Archive: education

I see that the BBC’s iPM blog is asking for the human stories behind the current unemployment figures. Well, I am a human face of two recent news stories.

As readers are no doubt sick of reading by now, one of those stories was the loss of around 27,000 jobs at Woolworths. The other is the shortage of graduate-level jobs.

I graduated last summer. I didn’t have a job to walk into straight away because I wanted to take time to think about my future plans. Plus, the economy seemed bad enough at the time, and I thought maybe things would improve a bit later down the line. Now I have more or less decided what sort of work I would like to do, but of course the economy has deteriorated further and the jobs simply aren’t there.

The thing is, I’m not the only one. I can’t think of anyone who was in the same school year as me and has found a graduate-level job. I haven’t kept in touch with many people from university, but those I have heard from are either working in part-time retail jobs or more-or-less volunteering. I am still in touch with a lot of people from school, and no-one I know who was in the same year as me has found a job yet. I’m sure there are loads of people of my age who have found a decent job — I just don’t know any of them.

Many are doing five year courses anyway so are still studying. One or two have opted to go onto further study, while the rest of us are still searching for employment. And I’m not talking about people who got thirds from Shatsborough Poly by any means. I know someone who got a first at St Andrews University and is currently working in a shop.

A few months ago I still had the luxury of working in a shop. Of course, staying on at Woolies was never my long-term goal. It would have been useful as a back-up plan though. Not exactly a plan B, but maybe a plan C. As it stands, I’m still waiting for something to turn up in the realm of plan A, I need to wait and see with plan B, and plan C has totally fallen through already. For now, I’m onto plan D — D for “dole”.

So the news that there is a shortage of graduate places is not exactly news to me. I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve shared that experience with my acquaintances. What is really worrying is that a situation that was bad for the class of 2008 looks set to become even worse in 2009, with no sign of a recovery.

I had long feared that my degree wouldn’t be worth much. When I was at my lowest ebb, I thought that the whole higher education machine was a bit of a scam. When you are at school, you are pretty much told by everyone that going to university is the only option if you don’t want to spend your life being a street cleansing operative. Parents want you to go to university because of their pride. Schools want you to go to university, probably because of some kind of target, or league tables or something. And governments want you to go to university because of their peculiar obsession with having 50% of school leavers in higher education, and probably also to keep unemployment figures down as well.

Quite why I should have wanted to go to university is a bit of a mystery now. It was fairly clear early on that my degree wouldn’t be enough to set me apart, mostly because people began to tell us. There was that old joke about the university graduate who went on to become the best barman in town.

I could see why it was the case. The intellectual range of students is surprisingly large. I studied alongside many students who did not seem very bright (and spent much of their four years at university consuming alcohol), but were obviously quite good at exams. I think I am relatively smart and hard-working, but I don’t happen to perform so well at exams (my essay marks were always higher). Both types of student are likely to get a 2:1, but one of those types is surely the better for the employer. I have few ways of signalling to an employer which type I am.

The fact that employers do not value degrees very highly at all is evident in the fact that most blue chip companies will have job applicants sit their own exams, aptitude tests, diagrammatic reasoning tests and so on and so forth. Simply, there are too many degrees sloshing about in the system and the value of a degree is now so low that it tells you almost nothing about a person’s ability to do a job.

Maybe in the long run it will pay off and I will be pleased I put myself through four years of stress and horrible three hour round-trip commutes. In the meantime, I look at the people around me who have never been to university and think what I could be doing now had I taken their path. If I worked in a shop from the age of 16, I could be in management by now. If I left school at 16 and took up a trade such as plumbing, I would be perfectly comfortable and happy with my life already. I might even be running my own business. As things stand, I just feel a bit lost and I don’t know what my prospects are.

What I find notable is that the few opportunities I have had have arisen as a result of my blogging activities. No-one is interested in me because of my degree. There are plenty of people with one of them, and they’re all looking for jobs too.

The loss of my part time job last week came as a further blow to morale. Even though I was planning to leave my job at around this time anyway, there is nothing like being made redundant from a low-paid shelf-stacking job to make you feel like a spare part to the world. I need to remember that it’s not my fault.

Unemployment has affected me more than I thought it might. While I have never been unemployed in the official sense before, I have had periods of downtime before — summer breaks from university and the like. I thought it would feel like that. But it doesn’t. A whole lot of baggage comes with unemployment.

I have found myself being quite down at times. The scariest part is not the lack of income (for the time being) but the potential that I might end up isolated. You might not get along with all of your colleagues, but they are nonetheless like a second family. It’s a whole set of people who are there, prepared to listen to you and offer advice. Regular contact with people keeps you connected to society. With many of my friends either still studying or gallivanting somewhere else, I am a bit worried about becoming isolated.

Jennifer Tracey asks on the iPM blog if there is less of a stigma attached to being unemployed now that the economy is in such a bad state. I couldn’t help but feel rather self conscious as I took my first trip to the Jobcentre and I almost felt like the spotlight was on me as I walked up the steps to the entrance. I suppose that is quite silly really, because in this part of the world the Jobcentre’s steps are quite well used.

But what other people might think doesn’t bother me as much as what I think does. The prospect that I might be unable to positively contribute to society for the next while vexes me a lot.

This week a university lecturer, Ken Smith, suggested that spelling “mistakes” should be accepted as variants. This has upset Ideas of Civilisation and Colin Campbell among others.

I side with Ken Smith on this occasion though. I hate spelling mistakes and love to point them out. Only yesterday I saw a greengrocers’ apostrophe and instinctively growled. But that is only because I am a cheeky wee pedant. Deep down, I know that the rules of the English language are strange and, ultimately, pointless.

What is the purpose of language? I would say language is what allows people to communicate with each other. Accordingly, rules should develop naturally, and as long as the two parties communicating understand each other all is well. However, for grammar fascists, language rules are just an opportunity to crack the whip.

It is worth remembering that a strict one-size-fits-all suite of language rules is a very modern concept. Standardised spellings only came in when some smart fellow decided to become the first lexicographer and hoodwink people into believing his services were vital.

William Shakespeare did not even have a standardised spelling for his own name. Was he wrong? If we follow the joke that the easiest mark in an exam is for spelling your name correctly, it looks like Shakespeare himself would have failed his English GCSE.

Now, hopefully you have noticed that I like to take care over my spelling and suchlike. But this is a personal choice that I took because I believe that adhering to these rules allows me to reach the widest audience possible. That, and it means I don’t get bombarded by complaints from snobs.

If someone else is content to spell things incorrectly but can still convey their message to its intended recipient then that is their personal choice. There is nothing wrong with people deciding how they can speak and write for themselves.

Language has always evolved naturally, and I see no reason why that should stop now. The purpose of a dictionary is to record language as it is written, not to tell people how to write it. If different people spell things in different ways, then that is just part of life’s rich tapestry.

After all, we tolerate and even celebrate — and rightly so — variations in pronunciation in the English language. Only the snobbiest of snobs would demand that everyone speaks RP. In this age where regional accents are celebrated, we usually find we have no trouble understanding people. So why should people also be expected to write in the same bland, standardised, colourless RP all the time?

What gets me is the sheer snobbery of some people who insist on “correct” spellings. Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong? Closing your ears and stomping your feet complaining about how thick the other person is does not get anyone anywhere. Is there not room for some give and take, just as there is when having a conversation with people who have a different accent?

Ideas of Civilisation attempted to show how ludicrous Ken Smith’s suggestion is by filling his post with a myriad of misspellings. Of course, were Ken Smith’s idea to take hold and language was allowed to evolve naturally, we almost certainly would not face a wholesale dumping of the dictionary, with standards completely replaced by arbitrariness. Instead, new standards would emerge while the most common misspellings would be tolerated.

Txt spk is the perfect example. Snobs may turn their nose up at it, but there is no denying that this development which emerged naturally has had an important influence in simplifying the language and removing barriers to communication. In fact, it is an ingenious solution to the problem we all face, stuck with the QWERTY system which was originally designed to slow typists down. What is wrong with people using their initiative to speed things up again?

Then there is the text message itself, where brevity is key. Messages are limited to 160 characters which means you have to keep it short if you want to avoid being charged double or even triple your normal rate. The new standard of abbreviations is a clever and natural way to evade this restriction.

That is not to mention instant messaging, where speed is as important as clarity. When you are having a fast-paced IM conversation, it is only sensible to take the odd short cut. It should be no surprise that in an age where we rely more heavily than ever on inefficient keyboards and restrictive technologies that new standards should emerge.

Moreover, what is wrong with “embarassing”, “beleive” or “pleasent”? Or even the odd “there” instead of “their” or vice-versa? You would still know exactly what I meant were I to use those spellings. Any exam marker with two brain cells to rub together would know that as well. If he were to mark down someone for putting one ‘r’ instead of two even though the meaning is still perfectly clear, then that would make him a petulant, authoritarian shit.

It is often said that the most despised people in the country are journalists and estate agents. And while these people sometimes are indeed prize toss pots, there are two other professions that I despise above all others. Actors and politicians. Thing is, acting and being a politician is essentially the same job. They’re not wrong when they say politics is showbusiness for ugly people. Both aspire to earn money by spending their life being insincere. You can’t admire that.

But unlike many, I cannot bring myself to hate Boris Johnson in particular. That’s not because LOL I like his funnee hair and he is a legernd. (I do find it amusing, though, that people will — without a trace of irony — cite this article and others by the (admittedly excellent) Charlie Brooker saying “LOL! CHARLIE BROOKER IS A LEGEND!” It’s all a bit Dan Ashcroft if you ask me. But never mind.)

No, the real reason I don’t hate Boris Johnson is because I can’t stand politicians full stop. To single out one person the way some single out Boris Johnson seems incredibly unfair to me. And the reaction among some people to his election as London Mayor has left me in despair about the state of political discourse right now.

So I was glad to see the balance redressed somewhat by the excellent Nosemonkey yesterday. I was beginning to think I was the only one who couldn’t understand why so many people were queuing up to pour effluent on the man.

It is slightly dangerous territory for me to be talking about London politics. Everything I wrote here applies. But I have been spurred into blogging about this for two reasons. One is that the position of London Mayor is pretty much the only major directly elected post in the country and its effects inevitably reverberate around the country. The second is that the debate itself merits comment because it reflects the shoddy standard of political discourse in the UK as a whole.

I will refrain from commenting too much on the policies of either candidate. I know too little about the policies and obviously my opinions could well be different were I actually a Londoner. But I would probably have reluctantly voted for Brian Paddick. I would probably not have allocated my second preference. Choosing between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson is a bit like choosing between shit and shite. Forced at gunpoint however, I would plump for Johnson.

I have, after all, voted for him before. A couple of years ago Boris Johnson stood in the election to become Rector of Edinburgh University. He was an early favourite, but then that shady coalition of Labour / Green / People and Planet / whatever in EUSA went on the offensive to produce a highly negative campaign based on Boris Johnson’s support for tuition fees.

The students, being self-interested, rational utility maximisers, decided to vote against the possibility of being seen to favour tuition fees. I voted on principle against this subsidy for the middle class.

Today we have the completely anonymous Mark Ballard as our Rector. Don’t know who Mark Ballard is? Don’t blame you. He used to be a Green MSP but was such a nonentity that he was voted out last year. As such, a genuine nobody is Rector of Edinburgh University. The guy we could have had is now Mayor of London. (Even Magnus Linklater would have been better. I actually met him while he was campaigning and he seemed rather pleasant.)

It is true that Boris Johnson is a bit of a clown. But I don’t see why this is necessarily a barrier to being in public office. People always drone on about how boring politicians are. They complain about bland inoffensive leaders — Blairs, Camerons, Cleggs and the like — who silence independent thinkers or anyone who could be seen as a loose cannon. They despise those Milliblands et al. who climb the greasy pole, toe the party line and so on. And quite rightly.

But then when someone who is charismatic, who is an independent thinker, who will not toe the party line comes along, apparently he is unfit for office. You can’t have it both ways.

Plus, the notion that over a million Londoners voted for Boris Johnson “just for a laugh” is highly patronising. I am pretty misanthropic, but even my hatred for the electorate does not stoop this low. I do not doubt that some people voted for Johnson on this basis, but to put his victory down to this phenomenon alone is surely wide of the mark. It makes you look petulant.

Also, I surely need not say that voting against Boris Johnson because he is a character is every bit as pathetic as voting for him for that reason. Yet, as far as I can tell, it is the number one reason why people have been so averse to a Johnson victory. It is also odd that people should complain about Johnson for being famous for being maverick, only to vote for Ken Livingston who… is famous for being a maverick.

To say that because Boris is a bumbler when he talks means that he will be a bumbler in control of London is pathetic. Political leaders don’t “run” anything — that’s the job of the civil service and what have you. Boris Johnson won’t be sitting in front of a real-life game of Sim City. Political leaders are public figureheads who canvass opinion, bring ideas to the table and direct policy and they are only one (albeit prominent) branch in a large tree. I see nothing in Boris Johnson’s character that will prohibit him from doing this job just fine.

And being a clown is, at least, a whole lot better than being malicious. Because that is what Livingstone is. While the character assassinations of Boris Johnson are ten a penny, people on the left tend to be an awful lot more quiet about Livingstone’s many failings. His inexplicable inability to simply apologise to Oliver Finegold for his drunken remarks; his failure to distance himself from homophobic Islamist Yusuf al-Qaradawi; his hokey-cokey in-out-in-out, I’m not running, yes I am but as an independent, then I’ll rejoin the Labour party, shake it all about. Don’t forget also that he rushed to the door like a yapping dog with its tail wagging to make excuses for the brutal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Of course, Boris Johnson is not just a clown. He is a toff. And he is a Tory. Booooo!

Well, all I can say to that is, grow up. This is just the most pathetic way to discuss politics. If you have to resort to invoking the days of Thatcher to persuade people not to vote Conservative, you must be scraping the barrel. Yet it is a staple of British political discourse.

The Labour Government could go round the country literally raping everyone. When someone calls them up on it, you can be sure the Government will turn round and splutter, “Ah yes — but the Tories brought you the POLL TAX. Booooo!” And the sheep on the left will be won over. They will hi-5 each other for what they see as an excellent sucker-punch (which is in fact a tired, over-used, irrelevant line), hiss at the Tories and let the Labour Government get back to raping everyone again.

I am in little position to comment on how bad Margaret Thatcher’s government was because I am too young to remember anything substantial of it. But it seems to me as though Thatcher is vilified mostly for ushering in some changes that were no doubt difficult to take at the time but which were necessary in the long run. Socialism is a discredited ideology — almost the entire history of the twentieth century should tell you this. Almost every other comparable country has gone through a similar process. Besides, Labour has done little to reverse this, so to turn to them while blaming Thatcher is hollow.

Even if I am wrong on this, you must realise that invoking Thatcher will not cut it much longer. For one thing, this stuff happened twenty or thirty years ago. Many voters (like myself) now do not even remember that far back, and politics and the Conservative Party are operating in very different environments now. It’s not fair on today’s Conservatives to punish them for the actions of the previous generation, and it takes the people with whom you are debating for mugs to crudely reduce everything to this. And it makes you look like a tosser as well.

The thing is, the Conservatives may have the Poll Tax (from twenty years ago). But Labour have the Iraq War (with goodness knows how many people killed) from this decade. There was their bullying approach to the media that went along with the Iraq War in this decade. They have created a climate of fear and general suspicion of anyone with “Mongolian eyes”, leading to at least one unnecessary death in this decade. They have turned this country into the most spied-upon in the world in this decade. They have begun to construct the database state, with all the security risks that entails, along with the hopelessly expensive ID cards in this decade.

They have abolished the 10p income tax rate. That would be bad enough from the Conservatives, but for a “Labour” government it shows a scandalous disregard for the concept of the progressive tax system. Labour have treated the voters with utter contempt, taking their position in power for granted.

Although I have moved on to the more general point about the standard of political discourse, this is related to the recent Mayoral contest. You could argue that all that has nothing to do with Ken Livingstone. But he helped legitimise all this by re-joining the Labour Party at the height of Tony Blair’s courtship with George Bush.

With all of this blood on their hands, with their power-grabbing, and their utter contempt for civil liberties, what is it that keeps them in power? The best response is “Maggie stole my milk… in 1970″? Get real. This approach has literally allowed the Labour Government to get away with murder. Why should I be prepared to give this Labour mob another chance?

You could argue that whatever Labour do, the Conservatives must always be worse because they are more “right wing”. But this argument does not cut it either. For one thing, it is precisely this approach that allows Labour to get away with all of this. The left just shrug their shoulders and mumble, “could be worse”. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are scrutinised for slightest bawhair of a possibility that they might infringe on people’s liberties. I am certain that the Conservatives would never have been allowed to get away with the Iraq War, the creeping privatisation of the NHS, ID cards and you name it in the way that Labour have been. This alone is reason enough to vote Labour out.

Furthermore, to expect the Labour Party to take a liberal approach is asking too much of them. Their traditional ideology is not liberalism, contrary to what some might tell you. It is socialism. Say what you like about the Conservatives, but at least they have a liberal wing in their party. With Labour you just get one kind of authoritarianism or another.

As for the argument that Boris Johnson will not be a good leader because he is a toff, that is just nonsensical bigotry of the highest order. Being of a certain social class should be not a barrier to holding office. After all, Boris Johnson did not choose his father.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am not rich in the slightest. But if I happened to have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I would like to think that I would not be subjected to this kind of bigotry. Justin in the comments at Nosemonkey’s says,

I tell you what, I will [get over the class prejudice] if they will. You obviously haven’t been swimming in some of the Tory cesspits I have in the last few months.

I am not a “party identifier” — at least not between Labour and the Conservatives. I was brought up by SNP-supporting parents. As I grew up I drifted towards the Liberal Democrats. From this position, I see a great deal more “snide remarks, personal attacks and class prejudice” from Labour supporters than I do from Conservative supporters. In fact, it is one of the things that has ultimately turned me completely off the Labour Party over the past few years.

I obviously haven’t been swimming in Justin’s Tory cesspits either. But if anyone can find me an example of someone saying that you should not vote for someone because they are too working class to do their job properly, I would happily accept defeat on this point. But I have never heard it said. But to complain that someone is too posh is par for the course.

Besides, to attack the Conservatives for being full of toffs misses the fact that plenty of Labour members are also toffs. Tony Blair isn’t exactly a miner. And the stuff about Gordon Brown being from a working class area only tells half the story. I have lived almost all my life in that same working class area, and people round here know that he was a privileged son of the manse who got special treatment during his education. So it’s vote Tory, get a toff; vote Labour, get a toff. Not that this should matter in the slightest of course.

To bring all of this back to where I started, remember that I am not a supporter of Boris Johnson. My point is that Boris Johnson as Mayor of London is not remotely as offensive as some people are making out.

This is a personal view, but I would never vote for someone seeking a third term unless they were exceptionally appealing. But the third term is when the rot sets in, if it didn’t during the second term. That’s when power gets to their heads. That’s when they lose touch of reality. In this light, a change is not all that bad.

Believe it or not, Labour do not have a divine right to power. Even Scotland, with all of its Labour rotten boroughs in the west, realised this last year. Just like in London, “the enemy” got in instead. While you may argue that the SNP are not Tories, they are nonetheless loathsome. But guess what. Scotland didn’t implode one year ago when they were elected. In fact, the SNP administration is a breath of fresh air, and it’s certainly a lot better than the prospect of a third Labour-dominated Executive. I don’t see why Boris Johnson should be different.

Of course, he could very well be a disaster. But the point is that candidates shouldn’t be judged on their background, their hairstyle or the colour of their rosette. They should be judged on their policies and their record. I’ve skim-read Boris Johnson’s manifesto and I have not seen anything particularly offensive and I see nothing that disqualifies him in my mind. Even if people do disagree with Johnson’s policies, this is fair enough — but I didn’t hear any of it. I just heard about his posh accent.

I am greatly saddened by the nature of the debate and the sheer hypocrisy that so many people are showing. Too many people are making terrible excuses for a disastrous Labour government. I blame these people for the road this country is headed down.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe I am asking too much. But any notion I had before that political ideologies are formed, debated and voted for on the basis of rational, intelligent thought have been shattered this week. What Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky said was true after all. Voting for a political party is just like supporting a football team for some people, with accident of birth and plain old prejudice at the basis of their support. I’d prefer it if these people could leave their childish desire to be part of a tribe in the football ground rather than in the ballot box where they are controlling my life.

The cheesy line goes, “if you don’t vote, you get the politicians you deserve.” Well, it’s not true. Politicians can’t do anything without votes. But if you vote for someone because they are the “least worst” or because “at least they’re not the Tories”, then you do get the politicians you deserve. My anger stems from the fact that I do not deserve these politicians.

Update: I’ve written a second post on this topic. I hope this concisely clarifies my intentions with this post. I also respond to the feedback.

Update: This post has been published over at Liberal Conspiracy here. To keep the discussion in one place, I will close the comments on this post. If you have any comments please post them here.

What do you think the word ‘liberal’ means?

Perhaps if you are American, you are thinking of what Europeans call social democrats. Maybe some Europeans think of it as some kind of wishy-washy centrism that can’t decide between left and right. In certain countries it may have something to do with a pro-business approach. If you’re Australian it probably means the same as conservative.

A pre condition of liberalism might be the existence of free markets. Or maybe liberalism is to do with equality of some kind or another. Animal rights? Environmentalism? [insert trendy cause here]? Smith, Mill or Kant? Etc, etc. It seems to me that the word ‘liberal’ is about as useful as words like ‘that’ and ‘thingy’.

As such, it wasn’t really a surprise that the name of Sunny Hundal’s new ‘superblog’, Liberal Conspiracy, provoked some debate about the nature of liberalism when it was launched a month or so back. “My liberalism is more liberal than yours” and that type of thing.

I would agree that, looking at the list of contributors, ‘Socialist Conspiracy’ might have been a more apt title. For instance, Jonathan Calder noted the lack of Liberal Democrats involved.

It looks like a conspiracy against Liberals.

In fairness, apart from the title (which I actually find quite amusing — it makes a good point), the site is describing itself as liberal-left rather than just liberal. Fair enough I guess, although I always thought that people describing themselves as ‘liberal-left’ were really just socialists trying to duck jibes about the Judean People’s Front.

Even the design of the website looks rather more socialist than liberal. The dark maroon colour scheme, Impact font and spatter marks make it look like some kind of SWP-affiliated website.

Anyway, liberalism. The thing that vexes me about this is the fact that — you guessed it — I describe myself as a liberal. This is mostly because I don’t know of a better term. (If you don’t know about my political views, take a look at my position on the political compass.)

When I describe myself as a liberal that means I am talking about limited government. It can’t be no government. Liberalism can’t be the same as anarchism. The question becomes “how big can a government acceptably be?” And even the most hardcore libertarians (as in the free market kind, lest there be any confusion) see the need for a government in order to protect property rights and prevent force and fraud.

A liberal (excuse the pun) interpretation of that could still leave quite a wide scope for government intervention. It might not be too controversial, for instance, for a government to step in when an activity causes a clear and unambiguous negative externality.

The classic example of a negative externality is pollution. A factory may dump pollution into a river that runs into land owned by another person. The government is duty bound to protect this property, so it would have to step in. Incidentally, I don’t think this approach is too far removed from Mill’s “harm principle”.

Liberalism “doctorvee style” goes a bit further than this. This is why you would tend not to find me using the word ‘libertarian’ to describe my political views. In my view, the government should also step in to prevent certain kinds of market failure. For instance, public goods will be under-supplied by the market.

I find it difficult to imagine how, for instance, street lights would be paid for in a strictly free market system. I can be a (critical) supporter of the BBC and still describe myself as a liberal without flinching because the BBC is a non-rival, non-excludable public good.

But for me, the bottom line is to be suspicious of any extension of government power, and to resist it unless there is overwhelming evidence of the need for it. If you take civil liberties and economic efficiency seriously, there can be no other way. History tells us to treat governments with contempt. When did you ever hear of a riot happening because the government was too small?

Given that most left-wing solutions to any problem usually involve a liberal (sorry) dose of extra government intervention, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Liberal Conspiracy found itself at the receiving end of some jibes about the term ‘liberal-left’ being an oxymoron. I think this is a tad unfair. It is possible to be left-wing / collectivist and anti-government at the same time (all I can say is, good luck solving the free rider problem).

However, it is not difficult to find instances of the Liberal Conspiracy being distinctly illiberal. One of the first posts on the blog was defending the government’s idea of forcibly keeping children in education until the age of 18. Not only that, but the writer, Mike Ion, said:

I struggle to understand why anyone on the Left of British politics could oppose Gordon Brown’s moves

It’s quite funny how I decided that my version of liberalism should keep the ‘liberal’ name. Has anybody got any better ideas?

For what it’s worth, I think the ‘liberal-left’ should just drop the pretence and call themselves socialists.

As for the (free market) libertarians? David Farrer grappled with this a few weeks back, and lamented the fact that both the ‘liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ tags have been stolen by leftists. I like his suggestion of using the unstealable “Real Fascist Bastard” tag.

But perhaps they could take inspiration from one of Hayek’s favoured terms. How about calling themselves catallactists? It would be a bit difficult for a socialist to use that one with a straight face!

Coffee Lover has a brilliant rant on Media Studies and other so-called “Mickey Mouse degrees”. The thing is, as far as I could ever tell, Media Studies is exactly the same as English, except that it uses film and television instead of books. Yet Media Studies is a Mickey Mouse course, while if fewer people take English it’s the end of civilisation as we know it?! What is it if you pass an English degree anyway? Proof that you like reading novels? A-woo hoo for you!

If you’ve ever wondered why more and more pupils are passing exams, yet the British public remains as boneheaded as ever, you need look no further than this report.

Too many schools are “teaching to the test” in mathematics, stifling genuinely stimulating thinking about the subject, a report suggests.

The report is wrong. In actual fact, every school “teaches to the test” in every subject. There is no genuinely stimulating thinking about any subject going on in schools. That is the inevitable consequence of having exams.

I am going to use the example of one subject here, but you could talk about all of them. Looking back at school, none of us learned any physics. We were all taught how to pass a physics exam. And when you’re being just about constantly tested from the start of school to the end that can take up a lot of time. It took up so much time that there wasn’t any time to actually learn physics. All our effort was geared towards passing the exam at the expense of actually learning something.

I’m not complaining. As I said, it’s inevitable when all that matters is not what you learn but the grade that’s printed on a piece of paper. As a result, pupils only want to pass the exams and teachers only want the pupils to pass the exams. It is not at all unusual for a pupil (or a student at university) to ask, “Do we need to know this for the exam?” And it’s not unusual for a teacher to say, “You don’t need to know why this is the case. You just need to remember it for the exam.” You can’t blame pupils or teachers for that.

It might not be such a problem if there was only the summer exam to worry about, but some wise guy invented the Unit Assessment, which are spread out across the entire year. And then there are prelims. The whole school year is geared up towards these peaks of activity and there is no time to worry about anything else.

It’s not just about drumming home the parts of a subject that are in the curriculum. There is the dark art of question spotting. At my school the Modern Studies department seemed particularly fond of this, but they all did it. Teachers study past papers and try to find patterns. They’ll work out which questions are most likely to be asked. If a question wasn’t asked last year but has been asked on a few previous occasions, the question is likely to come up again. Questions that were asked last year are unlikely to come up this year unless they are asked every year. And so on. This is the stuff we were taught at school!

And then there are appeals. Never mind if you mess up the final exam — we have enough prelims and coursework to appeal for an increased grade! My old school is number one in the country for appeals. It made 800 appeals for Standard Grades and Highers in two years. I had my Computing Higher grade raised from a C to an A, even though I underperformed in Computing all year and I can’t remember ever getting an A in any Computing exam.

But until some really clever person can devise a way of proving that people have learned a lot about a subject without having to examine them, this sort of business is inevitable.

I haven’t bothered reading very much about the Power Inquiry because I’ve heard from some that it’s pretty much predictable stuff (“a bit like a reformers greatest hits album”) and from others that it’s not actually that good. Besideswhich, there have been several reports that have made obvious common sense suggestions for electoral reform which have all been ignored by Labour, so there’s no reason to believe why this new one should be any reason to get optimistic.

But I was interested by this post on Jawbox about the votes at 16 idea. Ben Phillips is, if I remember correctly, not yet old enough to vote (please correct me if this is wrong) and it is intriguing that he is not in favour of lowering the voting age.

Before I hit 18 I was in favour of votes at 16, but now I’m not so sure. (And the steady journey to becoming an old Tory codger continues apace.) Of course, it all looks very different when you’re on the other side of the barrier. I know little about it, although I guess fewer men than women were in favour of women’s suffrage, and so on.

Ben is worried that sixteen year olds are more likely to vote BNP or just vote for who their parents tell them to because they’re more impressionable. It’s a good point, although I would have thought that people will always tend to vote the way their parents did, often because of shared heritage, socioeconomic reasons and so on. I probably began disagreeing with my parents at the age of about 14, and today at 19 I probably spend more time disagreeing than agreeing with him. But we’re all different. It’s difficult to believe, though, that people will turn 18 and all of a sudden at the click of your fingers they will no longer vote BNP or just blindly follow their parents.

By the same token, though, there is no reason why that should be the case at 16 either. I also agree with Ben that if a youngster is going to be interested in current affairs and politics, he’s going to be interested anyway, regardless of whether they get to vote at 16, 18, 21 or 6.

18-year-olds are pretty impressionable as well though. There are many who think that the voting age should be set at 21, and at times it’s easy to see why. At university it is difficult to encounter anybody who isn’t busy trying to have the most trendy and right-on political views. Indeed, Edinburgh students have just voted in that enormous bore Mark “Who? (Green list MSP)” Ballard as rector, presumably because he’s a Green, and that’s trendy and right-on.

Does this make their opinions worthless though? Of course it doesn’t. So where should the age limit be set? I really don’t know. I would probably still say 16. But I think the age itself isn’t so important. Growing up, it’s difficult to know when you become an adult. At 16 you can get married (in Scotland at least), are expected to be responsible enough to raise a child, make the decision to smoke yourself to death, and be sent off to fight a war by a government that you haven’t voted for. At 17 you’re let loose on the roads. At 18 you can vote, but there are still many rights yet to be granted.

Moreover, sixteen-year-olds are unique because they have direct experience of one of politics’ greatest hot potatoes, education. By that age, people take their education pretty seriously, so it’s fair to say that they would vote sensibly on the issue according to what they perceive to be their best interests. These are the people that are really affected by education policies, so why are they given the right to vote as soon as they leave school?

That’s why I think 16 is probably right on balance. But who am I to say that the age limits for marrying, smoking, etc, shouldn’t be raised to 18? I’m not all that fussed about it any more — but then it’s easy to say that standing on this side of the barrier.

The Scottish Executive’s Fucking Stupid Initiative.

Somebody has written an open letter to the Kansas School Board.

I am writing you with much concern after I read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design [Biblical Creationism tarted up in scientific dress] to be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design..

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him…

Some find that hard to believe, so it may be helpful to tell you a little more about our beliefs. We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power…

Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia…

But, as they say, “read the whole thing”!

Via Boing Boing.

I have always maintained that Media Studies does not represent a “dumbing down”. Usually people will say something like, “Media Studies is growing and English isn’t, and all Media Studies is is watching films, so that must be dumbing down.” But if it is the case that all Media Studies is is watching films, then all English is is reading books!

Here’s another news story about it.

Professor of education at Buckingham University, Alan Smithers believes schools are choosing to do media studies because it is “probably a soft option”.

No they’re not. They’re choosing to do media studies because it’s actually relevant to the 21st century.

When I did English all I ever did was read archaic plays about banal subjects, or read terrible pretentious novels where it takes the author three paragraphs to describe how a character takes a sip of water. Or an alkie poet saying “fuck”.

When I took Media Studies, we spent half of the year unravelling an episode of Panorama about the Omagh bomb. Very dumb!

Author Philip Pullman also believes media studies is a valuable subject.

He told the Times Educational Supplement: “Media studies is easily sneered at by those who think it entirely consists of watching Eastenders and Coronation Street.

“How TV news and information reaches us through the media is of profound importance.”