Sunday, January 15, 2017

Brexit rejected Blair's utopian vision

'A new age is dawning, is it not?' These were the words of Tony Blair after his landslide election victory in 1997. They were meant to usher in a period of 'friendly' capitalism, unconstrained by the astronomical and punitive levels of personal taxation beloved of previous Labour governments, but ultimately altruistic and caring when it came to protecting society's most vulnerable. Bankers, traders and entrepreneurs of every hue would be free to let rip, get filthy rich and, in doing so, help finance public service reform.

In reality, though, not only did these words inaugurate a shameful period, characterised by stealth taxes as the government deceived the voters and refused to admit to the contradictory nature of its message; they were also and more importantly the starting gun for an aggressive, intolerant, insidious and mendaciously executed assault upon the very foundations of our national identity. Mass immigration was encouraged, multiculturalism promoted, and anyone who objected to the truly radical changes being forced upon their communities was denounced as a bigot, a racist and a xenophobe. Remember Gillian Duffy?

This latter point is of most concern here. Brexit was a rejection of Blair's internationalist vision in which borders and nations no longer exist. It has indeed uncovered a new political battleground, inadvertently crafted by the master of spin himself.  The old left-right divide, based upon the size of the state and reflected by our political parties, still exists, of course, but its remaining, much reduced importance is mainly predicated upon habit and brand loyalty, which is diminishing by the day. In short, our existing political parties are anachronisms that no longer reflect voters' concerns. Due to Blair's disastrous assault upon Britishness, people are now and understandably exercised more by threats to the survival of our culture and national identity than the level of taxation. A new age has certainly dawned.

But anti-Corbyn Labourites (and, in particular, Blairites like Tristram Hunt, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central who resigned last week, exasperated by the current leader's open contempt for Blair's beloved centrism, and still kidding himself that elections are won on the centre ground) seem to think, rather astonishingly, that if only a Blairite could take the reins, everything would be okay, the nightmare would be over, Labour would be back in Downing Street quicker than an undergraduate can accuse a middle-aged white man of being a tory supporting, safe space desecrating, racist, misogynistic scumbag. And that's pretty quick. Tony Blair even wants to make a comeback, seemingly unaware of the Leave vote's message. It was a great big collective raspberry blown at the ex-Labour leader's vision and worldview.

He really is, along with his fellow travellers, deluding himself. Labour centrists are now as unelectable as Jeremy Corbyn. They just don't seem to get it.

As Brexit exposed, the public is now split between a minority of internationalists who believe in uncontrolled migration, multiculturalism, open borders and the death of the nation state, and the patriotic majority who still cling to notions of nationhood, loyalty and shared identity. Recently, after years of bullying by the former, the latter has struck back. They have finally spoken and been heard. The nation does still matter, they said.

Both the Corbynistas and the Blairites - once seduced and, in Corbyn's case, still possessed by Marxist utopian aspirations - have naively embraced and pushed the country towards a romantic and delusional vision of a post-nation-state world in which war is abolished and different peoples and cultures, all equally valid and valued, co-exist peacefully. This is a nonsense promulgated by dreamers.

It's also the reason why both factions are unelectable. The public has at last seen through the lies and pretensions and woken up to their real intentions.

So where does this leave the Tory party? Well, Theresa May has rightly promised to honour the referendum result and seems to understand and accept the new mood of the country. But her parliamentary colleagues remain a concern. Indeed, the majority of our parliamentarians, even Tory ones, either explicitly or tacitly support Blair's vision. This is a democratic problem that needs to be urgently addressed. Voters are currently unrepresented.

With its rich history, having been home to the likes of Thatcher and Churchill, the Conservative party is perhaps best placed to reinvent itself as the patriotic political representative of post-Brexit Britain. It needs to encourage integration, reject multiculturalism in practice as well as theory, and control immigration. But to do that, many of its 'heirs to Blair' have to go, especially the ones who still refuse to accept the public's vote last year. They don't belong in a modern, unapologetically patriotic, post-Brexit Conservative party.

If the party doesn't embrace change and re-invent itself, it, like Labour - both Old and New -, will face extinction. A re-alignment in British politics is now inevitable. Whether any of the established parties survive the upheaval is very much open to question.

'The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again.' It wasn't Brexit that shook the kaleidoscope, but the venal utterer of these words - Tony Blair himself.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Obama’s foreign policy closes on a typically low note

Let’s face it: Obama just wasn’t cut out to be the leader of the free world.
First he jetted around the globe and apologised to all and sundry for his country’s previous and myriad misdeeds, by making sententious speeches and highfalutin gestures that amounted to nothing less than America’s humiliating retreat from the international stage.
The era of Pax Americana was declared over in a series of beautifully delivered, high-sounding speeches that, in reality, ushered in an eight-year period of Russian expansionism and Middle-Eastern anarchy. He might make a good speech, but he’s been a disaster, most notably in terms of US foreign policy.
Even his embarrassing intervention in our domestic squabble over EU membership was a cock-up. Just like the Russians and Syrians, we ignored the incompetent numpty.
This brings me to the civil rights lawyer’s latest forays into the realm of international relations. Today he’s been ignored by Vlad the Impaler of House Russia after expelling 35 Russian diplomats over their involvement in attempting to influence the outcome of this year’s presidential election.
Barack is upset. Very upset. The trouble is, nobody cares, least of all Vlad, who decided to dispense with convention and retaliate by inviting all US diplomats and their families to a New Year’s Eve bash at the Kremlin.
Obama’s going. And no matter how many times he implies that he could’ve won a third term in office, if only given the chance by his country’s outdated constitution, he ain’t comin’ back.
Mind you, even if he were to somehow circumvent the Constitution and affirm his pretentions as the chosen one, I’d very much doubt if Vlad’d care. To paraphrase Brian Clough, the man floats like a butterfly and stings like one. He looks the part and certainly talks a good game, but plays the international stage with all the innocuousness of a hot air balloon.
I must be honest: I’m also slightly confused by these Russian developments, and can’t help but doubt their veracity. It seems like a final, last ditch attempt by the sour-faced losers of the liberal-left and Democratic party, led by their outgoing, anointed messiah, to delegitimise Trump’s victory.
Their tactics have been so outlandish, desperate, anti-democratic and extreme so far, along with their anti-Brexit counterparts here in Britain, that I’d put nothing past them, I really wouldn’t, even if it means damaging America’s reputation and strategic position.
Obama hasn’t really done much to burnish his pro-American credentials thus far in his eight-year tenure, after all. So why would he start now?
To add insult to an injurious foreign policy, his Secretary of State has now publicly excoriated Israel’s government for being the most right-wing in history.
That’s correct: he hasn’t criticised Saudi Arabia for sponsoring terrorists; nor has he berated Iran for supporting Hezbollah and other extremist, destabilising Shia radicals in Iraq and Syria; no, his boss apologised to them during his first speech in Egypt back in 2009.
Instead he attacked America’s one true ally in the region. You couldn’t make it up.
Kerry’s attack on Israel is indeed totemic. It neatly sums up Obama’s approach to foreign policy. Abandon your friends; apologise to your enemies; self-flagellate; talk incessantly, but, ultimately, do nothing. Barack, nobody’s listening anymore.
First published on ConservativeHome on 31st December 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Introduction


Michael Wilshaw, during his tenure as the Chief Inspector of Schools, pointed out that too many teachers have alarmingly low expectations when it comes to their most underprivileged pupils. Apparently, according to Ofsted’s uncompromising Don, many of our educational institutions are betraying our most socially and economically deprived children by tolerating bad behaviour and with it, underachievement. He bravely and unrelentingly challenged the ‘mediocrity and failure’ so depressingly prevalent in Britain’s schools.

I represent that rarest of endangered species: a teacher willing to speak out for the ex-Chief Inspector and against the prevailing educational orthodoxy responsible for these failings; but in doing so, I run the risk of committing professional suicide. As a consequence, and to my everlasting regret, I have decided to use a pseudonym in an effort to conceal my identity. That I feel forced to remain anonymous is indicative of the Stalinist fear that exists in the collective consciousness of the teaching profession. In short, any form of dissent, any dissenter, is purged from the profession. Speaking out has indeed never been more dangerous, but, in my opinion, and more importantly, it has never been more necessary.

I have spent most of my 13-year career working in a failing school - plagued with behavioural problems, poorly managed and infected with a culture that actively encouraged failure. Of course, these interrelated causal factors, as in other such schools, invariably led to poor examination results. Yet instead of the school addressing the first two – poor behaviour and poor management – in an effort to improve our headline figures, it attempted, with some success, to manipulate performance indicators by coercing pupils into choosing easier courses (usually BTECs) and effectively cheating – the Senior Leadership Team often railroaded staff into passing pupils that had clearly failed. (This is something, incidentally, that has become harder thanks to Michael Gove's long overdue reforms.) 

This manipulation and malpractice, though, couldn’t mask the school’s obvious failings when it came to pupils achieving 5A*-Cs including English and maths, not to mention the failure of our pupils to secure the English Baccalaureate. When you included these ‘real’ performance indicators, our results remained woefully poor.

Parents are not stupid. They recognised the school’s myriad failings, its crude attempts to cover them up and voted with their feet. The school’s population fell dramatically from over 800 when I started back in 2004 to 450 by the time I left in the summer of 2015. This created a self-perpetuating cycle that spiralled downwards. Informed parents sent their enthusiastic and well-motivated kids elsewhere, often leaving us with the most dysfunctional families and sociopathic children. These pupils were way below the national average in terms of ability, and some were beset with behavioural problems and tormented by the consequences of family breakdown. Not a good recipe for success. Every year our intake not only got smaller, but progressively less able, rendering our chances of improvement that much slimmer.

It must be added that notwithstanding the above, many of our pupils had great potential, and most, at least initially, did not engage in bad behaviour, despite their challenging backgrounds and familial circumstances. However, unfortunately, the ethos at the school fostered confusion, evoked feelings of resentment and cultivated an environment that, as a consequence, encouraged poor behaviour. This isn’t a criticism of the teaching staff, but of the management. It was the culture that needed to change and this came directly from the board of governors and, in particular, our Senior Leadership Team (SLT).

In short, Children that needed, more than most, clear boundaries supported by robust systems, had neither. Our pupils, good and bad, quite understandably had little faith in the school’s rules. Opaque, nebulous systems (the result of badly written policies) meant that choosing an appropriate punishment for a specific transgression was solely the domain of the individual member of staff, bereft of a clear behavioural policy to refer to. Indeed, this ‘privatisation’ of school policy led to inconsistency and confusion for pupils and staff alike. Each teacher dispensed the sanction they felt appropriate, some harsh, some lenient.

In contrast, successful schools with robust systems have specific sanctions, codified in transparent behavioural policies, for specific transgressions. There is no inconsistency. If a pupil sprays graffiti on the toilet wall, he knows the punishment to expect. If he has consistently failed to live up to classroom expectations, he knows the consequences. Of course there will always be a degree of inconsistency in the classroom, every teacher is different. But an over-arching code of conduct, supported by strong, equitable sanctions if broken, is essential for raising standards, both behavioural and academic. Alas, this was our greatest failing, and it was compounded by an ideological commitment amongst our SLT to a misguided moral relativism that confused things further.

Every pupil that broke a rule was treated uniquely and subjected to a personalised sanction. For example, if a child-in-care stole a mobile phone his or her punishment would be less severe than a child from a stable home who committed the same offence. In other words, the punishment was relative to the child’s socioeconomic and cultural circumstance. Again, this created confusion. The kids had no idea what they could and couldn’t get away with because decisions were arbitrary and lacked systematic reasoning. It was also morally reprehensible and, in my opinion, unjustifiable to effectively apply different rules to different pupils. The children were intelligent enough to know that some were being treated with more leniency than others; some were getting more chances and were being given more time when it came to staffing, all because of their respective backgrounds.

It smacked of favouritism and elicited a perverse response. The well behaved pupils, even those fortunate enough to be brought up in more benign socioeconomic circumstances, came to the logical conclusion that it didn't pay to be good. The bad kids were getting special treatment. They thought, exasperatedly, ‘Why should we follow the rules when others don’t with impunity?’ So instead of one or two unruly pupils in each class (something to be expected), there were ten, perhaps even fifteen. The majority created by us.

Perhaps even more damaging was our SLT’s dogmatic Rousseauian belief in the infallibility of children and the corrupting influence of adults on their development. As a consequence, there was an open hostility towards any clear expression of adult authority. Punishments were frowned upon - even the word ‘punishment’ was banished from the school lexicon, along with ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’ and any other terms seen as detrimental to a child’s fragile self-esteem - and teacher-talk, being a method that implies expertise and authority, was prohibited in favour of ‘independent learning’, through which children would become less reliant on the teacher - tellingly renamed a ‘facilitator of learning’ – and more inclined to discover things for themselves.

This shameful sequence added up to nothing less than a grotesque abdication of responsibility. We were failing in our historic duty to teach children about the world, including the moral principles that underpin civil society. Anarchy, amorality and ignorance were allowed to germinate and the life chances of thousands of children were being squandered.

So why did you stay there for so long? I hear you ask. Well, I genuinely enjoyed teaching some wonderfully quirky kids. Initially, though, back in 2004, after an intense and unforgiving introduction to the profession as an unqualified teacher, I was simply surviving. I was aware that something wasn’t quite right, but felt too disorientated by the madness to understand what it was. Why were children threatening me on a daily basis? Why was my boss doing nothing about it? It was a confusing time but I was young, keen, optimistic and determined to master my new craft.

As an incidental result, I became quite reliant on, even in awe of, the senior leaders who were, as I was later to discover, the ones allowing and even encouraging the children to abuse me. I listened to and acted upon their advice on how to plan and deliver ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ lessons full of group activities and games. Apparently this was going to stop the kids swearing at me.

And although things did improve as the year progressed - I even managed to qualify the following year - the daily abuse continued, albeit on a smaller, more manageable scale.

As the years passed and I emerged from a state of disoriented ignorance - gradually beginning to realise why our pupils were failing so miserably - I became stubbornly and idealistically determined to launch a one-man crusade against the progressive forces responsible. I suppose I became a bit of a thorn in the collective side of my senior leaders, forever questioning and challenging their methods and beliefs. When a pupil was allowed back into school after threatening to stab a colleague, for example, I objected; when another was caught and only lightly reprimanded for stealing and terrorizing some of our Year 7 kids, I protested; when they blamed our lessons for disruptive behaviour, I openly expressed my disapproval. I rather naively felt that my presence was needed. I thought I could make a difference.

I also had some fantastic colleagues, who, through adversity, became and still remain very good friends. If I’m being wholeheartedly honest, too, inertia also played a large part - along with a reasonably good salary and long holidays - in my decision to stay in such a toxic environment, an environment that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would eventually have a devastating impact on my physical and psychological health.

In 2014 I suffered an attack of Atrial Fibrillation – an erratic and irregular heart rate brought on, according to the doctors, by work-induced stress and anxiety. This led to a nervous breakdown and several weeks’ absence.   

Shortly after my return, I was made redundant, ostensibly due to our falling roll and the school’s consequential need to reorganise. In reality, my illness had rendered me superfluous and my outspokenness, eminently expendable. It was a cruel decision somewhat cushioned by a realisation: I had the opportunity to move on to newer, greener pastures.

Reluctant to commit to another permanent position, though– the last thing I wanted to do was jump out of the frying pan and into the fire - I decided to try my hand at supply work in a bid to find my Arcadia - or, more to the point, a suitable position in a nice school with a sensible head teacher. This was a more difficult challenge than I’d imagined. I had several disastrous placements until finally, I found a girls’ school in which the kids weren’t, astonishingly, throwing chairs at one another. They were both intelligent and hard-working, or so they seemed.

But after several months - and after accepting a permanent position there -, I discovered that, although less overtly aggressive, their behaviour was in many ways worse than anything I’d previously experienced. Many were cunning mischief-makers who fully exploited our head’s naivety and contemptible willingness to undermine her staff. Whereas before I had tables and chairs being thrown at me, I now had disturbing accusations of professional misconduct. All things considered, I think I preferred the former.

After 13 years in the profession, I have finally reached the sad conclusion that teachers - at the hands of a generation of child-worshipping senior leaders - are the unfortunate victims of horrendous and scandalous levels of abuse that would make even the most uncaring and self-interested Victorian factory owner wince in distress. My Arcadia simply doesn’t exist.

This blog, through my own experiences, is determined to give teachers a voice, and, in doing so, improve the lives and opportunities available to our children, who’ve been cruelly misled and betrayed by the myriad overpaid halfwits at Ofsted, the teaching unions, in government and most importantly, at the very top of our schools.

It will necessarily touch upon the practical impact of government policies, offer some informed advice to our politicians and issue a simple yet stark warning: the reforms aren’t working. Any improvements have indeed been made by flogging teachers to death, sometimes literally. That’s why there is a retention crisis. That's why so many teachers are cruelly struck down with mental illness.

Let's take the case of Laurian Bold's tragic suicide as a stark warning - as a call to action! According to the coroner and her family, the school literally worked this selfless young science teacher to death.



This blog is a wake up call! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My colleagues oppose Brexit, hate free speech and spread fear among our foreign pupils

It is Friday 24th June. As I squeeze into the overcrowded train carriage with the rest of the oxygen-starved commuters, I contemplate how I can approach my colleagues after voting for Brexit yesterday. They’re all Remainers. How can I possibly tell them that we’re leaving the EU because of me? I’ll be lynched.

I decide to keep schtum and, if challenged, and if faced with a blood-thirsty Remainer looking to exact revenge, I’ll tell a big fat porky. I’m going to be an indignant Remainer from now on, whingeing and whining about the ghastly, xenophobic, racist little-Englanders who’ve finally got their way.

Walking into our faculty office, I see a young colleague crying. She is distraught and inconsolable about the result. She’s been a fully signed up member of Project Fear from the beginning of the campaign, forever wailing and railing against evil Brexiteers and their fascistic Daily Mail-reading supporters who inhabit the darker corners of our society. She has spent the last few months publicising her beliefs to anyone who’ll listen, including, of course, her most attentive and easily manipulated listeners – our pupils. I ask if she’s okay before slinking off to my classroom. The schadenfreude evoked is hard to resist.

My first lesson is interesting and worrying in equal measure. The kids can’t stop talking about it and, being mostly first and second generation migrants of Asian extraction, generally feel certain that it’s going to lead to pogroms and deportations. Astonishingly, they’ve been led to believe that those who voted out are genocidal neo-Nazis. I do my best to reassure them without exposing my preference for leaving the European Union.

Their misapprehension doesn’t altogether surprise me, though. Many of my colleagues have spent the last few months openly claiming that the only thing standing between immigrants and the baying, xenophobic British hordes is the EU. As an appendage to Project Fear, it’s clearly done the trick. In a school referendum organised to replicate the real thing, over 70 per cent of our pupils voted to remain inside the European Union.

I later hear about another colleague who has burst into tears, this time in front of her class. There are reports of pupils doing the same. It is pandemonium. They think it’s the end of the world.

At lunchtime, curiosity gets the better of me so I decide to eat in the faculty office. The fury of my colleagues is palpable. I agree, albeit in a subdued and unenthusiastic way, with everything said. It is easier that way, and, more to the point, I remember only too well from past experience how alternative views are received. They are neither welcomed nor permitted, particularly whilst caring internationalists are in mourning.

In amongst the sound and fury is another, male colleague, quietly marking books. He is a young, podgy, gregarious character who usually orchestrates our lunchtime chats. On this occasion, though, he is mute. As the bell goes and everyone eventually disperses, I give him a wink and whisper, ‘You voted out, didn’t you?’ He grins and nods his head. ‘So did I,’ I say. ‘It’s our fault.’ We both chuckle like two naughty schoolkids before heading back to our lessons.

The irony of all this is, of course, that many voted for Brexit because of this suffocating, unrelenting, need-to-conform-lest-you-upset-the-thought-police bullying that is so prevalent, not just in our schools – though they are certainly an extreme manifestation – but across the whole country.

Keeping up politically correct appearances has indeed become exhausting, stressful and all-consuming. I really don’t know what I can and can’t say. This, I think, is compounded by the age of my colleagues. As older teachers have left the profession, exhausted and demoralised by the overwhelming workload and woeful pupil behaviour condoned by inept head teachers, NQTs in their early twenties have replaced them. This is Generation Snowflake – the ruthless no-platformers with an aversion to free speech and representative democracy; these are the cry-babies devastated by the referendum result, the cry-babies teaching – no brainwashing – our children.

Last week, during what should have been a relaxed, lunchtime conversation with one of them, we got onto the subject of women’s boxing. I said, quite innocuously, or so I thought, that although I support their right to do it, I don’t really enjoy watching women hit each other. You can probably guess what happened next: she pounced on me, calling me a misogynist, saying that I shouldn’t be teaching children and expressing her inability to work with a male, sexist reactionary like myself.

The irony was too delicious to ignore. ‘So you want me to say that I love to watch women beat the crap out of each other, instead?’ I asked.


Seriously: these are the unhinged lunatics who teach our kids; these are the people spreading misapprehension and fear among our pupils. They think they’re going to be deported, for heaven’s sake. That’s just cruelty dressed up as moral outrage by imbeciles desperate to publicise their own virtue. It’s also a lie. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Our head is actively encouraging our pupils to lie and make false allegations against their teachers.

Our school motto is 'no excuses'. Could this be a sign of the head teacher's devilish sense of humour or a demonstration of her crass stupidity?

Surely a more accurate motto would be 'look for excuses but, if you can't find any, make some up, or, failing that, and as a last, desperate resort, falsely accuse your teacher of misconduct'. I know: a bit wordy, but you get my point.

In a desperate bid to find excuses for bad behaviour, our head is actively encouraging our pupils to lie and make false allegations against their teachers.

Just last week a pupil falsely accused me of blaming her parents for her rude behaviour, even though I've never even met them. This, apparently, I did several weeks previously and was why she subsequently adorned her workbook with graffiti, put little effort into her assessment and continued to lay on the table, roll her eyes and put her feet on the chairs. In short, her recent spate of appalling behaviour is all my fault. I cruelly and unprofessionally accused her parents of bad parenting.

After receiving a 15 minute detention from me, she immediately went to one of our assistant heads and lodged a complaint. His response: to set up a restorative meeting in an effort to repair our relationship. During the meeting, she repeated the allegation. I insisted that we could not move forward and continue with a process that requires goodwill and honesty until she retracted her allegation, an allegation that besmirched my character and brought my professional conduct into question. For his part, the senior leader arbitrating refused to even question the veracity of her statement. When did this happen? Who was present? Why didn't you report it at the time? These were questions that, at the very least, would've demonstrated the seriousness of her claims. I couldn't believe his dismissive insouciance and wondered, had the boot been on the other foot, and had he been the one accused of professional misconduct, if he'd be quite so relaxed about it.

Faced with an impasse, he terminated the meeting before blaming my obstinacy for its failure. 'If left unchallenged,' I said, 'she won't realise the seriousness of her actions. She'll become emboldened and do it again. Others will follow. Soon we'll have a culture where false allegations are commonplace and teachers, scared to be on the receiving end, dare not enforce the school's rules. Is that what you want?' I asked. I have a feeling that the horse has already bolted.

The next day i was called into the head teacher's office. Her deputy sat impassively beside her. They asked if the allegation was true before insisting that, hypothetically speaking of course, if a member of staff was to blame a pupil's parents for her misbehaviour, no matter how bad, there would be no place for them at this school. 'Indeed, that's why i am taking it so seriously,' I said.

They didn't seem to want to dwell on the child's behaviour, though. It was mine that seemed to preoccupy them. They brought out what they obviously believed was a smoking gun - her workbook. In it I had written that she was 'being a bit lazy' and was 'capable of so much better'. This, apparently, according to our deputy head teacher-turned-child-psychologist, is the reason why she made an unfounded allegation. My language was too harsh. I need to be more emollient, in future. In other words, I was entirely responsible for the pupil's false, potentially career threatening allegation against me. How she made this causal link is beyond me. But in her mind she'd found the excuse she wanted. It was all my fault.

The pupil would be reinstated to my lesson forthwith, having not experienced so much as a slap on the wrist for falsely accusing me of professional misconduct, and i would henceforth bend over backwards to be more empathetic. From her point of view the accusation worked like a dream. How can I possibly discipline her now? If I try she'll just accuse me of something else.

In our head's malign, sinister efforts to find excuses for bad behaviour, she is encouraging pupils to make false allegations against their teachers before perversely blaming those very same teachers for the allegations being made against them. It is unbelievable! Apparently, according to a friend and actual psychologist, there are a significant number of mentally ill teachers being kept on suicide watch. I wonder why...It is an absolute scandal! No excuses?! Don't make me laugh!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Wearing the Burka is an act of unconscionable rudeness. But should it be banned?

At my last parents' evening, several weeks before the summer break, a Muslim parent wearing a Niqab approached my desk. Naturally but rather stupidly, I stood up and greeted her in the customary way by offering to shake her hand. She politely declined the invitation and I sheepishly sat down, realising my mistake, before proceeding to discuss her child's progress. It was a brief moment of embarrassment - a moment that was given greater significance in light of the summer's Burkini row.
 
Was my red-faced response merited by my cultural insensitivity? Or should I have been the one affronted by hers?
 
Initially I reproached myself for the former, but later, as the summer's events unfolded, changed my mind, relieving myself of a burden of responsibility I now felt, on closer inspection, I didn't deserve. Surely the lady in question should've moderated her behaviour in an effort to accommodate the cultural mores of her adoptive country, not the other way round. Is that not common sense? After all, I wouldn't walk into the home of my in laws without doing as they do and first taking off my shoes.
 
I would certainly describe her behaviour as rude and inconsiderate. But should we proscribe it? How can western society reconcile its commitment to tolerance and freedom of expression whilst banning an item of clothing viewed as essential to a person's religious beliefs?
 
Well, you may say, we don't ordinarily allow members of the public to walk around naked, so freedom of expression does have its limits - limits we don't ordinarily question.
 
More to the point, though, is the patently obvious fact that the Burka is an affront to women's rights. It's a deeply misogynistic item of clothing that openly symbolises enslavement, even if the wearer insists that she freely chooses to wear it and, as a consequence, actively colludes in her own subjugation. Surely we should do all we can to prevent Stockholm syndrome, not encourage it.
 
Indeed, on a personal note, when I consider my wife and daughter, I do worry about what this open and growing expression of female inferiority may mean for them, especially when one also considers the demographic changes taking place in London and elsewhere. Will they at some point in the not too distant future feel uncomfortable exposing even the slightest bit of skin?
 
With this in mind, I do sympathise with the French predicament, but have to admit, still feel some discomfort resorting to an outright or even partial ban based on an ideological difference of opinion, no matter how profound.
 
Where do we draw the line? What do we ban next? If we're going to ban the Burka and Niqab, why not the Hijab? Doesn't the Hijab also illustrate the belief that women should dress modestly? Doesn't it also openly express the fragility and innate inferiority of the so called fairer sex? They are either too emotionally fragile to fully engage in public life or too sexually provocative, seductive and beguiling to expose themselves to the easily corruptible, aren't they? Either way, they play second fiddle to men, as many other Islamic precepts bear testimony to. Shall we ban them all, or perhaps the whole religion, which happens to be, in many manifestations, deeply misogynistic and homophobic to boot? Is the very existence of the religion an insult to women and western values?
 
Or perhaps we should, like the French, forcibly emancipate women by imposing semi-nakedness on them. This is surely one logical corollary of proscribing the Burkini. Where do you stop? Should we ban all forms of modesty? How will it be enforced? Will disgruntled Muslims simply find another way to illustrate the same belief?
 
Look, I find the Burka deeply offensive. Choosing to wear it in Britain is, in my view, an act of self-harm as well as one of unconscionable rudeness. I would indeed be happy if I never saw one again. But banning it is not the answer. It simply raises too many unanswerable questions that put us on a slippery slope to proscribing anything and everything that may offend.
 
As far as I'm concerned, the lady I met at parents' evening was rude and inconsiderate. But would I ban her right to be so? Absolutely not. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Government policies have failed to weaken the influence of progressivism in our schools

David Cameron’s administration has made no secret of its belief in the efficacy of traditional educational practices. It has radically reformed national assessments at all key stages to reflect its commitment to rigour and the pursuit of knowledge and excellence for all, regardless of sociocultural and economic background, in the belief that schools, faced with these new realities, would necessarily adopt more traditional methods to ensure their students’ progress. Traditionalist means to meet traditionalist ends, if you like.
The Government also introduced a new, knowledge-rich National Curriculum which rejected the promotion of ignorance intrinsic to its earlier 2007 incarnation – apparently and rather laughably based on ‘21st century skills’. And under the stewardship of Michael Gove and his successor, it initiated market reforms to encourage healthy competition and, as such, respond to the demands of parents, the majority of whom still yearn for traditional practices.
It was a three-pronged attack designed to weaken the influence of progressivism and reintroduce knowledge-rich curricula alongside traditional teaching methods; methods that were, in theory, to become necessary as the most efficient and effective way to impart knowledge.
In a speech delivered at Durham University earlier this year, Nick Gibb MP, our Schools Minister, outlined his government’s objectives: ‘Since…2010,’ he said, ‘our reforms…have focused on bringing a new level of academic rigour to English state schooling. And central to this mission has been elevating knowledge to become a central component of a good school education.’ His and his government’s commitment to traditionalism couldn’t be clearer.
But thus far it has signally failed to deliver on this most laudable of aims. Despite the Government’s best efforts, schools remain mired in a progressive morass. Their leaders – after investing so much of their self-worth in such practices – obstinately refuse to let go of a failed, damaging dogma that’s unfathomably come to define good teaching, against all the evidence to the contrary.
Nick Gibb, Michael Gove and his well-meaning successor, Nicky Morgan, have all grossly underestimated the profession’s rabid faith in the illusory benefits of progressivism. ‘Nudge Theory’ – whereby governments act in an effort to gently manipulate behavioural change instead of enforcing it, exemplified by the DfE’s policies – simply doesn’t work with fanatics.
Indeed, with the contrivance of Ofsted, school leaders and powerful academy chains continue to insist upon using progressive teaching methods, even though more rigorous, demanding and knowledge-based public examinations require a more traditional approach that emphasises teacher/expert-led lessons, hard work and discipline.
In addition, academies can and do opt out of the new National Curriculum in favour of knowledge-light, skills-based and project-based schemes of work inimical to learning.
By far the Government’s biggest failure, though, has to be its flagship academies policy. This has not led to the adoption of traditional methods as liberated schools compete to attract parents empowered by marketization. On the contrary, the Government has given the patients the keys to the asylum. Unshackled and unrestrained, educationalists and teachers – supported by monopolistic academy chains that have been infiltrated by the very same progressive fanatics the Government wanted to neuter – are now freer to impose their destructive dogma on our benighted children. This huge leap of faith was just that: a blind hope that more freedom would lead to a long-awaited return to traditionalism and higher standards. Apart from a few notable exceptions, it hasn’t and it won’t. Children continue to be force-fed a diet of ignorance-inducing progressive bilge that no parent in their right mind would knowingly choose for their offspring.
Meanwhile, teachers now have the worst of all possible worlds. On the one hand we face intense pressure to successfully guide our pupils through the Government’s new, tougher examinations, whilst, on the other, being impelled by our senior leaders to use progressive, inadequate methods to do so. We are being forced to use progressive means to meet traditional ends. And, as if that isn’t bad enough: our performance is being judged by pupil outcomes invariably retarded by the progressive means being prescribed by our superiors. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.
The Government needs to stop ‘nudging’ and start using its democratic mandate to impose reforms that weaken progressivism and embrace traditional educational practices. Such an approach would certainly enjoy the support of parents.
First published on the Conservative Education Society website on 8th July 2016