, so I know little about her but vague memories of adventure stories. Obviously I ended up looking her up on Wikipedia, and boy, is that page a hoot.

Blyton’s work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books

This sounds like fun, and it is.

Many of her books were critically assessed by teachers and librarians, deemed unfit for children to read, and removed from syllabuses and public libraries.

Awesome!

From the 1930s to the 1950s the BBC operated a de facto ban on dramatising Blyton’s books for radio, considering her to be a “second-rater” whose work was without literary merit.

By now I am very much starting to like Enid Blyton. Literary critics and the BBC hate her: this is strong praise in my book.

Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate from 2007 until 2009, wrote that “I find myself flinching at occasional bursts of snobbery and the assumed level of privilege of the children and families in the books.” The children’s author Anne Fine presented an overview of the concerns about Blyton’s work and responses to them on BBC Radio 4 in November 2008, in which she noted the “drip, drip, drip of disapproval” associated with the books.

Fred Inglis considers Blyton’s books to be technically easy to read, but to also be “emotionally and cognitively easy”. He mentions that the psychologist Michael Woods believed that Blyton was different from many other older authors writing for children in that she seemed untroubled by presenting them with a world that differed from reality. Woods surmised that Blyton “was a child, she thought as a child, and wrote as a child … the basic feeling is essentially pre-adolescent … Enid Blyton has no moral dilemmas … Inevitably Enid Blyton was labelled by rumour a child-hater. If true, such a fact should come as no surprise to us, for as a child herself all other children can be nothing but rivals for her.”[134] Inglis argues though that Blyton was clearly devoted to children and put an enormous amount of energy into her work, with a powerful belief in “representing the crude moral diagrams and garish fantasies of a readership”.

In other words, Blyton writes about children having adventures with goodies and baddies and it’s all jolly good fun, and the protagonists are middle class to boot. Literary critics hate that, and I rather like it. I also like the portrayal of children as independent and capable. In Secret Trail, George goes off camping on her own and her parents are unconcerned. The children suspect they are onto some criminals and they investigate instead of running for help. Someone complains of a broken ankle and Julian does not call an ambulance, he diagnoses it as just a sprain. Jolly good stuff.

Eric Raymond writes of literary criticism being at odds with good science fiction:

Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.

We do not want character development and moral dilemmas, we want adventure and sense of wonder. I can always spot a good SF read when the Amazon reviews are all complaining about two dimensional characters. Enid Blyton’s critics are unwittingly recommending her in the same way. My son wants to hear about camping in thunderstorms, hidden caves and mysterious ruined cottages.

There are also complaints of sexism and all the other isms. On the subject of the former in fiction, John C Wright (whose Golden Oecumene trilogy I reviewed, and, as I discovered Googling for that link, Brian Micklethwait received email about back in 2004) has interesting things to say.