Quotulatiousness

January 16, 2018

QotD: Intersectionality

Filed under: Education, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The term and concept were presented in a 1989 essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA, who made the very reasonable point that a black woman’s experience in America is not captured by the summation of the black experience and the female experience. She analyzed a legal case in which black women were victims of discrimination at General Motors, even when the company could show that it hired plenty of blacks (in factory jobs dominated by men), and it hired plenty of women (in clerical jobs dominated by whites). So even though GM was found not guilty of discriminating against blacks or women, it ended up hiring hardly any black women. This is an excellent argument. What academic could oppose the claim that when analyzing a complex system, we must look at interaction effects, not just main effects?

But what happens when young people study intersectionality? In some majors, it’s woven into many courses. Students memorize diagrams showing matrices of privilege and oppression. It’s not just white privilege causing black oppression, and male privilege causing female oppression; its heterosexual vs. LGBTQ, able-bodied vs. disabled; young vs. old, attractive vs. unattractive, even fertile vs. infertile. Anything that a group has that is good or valued is seen as a kind of privilege, which causes a kind of oppression in those who don’t have it. A funny thing happens when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side of each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.

And here’s the strategically brilliant move made by intersectionality: all of the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups now align against Israel. Intersectionality is like NATO for social-justice activists.

This means that on any campus where intersectionality thrives, conflict will be eternal, because no campus can eliminate all offense, all microaggressions, and all misunderstandings. This is why the use of shout-downs, intimidation, and even violence in response to words and ideas is most common at our most progressive universities, in the most progressive regions of the country. It’s schools such as Yale, Brown, and Middlebury in New England, and U.C. Berkeley, Evergreen, and Reed on the West Coast. Are those the places where oppression is worst, or are they the places where this new way of thinking is most widespread?

Jonathan Haidt, “The Age of Outrage: What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities”, City Journal, 2017-12-17.

January 7, 2018

Now we know how to get more women in the STEM fields

Filed under: Education, Science, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Toni Airaksinen reviews the findings of Professors Parson and Ozaki, who believe they’ve identified the key factors holding back young women from studying STEM subjects:

Two professors believe that “masculine STEM ideals”—like “asking good questions” and “putting school first” — are to blame for the lack of women in math and science courses.

Laura Parson, a professor at Auburn University, and Casey Ozaki, who teaches education at the University of North Dakota, advanced the notion in an article published in the latest issue of the NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, noting that women are not only “less likely to major in STEM fields” than are men, but those who do study science, technology, engineering, and math are less likely to graduate than their male classmates.

Together, Parson and Ozaki interviewed eight female students majoring in math or physics to learn more about why women struggle in STEM. From their interviews, the professors learned that many women feel pressure to conform to so-called “masculine” norms.

According to the professors, these masculine norms include “asking good questions,” “capacity for abstract thought and rational thought processes,” “motivation,” the expectation that students would be “independent” thinkers, and a relatively low fear of failure.

“This requirement that the average student asks questions and speaks in class is based on the typical undergraduate man,” they contend.

Unfortunately for the female students, many of them indicated difficulty embodying these traits, reporting that they tend to ask fewer questions in class than do their male peers, and have noticed that other women in their classes share the same inclination.

So what’s to be done? How can we ensure that female students significantly outnumber men in the STEM departments as they now do in most other university departments?

Parson and Ozaki spell out a few recommendations for STEM programs, saying for instance that academic departments should “redefine success by changing expectations,” such as letting women write down questions instead of asking them out-loud. They also recommended that more women are hired, but notably did not mention any concerns over merit.

They also declare that “an important aspect of changing the masculine nature of STEM is diversifying STEM fields,” and suggest that hiring more female faculty members could lead to increased enrollment of female students because “women faculty have been found to increase participation, feelings of inclusion and belonging, and women’s perceptions of identity compatibility.”

Achieving “a critical mass of women” in STEM, the professors predict, would serve to weaken “the masculine STEM discourses of individualism and competition” while promoting “connectivity and relatedness,” which they believe will help to create the sense of “community” desired by the students they interviewed.

“Improving the chilly climate in STEM fields requires revising the STEM institution from one that is masculine to one that is inclusive for non-men, non-White students,” they conclude.

I mean, it’s obvious now that they’ve spelled it out for us, isn’t it?

January 6, 2018

QotD: The teacher as social worker

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Here we come to one of the most pernicious aspects of identity politics as it reshaped the American university — the confusion of teaching with social work. The issue of improper advocacy in the classroom has never been adequately addressed by the profession. Teaching and research must strive to remain objective and detached. The teacher as an individual citizen may and should have strong political convictions and activities outside the classroom, but in the classroom, he or she should never take ideological positions without at the same time frankly acknowledging them as opinion to the students and emphasizing that all students are completely free to hold and express their own opinions on any issue, no matter how contested, from abortion, homosexuality, and global warming to the existence of God or the veracity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Unfortunately, because of the failure of American colleges and universities to seek and support ideological diversity on their campuses, the humanities faculties have trended so far toward liberal Democrats (among whom I number myself) that they often seem naively unaware that any other beliefs are possible or credible.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

December 29, 2017

QotD: Post-structuralism

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Another problem in 1970s academe was a job recession in the humanities that arose just as deconstruction and post-structuralism arrived from Europe. The deconstructionist trend started when J. Hillis Miller moved from Johns Hopkins University to Yale and began bringing Jacques Derrida over from France for regular visits. The Derrida and Lacan fad was followed by the cult of Michel Foucault, who remains a deity in the humanities but whom I regard as a derivative game-player whose theories make no sense whatever about any period preceding the Enlightenment. The first time I witnessed a continental theorist discoursing with professors at a Yale event, I said in exasperation to a fellow student, “They’re like high priests murmuring to each other.” It is absurd that that elitist theoretical style, with its opaque and contorted jargon, was ever considered Leftist, as it still is. Authentic Leftism is populist, with a brutal directness of speech.

Post-structuralism, in asserting that language forms reality, is a reactionary reversal of the authentic revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, when the arts had turned toward a radical liberation of the body and a re-engagement with the sensory realm. By treating language as the definitive force in the world — a foolish thesis that could easily be refuted by the dance, music, or visual arts majors in my classes — post-structuralism set the groundwork for the present campus impasse where offensive language is conflated with material injury and alleged to have a magical power to create reality. Furthermore, post-structuralism treats history as a false narrative and encourages a random, fragmented, impressionistic approach that has given students a fancy technique but little actual knowledge of history itself.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

December 19, 2017

The imminent threat of Neo-Victorianism

Filed under: Business, Education, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the moral panic currently gripping modern American public life:

The same logic applies to the burdens of proof. If unsubstantiated claims are accepted at face value, then eventually enough will turn out to be false that many future claims will be disregarded — whether they are plausible or not, whether they are substantiated or not. That was the harm done by cases like the Duke Lacrosse scandal, the UVA rape case, the Tawana Brawley accusations, and many others. But there’s another potential harm we also have to think about.

Let’s say that we do manage to establish a social norm that a single accusation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” toward a woman is enough to get you fired and drummed out of your industry. It’s the crux of the issue so eloquently explored recently by Claire Berlinski: What would a reasonable and innocent heterosexual man do to protect himself from the economic death penalty?

One thing he might do is avoid being alone with anyone of the opposite sex — not in the office and not even in social situations. You might, in other words, adopt something like the Pence Rule, so recently mocked for its Victorian overtones. (Or worse still, work hard not to hire any women who could become a liability.)

This would obviously be bad for women, who would lose countless opportunities for learning, advancement, friendship, even romance — the human connections that make us human workers superior to robots, for now.

On the radio recently, I pointed out that this might be a logical result of a “one strike and you’re out” policy. The host, aghast, remarked that this was obviously not what we wanted. And of course, that isn’t what anyone wants. It might nonetheless be the logical result of the rules we’re setting up.

It’s easy for me to think of all the things I would have lost out on under a strict Pence Rule. The creative writing professor who conducted my independent study in his house, for example. It was perhaps a more innocent time, but even then I was not unaware of the sexual overtones our culture would see in a young female student going to a much older male professor’s home while his wife was at work. He was a perfect gentleman who made me cabbage soup, taught me to insert little slivers of garlic into a beef roast, and savagely critiqued my prose. David Slavitt, wherever you are, thank you for making me a better writer. And my condolences to all the female students today who will never have similar opportunities — if I may judge by the bemusement/horror of male professors to whom I have told this story.

December 12, 2017

QotD: The development of all the various university “studies” departments

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

After the 1960s cultural revolution, it was clear that the humanities had become too insular and removed from social concerns and that they had to reincorporate a more historical perspective. There were many new subject areas of contemporary interest that needed to be added to the curriculum — sex and gender, film, African-American and Native American studies among them. But the entire humanities curriculum urgently demanded rethinking. The truly radical solution would have been to break down the departmental structure that artificially separated, for example, English departments from French departments and German departments. Bringing all literature together as one field would have created a much more open, flexible format to encourage interdisciplinary exploration, such as cross-fertilizations of literature with the visual arts and music. Furthermore, I wanted an authentic multiculturalism, a curriculum that affirmed the value and achievements of Western civilization but expanded globally to include other major civilizations, all of which would be studied in their chronological unfolding. Even though I am an atheist, I have always felt that comparative religion, a study of the great world religions over time, including all aspects of their art, architecture, rituals, and sacred texts, was the best way to teach authentic multiculturalism and achieve world understanding. Zen Buddhism was in the air in the 1960s as part of the legacy of the post-war Beat movement, and Hinduism entered the counterculture through the London scene, partly because of Ravi Shankar, a master of the sitar who performed at California’s Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

However, these boundary-dissolving expansions were unfortunately not the route taken by American academe in the 1970s. Instead, new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)

I maintain, from my dismayed observation at the time, that these new add-on programs were rarely if ever founded on authentic scholarly principles; they were public relations gestures meant to stifle criticism of a bigoted past. In designing any women’s studies program, for example, surely a basic requirement for students should be at least one course in basic biology, so that the role of hormones in human development could be investigated — and rejected, if necessary. But no, both women’s studies and later gender studies evolved without reference to science and have thus ensured that their ideology remains partisan and one-dimensional, stressing the social construction of gender. Any other view is regarded as heresy and virtually never presented to students even as an alternative hypothesis.

Today’s campus political correctness can ultimately be traced to the way those new programs, including African-American and Native American studies, were so hastily constructed in the 1970s, a process that not only compromised professional training in those fields over time but also isolated them in their own worlds and thus ultimately lessened their wider cultural impact. I believe that a better choice for academic reform would have been the decentralized British system traditionally followed at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which offered large subject areas where a student could independently pursue his or her special interest. In any case, for every new department or program added to the U.S. curriculum, there should have been a central shared training track, introducing students to the methodology of research and historiography, based in logic and reasoning and the rigorous testing of conclusions based on evidence. Neglect of that crucial training has meant that too many college teachers, then and now, lack even the most superficial awareness of their own assumptions and biases. Working on campus only with the like-minded, they treat dissent as a mortal offense that must be suppressed, because it threatens their entire career history and world-view. The ideology of those new programs and departments, predicated on victimology, has scarcely budged since the 1970s. This is a classic case of the deadening institutionalization and fossilization of once genuinely revolutionary ideas.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

November 29, 2017

Something rotten at the Royal Military College of Canada

Filed under: Cancon, Education, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell discusses the concerns about the Royal Military College (RMC) in the latest Auditor General’s report:

Aerial view of the main RMC campus in Kingston, Ontario.
Photo from Ted Campbell’s Point of View

As you can well imagine, despite the almost zero interest in government and the media ~ reflecting the fact that taxpayers neither know much nor care even a tiny bit about the military, unless there’s a scandal with sexual overtones ~ this is a hot topic amongst many of my friends. Reactions range from:

  • Hey, RMC is doing just fine, it is meeting its assigned mission ~ “The mission of the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) is to produce officers with the mental, physical and linguistic capabilities and the ethical foundation required to lead with distinction in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)” ~ and who cares if it costs a bit more than, say, getting a tainted BA from Laurier?
  • … through to …

  • Burn. It. To. The. Ground.

Most of my military friends and acquaintances agree, broadly, with the Auditor General:

  • The Royal Military College is a pretty good university that produces well educated men and women, most of whom are, perhaps, somewhat less than adequately prepared for further military training; but
  • The Royal Military College is notably weaker than in years (decades) past and weaker than it should be, today, at producing young men and women who are physically fit, even tough, who have high ethical standards and who display an acceptable level of leadership skill and ability.

So, why, one might ask, is The Royal Military College an academically fine college but not so good at the military stuff?

Friends and acquaintances who are reasonable closely connected to RMC (current and former academic and military staff and/or officers in the parts of the HQ that have responsibility for RMC) suggest that the academic staff (currently led by the College Principal, Dr. H.J. (Harry) Kowal, CD, rmc, BEng, MSAe, MA(SS), MDS, PhD, PEng, BGen (Ret’d)) has a better focus on what it is doing and why it is doing it than does the military staff (currently led by the Commandant, Brigadier General Sébastien Bouchard, an Army officer from one of the engineering branches). Should BrigadierGeneral Bouchard be fired and replaced with someone better? No, the problem is not his leadership ability, it is that Dr. Kowal’s mission is clearer, simpler and easier to accomplish than is General Bouchard’s. In theory the reverse ought to be true, but …

Most of my friends and acquaintances who are “in the know” agree that RMC’s biggest problem is that the military, proper, has far, far too little say in who gets in and once in students are not allowed to fail out for fitness (athletic), ethical or leadership deficiencies.

A while ago a friend related a story (it’s actually three or four stories, all put together) about one of the courses at the College ~ it was about a mid-term exam: one student was caught cheating, one simply failed to even write the exam and a third had to be given a second chance because (s)he had a learning disability. “Wait!” I exclaimed, “How in hell did someone with a learning disability get into RMC in the first place? How in hell will someone with a learning disability ever stand watch on the bridge of a ship, command a troop of tanks in battle or fly an airplane?” “Not to worry,” my friend said, “(s)he will never get that far … but (s)he will graduate.” He went on to explain that no one in “official Ottawa” is wiling to enforce standards any more. No one believes that a person with a learning disability severe enough to require special attention like an exam re-write can ever do any useful job as an officer in the CF, but no one has the courage to say, up front, “sorry, Margaret or Mike, but you are not qualified to study at RMC because we, the military, have our own, valid, operationally required standards and you don’t meet them.” In the 21st century we all know that every snowflake is special and every special snowflake will go to some human rights tribunal if the military ties to enforce reasonable, legitimate standards, and the admirals and generals and bureaucrats and politicians are far more afraid of a human rights story in the media than they are of North Korean missiles.

“But,” I said, “what about the one who cheated and the one who just ditched the exam?” They, I suggested, must, surely, have been given the old “heave-ho.” “Nope,” my friend answered, “the exam was just declared optional ~ it will count as, say, 15% of the final course mark so the young person who ditched it will still, most likely, graduate and the cadet who cheated was given a bureaucratic rap on the knuckles because no one in the military chain had the balls to fail him/her.” Failing someone, he said, is very, very difficult because even the military has adapted to a social system in which everyone must pass everything … only, he said, in a few (hard science and engineering) departments is there some doubt about everyone passing everything.

November 24, 2017

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute makes Title IX applicable to non-students

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I only know about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute due to the model railway club on campus, but the school should be more widely known now, if only as an object of derision:

Today, we’re writing about RPI’s attempt to subject a student from a different school to its disciplinary process — an attempt we’re only learning about because a court had to order RPI to stop violating the rights of John Doe (who used a pseudonym in his lawsuit). In a Nov. 6 ruling in Doe’s favor, a New York state court judge deemed RPI’s conduct “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and annulled RPI’s finding that Doe had sexually assaulted an RPI student.

This story begins in 2015 when Doe, a graduate student at a school that is not RPI, was in a relationship with an RPI student. Doe had never been a student at RPI. His only connection to RPI was his relationship with an RPI student. In the summer of 2016, after the relationship ended, the RPI student filed a Title IX complaint with RPI against Doe. As the court would later observe, the alleged conduct at issue in this case “took place off campus and was not in anyway (sic) related to an educational program or activity of RPI,” and that RPI “would have learned this from the complaint itself and statements made by the complainant.” Despite this, RPI launched an of Doe and interviewed him. Per the court, the interview constituted “a clear violation of [Doe’s] constitutional rights.”

It is not difficult to see why the interview raised concerns with the court. First, RPI conveniently failed to tell Doe why it needed to interview him in advance. Doe didn’t find out about the purpose of the meeting until just before it started, when RPI’s interviewers gave him some documents and told him he was the subject of misconduct investigation. If that weren’t enough to raise due process concerns, it was also “obvious” to Judge Raymond J. Elliott that there was “a language and a possible cultural barrier” between Doe and RPI’s interviewers. So RPI hauled Doe in for questioning without telling him why, sprung a serious charge on him, and failed to ensure that he understood what was going on.

[…]

But to say the court generally sided with Doe would be an understatement.

Most importantly, the court ruled that RPI went too far in asserting jurisdiction over Doe and subjecting him to its disciplinary process. The court held that RPI should not have interviewed him or included his statement in its report. The remedy in this case was voiding Doe’s statement, and because RPI relied on Doe’s statement, the court annulled the report. The court also found that RPI had “no legal authority or obligation … to report, inform, publish or share any information or documentation with [Doe’s] academic institution regarding this alleged incident, and that [RPI’s] determination that they have the authority to do so is arbitrary and capricious.”

October 23, 2017

QotD: Cargo cult economics

Filed under: Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Once upon a time, government officials decided it would help them keep their jobs if they could claim they had expanded the middle class. Unfortunately, none of them really understood economics or even the historical factors that led to the emergence of the middle class in the first place. But they did know two things: middle class people tended to own their own homes, and they sent their kids to college.

So in true cargo cult fashion, they decided to increase the middle class by promoting these markers of being middle class. They threw the Federal government strongly behind promoting home ownership and college education. A large part of this effort entailed offering easy debt financing for housing and education. Because the whole point was to add poorer people to the middle class, there was a strong push to strip away traditional underwriting criteria for these loans (e.g., down payments, credit history, actual income to pay debt, etc.)

We know what happened in the housing market. The government promoted home ownership with easy loans, and made these loans a favorite investment by giving them a preferential treatment in the capital requirements for banks. And then the bubble burst, with the government taking the blame for the bubble. Just kidding, the government blamed private lenders for their lax underwriting standards, conveniently forgetting that every President since Reagan had encouraged such laxity (they called it something else, like “giving access to the poor”, but it means the same thing).

Warren Meyer, “Cargo Cult Social Engineering”, Coyote Blog, 2012-11-28.

October 21, 2017

Surprise, surprise – exclusive universities draw almost exclusively from rich regions

Filed under: Britain, Education — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Guardian, Sally Weale, Richard Adams and Helena Bengtsson disclose the shocking news that Oxford and Cambridge select very few students from outside the two wealthiest tiers of society or from outside London and the southeast:

Oxford and Cambridge universities have gone backwards on the socio-economic diversity of their student bodies, with more than four in five students coming from the most privileged groups, a Guardian analysis has found.

Data released to the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 82% of offers from Oxford and 81% from Cambridge went to students from the top two socio-economic groups in 2015, up from 79% at both universities five years earlier.

Lammy, who has campaigned for greater ethnic and socio-economic diversity at Oxbridge, said he was appalled that the universities were moving backwards on socio-economic background measurements. “This data clearly shows that a privileged background is still the key to getting through the Oxbridge admissions process,” he said.

The data shows huge regional disparities in offers, with some parts of England and Wales failing to secure a single place for years while students in London and the south-east received almost half of all offers.

Despite the two universities’ extensive efforts to increase the diversity of their intake, new research shows there are still swaths of the country with low rates of application and disproportionately fewer offers.

Students from benighted, uncivilized places like Middlesbrough are rarely able to gain admission:

Middlesbrough, where 101 students applied to Oxbridge, secured just 11 places in five years.

Carolyn Yule, the director of A-levels at Middlesbrough College, said that not one of her Oxbridge applicants had been successful in her three years in the job. “One of the students we did a lot of work with, he wanted to read mathematics and he was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “He got an interview and could not have done any more, but he didn’t get in. We didn’t really get a lot of feedback from them. We don’t even feel we know why our students don’t get in.”

However, it’s important to find out how many students applied to make sense of the numbers accepted:

There are 38 colleges at Oxford, 31 at Cambridge (close enough anyway). Given that not everyone with that sort of level of academic achievement actually tries to enter Oxbridge then what do we think should be the offer rate to these Black Britons? It’s most certainly not 4 offers per college per year, is it? Or 6, or whatever 400 divided by 70 is.

Given the small numbers the stats are going to be weird anyway, but what is the number of total offers made by all colleges, related to the total number of people who get 3 A grades? Vriance from that would probably be a good starting point for us.

Lammy does however make a good point:

    With this degree of disproportionately against black students, it is time to ask the question of whether there is systematic bias.

I’m certainly willing to believe there is. I am not deluded enough to think that Britain is perfect, nor its education system. But I would probably start with the thought that the bias is in the system that leads to the 400 not with the selection within it.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

October 12, 2017

Britain’s Old Boy Network – from “the Establishment” to “the Embarrassment”

Filed under: Britain, Government, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the media rounds supporting his new book, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power, Niall Ferguson discusses the decline and fall of the oldest power network in Britain:

It used to be that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was the United Cronydom of Great Poshhouse and Northern Grousemoor. The only network that mattered was the Old Boy Network. The OBN was formed by men who were the old boys of a tiny elite of boarding schools known as “public schools” because they were closed to the public. Most boys at those schools were scions of the aristocracy or the landed gentry: future barons and baronets.

Even if thick to the point of educational sub-normality, these young gentlemen would attend either Oxford or Cambridge. They would then be given one of the following jobs:

1. Estate manager and courtier (eldest son).

2. Foreign Office or Treasury mandarin (brightest son).

3. Cabinet minister (most extrovert son).

4. Governor of [insert Caribbean island] (youngest son).

5. BBC director-general (Left-wing son).

This is of course a caricature. In reality, there were all kinds of sub-networks — clusters — within the elite network that ran Britain. Sometimes, a brilliant group of talented young men would come together to achieve great things. There was the “Kindergarten” formed by Alfred Milner, which tried (and failed) to transform South Africa into a second Canada or Australia. There were the Apostles — the Cambridge Conversazione, the most exclusive intellectual club of all time — to which the economist John Maynard Keynes belonged.

However, with increasing frequency after 1945, the OBN’s achievements were less than brilliant. Suez. Wilson. Heath. Double-digit inflation. The three-day week. From being the winners of glittering prizes, the OBN degenerated in the eyes of a previously deferential public into the upper-class twits of the year.

In the Sixties the journalists Henry Fairlie and Anthony Sampson popularised the disdainful name that the historian A.J.P. Taylor had given the British elite: “The Establishment”. By the Seventies the Establishment were more like The Embarrassment — objects of sitcom ridicule. By the Eighties they had been almost entirely driven from the corridors of power. Nothing better illustrated this than the Thatcher governments: not only was the prime minister a woman from provincial Lincolnshire (albeit one with an Oxford degree); there were enough ministers in her Cabinet with Jewish backgrounds to inspire off-colour jokes about “Old Estonians”.

October 7, 2017

QotD: Madman or academic on the loose?

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Chesterton, somewhere, memorably notes that the madman is not without reason. Verily, in the mental department, he has lost everything except his reason. I remember this every time I find myself arguing with an atheist: that it is best not to. The mere idea of “pure reason” enabled a certain Immanuel Kant to anticipate post-modernity, set the stage for some bizarre descendants, and reset all our metaphysical dials to an atheist default position. Not that he was intending this. He was only taking a step beyond Hume. “Fully autonomous reason,” shall we call it, is a powerfully destructive force. Perfection of the intellect is no more possible, down here on earth, than a life entirely without sin. The belief that we can elevate ourselves by the synaptic bootstraps of our wee tiny brains, has much for which to answer.

In Parkdale for instance: a district of this city renowned for its accumulation of “outpatients,” on and off their “meds.” They also illustrate Chesterton’s aphorism. Often they are reasoning, aloud; and seldom on my walks do I detect any logical errors. From the facts or premisses that they have supposed, their (often angry) mutterings to themselves flow quite naturally. I have even overheard some impressive hair-splitting; and have often thought that, with a little anger management, they could be candidates for tenure — at Ryerson, if not the U of T.

David Warren, “Not all there”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-12-15.

September 21, 2017

QotD: Teaching

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

At every level, our society has been idiotized, in fulfilment of the democratic ideal. As I am reminded by each and every remark, from all candidates in televised political debates, we are now living in Flatworld.

God created, and continues to create, men and women of extraordinary diversity, in natural interests, native motor abilities, and the potential for what the Greeks called “genius.” That is to say, not simply brains, but what can be done with the brain you were provided.

I have noticed from my own teaching experience that, the smaller the class, the harder on a teacher. This is because the needs of individuals can better be discerned. The hardest teaching is under the old, indeed mediaeval, tutoring system: the one-to-one that used to be standard in places like Oxford and Cambridge, which continued to distinguish them from the drive-in, red-brick, fake universities. For at that “tutorial” level, student and teacher are both fully exposed, each to the strengths and limitations of another, non-abstract, human mind. It becomes impossible to “go through the motions.”

And it is like this, ultimately, in the tutoring of Christ Our Saviour. Every one of His students is a difficult case; the smart ones usually the most difficult. And so, likewise, with parent and child; with master and apprentice. It is so, by analogy, wherever men try to teach one another. The sermons and parables, the public lectures, are only the beginning of it. Then comes a process of discovery: “Which part of this do you not understand?”

Compare: the ideal of the “lowest common denominator,” appropriate perhaps for the management of pigs and cattle, on a large industrial farm. But evil when applied to human beings.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

September 4, 2017

The mental health crisis on campus

Filed under: Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Spiked, Naomi Firsht shares the concerns of Jonathan Haidt about the rise of mental health issues at US universities:

The heightened vulnerability of college students has had a chilling effect on discussion in the academic world, and Haidt sees this in his day-to-day experience on campus. “There is a rapidly spreading feeling that we are all walking on eggshells, both students and faculty. That we are now accountable, not for what we say, but for how anyone who hears it might take it. And if you have to speak, thinking about the worst reading that anyone could put on your words, that means you cannot be provocative, you cannot take risks, that means you will play it safe when you speak… This is what I’m seeing in my classes when topics related to race or gender come up – which we used to be able to talk about 10 years ago, but now it’s painful and there’s a lot of silence.”

This is disastrous for academic life, as Haidt points out: “A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right.”
He is keen to emphasise that this is not a right-left issue. “Several people on the left are noticing that college students are less effective politically as activists, as progressives, when they have this morality and this ethos with such heavy concept creep.”

Haidt believes there is a mental-health crisis on campus: “I have never seen such rapid increase in indicators of anxiety and depression as we have seen in the past few years”, he says. But his suggested approach is unlikely to find favour with student communities fond of Safe Spaces and therapeutic puppy-petting. “If you think about it as a mental-health crisis”, he explains, “then you might be tempted to say: we need more help, more counselling, more protection for those who are suffering from mental illness. But if you look at it that way you will miss the broader pattern, which is that for 20 to 30 years now, Americans have been systematically undermining the development of resilience or toughness of their children.” Referencing the work of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-range Kids, he concludes: “We have made our children too safe to succeed.”

In his forthcoming book Misguided Minds: How Three Bad Ideas Are Leading Young People, Universities, and Democracies Toward Failure, Haidt claims that certain ideas are impairing students’ chances of success. Those ideas being: your feelings are always right; what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; and the world is divided into good people and bad people. “If we can teach those three ideas to college students”, he says, “we cannot guarantee they will fail, but we will minimise their odds at success”.

So how can we resolve the problem of vulnerability among young Americans? Haidt says part of the solution must begin in childhood and will require parents to give their children daily periods of “unsupervised time”. “We have to accept the fact that in that unsupervised time there will be name-calling, conflict and exclusion. And while it’s painful for parents to accept this, in the long-run it will give them children that are not suffering from such high rates of anxiety and depression.”

August 27, 2017

Stop Subsidizing Sports!

Filed under: Economics, Education, Government, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 25 Aug 2017

Let’s talk about “sports”—that thing where we gather around to watch a muscular stranger put a regulation-size ball in a specific location.

Why are taxpayers forced to pony up cash for athletic ventures that don’t benefit them? Franchise owners routinely extort massive stadium subsidies through threats of relocation and fake promises of economic revitalization. Universities jack up student rates to subsidize athletic programs that should be self-sustaining. And the Olympics is economically devastating to every municipality foolish enough to get suckered by one of the oldest scams around.

Mostly Weekly host Andrew Heaton explores the sports phenomenon and why we should quit throwing other people’s money at it.

Links, past episodes, and more at https://reason.com/reasontv/2017/08/25/stop-subsidizing-sports

Script by Sarah Siskind with writing assistant from Andrew Heaton and David Fried.
Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress