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.
There’s a story appearing in the Times and the Guardian upon which anti-semites and proto-totalitarian atheists are feasting like flies on dung. Read the comments to see what I mean, and bear in mind that those you see are the ones the mods did not think bad enough to delete. Yet the story that has brought forth such rage does not describe any sort of religiously-inspired persecution, cruelty or mutilation. No one is being forced to do anything. If it were not for the malign involvement of one particular sinister organisation this same story would raise a slightly condescending chuckle from the average broadsheet reader at the eccentricities of religious enthusiasts, before being forgotten.
The sinister organisation that is stirring up religious hatred is Her Majesty’s Department of Education. Sorry, Department for Education. Don’t blame me for not keeping up; the D of E / DfEE / DfES / DCSF / D for E changes its name more often than an outfit selling dodgy timeshares.
Back to the story. Apparently there is an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect called the Belz, some of whose adherents live in Stamford Hill, a part of North London where many Hasidic Jews of several different denominations make their home. This particular sect, the Belzers (both that name and “the Belz” seem to be in use), run a couple of schools. It seems that the Belzer top rabbi sent out a decree saying that women should not drive and that children attending the sect’s schools would be turned away if their mums turned up to collect them by car. Absent the government’s interference this would have been quietly dealt with in the obvious manner as described in the Times story “However, several women drove large people-carriers, apparently to collect their children from school, but parked some distance away”, and that would have been an end to it. But no. Woop-de-do, the government is on the case:
Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has begun an investigation into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect whose rabbis have banned women from driving children to school.
Mrs Morgan, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people, they are breaching the independent school standards.”
Consider that for a moment. A government minister pronounces on whether the voluntary and entirely legal behaviour of certain British women is “acceptable” to “modern Britain”, the role of giving or refusing acceptance on behalf of sixty-four million individuals having apparently been added to the DfE’s ever-changing remit while nobody was looking. The minister then adds that failure on the part of a so-called independent school to actively promote an officially approved emotion is in breach of some official standards.
Now the Belzers could be said to have brought this interference upon themselves if they either accepted government coin to run their “independent” schools or signed up for these “independent school standards”, whatever they are. (The papers seem remarkably coy about whether these schools are truly private or wholly or partially state-funded. I expect they are hiding something damaging to the narrative.) But when the government regularly uses legal harassment to make it next to impossible to run a private organization without accepting some government “help” and acceding to government-set standards, it is hard to blame those running the Belz schools if they did give in to the men from the Ministry. They were probably told that if they paid this symbolic tribute then they would be left alone.
What business is it of anyone else if a woman chooses to accept, or to pretend to accept, a religious ruling not to drive? Is driving compulsory now, that choosing to cease doing it is “unacceptable” to the Secretary of State? What business is it of anyone else if independent schools and independent parents come to an agreement about which pupils shall attend a particular school that is based on conditions mutually acceptable to them? So the religious ruling and the conditions of attendance seem absurd to you and me? So we and Nicky Morgan would order our acceptably modern British lives better than these relics do? So what?
I am usually a sceptic towards the idea of “dog whistles”. This is a political metaphor from the States which is meant to describe the way that allegedly racist Republicans allegedly use coded language that seems harmless but carries a secret nefarious meaning at a frequency that only fellow racist Republicans can hear. Oh, and Democrat newspaper columnists can hear it too, for some reason. Coded racism can really occur, as can racist Republicans, but most of the time this is just a way of accusing people of racism for political advantage without the necessity of providing any evidence.
But I could come round to the belief that political dog-whistles do exist. There must be some explanation of why the trivial doings of this homeopathically tiny Jewish sect of a sect are bringing forth such passionate denunciations from journalists and their readers. I think it is because the Belz act towards women like Muslims do but are not Muslims. By righteously raging at the Belz for their half-hearted pretence at oppression of women you get to demonstrate how you totally would rage at their Muslim equivalents for their much more effectively enforced actual oppression of women – only they don’t happen to be in the newspaper today. And how convenient that the Belz are few in number, low in the hierarchy of victimhood favoured by the left, and do not turn to violence when criticised.
As a bonus the last paragraph of the Times story contains a tacked-on paragraph showcasing a completely different way that the state, working in partnership with people of faith, can stir up resentment between Jews and non-Jews:
Aurelie Fhima, 23, has won £16,000 damages from Travel Jigsaw of Manchester, a travel firm, after her job application was rejected. She had said that she did not want to work on Saturdays because she observed the Jewish law of not working on the sabbath.
Congratulations, Aurelie, for your pioneering and profitable use of discrimination law. Who would have guessed that a working for a travel agent would involve working on a Saturday, the only day when most working people are free to visit travel agents? Good thing for you that the travel agents were not gay; your unprogressive religion would not have scored highly enough to trump them then.
Some decisions made for an infant are not easily undone. Circumcision, for instance. Hence the controversy on this blog. Or the decision of what language the child will hear first, and whether and when a second one is taught. This topic seems to generate similar anger for similar reasons.
My long post, a sequel to this one on how those who wish to preserve minority languages are self-destructively fixated on the use of force as the only possible means of doing so, is stalled. A line about how Welsh-speaking parents should be free to delay teaching their children English if they wish grew until it took over the post. I have cut off that part as one cuts off the end of a… worm. Let’s see if it can live independently and wriggle off into some new direction of its own.
We are libertarians, right? We defend fee-paying schools, religious schools, selective schools, single-sex schools, schools where the children do not have to attend lessons, “unschooling” and homeschooling. We do not wimp out from defending all these just because they may not be where we would choose to send our own children. Yes, I meant Islam. Islamic schools must be free to exist on the same grounds that Islamic speech must be free to exist. Compared to many of the controversial types of school above, the average Welsh, Maori, Irish Gaelic or Navajo medium school is beloved by all. I must say, I would prefer that no school were funded by force, i.e. by taxation, but that happy state is at present no more than a dream.
As for schools, so for languages. We defend everyone’s right to his or her own language and culture, this time joined by practically the entire developed world. It was not always so here in the UK, nor in the rest of the English speaking world, and even now there are many countries where minority languages are still suppressed covertly and overtly. In modern rich countries the boot is very slightly on the other foot, but by the standards of world oppression it’s not a big deal.
As for languages, so for passing on your language to your children. The idea that being bilingual confers a cognitive advantage is not utterly universal, but it is very widespread, and, for what it’s worth, intuitively makes sense to me. I have never met a bilingual who wished they were not one; I have met several people who lament that they could have been raised bilingually but were not. Fine for the kids, then… but maybe not so fine for the minority language. Bilingualism does not seem to be stable. “Half the world is bilingual,” say the enthusiasts. Yes, and half the world’s languages are in danger of dying out. Welsh, the minority language I know most about, is comparatively healthy with its half million plus speakers, but its trendline gently noses downwards. Every Welsh speaker also speaks English. That’s the trouble. There is this myth that when an English person comes into a pub all the locals start speaking Welsh. They don’t. On the contrary. I have lost the link for this*, but when I saw it I believed it instantly from personal observation: there is research to show that when a single person who only speaks English joins a Welsh-speaking social group every other person in the network switches to English, out of politeness. And then comes the internet, and pop music, and the TV, and the adverts, and the whole great wave of English… increasingly, Welsh-schooled or not, young people in Wales seem to be jumping in and enjoying the surf. Often they are sad later that they have let their Welsh go, but gone it has. The same pattern of decline applies to young speakers of other languages spoken in proximity to English.
Some might calculate that only way to ensure the survival of these languages is to increase the exit costs.
→ Continue reading: The morality of not teaching your child English
Via Tim Blair and David Thompson, I came across this thoughtful philosophical discussion compèred by Joe Gelonesi of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?
The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment.
Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.
‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.
‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’
Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.
So, what to do?
According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.
‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’
It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality. For this, Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.
‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.
I hesitate to add anything to David Thompson’s takedown. I would almost call it an exorcism. Thompson writes:
Conceivably, there are quite a few parents and children who would like to escape a state education similar to my own, where those deemed overly studious ran the risk of being bullied, tormented or whipped across the face with bootlaces, thanks to the attention of the school’s dozen or so budding sociopaths, who amused themselves, in corridors and in class, with apparent impunity. A state school, a comprehensive, where objects of discernible value were routine targets of vandalism and theft, and where the teaching of basic grammar was thought inegalitarian and therefore superfluous. A conceit embraced by other ‘progressive’ educational establishments.
But it’s not all Thou Shalt Not:
“In contrast, reading stories at bedtime, argues Swift, gives rise to acceptable familial relationship goods, even though this also bestows advantage.”
Ah, this “we” would allow.
“Swift makes it clear that although both elite schooling and bedtime stories might skew the family game, restricting the former would not interfere with the creation of the special loving bond that families give rise to. Taking the books away is another story.”
No, “we” won’t take your books away. So there’s that.
The one thing I feel compelled to add is that the philosopher (I think it is Swift rather than Brighouse who is being quoted) does concede that abolishing the family would be “a really bad idea”. He goes to some lengths to explain exactly why private schools should be abolished but reading bedtime stories should be permitted. No doubt all three, Gelonesi, Swift and Brighouse, feel genuine frustration that the rubes in the audience have got themselves so worked up. Why, the whole point of the theory of “familial relationship goods” is to show that reading to your children and other forms of passing on privilege within the domestic sphere can be justified!
Gelonesi is quite clear that Swift and Brighouse are defenders of the family:
Although it’s controversial, it seems that Swift and Brighouse are philosophically inching their way to a novel accommodation for a weathered institution ever more in need of a rationale for existing.
And there is the metacontext: the family is in need of a rationale for existing. From philosophers.
Philosophically, Swift and Brighouse’s argument that parental care is an acceptable deviation from the straight road to equality seems weak to me. If equality is the destination, the supreme principle, then familial love should be abolished.
Just today I learned (via Hans Bader) that Oberlin, supposedly one of the great liberal arts colleges in the world, has been in a tizzy because of a speech by the rather mainstream conservative feminist Christina Hoff Summers, which supposedly made students feel “unsafe” well in advance. And so on. In no examples that I have seen has there been any actual threat or prospect of violence against the students complaining that they feel “unsafe.”
This is a huge threat to the future of free speech nevertheless. Today’s college students are going to be tomorrow’s judges, and if they truly believe that “safety” means “never having to deal with opinions that disagree with one’s cherished beliefs,” then censorship has a good chance of gaining the upper hand over freedom of speech. After all, public safety can be a justification for suppressing speech, as with the “fighting words” doctrine.
– David Bernstein
When I read this:
Head teachers in Cheshire have warned parents they will report them to the authorities if they allow their children to play computer games rated for over-18s.
“We are trying to help parents to keep their children as safe as possible in this digital era.”
… I concluded the best way to keep your children safe is to home school them so that they stay as far away as possible, not from GTA, but from power obsessed busybodies like these people.