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Category archive: Violence

Monday July 14 2008

Carlin Romano, who teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania, writes about honorary degrees, in The Chronicle Review.  He begings his piece by arguing that honorary degrees do nothing for universities.  He quotes Jacques Barzun, who says: “the honorary degree as now commonly dealt out has lost its point”, and: “The Chairman of the Board of General Aphrodisiacs may be all that is said of him in the citation, but it is not a judgment on which the university should set its seal.” Universities should stick to rewarding measurable academic excellence.  MIT and Harvard eke out their existences without awarding any such degrees.  Others should follow their example, says Romano.

But then he gets to the matter of Robert Mugabe.


Yet for all this history and perspective, indicating that honorary degrees and their nullifications amount to tempests in teapots, the peculiar biography of Robert Mugabe makes the matter more complicated. Recent journalistic attention to Zimbabwe’s tragedies, welcome as it is, has provided little context about the man causing them. For that, we’re fortunate to have three incisive books on him published in the last decade: Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, by Martin Meredith (Public Affairs, 2002); Degrees in Violence: Robert Mugabe and the Struggle for Power in Zimbabwe, by David Blair (Continuum, 2002); and Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, by Stephen Chan (University of Michigan Press, 2003).

All paint a portrait of Mugabe that may surprise non-Africa hands ignorant of his prepresidential life. Born in the Jesuit mission station of Kutama on February 21, 1924, the third of six children in a family abandoned by his father (a dyspeptic carpenter who moved 300 miles away and took another wife), young Mugabe could not have been more bookish as he rose to become a teacher.

“All accounts describe him in the same words,” writes Blair, “diligent, quiet, studious, introverted.” Mugabe shunned smoking and drinking alcohol and “excelled academically” at every institution he attended, including South Africa’s University of Fort Hare, the hotbed of African nationalism from which Nelson Mandela had been expelled earlier. During Mugabe’s 11 years of imprisonment, from 1963 to 1974, under Zimbabwe’s white-ruled predecessor state of Rhodesia, the future president enrolled in University of London correspondence courses and earned four degrees — a master’s degree in economics, a bachelor’s degree in administration, and two law degrees — to go with the three bachelor’s degrees he already possessed, in economics, education, and history and literature.

Meredith writes of how Mugabe in prison “resumed his studies with fierce dedication, his books piled on both sides of his bed.” The prisoner’s late wife, Sally Hayfron, then living in London, copied out whole volumes by hand and posted them as letters to her husband. When Mugabe finally won release from prison, in November 1974, he held seven academic degrees.

So even now, after more than three decades in which the former Marxist revolutionary leader — seen as conciliatory toward opponents at Zimbabwe’s independence — has evolved into a murderous autocrat, Mugabe’s lust for academic credibility may endure. In the paranoid recesses of Mugabe’s octogenarian brain, stripping him of degrees may exact a toll few can imagine.

In which case, it’s probably time for Michigan State University, which doled out an honorary doctorate to Mugabe in 1990, to step up. And what about those seven earned degrees? Can a university revoke degrees earned in a correspondence course? How? By sending Mugabe a letter? Why not leave him only the eighth academic laurel he famously boasts of — “a degree in violence”?

Now, after Zimbabwe’s latest parody of democracy, the man once called “Satan’s apostle” by his also-ruthless white predecessor stands as the re-elected president of Zimbabwe. If things keep going as they’re going, however, Mugabe can forget about retiring to one of those handsomely endowed chairs at a Florida university, the sort that draw Oxford dons seeking to up their pay in a sunny place.

He simply won’t have the credentials.

A degree in education.  How about that?

The idea of stripping Mugabe of his various degrees, honorary and real, was causing much mockery on Mock The Week, when I watched the latest manifestation of it a few days ago, as did England refusing to play cricket against Zimbabwe next year.  But it would appear that even if taking his degrees away won’t now do anything to stop Mugabe, this might cause him some small degree (so to speak) of hurt.

More Mugabe honorary degree complaint here.

Thursday July 03 2008

If it is true that higher education is now and remains potentially a big export earner for Britain, and it is true, then stories like this won’t help one little bit:

Two French students have been found dead with multiple stab wounds in an East London flat, it was confirmed last night.

A double murder inquiry has been launched after the bodies of the two men, believed to be in their twenties, were discovered on Sunday, when firefighters were called to deal with a fire at the address in Sterling Gardens, New Cross.

A police source said the pair had been “horrifically murdered” adding that it was believed they may have been tortured before being killed and their flat set alight.

This was all over the early evening news today, complete with pictures.  It seems to have been a robbery that went wrong, by which I mean even more wrong.

It’s somewhat off topic for this blog, but I say: allow non-crims to be armed!

It may yet happen.  London, full of disarmed non-crims and armed crims, is rapidly becoming like New York used to be but is now so conspicuously not, a “crime capital”.  Any decade now, something might just give.  Or, to use the language of this blog, the lesson might be learned.

Tuesday July 01 2008

Miss Snuffleupagus reports and reflects:

When I worked in all-boys schools, I learnt a foolproof method of breaking up fights. I simply had to put myself in the middle of the two combatants, and they would immediately step away from each other. It had something to do with being in a predominantly male environment. The boys instinctively knew that hitting a girl, or even coming close to doing so, was unacceptable. Male teachers for instance, could not use my tactic successfully. They had to separate the boys by force.

Having used my clever method for years, it has become an instinctive reaction when I see a fight. I forget that in a mixed school, the constant presence of the girls means that chivalry is not cherished by the boys, as it is in a male-only environment.

Entire books could be (have been?) written about what happens to behaviour when a school switches from all boy to boy-girl.  I remember being told by an academic at Royal Holloway College, which was near us when I grew up, that when they did that switch, one of the big changes was that all the gays suddenly came blazing out of their closets and started dressing like they were on TV or something.  All that well-dressed competition?  Don’t know, but that’s apparently what happened.

Tuesday May 27 2008

From last Friday’s Evening Standard Magazine, in a piece about the clothing business lady who models her own bikinis, Elizabeth Hurley:

How is Damian getting on with the girls in his new co-ed school?  ‘He loves it,’ she says.  ‘I’m having to teach him how to play with girls.  He’s only really used to playing with boys, and so when I see him rugby tackling the girls to the floor, I have to explain that it is not very gentlemanly.  When two six-year-old boys are rolling around on the grass fighting, and one says to the other, “Get off,” boys just do it harder.  I’m trying to make him understand that when a girl says, “Get off,” you have to get off – immediately!  Not a bad lesson to learn early. ...


Friday May 23 2008

Yesterday, I think it was, I was half-listening to some TV news coverage of the case of Kyra Ishaq, who has just been imprisoned to death in Birmingham.  And I heard something to the effect that Kyra was “taken out of school”, or some such phrase.  I may even have heard the phrase “home schooling”, or something like it.  I do hope that this one horrific case is not used as an all-purpose excuse to restrict the right to home educate.

No mention of any such thing in this report.  In this report, the school angle is prominent, but again, no suggestion that removing children from school is inherently evil.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

I see that Carlotta has been having the same thoughts.

Monday May 19 2008



Idiots in the nicer parts of the nice countries say that violence, cruelty, compulsion etc. are not merely nasty, which they are, but ineffective, which they are not.  Given the objectives of those being nasty, nastiness, again and again, works.  If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be nearly so widespread, or nearly so difficult to argue against.  Even those subjected to it have a horrible tendency to believe that it was good and necessary.  And, of course, to pass it on.

Saturday April 05 2008

Yes, Frank Chalk offers a different perspective on the row about military recruiters in schools:

If you are born into the Underclass, doomed to attend a dustbin of a school, then a career in the Army might well be your only ticket out of the slums. Yes, if you are unlucky you might be shot by some toerag in Iraq or Afghanistan; but if you manage to avoid that unfortunate outcome, then you can pick up a decent pension after 22 years or look for another employer who will snap you up, knowing that unlike most applicants; a) you will actually turn up to work and b) you will get on with things that you might not want to do without moaning too much.

Alternatively you could of course just remain in the Estate from Hell, where there are no employers and you stand a good chance of being shot by a rival drugs dealer or ending up behind bars for most of your life.  The NUT would like to remove your only hope of escape.

Well, not quite.  You still can join the army, even if your teachers don’t want you to think about it.  Teachers not wanting you to think about it might even encourage you.  I’m about a fortnight late with this posting.  But, this is not an argument that changes very much from one century to the next, so I’m going to forgive myself for that.

Sunday March 30 2008

For once, a threat to commit a school massacre/suicide is being taken seriously:

A middle school principal threatened to kill a group of science teachers if their students did not improve their standardized test scores, according to a complaint filed with the New Braunfels Police Department.

Anita White, who taught at New Braunfels Middle School for 18 years before being transferred this month to the district’s Learning Center, said Principal John Burks made the threat in a Jan. 21 meeting with eighth-grade science teachers.

She said Burks was angry that scores on benchmark tests were not better, and the scores on the upcoming Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests must show improvement.

“He said if the TAKS scores were not as expected he would kill the teachers,” White said. “He said ‘I will kill you all and kill myself.’ He finished the meeting that way and we were in shock.

Obviously, we talked about it among ourselves. He just threatened our lives. After he threatened to kill us, he said, ‘You don’t know how ruthless I can be.’

“We walked out of the meeting just totally dumbfounded because it was not a joke,” White said.

New Braunfels Police spokesman Mike Penshorn said the incident was filed as a verbal assault, but is being investigated as a terroristic threat.

Via the always educational Dave Barry.

Teach better or die!
Exclusions overturned
Education as making Prussian soldiers
Home education grows because of bullying and testing
Somehow I don’t think this idea will catch on any time soon
“I’d just tell him to stop and he would …”
A new strategy in the school war
How exclusion helps potential excludees
Frank Chalk and David Davis on metal detectors for schools
Human whisperers wanted
Total surveillance of the classroom?
To avoid being a terrorist …
NZ stuff