breaking news from the world of ideas

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 3
November 2021
Reaction
07:00

Banning ‘complex language’ from exams won’t help my students

The latest round of dumbing down exams is cynical and depressing

The exams watchdog Ofqual has just announced a new consultation on producing more accessible assessments by removing ‘complex language’ such as sarcasm, idioms, metaphors, homonyms and abstract nouns. The idea is to make questions ‘accessible, clear and plain’ for students who may be disadvantaged by ‘irrelevant features’ in exams, as well as mitigate the ‘psychological impact of difficult questions’ which may ‘demotivate learners.’

No matter the subject, level or exam board, people have always considered ‘today’s exams’ much easier than the ones they did in their youth. However, never before have examiners been so explicit, and so short-sighted, about making exams easier for students. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 20
October 2021
Campus Wars
13:00

University anti-spike boycotts put the onus on women

These campaigns might raise awareness, but they are still only symbolic

Up and down the country, university students are reporting a terrifying new phenomenon: spiking by injection. Students from Glasgow, Dundee, Leeds, Durham and Nottingham have all reported similar experiences happening to them on a night out: feeling a sharp scratch, discovering a pin prick, blacking out and even being taken to hospital. So far one man in Nottingham has been arrested for possession of drugs “with intention to injure and aggrieve” and two other men have been arrested in Bristol after a video circulated on social media of a woman being spiked.

Spiking has been on the rise over recent years; according to a Freedom of Information request there has been a 108% increase in the number of police reports that include both the words ‘drink’, ‘spiking’ or ‘lacing’ since 2015. Although there were more than 2600 reported incidents in England and Wales between 2015 and 2019, it’s difficult to tell the full scale of the problem. Many victims cannot remember what happened, or do not report it for fear they will not be believed or will somehow be blamed. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 13
October 2021
Debate
07:00

Women don’t need ‘fertility seminars’

Dystopian warnings about declining egg quality help no one

Earlier this week it was announced that Murray Edwards, an all-female college at Cambridge University, is now offering fertility seminars that warn women that they risk childlessness if they don’t start a family by their mid-thirties. 

President Dorothy Byrne claims that the classes are about ‘empowering’ women, but the reality is that this is nothing more than scare-mongering. Yes, the birth rate is falling; from 1.92 children per woman in 2011 to 1.53 in 2021, to be precise. But we are not quite at the Children of Men stage yet. We do not need vaguely dystopian, ominous warnings about declining egg quality; instead, we need to consider why parenthood is not financially, professionally or socially viable for so many people. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Monday, 4
October 2021
Campus Wars
07:00

St Andrews reverts to 16th Century Calvinism

Instead of original sin, students now have to acknowledge 'personal guilt'

You would be forgiven for thinking that universities are secular institutions. But it turns out that the University of St Andrews is reverting to something akin to 16th Century Calvinism: except that this time it is preaching the doctrine of ‘personal guilt’ rather than ‘original sin.’

The university has introduced new induction modules for students (or should I say converts?) for students on sustainability, diversity and consent, and will not allow students to matriculate if they do not pass. How do students pass? By agreeing with certain statements, such as “acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias.” ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 28
September 2021
Debate
14:00

Penalising private schools will help no one

Labour's latest policy announcement will hurt the very children it aims to help

Keir Starmer’s announcement that Labour will pledge to end private schools’ charity status and use the tax revenue to raise £1.7 billion for state schools may sound like a good idea. After all, private schools are run like a business and should be treated as such. It is also refreshing to finally see a clear Labour policy (even if it is a rehash of one of Jeremy Corbyn’s) — I just wish it was a coherent one.

While it may make a good headline, the scheme is likely to harm more families than it will actually help. It’s also a distraction from some of the Labour’s more interesting ideas, such as improving financial education so that students are taught about pension planning, mortgages and credit scores at school. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 22
September 2021
Spotted
12:30

TikTok’s voyeuristic probe into Gabby Petito’s disappearance

Social media sleuths may be hindering the case more than helping

Since Gabby Petito was declared missing on September 11th, the hashtag #findgabbypetito has been viewed on Tiktok 1.2 billion times. Tiktok creators and internet sleuths such as Haley Toumaian have dissected every detail in her disappearance, with one of her videos gathering over five and a half million views. Gabby Petito’s own Instagram account now has over one million followers — before her disappearance she had around 13,000.

In some ways this internet frenzy is unexpected — our obsession with true crime is well-documented, and Gabby Petito is an ideal target for social media detectives: 22 years old (within the same age demographic as most TikTok users), beautiful, active on social media herself, and living the #vanlife dream (another hugely popular hashtag with over 5 billion views). TikTok users can analyse everything from her vlog content to the bodycam footage of Gabby meeting the police in August following an alleged altercation between her and her fiancé. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Monday, 13
September 2021
Spotted
16:30

KPMG enters the diversity minefield

The firm wants more working class staff, but can't define who they are

Last week, KPMG announced that they are aiming to recruit more working class staff, and by 2030 want 29% of its workers to come from parents with “routine and manual” jobs such as drivers, cleaners and farm workers.

On the surface this seems like a worthy and admirable cause, and it is refreshing to see a large corporation using a broader definition of inclusion and diversity that includes class as well as race, gender and sexual orientation. However, there are also some serious questions that need answering if KPMG are going to be able to justify judging their applicants by ancestry rather than achievements. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 7
September 2021
Reaction
14:30

Michael K. Williams was an antidote to today’s identity politics

His portrayal of Omar Little in The Wire defied stereotypes

When asked about her sexuality on Desert Island Discs, BBC Presenter Sue Perkins said that “being gay is maybe the 47th most interesting thing about me” and that she hoped one day “the process of ‘coming out’ would not be a big deal or a great fanfare.” I thought about this quote when I learnt yesterday that Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little in The Wire, had tragically passed away at the age of 54. Why? Because being gay was almost the 47th most interesting thing about Omar Little too.

Omar Little is an enduring character for many reasons. He’s a walking mass of contradictions: he is a trench coat-wearing anti-hero, a stick-up man with a sawed-off shotgun who is as comfortable helping a single mother feed her baby as he is shooting a man in his ‘hind parts.’ With his terrifying facial scar and strict moral code, he’s both a superhero and a villain: a man who goes out for a box of Honey Nut Cheerios in his silk pyjamas and comes home with the entire drug supply of a stash house. Some people have compared him to an archetypal Robin Hood figure, but he is an anomaly in almost every aspect: an openly gay, hyper-masculine African American who seems completely comfortable with his sexuality. ...  Continue reading