Jan 312010
 

I gather that few others found this as funny as I did:

Fundamentally, the remit of any new localized ‘cell-based’ but centrally co-ordinated publication, whether electronic or hard copy, will be the creation of an effective interface between the existing ‘lifeworld’ and the development of an appropriate register of anti-hegemonic discourse.

By ‘lifeworld’, I refer to the post-Husserl Habermasian conception (‘Lebenswelt’) of a set of socially and culturally sedimented linguistic meanings, shared in their current form by the working class and its hegemonized identities (and sets of identities).

Into this existing set of shared understandings of how the world operates, it is necessary to ‘infuse’ the appropriate set of Marxian conceptions both around the essential nature of capital/labour relations and the consciousness of the working class as an objective entity in relation to capital. In turn such conscientization will lead to the development of a renewed ‘Lebenswelt’ in which class struggle becomes both more desirably and feasible through solidaristic local and then wider action.

Displaying a startling lack of self-awareness, one commenter blithely bypasses the main point and thus demonstrates a complete absence of appreciation for the author’s craft:

I think my approach here would have been a little simpler: sheerly ripping the piss out of these so-called libertarians. Several of them make comments which demonstrate that they didn’t read your article, particularly as regards where the funding comes from for your blogging endeavour.

Another misunderstands the definition of satire:

You can self-satirise Frankfurt school jargon, rampant bureaucracy and heavy-handed control-freakery all you like, but this is how the Left operates.

Ah, well.

One of the things that’s always puzzled me is that, in this current struggle between ‘right’ and ‘left’, each side is convinced that the other is the hegemonic group. This suggests that, in reality, neither is.

So who’s actually in charge, then?

UPDATE: Anna Raccoon has also picked this one up. I can only echo the remark of commenter Katabasis:

What makes the joke even funnier is that the satire is sufficiently subtle that not all of his fellow travelers will get it.

And the same person who, on the original post, misunderstood satire again levels accusations of FAIL at Anna’s place, because apparently, Lefties really are like that. Seriously.

*le sigh*

Jan 282010
 

What the f*ck is wrong with you British people? Seriously, is every single one of you on crack?

How in the name of all that is holy and good does THIS pass for effective campaigning by an opposition party that wants to be the party of Government?

HOW?

We can make you behave

Even the Guardian is taking the piss out of this idea, which speaks volumes.

…a Conservative government will impose a seven-day cooling off period for store credit cards, so shoppers can’t immediately rack up debts on them when they sign up at the till. That’s a far less intrusive way to tackle problem debt than banning store cards, for example, or introducing a new tax.

MORE LEGISLATION.

A Conservative government will require all public bodies that want to launch marketing campaigns to state precisely what behaviour change the advertising is designed to bring about, and an element of the advertising agency fee will be made contingent on achieving the desired outcome

PROPAGANDA.

The new insights from behavioural economics and social psychology are helping us to apply that principle to today’s problems, and cut burdensome regulation and costs. In fact, when you come to think about it, it’s all pretty rational, isn’t it?

ARE YOU PEOPLE INSANE?

I can’t believe that, in this once-great nation, the populace has created for itself the choice between authoritarian control-freaks and authoritarian control-freaks. Is this really what you want? People in absolute charge of you who all think they know better than you? People who think you need a cooling-off period, like a child on the naughty step, before you can make a decision about what to do with your own damn money? People who think you need to be told by public agencies how to use your own brains to make rational decisions? Do you really find life such a complicated hardship that you want a government to hold your hand from cradle to grave?

What the hell could possibly make you think George Osborne knows better than you how you should live your life? Why on earth should people whose only skill is kissing your ass have this kind of responsibility? What set of facts makes you believe that the people who run your country are immune to irrational action?

WHY DO YOU PUT UP WITH THIS CRAP?

Answers on a postcard. I’m off to have a drink.

UPDATE: Alex Massie writes in the Spectator:

Kinder, gentler, subtler authoritarianism is still authoritarianism and makes a mockery of Tory rhetoric. That rhetoric is quite appealling but when you actually look at what the Tories actually want to do then, more often than not, their plans bear little or no relation to the meaning of their words. So why should their words be taken seriously?

Then again, this should not be a surprise. As James points out in his excellent column this week, Cameron and Osborne run an unprecedentedly centralised operation inside the Tory party. There’s little reason to suppose that their approach to government will be any different. Your freedom is severely constrained by their idea of that freedom. But that’s ok because Muesli Authoritarianism is good for you!

Beneath, commenter Fergus Pickering likes the credit-card cooling-off idea:

Actually I think the store card idea is a good one. But perhaps, Alex, you haven’t yet had the pleasure of teenage daughters. When you have had, that’s when I’ll listen to you on this. Teenage girls spend what they haven’t got. It’s in the genes.

To which I can only say, Fergus, if you need the government to police your daughters’ spending habits, you should never have become a parent. And really – ‘it’s in the genes’? You sexist asshole.

Meanwhile, I am reminded that Osborne co-wrote this article with one Richard Thaler. Thaler has a history of co-writing, as it is he who co-wrote the original libertarian paternalist Bible, Nudge, with none other than our old friend, Cass Sunstein.

Jan 262010
 

By Contributor TBoneH, Blg. D., F. R. B. S., F. S. Sweet F. A., Esq.

A Translator’s Guide to Boatang & Demetriou

I. Common Greetings

Key:
Boatang & Demetriou
English

***

Fuck you
I disagree with your contention

Fuck off
I disagree with your contention

How dare you
I disagree with your contention

WRONG DICKHEAD
I disagree with your contention

Come on
You have not recognised that my view is obviously the correct one

II. Standard Usages

Key:
Boatang & Demetriou
English

***

Other bloggers are a country club of mutual back-scratchers
Other bloggers don’t link to us

Other bloggers do it for the money and attention
Other bloggers have a higher readership than we do

We write original content
We are insular and consider others’ views to be beneath our notice

We would rather be honest than popular
We are unpopular

We upset the cosy world-view
We consider ourselves controversial

F. A. Hayek/Friedman/Mill agrees with us
We have read some F. A. Hayek/Friedman/Mill

We don’t have a ‘you’re not a libertarian’ thing going on
We have a ‘you’re not a libertarian’ thing going on

We do things differently and much better
Everyone except us is wrong

S/he does not tolerate dissent
S/he disagrees with me

S/he would end democracy
I am deliberately exaggerating someone’s view

S/he is an anarchist
I am deliberately exaggerating someone’s view

S/he is a racist
I am deliberately exaggerating someone’s view

S/he called me a liar
I am deliberately exaggerating someone’s view OR
S/he said I was wrong

If we offend or upset someone, it is because they don’t agree with us
We egregiously insult people and call it ‘plain speaking’

You need to grow up
You should appreciate being egregiously insulted

I don’t hate you
I am about to egregiously insult you

You have attempted spin
You have presented a point of view that differs from mine

You are a hypocrite
You have exposed my hypocrisy

You talk shite
You disagree with me

Grow a pair
Accept my view as gospel

This thread isn’t about that topic
Discussing that topic makes me uncomfortable

People slag us off behind our backs
We spy on people behind their backs

I don’t need to be civil
I resort to abuse when someone disagrees with me

When I’m annoyed I resort to abuse
I resort to abuse when someone disagrees with me

I don’t give a fuck
I am a lone-wolf hero-martyr

I never said that
I am backtracking quickly

You took what I said out of context
I am backtracking quickly

Where’s the proof of that?
I am unable to distinguish between statements of opinion and statements of fact

This is me pointing out fact
This is my opinion

Please use facts and logic
Please stop disagreeing with my opinion

I am not immature
I have completely forgotten that I once wrote: “Oh just fuck off and suck X’s dick, you sad stooge. You, X and Y need to hook up for a 3 way gangbang, you’d have a right old hoot shoveling copies of Rothbard’s finest down eachother’s jap’s eye.”

III. Parsing the Commentary

Key:
Commenter
English

***

Bollocks
I disagree with your contention

You have a good point
I do not wish to receive abuse

You are a pair of social democrats
Your version of libertarianism is inconsistent with my own

Who made you the arbiters of libertarianism?
Your version of libertarianism is inconsistent with my own

Your posts are too long
Your posts do not fit comfortably on the screen of my iPhone

You are an ass
This is the first time I have read your blog

I assumed you were reasonable
This is the first time I have read your blog

Why all the fuss?
This is the first time I have read your blog

You are immature/You are childish/Grow up
Your robust style of debate leaves me intellectually cold

You attack others to increase your blog’s traffic
Um… it works

What is the purpose of this blog?
I am mystified by the fact that you attack your own side

Old Holborn is right
I only read your blog because you attack Old Holborn

Old Holborn is wrong
By agreeing with you, I hope to avert another flame war OR
I naively assume this thread is actually about topic X

I will not take part in this flame war
My peace-making attempts have been in vain

This is all very People’s-Front-of-Judea
I have seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian

I don’t give a flying fuck about F. A. Hayek/Friedman/Mill
I have never read any F. A. Hayek/Friedman/Mill

I don’t care what you say, I do what I want
At least I am consistent in my disregard for others’ views

[Any remark replete with weariness and/or sarcasm]
I am Obnoxio the Clown, and I am tired, tired, tired of this shit

Jan 232010
 

Cranmer highlights another step in Evan Harris MP’s campaign to amend the ban on members of the royal family marrying (or being) Catholics. He points out some interesting features of this campaign, not least that it is centred around the wrong Act of Parliament.

It turns out that the Act of Settlement of 1701 is, apparently, in breach of some articles of the ECHR, namely the right to marry and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Let’s put this into perspective, y’all. The rules of succession of this country are a nonsense, and always have been, and the idea that there is any fixed procedure besides expediency – let alone one that takes into account anyone’s rights – is ludicrous.

First, members of the royal family are allowed to marry Roman Catholics. There is nothing to prevent them. But if they do, they cease to be considered in the line of succession to the throne.

As far as I’m aware, being in line to the throne is not a right enshrined in the ECHR. So if you marry a Roman Catholic, you lose your place in that line. But your human rights have not been breached.

This attempt to make the line of succession some kind of equal-rights procedure seems very silly to me. By its very definition, the royal family is not an equal-rights institution. It is a family. Everyone who is not a member of that family is debarred from taking part in what it does. If there are then further conventions about who in the family is permitted to do what and when, fine. If the rules of the family say you can’t be the head honcho if you marry (or are) a Roman Catholic, meh. Those are choices you, as an individual, have to make. Peter Phillips and his bride made just such a choice – she converted to Anglicanism before their wedding. She didn’t have to do that. And he didn’t have to marry her. These were voluntary decisions made in full knowledge of all the consequences.

Second, Evan Harris MP seems bothered by the fact that succession in this country is by male primogeniture. Nominally it may be, but in reality this is piffle.

The ‘male’ part, of course, a holdover from the warlike-chieftain days of yore, when the leader of the tribe was also the leader of the war-band, so he kind of had to be a man. But, as Tacitus relates in the Germania, the line of succession in the Germanic tribes from whom the English were descended was always through the female. The chieftain’s brothers, and the children of his sisters, were his successors. A man’s sister’s children were closer to him than his own, always.

Why? Because they were the children he could be sure were related to him by blood. His wife’s children may or may not be of his blood, but his sister’s children surely were. And so the chieftain’s nephews would be his successors in the next generation, and the chieftain’s nieces would carry on the bloodline in their own offspring.

This tradition continued, generally speaking, during the Anglo-Saxon period in England for a good long while (with a few alterations). Brother succeeded brother; nephew succeeded uncle. The significant alterations came in when this was not possible, or when the natural successor was considered unfit by the witan or the war-band. Then an alternate might be chosen by election (roughly) or acclamation.

It wasn’t until William the Conqueror came over with his feudalism and his Norman barons and his hey-that-hurts that this all changed. The Norman nobility had a different system, and when they became the nobility of England, that system took root. It was not the sons of the sisters who took precedence, but the sons of the chieftain himself. Though the Normans had been Germanic, too, they were also the vassals of the king of France – and French succession operated according to a version of the Salic tradition of direct male descendants.

In this tradition, the remote chance that the chieftain’s wife had cuckolded him was apparently considered a negligible problem when laid against all of the advantages and skills a child would have who had been trained and brought up by the chieftain himself. And rules of succession, wherever one may have been, could be (and sometimes were) bent to the point of breaking if the legal heir was considered unfit.

And so England’s throne became one of direct male primogeniture, in general. But then this got screwed up in 1399, and direct male primogeniture has been a happy fantasy ever since.

The first hiccough: Richard II, grandson of Edward III through his first-born son the Black Prince, was deposed for being ‘unfit’ by Henry IV, also a grandson of Edward III but through his third son, John of Gaunt. Eventually this led to the Wars of the Roses, out of the wreckage of which came Henry VII – whose only blood claim to the throne was as the son of the great-great-granddaughter of Edward III (by his third son, John of Gaunt). Sound torturous? Yeah. Male primogeniture took sort of a back seat there. Restoring it was still a happy hope until Henry VIII came along, who fucked it all up.

When he died, Edward VI (son of Henry VIII) had no sons or brothers, and Henry VIII had no brothers with issue, and Henry VII had had no brothers, and before that there had been a massive tangle. Finding direct male descendants of the last absolutely solid English king, Edward III, would have been pretty fucking difficult by 1553 even had Henry VIII not had most of them judicially murdered to preserve his own claim to the throne. There was no question that succession would have to go through a female line somewhere.

Henry VIII had had two sisters: Margaret, who married the king of Scotland, and Mary, who had married lesser nobleman Charles Brandon. At that point, primogeniture should have demanded that Margaret’s male descendants inherit the throne of England; unfortunately, she had none, and the monarch of Scotland at the time was an 11-year-old Catholic girl engaged to the Dauphin of France. The prospect of one day becoming part of the kingdom of France was intolerable to the English, never mind the abhorrent Catholicism. So they turned to Mary’s line. And, alas, she had no male descendants either!

There was a female, though, a nice Protestant girl called Lady Jane Grey. She was proclaimed queen in short order, with the prior approval of the dying Edward VI.

But this was stupid, no? If there were going to be a female monarch, as there had never been before, why someone with such a tenuous blood tie to the previous king? Why not Edward VI’s older sister Mary, the legitimate (de facto if not de jure) daughter of Henry VIII? Mary thought so too, and rocked up in London immediately. Parliament heaved a massive sigh of relief, declared her the rightful queen, and started praying that, even in her late age, Mary could somehow produce a son.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course, but you can see the tangled crap that has always been the rules of succession in England. They were so flexible, in fact, that Henry VIII and Edward VI both tried legal means to straighten them out. Henry VIII used Acts of Parliament; Edward VI tried to circumvent them in his will. Neither was successful.

There was another hitch when Mary died without children; the Catholic queen of Scotland was by then no longer attached to France, but the English had had enough of Catholics, so they chose Elizabeth – who also died without children. And, at long last, they found a man: James, the good Protestant son of Mary, Queen of Scots, whose relationship to Elizabeth was remote but who was at least a direct descendant of Henry VII, if though a bunch of women.

By then, of course, the English had decided it was okay to have queens if you couldn’t find a suitable king, which was how the country ended up with Mary II and Anne: there were available men by that time, but they were ‘unsuitable.’ But when Anne died without surviving children in 1714, the English (well, British by this point) had to go on the hunt again – this time even more circumscribed by the ‘no Catholics’ rule – and finally lit upon some random Hanoverian who was descended from James I (through his daughter) and bore absolutely no resemblance to anything that could be called a ‘direct male descendant’ of anyone who had ever been king of England.

And of course the present monarch is not even his ‘direct male descendant,’ since she is not only not a man, but she’s descended from him through a woman (Victoria).

So. Given that male primogeniture was a rule only when it could be applied, and has only rarely been applicable since 1399, why mess around with it now? It’s not like the English have ever given a shit, and who the monarch is hardly even matters these days anyway. Let the royal family sort it out for themselves. Surely there are better uses for Evan Harris MP’s time.

Nancy Pelosi: dumb

 indolence, political blunders, US-bashing  Comments Off on Nancy Pelosi: dumb
Jan 212010
 

From the Telegraph:

Republican leaders in Congress called for a reworking of the bill, which would provide near universal coverage and aimed to bring down long-term costs. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, argued that because Massachusetts already had near-universal health coverage under a state law, the vote should not be seen as a referendum on the issue.

“We don’t say a state that already has health care should determine whether the rest of the country should. We will get the job done. I’m very confident,” she said.

It’s because Massachusetts already has just such a health care system as the one Pelosi’s Democrats are proposing that the opinion of their citizens is worth more than that of any other state’s.

They know what it’s like. They know what it costs. And they know that if the Democrats get their retarded bill passed, the citizens of Massachusetts will be paying through the nose twice.

That’s one of the great things about the federal system, you see: experiments can be tried in the states that want them, and the results can be judged by the rest of the country as either worth duplicating or worth abandoning. Massachusetts has done the experiment the Democrats would like to foist on the whole country. Not only have the other states looked at Massachusetts and said, ‘Dude, that doesn’t look like it’s working out so well, maybe we’d better not try it here,’ the people of Massachusetts themselves have said, ‘This isn’t going so well for us! Don’t try it at home!’

I reckon Nancy Pelosi should take a long, hard look at what’s happened to the healthcare system in Massachusetts, if for no other reason than because costs there have skyrocketed beyond all expectation, and seriously reconsider whether she wants to push the same money-suck on the entire rest of the nation.

Unless, of course, she wants to go down in history as the Politician Who Bankrupted America. Because you can bet your sweet buttocks it won’t be Obama who gets blamed. A man who can rise to president from two years’ experience of national office and prior experience in a Democrat safe seat and in a Democrat safe state’s legislature is more than canny enough to figure out a way to let some other poor bastard take the fall.

Jan 202010
 

Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, appears to have won the special Senate election in Massachusetts.

Predictably, there is over-hype from the right (‘Healthcare reform is dead! Yay, woo, a victory against creeping socialism!’) and under-hype from the left (‘These things are vastly complicated, the rest of American still wants healthcare reform, this election is not indicative of the true feeling of blah blah blibbity blee.’)

When Scott Brown is seated, the Senate Democrats will no longer have their 60-member supermajority, which as far as I’m aware was what they were counting on to pass their obese and unwieldy healthcare bill. So yeah – maybe that bill is dead.

Unless they decide to hold their vote before Scott Brown is seated. And Harry Reid won’t agree to seat him until the Mass. Secretary of State has certified Brown as the winner. And as we all remember from Election 2000, certifying a winner can be a long and thorny process fraught with much concession and recantation and fro-ing and to-ing and suing and accusations of fraud and faulty paper ballots (paper ballots? really?) and HEY LOOK, it’s the Supreme Court, and Katherine Harris’s political career is over forever, poor woman, through no fault of her own.

So maybe that bill isn’t dead.

The only genuine effect Scott Brown’s victory has had, as far as I can tell, is that it’s been great for morale on the right, and pretty bad for morale on the left (however much they downplay it).

But it’s one Senate seat in a special election won against a dreadfully unpleasant Democrat candidate in a state where they’d had the same self-important blowhard in charge for almost 40 years. While that’s Change the people of Massachusetts Can Believe In, I’m sceptical of claims that it’s a reely reely big deel y’all, TEA PARTY REVOLUTION!

But I’ll happily eat my words if I’m wrong.

P.S. It’s getting harder and harder for me to comment on American politics without descending into silliness.

UPDATE: Lulz.

H/T Hillbuzz.

Tom Harris MP on old parents

 indolence  Comments Off on Tom Harris MP on old parents
Jan 192010
 

Tom Harris MP writes on his blog about a 60-year-old IVF mother:

Apparently, there’s a debate taking place in Britain about whether 60 is too old to become a mum. What a depresing thought. There has to be a debate about it? Why? Are we really so stupid and shallow that we need a debate before we reach the obvious conclusion of “Yes, of course 60 is too old to become a mum”?

The only up side to this story is that Mrs Tollefsen had to go to Russia to receive this treatment because she wouldn’t have received it in the UK. I wish the same could be said for every country. There are those who are so wedded to the concept of “rights” for everyone (except the rights of infants, obviously) that they will campaign for such treatment to become available here also.

They must be opposed. That will be heartbreaking for many older childless women. But it is fairer to children, and in this equation, that’s all that matters.

As it happens, I agree with his opinion.

Of course the state should not pay for the fertilisation of old women. Of course having a child is not a ‘right.’

But any reasonable person must then speculate: perhaps the state should not pay for the fertilisation of any women, given that if having a child is not a right for old people, neither is it a right for anyone else.

Unfortunately, Tom Harris MP does not mention this. He says:

But what’s even more unfair is knowing that a child is born with the near certainty of being left motherless before it reaches its teens, or will spend their formative years as a carer.

Children are not lifestyle choices. They’re not possessions to be added to our collections of material wealth as we grow older: first car (used), first flat, first house, second car (new), baby, bigger house… Children are precious for their own sake. The happiness and fulfilment they offer to their parents is secondary.

Too true. It’s also unfair that many children in this country are born in poverty, in welfare traps, in sink estates, into single-parent households, into negligent or abusive households – all of which have been shown by countless studies to be seriously disadvantageous to children and to be primary factors in curtailing children’s chances of becoming successful, healthy, well-adjusted adults.

But while the state can refuse to fund fertilisation, it can’t stop people having children – even those people we might personally think entirely unsuitable for the job of being parents. And it seems ridiculously petty to take issue with an older woman having a child because she might die while the child is young, when there are so many people in this country who do far worse to their children day in and day out than give them as much love as they can for as long as they can.

It is terrible for a child to lose a parent, and it is sad to imagine a parent who knows full well she probably will not see her child leave school, go to university, get married, or have children of its own. But this situation is not the worst one a child can be in. It’s not even in the top ten.

And I would prefer it if Tom Harris MP and his party of Government addressed those top ten worst situations before pontificating about what a woman should and shouldn’t do with her body, and who should and shouldn’t be having children.

UPDATE: Some of the commenters on Tom Harris MP’s post seem to be complaining that, in addition to the IVF diverting NHS resources from actual sick people, it’s terribly unfair that the state should have to support the children of parents who made the irresponsible decision to get knocked up when they knew their deaths from old age might leave those children without care.

Say what? Right, because obviously the state is currently in the business of supporting only the children of parents who made responsible decisions. *boggles*

Jan 182010
 

People of Britain, do you want fewer teachers? Do you wish to have teacher:pupil ratios of 1:45 across the land? Do you wish for huge schools operated by huge education authorities and staffed by teachers in huge teachers’ unions who can command ever higher and higher salaries and perks for their members as there is more and more work to go round and not enough teachers to do it?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, then good for you: because that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Earlier this year, the General Teaching Council expressed its wish that all teachers, whether in state or independent schools, be required to have a teaching certificate. This would entail a year of post-graduate education for all teachers, creating further cost to the taxpayer and further debt for the teacher-in-training. Further costs are a barrier to entry to the profession, and will result in fewer teachers.

Now David Cameron has said he would deny state funds to teachers-in-training whose undergraduate degrees were ranked third-class or below:

Under a Conservative government, according to Mr Cameron, no one with less than a 2:2 degree would be granted taxpayer’s money for postgraduate teacher training. It builds on a Tory plan announced last year to raise the entry qualifications for primary teachers.

Look, Camerhoon: the reason we have state funds for teacher training at all, and the reason for golden hellos, student loan discounts, and easier immigration requirements for teachers of certain subjects is because there are not enough teachers, good, bad, or otherwise. The financial incentives exist to attract people to what the government officially classes as a shortage occupation. Teaching is no easier than any other job. The salary it commands, in general, is lower than other professions that require a post-graduate degree. It is a job that few people are prepared to do, for one reason or another, and it is a sad fact that in this country the perception of teachers is that they went into teaching because they could not do anything else useful. (In some cases, that may be true, of course, and there are certainly a fair few teachers out there who are crap at their jobs.)

But the main point is that the vast majority of people do not choose to be teachers. The government’s policy is therefore to bribe the ones who can be bribed with financial perks. The message, so far, has been clear: ‘Please be a teacher! We will give you money!’

Now, suddenly, we are getting this incredibly stupid message: restrict the supply further! Only this will give the teaching profession status!

Britain can learn from Finland, Singapore and South Korea, who “have some of the best education systems in the world because they have deliberately made teaching a high prestige profession. They are brazenly elitist, making sure only the top graduates can apply.”

I’ve got news for you, dude. Teaching is a high-status profession in other countries for two primary reasons: first, lots of people want to be teachers. They are over-supplied. When lots of people want a particular job, employers naturally take only the best. Teachers have a high status in these places because their populations place tremendous value on the quality of education. Here in Britain, where there aren’t enough teachers to fill the positions that exist, we can’t really afford to be so picky. And, plainly, the value people place on quality of education here is minimal. Why do I say this? Because in Britain, a politician can be credibly attacked for having attended a top-quality school. Because in Britain, universities are encouraged to deny places to applicants from top-quality schools. Because in Britain, the ‘professions’ are told to deny entry to pupils from top-quality schools. Because in Britain, clearly, quality of education takes a serious backseat to social justice and equality.

The other reason for the popularity of teaching in many other countries is that teachers are seriously protected from market forces. In Spain, for example, it is virtually impossible to sack a teacher. Many teachers never leave the profession, and young people who want to teach are often obliged to wait years for a position to open up (years which many of them spend, according to my anecdata, working in tapas bars and living with their parents). Teachers are paid an enormous amount of money relative to most other jobs in these places; they have excellent working conditions, a great deal of disciplinary freedom, and good facilities available for their use. In short, these other places spend a huge amount of money on education, and they are willing to pay top dollar for top-quality educators.

Britain… does not. Education is, by comparison, underfunded; teachers’ pay scales are not linked to quality, but to seniority and certificates; facilities are poor, discipline is lax, and graduates with good degrees can earn far more money in other jobs. National pay scales mean that teachers in parts of the country where cost of living is high are short-changed compared to teachers in other places. And the state sets a maximum salary for teachers who do not have a teaching qualification (£25,000 pa full-time, for the curious), meaning that pay is not even related to the amount of work one does or time one spends on the job, much less the quality of that work.

So: in a country where people don’t want to be teachers, quality of education is not a priority, and historically the government’s stance on the profession is to bribe people to enter it, the solution is to make it even harder to become a teacher?

Good luck with that, Dave.

UPDATE: Iain Dale has posted a hefty extract from Camerhoon’s speech:

We’ve made our teachers lives more difficult, undermining their judgement, curbing their freedom, telling them what to do and how to do it. We send them into some chaotic environments with little protection or support, leaving them feeling demoralised and under-valued.

That’s right – you’ve made teaching a very unattractive profession. People with the ‘best brains’ look at this litany of woes and think, why in the name of sweet Jesus would I want to do this job? And then they go do something else.

If we’re only going to let the best brains teach, and most of the best brains don’t want to because

people with a good degree who would make great teachers think instead about the civil service, the BBC, maybe the Bar

then we’re not going to have very many teachers at all, are we?

Now. How do we make teaching more attractive than the civil service, the BBC, and the law? For a start, the state could stop undermining teachers, telling them what to do and how to do it, protect them from abuse, support them on matters of discipline – pay them according to effectiveness and skill whilst leaving them free to find the best path to effective teaching.

If you want the best brains to teach, make teaching attractive to people with good brains. What do people with good brains find attractive? Freedom to find the best way to do their jobs, opportunities to be creative, fair rewards for outstanding job performance, and the ability to be a mover and shaker in their profession.

At the moment, if you’re a twenty-something or thirty-something who has made it in another career but fancy giving teaching a go, the bureaucratic-odds are stacked against you.

And not just that. Most of them would be taking a drastic pay cut and surrendering all personal autonomy on the job, not to mention running the gauntlet of the CRB system to prove they’ve never so much as looked at a child cross-eyed. Anyone who’s been successful in a non-teaching career and wants to become a teacher should be hired on the spot, qualification or no, because nobody who wasn’t passionately dedicated to the art of pedagogy would do such a personally disadvantageous thing. Who cares what kind of degree they received?

We’re going to change all that and give high-flying professionals a fast-track into teaching. We will replace the Graduate Teacher Programme with a new one – Teach Now. Modelled on Teach First, it will be a one-stop-shop for people who want to transfer into teaching.

No, no, a thousand times no! Waive the qualification requirement entirely.

In fact, do that across the board. Far more people would go into teaching as a result, and there’d be so many that schools might actually be able to sack and replace the crappy ones.

We need much greater flexibility than currently exists – flexibility over rewarding the best and yes, getting rid of the worst. So we will free schools to pay good teachers more. With our plans, head teachers will have the power to use their budgets to pay bonuses to the best teachers.

And because the evidence shows that schools that have the greatest impact in poorer areas are the ones that extend their hours into evenings and weekends, we will also give them the flexibility to reward teachers for longer hours.

This is good, actually.

But we also give head teachers greater powers in the other direction. Today, it’s far too difficult for them to fire poorly performing teachers.

This is not. I’m all for schools being able to sack bad teachers, but this is only a useful tactic if you can hire a new one. And there aren’t enough teachers to go round.

We’re going to say to our teachers, if you want to search for and confiscate any item you think is dangerous or disruptive- you can. If you want to remove violent children from the classroom – you can. And if you want protection from false allegations of abuse that wreck lives and wreck careers – we’ll make sure you have it.

How? Are you going to repeal some legislation? If so, what? Are you going to use the criminal justice system to crack down on dangerous students? If so, how will you force the judges to issue harsher penalties? Will you use legislation to ensure that false allegations are expunged from the records? Will you get rid of the ISA, which includes hearsay, rumour, and false allegations as ‘evidence’ in its vetting scheme? Where are the details, dude?

Anyway. This is all just to reiterate my point: restricting teacher training to people with good degrees will simply worsen the teacher shortage, because most academically successful people (‘best brains’) don’t want to become teachers. It’s an unattractive profession to people who value creativity, resourcefulness, and freedom to innovate. And even if the best brains did become teachers, there’s no guarantee they’d be good. Many academically gifted people have trouble communicating the subject of their expertise at a level that is accessible to schoolchildren anyway; and probably the core skill involved in teaching is being able to synthesise patiently, to simplify complex ideas, to keep what you’re saying on a level kids can understand and in a way they can tune into.

Finally, I will say this. I teach Latin. I am not an expert in the subject, nor do I have a degree in it, nor do I have the faintest clue where my American university degree would fall on the degree-class scale used in the UK. I do not have a teaching qualification. And yet every time I apply for a teaching position, the school falls all over itself to hire me and to pay me well above the going rate for my services. I can’t be the only teacher like that. David Cameron’s plans will, by and large, make it harder for people like me to get teaching jobs. And for what? So that a bunch of smarty-pants graduates with 2:2s or better can have a ‘high-prestige’ career.

Camerhoon, school is not about teachers. It’s about children. And anyone who wants to teach, and can demonstrate that they do it well, should be encouraged to do so, whether they have fancy papers to qualify them or not, and whether they have the biggest brain in Britain or just a mediocre brain that happens to be full of passion and love of learning and dedication to showing kids how amazing the world they live in is.

UPDATE 2: Yes, and many more times yes, from the BHS:

For the Conservatives, we need to restrict the pool of applicants to one which is ‘brazenly elitist’, in the hope that by only recruiting the very best graduates, you’ll recruit only the very best teachers. There are two major problems with this. First, we still have a teacher shortage, as evidenced by the fact that there are some substantial rewards for people training to teach subjects like science and maths. Second, quite apart from the fact that there are scores of people with mediocre qualifications who are exceptional teachers, there’s no guarantee that someone who graduated from Oxbridge with a first in Mathematics is going to possess the people skills needed to succeed in a classroom. It’s quite possible that the Tories’ plans would not only lead to fewer teachers, but fewer good teachers as well.

Jan 162010
 

Longrider has a cracking good fisking of an article in the Independent by the ‘timorous’ Howard Jacobson:

Living involves risk. Every time we go anywhere there is risk. There is greater risk of a road traffic incident than there is from the bogeymen. There is far more risk of dying in the home than there is from the jihadists. Get a sense of proportion and get a grip. And, take a moment or two to reflect on Benjamin Franklin’s words on this. Protection from bad men is not a right.

If the police, no matter how clumsy, are our protection, how does it benefit us to have lawyers in another country hampering their operations? View it how you will, this victory for the civil libertarians is nothing short of an overwhelming defeat for the people whose liberties they claim to uphold.

This man is an absolute wanker.

I urge you to go and read the whole thing.