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]

Illegal schools

Here is a BBC story from a couple of weeks ago: Thousands of children taught in ‘illegal schools’. Similar pieces appeared in the Times, the Guardian, and other newspapers. When this story came out I listened on the radio to an interview on the subject with some Ofsted guy, either the Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted by the BBC or one of his minions. Whoever it was, he came across as so evasive on one particular point that by comparison even the BBC interviewer was plain-spoken. From the way Ofsted Guy spoke of these illegal schools as places where only “religion” was taught you’d think clicking on the BBC Bitesize GCSE Religious Studies page makes a red light flash in GCHQ, and from the way he spoke of “radicalisation” you’d think that all roots resulted in the same flower. Oh, and from the way he spoke of these schools being “illegal” you would think that they had been convicted in a court of being illegal. The BBC interviewer pressed him and eventually got him to admit that the alleged illegality was merely his opinion, not having been tested in court, and that “some” of these schools were Islamic.

That’s progress of a sort. The Guardian article linked to above does not mention Islam at all but has a quote from a disgruntled former pupil at a Charedi school. We should all be very grateful to the Charedim and the Belzers. When one simply must have someone other than the Muslims to point to, they are there. They ought to start an agency and charge for their services: “Jews in Hats: the safe option for all your denunciation needs.”

The Times says the unauthorized schools are “predominantly Islamic”.

So far this post has almost written itself. The usual pathetic fear of naming Islam from the establishment, the usual pushback from angry commenters, the usual opportunity for bloggers like me to use up old out-of-code packets of sarcasm from the bottom of the freezer. But now things get a little odd and diffuse and unsatisfactory.

I would like to offer a few thoughts regarding three points. (1) Not for the first time, the efforts of the media to conceal that some minority are disproportionately involved in some disfavoured activity has resulted in the public overestimating the involvement of that minority; (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear; and (3) there is no evidence that these little informal schools, including the Muslim ones, do any worse than the state schools at either education or terrorism-prevention. There is some reason to suppose they might do better in some circumstances despite worse facilities. Many children turn to these schools having suffered bullying at normal schools. Another benefit is that the presence of an alternative helps keep more traditional types of schools on their toes.

Taking point (1) first, scroll down to the end of the BBC story with which I started this post. It says, “Update: This report contains new information from Ofsted, which had previously said most of the schools involved were Islamic or Jewish.” The following line seems to have been inserted into the main text since it was first published: “Roughly a third of them [the unregistered schools] were Islamic and a sixth either Christian or Jewish.” So fully half of them are not religious! I’m guessing hippies. Daft but not scary.

Point (2). If this whole fuss were any more of a smear you could use it to test for cervical cancer. Let us look at the BBC article in particular.

He said his inspectors found schools operating in warehouses and old factory buildings, and the establishments were “often charging parents for the privilege”

Oh, the horror. They weren’t in pretty buildings and charged a fee. Did Sir Michael Wilshaw ever stop to think what the fact that people, often rather poor people, would rather pay to have their children taught in an old warehouse than not pay to have them taught in a purpose-built school implies?

He said the children were in “very serious danger” and not just from the “filthy” premises, with open drains running through some of them.

I call bullshit. There is dirt a-plenty in modern Britain but there really aren’t that many buildings with open drains running through them any more. I looked on Zoopla and “Open sewer in middle of room” was not offered as a search term. Depend on it, “some” means “one”, and that was probably an ambiguous case.

“If the people in these institutions are not carefully vetted and they are not, then the wrong sort of people could be looking after these children,” he said.

It is undeniable that they could be. It is also undeniable that not a week goes by without a newspaper account of some carefully vetted right sort of person teaching in an official school being revealed to be a kiddy fiddler. I don’t claim that vetting is useless, but its efficacy is greatly overstated. Frequently the effect of CRB forms and other box-ticking exercises is to reduce vigilance. People think the paperwork is correct so all must be well.

“And they could be associating with people who have extremist views.”

Which takes us to point (3). Again, it is undeniable that these children, meaning Muslim children, in unregistered schools could be associating with extremists, meaning Muslim extremists. Like Muslim children in state schools definitely do. You want to see Islamisation in schools? This is Islamisation in schools:

Investigations by Ofsted and the Education Funding Authority in 21 schools found evidence of an “organised campaign to target certain schools” by Islamists.

Golden Hillock School, Nansen Primary School, Park View Academy – all run by the Park View Educational Trust – Oldknow Academy and Saltley School were placed in special measures after inspectors found systemic failings including the schools having failed to take adequate steps to safeguard pupils against extremism. Another school investigated, Alston Primary, was already in special measures. A sixth school was labelled inadequate for its poor educational standards and twelve schools were found needing of improvements. Three schools were commended.[3]

Ofsted expressed concerns about an exclusively Muslim culture in non-faith schools and children not being taught to “develop tolerant attitudes towards other faiths”.[3] The inspections found that head teachers have been “marginalised or forced out of their jobs”. Ofsted found that the curriculum was being narrowed to reflect the “personal views of a few governors”. Teachers reported unfair treatment because of their gender or religious beliefs. Ofsted found a breakdown of trust between governors and staff and that family members had been appointed to unadvertised senior leadership posts[3]

Parkview Education Trust were found to be in breach of the Education Funding Agreement by failing to promote social cohesion, failing to promote the social, moral, spiritual, and cultural development of pupils, failing to promote balanced political treatment of issues, and failure to comply fully with safeguarding issues concerning criminal records checks.[50]

Note that this happened in state schools, and they weren’t even the dreaded “faith schools”. Also note that the much vaunted criminal records checks went by the wayside.

Birmingham is not the only place where all that vetting and inspecting that state schools get proved ineffective. Here is a story from London: School of Jihadis: Why have six former pupils of the ‘Eton of comprehensives’ been linked to terror? The July 7 bombers were products of British comprehensive schools. One of them even worked at one. Of course vast numbers of pupils go to state schools and do not emerge as mass murderers. But when a high official raises fears that “illegal” schools might incubate terrorists, it is legitimate to reply that we know that “legal” schools have incubated terrorists.

A determined and cunning would-be child abuser or would-be terrorist recruiter would not direct his attentions at some wretched hedge school with half a dozen pupils. He would go for richer pickings.

A slap in the face becomes a kick in the balls for the Education nomenklatura

A fresh instalment in the case of the man, the heroic Jon Platt, prosecuted for taking his chid out of school in term time for a holiday, but was acquitted by Magistrates. Scandalously, bureaucrats on the Isle of Wight appealed against the decision of the Magistrates to throw out the case, only to find that the High Court has found ‘no error of law’ in the Magistrates’ decision, so the acquittal remains. This has now blown back in the face of the bureaucrats, as this decision sets an unwelcome precedent with two High Court judges giving a ruling on the law, and meaning that for years, bureaucrats have harassed parents and got many to pay fixed-penalty notices on what was likely, in most cases, to be a wholly wrong interpretation of the law. As Mr Platt put it:

“Is there really 100,000 parents who are so criminally incompetent that it warrants dragging them to court?”

It appears that the scale of the problem is vast:

According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.

And are the bureaucrats saying ‘Oh well, the law is the law, we must respect it’? If they are, I can’t hear them.

This is, of course, great news for parents in England and Wales who may now take their children on holiday in term-time without a realistic prospect of a prosecution. It also means that the old and absurd complaint about prices and supply-and-demand, ‘Oh look, holiday prices go up at half-term, how exploitative blah, blah, blah, regulate the holiday industry…‘ will be less easy for buffoons and villains to make out, and there will be a more economic use of resources in the holiday industry, taking use one more step away from the Stone Age.

What’s not to like when the light of freedom flickers more brightly?

How I generally approach the “no platforming” issue at universities, other

With all the furore about students “no platforming” those whom they dislike, for whatever reasons, it is worth recalling that a core problem for libertarians is that while making universities fully private, and thereby removing this behaviour as a public policy issue requiring political interference or comment, would be an answer to a degree, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. Also, even if universities were all private, such as the UK’s University of Buckingham, there is still a good case for the owners of said to make the case that universities aren’t, if they deserve the title of universities, meant to be “safe places”. I thought about the point when reading a recent Facebook comment and I wrote this:

Universities are funded, on the whole in countries such as the UK, by taxpayers, and via loans, the students. Now, if we had a purely free market in higher ed, then the institutions could, conceivably, set their own rules about debates and whatnot. (Vive la difference, etc.) But even if they did, the people running a university worthy of that term realise that one of the key reasons for attending a uni in the first place, however it is owned, is to broaden the mind and come into contact with debate, to learn how to debate, how to identify errors and problems, and so on. And these “no platform” people, even if they think they are liberal, have no conception of what a liberal education really means. Of course, if a private debating society wants to make it clear up front that it will not invite persons for various reasons, it can of course do what it likes, in the same way that an editor of a newspaper can choose to run letters or not, to moderate blog comments, or not. A journalist is not obliged to print letters from people that might be libellous, for instance. In the current state-run context of academies, however, taxpayers are entitled to expect that universities and other places respect free expression as a default position, subject only to the avoidance of speech deemed threatening to public order as defined under English Common Law and where specific threats are issued against people. (Hopefully those caveats are pretty tight for the purposes of argument.)

I like this quote, expressed with usual diamond-hard clarity, by Ayn Rand, on free speech and what it does and does not involve:

While people are clamoring about “economic rights,” the concept of political rights is vanishing. It is forgotten that the right of free speech means the freedom to advocate one’s views and to bear the possible consequences, including disagreement with others, opposition, unpopularity and lack of support. The political function of “the right of free speech” is to protect dissenters and unpopular minorities from forcible suppression—not to guarantee them the support, advantages and rewards of a popularity they have not gained.

The Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .” It does not demand that private citizens provide a microphone for the man who advocates their destruction, or a passkey for the burglar who seeks to rob them, or a knife for the murderer who wants to cut their throats.

With tax-funded universities, though, there is the case of whether such an organisation should ban, say, a free market radical like the late Miss Rand from speaking, on the grounds that she “advocates their destruction”. Or should a current UK university, funded as they are, host speakers who are, for example, preachers of hate against Jews, Americans, white males, entrepreneurs, scientists, logicians, or indeed any other of the sort of persons who are probably on the receiving end of the current “safe spaces” stuff. Should we wait for such places to be privatized while this situation persists? My brief answer is that the default setting must be let people of any kind speak on a taxpayer-funded academy unless the persons so speaking are clearly and identifiably at war with a country (such as a figure who is, or has, served in ISIS, or some other hostile force). I am not sure this is a very clear answer, though, because defining “at war” clearly varies.

Meanwhile, the madness continues, such as against the difficulty of STEM subjects.

Finally, for some light relief, as a pisstake on university life that is timeless, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim is a great read.

 

Indirect advertising

Academies are paying comprehensive schools to take troublesome pupils, a study claimed yesterday, indicating that schools are finding stealthy ways to be selective.

It was suggested that thousands of children are being pushed out by schools desperate to improve their results. Some failing schools are closing and reopening with a smaller intake as a way of excluding difficult pupils, according to the Centre for High Performance, run by Oxford and Kingston universities.

I expect there to be a storm of outrage.

And a rise in applications to those academies so named and shamed. One “difficult” child can ruin the education of dozens of others. Parents know and fear this. If the elite truly wanted to improve the education of the masses, they would give comprehensives the power to exclude as well. But then what would happen to those children no school would take? That would happen. No school would take them. They would not be educated, by their own choice.

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.

“White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here …”

I liked one of the comments on this piece, which reports on a piece of feminist glaciology.

Take it away, commenter “Schacar Mevsky”.

Employing whiteness theory, I hypothesize that the authors are attracted to the glacier because it is white, especially at the “peaks” of the mountains, while the brown run off is down “low.” White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here but infects the study from start to finish. The authors try to mask this by cultural appropriation of terms like “postcolonial analysis” and “feminist glaciology,” but they manifestly privilege phallocentric Western techno thinking. They construct binary, deontological “evidence,” having failed to consider that the glacier they are raping with their instruments is sacred to the Peruvian indigenous peoples, who have sacrificed 16-year old girls to it for millennia because its water “contains its sacred powers” (p. 95). Where, finally, in this allegedly subversive study are the Discourses of the Diasporic Imaginary of the marginalized? The authors privilege the glacier as an “icon.” But what about the Discourses of the iceberg? Of the lowly snowball? Of the ever-maligned piss hole in the snow?

This notion might attract non-comedic attention from academia. Maybe it already has.

The above mockery makes a bit too much sense to be five star academic bullshit, but the guy should stick at it. What he gets so right is the way that these idiots quite quickly reach the stage of trying to out-idiot each other. And by the way, in case you are wondering, “Diasporic Imaginary” is not a misspelling of “Diasporic Imagery”, or some such slightly less confusing thing. This is a reference to actual academic discourse.

Those piss holes in the snow take me back a few decades. I do love a bit of Michael Caine discourse.

Just how bad and how widespread is the kind of nonsense that is lampooned in the above comment? Are all academies in the Anglo-Saxon world as intellectually deranged as some parts of some of them clearly are? Or is it merely that Anglo-Saxony is huge and contains lots of academies, and so if you look for any particular sort of academic insanity you will find it?

Harvard – Jacks of all trades (and Jills, and ‘Julls’*) but Master of none

The University of Harvard has decided to eliminate the job title of ‘Master‘, (but not the degree title) for certain members of staff after protests that the title had connotations of slavery, although they maintain that there is no connection between the protests and the change, and degrees at ‘Master’ level are unaffected.

Harvard has not accepted that the use of “master” was a link to slavery, but it has responded to a campaign for a name change.
It will mean a change in job title for 24 members of staff – but will not affect other uses of “master”, such as a master’s level degree.

Of course, with one apparently trivial point conceded, other demands continue:

Student campaigners are also calling for a change in the official seal of Harvard Law School, with a sit-in being held this week.

The seal includes the coat of arms of 18th Century college donor Isaac Royall, who as well as establishing the college’s first professorship in law, was a notoriously brutal slaveholder.

Well yes, seals belong on the shore, in the seas, or perhaps at Lake Baikal etc., so I find some common (seal) cause, and harbour no ill-will.Seal

Otherwise, I have to say that I know next to nothing about American Universities, and I could not name the (5?) members of the ‘Ivy League’ with any certainty, but I do sense in this a canary dropping drowsily off its perch in the coal mine of self-referential academia as the flatulence builds up, with no outlet for its escape.

* Inclusive terms for those who are not ‘Jacks’.

Update: Harvard Law School has yielded to protests about its crest, which I assume is the same as the ‘seal’ issue. A flock of these, they are.

Failing to understand

“Top universities are failing poor students”, said the Times headline. I was concerned. What exactly were the top universities doing to cause them to fail in their obligations to the poor students? If I had read that the universities were failing to process student loan applications in a timely manner I would have been distressed. A student finance screw-up is no joke if the family does not have much spare in the bank. If I had read that universities were disadvantaging poorer students by requiring that they pay for ostensibly optional but practically compulsory extras in order to complete their courses I would have been outraged. If I had read that the academic staff were marking down students for irrelevant attributes correlated with class such as accent I would have been sceptical – my experience of academics is that their biases tend the other way – but I would have certainly wished a stop put to it, if it were confirmed to be happening.

If, if, if. So many ways those smooth Oxbridge types could be letting down the young proletarians under their charge. Then I read the article.

The proportion of poorer students at Britain’s leading universities has stalled over the past decade and has even fallen at some institutions.

About a sixth of students from disadvantaged backgrounds started at Russell Group universities last year, compared with a third of wealthier students.

On average, students from poorer homes made up 20.8 per cent of new undergraduates in 2014/15 compared with 19.5 per cent a decade earlier.
Millions of pounds has been spent by universities to widen access and attract students from deprived neighbourhoods. Oxford and Cambridge took the lowest proportion of students from poorer backgrounds out of the 24 Russell Group universities, according to analysis of official data by the Press Association. At Oxford 10 per cent of students were from disadvantaged homes while at Cambridge it was 10.2 per cent. Ten years ago, poorer students made up about one in eight of Oxbridge entrants.

I should have guessed. “Top universities are failing poor students” is just one of those little in-jokes favoured at High Table. What it means is “State schools are failing poor students”.

There should be room in our hearts for pity…

for the striking London black cab drivers whose hard won skills have been rendered obsolete by Uber and Addison Lee, just as we should remember with pity the thousands of drivers of hansom cabs whose hard-won skills with horses were rendered obsolete by the coming of the internal combustion engine. I am not being flippant or sarcastic. To lose one’s accustomed livelihood to new technology is a tough spot to be in, and there will be many reading this, some of them highly paid at present, who should look at Trevor Merralls’ situation and tremble.

But that pity should not extend to offering to keep Mr Merralls forever in the style to which he has become accustomed simply because he was born working class, or to stifling the opportunity for self-employment that Uber offers to its drivers (also working class), or to depriving Londoners who could not afford black cabs of the ability to take a cab at a reasonable price at any time day or night, and which will, as one of the Guardian commenters put it, “actually go to exotic destinations like Lewisham”.

Defending free speech, making a name for yourself, and having a whale of a time

I like these people:

Free speech campaigners have secretly evaded a student union ban on two speakers who were deemed to have broken rules on causing offence.

The speakers, Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-styled men’s rights activist, and Julie Bindel, a feminist writer, were originally due to address the University of Manchester’s free speech and secular society in October to debate tensions between feminism and free speech until the student union stopped them.

Student leaders said that Ms Bindel’s views on transgender people were “transphobic” and that Mr Yiannopoulos was a “professional misogynist” and “rape apologist”.

However, Manchester’s free speech society proved to be made of sterner stuff. Its members created a new association, used a lecture hall as a venue and publicised the event only on the morning that it was to take place.

The Times, today.

Several aspects of this story lead me to wonder if I have slipped into a nicer timeline than the one I’ve been living in recently.

It was about students standing up for free speech against po-faced authoritarians. In 2015.

The university didn’t surrender. In 2015.

Better yet, it actually helped the good guys:

The university authorities themselves were part of the plot, agreeing to provide a lecture theatre as a venue for the rescheduled event and arranging for a large retinue of security staff.

More fun things to note include the fact that the process of nimbly outwitting the lumbering Students Union by adroit use of social media was obviously huge fun. These days if you want to build up a bank of happy memories of a rebellious youth to comfort you in your old age, you rebel against the Students Union. You could make a name for yourself that way. So could the Student Union apparatchiks make their names, as sour, whiny prematurely-withered prunes who couldn’t stop the music. No one will boast that they were part of Manchester Student Union in the good old days.

I have a personal grudge against Julie Bindel, and I could get irritated by Milo Yiannopoulos. Three cheers for them both for this.

Maybe the best thing to do is shut these places

It is indeed interesting, and worrying, that students are so sensitive and censorious today. But I have a question for the hand-wringers, the media people, academics and liberal thinkers who are so disturbed by what they’re calling the ‘Yale snowflakes’: what did you think would happen? When you watched, or even presided over, the creation over the past 40 years of a vast system of laws and speech codes to punish insulting or damaging words, and the construction of a vast machine of therapeutic intervention into everyday life, what did you think the end result would be? A generation that was liberal and tough? Come off it. It’s those trends, those longstanding trends of censorship and therapy, that created today’s creepy campus intolerance; it’s you who made these monsters.

Brendan O’Neill.

The bigotry and oafishness of these places is now a well-known feature of life in the US and here in Europe. These places are causing damage; these young people are, remember, future voters and legislators. Have we perhaps reached a stage where not going to such a place is in fact a desirable state?

O’Neill argues that the current generation hasn’t arrived at its intolerance from nowhere:

The Yale snowflakes are pathetic, yes. But what’s even more pathetic is the ridicule of the snowflakes by the very generation who created this world in which words are seen as wounding, judgement is considered harmful, and everyone is treated as fragile. Having claimed for 30 years that offensive discussion, or porn or racist newspapers, create a ‘hostile environment’, can the older generation really be surprised that students are now setting up Safe Spaces? The Safe Space is the logical solution to the notion that words and images cultivate a ‘hostile environment’.

Item: Another example of just how messed up American education now is.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

Universities seem increasingly to focus on the so-called student experience over the students’ education, with universities putting huge resources into public relations, league tables and student surveys. University has become the place for teenagers to go when they wish to delay being an adult, rather than being the bridge to independence it was once considered to be. As someone who chose to leave university, it felt like I was simply putting my life on hold for three years, when I really wanted to jump into the world of work. This feeling was further enhanced by spending time on campus, where it felt like all students were being kept together and shielded from the outside world.

Jennifer Richards