Thursday, 28 June 2012

The book avalanche returns!

I've been very abstemious with the books recently - down to a trickle of 4-5 per week. Until this week - a couple of Jane Austen books, The Geek Manifesto (copies are being sent to every MP, thanks to Transworld and sympathisers) and a pile today which really demonstrates why I never get anything substantial done - my interests are too easily attracted by shiny things.

So today I got some books from the rather magnificent annual OUP sale: Frances Horgan's translation of that medieval French classic The Romance of the Rose, Corley's translation of Lancelot of the Lake (it turns out I already have the same edition, so if you want it, present yourself at my office next week), and Kent Puckett's Bad Form: Social Mistakes and the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Not my field at all, but it sounds fascinating and will go on the shelf next to Marcus et al. on the Victorians' filthy sex lives. (Shelfmark: Tea-Tribadism).

Also in, Robert Stradling's Wales and the Spanish Civil War, which has some interesting detail on Lewis Jones I hadn't seen confirmed, but nothing on the mysterious 'Frank + Beat' (friends of Lewis's) or the Cambrian Pit miner, communist and Spanish Civil War veteran whose handwritten autobiographical notes were found in LJ's copy of Das Kapital. If you think you know who it is, let me or @cathfeely know: it's her baby.

I'm currently reading The Geek Manifesto to angry up the blood, Alan Plater's Beiderbecke and Colbert's edited collection Travel Writing and Tourism in Britain and Ireland (I've borrowed the author's copy, but you'll have to find £50 to get your mitts on it) for a paper on Borrow and O. M. Edwards. When I'll actually start writing is anyone's guess… Not tomorrow though - I'm off for a long weekend, then it's the staff research conference on Monday.

Au revoir!

Why Cameron can piss off today of all days

The 'line' taken by the Conservative Party on Barclays' multibillion £ manipulation of LIBOR is that it's a consequence of Labour's failure to properly regulate the banks in the boom years.

It's true: the neoliberal clique called New Labour spent over a decade boasting that deregulation was 'good for business'.

But let's remind ourselves what the Tories thought about this at the time:
As a free-marketeer by conviction, it will not surprise you to hear me say that a significant part of Labour's economic failure has been the excessive bureaucratic interventionism of the past decade too much tax, too much regulation, too little understanding of what our businesses need to compete in the modern world.
That was one David Cameron (28th March 2008), demanding even less regulation. That's why I won't take any sententious moralising from that lying face.

Time the 'scum' rose to the top

Tories and other reactionaries often speak of attempts to get working-class students into education as 'social engineering' (private schooling, the imposition of £9000 fees and the panoply of elitist-friendly education policies apparently aren't 'social engineering')

Let's remind ourselves of the first time a decent education was made available to some lower-middle and working-class children. From them came the 'Angry Young Men': Wain, Braine, Kingsley Amis, Osborne and friends.

Stephen Spender:
a rebellion of the Lower Middle Brows
Evelyn Waugh:
the new wave of philistinism… grim young people… coming off the assembly lines.
Somerset Maugham on grant-funded students:
They have no manners and are woefully unable to deal with any social predicament… They are scum.

In contrast, here's what Jimmy has to say about his posh wife's brother in Look Back in Anger. Remind you of a certain Conservative/Liberal cabinet?
He'll end up in the Cabinet one day, make no mistake. But somewhere at the back of his mind is the vague knowledge that he and his pals have been plundering and fooling everybody for generations. Now Nigel is just about as vague as you can get without actually being invisible. And invisible politicians aren't much use to anyone - not even to his supporters! And nothing is more vague about Nigel than his knowledge. His knowledge of life and ordinary human beings is so hazy, he really deserves some sort of decoration for it - a medal inscribed "For Vaguery in the field". But it wouldn't do for him to be troubled by any stabs of conscience, however vague. Besides, he is a patriot and an Englishman, and he doesn't like the idea that he may have been selling out his countrymen all these years, so what does he do? The only thing he can do - seek sanctuary in his own stupidity. The only way to keep things as much like they have always been as possible, is to make any alternative too much for our tiny, poor brain to grasp. It takes some doing nowadays. It really does. But they knew all about character building at Nigel's school, and he'll make it all right. Don't you worry, he'll make it. And, what's more, he'll do it better than anybody else! 
The Hegemon, for all its faults, exists to provide a high standard of education to local students, working-class students and those who for one reason or another have slipped through the educational net. We believe that education is liberation. It's a hard task sometimes: I tell my students about their Oxbridge colleagues, swimming in resources, encouraged to believe that they will be the masters of the universe in business, the arts, politics, science and economics, and working as hard as possible to make sure of it. Here's how Room at the Top's Joe Lampton sees the élite universities: not as centres of academic excellence (which they now are, at least in certain fields), but as machines for maintaining social hegemony:

I had a mental picture of port wine, boating, leisurely discussions over long tables gleaming with silver and cut glass. And over it all the atmosphere of power, power speaking impeccable Standard English, power which was power because it was born of the right family, always knew the right people: if you were going to run the country you couldn’t do without a University education

My students, in large classes, working long hours to sustain themselves and their families, struggling to find the time and money, face huge odds - but it's worth it. They are probably lower down the social scale than the 'scum' Maugham fears so much.  They probably can't tell an Oloroso from a fino, nor what to do with a runcible spoon. Their parents do not figure in Who's Who, live on Consols nor summer (a verb only in upper-class lingo) in Cannes - but it's time they ran the country rather than an Establishment which goes to the same schools, studies PPE in the same two universities and then moves seamlessly into the commanding heights of our society (and then cheats and lies). That's why I'm a teacher, that's why I'm a socialist.

This doesn't mean feather-bedding or dumbing-down. We need to push them to achieve, and inculcate the determination required. It works: the best English students this year gained stunning First class degrees while working and looking after children. We need to have high and demanding expectations of our students: recognise their disadvantages while refusing to accept a 'will this do' attitude. Not all of them will be judges, politicians or CEOs - but they can all decide to use their talents for social good, and that takes application. What's hard is inculcating the passion required. We've got some interesting plans in hand (some dreamed up in the Volebrain) to kickstart enthusiasm and a sense of belonging to an intellectual community. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A collage of teenage idiocy

To keep me away from F••k Off I'm Fat and similarly awful evening TV, I've found myself photographing my record collection, bit by bit, starting with the 7" vinyl singles. One day I'll even digitise them, as quite a few don't exist electronically. It's a record mostly of my gullibility: faced with the combined opinions of NME and the staff at Cob Records of Bangor (RIP), I bought pretty much anything they recommended.

Of the 250 I've snapped so far (we're just about into the Cs), I can't remember what quite a few of them sound like, while others just make me cringe. WHY did I buy a Cranberries single? Still, no censorship: teenage/early-20s me made those choices and I'll have to live with them. It's rather exciting rediscovering gems like Against Country Teasers, though it's sad too: all those hopeful bright young things who thought they'd conquer the world, and didn't. Sad too when I remember the 400 records I had to sell one summer to pay the rent - it's like a smile with missing teeth. Like Ash's 'Uncle Pat', 'Petrol' and Japanese-release of 'Punk Boy', their best songs. Gone.

Still, I've still a fine collection of lovely ephemera: picture discs and coloured vinyl and hopelessly optimistic 'limited editions', inserts, art prints, the lot. A whole subculture fossilised in my flat.

Anyway, as a collage (see the whole thing so far here), they look rather beautiful. If you want to relive the mid-90s, go to the Flickr page and find (most of) these tracks on Youtube. At least one person has already started this cultural odyssey.

As a taster, here's 'Glass Static', by Assembly Line People Program. Who didn't make it. Their 'Noise Vision' (second row, far right) is TRANS001, the first release on Blur guitarist Graham Coxon's Transcopic label. 

If any of you still doubted my trainspottery maleness, that should do the trick.  

Where's the money, Paul?

As I should be working, I find myself checking on the accounts relating to Paul Uppal MP's company, Pinehurst Securities. I say 'his' company, but he's only a shareholder: the sole director is one Surjit Uppal.

Now Paul's been rather secretive about the nature of the business, but he hasn't been above boasting to property media that he's made several millions from it over the years, and that it's rather successful. So imagine my surprise at discovering that it's on rather a downward trend of late (accounts relate to 2011 - click to enlarge).

There's virtually no money in the bank, the net worth of the company has slumped, debts have increased, and the current assets are less than the £50,000 to get a good dinner with a Cabinet Minister.

Now it's hard to believe that Sneaky Paul is so incompetent that he's been caught out by the recession his government has done its level best to exacerbate. But that must be the reason. Surely he wouldn't engineer liabilities and debts to avoid taxation, would he? And that massive slump in cash and assets - he wouldn't be taking money out of the company, would he? Not that there's anything naughty about that, of course. And after all, the £65,000 an MP earns isn't enough to keep a dog in a kennel.

I have to assume - and I'm sure Paul will confirm - that he doesn't use any 'tax-efficient', 'tax-avoiding' or 'tax-evading' measures to reduce his bills. For instance, taking profits as capital gains rather than income…

Anyone know enough about this stuff to express an opinion?

Anyway, Paul won't starve: he's been on a lovely jolly with the Conservative Friends of India, courtesy of the (very poor) Indian government. Wonder what they want in return, and why Paul didn't mention it in his assiduously-maintained publicity?

6. Overseas visits
Name of donor: Ministry of External Affairs, India
Address of donor: South Block, New Delhi 110 011
Amount of donation (or estimate of the probable value): Flights to and from India and internal flights, hotel accommodation, food and other travel costs; total approximately £8,000.
Destination of visit: India
Date of visit: 17-24 September 2011
Purpose of visit: as part of a delegation of the Conservative Friends of India at the invitation of the High Commission in London and the Ministry of External Affairs, Delhi, meeting politicians and businessmen in Delhi and Mumbai.
(Registered 2 November 2011)

Cheapened? The Olympics? Surely not

Some people accuse the Olympic Games of being a festival of corporate greed with some PE attached. What a cynical view! How could they possibly suggest that the Games are part of the tawdry marketing campaign for burgers, credit cards and promotional tat pumped out by low-rent manufactured pop groups? Like JLS.

Also: how long is that guy's finger?

Your weekly Uppal roundup

The Egregious Uppal must scent promotion in the air - he's spent the week kissing bottom and distorting serious matters even more assiduously than usual.

First up is the environment:
There is great news about the economic development of sub-Saharan Africa, which is a possible portent for the future but is also a double-edged sword, because that development is built on the back of natural and mineral resources. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the UK will continue to take a lead on sustainability, and will tackle concerns about eco-protectionism head-on?
On first glance, this seems innocuous enough. Who could possibly be against improving sub-Saharan economic growth?

The sting in the tail is the last few words. We can ignore 'sustainability' as a meaningless term thrown about by cynical bullshitters. It's 'eco-protectionism' which should concern us. It's a new phrase bandied about by neoliberals to describe state support for environmental technology and infrastructure, such as the massive Chinese investment in the state's railways. So what at first sounds like a pro-environment speech is actually a sneaky way of attacking states for deciding that large-scale action to save the environment might be more important than letting multinational corporations destroy local economies through dumping and monopoly behaviour, and buy abandoning emissions charges and other environmental regulations. Certainly Uppal cares more about corporate profits than the Sub-Saharan poor. But we knew this anyway, didn't we?

OK, so what else has he been up to? There's this childish bit of parliamentary nonsense:
Will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate on the public perception of the politicians in this place and, more specifically and pertinently, now that the dust has settled, on whether that perception was enhanced by last week’s Opposition debate?
Which means precisely nothing other than 'aren't the others awful?'. What a fine use of our democracy. What else?
I have a slight confession to make. I spent a great deal of my 20 years in business dealing with swaps, collars, caps and all sorts of financial instruments. The case highlighted by my hon. Friend of its being a fixed-rate product in a sense misses the point. In general, such products were hedges—they were there to mitigate risk. A lot of customers went awry, because the bank would often present the products as a loan but would gear up much more if the risk could be mitigated. Such financial products were often sold on that basis.
Finally, Uppal comes out! No, not sexually. But he's always been very 'circumspect', one could say  - a harsher critic than I might even say 'secretive' - about his business past. Rightly so: you wouldn't want your largely poor and working-class constituents to know that you're a multimillionaire speculator of the kind who's crashed the economy and sent the city into a spiral of decline.

What does this little speech - admittedly not up there with Cicero in the rhetorical stakes - mean? As far as I can tell, he's suggesting that the banks shouldn't be criticised for selling dubious financial instruments to small businesses. Life's tough. Get over it. I'm sure his constituents will be very grateful for that advice.

All in all, a good week's work for little Paul! No wonder he's too tired and busy to attend the debate on electoral reform and electoral fraud currently underway, despite his obsession with the issue… but then again, there are only 5 Conservatives, 7 Labour and two Plaid Cymru MPs there in total.

Getting Ugly

Last night, I went to a public lecture at The Hegemon by Constance Briscoe, the leading lawyer, judge and author of Ugly and Beyond Ugly who fought her way up from an horrifically abusive childhood. I use the word 'fought' deliberately: her presentation was combative, outspoken and aggressive. Much of it was thrilling - she encouraged black people, and women in particular, to be ambitious and ruthless in pursuit of their ambitions. She also condemned the tyranny of low expectations and - most of all - attacked black women's 'racist' tendency to drag each other down or, when successful, to pull up the rungs of the ladder behind them. Tough stuff, and the audience - mostly black and Asian women - responded enthusiastically.

I suspect there's more to Briscoe's story than she allows: her attack on the three black women who held her back contained the seeds of a political dispute that she didn't explore. Briscoe relentlessly personalised her story - no room for structural or wider political/social concerns, and her solutions are rooted in self-help. She constantly recited the mantra that self-belief will achieve success, something I associate more with tearful talent show winners. Despite this, she made it very clear that - just to be sure - she sent her kids to Westminster (£31,000 per year, George Osborne) and St. Paul's (£30,000 per year, Nick Clegg) schools, amongst the most exclusive and expensive in the country. When she attacks others for pulling the ladder up behind them, I wonder if this crosses her mind. Similarly, the extensive plastic surgery she's had suggests that at the very least, cultural judgements do affect her: far from rejecting her mother's taunts about her ugliness, she appears to have accepted them.

Most appalling was her relentlessly reductive sense of vengeance and her definition of success. To beat your enemies, you had to rise higher and earn more. Of the three black women who tormented her, she said they 'never did anything good… not one of them became a judge', which is a rather insensitive thing to say to a crowd who are unlikely to become judges either. Worst of all was her career advice: 'don't go into criminal or family law, there's no money in it. Go into contract, property and financial law, that's where the big money is. If you want to do something good for society, make a load of money first then see if you still want to'. Much of what she said was very good for The Hegemon's students: she repeatedly made the point that massive amounts of hard work are necessary, for instance.

Briscoe was engaging, honest and frequently funny. She feels she has a mission to expose truths about black people which aren't 'politically correct', as she kept saying. Her personal story is horrifying and redemptive, yet she's ultimately intellectually incoherent. Lacking any real ideological or structural awareness, her solutions are little different from the junk-psychology of the airport self-help variety, while her obsession with money is - while perhaps understandable, psychologically - socially destructive.

How the Bailout works

In any crisis, turn to Calvin and Hobbes. Click to enlarge.

And on educational matters:

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Better late than never?

Afternoon all. I haven't spent the morning lazing in bed fiddling with my bits at all. I've been doing proper academic things all day, like what a proper academic might do. I wrote a (largely positive) review of Misunderstanding the Internet by Curran, Fenton and Freedman for the LSE Review of Books (I'll post it when they do) and then tried to help a Manchester colleagues queries about Lewis Jones's comrades. I failed, but I did learn some things, think about interwar communist and proletarian culture, and read loads of good things. See? PROPER ACADEMIC!

Here's one of the things I watched: a documentary about Wales and the Spanish Civil War:

Wales and the Spanish Civil War from internationalschoolhistory on Vimeo.

I'm fascinated by this period because it's one of the last times that large sections of the population were actively engaged in independent proletarian education and political debate: joining parties, turning out on mammoth marches, supporting campaigns such as Aid for Spain (time to revive that), the National Unemployed Workers' Movement (time to revive that too), going to classes held by the WEA and the more political Plebs' League, or competing in the Workers' Sports Federation events (founded to counter the Amateur Athletics Associations' exclusion of working-class competitors), reading Left Book Club editions (the Dark Place's club met in a hayloft away from the prying eyes of employers' spies), the Clarion Club cycling days or joining the Communist-led Ramblers Association on walks across previously-inaccessible land.

People supported parties across the spectrum, from Mosley's Fascists to the CPGB, and often paid in blood for their beliefs. Now we sullenly accept the decisions of the minority who bother to vote, then have the gall to moan about the appalling standard of our politicians, many of whom are too cynical, timid or unimaginative to ever propose anything daring.

Never mind Wimbledon: it's the Sixth Annual Workers' Lawn Tennis Championships. In Chiswick.

Lewis Jones is my hero. A miner at 12, a Tonypandy Striker at 13, a union leader by 16, imprisoned for 'sedition', blacklisted by the mine-owners, educated at the Central Labour College, author of two novels, Communist Party councillor for Glamorgan, enjoyed a drink and a 'lively' social life, continually suspended by the Communist Party for his anti-Stalinism, agitator for the Spanish Republic, died in 1939 at 42 after addressing 30 meetings in one day in support of Spain, despite the cause being clearly lost by that point.

Two anti-Means Test marches. Now, we've been so conditioned to hate anyone on benefits that we find it impossible to imagine poor workers campaigning against the test. It essentially meant - and this may ring a bell if you read David Cameron's speech yesterday - that unemployed family members with a single working relative were denied any kind of benefits, leading to splits, generational conflict and alienation. 

He certainly makes the shower we've now got look pathetic. Private schools, Oxbridge PPE, a couple of years as a SPAD, a safe seat, a couple of think tank papers and suddenly you're in the Cabinet. Bah. Lewis Jones might have been on Twitter moaning about the welfare cuts, but he'd also have been on the streets.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Literary Advice From The Proletarian Vanguard

It may surprise you to learn that the Communist Party, even in its most Stalinist period, took literature far more seriously than any of the mainstream groups. Perhaps Matthew Arnold was right: the aristocracy are more interested in hunting than reading. The Party went through agonies trying to decide whether pre-Revolutionary literature was corrupted by the society which generated it, or whether anything was salvageable (Marx wouldn't have been a book-banner: his work is shot through with literary references). Serious attempts were made to specify the qualities and characteristics of Proletarian, Socialist and Communist Literature, something of which I've made a study myself.

Here in the UK, the 1930s Party leadership, aware that many authors were at least sympathetic, tried to ride both horses: they encouraged the members to read Party-approved work and through their publishing house Lawrence and Wishart, disseminated 'Proletkult' fiction and non-fiction by workers which seemed to follow the party line (my PhD is partly about how Lewis Jones's Cwmardy is actually subversive, while appearing to be an orthodox Communist novel), at the same time proclaiming the genius of the rather more unruly (and bourgeois) fellow-travellers like Isherwood, Auden and many, many others whose beliefs and activities only occasionally coincided with that of the rather unlettered Party. The Party was actually rather conservative, as this excellent book describes (especially the chapter by Mike Waite): it led national campaigns against American comic books and pop music, claiming that industrial art is always inferior to 'authentic' folk culture. Hence all that finger-in-the-ear stuff in the 1950s.

I recently bought this delightful pamphlet, Books Against Barbarism from Left on the Shelf, one of my favourite bookshops, after seeing it on Cath Feely's page.. Some of the chapters could well be appreciated by my students, while others are redolent of a more innocent age.

'The first essential is to make up your mind to read what Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin have themselves written… but then, also, draw up a list of subsidiary reading on the same theme, by other authors, bourgeois as well as Marxist'. Garman was a very interesting character - Party intellectual and literary editor. He shepherded Jones into print, though it's never been entirely clear how much meddling he did. I've heard that Nottingham University has some letters between them in the Garman archives, so I need to get over there for a look. 

I'm not sure Lenin's tastes or opinions should guide anyone's reading habits. Krupskaya then reveals that Lenin was actually a big fan of the Russian classics, especially Pushkin, and a range of deeply tedious Soviet Realist propagandists. 

Having spent the day reading emails about the university library's turn from holding books to disposing of them (they've clearly been watching Fahrenheit 451) and watching local authorities close libraries all over the place, this paragraph seems rather sweetly naive. 

Finally, a Tom Gauld cartoon for all my friends who write short stories, and for those of us inspired to have another go at Ulysses after the BBC's wonderful dramatisation:

(And if you're really bored, I've posted the first 130 photos of my 7" single collection here. Only many thousands to go…).

A roundup of inconsequentiality

OK, what have I been up to since last you drank in my limpid words?

I met my friend Adam, shortly to take his wedding vows. He asked me to read some John Donne at the service (presumably not Donne's own wedding poem: 'John Donne / Anne Donne / Undone' - his in-laws didn't approve) and we drank beer. Then I went to meet my new-born nephew. He seemed as tranquil and engaging in my arms as a fairly tame rabbit, but did cry rather a lot for the rest of the evening. And night. Still, all very delightful.

The next day, I had the pleasure of another Olympics training day. The expense and inconvenience was not soothed by the discovery that somehow I hadn't been registered, and that I'd done the same course - sans Olympics, Burger and Chocolate logos - before. Ho hum. Insult was added to injury by the announcement that the uniform included a man-bag and baseball cap (St. Morrissey would strongly disapprove), and that I am now the proud holder of a City and Guilds qualification in Not Hitting Children And Vulnerable Adults from… McDonalds University. I sat next to another academic, and we had a few choice words for all this. Still, this fine painting hangs in Hackney College:

Anyway, enough of this nonsense. I cleansed my intellectual palate afterwards by a trip to the British Museum, where I gazed in awe upon Europe's oldest book, St. Cuthbert's Gospel. It was made around 698 and buried with St. C. Despite that, the handwriting is more legible than anything I have ever put down on paper. I also saw a Shakespeare First Folio, Milton's notebook (he wrote in three languages, sometimes changing mid-sentence), Austen's notebook, and the first handwritten pages of Angela Carter's Nights At The Circus. And loads of other incredibly historic texts too. But my brain's too small to remember.

While I was there, I filmed this rather astonishing artwork - Patrick Hughes's Paradoxymoron:

Separating news from comment

I've blogged about this before, so I'll keep it brief. Various media luminaries are telling Leveson that it's hard to keep news and comment separate, and that newspapers haven't being doing so very well.

This reminded me of this story in the Daily Mail:

Which as you can see is in the 'News' section, and was written by no fewer than five reporters. It went on to claim that:

Which despite the use of emotive language ('police fled', 'rampage') and the total absence of evidence (many other newspapers said that the police van was unattended), is clearly written as fact, rather than comment. I complained about numerous aspects of this to the PCC. The response (read the link above), was written by… the editor of the Mail on Sunday and is a delightful example of Newspeak. Apparently leaving a van unattended and then it being subsequently vandalised is 'fleeing attackers'. 

Worse was this article, again filed under 'News':

Apart from the drooling neo-paedophilia of which the Mail is frequently guilty, I complained to the PCC that there was no evidence that these women were there because they 'just wanted a photo for Facebook', breaching the article on accuracy. 

No joy. Apparently even though it's under 'news', the reporter's unfounded claims and emotive language mean that 
 the Commission was satisfied that readers would be aware that the article was an account of this particular journalist’s experience of the protest and the views he had formed on it, rather than necessarily statements of fact. As such, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
So accuracy no longer matters at all under PCC rules. I'm eager to see how Leveson deals with this. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why did you choose academia?

I get asked why I went into academia quite frequently. Sometimes by colleagues. Half of them say it in an all-in-it-together tone of voice, half of them in a 'why the hell are you in academia, you thick gimp?' tone of voice.

The simplest answer is that one degree led to another and the more you do, the more unemployable you are elsewhere. No other occupation lets you read books, talk about them, and ignore the accepted standards of discourse, appearance and - let's face it - hygiene (perhaps IT) to the extent that we do.

The last two days have reminded me why I'm in academia. Apart from the teaching, of course, which I adore. Yesterday I attended a set of papers on the origins of self-help and pedagogy: they took in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pelmanism, Dianetics, Foucault and a host of other exciting ideas. Today I attended On the Wane, an exploration of the history and cultures of cultural decay. Rousseau came up again, as did Shelley, Tacitus, Conrad, George Bush, Thomas Nashe, Alexander Pope, theories of Palingenesis (not Sarah or Michael) and finally 30 academics sat in a hot, sticky room discussing the difference between masturbation and Onanism (in short: Onanism was the term for masturbation when the religious paradigm was dominant: masturbation took over when legal and scientific frameworks appeared in the nineteenth century). Honestly, when a stern German academic starts talking about S&M, you start understanding Max Mosley just a little bit more.

Talking of Nashe, he had something prescient to say about going to conferences:
"I know not how it comes to pass, but many are so delighted to hear themselves that they are a cumber to the ears of all other, pleasing their auditors in nothing more than in the pause of a full point."
Oh, and we had Rioja at lunch. And soon we're going for a slap-up feed in the Crooked House. The what? Ah, what an excuse to play you some Jonathan Meades: he starts there.

Swinging between the extremes

Two things on today: a mini-conference and a meeting. The conference, though not entirely in my field (Decadence and Decline in Literature and Culture) promises to be enormous fun. 

Professor Juan Luis Conde, UCM (Spain)
                      Crisis: Compression and Comprehension10:30-11:10     Viktoriya Zaevska, UVT (Bulgaria)
                      De-humanising Reality: the Paradigm of Roguery and the Distortion of the Orderly System of Beliefs in Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller11:10-11:30     COFFEE/TEA
11:30-12:10     Professor Brenda Tooley, Monmouth College (USA)
                      Decline and Degeneration in Alexander Pope’s Dunciad12:10-12:50     Dr Benjamin Colbert, UoW (UK)
                      Romantic Palingenesis, or, History from the Ashes12:50-14:30     LUNCH (Millennium City Building, Hospitality Suite)
14:30-15:10     Maxime Briand, UVSQ (France)                      The Old North on the Wane: Pastoral Dissolution in Wordsworth's Writings15:10-15:50     Dr Glyn Hambrook, UoW (UK)
                      The Twilight of the Idle: A Blueprint for the Elimination of Literature Written by Humans, in Rafael de Zamora’s ‘Máquina cerebral’ (1906)
16:10-16:50     Dr Anna Katharina Schaffner, University of Kent (UK)
                      ‘Degenerate’ Sexualities: On the Theorization of the Perversions in Nineteenth-Century Sexology
9:30-10:10       Petya Tsoneva, UVT (Bulgaria)
                      The Crumbling House, the Exploding Planet, the Invading Desert: Topoi of Decay in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry10:10-10:50     Professor Dámaso López García, UCM (Spain)
                      From Empire to Middle-Class Decorum: the Poetry of Philip Larkin
11:10-11:50     Dr Ludmilla Kostova, UVT (Bulgaria)
                      Countering the Threat of Historical Decline: the Case of Bram Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud (1908)11:50-12:30     Professor Jan Borm, UVSQ (France)
                      Proust, Joyce, and Musil, or Modernism Warming to the Theme of Decline

Sadly, thanks to the meeting and Olympic duties tomorrow, I'll only be able to make the morning session, damn it, though I might just make it back to the paper on Sexology ('ooh, she's got an 'ology'). The meeting (HR Workstream 3: Staff Engagement, Motivation and Communications) promises, on the surface at least, to be less enthralling. 

I may live blog some of the conference, but probably won't hit you with details of the meeting. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Help yourself…

I've just been to three papers by colleagues in advance of their appearance at a massive international Cultural Studies conference in Paris this July. The linking theme was that of self-help or self-actualization, and the way these ideas have over the past century started to underpin surprising areas of cultural activity.

A key theme of Pelmanism

The first presentation dealt with the institutional framework of 'personal development' and the covert introduction of therapeutic 'learning about learning'. The argument goes that since the Dearing Report, an ideological narrative has developed (not matched by empirical research) which envisages a future in which none of us get 'careers'. Instead, we subsist on a series of short-term jobs in multiple fields. The neo-liberal attractions of this are, of course, low pay and the impossibility of ever developing class consciousness: a mobile, transient workforce can't unionise, for instance.

The concomitant educational requirement for this ultra-atomised workforce is flexibility and transferable skills. Nothing subject-specific will be relevant to your working life for more than a few years straight out of college. So instead, teachers and students will focus on 'learning about learning': oodles of self-reflection and interrogation. What follows from this is a sense that it's not what you know or think, but how you feel about it that matters: the installation of narcissism at the heart of the system. I don't, frankly, care how you feel about semiotics/terza rima/revisionist historiography (though I'd like you value them): I want to know whether or not you understand it. Students will be ordered to work on their feelings until they fit the dominant narratives - despite the supposed liberation of self-actualization, it's a deeply authoritarian narrative.

This stuff is already here: most primary schools and an increasing number of secondary schools are using a model called SEAL, 'Social and emotional aspects of learning', which is based on a bog-standard self-help book called Emotional Intelligence. Now, I'm not saying that feelings aren't important: your emotional state is directly linked to your capability to learn. That's not what this stuff is about. All these pedagogical self-help mantras are deeply reactionary. They emerge in the post-Romantic, anti-Rationalist era: Rousseau, Herder, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Foucault and co. all contribute to a discourse not of a stable objective self (and I'm with them on this), and instead posit a self which is self-created and in permanent flux: Rousseau claimed that one could recover the self by listening to the internal 'voice of nature'. I wouldn't accept that there's a natural self, nor an independent one: we're formed by social structures. What the self-help people do is claim - like Rousseau - that there's an essential and powerful, better 'you' in there, and s/he can be liberated not through social activity, work or intellectual labour, but through emotional narcissism (preferably via lucrative courses). Whether it's Scientology or pedagogy, there's an expensive course with your name on it. You can see the effects by walking into any airport bookshop or trawling the web for very sinister NLP-based Dating Secrets, all of which promise that by constantly working on your Self, you can mould the world to your desires. They promise agency in a socio-economic situation which appears to deny the possibility of any such thing.

Closer to home, this narrative is appearing at the university in the guise of 'educational coaching', such as I'm undergoing at the moment. The 'consultant' I'm meeting every two weeks turns out to be an 'occupational psychologist' who specialises in 'positive psychology', hence the 'are you happy?' questionnaire I did online. She happens to be an interesting and likeable person, but I have serious reservations about the ethics of management not mentioning in advance that she's a psychologist, and about the grounds of the activity. Yes, I can improve my academic life by being less lazy and defeatist, but there's more to it than that: my institution and the wider system has structural and systemic problems which won't be solved by me being a bit cheerier about them. My students will still be denied decent time and resources, despite paying more and more for their education. Cash, equipment, research time and prestige will still be reserved for the elite universities. Modules will still be too general. But the premise of 'positive psychology' is that sorting out the state of my soul will help me overcome these obstacles.

This stuff is being introduced to students in the form of the Personal Development Portfolio, something they'll be expected to maintain from next year. It's a form of self-reflection designed to encourage them to recognise how they learn (or not) and what they've achieved other than subject-specific knowledge (which is so passé). The problem, of course is that once it's a public, assessed record, it becomes a performance. I remember going to Confession as a 12-year-old Catholic. I knew that I was expected to have committed 'sins'. I didn't really think I'd committed any, but I knew the sort of thing they wanted to hear, so I made them up. To be really meta, I should have confessed to falsifying my confession. It's the same for PDP's: they'll all look the same. Just look at the online forums we ask the students to do: when they're finding it difficult, every post starts with 'I really like what you said about X'. PDP won't be a searching examination of an individual's intellectual condition: it'll be another box-ticking exercise as the students adapt to another form of discourse.

It's reactionary because it individualises the self, even if it claims the end result is a subject ready to contribute to the greater good. The individual's successes and failures are ascribed to your internal emotional condition. Structures: capitalism, race, sex and so on are no longer held to have any sway over your trajectory. So if your kid comes home crying because she's never going to be an astronaut, tell him to stop whinging and work on her emotional intelligence: that's all that's stopping him. When you lose your job, don't blame the banks! It's your fault for not being emotionally intelligent and nimble enough.

The other two papers were equally fascinating. One explored the post-religious movement/business of the Art of Living ('personal peace, world peace'), which takes Hindu-originated ideas such as yoga, removes the stuff about Enlightenment and getting off the wheel of reincarnation, and sells courses designed to change the way you respond to the world. Once you're calmer and more accepting - through yoga - you exert a positive effect on those around you, ushering in a new society. Rather than going out to change the world in the way a political activist would, you first have to seek inner meaning… whether there's any time left to change the world would seem unlikely, though the emphasis on 'service' implies that there is a degree of concern for others at the movement's core.

The final paper gave a potted history of the 'unused brain' theory. Apparently it's popularly - and erroneously - believed that we only employ 10% of our brains, and belief originating in 19th-century neuroscience and psychology. All sorts of techniques and movements sprang up claiming to have the secrets to tapping into this latent power: business theory thanks to Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People and the thousands of subsequent variations, the Theosophists, the Pelmanists, the General Semantics crowd (who seem to have been early deconstructionists, claiming that language interferes with your access to reality, but their exercises help you break this barrier), the Ayn Rand lot (recognise the Objective reality of the world, accept Selfishness as the only possible response and FEEL THE POWER) and the Scientologists, who use a pseudo-science called Dianetics to 'actualise' your inner powers (and disperse the spirits of the galactic prisoners dumped on earth by Xenu).

Common themes over the three papers were the ways in which these ideas have been peddled in serious spheres, such as education. They are all post- or anti-Enlightenment, yet all of them employ pseudo-scientific discourse to justify themselves, and all deny the effect of social structures. This is what bothers me most. I'd like you all to be happy all the time. But I don't think it's possible, given the state of the world. If you use psychological techniques to make yourself happy, you're deluding yourself and others. Dissatisfaction is a powerful driver. I want my students to be 'Socrates, dissatisfied rather than a pig, satisfied': they should be searching for new ideas and new solutions. They should question their abilities, knowledges and attitudes - as should I - rather than seeking acceptance of external and internal statae quo.

Open government…

What's our favourite MP, Paul Uppal, spending our time and money on now?

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with reference to the answer of 27 March 2012, Official Report, column 1063W, on statistics,
(1) if he will request a formal pre-release investigation into the tweeting by a BBC journalist on 2 December 2012 of the section 16 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 notification letter issued by the UK Statistics Authority prior to it being issued on 6 December 2012;
(2) whether any staff of the UK Statistics Authority communicated to the BBC the intention to make a notification under section 16 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 prior to the formal notification on 6 December 2012.

Not the most accessible use of English, I grant you, but trust me: he's up to no good. The background is this: Housing Minister Grant Shapps - the epitome of smug Tory spivvery - got caught being, let's say, 'creative' with statistics, beyond the flexibility we usually expect of government ministers.

The Labour Party reported his abuse of the facts to the Statistics Authority, whose duty it is to vet and assess all figures used by government - a fine and essential organisation. The SA agreed that there's a problem and wrote to Mr Shapps asking to review his department's approach to stats, and Mr Shapps told them to sod off and then mentioned the war in the course of his attack on Labour's (admittedly poor) record on house-building.

Enter Mr Uppal. Is he overjoyed that a housing or statistics scandal is being exposed by a free press determined to hold power to account? No, don't be silly. He wants the whole thing hushed up, and is trying to start a witch-hunt against the civil servants he suspects notified the BBC of the decision to investigate Shapps' department.

Did the Bolshevik Broadcasting Authority suborn some fellow-traveller in the UK Statistics Authority in an attempt to subvert the sterling work of Mr Shapps?

In respect of (ii), when considering such matters the Authority's staff will provide officials in the relevant department(s) with information on the Authority's intentions. Officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government were therefore informed in respect of the Authority's intentions.
The Authority's staff will respond similarly to enquiries from interested parties, and following a subsequent enquiry to the Authority representatives of the BBC were advised of the Authority's intention to write to Ministers under section 16 of the 2007 Act.

Er… no. They clearly phoned up and asked what was happening. As the department had been notified, the Stats Authority released the information. Perfectly properly.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Auracular Spectacular

I thought I'd entertain you by picking tracks from my music collection that you may not have heard. First up was 'Gwawr Newydd yn Cilio' by Rheinallt H Rowlands, a rather odd synthesised-orchestral Welsh-language cover of Joy Division's 'New Dawn Fades'. It's not on Youtube. In fact it's so not on there that the nearest it gets is this selection of alternatives:

None of which really hit the spot. Though at least the first one is music, and in Welsh. But you can have his cheery tribute to Charles Bukowski instead:

I was also going to post some The Secret Goldfish, but their record label's disabled embedding, because obviously when nobody's heard of the band, you don't want fans drawing attention to them. That would be silly. So instead you can have some lovely, slightly odd Nancy Elizabeth instead:

And while I'm in the mood for female dream pop, some Frankie Rose:

I'm still loving Veronica Falls' 'Found Love in a Graveyard':

and in a slightly different vein, Peter Maxwell-Davies 8 Songs for a Mad King, which doesn't get nearly enough airplay. 

Time to go home.

The perfect gift for the modern ass

Imagine sitting in a design meeting, wondering what 'the kids' want. And by 'the kids', I'm mean corporate whores into their working lives who want to express their inner arsehole. You come up with the ideal product.

And then imagine going to a famous, expensive department store and explaining that this product will sell like hot cakes by tapping into that 'rebellious corporate whore' market.

Then picture yourself as the customer, looking for that elusive gift for the corporate whore. The guy who thinks that working in, say, banking, is somehow rebellious and cool. How can he express himself through the medium of sartorial conformity, and yet still stick it to 'the man'?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the answer. And they're only £105 from Liberty. I suspect George Osborne wears them when he meets poor people, and smiles to himself when he remembers what's under his suit cuffs.

Yeah! Silver plated Paul Smith middle-finger cufflinks. That'll show them.

691 is the magic number

As I've pointed out before, Paul Uppal's strategy for winning the next election and saving his own skin is to make sure that all the people who've been hurt by his party's policies are denied the right to vote. It's a US Republican trick: make it so difficult for the poor, the young and the transient to register that they simply don't bother. What's even more cynical is that - despite Uppal's dishonest and inaccurate speeches in Parliament - there's no problem with electoral fraud in this country. Between 2000 and 2007, 42 people were convicted of fraud: that's seven years' worth of local, regional, devolved and national elections.

There is an electoral problem: low turnout. Uppal's plot to make sure that the students (thousands of them, hit by £9000 fees and the withdrawal of the EMA) and the poor (disabled children's support cut, school building cut, SureStart cut, housing benefit cut, libraries closed etc. etc.) don't vote will make this worse. That's what he wants. These groups don't vote in large numbers as it is, and putting more obstacles in their way to 'solve' an non-existent 'problem' is just a ploy to make sure that the electorate is skewed towards the rich, aged population in the West of the city: the Conservative voters.

Why? Uppal has a majority of 691, at the high point of Labour's unpopularity, with the most ridiculed Prime Minister in living memory. With everything the Conservatives have done, there's no way he can win… unless he makes sure that the victims of his policies don't get to vote. It's that simple.

Luckily, it's not just me who's noticed: a couple of Labour MPs had a good go at him in Parliament recently. Wayne David and Frank Dobson are trying to amend the Tories' vicious legislation to make sure the right to vote is protected. They demonstrate that not only is electoral fraud almost non-existent: instances are decreasing, and the Tories' supposed concern is just a trick. Wayne David said this:
My concern is that this legislation does not recognise the reality; the Government construct Aunt Sallies and then knocks them down, without coming forward with a legitimate basis on which to make its proposals.
Uppal's reply:
I have found from my experience as a constituency MP that many black and minority ethnic communities, particularly migrant communities, came to this country because they wanted to live in an environment in which there was a belief in a robust democracy. Although this issue of highlighted cases of electoral fraud is important, the impression is being given that there is a laxity on this issue and that there is a question about how robust the system is. By putting forward this argument, the hon. Gentleman is undermining a lot of the faith and belief that we have in the robustness of the current electoral system.
Which is purest humbug, and very hard to believe, too. Made-up testimony (a feature of Uppal's rhetoric) and no actual substance. Frank Dobson and Wayne David appear to have Uppal's number: I pointed out a long time ago that for all his bluster, he has never complained to the police about the fraud he goes on about, and both the police and the Electoral Commission both told me that there was no fraud in the constituency:
Frank Dobson: Does my hon. Friend agree that what really undermines confidence is when people make smeary remarks and no prosecutions follow because the remarks turn out to have no facts behind them? 
Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour) Indeed, and that is one of the things to which I alluded earlier, as have ACPO and the Electoral Commission. Many people make complaints, be it in the heat of the moment or otherwise, but are then unable to substantiate their allegations, which often fall by the wayside, completely unproven. 
Uppal's response is - as usual, and ironically for a man who referred in a speech to the 'McCarthyite race relations industry' - to play the race card.
I remember being in a radio studio for “Beyond Westminster”, where I heard a young lady of Pakistani descent talking about the amount of courage she needed to go live on radio to discuss this issue. She said that many dozens of her relatives would like to speak about this issue and how they had been pressured on voting, but did not wish to raise it because they felt it was too controversial and doing so would cause their communities harm. I actually heard her give this interview on radio. 
 Now we all know that Paul has an active imagination and a very poor memory, but let's accept that this is true. It's plausible, and the Bradford by-election revealed that Labour relied for far too long on a habit of embracing 'community leaders' who ensured that ethnic groups voted the right way - but do we really believe that Uppal wouldn't do exactly the same if he could manage it? Furthermore, he's deluded if he thinks that there's a tidal wave of aspirational young Asian voters out there desperate to vote Tory. They all want a degree, or a job: the Tories have made sure they'll graduate with £50,000 debts if they take the university route, and that there's no chance of a decent job if they can't get to university.

I wish I wasn't the only person paying attention to Paul Uppal's machinations, but it appears I am on my own. The local paper is a slavishly Tory rag which - even if it bothered doing any parliamentary reporting or investigative journalism - is entirely uninterested in holding the powerful to account, especially when it's their own side in power, and the people of this city seem, for one reason or another, not to care very much.

Promoted from the comments: Ewarwoowar's comparison of two recent statements by Paul Uppal:

Paul Uppal MP, 11th June 2012: 
"Some years ago, a prominent immigration lawyer told me that the two main drivers of immigration are, first, the perception—right or wrong—that we have an overtly generous welfare system in the UK; and secondly, lax human rights legislation." 
Paul Uppal MP, 18th June 2012:
"I have found from my experience as a constituency MP that many black and minority ethnic communities, particularly migrant communities, came to this country because they wanted to live in an environment in which there was a belief in a robust democracy." 

691, readers. That's the magic number. Keep it in mind.

Monday, 18 June 2012

What are we actually here for?

One of the key themes in higher education over the past twenty years has been its increasing corporatization. For the students, this means larger classes, fewer choices, glossier marketing, more emphasis on being 'shovel-ready' (i.e. perfectly equipped to slot into unchallenging jobs they'll accept because they'll already owe tens of thousands of pounds). There's a word for this, and it's Ritzer's 'McDonaldization'.

For academic staff, this means more managers who've learned their skills in corporate life. More pressure, less attention to the unprofitable and inefficient aspects of academia. A sobbing, drifting student discombobulated by the demands of family, economic and academic responsibilities is - to them - a 'retention liability'. To us, that student isn't a cost centre, or a liability: s/he is our purpose. A lecturer who researches medieval French troubadours, or teaches an obscure language, is to a profit-and-loss manager simply red ink where a class full of £30k per year MBA students could be.

In case you can't comprehend what's wrong with any of this, think about this statement:
What is maddening is the terrible notion that a person's value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that this is measured in terms of money… Core in my upbringing was a value system that put monetary gain well in its place.
That was Tim Berners-Lee. He made it possible for you to read my blog (and of course to access the world's cultural and scientific advances, and debate them). He invented the Web, and he did it for free.

This institution is largely uncursed by these thrusting Captains of Academic Industry, though we've had our share. Indeed recently, the new regime seems to believe it can balance the demands of the market with the higher demands of academic and intellectual labour. I wish it luck. But I don't hold out much hope: we're assailed by a government which intends to reserve the arts for its own children, ushered into élite institutions via exclusive private schooling and a tidal wave of cash. For the rest, you'll get the conveyor belt model, designed to restrict your ambitions and your critical skills. We'll do our best, and I genuinely believe that our current leadership supports us, but the structural pressures are designed to crush this kind of thinking.

It's not just us: an open letter from David Dudley of Georgia Southern University to his colleagues has - inevitably - reached the internet and been received with sighs of recognition from his peers across the world. Some highlights:
"Deans, provosts, and presidents come and go. Many such individuals are building their careers and are often looking to go on to the next, better job. That’s their prerogative.... But faculty members tend to stay put. Given today’s job market in academia, that is understandable. We’ve worked hard for small pay. We’ve taught our thousands of students, and we’ve celebrated the successes of hundreds of them. Let me say this as plainly as I can: Georgia Southern belongs to its faculty and staff every bit as much as it belongs to any administrator. In fact, it belongs more to us, because when the current deans and higher administrators are long gone, we will still be here, striving to maintain what this place stands for: individual attention to our students."
There is a nasty cut-throat market in education. It's worse in the US, where teaching is often done by indebted grunts doing PhDs and hourly-paid lecturers known as Freeway Professors, always on the road searching for an evening's remedial literacy teaching in the hope of jam tomorrow in the form of a permanent job, and conferences resemble cattle markets, but it's at work here, and it's getting worse. The Research Excellence Framework is mean to reward innovative research. In fact, it's designed to funnel even more of the state's cash to a very small group of élite universities. Woe betide the teacher who wants - as I and my colleagues do - to teach the unprivileged and provide them with the fruits of original research. When a star emerges, they're rapidly poached just in time to contribute to an ambitious, rich university's REF output, and the merry-go-round starts again.

Little of this touches the gilded world of the Vice-Chancellors and their acolytes, many of whom haven't been in a classroom or lab for decades, if ever. Their salaries are now calculated according to a new set of peers: corporate CEOs, leading to average Russell Group salaries of £333,000 - yet without the concomitant theoretical risk of competition, shareholder revolt or failure. That's a lot of books, or teachers' salaries. With the salaries come a new set of attitudes: Business Leadership. The language of Vision and Mission starts to appear. The institution becomes a machine for sustaining its leadership and administrative departments rather than a place of learning supported by managers.

The traditional strength of the university - a bunch of spiky geniuses used to being listened to - comes to be seen as a drawback. Instead, corporate structures and a proletarianised workforce appears. Insecurity keeps the peons quiet and unprofitable cost-centres are excised. Staff turnover increases while shiny buildings (sometimes) appear, on the basis that what impresses business and 'customers' is appearance rather than genuine intellectual distinction. Who suffers? Staff, of course, but most importantly, the students. They don't always realise what's missing, but they should. Then again, they're so conditioned by consumerism that many do think that having a Costa outlet and brushed concrete is what makes an institution great (or wood panelling and a coat of arms if they opt to buy the 'heritage university' education). As customers, they're always right - the notion that university is a place in which they test and refine their ideas through debate is replaced by a linear transmission.

Pretty soon, the university becomes not an imaginary confection of like-minded souls arguing and agreeing, but a power structure. The posh ones are slightly more insulated, of course - they have Senates which employ their Vice-Chancellors, whereas here we're the employees of a VC brought in on the strength of a 'vision' and problem-solving initiatives (and we and the students aren't problems to be solved). It's a benevolent dictatorship, but it's still a dictatorship. We're currently lucky - but the staff and students of the private universities now being founded (and the rather unpleasant 'public' establishments which ape them) will rapidly find that they are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to consideration. Struggling students will be dumped, opinionated academics will be dispensed with (one of the scandals of the recession is the academic economists' utter failure to critique what was going on: funded by the industries they purported to analyse, they had no incentive to think originally) and money will go to boardroom salaries rather than research, teaching or student support.

Dave Dudley knows something which often gets forgotten in the offices of the Minister for Universities and some colleges' council chambers:

"The most important person on our campus is the young woman from a small southeast Georgia town who will enter here as a freshman in August. She will be nervous but excited. She might not know what she wants to study, but will find her interest sparked in a biology course, or a sociology class, or in a philosophy class. A certain professor will ask a certain question, present a certain problem, discuss a certain topic that this student has never heard of or thought of before. And then her education begins," Dudley wrote. "The most important person on our campus is the young man from Atlanta who could have gone to UGA but chose us because he was impressed by our personal regard for him as a student and as a person. He already knows he wants to study business, but he, too, will be surprised at how his intellectual field is enlarged by what he hears in an American history class, or in a geology lab, or at a construction site."
What are we for?

We're here to inspire, to shock, to challenge, to support and to improve the lives of our students and our public. A student who graduates with her beliefs reinforced, or who finds the world just fine as it is, is a student who has failed and has been failed, whatever her certificate says.

On these terms, we fail students and society all the time but we always fail again and hopefully fail better. But it's something to which to aspire. All we need is a policy and leadership framework which enables us to carry on.

Now back to writing those learning outcomes…