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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Education

Friday October 20 2017

Today, I was thinking, what with it being Friday: What can I put here about cats or other creatures that would be of interest?  But instead of looking for something along those lines, I was listening to a video conversation between Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, about the sorry state of the humanities departments of American universities.  I can’t remember why or how, but I was.  And twenty four and a half minutes into this, I listened in astonishment as Peterson suddenly started talking, fascinatingly, about zebras.

Why do zebras look the way they do, so very black and and so very white, and so very stripey?

This has long puzzled me.  The arch enemy of the zebra is the lion, and the lions are impeccably camouflaged.  Their coats are the same colour as the veldt, or whatever it is that the zebras roam about on and that the lions hunt the zebras on, and so the zebras don’t see the lions coming.  But the zebras, with their garish black and white plumage, are nothing at all like the colour of the land they live on.  What gives?  Why the lurid and fantastically visible stripes?

Today I learned the answer to this question.

The answer is: When lions hunt zebras, they do this by deciding on just the one zebra that they are going to hunt, and they concentrate entirely on that one zebra.  Eventually, the chosen zebra is exhausted, and the lions catch it and kill it.

And how do zebras respond, evolutionarily speaking?  Answer: By becoming extremely hard to distinguish from each other.  Their very stripey stripes do exactly this.  The result of that is that although the lions try to hunt just the one zebra, thereby exhausting it and killing it, they instead keep getting confused about exactly which zebra is the one they are trying to hunt.  And the result of that is that instead of hunting one zebra to its death, they hunt half a dozen zebras, not to any of their deaths, and go home without their dinner.

Some scientists who were studying zebra plumage did what turned out to be a rather cruel experiment which proved this.  They squirted some colour onto one of the zebras in a zebra herd.  The lions, confident now that they would not be confused about which zebra they were hunting, proceeded to hunt that one marked zebra to its inevitable death.  Without such marking out, they couldn’t tell which zebra was which.  With such marking, hunting success followed, every time.  Every time, they chose the marked and hence easily distinguishable zebra.

I did not know this.

Peterson’s point was that American humanities professors are like this.  They all have totally crazy, yet totally similar, opinions.  That way, their enemies can’t fixate on one of them and destroy him.  Or something.  In this version of the zebra stripes story, Peterson is saying that people in general are like zebras.  But I really didn’t care about that.  It was the zebras and their stripes that interested me.

I love the internet.

Wednesday September 06 2017

Professor Amy Wax, quoted in this:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These are the kind of virtues that, in Charles Murray’s words, the upper classes of the USA have been practising, but have been neglecting to preach to those below them in the social pecking order.  Result says Professor Wax: disaster.

That phrase about preaching what they practise is a good one and I am glad it is getting around.  (I mentioned it in this Samizdata piece.) I don’t always practise these virtues myself, particularly the ones concerning working hard and avoiding idleness.  (I would also want to distinguish between serving my country and serving its mere state apparatus.) But I preach these virtues nevertheless.  Do what she says, not what I do.

A little hypocrisy is far preferable to a lot of silence in these matters.

Tuesday August 22 2017

About a week ago or less, I found myself in the vicinity of The Wheel.  The light was very good, with lots of sunshine and lots of lurid looking clouds.  So, I took photos.

Below are a clutch of The Wheel related photos.  My opinion of how to photo The Wheel is that you should combine The Wheel with other things.  Like graphic designs featuring The Wheel which are in the vicinity of The Wheel.  It’s the old modified cliché routine.

In this photo clutch, however, I do include one very old school photo of The Wheel.  It’s the photo I took of a postcard (1.2), which features The Wheel.  And look what the postcard calls The Wheel.  It calls it The Wheel: “The Wheel”.  None of this “London Eye” nonsense.  Do large numbers of people in other parts of the world call The Wheel The Wheel?  I do hope so.  And I hope that this habit conquers London.

The next four photos, after the postcard (1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3) are all of The Wheel reflected in a tourist crap shop.  And then 3.1 is of The Wheel reflected in a place, next door, that sells sandwiches.

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I like how I totally lined up the circular blue logo with The Wheel reflection, in 2.3.  Could I also have done something similar with the circular things in 2.1 and 2.2, in the latter case an actual picture of The Wheel.  I rather think that I tried, but couldn’t do that.  But, memo to self, return to this enticing spot, on a nice day, and see what I can do.

This is what I like about taking photos in London, rather than in some foreign spot that I am only going to be in once.  If, upon reflection back home, I suspect that I might have been able to do some of the photos better, I can, in London, go back to try to do this.

Sunday August 20 2017

For a cricket obsessive like me, the best thing about that game in which eleven boys (the Marlborough College cricket team) played Rugby (it works better when you say it) at Lord’s was the stellar hitting at the end of the Marlborough innings by Max Read.  His best score ever, apparently.  Nothing like doing that at Lord’s, eh?  From now on, kid, life is all downhill, unless you do something else really well.  Or, I suppose, do even better at cricket.

But for the less cricket-crazy observer, the big story of that game, the one picked up by the regular newspapers, was this:

Maia becomes first girl in a boys’ team to play at Lord’s

A teenage cricketer from London has made history by becoming the first woman to play at Lord’s in a school’s first XI.

The Rugby team took on Marlborough College’s first XI at Lord’s on Saturday, making Maia the first schoolgirl to play in an “all male” school match at the home of cricket.

What the newspapers did not emphasise was the Ms Bouchier, batting at number six, got out for just one run, with her dismissal marking the low point in the day of Rugby’s fortunes.  That disappointment meant that Rugby had sunk to a calamitous 30 for 5, chasing Marlborough’s 270.  (Rugby then had a big stand and got amazingly close.)

So, I did not have much chance to take any photos of Ms Bouchier batting.  This one, making it clear that this is mixed cricket rather than an all-ladies game, was probably my best one:

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Does Ms Bouchier’s appearance at Lord’s signal the gradual emergence of cricket from men only to mixed?  Sadly, not.  The now 18-year-old Ms Bouchier is already an England Under-19 International, in other words one of the few dozen best lady players of her generation.  That she made it into the first team of a mere boys’ school is an achievement, but not that remarkable an achievement, for femaledom as a whole.  That she played with her male team-mates at Lord’s will be a nice memory (once she forgets her low score), but she’ll be doing that again, especially when you discover that she plays for Middlesex.  Something like this was bound to happen, just as soon as formerly all-boys schools started including girls.  (Marlborough, by the way, have had girls attending for nearly fifty years now.) Top flight men’s cricket does contain men of very varied shapes and types, and in particular some very short men.  But they are all pretty strong physically, even the spin bowlers.  For the foreseeable future, the top ladies and the top gents will each play their gender-segregated games.

It perhaps says something that Ms Bouchier is an England hopeful because of her bowling, but that she did not bowl for Rugby at all in their game against Marlborough.

Meanwhile, around England today, the lady cricketers were out in force.  My team, the Surrey Stars, captained by Ms Natmeg herself (already mentioned here in this posting), just managed to defeat the Southern Vipers.

The individual performance of the day came from New Zealandress Rachel Priest, whose not out century propelled her team, (the?) Western Storm, to victory against the Yorkshire Diamonds by ten wickets, which is the most wickets you can win by.

No men’s cricket in England today, England having crushed the West Indians in England’s first ever day-night pink ball test match inside three days.  Let’s hope the Windies can do better next time.  (It’s always a terrible sign when the opposition fans want you to do better.  I wanted the Windies to bat better at Edgbaston.  (I also wanted Rugby to recover from 30-5.  (Be careful what you wish for.)))

Win some lose some.  Women’s cricket on the up-and-up.  West Indian test cricket on the down-and-down.

I can remember listening to cricket on the radio, at a time when no New Zealand men could bat half as well as Rachel Priest bats now.

Friday August 18 2017

At the end of that walk along the river with GodDaughter 2, the one when I took this photo, and these photos, I also took these photos:

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This was Surrey Docks Farm.  As you can see in a couple of the above photos (most clearly in 4.3), Surrey Docks Farm has (of course (this is the twenty first century)) its own website.

We were on the path beside the river, getting a bit bored with the sameness of it all, getting a bit tired, knowing that we would soon be done, and then suddenly we found ourselves wandering around in a farm.  There were no humans to be seen, just farm animals.  The sheep in particular seemed really glad to see us, and stayed to have their heads scratched even after it had become clear that we had brought no food with us.

My favourite moment was when one of the sheep at the far end of the enclosure, eating with a bunch of other sheep from a straw feeder, decided to stop doing that and instead to come over and see what the fuss around us was all about.  The determined and confident way in which it did this (see 4.1) reminded me of this cat, as shown in the middle photo of those nine.

I don’t know what they keep in the cow sculpture (4.2).

London is full of weird things like this.  The only way to find them is to get out there, and find them.  “Searching” on the internet doesn’t do it.  What are you supposed to search for, given that you have no idea what it is until you have found it.

Eventually a human showed up, and showed us how to get out.  We’d forgotten how we got in.  Like his animals, he didn’t seem in any way bothered.

Saturday August 12 2017

Yesterday, GodDaughter 1’s Dad rang up and said would I like to come with him to see a cricket match between our old school, Marlborough, and its ancient and deadly rival, Rugby, at Lord’s.  It was today.  I said yes.  Here’s a poster I photoed outside the ground that plugged the event: 

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This fixture used once upon a time to happen every year at Lord’s, but this was a one-off, to celebrate Rugby’s 450th birthday.

It was a great game.  Here, photoed from the electronic scoreboarda, are the scores that each side made:

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From these two photos alone, your dedicated cricket fan would be able to deduce that this was a fifty overs each way game of embarrassing collapses and big stands, which swung back and forth all day.

I don’t know if they had a Man of the Match award, but if they did, then the two contenders would have been Read and West.  Marlborough were 8 for 3, and then, after a stand, they faltered again, to 110 for 6.  But then Read and West got stuck in and batted right through.  Read’s hitting at the end of the Marlborough innings was amazing.  West also batted superbly, and then his bowling destroyed the Rugby top order, It was Rugby’s turn to look like they were going to be crushed embarrassingly.  But they too then had a big stand, This wasn’t quite enough because just when it needed to carry on to the end, Marlborough managed to put a stop to it.  But it made a great game of it.

This graphic was probably prepared before the game for the scoreboard to show at the end of the game, but it was well deserved:

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If only I had taken any photos of the action that were half as informative as all this verbal and numerical information.  But when it came to choosing which photos would sum it all up, these seemed the best.  I did take a few photos that weren’t of signage.  I even saw a few Big Things from afar.  So, more about that later, maybe, I promise nothing.

Thursday June 29 2017

June 30th (i.e. tomorrow): Barry Macleod-Cullinane is a Conservative local councillor, and as a libertarian of long standing he is perfectly qualified to speak about “Townhall Libertarianism”. 

July 28th: Leandro d’Vintmus is a Brazilian, and a musician.  And also interested in how political and psychological libertarianism interact and reinforce each other.  Very different from the usual sort of Brian’s Last Friday, and all the better for it.

Aug 25th: Nico Metten will speak about “Libertarian Foreign Policy”.  Nico is your classic unswerving libertarian, except that he talks rather quietly.  Insofar as, in this complex matter, there are distinctions to be made, subtleties to be teased out, hairs to be split, we can depend upon him to make them, tease them out, split them.

Sept 29th: Financial journalist Tom Burroughes (aka Samizdata’s Johnathan Pearce), financial journalist, will speak about the (in his (and in my) opinion) very bad idea of a “universal basic income”.

Oct 27th: Rob Fisher, who is a parent, will offer some reflections about that.

Also fixed: January 26th 2018: Tim Evans, Professor in Business and Political Economy at Middlesex University Business School, will speak about the business of higher education, which is one of Britain’s most significant export industries.  We libertarians are used to complaining about higher education for the bad ideas that if all too often spreads.  But what about the economics of the higher education business?

Plenty of food for thought, I think you will agree.

Friday February 03 2017

Last night I was at the Institute of Economic Affairs for the launch of James Tooley’s remarkable book, Imprisoned in India: Corruption and Extortion in the World’s Largest Democracy.

Here are a few of the photos I took of him, talking about this book:

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James Tooley is the guy who roams the earth, seeking out freelance educational enterprises, and also setting up several of his own.  But then, he fell foul of India’s criminal justice bureaucracy, and got imprisoned for a while.  Scary.  And then he wrote a book about it.  I have only read the bit at the end, because I wanted to know that James Tooley was okay.  I of course intend to read the rest, and then do my bit to plug it.

Judging by last night’s performance, James is fine.  But he is also haunted by the knowledge that many other victims of the same corrupt system are not as lucky, if that’s the word, as he was.

Also present at the launch were James Bartholomew and Martin Durkin:

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Both were effusive about the book, more than they had to be, if you get my drift.

The Q and A focussed, inevitably, on what is to be done, about the vast scale of the corruption in India.  The mood of the room, although packed, was grim.  My feeling is: you start by telling the story.  You start by writing books like this one.

And the rest of us start by reading them.

Thursday January 26 2017

Just heard an announcer on London Live TV pronounce Persephone as “Percy Phone”.  It should be Per Seffany, in case you also are not sure.  Y(oung) P(eople) T(hese) D(ays).  They just don’t have the Classics.

This was in connection with a show at the Vault Festival, at which a friend of mine is also performing, tonight.

Saturday October 22 2016

Well, for some, maybe they are.  But not for many.  Like I said, they’re a business.

Further evidence: University of North Dakota Offers Class on Starting Your Own Drone Business.

Further confirmation.  My TV screen takes a while to warm up, so I often leave it on and just switch off the sound.  And a moment ago, while listening to the radio, I was also watching daytime TV silently selling quite complicated looking drones at giveaway prices.  A lot of money got poured into these things, to sell at around five hundred quid, in the highstreet, to people, to play around with.  But these drones were today on sale for less than fifty.  As individual things to have, they just haven’t caught on.

See also: 3D printers.  Also not toys.

Saturday October 15 2016

I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse.  Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant.  Sounds horribly familiar:

Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.

Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.

Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.

In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”.  Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to.  In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.

In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old.  He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
own residences.

Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household.  However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.

A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting.  Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.

The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer.  He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.

This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.

Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat.  Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.

The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).

Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports.  Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.

The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.

Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.

Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.

There would have been few if any books in schools.  These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.

Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.

As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.

Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school.  A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.

The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis.  However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest.  Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it.  For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.

Saturday October 01 2016

The Evolution of Everything, pp. 181-184:

Evolutionary reform of education is happening. James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has catalogued - ‘discovered’ might be a better word - the fact that the poorest slums of cities, and the remotest villages, in countries such as India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and even China abound in low-cost private schools. He first began studying this phenomenon for the World Bank in 2000 in Hyderabad in India, and has more recently followed it through Africa. In the cramped and sewage-infested slums of the old city of Hyderabad he stumbled upon an association of five hundred private schools catering to the poor. In one of them, the Peace High School, he found doorless classrooms with unglazed windows and stained walls, where children of rickshaw-pullers and day labourers paid sixty to a hundred rupees a month (about 90p-£1.50), depending on age, for their education. Yet the quality of the education was impressive. In another, St Maaz High School, he found a charismatic head teacher with mathematical flair who in twenty years had built up a school with nearly a thousand students, taught by a group of largely unqualified (but often graduate) teachers, on three rented sites, from which he made a reasonable profit. State schools existed, with state-certificated teachers in them, but many of Hyderabad’s parents were exasperated by the poor quality of the education they provided, and many of the private-school teachers were exasperated by the poor quality of the teacher training. ‘Government teacher training,’ one told Tooley, ‘is like learning to swim without ever going near a swimming pool.’

When Tooley told these stories to his colleagues at the World Bank, he was told that he had uncovered examples of businessmen ripping off the poor, or that most of the private schools were creaming off the wealthier parents in a district, which was bad for those left behind. But this proved demonstrably untrue: the Peace High School in Hyderabad gave concessions, or even free tuition, to the children of extremely poor and illiterate people: one parent was a cleaner in a mosque earning less than £10 a month. Why would such people send their children to private schools rather than to the free state schools, which provided uniforms, books and even some free food? Because, Tooley was told by parents, in the state schools teachers did not show up, or taught badly when they did. He visited some state schools and confirmed the truth of these allegations.

Tooley soon realised that the existence of these low-cost private schools in poor neighbourhoods was not unknown, but that it was largely ignored by the establishment, which continued to argue that only an expansion of state education could help the poor. The inadequate state of public education in low-income countries is well recognised; but the answer that everybody agrees on is more money, rather than a different approach. Amartya Sen, for instance, called for more government spending and dismissed private education as the preserve of the elite, while elsewhere in the same paper admitting that the poor were increasingly sending their children to private schools, ‘especially in areas where public schools are in bad shape’. This bad shape, he thought, was due to the siphoning off of the vocal middle classes by private schools - rather than the fact that teachers were accountable to bureaucrats, and not to parents. Yet the poor were deserting the state sector at least as much as the middle class. The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favour of the theory that it must be imposed from above.

India was just the start for Tooley. He visited country after country, always being assured that there were no low-cost private schools there, always finding the opposite. In Ghana he found a teacher who had built up a school with four branches teaching 3,400 children, charging $50 a term, with scholarships for those who could not afford it. In Somaliland he found a city with no water supply, paved roads or street lights, but two private schools for every state one. In Lagos, where government officials and the representatives of Western aid agencies all but denied the existence of low-cost private schools, he found that 75 per cent of all schoolchildren in the poor areas of Lagos state were in private schools, many not registered with the government. In all the areas he visited, both urban and rural, in India and Africa, Tooley found that low-cost private schools enrolled more students than state schools, and that people were spending 5-10 per cent of their earnings on educating their children. When he asked a British government aid agency official why his agency could not consider supporting these schools with loans instead of pouring money into the official educational bureaucracy in Ghana, he was told that money could not go to for-profit institutions.

Suppose you are the parent of a child in a Lagos slum. The teacher at the school she attends is often absent, frequently asleep during lessons, and provides a poor standard when awake. This being a public-sector school, however, withdrawing your child goes unnoticed. Your only other redress is to complain to the teacher’s boss, who is a distant official in a part of the city you do not often visit; or you can wait for the next election and vote for a politician who will appoint officials who will do a better job of sending inspectors to check on the attendance and quality of teachers, and then do something about it. Good luck with that. A World Bank report cited by Tooley states despairingly that pay-for-performance cannot work in public-sector schools, and ‘dysfunctional bureaucracies cascade into a morass of corruption, as upward payments from those at lower levels buy good assignments or ratings from superiors’.

If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss. Tooley found that private-school proprietors constantly monitor their teachers and follow up parents’ complaints. His team visited classrooms in various parts of India and Africa, and found teachers actually teaching in fewer of the government classrooms they visited than in private classrooms – sometimes little more than half as many.  Despite having no public funds or aid money, the unrecognised private schools had better facilities such as toilets, electricity and blackboards.  Their pupils also get better results, especially in English and mathematics.

Wednesday June 01 2016

Libertarian Home needs an intro for Mark Littlewood, for a publication they’re doing.  Here is a quick profile of Littlewood by me, which I hope may be of some use to LH.

imageMark Littlewood is the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs.  There was a time, not so long ago, when the IEA seemed doomed to obscurity or worse.  But Littlewood has put in place and now leads a strong team of free market activists, strong on both the academic and media fronts, thus raising the profile of free market ideas both now and in the longer term future.

That may suffice, but here is more, if needed, of a slightly more personal sort.

Of particular note is Littlewood’s appointment of Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, in the area of student and young academic outreach. (Stephen Davies addressed Libertarian Home not long after his IEA appointment.)

When Littlewood was first appointed, I was not optimistic about the IEA, but then I heard him speak about his new job, and I became much more hopeful about the IEA’s future.  That optimism has not abated.

Hope that helps and is not too late.

Friday March 25 2016

Guido links to a piece in GQ about Seumas Milne, and Guido picks out this bit:

Former colleagues reveal how, despite his slight figure, Milne had a remarkable habit of refusing to give way in corridors. Over several years, his fellow journalists grew tired of his insistence that oncoming co-workers make way for him. Eventually, one snapped, telling his desk, “I’m not going to do it again. Next time he plays chicken with me, I’m not going to get out of the way.” The whole office waited for the inevitable confrontation. Soon enough, it happened. As Milne walked down a corridor, the six-foot colleague approached from the other direction. They smashed into each other, sending Milne flying, along with the papers he was carrying. “Seumas was in shock,” recalls an onlooker. “No one had ever done that to him before. He expected people to show deference to him.

I still remember a collision of this sort, half a century ago now, that I once inflicted upon an equally impolite person, when we were both at Marlborough.  The IP was in the habit of pulling rank on me when we were walking in opposite directions along a certain very narrow footpath, the IP making no effort whatsoever to in any way get out of my way, me having to do all the avoiding.  So, one day, I didn’t do any avoiding, and me being shorter than him, I walked my head straight into his chin.  I knew the collision was coming but he didn’t, so he got the worst of it.  Nothing he could say or do, no matter how vehement, was going to change the fact that he got what he deserved and that we both knew it.

It’s amazing how much of the trouble in the world is caused by male human animals disagreeing with one another about their relative importance in the world.

Monday March 07 2016

Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts.  Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.

First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television.  People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise.  But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:

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Next, become an accountant!  Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it.  Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.

Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is.  No Cheesegrater, for a start:

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Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:

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Next, Discover America.  I thought it already had been:

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Visit a beach.  I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness.  Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert.  A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:

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Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area.  And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:

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As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this.  But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think.  A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.

I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days.  All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.

Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.