Academic freedom once meant protection from politics; now it means protection for politics.
A recent essay by Heather Macdonald in City Journal is getting lots of attention. Her piece was on the narrowing horizons of those who seek to teach the humanities in our places of higher learning. She ruffled feathers, and wrote this zinger of a response to one of her critics. Here is an excerpt:
And that surely is the point. Western civilisation was reinvigorated when the lessons and musings of the Ancients were rediscovered. So much so that the “Grand Tour” was considered part of an educated person’s life, albeit only one that the rich could then afford. True progressives should want, and have wanted, this sort of grand tour of the intellect to be made available to all. No educated person would pass through life ignorant of Cicero; Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius or Lucretius. Instead, however, some of today’s educators would happily Balkanize us all inside narrow, self-regarding “victim groups”. (This is not just a fault of the academic Left, by the way – there are variants of this on the hard right, as far as I can see, when such folk fret about the impact of “alien cultures”).
Tim Sandefur also has comments on this topic:
I corrected the name of the publication to City Journal. My goof.
“A decade or more ago, I used to have conversations with journalists who reflected that their industry’s business model was collapsing, but who somewhat sheepishly hoped the collapse wouldn’t come until they reached retirement age. Now I have the same kind of conversation with academics.”
- Glenn Reynolds, Mr Instapundit himself.
We all love those daft things that school children put on exam papers – How long is the menstrual cycle? Three feet; that sort of thing. So, here are some from a hundred years ago (when they didn’t have such things as menstrual cycles):
Some of the others might turn out to be even funnier if I understood them.
I have only one thing to add to this Telegraph blog post by Daniel Hannan.
It is this: I am glad that Mr Hannan and other newspapers have not followed the usual timid practice when reporting stories of this type and obscured the name of the culprit. A storm of public anger is about the only weapon we have against the likes of Mrs L Small, head teacher of Littleton Green Community School, Colliers Way, Huntingdon, South Staffordshire WS12 4UD.
And if “our R.E. coordinator Mrs Edmonds”, she being the one with whom parents are invited to “discuss this further”, does not wish to join her boss in the stocks, she should direct her further discussion towards disassociating herself from the literally fascist tactics Mrs Small uses.
The L stands for “Lynn”, by the way. Lynn Small, head teacher of Littleton Green Community School, the one who coerces parents by threatening to harm their eight year old children.
“Almost half of the UK’s recent graduates are working in non-graduate jobs, demonstrating that pain continues to be felt in the labour market despite the start of economic recovery.”
- The Financial Times, today (behind a paywall). I’d add that this also suggests that some of the degrees that people have acquired – at some cost – are not marketable, and unlikely ever to be so. The whole idea that at least 50 per cent of the school-leaving population should go straight into higher education needs to be re-thought.
By coincidence, over at the Econlog blog, Bryan Caplan has this to say about the issue of “malemployment”. That is a term that deserves to be used more widely.
Which is better? A technically superb photo of something you’ve seen many times before, like a wonderful still life oil painting? Or, a technically very average photo of something remarkable, that you never thought you’d live to see?
If you are in the mood for the second sort of photo, and you are someone who likes the kind of ideas that Samizdata seeks to spread, you should definitely take a look at this:
This is a group of Chinese people to whom Tim Evans of the Cobden Centre, seated proudly in their midst, was speaking, on Friday September 20th, about … Austrian Economics. And yes that is people from China China, not from some already strongly capitalistic outlying fragment of China.
My thanks to Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home for telling me about this. Gibbs writes:
Of this exercise, Tim Evans writes:
Austrian Economics is very persuasive to a certain sort of economically curious person, because it is basically a statement of how things are. It describes a world of realities which are true whether you care about or accept their truth or not. This stuff is true no matter what else you choose merely to believe. You can, in principle, understand that Austrian Economics describes how the world is, yet still believe that the world ought to be a centralised despotism or a socialist nirvana, or maybe even some combination of the two.
But, it is rather difficult to stick with such beliefs on a permanent basis. Once you accept the truths that Austrian Economics tells you, it is difficult not to find yourself believing that the world ought to be different from the tyrannical way that a lot of it still is.
We need these government training schemes to produce skilled workers, they have not learnt any meaningful skills in, er, government schools
- Samizdata commenter Mr. Ed
No one was killed, no one was injured. Do not excite yourselves.
From Adrian Hilton in the Spectator: Revd Dr Alan Clifford’s ‘homophobic’ comments referred to the CPS
“How did it come to pass that so many teachers and students, in some of the freest and most scientifically accomplished nations in the world, entertained such an illiberal, illogical, and politically repressive account of the relationship between science and society? Part of the answer may be that universities generally, and humanities departments in particular, are more backward than is universally recognised. For most of their history, universities functioned primarily as repositories of tradition. It was professors, not priests, who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, and who drove genuinely progressive students like Francis Bacon and John Locke to distraction with their endless logic-chopping and parsing of ancient texts. Similarly it was twentieth-century humanities professors who, confronted with the glories of modern science and the triumph of the liberal democracies over totalitarianism, responded by denigrating virtually every political philosophy except totalitarianism.”
- The Science of Liberty, by Timothy Ferris, pages 257-8.
This is the Timothy Ferris who writes mostly about science, not the Timothy Ferris of the “Four-hour body” and other such works.
Instpundit gleefully links to an article entitled (my reaction to this sentence was to see if SQotD was already taken – it was):
Why? Well, partly of course it’s all the usual public sector stuff, about a big old nationalised industry getting worse and worse, no matter how much other people’s money they throw at it. Unions won’t allow bad teachers to be fired. Politicians won’t allow bad kids to be disciplined. And so on. Public sector education in the USA is a like a great big Detroit, spreading out across the entire country. All true.
But I think there’s another big force at work here. Another key sentence in this piece, aside from its title, is a quote from Walter Russell Mead:
A few years back, I did a spell of education blogging, and one of the big conclusions I reached was that countries where teaching was a much coveted career were at a fundamentally different stage in their development to ones where teaching was what you did when you couldn’t get a better job. Basically, in develop-ing countries, teaching was and is a great job. Everyone knows education will separate you from the pack of the dirt poor, but the jobs you’ll then get offered will still be pretty terrible, so a very appealing job is to be a teacher. But in a develop-ed country, where the economy has worked out how to make seriously good use of educated people, teaching is strictly a second best, if that. The result is this odd flip-flop. The more developed the country, the crappier its schools tended to be, at least compared to what you might have expected. Lavishly funded, crammed with textbooks and computers, but still a horrible disappointment.
To put all this another way, what I am saying is that the familiar slogan saying that Those Who Can Do and Those Who Can’t Teach applies with unequal force, depending on what else there is to do.
I recall reading, long ago, in a book by the late Peter Drucker (he was one of the first people I ever read who told it like it was about the public sector), about how computers had, for the first time in human history, created an abundance of well paid jobs for mathematicians. Given that the world now cries out for maths geeks, to do things like programme computers, analyse share prices, stop bridges collapsing, streamline cars, predict market share, sort out logistics in warehouses, and so on and so on and so on, it’s no wonder that maths teachers are on the whole not what they used to be. The same principle applies to education generally.
A hundred years ago, the typical American kid’s best chance of learning good stuff about the world was to go to a school and pay attention to the teachers there, who tended to be far better educated than his own parents. Now, increasingly, the same kid would do better to skip school and spend time with his now far better educated parents. (The big question now being: can those parents spare the time? Suggestion: a developed economy that is in an economic slump is especially good at encouraging home education.)
As commenters will surely explain, there are plenty of other influences that explain the current inexorable rise of home education, the fact that computers are now to be found in every home – now, in just about every hand – being another obvious fact about this story. But I do believe that the tendency, now as opposed to a century ago, of well educated people in rich countries only to want to be teachers if they are too mediocre to do any better is a big part of this story.
In response to a rather gushing article by Sally Gardner, a dyslexic novelist, entitled “Dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a gift”, one Alftser responded that if he or she had been given that gift “I’d find the receipt and get a refund.”
I laughed at that. However stripped of all the self-dramatisation (a pardonable sin in a novelist) and the wishful bagging of Einstein, Steve Jobs, and any public figure who ever misspelled a word as fellow dyslexics, Ms Gardner’s story is quite impressive: she is a winner of the Carnegie Medal who did not learn to read until she was 14. In a sense one cannot quarrel with her assessment that her own dyslexia has been a gift – and not just because she has been successful but because one cannot quarrel with anyone’s experience of their own lives. Well, one can quarrel with it. I’ve known people who could quarrel with the speaking clock. But you know what I mean.
Sadly, for most dyslexic people dyslexia is a pain in the part of the anatomy that I will exercise sufficient self control to not make a joke of misspelling, because dyslexics have heard all the jokes before. Most children with dyslexia are not going to have their inner genius unleashed even when presented with positive role models because they do not have an inner genius. Humanity is like that: mostly supplied with the inner genius slot vacant. Dyslexia may indeed, as Ms Gardner suggests, promote the skill of navigating the world by other means than arranging the written word, but in most cases this skill is simply not as useful as the one it substitutes for. That’s tough, but not insurmountable. Surmount it.
For a minority of dyslexics and quite a few pretenders, the diagnosis is a means to get free laptops, extra time and marks in exams, and a ready made victim identity.
Free stuff takes a very strong spirit to refuse. The extra marks are OK, so long as you do not end up deceiving others or yourself. But DO NOT TAKE THE VICTIM IDENTITY. It is poison.
ADDED LATER: G K Chesterton once said, “The dipsomaniac and the abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink.” I think that those who, like Sally Gardner, regard themselves (without irony) as being special because of their dyslexia (“Dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a gift. It means that I, and many other dyslexic thinkers can portray the world through images because we think in images. I can build worlds, freeze the frame, walk around and touch. I can read people’s faces, drawings, buildings, landscapes and all things in the visual world more quickly than many of my non-dyslexic friends. I paint with words; they are my colours.”) and those who embrace victimhood are making the same mistake. They both regard dyslexia as an identity and not as a condition.
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