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]

US education apocalypse comment

“Skeptical American employers, to remain globally competitive, will likely soon administer their own hiring tests. They already suspect that prestigious university degrees are hollow and certify very little. Traditional colleges will seize the moment and expand by sticking to meritocratic criteria as proof of the competency of their prized graduates.”

“Private and online venues will also fill a national need to teach Western civilization and humanities courses—by non-woke faculty who do not institutionalize bias. More students will continue to seek vocational training alternatives. Some will get their degrees online for a fraction of the cost. Alumni will either curb giving, put further restrictions on their gifting, or disconnect. Eventually, even elite schools will lose their current veneer of prestige. Their costly cattle brands will be synonymous with equality-of-result, overpriced indoctrination echo chambers, where therapy replaced singular rigor and their tarnished degrees become irrelevant.”

Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, classicist and Californian farmer, writing in the American Greatness website, December 2022.

There are, I am pleased to say, signs of pushback. UK-born historian Niall Ferguson and others are building a new university in Austin, Texas, while the evolutionary psychologist and writer Jonathan Haidt – co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind – is the moving force in the Heterodox Academy. That’s what I love about the US. In contrast to a rather tired Britain, the US retains this sort of can-do mindset in the face of imbecility.

A speakeasy for archaeologists

“Stone Age Herbalist” is a pseudonym adopted out of necessity by someone who wants to practise an activity condemned by respectable society: scientific archaeology. Their piece for Unherd is called “The Rise of Archaeologists Anonymous”.

Why do these academics seek to do in secret what they used to do openly in the universities? Because academic archaeology has changed:

Historian Wolf Liebeschuetz and archaeologist Sebastian Brather, to pick on just two, have both firmly insisted that archaeology must not, and cannot, be used to trace migrations or identify different ethnic groups in prehistory. To quote from Liebeschuetz’s 2015 book, East and West in Late Antiquity: “Archaeology can trace cultural diffusion, but it cannot be used to distinguish between peoples, and should not be used to trace migration. Arguments from language and etymology are irrelevant.”

At a stroke, this line of reasoning would essentially abolish several centuries of work unravelling the thread of movements and evolution of the Indo-European peoples and languages, not to mention the post-Roman Germanic Migration Period, Anglo-Saxon invasions, Polynesian and Bantu Expansions and almost all major changes in the human record.

and

This became clearer than ever following the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which saw archaeology departments and professional bodies across the world fall over themselves to pledge curriculum “decolonisation” and an explicit commitment to politicising the discipline. To quote from the “’The Future of Archaeology Is Antiracist’: Archaeology in the Time of Black Lives Matter”, published in American Antiquity:

“Consequently, Black archaeology has been and must remain purposeful in practice. It rejects research and practices defined in sterile, binary terms of objective-subjective positionality. Archaeology at historic Black sites must be conducted with an explicit politics… To the field of archaeology, it serves as a moral guide with the potential to elucidate historical wrongs and explore forms of contemporary redress.”

A helpful Finnish instructional video from 1979

Dear all,

As we wind down for Christmas, it is important to ensure that we keep ourselves safe, and I have found this wonderful but short instructional video, purportedly from Finland c. 1979, helpfully showing how to open a door correctly. I would recommend turning on the English subtitles for most of us, but other subtitles are available for those of us unable to understand the wonderful Finnish language.

I have a nagging feeling that this might have been a parody of ‘health and safety’ instructional videos, but if that was its aim, it has failed miserably to stem the tide.

Watch thou for the TERF

null

This photograph from today’s Times shows a sign put up at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in north London. The sign reads:

ZERO TOLERANCE
What is a TERF?
(Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
“Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist” ideology is a specific form of transphobia. The primary TERF assertion is that transwomen are not women, and accordingly have no place in women’s spaces.
This ideology also affects trans men, as TERF’s assert that people assigned female at birth, but indentify as male, shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces either.

Report + Support: icmp.ac.uk/report

An arrow points from the words “Report+Support” to a QR code where students can report instances of TERF ideology.

A fricking QR code. I wish this were satire.

“Music college accused of witch-hunt over QR-code transphobia alert”, reports Nicola Woodcock in the Times.

A college has apologised for displaying a sign asking students to report trans exclusionary radical feminist ideology, or Terf, using a QR code.

The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in north London was criticised for the sign telling staff and students that it had “zero tolerance” of Terf ideology, which it called a specific form of transphobia.

The term is used as an insult to people who have so-called gender-critical beliefs that biological gender cannot change.

The article went on to say,

Paul Kirkham, chief executive of the college, said: “Our intention, following discussions with our student community, had been to communicate the definition of Terf to help clarify what we considered to be growing misconceptions around what the term means. We got it wrong. The signage is clunky and we can see how it can be misinterpreted.” He added that the sign had been removed.

“Clunky” is not the term I would have chosen. While I do have criticisms of the wording of the sign, I must defend whoever wrote it against the charge that it was easy to misinterpret. Its meaning was entirely clear.

Whatever term you would have chosen, an interesting question is how well does the “Scan here to report heresy” strategy work as means to reduce prejudice against transgender people?

The British Social Attitudes Survey is the gold standard for long term monitoring of, well, British social attitudes, like it says on the tin. In 1983, when the BSA survey started, 17% of respondents agreed with the statement “Same-sex relationships are ‘not wrong at all'”. In 2018 it was 66%. The responses over the last four decades to most of the BSA’s questions on issues of sexuality show a similar pattern: there are small fluctuations year to year, but the trend of acceptance is basically an upward-sloping straight line.

But not for all questions. According to Table 5 on page 14 of the report of the 39th and most recent iteration of the BSA survey, in the surveys of 2016, 2019 and 2021 participants were asked their views about whether transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate. In 2016, 58% thought that they should be. In 2019 it was 53% – a little surprising to see a decrease, but as I said, the lines always fluctuate a bit. In 2021 the proportion agreeing that transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate was…

Go on, guess.

32%.

Exhibitionists like to know that others dare not object

Kayla LeMieux

“The kids here most definitely don’t think [it’s] normal…but realistically we can’t say anything,” said a person on Twitter who claims to be a student at Oakville Trafalgar. “Last year, the teacher was a man. I don’t think the school can fire him.”

Canada’s Post Millennial reports, “Canadian biologically male teacher wears massive prosthetic breasts to school”

The teacher is Kayla Lemieux and the school is Oakland Trafalgar High School in Ontario. Please note that there exist several other people with the same name, some of whom have been in the news recently.

The Daily Mail picked up the story: “Canadian high school defends transgender teacher who wore enormous prosthetic breasts underneath tight T-shirt to class”, and has plenty more pictures if you need to be convinced that this is not a joke.

Even after I was convinced that it was not a joke, I originally had plenty of jokes to make. But upon reflection I edited them out. This is not a funny story.

Kayla Lemieux’s motivations bear no relation to the motivations of a transwoman who was born male but simply wants to be female. Nor does Ms Lemieux want to be accepted as having an ambiguous gender identity. She does not want to be accepted at all. Kayla Lemieux wants to shock. She also wants the pleasure of knowing that the people she shocks dare not say anything. Better yet, she wants to have the pleasure of thinking that some of the people seeing her are secretly, even unwillingly, sexually aroused by her fetish costume. She is a teacher, so when I say “people” I mean “children she teaches”.

Imagine the sexes/genders were reversed, and a female-to-male transgender teacher turned up at school to teach the children while wearing an enormous prosthetic penis. Imagine – but the imaginary scenario scarcely differs from what is actually happening.

Let me be clear that I believe that adults should be free to alter their appearance in any way that pleases them. I would go further than most in defending people’s right to have body modifications that are designed to shock, though I would also defend the right of others to exclude such people from their premises, and that is one of the reasons why I would like to see less public space (which is open to absolutely everyone by definition) and more private space that is open to the public so long as they adhere to rules of behaviour. I would also, though more reluctantly, defend the right of a private school to employ a person with deliberately shocking body modifications as a teacher, and the right of parents to send their children there.

However, Oakland Trafalgar High School is a public school in the North American sense, a state school. Most of the families whose children attend have no other option. Even if that were not so, the pupil quoted at the beginning was correct to say, “I don’t think the school can fire him.” As the statement from the school says, “Gender identity and gender expression are protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code”.

And Kayla Lemieux knows it.

If we had…

…a free market in money then we wouldn’t have inflation. (Please note that with zero inflation prices can still move relative to one another.)

…a free market in housing then we wouldn’t have a housing crisis.

…a free market in healthcare then queues for cancer care would be much shorter, perhaps even non-existent.

…a free market in energy then – all things being equal – things would be looking a lot better for this winter. Of course, if we had a genuine free market in energy – all things not being equal – then polluters would be compensating their victims. This could lead to some very odd outcomes and I wouldn’t like to predict what they would be.

…a free market in education there would be a lot less wokeness and a lot less student debt.

…a free market in social media we would have pile-ons, doxing and cancel culture.

Samizdata word for today: paraprofessional

their paramilitary character must be understood in connection with other professional party organisations, such as those for teachers, lawyers, physicians, students, university professors, technicians and workers. All these were primarily duplicates of existing non-totalitarian professional societies, paraprofessional as the stormtroopers were paramilitary. … None of these institutions had more professional value than the imitation of the army represented by the stormtroopers, but together they created a perfect world of appearances in which every reality in the non-totalitarian world was slavishly duplicated in the form of humbug. (Hannah Arendt, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’)

After seizing power, the Nazi party ‘coordinated’ all the existing professional organisations they had already duplicated. Sometimes the party organisation was the direct instrument of ‘coordination’ but at other times it could be just the threat – the ‘coordinated’ organisation could survive and even thrive if it outdid its party rival in zeal for “working towards the fuhrer”. For people and for the organisations they led, out-radicalising your rival was key to survival.

David Burge described today’s ‘coordination’ technique in fewer words: Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Each organisation they gain helps the paraprofessionals conquer the next. In the US, coordinating education helped them coordinate the media step by step. The death of standards in those two then assisted coordinating some electoral processes, which in turn is now enabling more vigorous work on coordinating the military – and much else.

Meanwhile, the trains themselves may not run on time but those who run them are well-coordinated. If your bank is not doing much for your wealth, then it’s probably doing wonders for your pronouns. Medical organisations march in coordinated lockstep, from the psychologists to the pharmacists; even your pet had better get used to the care of a coordinated vet. And I could write so much more.

Paraprofessional: I think it is a word we need again today. And, like Hannah Arendt, I think its relationship to ‘paramilitary’ needs to be understood.

“Biting and hitting, overwhelmed around large groups of other children”

“Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened”, writes Martha Gill in the Guardian.

I had been beginning to forget that the Guardian occasionally publishes good journalism that expresses opinions outside the comfort zone of its readers. Ms Gill’s previous work had not led me to expect this example of exactly that to come from her. She writes,

Then there are the very young. During the pandemic, parents spoke heartbreakingly of having to tell toddlers to stay away from others and not to hug their friends. In May, research published by the Education Endowment Foundation claimed that lockdown had affected England’s youngest children worst of all. Four- and five-year-olds were starting school far behind, biting and hitting, overwhelmed around large groups of other children and unable to settle and learn.

It came of necessity, perhaps, but we need to admit it. From 2020 to 2021, we conducted a mass experiment on the young. In recent history, there is perhaps just one comparison point: evacuation during the Second World War. Only it’s the opposite experiment. In 1939, children were sent away from their parents. In the past two years, they have been shut up with them.

and

Lockdown Britain had all the aesthetics of fictional big-state dystopias – the empty city squares, the mass-testing centres, the tape around park benches, the twitching curtains of neighbours who would love the chance to report you to the police. It was easy to see then that something bad and lasting might be happening to us all. But the unworldly, futuristic atmosphere disappeared as infections cleared up – and life has mostly snapped back to normal.

But we have to remember what we did. Keeping a generation of children away from their classrooms and friends felt unnatural and harmful, because it was unnatural and harmful. We should at least be collecting far more data on the matter than we seem to be doing. We have, after all, done the experiment. Now we must bother with the results.

Ve’re askink ze qvestions!”

Last Wednesday, Jodi Shaw received a Hero of Intellectual Freedom Award – and got to rap on-stage in NYC, four years after Smith College told her she couldn’t because rapping while white was racist.

The freedom to rap while white is a form of free speech it has never occurred to me to pursue, but something Jodi said struck me.

“These terms are never defined … It’s just ‘social justice’.”

“And you’re afraid to ask,” she added, because “that might put a spotlight on you,” and people will think you are racist … According to Shaw, there was an “ever-present terror” at Smith “that any unverified student allegation of racism, or any other ‘-ism,’ has the power to crush our reputations, ruin our livelihood, and even endanger the physical safety of ourselves or our family members.”

It’s not the first time a movement has refused to define its central idea.

Himmler vehemently directed “not to issue any decree concerning the definition of the term ‘Jew’ … with all these foolish commitments we will only be tying our hands.” (The quote is from Himmler’s letter to Berger, July 28th 1942, Nuremberg Document No. 626.)

Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect. I’ve seen that spot-on description of how the woke operate applied so many times – to institutions. But it’s just as true of ideas. Totalitarians always gut the ideas they proclaim of all actual meaning. The woke wear the murdered carcass of words like racism (structural racism) or justice (social justice) as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Children without parents

Inevitably, it was Friday afternoon by the time Kevin [not his real name] was slowly and ineptly explaining in the headmistress’ office. All parents know what a talent children have for falling ill on Friday evening. The headmistress knew what a talent pupils have of presenting hard-to-handle problems on Friday afternoon.

Kevin had been acting up in class that morning – not unusual for either Kevin or the school, but this seemed different. The headmistress already knew somewhat about Kevin, of course, but only as three-in-the-afternoon came and went, did his full situation begin to emerge.

Years ago, mummy and daddy had little Kevin. Some years later, mummy and daddy had a falling out. Usually it’s the father who disappears first in this situation but in Kevin’s case it was his mother. Maybe she had some thought of retrieving him when she had a place he could stay and events just got on top of her – or maybe not. Kevin stayed with his father and step-mother, the new woman in daddy’s life. In time, this relationship too soured and daddy walked away from it, leaving Kevin cohabiting with his step-mum and, soon enough, his step-dad – a man she acquired. This occurred once or twice or thrice more – it was not entirely clear how many ‘step-‘s preceded the courtesy titles of the final ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ with whom Kevin was cohabiting when the Friday I’m talking about rolled round.

On that Friday, for reasons not worth detailing, Kevin’s step-(step-)parents were departing that habitation (whether in the same direction or in two different directions was uncertain) so other people could take vacant occupancy of it. It had been made clear to Kevin that he was not going to sleep there that night. He had no idea where he was going to sleep that night.

Of course, the Scottish government has assigned people, institutions and funding to handle this kind of situation. And of course, when you pay people to care, some work for the pay and not because they care (luckily for Kevin, his school’s headmistress was an exception). She was not surprised to discover, after she got her head fully round Kevin’s problem and phoned them, that the clock-watchers in the relevant social work department were almost all gone and no-one still there would take any responsibility or do anything before Monday.

Further questioning and checking elicited that Kevin had some kind of granny/step-granny/whatever living in the city. The headmistress managed to work out an address and phone number. Granny didn’t want Kevin – let’s be frank about it, he was not the kind of kid one instantly warmed to, although his distress and (when it penetrated his thick skull she would help him) willingness to cooperate made the headmistress like him a bit better than she ever had before. However granny did not have that icy determination to get her off the phone before imminent departure for the weekend that had been shown by such social workers as had not departed even before she rang. (To be strictly fair, that city was unusually well supplied with the kind of people who consume social workers’ time and state handouts, and some of them greatly exceeded Kevin in being the kind of people one did not instantly warm to.) The strong-willed headmistress extracted consent to Kevin’s sleeping at granny’s for the weekend, “but he goes to school on Monday morning and he does not come back”.

Why am I telling you this? Two-thirds of the way through this long post, I mention Rotherham, where many of the abused girls were in the state’s not-so-tender care. My post below says power should be given to parents and taken from educational bureaucrats (especially the ones in that city, of whom I could tell you a tale). So, why indeed am I telling you this?

Well, if anyone ever implements (or just argues for) the scheme in my post below – to protect children by empowering their parents and disempowering the educational bureaucracy – then I want them to know beforehand, not discover afterwards, that these situations happen. Woke tyrants love their theories, but we believe in learning from experience – from the many that tell us the family is the best protector of children, and also from the few that warn us that parents aren’t always good, that step-parents can be worse, and that on a Friday afternoon, someone in our brave new-old educational world might suddenly discover that the parents, and the step-step-parents, and the clock-watching employees of that ultimate step-step-…step-parent the state, have all gone.

An education in the true meaning of power

We laugh at them for not knowing what ‘woman’ means. They laugh at us for not knowing what ‘power’ means.

“Only power arrests power.” (Montesquieu)

“In a conflict between mere law and power, it is seldom law will emerge as the victor.” (Hannah Arendt)

The state of Tennessee has laws. A law taxes its citizens and gives a hefty chunk of the proceeds to maintain a large education bureaucracy. A law compels Tennessee children to attend the schools this bureaucracy administers. A law forbids this education establishment to push critical race theory on the kids – but the education establishment is not as eager to obey this law as they are to enforce the others.

“We don’t really let anybody tell us what to do.”

The same casual contempt of the idea that laws apply to teachers, not just to parents and children, can be seen in Oklahoma. In Florida, laws force parents to pay education taxes and children to go to school from a young age, and they get enforced. But the law against teachers sexualising kindergarteners is another matter. Amber junior doesn’t feel like going to school? Amber senior doesn’t feel like paying so much tax? “Tough!”, says Amber the teacher. “You can’t break the law but I can.”

The educational establishment’s belief in its right to ignore the parents and those they vote for – its right to confine their role strictly to providing the kids and the money – is not new. They will behave this way while they have the power to do so. While the tax laws and the attendance laws provide the base for the educational establishment’s power, it will be hard to impose an external power to restrain their power. The parents may want it, but the parents have been deprived of direct power – they must pay taxes to a bureaucracy that can (and prefers to) ignore their wishes. The kids may want it, but the kids are compelled to attend school, and to treat the teachers’ narrative as fact and their doubts as ignorance. As long as all that operates, it will be hard to find the additional taxes and the additional government employees and lawyers to make a contemptuous bureaucracy obey an external power. Until the power dynamic can be changed, expect the education bureaucracy to spend much time laughing at the impotent rage of governors and the despair of parents while grooming their kids, or punishing them for teacher-defined *isms and *phobias. It will be hard work for even an unusually able and energetic governor to focus external power effectively upon them. As for parents, the bureaucrats think they have no right even to know, and ‘interpret’ the rules to impose costs on any who try.

Parents are pretty-well the only available independent resource with which to counter this power-dynamic. The idea of giving back to parents the power the bureaucrats took from them has been around for a long time. Past ‘school choice’ schemes have often offered parents only a little choice – ‘Education vouchers’ that let them choose an education-establishment-run school that is less full than others of inept teachers the teacher’s union will not let be weeded. Any legislature that wants the education laws they pass treated as facts, not jokes, needs to transfer a lot more power. Make the definition of school minimal. Give administering that definition to a small finance authority focussed on avoiding fraud, not on enforcing a narrative. Tie the tax money to the child and transfer it directly to the school they attend – and to the new school attended if the parents pull the kid from the old one. Cut the education bureaucracy out of every decision. In legal theory, the state will lose some power, but in actual reality they will lose the illusion of it; the education bureaucracy will lose the reality of it.

The education bureaucracy has a long track record of cheating to destroy voucher schemes. Everything I said about why they will nullify state law applies tenfold to a state law designed to give parents more power and them less. That’s why the handling of the money must be pulled back from the education department to an adjunct of the revenue. Revenue is everything. Taking the receipt of education revenue away from the education bureaucracy is everything. Taking the disbursement of it to schools and teachers away from the education bureaucracy is everything. Until that happens, a child’s parents may have the law on their side but the educational establishment will have the power.

Four- and five-year-olds who crawl rather than walk

From an anonymous article in Tuesday’s Guardian called “My pupils have been badly set back by the pandemic. ‘Catch-up’ lessons aren’t what they need”:

In my school, some children are now struggling to articulate what they need or want, answer simple questions or follow short instructions. This has a knock-on effect on their social skills. Those who haven’t had much practice taking turns in conversation or sharing with others find playing and using school resources difficult. Many children have missed out on physical development opportunities; it has been eye-opening to witness four- and five-year-olds choosing to crawl down the corridor into the toilets rather than walk.

I take a fairly forgiving view of the actions that our government and others took when the pandemic hit. As an immediate strategy lockdown may well have been the right thing to do, and even if it wasn’t, it is easy to be wise in hindsight and when it is not you who has to make the decision. Boris & Co. were faced with a type of crisis they had never faced before and a cacophony of conflicting advice, all of which claimed to be expert.

But it was clear quite early on that the slight risk that Covid-19 presented to young children was far outweighed by the harm done to their development by masks and lockdown. That is difficult to forgive.