Category Archives: Education

Hylas And The Nymphs – A Local Visitor’s Perspective

Most people have jumped the gun. I did too – prepared to vent my indignation. I went to take a look on Saturday, the day the picture was put back.

The removal was a part of another project specifically planned to provoke discussion. The #MeToo and #TimesUp were the context, not the reason.

Here’s the gallery’s perspective in more detail:

Presenting the female body: Challenging a Victorian fantasy

Opposite the Nymphs picture is Sappho, by Charles Mengin – supposedly one of the most alluring images of the female body. And I have to say that’s not too far off the mark. And there are other provocative representations of naked and part naked women around the gallery.

As a male curator explained,

“If we wanted to censor, we’d have to remove maybe half our exhibits.”

To be honest, they seemed as thrilled by the negative responses as much as the positive. It might be worth noting the deep love of art that would be a natural part of a curator’s persona: the human body, which they may well have been exposed to in the flesh while studying. I don’t think we’re dealing with 3rd wave feminist prudes here (though I know nothing more about the curator or artist that were involved in the event).

The other charge was that it was a publicity stunt. Again, he said that had they intended that, there are a number of things they would have done differently … and would have been better prepared … which brings us to the post cards: it seems they sold out, so much was the demand. They were not removed, as many have claimed.

I had conversations with some other visitors there, those that, like me, saw it as censorship initially … they too were changing their minds.

And as far as the stated intent, it worked well. On Saturday the picture was put back, and the post-it notes left in place. And the outrage on display (again, of which I might have been a willing contributor) was as visceral as any that we might accuse SJWs of engaging in.

So, given the pre-planned project by the artist Sonia Boyce ( #MAGSoniaBoyce ), I’ll give the benefit of any remaining doubt to those who run my favourite local gallery.

And, as this the context was about #MeToo and #TimesUp, I thought I’d end with a sobering piece: Nobody’s Victim: An Interview with Samantha Geimer 

There are a lot of perspectives on these movements, and a lot of heated outrage, rather then healthy, if heated, debate.

Happy Christmas Santa; Bah Humbug Jesus

The Skeptical Teacher has a post on Santa.

In it he refers to Barbara Drescher’s post on An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus.

I’d agree with Barbara Drescher’s positive view on Santa, as echoed in one of the comments, where the Lahurongirl’s son realised there was no Santa, but still wanted to maintain the story for his younger sister. I’ve seen the same insight and intention from children I know – which is just spoiler avoidance. There’s the implicit assumption that their younger siblings will get to the end of the Santa ‘novel’ too, one day, so why spoil it for them now.

But Barbara seems to take the point too far. Does Richard Dawkins really not like fiction for children? This seems more like Barbara is jumping on a journalistic bandwagon picking up on a simple quote, attributed to Dawkins:

Guardian:
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/oct/27/richard-dawkins-childrens-literature]
Quotes Dawkins: “…looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.”
And the author, Jean Hannah Edelstein, goes on to say, “Dawkins sounds to me not unlike the fundamentalist Christian mums who tried to get Roald Dahl’s The Witches banned from my primary school for fear that it would undermine what their kids had learned at Sunday school rather than acknowledging that sometimes, stories are just stories.”

Telegraph:
[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/3255972/Harry-Potter-fails-to-cast-spell-over-Professor-Richard-Dawkins.html]
“I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,” he told More4 News. (a reporting of a reporting then)

Double Think Online
[http://americasfuture.org/conventionalfolly/2008/10/27/richard-dawkins-scourge-of-fun/]
“Looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.”

All sadly similar. Seems like some quote mining has been going on.

But I’m not sure what the controversy is here. Dawkins is expressing a good scientific response to the question of the effect of stories on children – i.e. he doesn’t know, and would be interested in any research to that effect. I don’t think he’s claiming there is an effect. Unlike someone like Susan Greenwood, who has been the butt of Ben Goldacre’s ire for some time for her claims, without evidence, about the effects of some modern media, such as computer games.

Much fiction for young children, such as the Santa myth, is expressed as truth, knowing full well that as older children and as adults they will grow out of it, hopefully learn something positive about the susceptibility of humans to gullibility, and, in the mean time, enjoy some magical fantasy for a while. There minds are malleable enough to learn and later unlearn, so what’s the harm? How many adults do we know that still believe in Santa to make that fiction worth worrying about?

The significant difference with religion – and this is where I see Barbara as being wrong – is that these fictions are carried on seriously into adulthood. In a religious family and social environment there is specifically, usually, no opportunity or encouragement to challenge the religious dogma, and indeed the prospect some traumatic ostracism for doing so. In fact the strength of belief instilled in children by adults, and seen by children to be genuine beliefs in adults, is what does the long term damage and causes serious disability when it comes to applying critical thinking to those beliefs.

And, it doesn’t matter that “Religion is not a barrier to science literacy”, as Barbara puts it – Francis Collins and Ben Miller show this; as long as you limit the science that we are being ‘literate’ about. If you do apply the usual requirement for evidence to everything then the only rational conclusion about the source of the universe beyond what current science shows is, we don’t know. Now, that certainly does allow, as metaphysical speculations, some passive ‘natural’ explanation, or even some active ‘agency’ explanation – though the latter then needs explaining too. But none of this speculation is sufficient to warrant the subsequent claims by any of the main religions. So, in that wider scientific sense, deeply instilled religious belief is a barrier to science.

So, if the Jesus story was to become an acknowledged myth, like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, then that would be fine. But as yet it isn’t. The story of Jesus is a whole other industry, with a drive to capture the child’s mind (and the adult’s) as insidious as any capitalist behemoth advertising to children in order to sell the company’s wears; or, for religion, to buy the childrens souls.

Educational Fairness: Equality of Access, or Equality of Capabilites

See Stephen Law’s blog – Ban private schools? – the freedom issue. Is the topic addressing the underlying question?

It may be desirable that the possession of native wit should not be disadvantaged by school, or even by family. Does this mean that native wit should be positively advantaged – positive discrimination? Should the “better” (assuming greater native wit is better than lesser native wit) always be promoted above the “lesser” in order to achieve “equality”? Equality of what?

What’s the balance between promoting the better at the risk of leaving behind or discarding the lesser? Fairness appears to be an ever receding goal – a concept, like infinity. Try following these rules to achieve equality:

1) Make a consistent high quality education suddenly available to all (no resource or access problems). Those with higher native wit would be advantaged, since they’d make better use of it. So we need to address this imbalance, in rule 2.

2) Introduce corrective brain surgery to bring the lesser up to scratch with the better. Surely the “better” should have access to the same corrective surgery to improve their capabilities, so maintaining an imbalance. Well, we don’t have corrective surgery, so instead let’s just boost the education provided to the “lesser” – oops! Denial of service to the “better” and the breaking of rule 1.

Which is required, equal access to a service that improves your capabilities or equality of capabilities? This appears to be the basic question here.