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]

“Big uni”

“Climate alarmists and Corbynistas (the former increasingly a front organisation for the latter) often put the word ‘Big’ in front of industries which they dislike — Big Pharma, Big Oil. Those of us who do not share their views should copyright a comparable concept — Big Uni.”

Charles Moore, Spectator, (behind paywall).

I like the term, and intend to use it. Here are some more paragraphs from the item for those who cannot get through the pw:

As universities grow larger, and their average intake therefore dimmer, they become more intellectually uniform. Almost no one in British academia, except for emeritus professors whose careers cannot be damaged by their frankness, speaks in favour of Brexit or dares challenge any assertion made about the dangers of climate change (green research projects, after all, attract stupendous sums of public money).

Those universities — Britain has many — which have long and proud traditions increasingly scorn them, removing portraits of their dead benefactors and thinkers, deciding that a Latin grace is offensive, a student debating society with a paying membership (such as the Oxford Union) elitist. Throughout the election campaign, BBC Radio 4’s Today is travelling the country, presenting the programme from university premises. This means that the audience and subject matter are automatically skewed against the Conservatives and (much more important) against any plurality of view on anything. Big Uni is probably the largest cartel in modern Britain.

Another idea, riffing off the late Pres. Eisenhower, is to refer to this phenomenon as the “university-politics complex”.

Meanwhile, here are worthy books from the US by Glenn Reynolds and Bryan Caplan on the growth of state-driven Western higher education and the downsides of that.

A question about the racial experience at Harvard

A recent post looked at the hypocrisy of Harvard’s racist admissions policies. I want to look at what it teaches – not at what Harvard says but at what the actual experience it gives to its students teaches them.

1) Harvard invites students to attend a university – one of the halls of academia. By presenting itself as elite, it invites its students to think that academic ability, academic ways of thinking, are hallmarks (the hallmarks!) of an elite.

2) Having implied the importance of academic talent in overt and subtle ways, Harvard creates an artificial racial reality: it selects its asian-american students to average 140 Scholastic Aptitude Test points more that its white-american students. It selects its white-american students to average 130 SAT points more than its hispanic-american students. And it selects its african-american students to average 180 SAT points less than its hispanics, 310 SAT points less than its whites and 450 SAT points less than its asians.*

Thus Harvard gives members of each of these easily-distinguishable racial groups the routine experience of encountering a consistent, marked discrepancy between their group and other groups in precisely the area that the whole essence of being at Harvard implies is important, not just for gaining some academic degree but for being worthy to decide on politics, social mores, life in general. Day by day, the experience of being at Harvard teaches its students that, in the quality that matters, asians are typically superior, whites are typically normal, hispanics are typically inferior and blacks even more so. Harvard is a university – a pillar of academia, a place that implies academic is everything – and they chose the racial mix of their students to incarnate academic racial inequality.

3) Harvard also teaches that it is the most appalling sin, unspeakably evil and harshly-punished even when the evidence is slight or non-existent, for any student ever to refer in the slightest, most micro, most indirect way to this routinely-experienced reality that Harvard admissions has created. Students must not in any way betray that they have noticed any aspect or even distant side-effect of the artificial reality Harvard has created for them – and this of course compounds the artificiality of the Harvard reality.

So my question is: what does this experience in fact teach Harvard students?

In the early 1930s, workers in Kiev and similar cities frequently had to step over starving people and corpses in the streets as they walked to catch their trams for the daily commute, on which they could read newspaper articles about the “new, happy life” that collectivising agriculture had brought, or look at posters proclaiming “Life has become better, life has become more joyful – Stalin”. (The NKVD swiftly removed the man who, by adding a letter, changed the Russian to mean: “Life has become better, life has become more joyful – for Stalin.”) The few trustworthy reports of the time say the bizarre contrast between experienced reality and official propaganda (that one did not dare question) produced strange mental dislocations.

Harvard (thank God!) is a far lesser evil, but similar in this respect: students are immersed in an artificial reality – and then told it is a vile crime to betray the smallest symptom of having noticed it. Does anyone know anecdotes, or studies, of what the psychological effects of this are?

—-

* That the differences are large is not open to honest dispute – which excludes many a PC commentator. Back in the 1990s, when this situation was less developed, Thomas Sowell (in e.g. “Race and Culture”) reported that the black-white discrepancy was well into the three-figure range while asian-americans had to average 50+ points above whites to have the same admission chances. Admissions discrimination against asian-americans, and for those minorities the PC like, appears to have grown since then. My figures above come from this article. The effect and its scale are clear; the precise SAT point values are debatable and vary (rather growing than diminishing) over time.

The Students For Fair Admissions Case

Lionel Shriver, writing in the Spectator:

For American schools, the sole purpose of turning ‘diversity’ into a crowning educational asset has been to disguise the affirmative action that these same universities once openly pursued and now can legally enforce only by calling the practice something else. Fifty years ago, the notion took hold in the US that racial equality would never evolve naturally, but had to be socially engineered by giving historically disadvantaged groups an active leg up, especially in higher education. Bald racial quotas and substantially lower admission standards for minorities became commonplace. Yet using racism to combat racism obviously doesn’t sit easily with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so multiple previous cases of this nature have ended up in the Supreme Court — whose rulings on the matter have been, to use a technical jurisprudential term, a big mess.

She goes on to explain:

What makes the Students for Fair Admissions case different is that it’s not white high school students with excellent records objecting to being shafted. Asian applicants to Harvard with dazzling grades and perfect test scores, who play the violin, speak four languages, volunteer for the Big Brothers programme, captain the volleyball team, adopt rescue dogs and memorise the value of pi to 31.4 trillion digits have still received rejection letters in droves.

Asians are doing too well and have to be stopped. They work too hard. They are too disciplined. They are too willing to make short-term sacrifices to reach long-term goals. They are too inclined to obey their parents. They stay up too late studying and get up too early to resume studying. Obviously it’s not fair.

The author goes on to point out what a clearly absurd situation this is. Asian-Americans remind us that culture counts, a point that economists such as Thomas Sowell have repeatedly pointed out.

One thought that occurs to me is that Asian-Americans who are denied entry for reasons of “positive discrimination” (towards African Americans, to be blunt about it) are increasingly likely to attend places more open to them, just as Jews, who fell foul of Harvard’s admissions prejudices for being “too focused on their studies” ended up forming institutions such as New York University (NYU), one of the greatest American universities. At the same time, this saga reminds me of the insight at which US economist Bryan Caplan arrived that much of the value of a university degree – in terms of the bump to earning power – from some places hinges around its “sheepskin” effect rather than because of the knowledge acquired by a student.

As an aside, I recall reading a few years ago this renowned book about the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon. And there is story about the rigour of mathematics education in Singapore.

The US lawsuit about Harvard admissions has gone to appeal and could end up in the Supreme Court. And that is where the debate is going to go full blast, because the ugly truth about “affirmative action” (aka, positive discrimination) will come out, and with it, the absurdity of the egalitarian idea itself. I remember a passage from Robert Nozick’s book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, where he pointed to the central fallacy of much egalitarian thinking, namely, the way that arguers for equality of starting points draw the false picture of athletes about to run in a race towards an end point. As the late Prof. Nozick argued, if life was like that, then anyone who came from a supportive, comfortable background would be forced to wear poor shoes or carry weights to give those from difficult backgrounds – such as those born in broken homes with no education stimulation – a “fair start”. (In real-life athletics, this desire for fairness explains the row about men who undergo sex-change operations and compete in women’s athletics events, benefiting from their higher testosterone levels. It also explains why drug abuse is a big deal in sports.)

But, as Prof Nozick said, life is not a race towards a fixed point. It is about people exchanging things with one another and transferring things/values to those whom they choose, such as parents encouraging children to read, or play a musical instrument, or play outside on their own and develop self confidence, etc. Only a person taking a zero-sum view of the world can object to such exchanges.

A final thought: there is no reason why a private organisation could not set out quotas or other, entirely arbitrary rules of admission. If it did so honestly, then it might for example have to say that “Hardworking Asian students from supportive homes might not get in because we have to ensure enough students from favoured group A and B who aren’t as capable and hardworking get a chance because of diversity”. Such a stance would, conveyed clearly, let everyone know that having a degree from such a place is compromised in such a way, and employers and others could judge such an institution accordingly.

Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal, saying that Asian-Americans are being treated as Jews were treated by US higher education more than half a century ago. (Behind paywall.)

That Which Shall Not Be Named

It waits. It hungers. In its tenebrous embrace all memories, all identities, all names are lost. What was once known becomes unknown.

And a jolly good thing too, that’s what I say.

The Scottish government’s creepy Named Person Scheme has been fed to Azathoth, the BBC reports.

An earlier post of mine called “Sixty pages” described one father’s experience of the pilot scheme:

The surviving extracts appeared to indicate that the minutiae of his family life had been recorded in painstaking detail for almost two years, under a Named Person scheme which has been introduced in his part of the country ahead of its final roll-out across all of Scotland in August. A separate note made by the Named Person charged with keeping an eye on the academic’s two little boys was concerned with nappy rash.

Rob Fisher also wrote about it here: What the GIRFEC?

Discussion point: which little Guardian to believe?

Cartoons depict a character wrestling with his conscience by placing a little devil on one shoulder whispering sweet temptations into one ear while a little angel urges rectitude from the other side.

The Guardian says,

The Guardian view on 16-year-old soldiers: armies are for adults

But as Guido points out, the Guardian also says,

The Guardian view on the voting age: time to lower it to 16

Which little Guardian is the angel, which the devil?

I could have just asked you at what age you think children should become adults, but the two little Guardians united to demand their moment of fame. Perhaps both of them should be ignored and there should be no fixed age of adulthood. History provides no guide. From the twelve year old boys who served as “powder monkeys” during naval battles in the age of sail, to the Roman man who remained under the authority of his father for as long as the latter lived, every extreme of custom has seemed natural to those that lived under it.

Are there any oddities of law relating to the age at which young people can first do a given activity that particularly annoy you?

Can you see any way in which fourteen year olds could be stopped from buying hard drugs without the use of law? Or do you dispute that they should be stopped at all?

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.