Posts Tagged ‘State Schools’

Starmer Finally Reveals Himself as Blairite

August 8, 2021

And what a sordid, depressing spectacle it is too! But we can’t say it wasn’t expected. One of the most dispiriting pieces of last week’s news was that Starmer had appeared in the pages of the Financial Times, declaring he was only intent on power and would take Labour back to the glorious policies of Tony Blair.

Yes, Tony Blair! The unindicted war criminal who pressured the intelligence agencies into ‘sexing up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ on Saddam Hussein and lied about the dictator having weapons of mass destruction that he could launch within forty minute. This was all done to provide the pretext for an illegal invasion with his best mate, George ‘Dubya’ Bush. It was all done ostensibly to liberate the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant. The reality was that it was all done so western multinationals led by the American-Saudi oil industry could grab Iraq’s oil reserves and its state enterprises. The result was the destruction of one of the most secular societies in the Middle East and its welfare state. The country’s economy was decimated as the neo-Cons turned into the kind of low tax, free trade state they’d like America to be, unemployment hit 60 per cent and society descended into sectarian violence and chaos. Women could no longer pursue careers outside the home, the American army colluded with local thugs in running deaths squads while the mercenaries also employed by the occupying forces ran prostitution and drugs rings and shot Iraqis for sport. Then, a few years later, Blair joined Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, and Immanuel Macro in helping to overthrow Colonel Gaddafy in Libya, with the result that one half of that country is in the hands of militant Islamists, who have re-opened the slave markets to sell Blacks.

Blair’s domestic policies have also been horrendous. Blair pushed the Thatcherite programme of privatising the Health Service into a much higher gear, so much so that it astonished some Tories. They remarked that he got away with doing more than they would have dared with Labour in opposition. Blair set up to the Community Care Groups, the doctors’ organisations charged with running doctor’s surgeries so that they could raise money privately and buy services from private healthcare companies. The new health centres and polyclinics he set up were also to be privately run. More contracts were given to private healthcare companies and more hospitals closed or turned over to private healthcare companies to run instead. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing more than kitemark on services provided by private healthcare companies. The same Milburn is in this fortnight’s issue of Private Eye following an article Milburn wrote in one of the papers calling for more of the NHS to be given over to private industry. Milburn is not a disinterested observers, as the Eye’s article shows his connections with any number of private healthcare companies.

This is the same Blair who gave positions in government, including regulatory bodies, to the chairmen and senior staff of big businesses that donated to him and his party. He applied the Public-Private Finance Initiative to industry as a whole, resulting in costs and delays massively increasing in public works projects. He favoured the big supermarkets over small, family run stores, thus putting many of them out of business. At the same time, the farmers who supply the supermarkets found themselves locked into extremely exploitative contracts.

He also carried on the Tories’ policy of destroying state education. Thatcher’s project of revitalising schools by privatising them as ‘city academies’ had been a failure and was actually being wound up by her education secretary, Norman Fowler. But Blair fished it out of the dustbin, rebranded them as ‘academies’ and forged ahead with the idea, even against local opposition. The result has been a series of scandals over schools run only narrowly religious lines with draconian and humiliating disciplinary codes. At the same time, the academies have also been criticised for seeking to maintain their academic standards through highly selective admissions policies excluding the less academically able and those with behavioural difficulties. These academies have been boosted with the expenditure of tens of millions on them while ordinary state schools are starved of funds. When this is taken into account, they don’t perform any better than ordinary state schools. In fact they often performed far worse, as a string of academies have folded or their schools taken back into state administration.

At the same time, Blair, Mandelson and co also demonstrated their hatred and contempt for the unemployed, the poor and disabled. They fully believed in Thatcher’s ‘Victorian value’ of less eligibility, in which the process of claiming state benefit was to be made as humiliating as possible in order to deter people from claiming it. Based on spurious, fraudulent research cooked up by American private health insurer Unum, they decided that most people claiming disability benefit were malingerers. The result was the infamous work capability tests, which were set so that a specific percentage of claimants were found to be ineligible and thrown off benefit. The result has been even more despair, starvation and deaths for hundreds of genuinely disabled people, who have had their only source of income removed. It was also Blair, who introduced workfare as part of his risible ‘New Deal’. Under the guise of teaching long term benefit claimants the necessary skills to get them back into work, the unemployed were handed over to work for various businesses and private sector organisations, like the big supermarket chains and charities. If they refused, they lost their benefits. Contrary to what Blair and his Tory successors claimed, this does not help unemployed people get back into work. In fact it does the opposite. The unemployed actually do far better looking for jobs and voluntary work on their own.

Blair also hated the trade unions, the working class organisations that have been part of the Labour party since it was founded in 1905 or so. The Labour party was partly set up to protect trade unions and their members. But Blair did everything he could to smash their power further. When he became head of the party c. 1997 he threated to cut the party’s ties with them if they didn’t back his reforms.

Yes, Blair won three elections, but the cost was a massive drop in membership and support amongst traditional Labour voters and activists. From this perspective, Jeremy Corbyn was actually far more successful, turning Labour into the biggest and best funded of the UK parties. This was through the simple technique of putting forward a traditionally socialist, truly Labour set of policies: end the privatisation of the NHS, renationalise the utilities, restore the welfare state, remove the restrictions on the trade unions and give working people proper rights at work. Corbyn became massively unpopular only due to a concerted campaign of personal vilification, but his programme was genuinely popular. Unlike Blair’s, who only won the election because almost two decades of Tory rule had made them even more unpopular.

But the Labour left and the continued popularity of socialism continues to worry the Blairites. Hence Starmer’s determination to purge the party of them, and most specifically socialist Jews. On Wednesday there was a Virtual meeting of left-wing labour politicos and activists on Zoom discussing Starmer’s continuing persecution on the Labour left. One of the great speakers quoted the late Tony Benn. Speaking during the purges of Marxists from the party in the 1980s, Benn stated that it would start with the Marxists, go on to the socialists and end with a merger with the SDP. It was all about protecting capitalism. Occasionally the party would be given a chance to govern the country, but nothing really would change.

And that’s really what you can expect from Starmer’s return to Blairism. It’s just going to be more Tory policies, put forward by people who claim to represent ‘real Labour values’ but who in reality have nothing but absolute contempt for the working class and the ideals of the people who founded the party.

As Mike has pointed out, it was clear which direction Starmer really was going from the outset. Despite his declaration that he would continue Corbyn’s manifest promises, he broke every one of them as soon as he could. He carried on the purges under the pretext of clamping down on anti-Semitism – and who knew so many anti-Semites were self-respecting Jews! – and then had the whip withdrawn from his predecessor. He has also done his best to destroy the party’s internal democracy, suspending individuals and constituency parties at a whim and imposing his own candidates against the wishes of local activists.

Somehow Starmer has managed to convince himself that a return to Blairism will be a vote-winner. Well, it hasn’t so far. Coupled with the islamophobia and anti-Black racism of his supporters, it’s led to the party massively losing members and working class support. The result has been a string of election defeats.

Blair was a mass-murderer, whose wars have turned the Middle East into a charnel house and whose economic and welfare policies have further impoverished this country and its awesome, hard-working people. But they kept capitalism secure and further enriched the already obscenely wealthy.

And to Thatcherites like Starmer and his supporters, that’s all that really matters. Expect Labour to lose, and continue to lose, with this open move to the right.

My Video on Gerard Winstanley’s ‘The Diggers’ Song of 1649

June 8, 2021

The Diggers were a radical 17th century Protestant sect during the time of the British Civil War. They believed that all land should be held in common, all men being created equal by the Almighty, and were firmly against both the Cavaliers, the gentry and the priesthood. They tried to set up a colony in St. George’s Hill, a piece of common land near Weybridge in Surrey, but their homes were pulled down and the movement squashed. One of their leaders, Gerard Winstanley, who advocated their political and theological doctrines in his A New Yeeres Gift, also wrote this song about them.

In this video I explain that before the rise of modern newspapers, people got their news through broadside ballads, popular songs written about the issues and news of the day. I got this from Roy Palmer’s excellent A Ballad History of England (London: B.T. Batsford 1979), which collects various ballads from 1588 to the late 20th century. Ballads were still being written in the 20th century, though the medium had changed to recordings rather sheet music. One of the last was about a dispute at British Steel in 1975.

I recite the lyrics and then play the tune given in the book. I regret I can’t sing and play the keyboard at once.

The lyrics are

You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,

You noble Diggers all, stand up now,

The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name

Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame,

Stand up now, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now,

Your houses they pull down, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down to fright your men in town,

But the gentry must come down, and the poor shall wear the crown.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

With spades and hoes and plowes, stand up now, stand up now,

With spades and hoes and plowes stand up now,

Your freedom to uphold, seeing Cavaliers are bold

To kill you if they could, and rights from you to hold,

Stand up now, Diggers all.

Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now, stand up now,

Theire self-will is their law, stand up now.

Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin

To make a gaole a gin, to sterve poor men therein.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The gentrye are all round, stand up now, stand up now,

The gentrye are all round, stand up now.

The gentrye are all round, on each side they are found,

Theire wisdom’s so profound, to cheat us of our ground.

Stand up now, stand up now.

The lawyers they conjoin, stand up now, stand up now,

The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now,

To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise,

The devill in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes,

Stand up now, stand up now.

The clergy they come in, stand up now, stand up now,

The clergy they come in, stand up now.

The clergy they come in, and say it is a sin

That we should now begin, our freedom for to win.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The tithe they yet will have, stand up now, stand up now,

The tithes they yet will have stand up now.

The tithes they yet will have, and lawyers their fees crave,

And this is they say is brave, to make the poor their slave.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

‘Gainst lawyers and gainst priests, stand up now, stand up now,

‘Gainst lawyers and gainst priests stand up now.

For tyrants they are both even flatt against their oath,

To grant us they are loath free meat and drink and cloth.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now,

The club is all their law, stand up now.

The club is all their law to keep men in awe,

Buth they no vision saw to maintain such a law.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now, stand up now,

The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now;

The Cavaleers are foes, themselves they do disclose

By verses not in prose to please the singing boyes.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

To conquer them by love, come in now, come in now,

To conquer them by love, come in now;

To conquer them by love, as itt does you behove,

For hee is King above, now power is like to love,

Glory heere, Diggers all.

Similar to the Diggers were the Levellers, another radical Protestant sect which was extremely strong in the army. They believe in the extension of the franchise to the male heads of households, which was dangerously democratic for the 17th century, as well as state provided schools, hospitals and care homes for the elderly. They still exert a powerful influence in the Labour party.

Here’s the video.

Tories Once Again Demanding Clampdown in Schools for No Reason At All

April 8, 2021

Why do the Tories hate schoolchildren? Why are they so determined to make school as miserable as possible? I ask these questions, ’cause yesterday Mike put up a piece on his blog about the education minister, Gavin Williamson. Williamson has claimed that there’s a lack of discipline in schools because children were allowed greater freedom during the lockdown. Mobile phones are a particularly destructive influence, and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now I agree with Mike about this, who does agree with Williamson. They shouldn’t be allowed in schools because of the danger that children can use them to cheat. Quite apart from the temptation amongst some pupils to play Tetris or whatever at the back of the class instead of concentrating on Miss trying to teach them trigonometry. But this isn’t a new problem. People have been talking about the problems caused by mobile phones in school ever since children started taking them into class in the ’90s. What is remarkable is Williamson going on about the lack of discipline among school students when there’s absolutely no evidence for it. I haven’t heard anyone complain about a decline in schoolchildren’s behaviour in my neck of the woods, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.

In fact, not only is there no evidence that the returning pupils are particularly badly behaved, there appears to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. One of our friends down here in south Bristol is a school governor. They told us that the children coming back to school had actually been better behaved. So where does Williamson’s claim that discipline has declined come from?

I think it’s partly due to an habitual Tory distrust of youth. Ever since the ‘youthquake’ of the 1950s and the emergence of modern youth culture, there’s been a particular distrust of young people on the right. This wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I remember the annual fights during the Bank Holidays between Mods and Rockers at Weston Super Mud and elsewhere in the country, and those were frightening. There was a rise in juvenile delinquency, and for years the papers were full of stories about the terrible lack of discipline and poor educational standards in many schools. These were real problems. Private Eye devoted a whole section in one issue to complaints from teachers about the problems they were faced with teaching entirely uninterested, disruptive and sometimes violent students, compounded with lack of support from the headmaster or the education authorities. I dare say in some schools this is still the case, but it doesn’t seem quite the issue it once was. But school discipline is something of a Tory ‘talking point’. School standards are breaking down, and it’s all due to modern, progressive schooling. Kids are being indoctrinated into rebellion by Marxist feminist teachers of ambiguous sexuality.

Except that I don’t think they are. I wondered if this was a response to events at Pimlico academy last week, when the children and some staff decided that the headmaster’s new dress code was somehow racist, as was the flying of the union flag, which some idiot decided to burn. I don’t support the protests there – I think they’re unwarranted and show instead a nasty streak of racism amongst the protesters. But as far as I can make out, it was an isolated incident that was a response to very specific circumstances that has not been repeated elsewhere.

But it also seems to fit with the Tory determination to remove any kind of joy from schooling. When the Tories took over ten years or so ago, they declared that they were going to enforce school discipline and make sure the children worked hard, introducing homework for primary school children. There does seem a determination on the Tories’ part to make school as grim as possible.

And this attitude is shared by some of the academy chains that have been brought in to run schools. Before I came down with the myeloma I did voluntary work listening to children read at one of the local school in south Bristol. This was a normal primary school, whose walls were decorated with the children’s work and paintings along with the usual school notices, and the usual hubbub when the children came in from playground or moved between classroom. It came across as a normal, happy British school, full of normal, happy children.

And then the school was handed over to an academy chain, whose headquarters, incidentally, were registered in Eire as the usual tax dodge. The whole ethos changed. When next I arrived, the walls were bare except for the school notices and children were expected to move from class to class in silence. The children still seemed to be as happy as ever, but a vital part of the school experience had been excised. The place seemed far more dour. I suppose this new austerity was to show that there was now an emphasis on learning and the importance of discipline. It now seemed actually rather joyless and forbidding. I think that putting students’ work up on school walls is enormously encouraging – it rewards pupils for their good work but putting it up for the appreciation of the rest of the school. Or the kids’ parents at parents’ evenings. Ditto with the art. I think it helps to create an attitude among schoolchildren that it is their school, and creates a sense of a common school community. It’s what makes a school a school, rather than a prison.

I think this dour, very authoritarian attitude to education comes partly from Tory authoritarianism. The people at the top set the rules, and the lower orders have to obey, work and suffer. Conditions must be made as hard as possible to encourage people to work and improve themselves. It’s an attitude they’ve introduced into the welfare system by trying to make it as hard as possible to discourage people going onto benefits. This means making benefits all but impossible to obtain and doing their best to hide the fact that people are dying as a result. Now they’re introducing it to education.

I think it also partly comes from the Japanese school system that the Tories are desperate to emulate over here. I got the impression that discipline is extremely strict in Japanese schools, with staff even checking the children’s underwear to make sure they’re the right colour. It’s so strict in fact that in one year in the ’90s, five school kids were beaten to death by their teachers. But this discipline, supposedly, has led to the Japanese and other far eastern countries leading the world in high educational standards. However, a friend of mine told me years ago that this isn’t quite the case. Yes, the east Asian countries do lead the world in their educational standards, but the discipline and extremely hard work are actually typical of a relatively few Chinese and Japanese schools, not the system as a whole. And seeing how hard the schoolchildren in these countries are expected to work, you wonder if something is being lost. Hard work is important, but childhood should also be a time for fun.

Except to the Tories and Gavin Williamson, who seems to be so obsessed with a decline in school discipline that he’s seeing it where it doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps it’s another attempt to put state schools down after the failure of the algorithm he introduced a year ago to predict exam results. This aroused massive outrage because it unfairly assumed that pupils from state schools were perform far less well than those from private schools. Mike and the peeps on Twitter have suggested that Williamson might be trying to revenge himself on schoolkids after one of them tore apart his wretched algorithm on social media.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that there has been no decline in school discipline. In fact, I’ve heard that in some schools the kids were actually better behaved. This means, as Mike has pointed out on his blog, that children have actually developed self-discipline. And good for them!

As for Williamson, this just shows how out of touch he is with real conditions in schools, and how determined he is to push the Tory view that all schoolchildren and young people are ill-behaved and need the firm hand of authority to keep them in order.

Talk Radio’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Rod Liddle Get Upset about British Universities’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders

January 1, 2021

And now for a much more serious subject. The day before yesterday, 30th December 2020, Talk Radio posted this video on YouTube of one of their presenters, Kevin O’Sullivan, talking about the compilation of a Dictionary of British Slave Traders by a group of British universities with that fixture of the right-wing press, Rod Liddle. The project is led by a professor Pettigree, and involves the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and University College London. O’Sullivan quotes Prof. William Pettigree, who said that after Black Lives Matter it was important that there should be further, accurate information on the breadth of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. As you can imagine, neither O’Sullivan nor Liddle are fans of the project. Some of their arguments are good, but others are just them using the issue to ride the usual Conservative hobby horses of attacking state education.

Non-White Slave Trade Ignored

The Dictionary will have 6,500 entries, including small investors, women, and people, whose involvement in the Abominable Trade has not been mentioned before. O’Sullivan claims that this is a device for finding out whether a perfectly respectable living person had an ancestor 350 years ago, who invested £5 in a plantation, and then make their blameless descendant into a pariah and get them sacked. He states that we need the Dictionary ‘like a hole in the head’, denounces the obsession with the slave trade as a ‘national sickness’. Liddle, who is introduced as writing for the Sun, the Spectator and the Sun on Sunday, agrees, calling it ‘self-flagellating imbecilic obsessiveness’. He states that the Dictionary isn’t about anyone, but specifically the White English. It doesn’t mention the Ottoman Empire, the people, who profited from the slave trade in the West African countries, specifically Ghana. He states that he was in a cab a couple of months ago, whose driver was Ethiopian. The driver told him how much he hated Britain. When Liddle asked why, he was told that it was because Britain was the country that invented slavery and enslaved whole nations. He’d never heard of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire or the slavery that continued in his own country for hundreds of years after Britain had stopped it. He’d never heard of the fact that Britain was the first country to abolish it. Liddle also makes the point that Ethiopia, where it continued, had never been colonised. Liddle goes on to claim that universities are implanting in people’s minds the notion that it was only the British, who were slavers and had this wickedness. This is, he said, reflected in ‘that very stupid woman, who is head of the British Library’, Liz Joly, who said that ‘White people invented racism’. Liddle goes on about how we also invented television, the printing press, democracy, but we invented slavery, sin and mosquitoes. It’s utter rubbish and time we got over it.

The Coronavirus Lockdown Prevented Criticism of BLM at Football Matches

O’Sullivan dismisses Pettigree’s comments about the need for the Dictionary as nonsense, and describes the obsession with the slave trade as a kind of ‘national insanity’. He asks why the country is obsessing about the actions of slave traders who lived three centuries ago. Liddle says we’re not obsessing. It’s a tiny, tiny minority, who are obsessing. And they’ve been partly able to get away with it because of the Coronavirus. This has allowed footballers to take the knee in support of an organisation that wishes to abolish the family and capitalism. This wouldn’t have happened if there had been fans in the ground, because as soon as fans were allowed, they booed. This occurred not just at Liddle’s club, Millwall, but also at Colchester and Dallas in the US. They’ve got away with this because this year has meant the lone voice of the common sense public has not been heard. O’Sullivan agrees with him, stating that the people have been eclipsed by the lockdown and the authorities in politics and football have been allowed to proceed without comment from the public and fans. Liddle states that it’s a salutary lesson that when these restriction are placed on our lives, there is nothing they won’t try to get away with. He then goes to tilt at the Beeb, stating that they used the Coronavirus as an excuse to ban the words to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule, Britannia’.

Liddle Attacks his Daughter’s State School for views on British Empire

O’Sullivan agrees with him that the obsession with slavery and the ‘Woke’ thing is that of a tiny, tiny minority, who are vocal and noisy. He hopes that in this coming year, 2021, the Dictionary never gets published, and that the people’s voice gets heard and we are able to push back against these noisy people. Liddle then describes how, when his daughter went to state school last year, she was taught in her history lessons, which went uncontested, that the reason Africa was in poverty was because of colonialism. He states that this is easy to disprove, as Ethiopia, which was never colonised, is exactly the same as Eritrea. Both countries are equally impoverished and despotic. Liberia, which was never colonised, is as badly off as Sierra Leone next door. Singapore, on the other hand, was colonised for 200 years, and is the most affluent country in the world. There is, Liddle claims, a reluctance to face the truth because of this liberal mindset. This is based on a fallacy, which falls apart if you pick at it.

O’Sullivan then asks Liddle if they teach Critical Race Theory at his daughter’s school. This ‘controversial and very dubious philosophy’ is being taught in schools all over the country, which states that if you’re White, you’re racist, even if you don’t think you are. He states that it’s fine if adults want to learn this nonsense, but really dangerous to teach it to children in schools. Liddle again agrees with him, says he’s sure his daughter was, and that they got her out of it not just because they were teaching ‘that rubbish’, but because most of the time they weren’t teaching at all. There were no lesson during the Covid outbreak, not even online, O’Sullivan jokes that it was probably better that she was getting no lessons at all then. Liddle replies that she got lessons from him on how the British Empire brought decency and democracy to the world as a corrective for five minutes.

Rod Liddle criticises ‘self-flagellating’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders – YouTube

There are several issues to unpack here. Firstly, if the Dictionary was only an academic exercise in researching the depth of British public involvement in the slave trade, then I don’t think there should be any objection to its compilation and publication. There’s already been considerable research on the subject. A little while ago one historian of the subject said that they were actually astonished by how widespread participation in the slave trade and slavery was, with ordinary members of the public investing their money in it. In fact you could easily produce a list of British slaveowners simply by going through the government’s Blue Book published c. 1840 for the compensation given to the slaveowners after abolition. From the 1820s onwards the British government passed legislation designed to halt the illegal importation of slaves in their colonies by passing legislation demanding that all slaves be registered. This could also be used. The compensation returns and slave registries might have some surprises for those, who believe that only White people owned slaves. Several of the slaveowners in the Caribbean included the Maroons, the free Black communities outside British law. I also believe, though I’m not sure, that the free people of colour, the free Black population, may also have owned slaves.

Real Danger of Innocent People Demonised for Ancestors’ Involvement

O’Sullivan’s claim that the book would be used to denounce and pillory perfectly decent people for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago is hysterical, but unfortunately also a real possibility. I had to make a similar decision myself when I was working in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. It seemed that there was a strong possibility that some of the people described as slavers may have been the remote ancestors of people I knew personally. I had to think very carefully about telling them, and was eventually advised against it by one of their close friends. They told me that I shouldn’t tell this person about their possible connection to the slave trade, because they were very anti-racist themselves and the information would only upset them. I’ve no doubt that this is true of very many people. I also think that behind some of outrage from O’Sullivan and Liddle, but which goes unspoken, is the fear that it will be used by activists to demand reparations for slavery. I’m not sure how much this will affect ordinary people, though. In the 18th and 19th centuries most people in this country were the ‘labouring poor’, who comprised 90 per cent of the population. These had problems enough paying for food, clothing and accommodation. They wouldn’t have had the disposable income to invest in anything, never mind slaves or plantations, even if they were so inclined. Really we’re only talking about the middle classes and aristocracy as investors and slaveowners. Reparations for slavery are a different issue, but this has its dangers too. Over time, many of the wealthy or comfortably off people, who owned slaves, will have lost their money. All it would take to cause real controversy and angry backlash is if poorly paid people struggling to make ends meet get a demand for reparations from richer Black people. If that happens, you can expect the story to be all over the Heil, Depress and the rest of the press like a rash.

Need to Teach Extra-European, Islamic and Asian Slavery and Slave Trade

I also agree with O’Sullivan and Liddle that more should be taught about extra-European slavery. This includes that of the Arabs and Muslims in north Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic slave trade from east Africa across the Indian Ocean. Liddle is also quite right about the Ethiopians practising the slave trade. Way back in the 19th century we sent a punitive expedition into Abyssinia to stop them raiding British territory for slaves. One of the books we had in the library at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was Major Darnley’s Slaves and Ivory. This was published in the early part of the 20th century and described Darnley’s own personal undercover investigation of slavery within the Abyssinian empire. Darnley published the book to make the public aware that the Abyssinians were still raiding British Uganda for slaves, and that the Ethiopian princes were destroying whole regions of their own empire through such raids. He wished to generate sufficient outrage that public opinion would swing behind a British invasion of the country. Dame Kathleen Simon, a determined foe of slavery, actually praised Mussolini and the Italian Fascists in her book on it for their invasion of Abyssinia, which she felt would at least extinguish slavery there. I do think there is a real need to teach this aspect of the slave trade to counter the notion that it was only Britain that was only, or primarily responsible for it. Britain wasn’t the first country to outlaw it – that was Denmark – but we were the leading country to do so and insist that other nations follow.

The East African Slave Trade in the 19th Century, from James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006) 129.

Concentration on Western Slave Trade Product of Black Rights’ Movement

Research into the historic slave trade has been linked with the campaign for Black liberation since the time of W.E.B. Dubois. Hence the fixation on it by contemporary anti-racist activists. Driving this is the continued impoverishment and disadvantaged condition of the Black community as a whole. But real, Black chattel slavery has re-emerged in Libya and in sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda. There is little interest in combating slavery there. When right-wing critics urged western anti-racist activists to do so, the response has been that it should be ignored as a distraction from continued demands for racial equality here in the West. Kate Maltby, a White contributor to the I, made that argument in its pages a few months ago. She has a point, but it’s still no reason to ignore real slavery as it exists now in order to concentrate on angry denunciations for past crimes. There are books published on non-European slavery. Jeremy Black includes it alongside western slavery in one of his books. James Walvin includes maps of the African and Indian slave trade and routes alongside transatlantic slavery in his Atlas of Slavery. There are books on African slavery, and there is a particular study of the Islamic slave trade, Islam’s Black Slaves: A History of the Other Black Diaspora, by Ronald Segal. I think, however, that there may be some objection to teaching about these slave trades from some anti-racist activists, who may feel that it would somehow be racist or even islamophobic to do so.

Liddle Promoting Privatisation of State Education with Comments

But as you can hear from the video, O’Sullivan and Liddle were also determined to use the issue of slavery to attack other right-wing bugbears. Like the Coronavirus lockdown. This is there to save lives, but it’s too much for the right, who favour the economy at the expense of people’s lives. Hence the rant about footballers taking the knee for Black Lives Matter. Liddle also uses it, surprise, surprise! – to attack state education. We’ve been this way before. I remember the rants of the right-wing press under Thatcher, when the Scum, Heil, Depress and the rest ran stories about children in state schools being indoctrinated with left-wing propaganda, like Peace Studies, while anti-racist fanatics in Brent forced them to sing suitably altered nursery rhymes like ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’. That was a lie put out by the Scum, supposedly, but I’ve met people, who swore they sang it at school. Thatcher used those fears to push through her creation of academy schools, telling the British public that it would put them in control of their children’s education. And this would be taken out of the hands of evil, left-wing Local Education Authorities. In fact, Thatcher’s academy school programme was a complete flop. It was being wound up by Norman Fowler before Blair took the idea out of the Tory dustbin, dusted it off and then made it official Labour policy. And unfortunately the wretched schemes been going ever since. In fact academy schools are not better than state schools and are far more expensive. They should be wound up and education renationalised. But this would upset the parasites running the academies. I don’t think it’s an accident that Liddle came out to rant against state education when he writes for the Scum, as Dirty Rupe would like to move into education as well.

Neo-Colonialism and African Poverty

As for the terrible condition of modern Africa and the legacy of British colonialism, it’s quite true that much of the continent’s problems don’t come from it, but from the rapacious venality and ruthless tyranny of their post-independence rulers. But we took over these countries partly to exploit their resources, and their poverty is partly caused by the Neo-colonial economic system that prevents them from industrialising and confines them to exporting raw materials to the Developed World. I can remember being taught all this in ‘A’ Level Geography nearly forty years ago from teachers, who were definitely not Marxists trying to indoctrinate us. As for the success of Singapore, this can be used to support the socialism Liddle and O’Sullivan fear and despise. Singapore’s leaders were influenced by the Fabians and their belief that the state should take a leading role in the economy. Singapore ain’t a socialist country, but its success does refute Thatcherite free market economics.

While O’Sullivan and Liddle thus are quite reasonable in their criticisms of the proposed Dictionary, they are using it as a tool to promote a wider, right-wing agenda. One that will cause further poverty and endanger lives, but will benefit their paymasters in the press barons and big business.

Private Schools Turn Down Bursaries for White Working Class Boys

January 7, 2020

This is a very interesting story from last weekend’s I. A retired Maths professor, Sir Bryan Thwaites, offered two private schools bursaries for White working class boys. They both turned it down. Their refusal, and the fact that these bursaries are needed, says much about class and race in the early 21st century. The report contained the observation that ‘inverted snobbery and liberal guilt neglect the white poor’. Which is true, but it’s also true that such bursaries wouldn’t quite be so necessary if it weren’t for Thatcherism. Thatcher promised that her reforms would turn Britain into a meritocracy, where everyone could succeed, regardless of class background, provided they had the talent. This has spectacularly not happened. Class mobility was at a standstill during Blair’s administration. Now it seems to have gone into reverse. And at the bottom are the working class that Thatcher and the Tories despise, and Blair neglected.

Thwaites was a working class lad, who had gone to Dulwich and Winchester Colleges on scholarships. He therefore wanted to award them bursaries amounting to £1.2m to set up scholarships for lads from his background. He said he wanted to address the ‘severe national problem of the underperforming white cohort in schools’. The donations amounted to £400,000 for Dulwich and £800,000 for Winchester. They turned them down because they were afraid that the donations broke equality rules. Winchester said that they ‘did not see how discrimination on the grounds of a boy’s colour could ever be compatible with its values’. Dulwich simply said bursaries were available to everyone who passed their entrance exam, ‘regardless of their background.’

Thwaites, who is himself a former college head, told the Times, ‘If [the colleges] were to say ‘We are helping these deprived cohorts of children,’ that would do a hell of a lot for their reputation and show that the independent sector is taking some notice of what’s going on in the world at large. The implication of their refusal… is that they couldn’t give a damn.’

Poor White Educational Underperformance

The newspaper then printed some stats to show why Thwaites believed such bursaries were necessary. Only 15 per cent of White boys receiving free school meals achieve a grade 5 or higher in English and Maths at GCSE in 2018 compared with 33.6 per cent of Asian boys and 23.4 per cent of Black boys.

It also noted that four years ago universities were told to recruit more working class students – particularly boys – after statistics showed that just 10 per cent of young men from the poorest areas went into higher education.

Thwaites therefore said he was turning his attention to state schools and academies would be only too glad to accept his money. Referring to Stormzy’s decision to set up two scholarships for Black undergrads at Cambridge, he asked ‘If Cambridge University can accept a much larger donation in support of Black students, why cannot I do the same for under-privileged White British?’

Trevor Phillips Attacks ‘Inverted Snobbery’ over White Children

The I commented that ‘it is these barriers – of structural inequality and the intersection of race and class – that society tends to tiptoe around in order to avoid honey-yet-difficult conversations.

However, in last month’s Standpoint, Trevor Phillips, the broadcaster and former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, attacked the ‘inverted snobbery’ which held by poor White boys. He claimed that modern society had made institutions ridiculously squeamish about accepting that their treatment of Whites as a ‘non-race’ was itself racist, and added ‘They have become so confused in these ‘woke’ times that a lethal cocktail of inverted snobbery, racial victimhood, and liberal guilt ends up rewarding schools for favouring the Black and Brown rich while neglecting the White poor.”

Comments from Other Academics

The report then said that campaigners have long tried to level the playing field so that every child, regardless of its race, gender or background, was given the best possible start in life. They then quoted Dr Lee Elliot Major, the professor of social mobility at Exeter Uni. He said

Philanthropists want to help people similar to them and, of course, that is their prerogative,. But often the bigger issue is help people who are not like them.

Success comes in many forms. Social mobility is not just about getting those magical tickets to the top schools, because that’s not for everyone. State schools cater to all sorts of potential – some students will be high-flyers, so will need support in applying for prestigious universities. Others will seek out an apprenticeship or attend a local college.

I think it’s great that [Sir Bryan’s donations} could be used to support many pupils going through different routes – not just academic study.

However, Major also pointed out the differences between Stormzy’s and Thwaites’ donations. Major said that he had many conversations with Black undergraduates at Cambridge, who were the first in their families to go to university, and who felt isolated there. He remarked

There are very specific issues around highly selective, very academic universities, because they are quintessentially middle-class and very White and I think [Stormzy’s scholarship] was a legitimate move to address this.

He said that there were discussions leading universities could have to make their campuses more inclusive, continuing

If you’re looking at achievement in schools, I would argue taht this comes down to culture in the home, to class and [household] income.

It’s often the case that White working-class boys are [products of] those backgrounds-but equally there are children from all sorts of backgrounds who live in poverty and aren’t getting as much support as they deserve. And the reason I’m anxious about it is that social mobility is an issue that should bring us together.

Of course there are lots of white working-class boys living in areas of deprivation – but the very fact they’re deprived is glossed over. We’re wasting talent in this country – talent from all backgrounds. (pp. 33-4).

Finally, there was a report in one of the papers that the donation had been accepted by a charity run by a Black man, which had been successful in combating low educational achievement amongst Black lads. He was looking forward to turning around the lives of White boys as he had done with Black.

Looking through the newspaper reports, it’s clear that some people are very uncomfortable with a grant being set up for poor White boys. It’s understandable. British politics and society is dominated by White men, and so a bursary aimed at raising the achievements of White boys seems reactionary, an attack on the feminist and anti-racism campaigns.

Which is why it needed the support of Trevor Phillips and a Black educationalist. 

Winchester College’s excuse for turning down the bursary because it was ‘incompatible with their values’ seems very fake to me, however. A friend of mine was privately educated. He once told me that these schools don’t exist to teach children so much as to give them the network of personal contacts to open careers and other opportunities. They exist to preserve middle and upper class privilege. Rich Blacks and Asians are welcome, but not the poor generally, although they may well accept working class BAME pupils as a gesture towards meritocracy.

Lee Elliot Major’s comment about Black students finding themselves very isolated at Cambridge university is true, but I also know White academics from a working/ lower-middle class background, who intensely resented what they felt was the entitled, patronising attitude of wealthier students from the Oxbridge set. He is right about funding being made available for academic and training paths that are more suitable to students’ aptitudes. There was also a recent report in the I about the massive drop out rate at university. Some of this is no doubt due to the real financial struggles some students face now that tuition fees have been introduced and raised, and they are expected to become massively indebted to fund their education. But some of it is also due to university education now being promoted as the only academic route. A friend of mine, who worked in university administration told me that this wasn’t working and was leading to people dropping out over ten years or more ago.

And I completely accept his observation about the role class, income and background play in academic aspiration. In my experience, this also naturally includes those from Black and Asian backgrounds.

But Blacks, Asians and girls have had much attention focused on improving their academic performance and improving their opportunities, that have not been directed towards White boys from poor backgrounds. And this needs to be addressed.

Doing so does not undermine, or shouldn’t, the efforts to improve performance and opportunities for women and minorities, however.

But if we are serious about improving poor and working class academic performance, whether White, Black or Asian, it will mean rejecting Blairism and its rejection of the working class in order to concentrate on copying the Tories.

Multi-Millionaire Right-Wing Corporate Donor David Koch Dies

August 26, 2019

This weekend the papers reported that David Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers family of oil billionaires had finally dropped off his perch. He had become an ex-Koch. He had ceased to be. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he had gone to join the choir invisibule.

I know it’s poor form to speak ill of the dead, but the Koch brothers are an utterly malign family, and their political legacy is absolutely toxic. I dare say that individually they may be absolutely charming men. But they were also greedy, rapacious, and dedicated to attacking almost every progressive advance in American society and economics since the 19th century. They were one of the main founders and ardent promoters of Libertarianism, and founded a network of extreme right-wing think tanks and pressure groups to push through their noxious agenda. And as oil billionaires, they were most notorious through their campaigns denying climate change, attempting to discredit or suppress proper climate science and remove environmental legislation so that they could continue dumping carcinogen sludge into America’s rivers and waterways.

The video below by the Rational National, presented by David Doel, concisely shows how deeply unpleasant the Kochs were and are. And this was personally as well as politically. David Koch and two of his brothers joined together in a plot to blackmail a fourth brother into giving his share of the family business to them. This brother had never had a girlfriend. They thought he was gay, and threatened to tell their father about his lifestyle. Yes, they really were that low and scummy, ready to stab their own brother in the back just for a share of the corporate profits. They were an example of why Ripley says in the James Cameron film, Aliens, why the xenomorphs are better than humans. Or at least the corporate types. Because ‘you don’t see them fucking each other over for a percentage’.

The Rational National then goes on to show how the Koch brothers were instrumental in getting the anti-union legislation passed through one of their political groups, AFP. This stands for Americans For Prosperity. In the case of the US’s working people, the blue collar Joes and Jos, who really built the country, the name should be called Americans For Poverty. As the Rational National argues, the unions were one of the major forces bringing prosperity to working men and women. When their power was broken, there was a massive transfer of wealth upwards to the rich.

The video then shows a tweet from the Sunrise Movement about how the Koch brothers blocked environmental bills going through Congress, promoted fake science denying climate change, and attacking the environmental legislation preventing them from dumping carcinogens into the water. Thanks to them, Americans’ health in this regard is being affected for the worse. There’s also a clip of the report Christopher Leonard on The Morning Show discussing how the Koch brothers derailed America’s last best attempt to introduce regulations against climate change and greenhouse emissions in 2010. He compares them unfavourably with other big oil companies like Exxon, who were prepared to accept some legislation, including a carbon tax. But their influence wasn’t just confined to America. They also back Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the Fascist maniac now torching the country’s forests and threatening us all with runaway global warming and extinction. Bolsonaro was funded by the ATLAS Network, another Koch pressure groups, which exists to spread Libertarianism globally.

Doel also cites a tweet by Rational National contributer Keith Boykin, about the other subjects he can’t go into in this short video. These are the Koch brothers’ desire to abolish state schools, social security, rent control, Medicare and Medicaid. He funded the Tea Partyand groups that denied climate change . They also used dark money to fund right-wing causes and Republican politicos. 

Doel also makes the point that the Kochs also weren’t philanthrophists in any sense of the word. All their funding was entirely in their own selfish interests. He cites an article from the New Yorker that quotes the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, who found that the Kochs’ donations were to organisations that directly affected their profit margins. And Koch didn’t even try to hide. He admitted that the family issued tight ideological control. If the organisations to which they gave didn’t do what they wanted, then the money was withdrawn.

Doel concludes by summarising David Koch’s career, stating that he was a horrible person. And I can’t see any reason to argue with that. 

One of the beneficiaries of the Koch brothers’ money over here is the infamous Spiked magazine, which was given $300,000 by the millionaire dirt-wads. And so editor Brendan O’Neill smears the international concern about the destruction of the Amazon as racist and imperialist. O’Neill was torn to shreds for his shameless lying and gross propaganda on twitter, by people strongly criticising him for his patronising attitude towards the working class as well as his defence of the destruction of the world’s supply of oxygen. One, Alex Tiffin, said of O’Neill that if Corbyn demanded tougher sentencing for child abuse, O’Neill would immediately write an article demanding its legalisation. See Zelo Street’s excellent article on about this sorry piece of spurious journalism at

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brendan-oneills-david-koch-memorial-dump.html

He concludes: ‘Brendan O’Neill spouts his climate change denial garbage because those who have fucked the climate pay him to do so. End of story.’

I’m left wondering what other right-wing groups in the UK are also being funded by the Kochs, not least the Tory party. I’m sure the surviving Koch brothers are absolutely delighted by BoJob. 

 

Private Schools Choosing Easier GCSEs

December 31, 2018

I found this very interesting little snippet in today’s I for 31st December 2018 about private schools doing the easier version of the GCSEs. It runs

Private schools have been accused of “cheating the system to inflate results” after exam figures revealed the number of pupils opting for “easier” GCSE exams. Three quarters of International GCSEs entries – seen as less rigorous than new GCSEs-were from independent schools in 2018. (p. 2).

Somehow I’m not surprised. Market forces mean that in order to attract pupils, they have to get good grades, especially with the parents demanding ‘value for money’. But I can remember when I was at Uni there was a scandal about some private schools allowing children, who in fact had never attended the school, to sit exams in them as a way of artificially inflating the number of pupils getting good grades.

A friend of mine, who went through private education system told me that the wealthy send their children there not so much for the education but for the useful connections they’ll make with the other children of the rich and well-off. And I don’t doubt it for a minute. It explains how BoJo and the other old Etonians get their prominent positions in industry and the media despite a glaring lack of any intellectual ability. I’ve also heard that in fact the education at the private schools is much narrower than in the state sector: the children are basically taught how to pass exams and get into Oxbridge, rather than acquire knowledge for its own sake. And I also remember the I carrying a story about an official report which said that students educated in state schools also tended to outperform the private school boys and girls at university.

The public school lot clearly are resorting to cheating to try and maintain the illusion that they offer a better education, and the children of the rich and power are more intelligent than the rest of us comprehensive school kids.

The Flippant Jokes about Sexual Harassment – Partly Due to Public School Education?

November 4, 2017

Earlier this week, Mike put up a post commenting on this week’s cover of Private Eye and an off-colour joke about sexual harassment by Michael Gove and a letter Labour’s Dawn Butler had written to Theresa May, condemning not only the culture that turns a blind eye to the sexual harassment of female staff at best, and at worst actively condones it, but also finds the whole subject hilariously funny.

Private Eye’s cover is a joke about the venue for the next meeting of the Tory party: it’s a sex shop. And Gove’s joke was about how an interview on the radio was like entering Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom. In both cases you weren’t likely to emerge with your dignity.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/11/01/why-are-people-turning-the-tory-sexual-harassment-allegations-into-a-joke/

Last night, the BBC news comedy show, Have I Got News For You, made the same joke as the Eye, with the same picture. This week’s host, Jo Brand, got an enthusiastic round of applause, however, when she rightly pointed out that to the women, who had suffered such harassment, it wasn’t a joke but a very unpleasant experience.

So why turn it into a joke? Why dismiss it so flippantly? I’m aware that some of it probably goes back to the old double standard, where men are expected to be sexually active and predatory, while women are condemned as whores if they behave the same way. I’m also aware that attitudes may be better or worse towards it amongst different societies. For example, a book I read on Japan in the 1990s said that the Japanese didn’t take the issue seriously at all. There was even a nightclub in Tokyo called Seku Hara, or something like that, which is the Japanese for ‘sexual harassment’. And in parts of the Islamic world, it’s also regarded with amusement as ‘Eve teasing’.

I’m also very much aware that people will make jokes about all kinds of things, no matter how dark or tasteless, such as sexual abuse, disability, murder, rape, and so on. In these instances sexual abuse is just another subject amongst these to make tasteless jokes about.

I am also very much aware that there is, or there was until very recently, an attitude that those subjected to such abuse should just grow a thick skin and endure it. I can remember reading one piece by a female journo in one of the right-wing papers, possibly the Mail, back in the 1990s. She said that when she started working in journalism, female hacks regularly had to deal with lewd comments and jokes, and wandering hands. Women just had to endure it and get used to it. It was even beneficial in that it spurred them on to become better journalists.

You can see there the ‘macho management’ attitude that was common in the Thatcherite ’80s. I’ve heard tales of how the hacks working in various papers were called into the office every morning by their editors to be insulted and belittled on the grounds that this would make them better journalists. I think it was abandoned long ago in the 1990s. Though the attitude just seems to have shifted to the unemployed, who are insulted and belittled at Jobcentre interviews, while their ‘job coaches’ ring them up at odd hours to insult them further, all on the spurious grounds that they are ‘motivating’ them.

But I also wonder how much of this attitude goes back to the public schools. I’ve blogged before about how bullying, and sexual abuse including rape, was common amongst the feral children of the rich. A number of readers commented on this piece, and wrote about the stories they’d heard from their friends of horrific abuse in the schools for the British elite. You can read some of these tales in Danny Danziger’s book, Eton Voices, reviewed in Private Eye when it came out in the 1980s, and reprinted in Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, edited by Francis Wheen. Punch also reviewed the book shortly before it folded, commenting that the abuse described was so horrific that if Eton had been an ordinary state school, it would have been very loudly denounced by the Tories as part of a failing and brutally neglectful state school system.

The younger boys in public schools were subjected to all manner of physical and sexual abuse by the older boys. But the public school ethos seems to be that they were expected to take it, and not blub. They were to ‘play up, and play the game’. Now this is part of the ‘rules of the schoolyard’, as Homer Simpson put it in an episode of the cartoon comedy back in the 1990s. Bullying goes on, but you don’t break ranks and tell the teacher, or else you’re a sneak. But it is slightly different in British state schools over here. Bullying goes on, but it is not supposed to be tolerated. Whether it is in fact depends very much on the individual head master/mistress/principal. I’ve known headmasters, who were very definitely strongly against it. Others much less so.

Public schools are supposed to be the same, but the attitude revealed in Danzier’s book suggested that Eton, and presumably the others, in fact tolerated it. The reviews almost gave the impression that despite the disgust by many of the interviewees about how they had been mistreated, the dominant attitude was almost that it was just jolly schoolboy japes. Nothing more. Don’t worry, they’ll get over it. One ex-public schoolboy told me that the attitude is that after you’ve been bullied, you go on to bully the younger boys in your turn as you go up the school.

And power is very much involved. I’ve also been told by those, who have gone through the system that the elite send their children to the public schools not because they necessarily give them a better education – and indeed, stats show that actually state school kids do better at Uni than public schoolchildren – but because it gives them access to the same kind of people, who can help their careers.

It’s about the old boy’s club, and the old school tie.

Which, together with the abuse, means that the boys preyed upon are expected to take it, because one day their abuser will be able to do something for them in turn, in politics, finance, business, whatever.

Which sounds exactly like the mindset behind the abuse here. Powerful men, who tell those they’re preying on that they’ll help them out if they just submit to their advances. But if they don’t, they’ll never work again.

Private Eye, in itself, isn’t a radical magazine. it’s founders – Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and co. were all solidly middle class, ex-public schoolboys. As is Ian Hislop. With a few possible exceptions, the Tory cabinet is solidly aristo and upper-middle class, as is the senior management at the Beeb.

Which probably explains why the Eye and Have I Got News For You yesterday night decided to treat the subject of sexual harassment as a joke, even if Jo Brand, as a feminist comedian, made it very clear that to many women it wasn’t funny.

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.