“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”.
…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”.
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.
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.
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
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!‘.
I liked this posting from American economist Bryan Caplan:
Questions non-economists ask when I tell them I’m homeschooling my sons:
1. What makes you think you’re qualified to teach them?
2. Who are you to decide what your kids should study?
3. What about socialization?
4. How come you’re not teaching [insert pet subject here]?
5. Won’t this hurt your kids later in life?
6. Aren’t you hurting your kids’ development right now?
7. When will they interact with girls?
8. Isn’t there more to life than academics?
9. Aren’t you undermining social cohesion?
10. Why are you turning your kids into brainwashed freaks?
Questions economists ask when I tell them I’m homeschooling my sons:
1. Doesn’t it take a lot of time?
I suspect, though, that even economists might ask a few of the questions in the first list, if only because they will hold the same sort of statist ideology when it comes to schooling that the vast majority of other people, in my experience, seem to have. Even so, Caplan’s posting is food for thought and here is an earlier article by him about the homeschooling topic, with shedloads of links.
Rather suitably, following the link to a speech by Brendan O’Neill earlier on Samizdata, is this long, very troubling and hopefully widely-read item on the Atlantic Monthly. Excerpt:
The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.
There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.
But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.
Remember: the students who are moulded by this process will, in a few years’ time and in some cases, become politicians, business leaders, civil servants and others of influence. The question I ask is whether there will be enough persons not infected by this nonsense to still have enough clout in the public life of the West to resist this. Because a generation that is terrified of giving offence is not going to be all that effective at, say, facing up to existential threats to the Western way or life, or even less intimidating concerns.
Final thought: the authors note that part of the problem begins when children are young and protected, arguably to a dangerous degree, by parents and not allowed to play outdoors and be unsupervised and learn, early on, about the risks and bugs of real life. I think this might be at the core of the broader problem. And the lessons here don’t just apply to the US.
Via Lindsay Perigo, a New Zealand-based writer, former radio current affairs fellow, and general stirrer. As he says, if you are not offended by all of this, something isn’t working.
The Story of Admiral Nelson, Updated
Nelson: Order the signal, Hardy.
Hardy: Aye, aye, Sir.
Nelson: Hold on, this isn’t what I dictated to Flags. What’s the meaning of this?
Hardy: Sorry Sir?
Nelson (reading aloud): “England expects every person to do his or her duty regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion or disability”? What gobbledygook is this, for God’s sake?
Hardy: Admiralty policy I’m afraid, Sir. We’re an Equal Opportunity Employer now. We had the devil’s own job getting ‘England’ past the censors lest it be considered racist. Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t be calling you “Sir,” Sir, but rather, “Person of Consensus-Based Enhanced Authority.”
Nelson: Gadzooks, Hardy! Hand me my pipe and tobacco.
Hardy: Sorry Sir, all naval vessels have now been designated smoke-free working environments.
Nelson: In that case, break open the rum ration. Let us splice the mainbrace to steel the men before battle.
Hardy: The rum ration has been abolished Admiral. It’s part of the Government’s policy against excessive enjoyment.
Nelson: Good heavens Hardy! I suppose we’d better get on with it, then. Full speed ahead.
Hardy: I think you’ll find that there’s a 4 knot speed limit in this stretch of water.
Nelson: Damn it man, we are on the eve of the greatest sea battle in history; we must advance with all dispatch. Report from the crow’s nest, please.
Hardy: That won’t be possible Sir. Health and Safety have closed the crow’s nest. No harness, and they said that rope ladders don’t meet regulations. They won’t let anyone up there until proper scaffolding can be erected.
Nelson: Then get me the ship’s carpenter without delay, Hardy.
Hardy: He’s busy knocking up a wheelchair access to the foredeck, Admiral. Health and Safety again, Sir—we have to provide a barrier-free environment for the differently-abled, wheelchair-mobile.
Nelson: Differently abled? I’ve only one arm and one eye and I refuse even to hear mention of the words. I didn’t rise to the rank of Admiral by playing the disability card.
Hardy: Actually, Sir, you did. The Royal Navy is under-represented in the areas of the differently-sighted and the differently-limbed.
Nelson: Whatever next?! Give me full sail. The salt spray beckons.
Hardy: A couple of problems there too, Sir. Health and Safety won’t let the crew up the rigging without hard hats. They don’t want anyone breathing in too much salt either. Apart from the racism inherent in its whiteness, it’s full of sodium. Haven’t you seen the Ministry of Health adverts?
Nelson: I’ve never heard such rubbish. Well, break out the cannon and tell the men to stand by to engage the enemy.
Hardy: The men are a bit worried about shooting at anyone, Admiral.
Nelson: What?! This is mutiny!
Hardy: It’s not that, Sir, it’s just that they’re afraid of being charged with murder if they actually kill anyone. There are a couple of Legal Aid lawyers on board, watching everyone like hawks.
Nelson: Then how are we to sink the Frogs and the Spanish?
Hardy: That’s “residents of France and Spain,” Sir. And actually Sir, we’re not.
Nelson: We’re not?!
Hardy: No Sir, the residents of France and Spain are our European partners now. According to the Common Fisheries Policy, we shouldn’t even be in this stretch of water. We could get hit with a claim for compensation.
Nelson: But you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil.
Hardy: I wouldn’t let the ship’s Diversity Coordinator hear you saying that, Sir—you’ll be up on Disciplinary Report for Hate Speech.
Nelson: You must consider every man an enemy who speaks ill of your King. That’s a matter of black and white.
Hardy: That’s “monarch-person,” Sir. And your point is controversial and problematic, Sir. Apart from “black and white” being offensive to people of colour, we must be inclusive in this multicultural age. Now, put on your Kevlar vest. It’s the rule. It could save your life.
Nelson: Don’t tell me, Health, Safety and Disability. Whatever happened to Rum, Sodomy and the Lash?!
Hardy: As I explained sir, rum is off the menu and there’s a ban on corporal punishment.
Nelson: What about sodomy?
Hardy: Good news there, Sir—sodomy is now compulsory.
Nelson: In that case … kiss me, Hardy.
So farewell, Yanis Varoufakis. You used to be Greece’s finance minister. Then you resigned, or were you sacked? You took control of the Greek economy six months ago when it was growing. Yes, honestly! Growth last year ran at 0.8 per cent, with forecasts of 3 per cent this year. The government had a primary budget surplus. Unemployment was falling. Until you came along.
Varoufakis was a product of British universities. He read economics at Essex and mathematical statistics at Birmingham, returning to Essex to do a PhD in economics. With the benefit of his British university education he returned to Greece and, during his short time in office, obliterated the nascent recovery. The economy is now expected to contract by 4 per cent this year — an amazing transformation. Greece’s debt burden has increased by tens of billions and many people have emigrated.
But Varoufakis is not alone. Plenty of other visitors to our universities have been influenced by the teaching here and returned to their countries to wreak havoc.
James Bartholomew, on the malign effect, as he sees it, of UK education. My problem with this article is that it is inevitably selective and I wonder, for example, what would happen if you randomly selected a group of postgraduates from UK universities, now living abroad in countries such as India or Singapore, and polled them on their economic and political views. It seems from entirely anecdotal experience that most graduates, especially in the liberal arts, tilt left; I am not sure about the leanings in economics today – although I get the impression that the ideas of Milton Friedman, Hayek, von Mises et al are still seen as quite “extreme”. But there have, for example, been pro-market lecturers at places such as the London School of Economics, for all its socialist origins: Lionel Robbins and FA Hayek, to take two examples. Arthur Seldon, one of the original men at the pro-market Institute of Economic Affairs – an enormously influential think tank in its time – was educated at the LSE, and I know quite a few LSE alumni who are pro-market.
So yes, during certain periods of UK history when socialism/collectivism was fashionable, the folk who came out of university often carried terrible ideas with them. Today, though, I think the problem is more about culture and philosophy. Post-modernism still exerts a big influence, for example, and the damage wrought is not always as easy to chart as with economics.
Of course, these points lead us back to that thorny subject of the PPE (politics, economics and philosophy) degrees which several UK politicians possess. The PPE is very much an exam crafted to give a sort of rounded set of subjects that an administrator/political leader was expected to understand, and I have no firm views about this sort of degree – there is no reason why having one cannot be a very thorough form of degree at all. But studying a subject does not seem to correlate a lot to understanding – the current UK government is led by a man with a PPE and it wants to push up the UK national minimum wage, a form of economic illiteracy, if supposed political cunning.
Tim Worstall took a look at a document produced by the University of California: “Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send”. He found that “A person asking an Asian American or Latino American to teach them words in their native language” was a microagression. He then found that “Continuing to mispronounce the names of students after students have corrected the person time and time again. Not willing to listen closely and learn the pronunciation of a non-English based name” was also a microagression.
The comments, understandably, have focussed on the way that these guidelines put whitemalemiddleclassheterosexualcisgender people in the wrong whatever they do. The rules are literally impossible to obey. The safest policy is not to interact with blackfemaleworkingclassLGBTQ people any more than you must. This avoidance will be yet more proof of your prejudice, but it’s not like there are any possible circumstances in which you would be declared unprejudiced. Not that anyone nowadays seeks wisdom from a dead white male, but Tacitus could have predicted the result of all this in AD 98: “Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris.” The doctrine of microagression teaches that the victim classes are forever being injured by your acts. Let us hope that human nature has changed enough in the last nineteen hundred years that Tacitus’ observation that it is human nature to hate a person whom you have injured no longer applies.
What is it like to be the object of this code?
– Lonely. You will feel surrounded by enemies. And all outside your exact caste must be enemies: it is impossible for friendship to develop across the divides of privilege when every mundane interaction that might in other circumstances have led to friendship is fraught with tension. Thus one one of the main benefits claimed to accrue from diversity on campus is lost.
– Exhausting. You will be continually on the defensive, and for all your obligation to be constantly angry, passive and unable to control your own destiny. How could it be otherwise? You have chosen to centre your life on how your enemies perceive you. If black, your constant concern is what whites think of you; if female, what males think of you; whatever category you belong to defines you.
One of the attributes of status is that other people have to watch what they say around you, to mind their P’s and Q’s. The demands of political correctness can force high-status people to temporarily behave to low-status people in this respect as if their positions were reversed. But victim status is a very poor imitation of actual status. For one thing the apparent respect you get is gone the minute your back is turned – or a deniable microsecond earlier if the microagressor decides that he might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb and go macro. For another it’s, like, victimhood. You are officially a loser.
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.