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Harry

One of the stupidest things I have done in life was not taking my dad up on his suggestion, when I was 18, that I go and spend some time living with his friend, hero, and mentor, Harry Ree, and act a sort of secretary for him. As a result, I never met Harry. Harry was an academic education scholar, of the very progressive variety who, later in his career (well, he was only slightly older than I am now) quit professoring, and went to teach in a comprehensive school. I knew, even then, that the regard in which my dad held him meant he was really, really, something, and it was only a combination of shyness, social awkwardness, and the general low-level depression that plagued me for much of my youth and early adulthood, that stopped me taking up my dad’s suggestion. I think about it now, reasonably often, having played the sort of role in younger people’s lives that dad would have liked Harry to play in mine. Idiotic really.

Until recently I assumed that Harry was, at that time, still bound by the Official Secrets Act, so I wouldn’t have learned much about his wartime activities. Not so! He, in fact, starred in School For Danger (aka Now It Can Be Told (youtube has the date wrong)). He began the war as a conscientious objector but then spent most of 1943 in occupied France, working for the SOE aiding the Resistance. Last year was the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and at a celebration held at the Institute of Education my dad got hold of this, amazing, broadcast. I tried to put it up last week for the anniversary of VE Day, but the file was too large for CT and I only just figured out how to put it somewhere else – and anyway, there was a lot of other, less welcome, stuff going on that day. I think the BBC probably hold the copyright, so if they request me to I’ll take it down (but please, if you’re from the BBC, don’t ask me to take it down). It’s a tribute to the ordinary French people who lived, and those who died, fighting the Nazis in the small and large ways they could. It’s also a tribute to the men and women of SOE. I don’t know how difficult it is to give your life for a valuable cause. But I am pretty sure that, however difficult that is, it is even more difficult to live every minute knowing that you, and those who are risking their lives just by not turning you in, might be captured, tortured, and killed, any minute. It is 15 minutes of beautiful, inspiring, intensely sad, poetry. Everyone in who understands English should listen to it. Humbling.

Viv Stanshall Day

by Harry on May 13, 2015

I’ve decided to unilaterally declare today “Viv Stanshall Day”.

I noticed last night that Radio 4 Extra is repeating Big Shot: A Trip Through the Canyons of Viv Stanshall’s Mind.

So I got very anxious about a student I’ve been teaching all year, who is visiting Madison from a UK university. I have taught her philosophy and helped her with her writing, and given her the best mince pies she has ever had and generally looked after her welfare. I even showed her that wonderful youtube clip of Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steele talking about Americans (I showed the whole class, they loved it). But—I had neglected her national heritage. Might she go home without having learned anything about Viv? So I sent her some videos:

Her response (timestamped 1.04am): “I am listening to these in the union with Gab and am trying not to just sit here laughing to myself!… My Pink Half of a Drainpipe – the bit about rice pudding. Just all of it really; wonderful, just wonderful. I am convinced I have seen the tigers one before, which was bloody funny…These have brought me much joy.” And I know she doesn’t lie because she hated the paper of mine that we read in class, and was quite uninhibited about saying so.

Tragedy averted. Maybe the now we have a majority Tory government at last, they will officially declare today Viv Stanshall day! Can’t I start a petition or something?

The interview I linked to last week, about our book Family Values provoked what, for both me and Adam, has been a somewhat bizarre, and occasionally disturbing, experience. The sequence of events seems to have been this. Some Australian journalist (Tim Blair of the Daily Telegraph) with a beef against ABC, the broadcaster of the interview, wrote an article/post lambasting ABC for broadcasting it. Then, Mr. Rush Limbaugh picked this up and, in turn, lambasted Adam for insanity and ridiculousness (quite to my irritation, he didn’t mention me at all). Then – well, I guess a mention on Mr, Limbaugh’s show is enough to get you a lot of publicity, and the right and ultra-right wing blogs took up the cause. We started getting invitations to appear on talk shows, and a slew of hate mail (almost all of it to Adam – the worst I got was one saying “your also a fucken idiot like your mate adam smith. pair of wanker fucksticks. simple. fuckoff idiot). NRO took it up, and that spread it further. As you might guess, once Mr. Limbaugh has hold of something, the white supremacists pick it up pretty quickly too, and one site (to which I will not link, because it is so repulsive) celebrated the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death by telling its readers that if the world had only listened to him, people like me and Adam would be silent.

Now, what did we say that was so insane and ridiculous? – what was it for which, according to one of Professor Althouse’s commentators, we should be shot?

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Kieran’s posts below, and the various discussions I’ve seen in the papers, and heard on the radio, have got my wondering: isn’t it rational for the Labour Party to split, now, before it saddles itself with a new leader?

Why should it do so? Well as many people have said, it is too right wing to defeat the SNP, given the SNP’s savvy (and in my view largely cynical) adoption of left-social democratic political positions that appeal to the Scottish electorate. But to have any chance of restoring its hold Scotland in the short term, it needs to become more obviously left wing than it dares to be, for fear of losing antsy English voters. Two, quite separate, parties (preferably with identifiably different names) might have a better chance of becoming a governing coalition. As it is, all three of the major English parties refrain from fielding candidates in one part of the Union—Northern Ireland. An amicable divorce might help, not hurt, the Labour Party’s prospects. And, simultaneously, help save the Union by giving Scots a prospect for an actual voice and real influence in government (eventually).

UK election open thread.

by Harry on May 7, 2015

3 seats in, all Labour in the northeast. Exit polls indicate meltdown for the LDs, but the Tories doing much better than they expected. Also that UKIP will be the third party in England and Wales in terms of votes. Speculate/Enjoy/Analyze away.

Swift on Family Values

by Harry on May 4, 2015

My friend and co-author Adam Swift was on the Australian Broadcasting Company’s show The Philosopher’s Zone yesterday (I think it was yesterday) talking about our book Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships. The podcast is here, and the website for that particular show is here. You can also here him on Philosophy Bites here. There’s much more to the book than the consideration of parental partiality on which these two interviews focus, but I can see why they are excited about that part of it. Listening to both broadcasts I was struck by two things—one, which I did already know, is how good Adam is at explaining a fairly complex set of ideas simply but without oversimplifying. The other, though, was how good (in both cases) the interviewers are. Good interviewers really know their stuff, and use it to prompt the interviewee, never showing off what they, themselves, know. This is a rare case where I know exactly how much the interviewer had to know in order to the interview well, and it is a lot! Anyway, enjoy it.

UK Election Questions

by Harry on May 1, 2015

I have been following the UK election as much as I can given an unusually heavy workload for the time of year. Fortunately the campaign seems to have been pretty dull, so I haven’t missed much—and all the fun will be watching the results come in and finding out what nobody seems to know about the outcome. Most of my following of news is either reading or listening – I don’t watch much. So I miss certain nuances and tend to give politicians the benefit of the doubt when I hear them say things that either seem stupid or are mystifying. So, to get to the point, when I have heard Ed Miliband say that he will not go into coalition or do a deal with the SNP, I have tended to think—well, of course he is saying that to try and scare Scots into voting Labour, but he doesn’t really mean it and, when the time comes, he’ll do what he has to do to become Prime Minister.

But I just watched him on Question Time, and when I see him say it, he really seems to mean it . My first question is: does he really mean it?

One possible outcome is that Labour has the by some distance the most seats of any party, but falls well short of a majority, and can govern successfully in (some sort of) partnership with the SNP. On some possible versions of that, the Tories could not form a majority coalition even with the UUP, the DUP and either the LibDems or UKIP. Second question: Even if Miliband really does mean, now, that he wouldn’t do a deal with the SNP, would he renege on that in such a scenario? Third: What would the political consequences for him be if he did renege?

Please will our UK resident contributors and commenters try to enlighten me?

Ritchie Benaud is dead

by Harry on April 10, 2015

Guardian obit here.
Great leg spinner, truly great captain, but for my generation known, with Arlott, as one of the two greatest commentators.
Can you imagine an English commentator, even Arlott, criticizing the England team like this:

His final moments of Ashes test commentary:

John Renbourn is dead

by Harry on March 27, 2015

I was at a conference with CB when Bert Jansch died, and neither of us recorded the death here. Now Renbourn is gone too. Both gone too early. Guardian obit for Renbourn here. Jansch here. I have a lovely memory of seeing them both, with Jaqui McShee, at the late lamented Palms, in Davis CA, just after I married; and being simply in awe of them. Just listen.

Pentangle:

Renbourn alone:

Jansch alone:

World Cup Open Thread

by Harry on March 25, 2015

Well, CB does it for rugby. Now I am able to watch everything courtesy of ESPN, I thought why not do it for cricket. Thoughts welcome about the teams, the rules, the (ludicrous, unless someone can defend it) diss-ing of the associate nations, who you think will win, England’s spectacular failure, whether New Zealand can win on Australian soil, the way that T20 has influenced the one-day game… whatever you want.

Non-gory cases (in philosophy of education)

by Harry on March 23, 2015

Whenever we discuss thought experiments in moral philosophy here, Daniel and JQ give me a hard time about various things, including the goriness of the thought experiments that moral philosophers frequently use (viz, trolleys killing workers, fat men, babies drowning… you name it). During the last round one or both of them challenged us to come up with some non-gory thought experiments. I haven’t. But I do have an article in yesterday’s local paper concerning a real case which serves as a sort of thought experiment—the case of Boston Public Schools’ deliberate and explicit pandering to middle class parents in the design of its choice system. The article is part of an insert that the College of Letter and Science at UW-Madison placed in the Wisconsin State Journal which, I think, is a model for communicating the value of our research (and, to a lesser extent, teaching) to the people in the state. PDF of the insert is here.

I took the case directly from Meira Levinson’s excellent Justice in Schools site: her team, which I think shares, to some extent, JQ and Daniel’s unease about the science-fictiony and gory cases we often use in moral philosophy, has been developing a series of carefully constructed cases (all based on real decision problems), with the aim of helping academics (including philosophers) teachers, policymakers and the public to train their ability to discern what values are at stake in particular situations and better make judgments about trading them off against each other. I’m designing a course around the cases for this coming fall. My favourite reaction to the site (which I used in the description when I was seeking approval for the course) comes from a (now former) elementary ed student I know quite well, who just graduated (and was snapped up by a school district in a different state that has gotten its act together). I sent her some of the cases, which she discussed extensively with her cohort. Along with her, typically well-considered, responses, she emailed:

“I wish they would give us more readings like those in my school of education, they are much more realistic than most of the readings we do, which are more idealistic… Actually I think that tension is something I struggled with a lot throughout the program-but didn’t fully understand why it was so frustrating to me. In my practicum I would see my teachers facing problems like this one-and the other behavior case every day-multiple times a day. Then in our content classes these very real problems were almost watered down, and approached in terms of ideal theory. We talked about the benefits of all-inclusive classes, being preventative, and reflecting in action. But we never really had conversations about how this looks in imperfect practice”

Which is both right (about the justice in schools project) and…depressing.

Megan McArdle quite reasonably takes me to task for a seemingly (but not actually) throw-away phrase in my post about the recent dispute over the mission of my university. I’m very much in sympathy with the direction of her piece, so I thought I’d explain what I meant. One caveat—she very clearly specifies that she is talking about public flagship universities like mine, and I shall stick with that, so neither of us should be interpreted as implying anything about any other kind of institution (she takes her main example from an Ivy league school, but that example could just as easily have been at Madison).

She says this phrase caught her eye:

First, and most obviously, undergraduate education is central to the mission of the institution. Although at UW-Madison we have as many graduate and professional students as we do undergraduates, most of the graduate students are here because the undergraduates are here, and a very large proportion of our professional students are recruited from the undergraduate pool. Take away the undergraduates and the whole enterprise is done for.

She’s not sure what I meant by it (I’ll clarify in a moment) but she suspects that:


“Undergraduates are central to our mission” is a kind of polite public fiction within the university community, the sort of thing that everyone believes ought to be true but often isn’t, like “America is a great melting pot.”

The main evidence she has that it is a fiction concerns hiring, promotion and retention decisions:

One of my favorite professors at the University of Pennsylvania, a truly gifted and amazing teacher, failed to get tenure the year I was a senior. After a grassroots campaign by his adoring students, the department reconsidered and gave him an extra year, after which he again failed to get tenure, and he went off to the West. I eventually got to ask someone else in the department why he’d been let go, and the answer was simple: His scholarly work was not impressive enough. So arguably the best and most beloved teacher in the department, the one whose class I have carried with me lo these 20 years and more, wasn’t good enough to teach undergraduates at Penn because he wasn’t publishing enough groundbreaking research.

Does that sound like an institution where educating undergraduates is central to the mission? Not really. Or at least: It is not central to the mission of the faculty, because if it were central, it would carry more weight in deciding who to hire and retain

and

So to people outside, teaching undergraduates seems like a nice thing that the faculty would like to do, or at least persuade someone else to do, rather than an overriding priority.

As she points out, even if faculty don’t value undergraduate teaching, that doesn’t mean it is not at the core of the mission. Maybe Administrators care about it:

As a group, the administration is probably more focused on undergraduates than the faculty are, if only because the administration is responsible for keeping them out of trouble.

But I’m not sure that this means they think of educating undergraduates as core to their mission. Graduating undergraduates, yes. Keeping undergraduates from dying, or suing—yes. Getting undergraduates jobs, yes. Giving undergraduates a happy college experience that will later turn into fat checks from nostalgic alumni, yes. But educating them? Is that really their core mission? Again, from outside, it seems that administrators are more focused on student life outside the classroom than they are on what happens inside it.

Ok, so there is a lot to discuss here, and I might not get to it all, but here goes.

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After strange day the Wisconsin Idea survives.

by Harry on February 12, 2015

So here’s roughly what happened.

Last Tuesday (Feb 3) our Governor proposed his budget. Now, as you may remember, he has a habit of putting things in the budget that don’t look especially connected to the budget except insofar as, of course, everything is connected to the budget. So it wasn’t so surprising, I suppose, that, alongside the very substantial and potentially devastating $300 million dollar cut to the UW system (the system, by the way, is comprised by 22 different campuses, some 2-year, others 4-year, and others including substantial numbers of graduate and professional programs, so it is not just UW-Madison), proposed changes to the mission of the system. One change, which although lots of people are unhappy with it, seems to me entirely reasonable, and also trivial since it is already implied on any reasonable interpretation of our already stated mission, is that we should help “meet the state’s workforce needs”. However, along with this came other changes – numerous deletions, which amounted to at best a watering down and at worst the elimination of what we call The Wisconsin Idea, the idea that the university is here to serve the state very broadly, in terms of producing and disseminating knowledge that is valuable for the residents, public institutions, and businesses of the State.

I got an email from a journalist fairly early on Wednesday, after I had heard about the proposals, but before I had scrutinized them (because I was preparing for a class, the students in which I live in a kind of horror of disappointing, as our Governor would be pleased to know), asking what I thought about the proposals. After reading them carefully, I responded that I didn’t want to say anything publicly, because the proposals looked so eccentric to me that I had no understanding of what was going on. And I am cautious about being quoted in public about university matters, because I don’t want to be off-message, and didn’t know at the time how the leadership of my campus (in whom I’m happy to say, I have a great deal of, fortunately justified, confidence, and from whom I am happy to take leadership) would respond. But I did say that I thought the proposed changes were distinctly odd.

Here are what seemed to me that most eccentric changes. The following phrases were all deleted from the mission:


“Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth”
“Which makes effective and efficient use of human and physical resources; which functions cooperatively with other educational institutions and systems”
“Which stresses undergraduate teaching as its main priority”

Let’s start with truth.

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Reason to be cheerful

by Harry on February 10, 2015

Here. I don’t know why Alabama matters more than any other state that has been liberated so far, but I feel that it does, somehow.

Master Teachers?

by Harry on January 30, 2015

William Bowen and Eugene Tobin’s new book, Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education, has just been published: anyone interested in the governance of universities and colleges should read it. The first part is a very terse but interesting account of how ‘shared governance’ emerged over time in the US; the second part is devoted to a detailed discussion of how governance works, the challenges that the current common governance structures face, and proposals about for changes in governance that would help us cope with these challenges. These proposals are grounded in the case studies that constitute the third part of the book; highly textured discussions of the way governance has developed at CUNY, the University of California, Princeton, and Macalester Colleges, and how various challenges have been met, or failed, as a result of those structures.
I’ll write more, later, about the book, and some of the proposals. Right now I thought I’d discuss a proposal they make (I do know of places where some version of it is present, in embryo form) which is not central to the discussion of governance, but which, I think, raises a serious conflict of interest issue (which, actually, they don’t discuss): the proposal to develop a distinct career track of “master teacher” for employees who would specialize in teaching, who would teach more than regular tenure-track faculty, who would not be expected to do research, and whose continuing professional development would focus on instruction and pedagogy.

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