An academic paper by a group of child psychologists caused a stir earlier this week. ‘Helicopter parenting is bad for children,’ was how the Times reported it, and other news outlets summarised it in the same way. Here was proof, apparently, that wrapping your children in cotton wool and limiting their exposure to risk is bad for their emotional development and can lead to problems at school, as well as difficulties in later life.
A few years ago, when I was in the first flush of fatherhood, I would have leapt on this study as confirmation that my laissez-faire attitude to parenting was more effective than the more hands-on approach of my peers. Indeed, I have written columns in the past praising parents who leave children to their own devices and criticising schools for protecting them from failure. I’m a big fan of The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and am constantly hurling my children up rock faces and telling them not to be so wet when they get stuck. (To read more, click here.)
According to a new study published by some feminist academics at the Australian National University, women risk damaging their health if they work more than 34 hours a week. That’s not because women are the weaker sex, obviously, but because they do more housework and childcare than men, effectively working just as hard but dividing their labour between the office and home. On the back of this, the report’s authors have called for women to be paid the same for working a 34-hour week as men are for a 47-hour week. Until this happens, according to the researchers, women are being forced to choose between their health and gender equality.
On the face of it, this proposal is bonkers. Think of all the small firms — and even some quite large ones — that would go out of business if they had to reduce the number of hours their female employees work without reducing their salaries. And presumably this would be on top of maternity pay. Gender equality is one thing, but under this proposal women would be paid 38.5 per cent more per hour than men.
But then I began to think about it from a purely selfish point of view and realised there might be something to be said for it. (To read more click here, or to read a piece for the Mail on Sunday about becoming a househusband click here.)
In today's Independent, Amrou Al-Kadhi defends Penguin Random House’s new diversity policy by appealing to aesthetic relativism — no such thing as literary merit, therefore publishers should judge manuscripts according to whether they promote inclusion. (To read more, click here.)
My heart goes out to Owen Jones. The left-wing journalist is one of the headliners at a Labour party fund-raiser scheduled for next Saturday and, at the time of writing, 85 per cent of tickets remain unsold. It is particularly embarrassing for Jones, given that Rod Liddle managed to sell out the London Palladium last month.
As someone who has struggled to attract audiences to these sorts of things in the past, I have a few tips for Owen. First of all, don’t give tickets away, because those who have already bought them will ask for their money back. Unfortunately, that horse has already bolted in Owen’s case. Labour has sent thousands of emails to party members offering them free tickets, as well as free coach travel there and back, which hasn’t gone down well with those who have shelled out £35. One Twitter account, describing itself as ‘Socialist Workers in Europe’, has already demanded a refund. As the Tory councillor Stephen Canning quipped, ‘Glad to be in agreement with Socialist Workers that it’s just terrible when some people get things for free that other people had to work hard for.’ (To read more, click here.)
I am currently in Brittany with the family, having made the 11-hour drive from London on Monday. It sounds like quite a lot of effort for a few days’ holiday, but my friend Wendy Steavenson invited us to stay and that so rarely happens when you’ve got four children that we felt we couldn’t turn her down. No doubt Wendy will regret this after 24 hours, as nearly all our previous hosts have.
The journey wasn’t as much of an ordeal as it sounds since Caroline did the driving and I sat in the back and read Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. It’s a highly readable, 351-page polemical essay about the ‘miracle’ that is capitalist liberal democracy, pointing out that its survival depends upon resisting the lure of various anti-modern, romantic ideologies and remaining true to the values of the enlightenment. He’s particularly concerned about the rise of the neo-Marxist intersectionality cult that is spreading its poisonous, anti-western dogma through our most important institutions. I found the whole thing utterly convincing.
Just before this trip I bought a second-hand car, an experience that can test the faith of even the most fervent capitalist. On the one hand, the safety, reliability and affordability of modern automobiles is a great argument in favour of the free market — just compare the cars manufactured in the capitalist West with those produced in Russia and eastern Europe before 1989. (To read more, click here.)
According to a report issued yesterday by the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research, the government’s free schools policy is little short of a disaster. At least, that is the impression given by the press release, which begins: “Free schools are failing . . . ” But if you bother to read the report, you come away with a very different impression.
For instance, the researchers compared the progress and attainment of pupils in secondary free schools with that of a matched group of children with similar characteristics at other types of school and found that the former were outperforming the latter on almost every measure.
The authors of the report claim that the rationale for the policy when it was first rolled out was to promote innovation and encourage parents to set up schools. They then claim the policy has failed because only a third of free schools are innovative and only a fifth of those that have opened since 2015 are parent-led.
But those were secondary justifications. The main rationale, the one repeated by Michael Gove ad infinitum, was that free schools would raise standards, particularly for the most disadvantaged. And according to this report, they have done precisely that. (To read more, click here.)
As a conservative, I wasn’t sure what to make of the news that the BBC was adapting A Very English Scandal, John Preston’s entertaining account of the Jeremy Thorpe affair. On the one hand, it’s easy to depict Thorpe, the son of a Tory MP and an old Etonian, as a ruling class villain. Would the BBC turn his story into yet another ‘bash the rich’ tragi-comedy in the same vein as The Riot Club, a piece of left-wing agitprop in which members of the Bullingdon Club conspire to commit murder? When I heard Hugh Grant had been cast as Thorpe that confirmed my suspicions. At one stage, Grant had cornered the market in making posh British men seem sympathetic and self-deprecating, but he has ditched that act and acquired a second wind by portraying them as sulphurous and self-seeking.
But on the other hand, Thorpe was the leader of the Liberal party and campaigned for a number of causes dear to the hearts of cosmopolitan progressives — against capital punishment, in favour of unrestricted immigration — and was a bug-eyed evangelist for the EU. How would the BBC and the right-on scriptwriter it had hired to adapt it — Russell T. Davies — not to mention the director Stephen Frears, a self-confessed member of the metropolitan elite, cope with these contradictions? (To read more, click here.)
A fascinating paper about sex differences in the human brain was published last week in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex. It’s the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain ever undertaken, involving over 5,000 participants (2,466 male and 2,750 female). The study has been attracting attention for more than a year (see this preview in Science, for instance), but only now has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For those who believe that gender is a social construct, and there are no differences between men and women’s brains, this paper is something of a reality check. The team of researchers from Edinburgh University, led by Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters, found that men’s brains are generally larger in volume and surface area, while women’s brains, on average, have thicker cortices. ‘The differences were substantial: in some cases, such as total brain volume, more than a standard deviation,’ they write. This is not a new finding – it has been known for some time that the total volume of men’s brains is, in general, larger than that of women’s, even when adjusted for men’s larger average body size – but all the studies before now have involved much smaller sample sizes.
Does this paper have any implications when it comes to men and women’s intellectual abilities? The answer is yes, but they’re not clear cut. (To read more, click here.)
I created a Twitter thread about the latest Oxford admissions statistics here. Bottom line: there is no institutional bias against black British applicants or applicants from any other disadvantaged groups.