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Marina Hyde Competition

by Harry on January 17, 2019

For decades I have bought the New Statesman only occasionally, always feeling rather like Charlie Brown does when Lucy puts the football in front of him. I loved it when I was a kid, but certainly since I was 25 it has always seemed utterly dull when I actually have it in front of me. But, I recently discovered, and love, the New Statesman podcast—Helen Lewis is clever, funny, well-informed and a bit gossipy, genuinely likes Stephen Bush (who is not funny, but is clever, well-informed and very gossipy), and knows how to run a conversation. So, I recently thought I’d kick the ball again and…. same as ever. Except, to my horror, the one lasting saving grace of the NS, the competition, was missing. (Nor was there a letter from Keith Flett whom, to my regret, I have never met despite once being the head of a department in which he was, reputedly, a PhD student).

Still…. CT can have a competition.* Occasional commenter, dob, send me a link to yesterday’s Marina Hyde which contains these marvelous descriptions of Johnson and Mogg:

Here comes voluminously overcoated Jacob Rees-Mogg, who still resembles an 11-year-old Jacob Rees-Mogg sitting on Nanny’s shoulders for a nursery game called Disaster Capitalist’s Bluff.

And here comes the affectedly shambling figure of Boris Johnson – not so much a statesman as an Oxfam donation bag torn open by a fox – who could conceivably still end up prime minister of no-deal Britain.

One sentence descriptions, please, of politicians who are unsuited to office, in the style of Marina Hyde. (Johnson and JR-M are not off-limits)

  • I’m hoping that Richard Osman hasn’t copyrighted the idea of a competition—if he has, that might explain its disappearance from the NS. If his lawyers approach us, I’ll take this down forthwith. (Oh, and, the prize is as valuable as the prize for winning I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue, so don’t get excited).


by Harry on January 9, 2019

When I left home I didn’t have a phone for several years. I don’t mean I didn’t have a cell phone – I mean that nobody could contact me by phone. (This meant that each time I moved I had to find all the phone boxes within reasonable distance – all, because at any given time at least one or two were either not working or being used by someone to make an endless call). I also didn’t have a television most of the time. One year in college I lived in a shared house with a TV, and we did pay for a license, but it was dead cheap because the TV was a small black and white portable. I could listen to music because I had a small radio/cassette player and a few cassettes. (Some bugger walked into our house because a housemate left the door wide open all day and stole the radio/cassette player, along with Randy Newman’s Trouble in Paradise, my passport, and 30 quid’s worth of 5p pieces that I had for the electricity meter in my room but, mystifyingly, didn’t fancy any of my clothes). When I finally got a phone, it was fixed to an address, and I paid the monthly bill until I moved out.

When my daughter left home she took her phone with her, her monthly bill paid by us on the family plan. She could watch television on her computer with our Netflix and Willow TV subscriptions (regrettably she has still never used the latter). She could listen to music with our apple music account, and had access through itunes to whatever music and television shows we have purchased (including many of the Dr Who episodes I missed the first time during the long period of not having a telly). She’s now moved to another country, so she’s off our family phone plan but, conveniently, is on my dad’s instead (and, for complicated reasons she doesn’t cost him anything at the moment). Otherwise, she still has the Netflix, itunes, apple music access (though, as a new secondary school teacher, she works nearly every waking hour, so doesn’t have time to watch much – except the wonderful The Mighty Boosh, to which she has introduced us).

As things stand, her use of our Netflix, apple, and itunes (and Willow TV should she ever come to her senses) costs us nothing: and some of the itunes purchases are hers in the sense in which the cassettes I owned were mine, and, as far as I can tell, not transferable to separate account. I haven’t looked into it, but if she moves back to the US, I imagine it will make more sense financially for her to go back on our family plan and pay her share than to get her own individual plan. And the same for the second child when she leaves. And the third.

At what point do young people get their own Netflix, apple music, itunes accounts and phone plans? Just to be clear, the question isn’t about our subsidizing her: we can stop subsidizing her (well, we have: as you all know, beginning secondary school teachers earn a fortune) but it will still make sense for her to be entangled with us in this way that was unimaginable to me as a young person. And, also to be clear, this isn’t a complaint – I don’t think it’s bad, it just seems like a big change from the past.


by Harry on January 8, 2019

A while ago I was helping a couple of students decide what to register for the following semester. One of them had discovered a class in Religious Studies called “Sex and Cults” which the other student and I thought sounded thrilling, and were very disappointed to discover we had been mishearing, and it was in fact just “Sects and Cults”. Even so, I’ve long had an interest in cults (and sects), so I’d like to recommend a couple of great podcasts about cults (partly in the rather forlorn hopes of someone being able to offer me something else equally good).

End Of Days is a BBC documentary about the Branch Davidians, told from the British perspective: 24 Brits, all recruited from the Seventh Day Adventists, and almost all of them Afro-Carribean in origin, died in the conflagration. The reporter seems particularly incomprehending that Brits could end up in a cult in Waco, as if there is something in the national DNA that immunizes us from such gullibility, which might irritate some listeners, as might the slightly superior attitude toward the Americans they meet. And he is exceptionally unsympathetic to the cultists and, for example, is remarkably uncritical of the idea the idea that the cultists were brainwashed. The phrase “Whackos of Waco” is repeated much too often! But it is well worth listening all the way through: its a compelling story, well told, you get a real sense of the ways in which it was tragic for those left behind. They trace the role of, and interview, a remarkable and rather sinister character, Livingstone Fagan, who helped Koresh recruit and whose wife and mother, whom he refuses to mourn, were killed in the fire. They deal particularly well with the siege and conflagration: as with all accounts I’ve heard its hard to escape the conclusion that the ATF and FBI were spectacularly irresponsible.

Better still is Glynn Washington’s series about Heaven’s Gate. Washington was, himself, raised in a cult which, I think, helps him understand the state of mind of the cultists much better than the makers of End Of Days. The end is, of course, the starting point for the investigation, but whereas the BBC documentary maintains consistent focus on the conflagration, for Washington the end is just the end. He traces the whole history of the cult, interviewing people who knew Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles before they became cult leaders, and many former members and friends and family of those who died. Whereas Koresh lived very differently from his followers (he, and they, believed he was the second coming of the Messiah and, oddly given what we read in the Bible, thought that entitled him to sex with any woman, or girl, that he wanted). Applewhite lived just like them—he was one of the several men who underwent voluntary castration to affirm their ascetic lifestyle. (Nettles who, it becomes clear, was the true leader, pretty followed rules that all were expected to abide by while she was alive, with one notable exemption that Washington teases out). Nettles and Applewhite were clearly in love with each other but seem to have remained celibate. Washington goes much deeper into the psychology of cult membership, and devotes an entire episode to the ethics of deprogramming and whether brainwashing is real. Much more than End of Days, Heaven’s Gate gives you a feel for what life was like for the followers.

If you can recommend other long form podcasts about sects and cults (or even sex and cults), go ahead!

Recipe Corner: Nut Roast with Stuffing

by Harry on November 24, 2018

I don’t eat meat, but I like to have something special for Christmas lunch/dinner, so this is what I make. We had it for Thanksgiving this year too, and all the guests ate it as well as the turkey, so we don’t have much left. It is straight from Rose Elliot with very little modification, and, as long as you have a food processor, is dead easy. The proportions are very forgiving. I find that adding a couple of eggs to the roast helps it keep its shape but… well, although it helps, it doesn’t help enough, so I can rarely get it to look like a loaf, and tend to serve it directly from the loaf pan. The stuffing is fantastic, so I sometimes double the stuffing, which yields roughly equal volumes of roast and stuffing.

For the roast:
2 oz butter
1 large onion
8oz cashews
4 oz bread crumbs
2 large cloves of garlic
7 oz of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, a small amount of grated nutmeg
1 tblsp lemon juice

For stuffing:
4oz bread crumbs
2 oz softened butter
1 small onion
½ tsp each of thyme and marjoram
1-3 oz of chopped parsley

For the roast.
Chop the garlic and onion small, and sautee in the butter for 10 mins
Grind the bread and cashews, add to the onions and garlic, then add the stock, seasonings, and lemon juice, and mix it altogether.

For the stuffing. GRATE ((do not chop) the onion, then mix all the ingredients together.

For cooking:
Liberally butter a 1 lb bread pan. Place half the roast mix in the bottom, then put the stuffing mix on top of that, and then the rest of the roast mix on top of that.

Cook at 375F for 40 mins
Double the amounts to make a 2lb loaf, which should cook for about 70 minutes at 375F.

A question about referendums

by Harry on November 15, 2018

If you want to discuss Brexit, what’s going on, etc, please go to JQ’s thread. I have a question for those of you who know about referendums (referenda?) and/or surveys either through study or experience.

Several times recently, I’ve heard politicians say that it is obvious that a 3-option referendum is impossible. The obvious reason they say this is that they want to ensure that the (from their point of view) worst option is off the table: Brexiteers want “this deal or none” and Remainers want “This deal or stay”. Sensible enough. But, is there any other reason not to have a 3-option referendum, in which people rank their preferences, and if no option gets a majority, the second preference of those whose option comes third get redistributed?

Obviously its possible. I can think of actual reasons why it might be undesirable (eg, maybe people can’t cope with three options, or maybe there’s a reason to think that there’s something undemocratic about it, or that Current Deal would lose against either No Deal or Remain in 2-way votes, but would beat both of them in a 3-way vote even with 2nd-preferences redistributed), but have no idea whether these reasons have any basis in reality.

Improving instruction on campus: concrete ideas.

by Harry on September 4, 2018

A while ago I promoted this event, slightly anxious that no-one would turn up. Contrary to my fears, it was packed, and a huge success. I asked 5 students to describe and motivate a pedagogical practice that they had experienced, and that they think should be more widely shared among faculty. Inside Higher Education has run an article today containing the text of all the student contributions—which are great! Please feel free to add your own tips, ideally there, but here if you like; and do me, and the students, a favor, by sending the story to people you know! Also, think about replicating the event on your own campus (if you have one).

The soft bigotry of low expectations

by Harry on August 26, 2018

Adam Grant offers excellent advice for students and administrators, and lets professors completely off the hook. Observing that the expert academic is often not an expert teacher, he advises students to look for professors who are good teachers, and advises administrators to create separate career tracks for researchers and teachers (something that, as we’ve talked about before, can work well only if the teaching faculty have equal governance rights and clear pathways for career advancement). So far so good.

But why are so many expert professors not good teachers? Well, it’s not in any sense their fault. Talking about his incompetent professors at Harvard he says:

It wasn’t that they didn’t care about teaching. It was that they knew too much about their subject, and had mastered it too long ago, to relate to my ignorance about it. Social scientists call it the curse of knowledge. As the psychologist Sian Beilock, now the president of Barnard College, writes, “As you get better and better at what you do, your ability to communicate your understanding or to help others learn that skill often gets worse and worse.”

Maybe, just maybe, that’s true of his professors. But its probably not. I would guess that, in fact, they didn’t care about teaching, or if they did they cared about it in the way that I care about the fate of the red squirrel: I really do wish it the very best but I am not going to do anything to help it. Most of his professors were probably good learners, and my educated guess is that they didn’t put a lot of that learning effort into learning how their students learn, or how to be effective instructors in the classroom. I do agree that being an expert in the field and having been top of the class when one was a student oneself are handicaps in acquiring and maintaining the complex skills that a teacher needs. But many can overcome them: observe excellent teachers; get others to observe you, talk to your students a lot, and especially to those who struggle with the material. Practice communicating effectively with students; keep practicing it. Talk to good high school teachers about how they motivate weaker students (I sat on a train yesterday while a 75 year old former headteacher gave my about-to-start-teaching daughter a brilliant refresher on how to approach her first 3 weeks in a secondary school—most of my colleagues, like me, are sufficiently good as learners and sufficiently limited as teachers, that sitting eavesdropping would have been as a fruitful use of their time as it was of mine). Establish formal mechanisms for discussing and improving teaching in your department. I can believe that one of his professors would have remained dreadful in the face of such effort, but not that all of them would have.

Someone on Westminster Hour this week, discussing the idea of a people’s vote, mentioned the poor British voter who won’t be grateful to be drawn back to the polls for yet another vote. Brenda from Bristol was cited.
[UPDATE: in the first comment below Russell Arben Fox points us to this much better piece by the late Anthony King which says the same things and much more…]

Well, they should try living here. I voted this week in the primaries. I voted in only three of the races—Governor, State Assembly, and (because my wife was hovering over me and pressed the button herself), Lieutenant Governor (whatever that is—and I should add that I spelled it wrong 7 different ways before finally looking it up). But there were plenty more races, some uncontested (I don’t vote in uncontested races, unless I feel strongly negative about the candidate, in which case I write in the name of my most distinguished former colleague). Here’s a list of the other races:

Attorney General
Secretary of State
State Treasurer
US Senator
US Congress
County Sheriff
County Clark of Circuit Court

I have to vote again in November in the general election.

Every year we have one or two school board elections—primary, and general (in the spring—there are 4 elections per year in even years, and two a year in odd years).

Here’s a selection of other positions for which there is a primary, and a general, election (some are in the spring, others in the fall):
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Tales of Sporting Incongruity

by Harry on July 26, 2018

Tailenders is the best of the BBC’s proliferating podcasts about cricket. The star is a regular guest, Machin, who is in some obscure way related to Sachin Tendulkar (maybe) and professes (completely plausibly) to have no interest in cricket at all (you can listen to the best of Machin here). Among Machin’s roles is to invent features. These are usually games and quizzes, but the current, ongoing, feature is ‘tales of cricketing sadness’ in which listeners send in tales of their own failures, to amuse and to get catharsis. I don’t have any interesting tales of cricketing failure [1] and anyway I thought that for our audience cricket might be too restrictive. So, instead, it being silly season, can we have tales of oddness—incongruity—well, anything that might entertain us here at CT? Here’s mine, to set the tone.

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Kate Manne on 12 Rules for Life

by Harry on May 24, 2018

If you were considering reading Jordan Peterson’s new book, and no doubt many of you were, here is Kate Manne’s review in the TLS (I think it is free). It is a brilliant piece of writing (Kate’s, not, I assume, Mr. Peterson’s): never uncharitable or ad hominem, starting out light and funny, but then gently drawing us into the darkness at the heart of Mr Peterson’s popularity. I’m not going to give you an excerpt because I want you to read it all (it’ll take 5-10 minutes—less time than a tea break in a test match) and I couldn’t figure out an excerpt that wouldn’t spoil the experience. It probably will make you reconsider your impulse to read the book, but that is probably, as I gather Mr. Peterson might say, not not good. Comment away though.

Undergraduate Instruction

by Harry on May 22, 2018

For once, this isn’t directly about undergraduate instruction, but about an event the Center for Ethics and Education is hosting in Madison about undergraduate instruction next Thursday (for locals: Fluno Center on May 31st at 11.30: please come). We were approached by the American Academy for the Arts and Sciences to do an event focusing specifically on undergraduate instruction, in association with an event the Academy is holding here (in Madison) later in the day around the report of the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. I’ve never organised an event on instruction that goes beyond my own department before, but have been to plenty, and too many involve long talks that illustrate the low quality instruction they are attempting to combat. And—almost none actually deploy the voices of undergraduates. So my idea was to invite 4 faculty members (actually 3, plus a high school instructional coach) and 5 undergraduates each to give a very short talk about an instructional strategy that should be more widely shared. The undergraduate piece is work for me, as I want to avoid overlap, and ensure that they do it well (I have complete confidence in the people I invited, but some of them have less confidence in themselves than I have in them). Anyway, I’m sharing this partly because enough locals read CT that sharing it here might boost numbers (free lunch!), but more because I am curious whether others have arranged or attended similar events, and to invite suggestions for subsequent events. Here’s more on the event (with the details about the faculty panel—we have another poster with details of the student panel, but that needs to be updated).

Our Underachieving Colleges

by Harry on May 14, 2018

At the end of the semester I ask students in my smaller classes to talk for 2 minutes about what they think they have learned. This semester, for the first time, I asked them to write out their reflections before we met, and then just talk for a minute or two in class. This produced a great deal more reflection than usual (and a lot of online interaction, which seems, among other things, to have committed me to hosting a couple of reunions next year). The class was on Values and Education, with the central text being Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries.

Ryan Michaelson asked me for a spring break reading recommendation about higher education and, as always when faced with that request, I recommended Derek Bok’s Our Underachieving Colleges. Here’s an excerpt from his reflection (used with his permission):

For the past 20 years, I thought that simply showing up to class and doing the assigned work would develop me as individual. It could definitely be said that I was being naive or ignorant but to be fair I feel that this how most children are raised. You go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a diploma, and then get a good job. That is the traditional story of development as a person. After reading Derek Bok’s book though, the inklings of doubt that many college students, myself included, have about college and education were finally put into words. Not to sound dramatic but reading Our Underachieving Colleges, for me, laid the final foundational pieces of a new outlook that had been slowly developed throughout the semester.

Not to sound dramatic, but a decade ago Our Underachieving Colleges had similarly powerful impact on me; it has been a major inspiration for me in my practice as a teacher ever since. I long ago promised CB that I’d write a review. It’s a bit late for that, but my student’s comment, especially coming at the end of that particular class, prompted me to give it (yet) another look and think about what I had learned from it. Here’s the somewhat stream-of-consciousness upshot.
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Youth In Action

by Harry on March 8, 2018

I doubt I’m the only one here with a kid planning to join the school protests/walkout next week. As far as I am aware, locally it seems to have been put together largely by the schoolkids themselves, coordinating across the 4 comprehensive high schools in the district. Maybe its different in your city or town. Anyway, my friend Meira Levinson has helped put together a great resource for young people planning to take or considering taking their first political action (and there’ll be a lot of them in the next week or so). Here it is, please share it with your children or with your friends who have children. Meira’s description is below the fold:

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I’m planning an event (mainly for faculty and administrators) about improving undergraduate instruction, and I want the voices of undergraduates to, in some way, inform what gets said. it would be helpful to me to hear from current or recent undergraduates answering the questions below. And, to be honest, I have been collecting stories about good and bad college instruction for years, but not in any systematic way and only, obviously, from students who tell them to me, so this is an opportunity to gather stories from other people. Now—I know that not many undergraduates read CT regularly. But lots of you know some undergraduates and recent undergraduates, and many of you teach them. So i) ask students or recent students whom you know, and give me their answers. And ii) I’d be really grateful if those of you who teach undergraduates could send them this link, and ask them to contribute.

Here are the questions:

1. Describe something that one or more of your professors does/did that you think other professors ought to do as well.

2. Describe something that more than one of your professors does/did that you think no professors ought to do.

I can give you a couple of examples that I’ve gathered from recent undergraduates, that seem sensible to me, just to give you a sense of the sorts of things I am looking for.

Do: make students discuss a question for a few minutes in small groups before opening the class up to discussion
Do: cold call, but only after warning the students that you are going to do that
(I do both of these).

Don’t: ever speak to the board with your back to the class
Don’t: simply read the powerpoint slides, and don’t also make the powerpoints the textbook
(I did the first of those occasionally till a student told me not to. The second one… well, I don’t know what to say).

Please, just answer one or both of the questions!

Economics Textbooks

by Harry on January 27, 2018

Henry will enjoy this piece by our friend Laura at the Atlantic, about the way that textbook companies (and authors) are succeeding in extracting rents from students. Especially this bit:

Greg Mankiw’s class, “Economics 10a: Principles of Economics” is Harvard’s most popular course among undergraduates, attracting 633 students this past fall. As is the case in many introductory classes, students attend a combination of large lectures and smaller sections led by graduate assistants and visiting faculty. Mankiw, who himself only gives a handful of lectures per semester, assigns readings from a loose-leaf version of his own extremely lucrative textbook, Principles of Economics, donating royalties from books purchased by Harvard students to charity.

In 2016, he started requiring students to purchase both the textbook and a code that gives them access to a digital platform known as MindTap. There, students complete their homework assignments and take exams, which are graded automatically on the publisher’s website. Students pay about $130 per year for the book and code, a discounted cost Mankiw negotiated with publishers for those at Harvard.

It was nice of him to negotiate on behalf of Harvard students who are, no doubt, among the neediest. And donating the royalties he continues to make specifically from their purchases to charity is awesome. (Maybe that’s why he didn’t negotiate a better deal for them by giving up royalties altogether on Harvard-student-purchased codes). Personally, with my students, given what I know about their circumstances and an eccentric attitude of respect, I wouldn’t feel great about donating money I had extracted from them to the charity of my choice, but, like so many students who pay full price for Mankiw’s codes, they are not Harvard students; maybe I’d feel differently if they were.

Actually this story hit home to me because I am, this semester, assigning my own new book (on which more in later post) in class for the first time (first time I’ve assigned one of my books). Its under $30 and not a text book, but still I felt that I should give them each a $1 which represents the royalty I’ll make on the book (there are three other authors), and couldn’t feel comfortable otherwise. (They think I’m ridiculous. I had a bunch of them over for dinner last night, with chocolate cake and treacle tart—they don’t think that’s ridiculous, and were very pleased by my son’s eerily accurate Trump impressions).

I have a rough rule: my undergrad students shouldn’t have to spend more than $75 on books for my classes: and, normally, it is much less (my large lecture class it is usually nothing). Philosophy is easy because we rely heavily on reading primary texts rather than textbooks, and most contemporary philosophy is done in journals not books, so we can put articles on the course page for downloading for free. My TA this semester has wisely requested that I insist that they print out papers to discuss in section (because of the no-laptop policy).

It must be so much more difficult in Economics. Because unfortunately a fantastic team of economists and communicators have not bothered to spend immense amounts of time in producing a stunningly valuable and well test, user-friendly, open access, online and free textbook with numerous curricular materials, underwritten by HM Treasury, The Bank of England, the Teagle Foundation, Azim Premji University, Science Po, the International Economics Association, Friends Provident Foundation, Santa Fe Institute, Open Society Foundations, UCL, the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the Nuffield Foundation. If some high powered team ever gets round to doing that, it will seriously mitigate the problem Laura’s written about. And Mankiw’s students will be able to decide for themselves whether, and how much, to donate to whichever charity they choose.