All posts by John Band

Dumbing down, and that’s just the fogeyish commentators

In England and Wales up until 1986, there were two sorts of exam a child could take at the compulsory school leaving age of 16.

CSEs weren’t very academically rigorous and were aimed at kids who weren’t planning to take further academic qualifications. O-levels were more academically rigorous; they were aimed at kids who were planning to take A-levels at 18, and possibly head on to university.

After 1986, the system was – officially – changed to have a single qualification at 16 encompassing both streams of kids, known as the GCSE.

However, almost all GCSEs are divided into two tiers of paper, Foundation and Higher, which are separate exams based on related but different syllabuses [*]. All kids who would have taken an O-level in a particular subject, and some who would have taken a CSE, take the Higher paper; the highest grade possible in the Foundation paper is a C.

(I note, in passing, that 1986 fulfils the criterion of ‘being a year that happened after the current generation of crusty old farts finished compulsory education’.)

For more or less the following 23 years non-stop, commentators born before 1970 have failed to point out the fact that nothing has really changed – whether this is due to their idiocy or their dishonesty is not quite clear – and instead have had great fun comparing Foundation GCSE (i.e. rebadged CSEs) papers with O-level papers. They discover, shock-horror-ish-ly, that the paper the thick kids take is harder than the paper the bright kids used to take.

For example, this post from the Libertoonian Alliance links to a GCSE physics paper, fails to point out what the foundation/higher distinction means, and labels it ‘for intelligent 16 year olds’. Since the foundation questions, answered by the dumb kids, make up the first 16 pages of the test, most readers will end up skimming those, assuming they represent ‘bright kid’ questions, and hence that the paper is moronic.

But it isn’t, for the ‘higher’ section at least [**]. It’s a reasonable test for bright-ish kids of theoretical knowledge on energy and electricity, with a couple of fluffier ‘social impact of science’ questions thrown in for a total of approximately 2 marks.

So, a fail, then. But the attempts to mislead get better. In the comments section, the post author, a (but not the, one would assume) David Davis, says:

In the “further” physics papers (only for the really bright people doing what is called “separate” sciences

This is what is known as ‘grossly misleading’.

Later, he says:

Yes [this linked paper is the equivalent of an O-level paper]. Passing this, is what those who will go on to do “A” levels in the sciences will have to do.

This is what is known as ‘grossly misleading’.

In a final and epic demonstation of his elite science-y skills, he says:

I don’t know [why the paper spells sulfur correctly]. It has sort of crept in the last year or so. I thought like you do that these people were supposed to hate America, but they adopt its spelling of “sulfur”.

If you’re going to mouth off about the ignorance and evils of people setting science exams, perhaps you might want to check the conventions actual scientists have agreed with each other on how to spell words. Or not.

There might, possibly, be an actual case that there has been a dumbing-down in educational standards (damn unlikely given relative skill and literacy measures by cohort, but possible). This paper, dramatically and massively, certainly doesn’t present it, and the dishonest codgers putting it forward do themselves no favours.

[*] English words don’t require Latin plurals. Fact.

[**] with the exception of the rather bizarre question 4D (the actual answer, given the levels of ignorance of more or less everything held by people who object to planning applications for wind turbines, is ‘all of the above'; but I’ve no idea what answer the exam board wants).

Some factual statements

Note: see update at the bottom

I’m holding points 1-8 to be non-controversial; let me know if you, err, controvert them.

1) Rape is very bad.
2) Long-term psychological, bullying abuse is very bad.
3) Violence per se is bad, but not very bad.
4) Nearly all raping is done by men, mostly against women.
5) Nearly all violence is done by men, mostly against men.
6) When men commit long-term psychological bullying abuse, they tend to use violence as the primary tool.
7) When women commit long-term psychological bullying abuse, they tend to use words and non-violent actions as the primary tools.
8) While bruises are worse than cutting words, the thing that actually matters in both cases is the emotional bullying.

So what? Well, if you’re concerned about physical violence, then that’s not primarily an anti-women thing, because men mostly do it to other men. And if you’re talking about emotional bullying, nor is that, because women do it to men just as much as men do it to women (non-violently, mostly, but that isn’t the point, as we’ve already accepted that domestic bullying is a completely different category from ‘normal’ violence). So what on earth are campaigns like OneTen about?

Q: why the fuck can’t we just campaign against abuse, and against beatings, and against the two when they overlap, without it becoming some kind of bizarre Spare Rib-y crusade against the wickedness of chaps and in favour of the epic brilliance of the ladies?

Update: I think I’ve worked out, at least in my own head, what bothers me about the campaign, and yet why the last post probably does miss a point about the specific evils of male-on-female violence:

1) Women are more likely than men, by an enormous margin, to be seriously physically assaulted or murdered by their partners. The proportion of women to whom this happens is well below one in ten, but it is well above one in a hundred, which makes it one of the most prevalent forms of serious violence.

This is a terrible thing, rightwing twats who seek to talk it down should be reviled at all times, and we should all do whatever we can to oppose it, to punish the people who perpetuate it, and to marginalise the people who tolerate it. It *is* fundamentally a feminist, male vs female issue, and a the-law-taking-things-seriously issue, and needs to be resolved.

2) a lot of relationships between men and women, men and men, and women and women – probably around one in 10 in a given year, probably more than that over a lifetime – are emotionally and sometimes physically abusive. There is a fairly even gender split between men and women both in terms of who the victims are and who the aggressors are.

This is a bad thing, but it’s basically the ’shitty’ end of the relationship scale; for as long as people are sometimes good and sometimes bad and fall in and out of love with each other, it’s going to be hard to alleviate. Better communication, better counselling, better social education would have some impact on this, but it’s not going to go away and there’s only a limited amount any of us can do about it.

99% of men are rapists or nose-pickers

I’m not a fan of violence against anyone, irrespective of their gender.

But I don’t give a toss about ‘violence against women’, any more than I give a toss about ‘violence against ginger people’ or ‘violence against taxidermists’.

If women were disproportionately likely to be the victims of violence, then perhaps there would be some sanity in focusing campaigns about violence against them. The shooting of a young black man is no more or less bad than the shooting of an old white woman, but focusing anti-gun-crime efforts on young black men does make sense, as they’re the most likely to suffer from it.

But since men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of violent crime, that logic doesn’t seem to apply here.

So, while I’d urge anyone reading this blog who commits acts of violence against people to stop, I wouldn’t be backing Amnesty’s OneTen campaign even if it were honestly promoted and based on real evidence.

But it isn’t.

According to the press release for said campaign: “Each year, around 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence”. This is an epic piece of dishonesty, and anyone with any integrity at all should rail against Amnesty for it, no matter how much they oppose wifebeating.

For one, we know, based on the most accurate data collated – the British Crime Survey linked above – that the figure is one in 40, not one in 10.

More importantly, even the one in 40 figure is for all violent crime. Bringing rape, which is perpetrated on less than one in 100 men or women, into the mix is tabloid chicanery at its absolute worst – it is the same literally true but completely misleading statistic as this piece’s headline. Anyone who quotes the incidence of something less serious, but mentions something more serious in the same sentence, is deeply suspect – no matter which particular political direction they’re trying to nudge you in.

And finally… shouldn’t Amnesty be campaigning against abuses of government power, rather than against crime? It’s as if the RSPCA were suddenly to start funding schools in Africa – whether or not it’s a good thing, it’s certainly not what they’re for.

In conclusion: 1:10pm, March 6, 2009 – Time To Finally Give Up on Amnesty International Forever.

Update: oops. Sorry. No, the people who tweeted this campaign aren’t idiots and don’t lack integrity – they’re well-meaning people who presumably didn’t expect a respected and generally good organisation like Amnesty to base its campaign on dishonesty, and who’ve been conned into repeating lies. And that’s precisely why I’m so fucking angry about it..

Almost nearly there

So, I can access the wp-admin and the database now, but the site bit is still blank… weird.

This time it was Indian spammers rather than Chinese spammers, exacerbated by my host’s good-really-I-know-but-still-infuriating security policy, my lack of access to computers that aren’t insanely locked down and/or that don’t access the internet, and the increased curmudgeonlyness of householders with wifi.

In related news, temporary accommodation sucks, even when it’s very nice temporary accommodation that you’re living in for timing reasons rather than homelessness reasons.

Update: well, that seems to be working OK now. Unix file permissions are, to a close approximation, the most annoying things in the world.

Those who will not see

I’ve got a post up at Liberal Conspiracy on the EU’s new ECRIS system.

Under ECRIS, local criminal records agencies will categorise crimes and sentences against particular headings (so 0801 is murder; 0403 is trafficking people for their organs; while on the sentencing side 1002 is life imprisonment and 3017 is confiscation of your hunting license), to make international criminal record searches a bit easier.

So when the German police arrest a Frenchman for pimping, instead of waiting for the French to fax through something that needs translating on his record, they’ll be able to see that the bloke was previously sent to a mental institution and had his hunting licence taken away for organ trafficking (or whatever).

Pretty much the entire libertarian blogosphere seems to think this is an outrageous plot to create, err, something or other, not quite sure what, but definitely evil. See the comments and links on the LC post.

The debate at DK, although not terribly edifying either, has produced one of the best lines I’ve read recently:

I didn’t know incest between consenting adults is legal in France. And there was me thinking Papa and Nicole were playing a very risky game.

Is Britain really going bankrupt?

No.

Or:

Britain is not Iceland. Iceland is the size of Coventry. Britain is the fifth-largest economy in the world (although it also has the third-largest current account deficit). The pound is still a reserve currency that people want to buy, despite the efforts of the speculators. We are bankrupt only in the sense that we could not pay if all debts were called in right now – which is true of many countries. A falling pound will be good for exports, assuming there is someone to buy them. The UK’s credit rating was reaffirmed last week. The only thing that could push Britain into bankruptcy would be a full-scale panic.