Possibly the worst argument I have ever read


My Twitter feed lit up at the start of last week. There is a blogger in Geneva or somewhere who is big into identity politics, writes blogs that he calls ‘essays’ and complains about ’emotional labour’ if challenged. I blocked him a while back because he decided he was going to ‘hound’ researchED Canada. ResearchED is a fine organisation that I am proud to be associated with.

Anyway, it seems that some educational progressivists have decided that he is their new brain. One of these has got a gig with the UK trade magazine, Schools Week, writing blog reviews, and she decided to share one of these essays.

People on Twitter alerted me to the fact that the contents of this essay are pretty offensive. It accuses me of being a ‘neoconservative reactionary’ and claims that other bloggers have directly appropriated the language of the alt-right. In other words, it deploys a fancy-sounding, politicised form of ad hominem. I took this up with Schools Week but they essentially couldn’t care less and took no responsibility for the contents of the blog review. I don’t know what I expected, to be honest.

However, I now found myself reading the whole of the essay and it contains possibly the worst argument I have ever read.

The subject is school shaming. This is the process where a tabloid newspaper, or latterly a education consultant on Twitter, picks on an aspect of a named school’s approach and whips up a social media mob. Maybe the school has introduced silent lesson transitions or has insisted on students adhering to its uniform policy.

I am against school shaming because it invariably descends into claims that members of the school are Nazis and various other forms of personal attack. Often, schools will be contacted for days and weeks by trolls. @oldandrewuk has documented examples of this. One aspect that makes these claims particularly unfair is that they often involve allegations made by parents or students that the school cannot respond to for reasons of confidentiality. The school’s version of events is left unheard.

There is a valid argument in favour of school shaming that points to schools being in receipt of public money and suggests they should therefore be accountable in this way. I don’t think the negatives are worth this kind of capricious, mob-driven accountability, but if I were on the other side of the debate then that is the argument I would be advancing.

However, this is not the argument in the essay. Instead, we are informed that schools cannot be shamed because a school is a building and buildings can’t feel shame.

Yes, that’s right. That’s the argument.

If this were true, then a child who says, “I love my school” or “I hate my school” would be passing comment on the state of the corridors and playground facilities¬†and nothing else. Clearly, a school is a community made-up of people and their myriad interactions. Headteachers and senior leaders endure vicious personal attacks in school shaming incidents, and it is likely that teachers and students feel an associated stigma. An attack on a school is an attack on a community set-up for the advancement of young people. The bricks and cement have little to do with it.

The progressivist school shamers are going to need a new brain.

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5 thoughts on “Possibly the worst argument I have ever read

  1. Yep. I believe they refer to it as a category error. By taking the word school so literally that it just means buildings they can justify this argument. Once again we see it pays to make sure we define the terms we are using. But it gets a bit silly when you have to define every single word!

    1. No it is worse than a category error. You have to make up your own definition for the word school to mean the buildings. Typical definitions of school use the term institution or organization. Hence we have things such as a school house or school buildings.

      Further, The problem is worse than just choosing to use the word school to mean something different to everyone else. To make this argument you have to be saying that the person complaining about school shaming can only be using it in this new an unusual way instead of the obvious common usage.

      This is literally how newspeak works. People who do this are a sadder problem than anyone they are complaining about.

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