Friday, October 15, 2010

What's Missing Here ?

Marianne Gilchrist has a PhD in Art History, she's well-read, intelligent (although, like Snuffy, her entertaining blog reads like that of a younger woman), a published author, but she's in her 40s and can't find a decent job which will use her undoubted talents.

I volunteered in museums – a catalogue raisonné here, an exhibition there – only to be rejected for basic posts because I "might be bored" and for curatorial posts because I was "too research orientated". When, after eight years, I obtained a job in heritage, which was low-paid but at national level, it was a fixed-term contract: three years later, at 40, I was again unemployed...
I have been working, off and on, as a temp for less than £8 an hour since early 2008.
Shades of William Gazy.

She gets a lot of stick in the comments, much of it unfair. It was what was missing from her piece - and will be missing from our futures - that struck me.

Friday Night Music - My Name Is Death

It's that time of year, when Laban's musical tastes turn a trifle sombre.

You do have to wonder about the amount of misogyny in the mediaeval 'Death And The Maiden' theme. Hans Baldung spares us none of the misery of the young girl being shown her early grave. 'Hier must du hyn' (Here you must go) is the caption.

While there are many similar paintings, I can't think of a single one where a fine young man is the victim, although to be fair the proud and rich of both sexes are targets in the Dance of Death paintings and the poetry of death.

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crookèd scythe and spade.

This Robin Williamson song is in the tradition of Baldung and Walter Scott's Proud Maisie:

"I'll give you gold and jewels rare
And all my wealth in store
All pleasures fair,
If I may live but a few short years more"

"Oh lady, lay your jewels aside,
No more to glory in your pride"

In Other News, Pope Still Catholic

"Children raised by single mothers are twice as likely to misbehave as those born into traditional two-parent families, according to research"

"Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history, an expert who had unprecedented access to official Communist Party archives said yesterday. "

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Why not free education?"

Dave Osler mourns the Golden Age of University Grants. Why not free education ?

From my first day as a five-year-old at Avenue Road Infants’ School to my final postgraduate seminar at the London School of Economics, my education was free all the way. Not only that, but for the last five years of it, I was accorded state support at a level comparable to a low-wage job.

That is a large part of the explanation of how the son of a railwayman and a nurse from a two-up two-down eventually landed a well-paid career in journalism. But posh kids got more or less the same deal, save for a reduced level of grant to reflect their parents’ prosperity.

In the 1960s, the 1970s and into the monetarist 1980s, the idea that this way of doing things would ever change substantially would have been unthinkable. Free education was an essential aspect of the social democratic settlement.

Surely that Golden Age never existed, did it? He'll be saying crime was lower next.

Laban feels inclined to chip in, as Dave seems genuinely puzzled as to why we can't afford such goodies any more. He obviously didn't do Advanced Arithmetic at LSE :

You do have to wonder exactly how we got here. Was it conspiracy, or was it cock-up? It’s usually the latter.

1930s – only the top 2-3% could get a free university grant – and many working families with bright kids were just too poor even to get that far. My mother, a very clever girl, and all her siblings had to leave school at 16 to bring some money in. My father-in-law’s folks had just enough dosh to get him through sixth form, and he ended up a senior academic.

But only a small elite got to uni. There was enough money for free tuition AND grants for the poor.

An important difference between the UK and other countries was that “In England and Wales the majority of young full-time university students attend universities situated a long distance from their family homes; this is not true for universities in most European countries, such as Italy or Spain”. This was to have a major cost impact as the number of universities grew, and as teacher training institutions and polytechnics took more and more students who weren’t living at home.

1950s-70s – the Golden Age (which of course never existed). Enough prosperity for a clever working class kid to stay on at grammar school and do the UCCA round as was. A few more universities (the redbricks, Warwick, Essex, Sussex etc) but still only 5% or so went to uni, so free tuition for all, and maximum grants for, say, the son of a primary teacher. Maybe a few more % at Poly or Teacher Training – still enough cash to go round. 10% of school-leavers now?

Early 1990s – the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, as the Tories discover that new universities are incredibly easy to create – new headed notepaper, a few signs outside the buildings, and Leeds Poly becomes the Metropolitan University of Leeds, while the Breedon Bar in Cotteridge becomes the University of Central England. At the same time – and this is the killer – the Polys, which used to mainly cater for local students, become much more like universities in that they start competing nationally for students.

The 1980s and 90s also saw major expansion in University numbers – for example Leeds in the 70s was I think the biggest UK university with 9,000 students. Now 24,000. All these students were getting fees paid and most had grants pre-1997.

“As the university population rose during the 1980s the sums paid to universities became linked to their performance and efficiency, and by the mid 1990s funding per student had dropped by 40% since the mid-1970s, while numbers of full-time students had reached around 2,000,000 (around a third of the age group), up from around 1,300,000.” The fiscal strain of the massive expansion is beginning to tell.

30% of school leavers ?

1997 onwards – Labour go somewhat insane, proclaiming that 50% of school leavers should be at uni – i.e. anyone over average intelligence. Every teacher training college in the land becomes a university (no longer a live-at-home student body), and the school leaving age is raised to 18. Ironically, the main beneficiaries are the middle classes, who can now get their more average children through Uni. You find former Polytechnics which are now much more middle class than a university was 25 years previously.

As above, the financial strain of this idiotic ‘all must have degrees’ policy finally catches up. They HAVE to introduce loans and tuition fees, otherwise the 50% non-uni candidates are subsidising the top 50%.

And that’s how we got where we are. Utter madness, but that’s what happened. The question is, what of the future? Will any working class youth fancy three years at Uni with a 35K debt at the end of it, and no prospect of buying their own house until they’re 45 – if then ? Will the university bubble burst ?

Nature Vs Nurture (Again)

Pop psychologist Oliver James plumps for the Blank Slate, the whole Slate, and nothing but the Slate in the Guardian - with a topping of political partisanship :

Politics may be the reason why the media has so far failed to report the small role of genes. The political right believes that genes largely explain why the poor are poor, as well as twice as likely as the rich to be mentally ill. To them, the poor are genetic mud, sinking to the bottom of the genetic pool.
A commenter writes :

Please Guardian people - get a geneticist to respond to this article

And as if by magic appears one Bob O'Hara on the Guardian's Science Blogs :

During one of my frequent breaks, I saw this twitter comment, from Mark Henderson, science correspondent at The Times:

Oliver James demolishes another straw man...

A couple of minutes later, when I took my next break, I followed the link. Henderson was only sort-of accurate about Oliver James demolishing a straw man. If you know anything about the subject, it was clear that he wasn't even attacking the straw man he was setting up: he was tilting at a windmill that he mistook for the straw man he had set up.

James' Comment is Free piece resurrects the straw man of the old nature-nurture debate. Is human behaviour determined by genes or by the environment? We've pretty much answered this: "it's more complicated than that". Both genes and environment have an effect, and it's going to be messy (genes can change susceptibility to having a psychiatric disorder, but growing up in a bad environment will make it more likely that you will actually suffer from psychiatric problems). The interesting genetic questions surround the relative importance of different genetic and environmental effects, and finding the genes that are involved in genetic disorders.

What's really scary are the comments on James' piece. The Blank Slate is a religion, and any deviation from it is the heresy of evil people :

" ...any child at school knows that some people are sh*ts and some aren't; there's rarely any particularly clear reason for this. And if you are, you're likely to become a right-winger, because the political right endorses your character defects and cruelties of nature; it provides a justificatory ideology which encourages you to play out your sadism and cruelty.
Rightwing politics dont make people nasty:- nasty people support rightwing politics! Eureka!

PS:- why are there so very, very few Ciffers from the left, prepared to post in the two rightwing broadsheets? Why are you prepared to let the right crow triumphantly from on top of it's dunghills in the Times and Telegraph? They're not only nasty people, on the whole; they'e often really, really dense; go on, expose them for what they are:- stupid, malicious people bereft of human decency."

Or how about :

Right-wing authoritarian followers prefer to see the world in stark black-and-white. They conform closely with the rules defined for them by their authorities, and do not stray far from their own communities. This extreme, unquestioning conformity makes them insular, fearful, hostile to new information, uncritical of received wisdom, and able to accept vast contradictions without perceiving the inherent hypocrisy… Conformity also feeds their sense of themselves as more moral and righteous than others…

I presume that unimaginative insular parents produce unimaginative insular children however wouldn't it be great if it was down to a faulty/missing gene that could be fixed because I honestly believe that the human race can not evolve further until we can fix them.

Brrr !! That Theodore Adorno (and the people still teaching him at Uni) have a lot to answer for.