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]

Perils of alternate history wargaming

A father and son duo run a YouTube channel about historical tabletop wargaming called “Imperator Vespasian”. They run through demo games, talk about making and painting models and so on. Recently they were offline for about six months. They explain why in the following ten minute video:

“Unexpected side affects of Gaming! Channel update”

The two of them were creating a game called “A very British Civil War” set in an alternate-history 1938 in which Prime Minister Oswald Moseley was fighting to put down an anti-fascist rebellion. The British Union of Fascists was a playable faction. Here is a video they made about this game from six months ago.

Then the son’s school reported him to the police as a potential terrorist. Note that the father and son both say that the police were quite quick to realise that this case was not the best use of their time, and reserve their criticism for the school.

I am a little more sympathetic than are the “Imperator Vespasian” duo with the dilemma faced by schools over whether or not to bring the police in when they suspect a pupil is involved in crime as victim or perpetrator or both. The pair of them did make one unwise decision. Apparently their standard practice in their YouTube shows is to make announcements of what is happening in their games while “in character” for the various factions, with appropriate props as the backdrop. Fine when your prop is a medieval helmet, not so fine when it’s the lightning flash emblem of the BUF.

But was there really no one among the school staff who had ever wargamed? Or whose kids had wargamed, or whose kids’ friends had wargamed, or who was simply enough in touch with the lives of their male pupils to know that playing the Tyranids in Warhammer 40K does not mean you seek to literally devour all life? Given the nerdiness of historical tabletop gaming, I would have guessed that gamers were just as likely to end up as teachers as in the police force. So why did the police quickly get that this was fictional while the teachers did not?

Two takes on the decline of foreign languages in British schools

“Brexit ‘hitting foreign languages in schools'” says the BBC, quoting its kindred spirits in the British Council – which for those that don’t know is the Muggle Wizengamot a worthy body formed in the 1930s, a decade after the BBC, in order to promote British culture and the teaching of the English language abroad and of foreign languages in the UK.

Brexit is causing poorer children to fall further behind in learning foreign languages, says the British Council.

Parents in disadvantaged areas are telling teachers languages will be less useful after Brexit, it says.

The graph that comes with BBC story gives no support whatsoever to the claim that Brexit is hitting foreign languages in schools.

It is true that the number of English, Welsh and Northern Irish pupils taking a foreign language at GCSE level is in apparently inexorable decline. Why? Because of the rise of English as a world language. However the inexorable decline is, er…, exored at two points.

The first break in the downward slope of the graph comes about half a year after the introduction of the English Baccalaureate in 2010. Despite its name the Bacc is not an educational qualification. It is a performance measure that the government imposed on schools. The aim is to stop schools gaming the system by putting the pupils in for lots of easy exams. To this end schools, not pupils, are marked on how many pupils get decent grades in proper subjects, including foreign languages. “That which is measured, improves”, as the saying goes – and that explains the uptick after 2010. But by 2013 or so (the unmarked horizontal axis of that graph is an abomination) the downward trend returns.

The second, lesser pause in the decline happens about six months after Brexit. The line flattens. Allowing for the same time lag as followed the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, Brexit if anything seems to have stemmed the decline in numbers of British pupils studying foreign languages. Perhaps some kids calculate that if there will be fewer native speakers of those languages around to compete with after Brexit, then any linguistic skills they might obtain will be more in demand.

OK, OK, correlation is not causation. But at least that hypothesis actually has some correlation to wave a hand hopefully at, unlike the preferred hypothesis of the BBC and the British Council:

The British Council report also describes a shift in attitude, with some parents saying languages are “little use” as the UK is due to leave the European Union.

Teresa Tinsley, the report author, says secondary schools in poorer areas are reporting a very definite Brexit effect, which could lead to an even sharper decline in language learning.

Brexit has superpowers: it could do almost anything.

Scattered at random among the single-paragraph sentences of this BBC report there are two that point to a more likely possible culprit than Brexit-bourne viral xenophobia:

It warns that GCSEs and A-level languages in England are seen as being hard subjects in which to get a good grade.

and

It warns of growing concern that GCSEs and A-levels in modern foreign languages are seen as harder than other subjects.

That, unlike Brexit, is something they really do talk about at the school gates.

But why are the grade boundaries in language exams getting harsher? That is the point that the Times has chosen to focus on in its piece on the same British Council report: “Bilingual pupils distort results in language exams”

Schools are enabling pupils to take foreign language exams in their native tongue, making it harder for everyone else to get the top grades, a report has found.

The British Council’s annual Language Trend Survey found that more than 80 per cent of schools now arrange for pupils to take exams for the language they speak at home, with the most common being Polish and Portuguese. Often pupils need only a few lessons in exam technique rather than any formal lessons in the language itself.

In the report teachers expressed disquiet at this growing trend. “In some languages, for example Italian, the number of native speakers taking the GCSE and A-level exams are skewing the grade boundaries hugely — why is this allowed?” said one.

The finding comes alongside a warning by the British Council that the newly reformed and tougher GCSE and A levels were putting pupils off languages, with many believing they stand a far better chance of gaining top grades in almost any other subject.

I do not see any easy way round this. Any attempt to make separate exams for native and non-native speakers will be bedevilled by edge cases. And there is a harsh logic to the idea that if you hold an examination to measure how well someone speaks Italian, for example, then if it shows Italians speaking Italian better than all but a few non-Italians it probably means that the examination is functioning correctly. I certainly do not propose that the government shove its oar in.

I was merely interested to see what very different structures the BBC and the Times built upon the same foundation of that British Council report.

Added later: The Guardian’s treatment of the same story, “Brexit ‘putting pupils off modern foreign languages'” , displays the same oddities in its structure and choice of headline as did the BBC article. It briefly mentions that far more of the teachers surveyed cited the difficulty of the exams as the cause of the reduced interest from pupils in taking GCSEs in foreign languages than had cited Brexit. Then it goes on at length about Brexit.

While more than two-thirds of teachers surveyed by the British Council said the difficulty of the exams was causing concern, one in four said Brexit had “cast a pall” over pupils learning any foreign languages, with some parents actively discouraging their children.

Teachers told researchers that they have seen a shift in attitudes since the Brexit referendum, with one reporting: “We have had parents mention that they do not believe their son or daughter should be studying a language as it is little to no use to them now that we are leaving the European Union.”

Another teacher noted comments from pupils, “obviously heard at home, such as now we’ve left/are leaving the EU you won’t need this any more”.

“Sometimes the apologising has to stop”

In a recent GCSE English examination set by the AQA exam board the “unseen” – a piece of writing new to the students upon which they must answer questions – was an extract from The Mill, a 1935 novella by H.E. Bates.

Some curious examinees looked up the story the extract was from after the exam. But when some of them found out that the story features the tragedy of a girl in service raped and made pregnant by her employer, instead of being grateful to have their horizons widened by the realization that authors tackling the theme of sexual exploitation of women in fiction did not start with their generation, they complained. About the existence of a rape scene elsewhere in the book than in the passage they were obliged to read. The scene, by the way, is not salacious. The main criticism of The Mill as a story is that it is unremittingly bleak and depressing. You know, like The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Sometimes the apologising has to stop,” writes Janice Turner Libby Purves in the Times. (Thanks to Rob Fisher for spotting that I got the author’s name wrong.)

This advice I offer to the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, AQA, which sets GCSE, AS and A levels. Of course it should apologise for real mistakes, but it is not an examiner’s job to endorse the more whiny hypersensitivities of the age. At 15 or 16 GCSE candidates are moving into the adult world and are usually impatient to do so. Yet last week AQA, instead of a scornful “Hah!”, caved in to some ridiculous complainers, saying it was “sorry to hear” they felt that a text “inappropriate” and would “never want to upset anyone”.

It was about a short “unseen” in the English Language GCSE, asking them how language evokes sights and feelings. It came from a little-known 1935 story by HE Bates, The Mill — such excerpts are chosen to be unfamiliar. Nothing untoward is in the set passage, though online there is some disgruntlement about the word “chrysanthemum” (“Is it a plant or what?”). But someone looked up the whole story later — quite praiseworthy really — and discovered that as it develops, a serving maid is raped by her employer and becomes pregnant. Cue outrage, much pearl-clutching and demands for trigger warnings.

Complaints snowballed on social media, and a student, Hadiatou Barry, wrote a long letter to AQA saying she was “horrified” and deploring the “blunder” which “may have very well acted as a trigger for underlying mental health issues”. Not in her, of course, but in some imagined person. Much Twitter followed: “why did AQA think it was alright to use a book about rape?? wtf,” and “what the f— AQA what the actual —? How is this a remotely OK thing?” Adults weighed in: one “memoir writing” tutor cried, “Relevant? Useful for 15/16 year olds to glean anything from? Who sets this stuff?” A mother moans, “My daughter sat an exam about rape!” Even an English teacher joined in.

Online outrage is just froth, and many of the students’ posts are breezily unbothered and funny, or just furious at having to write out the baffling word “chrysanthemum”. But the horror of the row is that AQA should offer even the mildest “sorry” and acknowledge potential “upset”. Encouraging complainers to think they have a point is, in this case, not only stupid but deeply wrong. It’s another brick in the wall of hypocritical hypersensitivity.

Added 12th June: And there’s another one today: Calorie question upsets GCSE pupils with eating disorders

An exam board has been forced to defend a GCSE maths question involving calorie counting after being criticised on social media for causing distress to pupils with eating disorders.

At least one was so upset that she left the exam after seeing the question, according to the complaints, with others saying it affected their concentration.

The question required pupils to work out the total number of calories consumed for breakfast, with weights and calorific value provided for yoghurt and a banana.

“My sister is a recovering anorexic who had to leave the exam due to this,” one young woman posted.

Another criticised the board for posing a question about calorie counting to pupils of that age. “Can I ask what on earth you were thinking by having a question around counting calories? Your exams are primarily taken by 15 to 20-year-olds, who are also the age group most likely to suffer from eating disorders,” the post read.

Here is the question in all its evil:

There are 84 calories in 100g of banana. There are 87 calories in 100g of yoghurt.

Priti has 60g of banana and 150g of yoghurt for breakfast.

Work out the total number of calories in this breakfast.

Answer: 180.9

“Young designers can learn more working at a studio than studying at a fee-paying university …”

Internships are often denounced as the exploitation of cheap labour. Compared to paid jobs, I dare say many internships are indeed rather exploitative, and not in a good way.

But it makes just as much sense to compare internships with higher education. Internship gives you some free education. Universities charge a fortune for something similar but arguably much worse.

Karim Rashid argues exactly this, when it comes to learning how to be a designer:

New York designer Karim Rashid has defended the use of unpaid internships, saying young designers can learn more working at a studio than studying at a fee-paying university.

“I believe some of the universities are far more exploiting than a small brilliant architecture firm that can inspire and be a catalyst for a student’s budding career,” said Rashid in a comment on Facebook, responding to Dezeen’s post about unpaid internships at Chilean architecture studio Elemental.

“In a rigorous office with a respectful mentor, an intern can learn in three months more than a year or two of education, and education in USA is costing that student $60,000 to $100,000 a year,” the designer wrote.

Instapundit, which has for years and quite rightly been banging on about the “higher education bubble“, and about how the “business model” of higher education is broken, should be alerted to what Rashid says. Do the Instapunditeers read Dezeen, where the above report is to be found? I’m guessing: not that often.

Also, has this piece, I wonder, been picked up on the Insta-radar? It’s entitled “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education”?

Whenever the Subsidised and Subsidising Classes stop defending one of their strongholds and instead start denouncing it as a capitalist plot, you know that the stronghold in question is staring some serious trouble in the face. The S&S Classes can see that trouble looms for higher education, because it’s coming for them and because of them. Large swathes of it are an overpriced racket and they can’t any longer pretend otherwise. So, before this becomes as widely understood as it soon will be, they need a narrative that says that this wasn’t their fault, but was instead the fault of their political enemies.

Noooooooo!

Gender pay gap expert among top professors quitting Brexit Britain

Leading academics in climate policy and economics have also had enough of hostility – and funding goes with them.

(I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.)

Has higher education had its Bernie Madoff moment?

A big story is developing about claims that financiers, Hollywood celebs and others engaged in criminal fraud to enable their children to get into posh Ivy League universities and other such places.

Beyond the salacious details about such a story – and you can imagine how this plays to the “poor ordinary folk outraged by rich people doing Bad Stuff” sort of narrative – is the issue of what the likes of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has called the education bubble. With credentialism in the workplace rising, demand for college/university degrees expanding, and fuelling rising student debt, higher tuition fees and yes, more debt, the higher ed. industry is exhibiting the kind of distortions and potential for fraud that we saw in the period leading up to the financial crack-up of 2008. Remember the Bernie Madoff Ponzi fraud scam? The hedge fund that wasn’t was able to scam people at a time when asset prices were rising everywhere and getting into the juiciest hedge funds was the name of the game, rather like getting into the poshest schools was seen as important to people today. By preying on insecurity, vanity, status and worries that being outside meant failure, Madoff defrauded people out of billions of dollars. The parallels with what is going on in higher ed. are quite close.

On a related point, I recently read US academic Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education: Why The Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. I might not go as far as agreeing with the totality of his ideas, but it seems to me that when people are allegedly committing crimes to get kids into a university, and where the kind of “snowflake” issues are turning some of these places into echo chambers for the Hard Left, it is time for radical change.

The suffering of being voluntary

“National service should be compulsory for the young, says Chuka Umunna”

Coming out can be a stressful process. All should have sympathy with Mr Umunna’s personal struggle to accept his inner Tory.

Young Britons should do a form of ‘national service’ to end the current ‘social apartheid,’ according to Chuka Umunna. The Independent Group frontman has unveiled a list of policies, including on tuition fees, education grants and how to fund the health service. The former Labour MP has suggested that youngsters be forced to carry out work to break down barriers within society.

Because nothing builds unity in a society like some of its members using force on others. Both sides are participating, right?

The TIG spokesman stressed the plan would not be a return to compulsory military service but would help people meet other Britons from different social backgrounds.

Mr Umunna said his proposal could build on the National Citizen Service scheme introduced by David Cameron, which ‘has suffered by being voluntary’. It could also draw on evidence from France, where Emmanuel Macron made a national service requirement for 16-year-olds a key policy, with trials beginning this year.

Will no one think of the National Citizen Service scheme? We cannot leave it to suffer this way.

Young voters and Corbyn

The myth at the heart of the ‘Corbyn project’ is that it is a grassroots movement of enthusiastic young people. This group, so the theory goes, is disgusted by free markets and longs for industries to be nationalised and collectives of workers to seize control of the means of production. Books have even been written about how the ‘young’ have ‘created a new socialism.’ But if this is true, why does a poll today reveal that support for the newly-formed centrist Independent Group predominantly come from young people? Forty-seven per cent of 18-24 year olds approve of the creation of TIG, with just 14 per cent disapproving of it. This is strange behaviour from an age group we’re constantly told are supposed to be most rabidly in favour of Jeremy Corbyn. Listening to high-profile Corbynistas in their plentiful media appearances you would assume that the people most likely to back TIG are ageing Blairites and ‘centrists dads’. Far from it.

Young people are the least likely to oppose introducing competition into government services, and the least likely to favour the government pursuing equality of outcome. Perhaps this explains why so many young people approve of a group that has also won approval from the IEA and the ASI for its favourable view of austerity and Osborne cuts, opposition to renationalisation, anti-tax hike, and pro-tuition fee positions.

In reality any meeting of the hard left looks more like a retirement home than a university seminar, even in London, where more young people live. So Corbynism is not a movement led by a generational shift in the way we view the world, but one driven by the same few hundred thousand people in the country who have always leant towards the left. The only difference is that now they are better organised and able to seize the infrastructure of an old established party thanks to an ill thought-out £3 membership scheme. To put Labour’s support into perspective, the party’s total membership is less than half the number of people who voted Green in 2015.

Tim Harwood.

It may be true that some of the support for Momentum comes from the young, but the idea that most 20- and young 30-somethings have the hots for an ageing anti-semite, IRA supporter, Hamas chum and Marxist seems a tad far off the mark. The new and devastating book by Tom Bower is hardly going to make life easier. With their penchant for the goodies of modern capitalism (iPhones and all the rest of it), if not being in agreement with the global trade that makes this possible, it always struck me as more likely that a more genuinely liberal creed would appeal. The problem, as I see it, though, is that the breakaway MPs from Labour and the Tories who have formed the Independent Group are largely motivated by a desire to keep Britain inside the clutches of a federalising EU project marked by disdain for what voters want, and squaring that circle is going to be difficult.

Classical liberalism (ie, what I think liberalism actually is) has never been a majority taste among the young, in my experience, but it isn’t doing well at the moment, even though there are student groups and others doing what they can to counter statist nonsense and resist it in colleges, etc. That’s why I applaud the likes of the Atlas Network, Students for Liberty and the work of groups such as FREER, etc. Whatever might be the real support for Corbyn and his fellow socialist troglodytes, more needs to be done to spread better ideas when people are still at a formative stage in thinking about these things. I do what I can in speaking to meetings, and actually a practical step I’d urge those who scoff about such efforts to consider is mentoring students whom they know, giving them reading material and steering them towards ideas that their own lecturers might not be exposing them to. This doesn’t have to be done in a blunt fashion, either.

Less economy of truth, please: who kissed whom?

Punching back against PC lies – punching back “twice as hard” – is advice instapundit likes to offer. I wish I had a pound for all the times we instead push back half as hard, conceding one absurdity to a woke idiot in the very act of gently suggesting they tone down another.

The famous picture of a sailor kissing a nurse on WWII victory day is the latest target of the wokescolds. A US lecturer describes how a crybully in his class said

“That is the photo of an assault. That man should have gone to jail.”

after which a gay (who “could never get get to the end of a sentence without mentioning it”) asked why celebrate “colonialism”. The lecturer raised a laugh against the gay by reminding him that our soldiers went to France to free it from Nazi colonialism, but in doing so he effectively let the crybully off with a remark that implied she was merely overemphasising a valid point.

Let us consider some other celebratory moments from the end of that war.

The men flinched from the kisses of the ecstatic, filthy, stinking girls who tried to swarm all over them. (Kitty Hart, ‘Return to Auschwitz’)

The only unusual part of this end-WWII description is Kitty’s clear statement that these unannounced female kisses were not only unwarned but unwanted by the US soldiers on whom they were showered. After two years in Auschwitz and months of slave-labourer-trudge westward across the dying Nazi state, Kitty and her tragically-few fellow Jewish survivors were not looking their prettiest at the liberation of Salzwedel concentration camp – and they were looking pretty aggressive. (Kitty’s memoirs describe frankly how she took an aggressive personality into Auschwitz and a more aggressive one out of it. Jews who did not, did not survive, though you also needed a lot of what Kitty Hart’s maiden name – Kitty Felix – is Latin for.)

There are many other examples. When Paris was liberated in August 1944, a great many Parisiennes threw themselves on the soldiers and kissed them without the least hint of, “Excusez-moi, monsieur, voulez-vous que je vous embrasse” beforehand – but it is not recorded that the men of General Leclerc’s French 2nd armoured division ‘flinched’ under this onslaught.

The mad logic of the woke crybully says Kitty and friends should have been jailed. After all, the nurse in the iconic protograph became friends with the sailor, met him often thereafter, posed with him for an anniversary photo, always spoke of it in positively glowing terms – in short, gave every possible proof of her willing acceptance of the kiss – whereas Kitty shamelessly admits the men her cohort kissed were anything but eager. And since those women in Paris have no better excuse than the sailor – “Les hommes ne nous résistent pas” is clearly not enough for the crybully – they must belong in jail too.

Burke said that while falsehood and deceit were allowed in no cause whatever, “a certain economy of the truth may be practiced; a man speaks the truth by measure that he be allowed to speak it longer.” He has a point – sometimes one must pick the points to make to be able to go on talking – but I think we should try to do less of it. That crybully girl merited mockery, not the PC cringe.

The response demonstrates why it needed to happen

The launch of Turning Point UK felt to me like an important moment.

Douglas Murray agrees:

Earlier this week I made the usual mistake of looking at Twitter and saw that ‘Turning Point’ was trending. This is unusual in Britain. Turning Point is a very successful organisation set up in the US to counter the dominance of left-wing views on campus. It turned out to be trending because of the launch of Turning Point UK this week. In essence the response to the launch of Turning Point demonstrated the need to launch Turning Point in the UK.

This is also how I now feel about the Brexit vote. The response to that also explains why it needed to happen.

Turning Point?

Turning Point UK is getting quite a lot of attention, and I think it deserves a little more, from any Samizdata readers who are hearing about it for the first time, now.

Here is a recent Tweet of theirs:

Young people are waking up to the biased political narrative we receive during our education and we won’t be passive to this anymore.

I want to believe that. I also want to believe that Turning Point UK will stick around long enough and loud enough to do something substantial about it. I don’t assume anything, but I wish them well.

These young people seem to be libertarian-inclined but basically partisan supporters of the Conservative Party. Fair enough. The Conservative Party has suffered dreadfully from the shutting down of the Federation of Conservative Students in 1986, by Norman Tebbit of all people. The resulting ideological vacuum lead directly to the Labour Lite Nannyism of the Theresa May generation of Conservative leaders. If Turning Point UK can merely help to correct that sad circumstance, they will be doing the UK a great service.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The problem is not primarily intellectual; it’s moral. It seems that many professional academics have not been taught to develop the basic virtues of emotional self-restraint, justice, charity, and humility. They feel no need to hold in check their feelings of irritation, indignation, hatred – and fear. They recognise no obligation to be scrupulously fair to their opponents. They don’t understand that the most cogent critique is one that charitably construes the opposing case in the strongest possible terms, and only then sets about dismantling it.”

Nigel Biggar