Posts Tagged ‘Curriculum’

The Mail and Public Opinion as a Mask for Totalitarianism

October 27, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces commenting on yesterday’s story, that the Tory Whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, a staunch supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign, attempted to intimidate lecturers across Britain by writing to them demanding details of the courses they were teaching in International Relations and politics, and specifically as it concerned Brexit. David Green, a professor and Vice-Chancellor at Worcester University, stated that this was far from innocent, but the beginning of Orwell’s Thought Police and political censorship. And he’s absolutely right. Heaton-Harris was joined by the Daily Mail, which then encouraged students to contact them giving their stories about how they were being indoctrinated with anti-Brexit propaganda.

Heaton-Harris and the Heil can both be fairly described as ‘the embittered Little Englander wing of the Tory party’, as one wag described the Eurosceptics. I’ve already written at length about how all totalitarian societies have tried to control education, the most notorious of these being Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, in order to indoctrinate their countries’ young people, and purge those teaching alternative views. Those lecturers and intellectuals, whose careers were destroyed in this way, could end up imprisoned in concentration camps and gulags, or murdered, along with the regimes’ other opponents.

But there’s also a further similarity with the demands of the Heil, in that these totalitarian regimes often hid their repression behind a façade of popular support.

The Heil wants students to inform on their lecturers. The Nazis also claimed to represent German youth, proclaiming ‘Mach Platz, Ihr Alter!’ – ‘Make way, you old ones!’ The history curriculum was particularly altered to show the Nazi view of history, in which Germany was gradually dominated and exploited by the Jews until the Nazis took power. The final section of this perverted syllabus, designed to indoctrinate German schoolkids with the notion that absolutely everything was going to get better for them now the Nazis were in charge, was entitled ‘German Youth at the Helm’.

During Mao’s vile Cultural Revolution, in which 60 million Chinese people were murdered, the country’s ancient traditions and learning banned, and its precious artistic and cultural heritage vandalised and smashed, children were encouraged to inform on their parents and lecturers.

These totalitarian regimes claimed to represent the ‘will of the people’. The Nazis used a plebiscite to show spuriously that the German people thoroughly approved of their seizure of power. And when totalitarian regimes like them banned literature that did not follow, or challenged their rule and ideology, they claimed to be doing so at the will of their people.

Mike and I had the great good fortune to be able to learn Russian at our old secondary school. And I can remember our teacher telling us during one less that he would be put up against the wall and shot when they invaded, because of a letter he’d written to the authorities. He’d been annoyed that Soviet newsstands did not carry western magazines or newspapers. He received a reply from the authorities telling him that the reason why ‘bourgeois’ western literature wasn’t on sale in the USSR’s newsstands, was not because of censorship. It was simply that the Soviet people themselves were against it. It was a lie, of course, but it was a practical example of how absolute, dictatorial regimes nevertheless cloak their repression by claiming that they’re just doing what their public wants.

Just as the Heil are claiming to do so, even when using the same methods of intellectual persecution as the Nazis, Soviets and Chairman Mao.

I said in a previous blog post yesterday that Heaton-Harris is a menace to democracy, and should go. So is the Daily Mail. It has tried to start a terrible witch-hunt against genuine free speech and free discussion in our universities. It’s a nasty, dictatorial rag, whose circulation should fall rapidly because of its support for the intimidation and victimisation of those professors, who don’t share its nasty, xenophobic views. This was an unashamedly populist piece of journalism, and it once again shows how hypocritical the Tory press is when they use ‘populist’ as a term to denigrate and smear Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

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Kevin Logan’s Satirical Email to the ‘Heil’ Spoofing Brexit University Witch-Hunt

October 27, 2017

Yesterday, Mike put up several articles reporting and commenting on the antics of Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, who took it upon himself to write to university lecturers teaching international relations, asking for their names and details of their courses. He was specifically concerned about what they were teaching about Brexit.

This rightly aroused very strong fears about the government trying to interfere in academic freedom. One university vice-chancellor, Dr. David Green, told Heaton-Harris that he could have the information he wanted, if he stumped up the £9,000 to study the course that all the other students have to pay. He was also quoted on RT as making the point that this was the beginning of the road to Orwell’s thought police and political censorship.

Exactly the same point was made by Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. Dr. Prentoulis also pointed out that it shows how weak the Tory position on Brexit is, if they have to go around trying to intimidate university lecturers. She also explained that she felt that, whatever her own views about Brexit were, and she said that she had campaigned against it, she trusted her students to make up their own minds.

Absolutely. University and should be an environment where young people are encouraged to be open-minded, to look at and evaluate for themselves the arguments and evidence pro et contra different views. And this, I would argue, is exactly what Heaton-Harris fears. He’s not upset at students being indoctrinated. In fact, he’s pantingly all for it. It’s just that he wants it done by right-wing Tory lecturers, who share BoJo’s attitude about ‘pinko’ papers being full of depressing predictions about how it will fail. Or Michael Gove, and his bug-eyed rant a few years ago about schoolchildren being taught the Blackadder view about the First World War in history.

As I said in my previous post about this, all totalitarian societies, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, persecute and carefully control education because of the threat it poses to their attempts to indoctrinate the young people of their states. It includes the control of school and university curricula, the expulsion of dissident lecturers, including Jews in Nazi Germany, their imprisonment and murder. Both Hitler and Stalin butchered tens, if not hundreds of thousands of teachers and university lecturers when they invaded Poland, in order to deprive its people of their intellectual freedom and independence.

All over the country lecturers and professors have been massively unimpressed. Afshin Rattansi in his interview with Prentoulis said that he understood that most of Heaton-Harris’ letters were thrown in the bin.

Others fought back by sending Heaton-Harris their satirical reply. Yesterday, Mike published a piece about how Peter Coles, an astrophysicist at Cardiff Uni, had responded to Heaton-Harris’ missive with a letter detailing how his course on cosmology and the Early Universe, (EU), also included Brexit, culminating in the line “Unanswered Questions: Limitations of the Standard Model and why the fuck are we doing Brexit?” </em

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/26/astrophysics-professors-response-to-universities-brexit-letter-is-sharp-and-hilarious/

The Daily Heil has taken up Heaton-Harris’ cause, and asked students to send in their stories about anti-Brexit propaganda being taught by university lecturers. And so other academics and members of the general public have also joined in, and today Mike has put up a selection from them.

These have included Steve Peers, professor of law at the University of Essex, whose letter begins ‘Dear Witchfinder General’.

‘Aaron’ sent a message beginning

“I attend updog university, and we are being taught anti Brexit propaganda by our left wing professors. We are now made to gather in the study hall once a week and salute an EU flag whilst the professor slowly eats a croissant.”

Will Davies said that his lecturer in Communism and Masculinities stated he believes in free speech, but only if its in a language other than English.

Tom Goodwin sent an email about how outrageous it was that his lecturers could not give him a straight answer about Brussels and curved bananas, and how infuriating it was that they should fill his head with true facts.

And Tim Brudenell sent in a piece about how he was just saluting the National Anthem, when his history lecturer broke in and forced him to eat a copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

It isn’t just the Heil that is publishing demonstrably fake, sensational news. It’s also the Torygraph, which is just as frantically Eurosceptic and hysterical about the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday the weirdo Barclay brothers’ esteemed organ and the Heil ran the story that Lola Olufemi, Cambridge University’s Student Union’s women’s officer, had written a letter demanding that the university replace White authors with Black and Ethnic Minority writers to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.

This was another bogus story. Olufemi had made no such demand. Yes, she wanted the curriculum ‘decolonised’, but certainly did not say that she wanted White authors replaced. It’s probably no coincidence that both papers have published piece after endless piece protesting against non-White immigration and the growth of communities of ‘unassimilable’ immigrants.

Mike’s article makes the wider point that these newspaper are effectively shooting down the mainstream press’ claim to be trustworthy and reliable, as opposed to all the fake news coming out of the alternative media outlets, like the Internet. He states that their reputation is now in such a sorry state, that people are starting to lampoon them, and includes a piece satirising the Daily Mail, which claims that Jeremy Corbyn met Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of JFK. Which he didn’t, being only 14 at the time.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/27/right-wing-press-stories-have-backfired-so-often-people-are-creating-their-own-spoofs/

One of the funny spoof replies sent to the Mail I’ve seen is by Kevin Logan, a male feminist on YouTube, who posted this reply. Logan’s a male feminist and supporter of transgender rights, as well as being very anti-racist. His channel consists of a number of videos, such as his series ‘The Descent of the Manosphere’, in which he tackles the outrageous far-right, and the very genuine misogyny, homophobia and racism by members of the Alt-Right and their fellow travellers on YouTube. He’s very highly educated, but is quite a sweary bloke, so be warned: the video below contains ‘colourful metaphors’, as Spock describes foul language in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. (Gratuitous reference for Trekkers).

His spoof letter to the Heil reads

Hello there fellow patriots at the Daily Mail.

I am writing to you concerning the troublingly pro-cheese eating surrender monkey turn of events in the Gimpology Department of Wankchester University, where I am currently reading stuff and that.

I was in my compulsory ‘Communism and Being Gay Studies’ lecture on Thursday of last week and was astonished at the behaviour of my lecturer, professor Karl Stalin Trotsky-Marx, Ph.D.

Upon my raising concerns about his reMOANer sympathies, he made me stand at the front of the class and masturbate furiously while singing ‘les Marseillaise’, which is normally only something we are forced to do during our compulsory ‘White Genocide 101’ classes. Can you please send help, as I am afraid my support of Brexit may end up with me getting bummed by a German called Helmut.

Yours spiffingly, Herbert P. Wiff-Waff.

Yes, I realise swearing ain’t big or clever. But it is the reply the Heil deserves. Just as it deserves all the others.

As for Mr. Heaton-Harris, he claimed that he was writing the letters not to intimidate, but because he was writing a book on the issue. This just makes it worse, as it means that he was using his position in government for his own pecuniary gain. Which is fraud.

Now it seems that the Honourable Gentleman, and I use the words loosely, has mysteriously disappeared, just as he should and his wretched government should have done long ago. All correspondence addressed to him on this issue is now going to Tory Central Office.

And I hope it won’t be too long before these closet totalitarians follow him into obscurity.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 3

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies and the Curriculum

There are also major concerns about what academies actually teach. Beckett writes from a secular viewpoint, and is very sceptical about the involvement of the churches and evangelical groups in running schools. He states that there may be a democratic argument to be put forward in favour of handing schools over to religious organisations, but this has not been made. Instead, he cites quotes from Peter Vardy and the Roman Catholic spokesman for education in Scotland, McGrath, who regret that the churches have relinquished schools to the state. He shows how the churches, including the Church of England, are trying to get into education with the aim of indoctrinating a new generation of believers. Beckett isn’t entirely opposed to religious involvement in schooling. He has nothing against the traditional compromise, in which schools offered religious education and an act of daily worship, but were otherwise left to get on with things. But the religious character of some of these schools does become a problem, such as their refusal to employ staff of a different faith, or when most of their pupils are non-Christians, such as Muslims. Or when the Christian ethos is expected to get down into lessons like pottery. Peter Vardy and his organisation are a matter of considerable concern, because of Vardy’s determination to teach Creationism as an acceptable scientific theory, which has been criticised by the Royal Society, amongst others.

It is not just the religious organisations that present problems with the subjects taught at academies. Sponsors are also able to set the curriculum, and so this reflects the particular interests of the businessman or organisation sponsoring the academy. In academies run by particular firms, the emphasis may be on those skills the firm requires, even though several of them have denied that they are in fact doing so. Beckett makes the point that these firms are effectively training ‘the worker bees of industry’ for tomorrow. Where the sponsor is a sports club, the academy, naturally enough, specialises in sport. The result is that subjects like technology and business are favourite subjects with sponsors, but ordinary, valuable subjects like English, Maths and languages, for which there is also a need, are much less well represented.

Driving Down Other Schools

Beckett also describes how academies also work to drive down the other schools in their areas. Academies may received massive funding from government – like £37 million – while something like £2 – £6 million may be granted to maintain the other state schools in the area. Academies thus may become the favoured choice for parents. They are also highly selective. There is evidence that very many of the academies expel difficult pupils, thus passing them on to the conventional state sector. Many of them also opt to select 10 per cent of their intake according to ability. Or they may choose to take them by banding. In this instance, children are divided into three bands of above average, average, and below average educational performance/ capacity. Schools following this method of selection take equal numbers of all the above bands. However, as academies were designed to raise standards in areas where there may be considerable deprivation, the lowest bands may fill up very rapidly, because of the way poverty brings down educational performance and expectations. So the new academy doesn’t take on all the ‘failing’ pupils in its deprived areas. Several of the academies in deprived inner cities targeted not local parents, but those further out in the leafy suburbs, who could be expected to be more affluent and send brighter, more capable pupils to their schools.

The Poorer Performing Schools Doing well In Spite of Disadvantages

And some of the schools that were declared ‘failing’, and slated to be turned into academies, actually were performing very well under circumstances over which they had no control. One of these schools, for example, was in an area where there was a large number of refugee children, none of whom were fluent in English. This school, however, had high staff morale, and provided value for money in the considerable improvement it made on these children’s grades from a very low base. This was before ‘value’ was taken into consideration, however, and Blair and his minions decided that the school wasn’t performing well enough.

No Improvement over State Schools

It is also very unclear whether academies provide any value for money or improvement over conventional state schools. Beckett presents a number of stats, which show that at one time, 11 out of 14 academies were in the bottom 200 schools. Where they did improve, it was quite often through transferring the less academically able pupils from GCSEs to GNVQs, which count as four GCSEs in the stats. When this is accounted for, the supposed superior performance of academies simply vanishes. And some of the improvements are simply achieved because vast sums of money were thrown at a failing school. Any school would have improved under these circumstances, and it’s a good question whether these schools would have improved more, if they had been under proper LEA control.

Academies and Cash for Honours (and Tony)

One of the book’s chapters is on the individuals, that Tony Blair took on board to sponsor the academies. As with so much of Blairite New Labour, there was more than a whiff of corruption about this. Money changed hands, so that sponsors could get a seat in the House of Lords or some other honour. One member of the department dealing with setting up the academies found the full force of the law, when he was caught in a sting operation by the Sunday Times. He had supposedly offered a lady journalist, posing as potential sponsor, the possibility of various honours. He was then arrested at 7.30 in the morning, and flung in jail on potential corruption charges, his career in government at an end. Meanwhile, the Blairite spin machine went into overdrive, with various Blairites, including David Miliband, declaring that no such sale was taking place. But politics was deeply involved, as many of those sponsoring academies had made generous donations and loans to the Labour party. Several of these were under investigation by the rozzers.

Gove and 19th Century British Education Provision

March 29, 2014

The Conservative Party Annual Conference

Michael Gove contemplating the government’s destruction of British state education

Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease,

– Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space

Earlier this week the NUT staged a one-day strike against the government’s reforms of British schools. As with the rest of Conservative policy, this essentially consists in preparing the system for further privatisation and lowering wages and conditions. They also have their sights set on lowering standards as well. Taking their cue from the assumption of ignorant bar-room bores everywhere, the Tories have the attitude that just about anyone, or almost anyone, can teach without actually needing to be taught how. They are therefore trying to pass legislation to allow graduates to teach in schools without needing to have a teaching qualification first.

I did my first degree at a teacher-training college that also took ordinary degree students. The trainee teachers I knew were conscientious and worked extremely hard, both academically on their specialist subjects, and in the class-room during teaching practice. Often they were put in front of classes that could be difficult, stopping fights between pupils and sometimes with the threat of violence from parents. While there’s a lot of debate just how much of the theory of teaching and child development is relevant – the theories of Piaget have been extensively critiqued and rejected – it is nevertheless not an easy profession by any means. Teachers certainly need good training in how to teach, as well as what. All this will be undermined by Gove’s reforms.

Modern Conservatism is based on the view that laissez-faire, private industry is always best, and so looks back with nostalgia on the 19th century, when Britain dominated the world, we had an empire and industry was expanding. It was also an age of poverty, hunger, disease and overcrowding. And rather than being great, Britain in this respect had one of the worst education systems in western Europe.

France

In France, plans had been drawn up for a national system of primary, secondary and university education as long ago as 1806 under Napoleon. In practice, the regime got only as far as founding the lycees, the boarding schools for the elite. Under the education act of !833 drawn up by the French minister, Guizot, an impressive system of primary education was established. All communes were required to set up schools, which would provide education for local boys free of charge. The communes that could not afford to do so were to be given funding from their department, or, failing, that an annual grant from the Ministry of Public Instruction. As a result, in the thirteen years from 1834 to 1847 the number of primary schools in La Patrie increased from 33,695 to 43,514. By 1849 there were 3 1/2 million children attending primary school. Girl’s schools received much less funding, but nevertheless a law 1836 extended the 1933 Act to provide for schools for girls.

The French educational system was further reformed in 1863 under Napoleon’s minister for public instruction, Victor Duruy. Duruy was the Republican son of a worker in the Gobelins tapestry factory. He proposed to Napoleon III a system for the effective abolition of illiteracy, funding increases for secondary education, and increases in teachers’ salaries. Primary education was made compulsory, and a broader curriculum introduced for secondary schools. In 1866 nearly 66,000 pupils attended secondary school. The state also spent large sums on teachers’ salaries and in establishing good school libraries. In Matthew Arnold’s words, the French education system after Guizot had

given to the lower classes, to the body of the common people, a self-respect, an enlargement of spirit, a consciousness of counting for something in their country’s action, which has raised them in the scale of humanity.

Germany

Prussia had a ministry of public instruction and a system of local school boards from 1817 onwards. By the mid-19th century throughout all the German states primary education was compulsory. In Saxony, Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Baden and Prussia after 1857 parents had to send their children to the local state school. The age when children started school varied from state to state from five to eight years. In some parts of Germany school attendance was compulsory for a further eight years, so that the school leaving age was the same a century later. Unfortunately, education suffered through the use of child labour and widespread poverty, which took children out of the class room.

By 1837 Prussia already had a system of 50 gymnasia, set up to teach the children of the elite from 16 to 19. The curriculum was broader than that in France, and included philosophy, history, geography, arithmetic and geometry, as well as drawing and playing a musical instrument.

Austria

Under the liberal prime minister Auersperg in 1869 education became compulsory for all children from six to fourteen years of age. It has been seen by Harry Hearder, in his Europe in the 19th Century, 1830-1880, as more advanced than the British educational system introduced a year later. (p. 386). The parts of Italy under Austrian rule also benefited from this increase in education. In 1856 Lombardy possessed 4, 427 primary schools.

Switzerland and the Netherlands

The best schools in Europe were those in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Primary education had been made compulsory in most Swiss cantons in the 1830s, and Matthew Arnold considered Swiss schools superior to the French, with the schools in Aargau the very best in Europe.

In the Netherlands a system of state supervision of education had been established in 1806. Dutch schools were hygienic, with well-trained teachers, industrious and happy children, complete religious toleration and no corporal punishment.

Britain

There were a number of schools giving some form of education. These included the Dame Schools, in which an old woman kept a class of children quiet while their parents worked and the charity and Sunday schools. These were essentially religious in nature, and although there were 1 1/2 million pupils in Sunday schools in the 1830s, their pupils were not taught to write or do sums. There result was that there were high rates of illiteracy. By 1851 the literacy rate for men was about 69.3 per cent, and for women 51 per cent.

Under Dr James Kay-Shuttleworth in 1840 schools receiving state grants were obliged to adhere to certain standards, and in 1856 the Department of Education was set up. Nevertheless, a national system of education did not exist until the education act of 1870.

The children of the upper classes attended the grammar and public schools. There was, however, no national system of universal secondary education until 1880, or really, before the 20th century.

University Attendance in England, France, Germany and German Austria

The English universities were intended to produce a small, educated elite, unlike those in France, Italy, German Austria and Germany, which aimed at producing a larger cultured or professional class. As a result, in the 19th century far fewer people in England had the benefit of a university education. In France 1 in 1,900 citizens attended uni. In Italy, this was 1 in 2,200. In Germany and German-speaking Austria, it was 1 in 2,600. In Britain less than half as many had a university education one in 5,800 men.

British Education Dominated by Conservative Aristocratic Bias

Hearder therefore says of the British education system that it suffered from a narrowly aristocratic attitude. If the English upper class was as well educated as that of any other in Europe, the rest of the population remained wretchedly ignorant and neglected. (p. 388).

This attitude still persists in contemporary Tory attitude to education. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are Toffs, who seem intent on pricing higher education out of the grasp of the lower middle and working classes with their raising of tuition fees. The educational reforms seem designed to wreck state education, leaving it purely run for the profit of private companies and unable to compete with the private schools. This seems partly intended to allow the wealthy to continue to the enjoy their educational and social privileges without having to worry about competition from the poorer children of the state sector.

And supporting this assault on state education is the popular belief, at least amongst some of the electorate, that this must raise standards because private is automatically better, as demonstrated by British imperial and industrial greatness during the 19th century. Britain, however, does not compare well in the sphere of mass education during the 19th century. The state systems of many nations, especially France, appear far better. If we genuinely care about giving a good education to our children, we should be looking to them, not back to a mythical age of imperial glory that promotes an attitude of indifference or active hostility to genuine, popular, state education.