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]

The government stands up for free speech

Alan Forrester is none too impressed with the evident wish of the state to stamp out any alternatives to state directed indoctrination

The government has recently published a review on home education written by Graham Badman in which he expresses a laudable concern for free speech for children:

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives children and young people over forty substantive rights which include the right to express their views freely, the right to be heard in any legal or administrative matters that affect them and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:

“Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Yet under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views.

What remedy does Mr Badman recommend? He recommends that all home education families should be registered with the Local Education Authority and:

At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.

Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.

Of course Mr Badman really has no interest in free speech and is just a political hack hired by the government to write crude propaganda for their campaign to destroy home education and he can’t even do that properly. Mr Badman is quoting a definition of free speech from the United Nations. Many of the UN’s member governments are tyrranical kleptocracies run by thugs who murder or torture anyone who dares to openly oppose them. Seems to me they don’t really like free speech too much and quoting them is a big giveaway.

Mr Badman takes their advice because he worships the power of the state and feels the need to have people who like to play at being an international state dictate what he says about fee speech. Free speech is freedom from having your speech dictated by anybody else, including the British government. The British government violates free speech rights on a massive scale by imprisoning children in schools in which they are not allowed to speak or go to the toilet without permission. Instead of solving this problem Mr Badman proposes to secure a child’s right to free speech by forcing parents to dictate what their children what their children will think in twelve months and if they fail to indoctrinate their child the child will be locked up in one of the government’s prisons for children schools.

A new, pathetic low for the British government.

Marking for life

This story will not help the blood pressure of our regular readership, I am sure:

A flagship database intended to protect every child in the country will be used by police to hunt for evidence of crime in a “shocking” extension of its original purpose.

How marvellous. Makes one’s heart swell with pride.

ContactPoint will include the names, ages and addresses of all 11 million under-18s in England as well as information on their parents, GPs, schools and support services such as social workers.

Tremendous. I almost want to sing “Land of Hope and Glory” (sarcasm alert).

The £224 million computer system was announced in the wake of the death of Victoria Climbié, who was abused and then murdered after a string of missed opportunities to intervene by the authorities, as a way to connect the different services dealing with children.

The death of this girl, like that of all children in the care of monstrous parents, is a terrible story but the creation of this database is not the answer. Punishment of the offenders surely is (I’ll leave it to the commentariat for what those punishments should be).

It has always been portrayed as a way for professionals to find out which other agencies are working with a particular child, to make their work easier and provide a better service for young people.

No doubt.

However, it has now emerged that police officers, council staff, head teachers, doctors and care workers will use the records to search for evidence of criminality and wrongdoing to help them launch prosecutions against those on the database – even long after they have reached adulthood.

And this, of course, is the nub of the issue. Governments down the ages, whether in the real world or in the dystopias of fiction writers, have sought to spot criminals ahead of their actually being criminals. I remember watching the Spielberg movie “Minority Report” – loosely based on the old Philip K. Dick novel – and wondered just how long it would take for NuLab or its equivalents to come up with an attempt to do stuff like this. Now it is becoming reality. But although the creators of such databases may like to kid themselves that they are protecting the little ones, in truth, they are placing dangerous power in the hands of state officials that can be used against people for the rest of their lives.

I am glad the Daily Telegraph is creating a stink about this. Question: will the Tories pledge to shut this database down? (Cough, nervous laughter).

On parents, religion, and children

My comment the other day about a rather imperfect – if interesting – article about the late F.A. Hayek suddenly turned into a comment thread argument about whether religious parents have the right to have the genitalia of their children adjusted (as in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc cultures). Now, I am not all that interested in the specific health or medical arguments here, although I would be interested if those with actual medical knowledge could give some ideas on the value or otherwise of said. What interests me, as a defender of liberty, is what should be the boundaries on what parents should observe when it comes to raising their children when it comes to actions that actually affect the bodies of their kids. For example, suppose a parent of religion/ideology X decided that he or she really wanted to put a small tattoo on the forehead of their son with the symbol of their family faith? Suppose the operation to do this was painless. Would it be justified? (In my view, no).

I put this point because in the comment thread attached to my post about Hayek, one commenter called Gabriel argues that banning such operations on children done for religious reasons constitutes discrimination against his faith. Such an argument is, I think, an example of multiculturalism gone mad.

On a related theme of protecting kids, David Friedman – son of the great Milton Friedman – has thoughts.

The Home Office in action (II)

It may be disgustingly authoritarian, but it is risibly incompetent too. It appears the Home Office has just spent a very large amount of UK readers’ money making a vast online advertisement for NO2ID. We’d despaired of reaching ‘the youth’ ourselves, too expensive. I’m very glad they decided to do it for us.

With audience participation. Which embarrassingly for the Home Office shows ‘kids’ not to be quite the suckers they’d hoped. Enjoy.

Reasons for getting rid of this government, ctd

Up to a quarter of all adults are to be vetted to ensure they are not kiddie-abusing maniacs, as part of an effort to protect youngsters under the age of 16 in cases such as voluntary organisations and so on.

And people wonder why there is sometimes a shortage of volunteers for things like youth clubs and the like. The destruction of civil society, of the bonds of trust that are vital to such an organic, grass-roots cluster of non-state institutions, is remorseless and deliberate. This government, in its totalitarian way – I use that word quite deliberately – wants to make all human interactions subject to its tests. The consequences for the long term health of civil society, and of the ability of people to grow up normally, are ignored.

None of this is to say that the issue of child abuse is not serious, nor deserving of legal action to protect children from child abusers, who deserve the strongest punishment. I really do wonder, however, whose interests are served by the sort of vetting processes that the state is embarking upon. One hears examples of how adults are sometimes reluctant to help a kid because they are frightened they will get some sort of complaint later on. That cannot be good.

It is sometimes lazily assumed that this present Labour government is not “radical” like its predecessors. But that is only a superficial issue. In substance, this is arguably the most dangerously radical government in modern times in terms of its view of how individuals interact not just with the state, but with each other.

Gamers are real people!

A story here which says that fans of computer games are not all weird. I have never quite understood this whole media fixation with games just because they are on a screen rather than face-to-face. A lot of games draw on all kinds of creative energies and are arguably far better for cognitive development than just passively watching TV. As for the arguments about various social pathologies, well, this book is an excellent corrective to the social scolds, pointing out that games involving superheroes and vanquishing monsters is actually a very healthy thing.

Coming next, research shows that people who like to play poker with their mates on a Friday night, play tennis on a Sunday afternoon, do the Times crossword, are also normal. (Sarcasm alert).

Of course, by some yardsticks of social behaviour, gamers, or other hobbyists, are “weird”, but then what counts as normal, exactly?

Personally, I think the world could use a bit more eccentricity, not less.

Portrait in courage

In a piece of character assassination on Cherie Blair in the Observer (one so comprehensive that she would almost certainly describe it as ‘misogynistic’, if it came from a male writer), Catherine Bennett makes at least one palpable hit. Forget the inane boastfulness and obsessive self-justification against every suggestion of venality:

She complains how the Daily Mail ‘ratcheted up its attacks on me’, demanding to know – though Mr Blair could have answered just as well – if Leo had had the MMR. Doctors were also keen for the Blairs to help subdue a scare which threatened public health. Now she discloses that Leo had, indeed, been vaccinated, though she would not save lives at the time if it gave ‘the press chapter and verse’.

I wonder, though, whether it is not even worse than that. It is possible that the Blairs might have withheld the information, not out of genuine concern for their family’s privacy (effectively discounted by the present revelation, as Bennett points out), nor out of pique at the press, as in Cherie Blair’s current account, but for political reasons: that they preferred to keep silent, and thereby to encourage the spread of dangerous infectious diseases against which they had quite properly protected their own infant, in order not to cross the noisy anti-vaccination lobby.

Since we saw them use family events to political purpose at much the same time, it would be entirely consistent with their known behaviour. The Blairs have never avoided telling other people what to think when they stood to get a tactical political gain, or when they believed it necessary for their great projects for the world. But concealing an actual belief in vaccination looks like sacrificing other people’s children to calculation of the most self-regarding kind.

Samizdata quote of the day

Every child should have authoritarian parents, because then they’ll grow up to be libertarians.

-Oddball Australian journalist Paddy McGuinness, as recounted at his funeral this week by Bill Hayden.

These kids these days…

A long time ago, when I was a wee nip of a lad, my parents would keep me quiet by turning on the television and having me watch such classics as Sesame Street. Little did they know that what I was watching was not suitable for children! I know that now, because the early seasons of Sesame Street have come out on DVD and they have been given a parental advisory, no less.

The first few seasons have just been released and come with, of all things, a warning.

“These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grownups and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child,” the warning reads.

“Sesame was created in the ’60s, and it was a bit edgier, if you will,” said Sherrie Rollins Westin, executive vice president of Sesame Workshop.

What parent today would want their child to see kids running through a construction site or jumping on an old box spring? Scenes like the ones included on the new DVD would probably not make it into today’s program now.

“We wouldn’t have children on the set riding without a bicycle helmet,” Rollins Westin says.

And what’s that little girl doing with that man?

“In the very first episode, Gordon takes a little girl’s hand who he’s just met on the street, befriends her and takes her into his home to give her ice cream,” Rollins Westin said. “That’s something we wouldn’t do on the show today.”

And rightly so. You wouldn’t want your kids to turn out like us dreadful Generation X old fogeys, after all!

No such thing as a free lunch

I am prepared to believe that there may be some things (though not many of them) that are of such public benefit that they should be provided at the general expense. That is not to say that I think that if something is good it should be compulsory. Let alone that if it sounds like a good, that is justification for its being compulsory.

But when you are dealing with the state, “free” does not mean ‘free as in free speech’, nor does it mean ‘free as in free beer’. It means ‘compulsory’. If the government is advertising free beer, it wants everybody drunk; prepare to have your head held under if you don’t feel like a tipple just now.

Hence this Guardian headline, a classic of pusilanimity against spin:

Plan to give every child internet access at home

The actual story is somewhat, er… more nuanced:

Parents could be required to provide their children with high-speed internet access under plans being drawn up by ministers in partnership with some of the country’s leading IT firms.

[…]

The initiative is part of a major push which could also see the parents of every secondary school student given access to continuous online updates on their child’s lessons, performance and behaviour as early as next year. So-called “real-time reporting”, which was first mooted in the government’s children’s plan last month, could be extended to primary schools within two years.

A sub less versed in the cult of the benign state might have abstracted that as:

“Big business bonanza: Parents must pay for children to be watched at home by online officials.”

More Balls

Further to my recent post about new measures from our Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Foreign readers may be surprised that we have a department for children schools and families (sic). I, on the other hand, am alarmed: even the name indicates the totalitarian intent of the New British state.

Prompted by a clip on TV news, I have now found the full text of Ed Balls’s speech given to the Fabian Society yesterday. Didn’t the resolution to announce new policy to parliament, not outside bodies – in this case a para-Party body – last a long time? It bears close reading:

Excerpt I:

Our ambition must be that all of our young people will continue in education or training.

That is what our Bill sets out to achieve – new rights for young people to take up opportunities for education and training, and the support they need to take up these opportunities; alongside new responsibilities for all young people – and a new partnership between young people and parents, schools and colleges, local government and employers. ….
But it is important to make clear that this is not a Bill to force young people to stay on at school or college full-time. They will be able to participate in a wide range of different ways through:

* full-time education, for example, at school or college
* work-based learning, such as an apprenticeship
* or one day a week part-time education or training, if they are employed, self-employed or volunteering more than 20 hours a week.

But the Education and Skills Bill is a bill of responsibilities as well as a bill of rights.

Because if young people fail to take up these opportunities, there will be a system of enforcement – very much a last resort – but necessary to strike the right balance between new rights and new responsibilities.

Phew – not necessarily locked up in schools then, but on probation otherwise (as will of course any employers be – they’ll have to have enhanced CRB checks, of course). This is enlightening as to what Mr Brown means when he talks about a Bill of Rights and Duties, “building upon existing rights and freedoms but not diluting them – but also make more explicit the responsibilities that implicitly accompany rights…”. It confirms what many listeners will have guessed: you have the right and freedom to do exactly what the big G tells you to. This is the traditional line of Calvinism and Islam, is it not?

Don’t you love that “our young people”? Völkisch, nicht wahr?

Excerpt II:

The second building block [after mucking around with exams and the curriculum some more – GH] is advice and guidance – so that young people know and understand what is out there, and can be confident that they can make choices that will work for them.

First, this means local authorities taking clear responsibility for advice and guidance as part of the integrated support they offer to young people – making sure that youth services, Connexions and others who provide personal support to young people come together in a coherent way.

Second, clear new national standards for advice and guidance.

Last week my colleague Beverley Hughes set out clearly what we expect of local authorities as they take responsibility for the services provided by Connexions.

Third, a new local area prospectus available online, already available from this September in every area – setting out the full range of opportunities available, so that young people can see the choices available to them clearly in one place.

So not only will whether you do something state-approved be checked, but what you do will be subject to state advice and monitoring and made from a menu provided by the state. For the uninitiated Connexions is a formerly semi-independent, and notionally voluntary, database surveillance scheme for teenagers set up under the Learning and Skills Act 2000.

Joined-up thinking?

Exciting news for British schoolchildren. Early leavers ‘will not be jailed’ (PA). Except of course they will be under control orders, in effect; incarcerated and enslaved part-time. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” ran the old slogan. This policy is pretty clear evidence that what’s offerred to many in the state school system is not education. If you have to force people to take something, then it is not plausiible that it is of use to them. There is no problem selling education and training to those who want it. Even very poor parents in London often find money for extra lessons or private day-schooling on top of the taxes they pay to imprison other people’s children. The prison function of the system reduces its value to others.

Put aside for the moment whether it should be paid for from taxes or not. How much more cost-effective would state education be if it were voluntary, and the classes were full of eager participants and even the grumpiest teenagers present were those whose parents or peers had persuaded them it was worthwhile? How much better would the curriculum be if it had to attract an audience by being interesting or useful, rather than prescribed by bureaucrats? How much better would teachers feel about their work if it didn’t include the roles of commissar, bureaucrat and gaoler?

Teenagers who refuse to stay in education until they are 18 will not face jail, Schools Secretary Ed Balls insisted ahead of new legislation to raise the leaving age.

The reform – hailed as one of the biggest in education for half a century – will be included in the first Queen’s Speech of Gordon Brown’s premiership on Tuesday.

Mr Balls said the legislation, which will raise the age to 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015, will be backed by a “robust regime” of support and sanctions including spot fines and court action.

Since if you are at school you are barred from employment without the permission of the authorities, I imagine they will pay the fines with the proceeds of robbery and prostitution. Well done, Balls!