Errant rubbish

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Radio National is being gutted, apparently. And frankly, if yesterday’s lunchtime sample is anything to go by, perhaps a filleting might do it the world of good.

Yesterday I heard The World Today’s ‘story’ on Australians who are spending $555 million on ‘useless study’. Apparently many students obtain qualifications they don’t use when they leave university.

We were treated to the damning example of the person with a degree in tourism who then got an entry level tourism job. We were told;

‘The boss is unhappy because the employee lacks everyday customer service skills and the employee is unhappy because their degree, which covered things like management and policy) is unused’.

The interviewer, Linda Mottram responded with the theatrical gravitas of a home shopping presenter,

“How much would you expect to pay for this useless education?” she shrieks. “What’s the cost?” sotto voce – to the taxpayer

Perhaps if Ms Mottram had undertaken a useless degree in journalism, she would have instead asked questions like;

 – What is the time frame on deeming a qualification useless? How many of those with ‘useless’ qualifications go on to use them later?

 – Does the tourism grad expect to start working in the industry at a lower level, and work their way up, therefore using their degree later? 

 – If the tourism graduate is short on customer service training, how does this negate the value of their other tourism qualifications?  One thing does not lead to another, or as we simpering morons without extensive customer service training would say, this is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy

 – If a student forgoes their tourism degree for a qualification in customer service, and then ends up running the company, do you deem their original qualification useless? 

 – You said that employers were using a bachelor’s degree as a ‘filter’, choosing candidates who had a degree. It seems to me that if a degree makes you more likely to get a job it doesn’t fit well with the definition of ‘useless’. Or are you saying that employers are so stupid they need to be told who to employ?

 – How did you judge useless? If, for instance, the student develops self discipline, or perhaps basic literacy during the course of their degree, is this deemed ‘useless’ to their entry level position? 

 –  Let’s talk about the broader context. SkillsIQ is a government research body. The Liberal government actively supports private training organisations which provide ‘skills training’ in areas like customer service (ingratiating servitude), or using a cloth and breathing at the same time. How do you respond to the claim that this is simply another example of the government attempting to undermine the university sector in favour of their well-heeled donors, the private training sector? 

And finally, perhaps the most important question;

 – Given that the university sector is currently under pressure to limit the amount of the everything it currently offers that isn’t Vice Chancellor’s reimbursements, can you tell us how this isn’t just some made-up, bullshit study intended to appeal to Liberal voting Murray and Janice who always knew that young people’s degrees were useless and students would be better off just working hard like they did in the 1970s, and also aren’t young people annoying and full of themselves?

These are just a few of the gaping holes in the four minute interview. How on earth Radio National can be considered a serious broadcaster beggars belief.

 

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Wooly thinking part two

Does autism correlate with high IQ?

Or is this simply a form of reverse stigma?

I’ve mused about the apparent paradoxes in the diagnoses of autism before but I’ve yet to find anything that’s making me think that most people with autism are bloody geniuses.

There is a study which suggests that many of the genes implicated in autism are also those implicated in high IQ, but, as anyone who knows anything about genetics will tell you, it’s very difficult to identify ‘a gene for X’. Basically, this is the equivalent of searching for The Bachelorette gene.

I particularly enjoyed this article that told me that people with ASD are brainy because compared to the general population,

Nearly half of children (46 percent) who have been diagnosed with ASD have an above average intellectual ability, however, it differs from person-to-person.

That’s right, almost fifty percent of those with ASD fall above the average! Which I guess means that 54% fall below the average. Which tells me nothing except that as a population people with ASD are slightly dumber than those without ASD. It depends, I suppose, on how they define ‘average’ – for me, I take a pretty straight up mean/median approach, (the sample was 10 000) but maybe they decided that the top of the curve was actually a table top.

I see you, kurtosis, and I place a plate and some chips on top of you!

How good is science reporting? I mean, really. This shit is top drawer.

Depression and anxiety; The new racism

It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.

Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.

First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.

Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other directions since.

Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content.

Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.

Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.

Furedi often writes about this cultural turn but for me it was refreshing to hear someone validate what I myself have said so many times. In fact, I usually go one step further. I think we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.

Here’s the thing; All capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.

In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time.

Depression and anxiety is the new racism.

There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.

One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is a bad thing.

But I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I myself left school before School C(ertificate*), and hit university in my early 20s. I was hopelessly outgunned. But, after a year I worked it out and did rather well thankyouverymuch.

So I’m cautious about suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit.

I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.

 

 

*School Certificate and Bursary were the two main qualifications one could earn at school. Bursary (silly name, as it didn’t come with money) was roughly the same as HSC, undertaken at the end of Year 12. Only those planning to go to uni sat Bursary.

School C was the main qualification and you sat it at the end of Year 10. Can you imagine today’s year 10s sitting a series of exams at the end of the year? The stress! You’d be weeping into your chai latte.

 

My inner critic.

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Interesting or troubling? This article popped up on my facebook feed, recommended by an extremely caring, loving mother, who commented on the big responsibility she felt to make sure she didn’t nurture her child’s inner critic. She is a really, really fabulous Mum and to be honest I was a bit put out at the idea at her feeling this kind of pressure.

I’m wary of articles that suggest that caring, loving parents should constantly fret over ‘doing it wrong’.

The article itself even acknowledges this pressure – referencing the ‘Shitty Guilt Fairy’ before racking up a couple of lines of coke for the aforementioned fairy.

I’ve got some issues;

First; the author tells us that we shouldn’t tell our children off in a negative way. Here she is describing her daughter pretending to tell the adults off in a stern way,

I decided she must have picked it up from someone. But who? She spends most of her time with me and I know I don’t shout like that. I certainly don’t use that horrible inflection at the end of my sentences. Who the hell could she have picked it up from?

Then, in the car park of Pak n Save, she did that thing that I’ve asked her not to do a thousand times. That thing where she lets go of my hand and runs off. It scares the shit out of me for obvious reasons. Coupled with my fear is also my anger: she knows better than this. Our subsequent conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, you know not to run off in car parks. That really scared mummy!

Her: [eyes looking somewhere above the top of my head]

Me: You know you must hold my hand when we’re near cars!

Her: [eyes looking off to the right as she starts humming a little tune to herself.]

Me: What do I say about cars? You must hold my hand, okay?  OKAAAAAAY?!

Ugh. So that’s where she’s been getting it from. That’s one harsh penny dropping right there.

I don’t know about you, but I find hearing my own shitty communication mirrored right back at me through my angelic two year-old’s mouth particularly hard to swallow. I feel not just ashamed but also incredulous at how oblivious I was to it. I literally spent two weeks trying to work out who she’d modelled her behaviour from and I had ruled myself out almost instantly. I’m a conscious parent for God’s sake! I care about this stuff! I read parenting advice on communication! WTF?

The other particularly horrible thing is that I’ve had a successful career as a life coach for the last 12 years; I get paid to help people be happy. And there’s one major thing that makes all the difference to how happy someone is and it’s not about earning the highest income. It is our inner dialogue…

This inner dialogue eventually develops into your Inner Critic. You know, that little voice that beats you up, and says really unhelpful things to you like: Who do you think you are applying for that job? You suck at your job.  You’re a crap parent. You’re a lazy parent. You really screwed up today. It’s your fault your partner left you. I can’t believe you buggered that up again – idiot. Don’t be silly, why would they like you?

In summary, there are two main categories of feedback being played inside your head: Who do you think you are? And: You’re not good enough. If you pay attention to your Inner Critic for a while you will see this for yourself.

You can see how treating yourself this way has an erosive impact on your wellbeing and happiness and holds you back. Our aim in coaching is to transform the Inner Critic to Inner Coach. The Inner Coach is far from Pollyanna positive. We don’t want you going around giving yourself high-fives for making a sandwich, or looking in the mirror saying, “yeah, you shouted at your child – AWESOME!’ We want you to have a reasonable voice in there, a logical one, a kind one. You want to help yourself manage your life, make good decisions, and recover from adversity, be resilient. You want to learn from your mistakes and encourage yourself to grow. You want a reasonable, logical, truth-telling voice that helps you learn. You want to say: ‘Charlotte, that wasn’t your best parenting moment. I know you can make improvements.Why don’t we do it this other way tomorrow…?’

The question that everybody asks is why? Why does it evolve to become your inner critic, rather than your inner coach? Why does it evolve to be negative and not positive?

From my own experience and my work with clients, I subscribe mostly to theory that we model language from those around us and unfortunately some of those people weren’t or aren’t always kind. We learn to talk to ourselves in the same way we are talked to and around.

This last point means that we all do what my daughter did: we talk the way we got talked to. Our brains can’t help it – we have to learn language by modelling as there is no other way to do it. That same language eventually gets used to communicate to ourselves inside our head.

This means that way you talk to and around your children will become their inner dialogue.

So, saying, ‘No! Don’t run into the traffic!’ helps your child develop their inner critic, the voice that will eventually develop into ‘Hey, loser! Run into the traffic!’.

You know what? I’m not buying it. Almost everyone I know was brought up with ‘No! Don’t do that!’ usually promptly followed by; ‘Or you’ll get a smack’. As the Dunedin study tells us, almost all children of the 1970s were brought up with physical punishment – almost entirely gentle, but physical none-the-less. This goes hand in hand with the kind of ‘negative talk’ described above. As does life-long success.

Which brings me to the author, a ‘life coach’ whose experience is wrestling people’s ‘inner critics’ into submission. Life coaches do not deal with people who think they can solve their own problems. Now I don’t doubt she helps people, or feels that she does. However, I don’t think she can draw on her experiences with her clients as evidence of her theories.

There’s something else worrying here;

She tells her almost pre-verbal daughter that her actions caused Mummy to be scared.

Two year olds have enough trouble dealing with the concept that they have their own thoughts, feelings and sense of self. It’s a seriously big concept to deal with, and one that is at the heart of much tantrumming.

Telling a toddler they are not only responsible for their own actions, they are also responsible for Mummy’s feelings is pretty intense.

Apparently, during these ‘telling offs’ the author’s daughter looks above her head, and then off to one side, and then starts humming to herself. This is completely consistent with a kid who is too young for the pressure of being responsible for an adult’s feelings.

Mummy is very, very important. And now I’m making her scared. I need to modify my behaviour so she isn’t scared. But it’s really hard to modify my behaviour. I’m working on it, but man, IT’S HARD. Cos I’m TWO.

Hey toddler, it’s your fault if Mum goes tits up. No pressure, kiddo.

And then there’s your inner critic. It’s actually bloody great to have an inner critic. No, not an ‘inner coach’. An inner critic. Sure this critic can get out of hand. But it can also tell you things you don’t want to hear, but really, really fucking need to.

Your inner critic might enable you to work harder towards your goals. It might actually enable you to be more considerate of the other people in your life. Fear and anxiety isn’t necessarily limiting, it is usually motivating. Tenacity is the result of a robust debate with your inner critic.

We have turned to a world of wooly booly psycho-babble that places the individual at the very core in every facet of life. Personally I think this is an effective way of depoliticising people – (hey, pay attention to your personal world and nothing else) but that’s Cranky Mum for another day. It’s fashionable to endlessly mull over your personal ‘wellbeing’ – without considering the social factors that it is almost entirely comprised of.

And……This article is aimed at middle class mothers, who’re already at the pointy crescendo of Mummy-guilt. Hey, Mums, forget everything you know about mothering (from your own mother. FIRST THE GINGER CRUNCH, NOW THIS!), you must change how you speak to your child. Every single utterance must be monitored. No pressure!

AND…..The author tells us that telling your kid off is bad, but gives no alternatives. I mean really, aside from telling her toddler she’s scaring her, I thought her admonishment was completely fine; DO NOT BUGGER OFF IN THE CARPARK is pretty clear. There is, I know, a fashion for ‘no negative talk’ parenting, where children are never told no, in any way. They are discouraged from bad behaviour by distraction. Darling, I can see you really love the plasma cutter (validate their experience), but look at this! It’s tickle me Elmo! (distract child from imminent emasculation).

Of course, the no-negative-talk parents are usually middle class working parents, so by the time their child is two it’s likely they’re no longer the kid’s primary caregiver.

For many, many parents, especially the ones who read these kinds of articles (or indeed, might consult a life coach), they are not their kid’s primary caregiver. Many children spend most of their waking ours in a childcare setting,

“Here’s his organic snack box and filtered water. Now, we don’t tell Oliver ‘No’, as we’re nurturing his inner coach, not his inner critic”.  

Good luck with that. Kids learn ‘negative talk’ pretty smartly in a maxxed out daycare centre.

 

 

 

When the ABC does it too….

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.55.39 AM.pngEvery year or so Life Matters *discusses* preschool education for Australians. Yesterday we were treated to the wisdom of two experts, one of whom runs a preschool in Newcastle, and the other, an early childhood education researcher at Victoria University.

Australia sits near the bottom of relevant countries when it comes to GDP spending on pre-primary school aged children.

Industry experts say the number of years spent in early childhood education and care is a strong predictor of the level of performance reached at later stages, both in and out of school.

Naturally we were treated to frightening statistics. Well, one anyway. Did you know that children who attended preschool did twice as well in high school science? And did you also know that there’s almost no point in sending kids to preschool for just one day a week, they need to attend much more than that!

Let’s start with the claim that kids who go do preschool turn out better human beings. Here’s the thing, preschool costs money. Poor kids are less likely to go to preschool. Poor kids also do worse in high school generally. This obvious confounder was not even mentioned. Same goes for women in the workforce. Kids with working Mums tend to grow up and work themselves. Mum-key see, mum-key do.

Certainly, some studies show that children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend preschool do better at school than their peers who don’t, but this is probably because they’re getting access to an enriching environment instead of sitting front of the TV. Spending the day in jail in an underground Nepalese coal mine would most likely improve their performance, compared to staying at home.

No matter, though, that’s just research. BORING! We all know that preschool education is awesome for all kids! In fact, some countries have now decided to do away with parenting altogether and turn the whole thing into a profession that the state pays for. It worked with dentistry!

The message from Life Matters was unashamedly biased – Australia should provide access to preschool for all three and four year olds. It helps them with their literacy and numeracy when they reach school, and teaches them how to cope in a large group.

I could go on about the multiple ways this is bullshit, but I won’t. It is, after all, a shameless puff piece engaging in the worst kind of cherry-picking to appeal to its demographic – working, predominantly middle class women who want free, full time childcare. It’s telling that for all the talk of ‘preschool as education’, the head of the Newcastle centre still referred to it as ‘childcare’.

So here’s the other side of the story; children with an enriching home environment can and do thrive when they hit school. Moreover, many children find the noise, chaos and violence of a preschool setting troubling and exhausting. Have you ever been to a preschool? It’s like someone airdropped a shipping container of methamphetamine into the meercat enclosure. However, as with daycare, stressing the shit out of small children isn’t destined to get a whole lot of government sympathy and attention.

And this is because it’s the economy, stupid. There is no longer an option for anyone to stay at home with the kids, unless you’re part of the minuscule elite. Mum or Dad must now work. Grandparents who are well enough to look after children are actually in Tuscany/Rome/Portugal at the moment. And who can afford to rent a place in the same neighbourhood as a baby boomer anyway? What everyone could do with is a spot of free childcare. And so this is the line Life Matters is pushing.

I’m not anti-preschool. My kid went to preschool, for two years, before (public) school. In the first year (at age three) my kid attended one day a week. This was all we could afford. The following year we were a little better off financially, and started going two days a week. The kid did not cope at all and was a complete wreck. We quickly pulled it back to one day a week. Of course, I’m not suggesting our experience is generalisable – unlike the radio program that entreated listeners to call in with ‘their experiences’. Did you go to preschool? How has it worked out for you? Very scientific.

But seeing as you ask….I went to preschool – it was a community run playgroup thing. We didn’t have ‘early childhood educators’ – we had a bunch of Mums in track-pants not contributing to the tax base while we tried hard to set one another on fire. It was excellent. My later high school performance can be best summed up as abominable.

Perhaps I wasn’t ‘ready’ for the classroom – didn’t have my literacy and numeracy nailed, compared to my peers. Well, this is just a comparative measure – pretty meaningless. Who cares if you can’t read when you’re six? Steiner kids don’t even start to read until someone really needs to know what’s in a packet of Cheezels. Doesn’t seem to do them much harm. Or those home-school weirdos. They seem to do rather well, actually. In fact, there are heaps of kids who do rather well outside the mainstream, homogenising school system.

Again, we’re in the mainstream school system, and it’s bloody great – our experience with the public school education system is that it’s creative, engaging and bloody good fun. It does not need to start any earlier than five though.

 

500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones.  Then at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?

 

 

Dogma, Karma, bullshit

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-14-30-pmHow many times must I stab the radio this summer?

In today’s ABC ‘Documentary Piece’ about Roald Dahl, we hear of a young woman’s literary love affair with the author who shaped her childhood. Dahl, she tells us, with excruciatingly ponderous pace, made her into the writer she is today.

But wait, there’s a twist! There is a Dark Side to Roald Dahl, a side so horrible that one can barely bring oneself to look into it, lest their childhood be tapped open like a festering egg!

Tell me more!

Well, apparently Roald Dahl was an adulterer. And, he once called his daughter a bitch for confronting him on it. There’s more. Dahl once remarked that he’d rather be dead than fat (he’s as evil as Kate Moss! Shuffle over, Hitler and stop hogging the blanket!). It gets worse, folks. Dahl was a racist. His oompah loompahs were originally cast as African pygmies, and he ruminated on the character flaws of the Jewish people. Why, he wondered, had they attracted such perverse persecution? Sure, Hitler was a prize bumpfswiggle but in Dahl’s view the Jews had partly brought their fate upon themselves.

The radio narrator/writer weeps and wails over their gravity and depth of these failings…. Oh my God, how could I have loved this guy? How could I have read his books? WHAT A MONSTER! I can’t believe I was somehow complicit in his vile world!

After about thirty hours of this self-righteous, hyperbolic panto routine I turned it off.

When I was 8 my Dad showed me some film footage of Jews being pushed into pits. It is still the most distressing thing I’ve seen in my life and remains securely fastened in a repertoire of lively nightmares. I’ve since questioned my father’s judgement, but I’ll never forget his words;

If you had grown up in a family of Nazis, you would believe this was right too.

Dad wanted me to think about judgement, about the relativism of right and wrong. He wanted me to think hard about the social conventions that I was growing up in. (I’m making him sound like a morally righteous demi-God – he isn’t, he’s just a person like everyone else. A person who should have looked into a bit more Disney).

And so when I hear blind judgement, without consideration of context, background, politics, family, gender or class I get nervous. Because this is truly frightening. This is the blueprint of unblinking dogmatism. And unblinking dogmatism gets you front row seats at the pit.

Simply stating ‘Dahl was a monster’ demonstrates a troubling fixity of thought, something far darker than his supposed ‘dark side’. What is really, truly frightening, is cultivating the lack of insight that allows us to come to grips with what people are thinking and feeling, to think critically about the cultural patterns, tropes and values that are in ascendence at any one time. The Holocaust can’t be understood with the idea that there were just a few more shittier human beans in the can. Dahl’s story tells us that intelligent, well-connected people, loving fathers and mothers can come to hold dreadfully dangerous ideas. We are all ‘monsters’. We need to think hard about how that happens.

Dahl was a product of multiple moments in time, of the family he grew up in, the British class-constrained school he attended, the war he fought, the Africa he experienced and the women he disgraced himself with.

Dahl was a human bean. Like the rest of us.