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Book news

Andrew Doyle reports:

Titania McGrath has written a book for children in order to teach them how to resist indoctrination and think exactly like her.

Doyle has done more than anyone else to publicise how wokery is at least as much a posh white girl thing as a downtrodden ethnics thing. Discuss.

Apparently there’s a chapter in it on Robin DiAngelo.

Samizdata quote of the day

Guardian readers, union officials and other blobby types would have conniptions. Why should our wonderful ‘world class’ education system be turned into a supermarket, where people pick and choose what schools they want for their children?

Well, it wasn’t the supermarkets that let us down in this crisis, was it? They never closed, while their poorly-paid staff ran ostensibly much greater risks of infection than those in the classroom.

If our teachers don’t like the marginal risks which a return to school might bring, they should perhaps consider another career. Sadly, there are going to be plenty of young and not-so-young graduates who will be looking for such secure and reasonably well-paid employment in the near future. They might make a better fist of it than many current teachers.

Len Shackleton

Person of colour dares not sign name

It shouldn’t affect the strength of my argument above, but for the record, I write as a person of color. My family have been personally victimized by men like Floyd. We are aware of the condescending depredations of the Democrat party against our race. The humiliating assumption that we are too stupid to do STEM, that we need special help and lower requirements to get ahead in life, is richly familiar to us. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to deal with open fascists, who at least would be straightforward in calling me a subhuman, and who are unlikely to share my race.

The well-written open letter from the professor with no (safe to add) name is on pastebin, having (of course) been removed from where it was first put. Other links to the text are here and here.

(I wrote this as a Samizdata Quote of the Day – h/t instapundit – but decided the title needed to tell you something not in the bit I quoted. Read the whole thing.)

Putting students first

Dr. Douglas Young, Professor of Political Science at the University of North Georgia-Gainesville, has strong views about where the priorities of a university should be.

What a blessing to teach college for over 33 years. Educating folks on government and politics is my life’s work, and it has been such a joy teaching students at the University of North Georgia since 1999 where there are so many fine professors, staff, and administrators.

But recent disturbing trends have harmed students across the country. Indeed, on too many campuses there is an obsession with homogenization, bureaucratization, research, and money. As acclaimed University of Georgia Professor Emeritus Dr. Parker Young notes, “Any college worth its salt is a true free marketplace of ideas.” Yet there has been a huge increase in campuses with constipated “hate speech” codes or climates hostile to free inquiry. In the Orwellian guise of protecting “diversity,” too many higher education administrators restrict basic speech rights and, often invoking “social justice,” too many professors substitute agitprop for teaching many sides of issues.

So what should be the most free places in America are often the least. As the legendary liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black warned, “the freedoms of speech, press, petition, and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment must be accorded to the ideas we hate, or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.”

Universities should provide an outstanding education and vibrant campus life that spur students to grow intellectually, emotionally, and morally. We should not just teach them propaganda but help them reason critically. They need to question everything – including their professors – and always think analytically for themselves.

Yet there is also far too much emphasis on uniform “assessment” at college. In ever more freshman and sophomore classes, administrators make professors give the same assignments using the same “rubric” to grade papers, a la high school. So much for hiring the best teachers to each create their own class assignments and grading methods. But so many bureaucrats crave the very standardization which has so stifled innovation and achievement in k-12 schools.

Education should help students learn, mature, and achieve the most meaningful lives possible. Instead, often administrators see students as little more than dollar signs, numbers, and means to get their offices, departments, or schools more funding, recognition, and power. Indeed, many administrators don’t teach and know little and care less about good instruction and the need for schools to create a challenging, yet nurturing environment for students navigating a vulnerable time in their lives. But all college and university workers should recall who pays our salaries.

Sadly, too often students get real world lessons in Machiavellian campus politics. In fact, U.S. Secretary of State and Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Kissinger concluded that “university politics are vicious”. In short, when administrators or professors put personal professional interests ahead of our students, we undermine the very purpose of education.

Alas, the biggest lessons I learned as a graduate student at a large “prestigious” (see: “publish-or-perish”) university were how NOT to teach and NEVER to treat people. Classmates and I got daily doses of just how cold and uncaring too many bureaucrats and faculty could be. Yet ever more administrators push precisely this publish-or-perish model.

When a professor knows he has to get published in X number of officially approved journals by Y date, time spent with students detracts from researching and writing – and keeping his job. So a closed office door with its window papered over and the light on inside tells students to go away. While some professors are inspiring teachers and researchers, the combination is uncommon. But too many universities covet the prestige (U.S. News & World Report rankings!) and government funding that follows an emphasis on research. Again, students’ education is sacrificed on the altars of reputation and money.

The surge in on-line courses further compromises instruction since posting lessons on a computer is a poor stand-in for in-person lectures and real-time discussions. There’s also far more cheating with on-line tests. Yet many schools covet on-line classes to make more money since they don’t need buildings. One day a salary-free computer might “teach” 100 such classes.

Making everything worse are the outrageous costs of tuition and textbooks that have followed the huge increases in government grants and loans to students in recent decades. Colleges have responded by spiking costs ever more, causing far too many students to go deeply in debt.

I pray every university rededicates itself to providing the best instruction at a reasonable cost to the largest variety of students cherished in a warm, welcoming environment that celebrates a true diversity of ideas and free inquiry. May students always come first, and may all educators be Good Samaritans who make a special effort to see no student is lost due to institutional neglect.

Note: we last heard from Douglas back in 2009.

Mick Hartley on the politics of the Lockdown

I at first thought that I’d just wait and see, and avoid opining about Cornonavirus until the whole ghastly episode was over and we were all back to the new normal, whatever that turned out to be. But, having waited, I am already now seeing. It is becoming ever clearer, as a few were loudly asserting from the get-go, that this bug is far more widespread, but far less likely to kill you even if you get it, than had at first been proclaimed. I do not care who Professor Ferguson is bonking, but I care very much about how wrong he has been, about so much, for so long, and yet how the governing classes around the world, including the British government, still chose to listen to him. (Is it known (comments anyone?) what Ferguson thinks about climate change? I bet he’s been a fanatical catastrophist about that also.)

Someone who has done a lot to persuade me to get off the fence like this is Mick Hartley. As I mentioned in passing at the end of this earlier posting here, Mick Hartley has been very good on the subject of the Lockdown. His typical posting on the subject has tended to consist of a big quote from someone else, often dragged out from behind a paywall, with a few comments from him topping and tailing his posting. But, in his piece on Saturday, entitled Lockdown politics, although there are links in it to the thoughts of others, Hartley writes for himself.

On the whole I’d say that the left is more supportive of the lockdown than the right. Yes I know, left vs right doesn’t mean so much any more, but it still means something. The left more supportive of the state, perhaps, vs the right more concerned about individual freedom. I haven’t looked, but I imagine somewhere in the Guardian comments someone has said that the right only want to get back to work because they want to make money and don’t care about people’s lives. And, seen this morning prominently displayed in a window: “Capitalism isn’t worth dying for”. …

Which is odd in a way, because the lockdown might be seen as a left-wing cause. Against the lockdown, that is.

It’s clear that the poor are having a much harder time than the middle classes at the moment: stuck in worse accommodation, with worse facilities, desperate for an end to this, and, for many, worried sick about their jobs and their future. We hear almost exclusively now from the middle classes – what books they should read, what films they should watch, and how to keep their kids active and up-to-the-minute with their education. These are the people, generally, who don’t have big financial worries, can work from home, and feel perhaps rather smug about how well they’re coping. But it’s obvious that there’s a whole mass of people that we never hear from … destitute, miserable people stuck in lousy over-crowded housing wondering how on earth they’re going to cope.

The longer the lockdown continues, the worse it’s going to be. …

And for what? Who are we protecting? Well, Covid-19 is deadly serious notably for the very old – not at all for the young – and especially for men. So, we’re protecting old men, at the expense of just about everybody else. …

Whatever happened to the attitude embodied in the slogan “women and children first”?

You might think this would resonate with the left, but it doesn’t seem to. …

Will Keir Starmer start pressing Boris on ending lockdown? I hope so. He should do, in the name of the people that Labour claims to represent. He did, to be fair, make some noises to that effect some weeks back, asking for the government to set out guidelines for the return of schools and getting businesses back to work. I haven’t seen much since. …

And then this:

… I hope he pushes it more, because I’m beginning to lose faith in Boris ever getting together the necessary determination.

Me too. Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Labour, it seems to me and to many others I’m sure, has mutated from once upon a time being the party speaking for the poor, often against the government, to being the party of government, even when they aren’t the politicians in titular charge of that government. These people are now “supportive of the state”, to quote Hartley, even when they’re not personally in charge of it. It’s the process of government, whoever is doing it, whatever it is doing, that they now seem to worship. It is, as similar people in earlier times used to say, the principle of the thing, the principle being that they’re in charge. Many decades ago, Labour spoke for, well, Labour. The workers, the toiling masses. Now they represent most determinedly only those who labour away only in Civil Service offices or their allies in the media, in academia, and in the bureaucratised top end of big business.

Anyone official and highly educated sounding who challenges whatever happens to be the prevailing supposed wisdom of this governing class, on Coronavirus or on anything else, must be scolded into irrelevance and preferably silenced. The governors must be obeyed, even if they’re wrong. In fact especially if they’re wrong, just as the soldiers of the past were expected to obey their orders, no matter what they thought of the orders or of the aristocratic asses who often gave them. Whether they were good orders was an argument that those giving orders could have amongst themselves, but that orders must be obeyed was a given. “Capitalism” isn’t worth dying for, but this new dispensation is, right or wrong.

Our new class of entitled asses, together with all those who have placed their bets for life on carrying out their orders or trying to profit from them, seems now to be the limit of the Labour Party’s electoral ambition. And who knows? The awful thing is that this class and its hangers-on could be enough, in the not too distant future, to get them back into direct command of the governmental process that they so adore.

Meanwhile I note, with a twinge of satisfaction amidst all the gloom, that the British politician speaking up most loudly for the right of workers, especially poorer workers, to get back to work is this excellent man. The sooner the campaign gets under way to replace Boris with him, the better.

The ‘elite’ should learn to code (better)

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” (Richard Feynman)

Over a decade ago, climategate confirmed that Jones, Mann and Briffa knew exactly what they were doing when they scaled the hockystick to hide the decline while having not a clue about what the decline meant. However it incidentally revealed the, uh, ‘quality’ of their code.

Neil Ferguson’s extra-lockdown/marital escapade says much about his elite opinion of us common people (and of the lockdown), but meanwhile someone has taken a look at the, uh, ‘quality’ of his code.

Conclusions. All papers based on this code should be retracted immediately. Imperial’s modelling efforts should be reset with a new team that isn’t under Professor Ferguson, and which has a commitment to replicable results with published code from day one.

On a personal level, I’d go further and suggest that all academic epidemiology be defunded. This sort of work is best done by the insurance sector.

Read the review to see what leads to these conclusions. You have to laugh (in order not to cry 🙂 ).

Bryan Caplan on homeschooling

Homeschooling is in the news a lot these day, for reasons that you already know all about. So, it makes sense to give a plug here to a video interview that Amy Willis of econlin.org did recently with Bryan Caplan, which I just listened to. I got to know Caplan a bit better than before when I attended a lecture he gave last December in London about Poverty and about who’s to blame for it.

This homeschooling conversation, which lasts just under forty minutes, is very commonsensical, I think. Caplan is no zealot for snatching his kids out of school. His one big doctrinal disagreement with regular schooling of the sort his kids were getting is that he reckons maths is more important than schools generally, and his kids’ school in particular, tend to assume.

For Caplan, homeschooling began when his two older sons, twins and introverts, declared themselves to be unhappy with the school they were at. Caplan reckoned he might be able to do better, so they gave it a shot. And it would appear to have worked out well.

His younger and only daughter seems now to be happier going to school, because she likes meeting up with her friends, and because the arts-skewed curriculum appeals to her a lot more than it did to her brothers. She must be suffering a bit now. His younger son, on the other hand, is liking the new stay-at-home regime.

That being a particular thing I take from this conversation: how female-friendly and male-hostile regular schooling of the sort Caplan is talking about seems to have become. Is there a bias in homeschooling numbers between boys and girls being homeschooled? I don’t know, but I bet Caplan does.

Towards the end of their conversation, Willis and Caplan talk about Caplan’s book on education, which is entitled The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. I guess the guy’s somewhat more doctrinal than he had earlier seemed.

On the other hand, both those twins want to be college professors, and Caplan doesn’t seem to be doing anything to try to stop them.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Yeah, the reason the speaker can’t come here is because he promotes violence – by us, his enemies.”

Robert Murphy

Quoted by David Thompson.

Of what crimes do the contents of your bookshelves convict you?

My mother was in her early teens in World War II. I once asked her what it was like not to know who would win. Alas, I cannot remember in detail how she answered, but among the things she said was that she did not speculate about it much because any such discussion would have been instantly quashed by her father, a former soldier, with some words along the lines of “There will be no defeatist talk in this family, young lady!”

Yet this atmosphere of stern patriotism did not stop her openly reading a translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the principle of “Know thy enemy”.

“Owning a book isn’t a declaration of belief,” writes Janice Turner in the Times.

Journalists own a lot of odd books. Some are sent to us unsolicited, others we buy to illuminate a news story. That Michael Gove, a former Times columnist, has The War Path by Holocaust-denying historian David Irving nestling among Alastair Campbell diaries and Stalin biographies does not alarm me. But the online outrage at a photograph showing this book on Gove’s shelves does.

Because if I’d covered, say, the 1996 libel case brought by Irving I’d have bought his work, too. Why? Curiosity; the desire to quote from original sources; to hear Irving’s authorial voice; to understand how he magicked away mass murder. Later, my piece written, I’d have squeezed it in my unruly shelves with Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth and Naomi Wolf’s Vagina.

At this point I feel I ought to mention that the original Times article has that last word in italics.

Yet owning Irving’s book was to activist-journalist Owen Jones a window into Gove’s dark soul. On Twitter, people questioned why you’d read Irving rather than his many critics, as if they couldn’t trust their own minds not to be swayed. Gove was accused of “proudly displayed” antisemitism in his home. But books are not posters or cushions, mere expressions of personal taste.

What is the correct thing to do when you’ve read this book, in case some visiting fool concludes you’re a Nazi? Donating it to a charity shop risks further dissemination of evil. Well, you could burn it. That always goes well.

Here is Owen Jones’s tweet in all its glory.

Which of the books on your shelves would make you wish you had enabled the “blur background” function before turning on Zoom?

Apart from the obvious – a copy of Chavs by Owen Jones – I have three coffee-table books of reproductions of selected articles from the English language edition of Signal magazine, issued by the Wehrmachtpropaganda from 1940-1945. (It continued to publish an English language edition even after the US entered the war, ostensibly for the benefit of the Channel Islanders.)

How about you? Confess all and the tribunal will be merciful.

TIL: Tippex thinner no longer exists but the Oxford University Student Union still does

Back when I was clever, I went to Oxford. My time there was not wasted. I learned that the best place to get stationery was the OUSU* shop in Little Clarendon Street, or Little Trendy Street as it is properly known. There you could get jolly nice ring binders with the university crest on them for £3.50, I think it was, and, if memory does not fail me, bottles of Tippex for 70p. Proper Tippex with a cute little brush, not a silly foam applicator. Also available were bottles of Tippex thinner. Change and decay all around I see: apparently Tippex thinner is no longer a thing.

Buuut…

The Oxford University Student Union voted for a policy that transgender, working-class and female students needed more protection and urged the university to give faculties guidance and make more use of trigger warnings.

The motion, proposed by Alex Illsley, co-chairman of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ campaign, stated that there were multiple examples of “ableist, transphobic, classist and misogynistic content” on reading lists. He cited an article advocating that it should be a moral duty not to have disabled children, which was included on a medical law and ethics reading list, and one “advocating for the murder of disabled children after they have been born”.

Perhaps not all change is decay. In a departure from its usual policy of dignified pusillanimity, the University grew a pair:

The university issued a statement saying there would be no changes as a result of the motion. “[There are] no plans to censor reading materials assigned by our academics,” it said. It referred to its policy on free speech, adding: “Free speech is the lifeblood of a university. It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth. Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful. Inevitably, this will mean that members of the university are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive.”

Cambridge, take note.

*Back in those days OUSU stood for something. Though it always seemed a little odd that “The one that isn’t the Oxford Union” didn’t start with a T.

“Possible equity issues”

“Coronavirus in Scotland: Parents and children left to struggle after councils ban online teaching”, Helen Puttick of the Times reports.

It seems many private schools in Scotland are using video conferencing and other internet tools to continue to educate pupils while they are in quarantine. Some state schools are doing likewise. But fear not, Scotland’s ever-vigilant local councils have been alerted:

However, a number of councils in Scotland have banned state education via live video interaction. East Dunbartonshire council said: “Streaming live lessons is not recommended at this time due to safeguarding and possible equity issues.” East Renfrewshire said they were “not advocating” the approach. East Lothian and Stirling also cited safeguarding issues. Midlothian council told headteachers: “No platform is considered suitable for interactions involving young people at this time.”

You may send any enquiries as to what “Possible equity issues” might mean by letter or postcard* to:

East Dunbartonshire Council
12 Strathkelvin Place
Kirkintilloch
G66 1TJ

*Enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope if you wish to receive a reply. Please note that the council does not accept owl post as not everyone has owls.

East Dunbartonshire council thanks you for your ongoing understanding and co-operation as we put measures in place to support our children and their families during this difficult time.

The homeschooling menace

One trend that has been a big push in recent weeks is – for obvious reasons – homeschooling. And those who run the education system in North America (and I presume, in other places) are worried that if youngsters learn at home, they’ll be less prone to teachers’ ministrations. Kids will start to think for themselves. This must be resisted because it undermines civic spirit, apparently, according to this Harvard Review article:

She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. “But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests.

Here’s another gem:

She concedes that in some situations, homeschooling may be justified and effective. “No doubt there are some parents who are motivated and capable of giving an education that’s of a higher quality and as broad in scope as what’s happening in the public school,” she says. But Bartholet believes that if parents want permission to opt out of schools, the burden of proving that their case is justified should fall on parents.

The problem with this article is that the author of the piece appears oblivious to parents’ worries about the poor quality of much public schooling in the US. There is also the default assumption that the State is entitled to impose a certain view and set of aptitudes and attitudes on children and that the burden of proof is on those who want the family, not the State, to be the primary decision-taker on education. An article in Reason magazine last year also directly challenged the idea that homeschooled kids are less likely to be well-adjusted adults. (Like with all these issues, there are clear exceptions, such as with children who are maltreated by parents, etc).

I will be interested to see if any of you fine Samizdata commenters have been schooled at home for any part of your time, and what your experience has been.

In times of crisis, certain viewpoints are challenged. Now is such a time.