Posts Tagged ‘Will Hazell’

‘I’ Article on Academic Underperformance and Social Deprivation of White Working Class

October 17, 2020

The most deprived section of the population according to some measurements is the White working class. There have been any number of articles written about this. Working class White boys perform less well at school compared to Blacks and Asians, have higher rates of unemployment and hold poorer paid jobs. And according to an article in last Wednesday’s I for 14th October 2020, the rhetoric used by Black Lives Matter and other pro-Black anti-racist activists may make this deprivation worse. The article states that working class Whites believe that they have little chance of improving their conditions due to their communities lacking status and this is potentially going to be made worse through talk of ‘White privilege’. The academics interviewed in the article also state that their communities are still suffering from the decline of Britain’s manufacturing industry.

The article’s by Will Hazell, and is titled ‘White working-class pupils think academic race is unwinnable’. It runs

White working-class pupils are falling behind at school because their communities suffer from a “status deficit” and talk of “white privilege” could make things worse MPs have heard.

An inquiry by the Commons Education Select Committee is examining why white children from disadvantaged backgrounds perform worse than any other group in education.

Only 17 per cent of white pupils on free school meals get a strong pass in English and maths GCSEs – the lowest of any ethnic group.

Meanwhile just 13 per cent of white British boys on free school meals progress to higher education, compared with 42 per cent from a Pakistani heritage, 51 per cent of black African boys and 66 per cent of Chinese ethnicity.

Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at Kent University, told MPs that there were “cultural explanations” with white working-class families suffering a “status deficit”.

White working class families were left to feel “as though they’re not being given as much recognition and esteem as others”, Professor Goodwin said.

He said the idea of “white privilege”, along with references to “toxic masculinity”, had demoralised white working class families. He added: “If we are now going to start teaching them in school they not only have to overcome the economic and social barriers within their community, but they also need to start apologising for simply belonging to a wider group which also strips away their individual agency, then I think we’re just going to compound many of these problems.”

Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at Exeter University, said white working class communities were “still recovering from the demise of the manufacturing industry”, and a “narrow academic race” in schools which felt “unwinnable” for poor white families.

The problem could only be fixed by providing improved vocational education routes for young people as well as jobs in their local communities, he said.

I think the class background of some of the children of other ethnic groups may help to explain why these generally perform better at school, and get better jobs and opportunities. than working class Whites. Not all Blacks, Pakistanis and Chinese are working class. Many of them are businessmen or professionals, who may have emigrated to Britain as part of their jobs or came over here because of the greater opportunities offered when immigration was being encouraged or at least less restricted. These children therefore already enjoy social advantages and opportunities through their parents’ higher status and education than working class children.

Also, there has been enormous effort put into improving conditions for ethnic minorities. This obviously includes affirmative action programmes. About a decade ago the former head of the Council for Racial Equality, as ’twas then, was quoted in an article in the Heil as suggesting that their should be similar programmes for working class Whites. Nothing further was then said, and I think the gentleman involved left his position shortly afterwards due to a completely unrelated matter. If he’s the fellow I’m thinking of, he was accused of making up accusations for racist abuse or something similar against a policeman at a football match.

The ideas interesting and probably necessary, but it has major problems. Not least is the way it contradicts, or appears to contradict, much contemporary anti-racist and feminist discourse and policies. The contemporary concern for equality is centred around providing better opportunities and social and economic improvement and advancement for ethnic minorities and women. Left-wing, anti-racist and feminist criticism of traditional western society is that it’s dominated by White men. This is obviously true, but it needs to be remembered that it’s dominated by elite White men. But any programme aimed at specifically improving the conditions of Whites, and especially White boys, may appear reactionary because it’s directed to improving the conditions of a gender and ethnicity – but not the class – that some view as already having too much power.

And I do think also that there’s now a lack of glamour about the White working class compared to other ethnic groups. Blacks and Asians have the glamour of the exotic, and so they can be promoted by celebrating their cultures’ achievements, as Black History Month does. But the White working class is much harder to celebrate because of their ordinariness. And the fact that the socially deprived sections are likely to be sneered at as chavs or rednecks.

The concept of White privilege has been subject to extensive criticism by people on the right. As a generalisation about society as a whole, it’s obviously true that Whites generally perform better academically, and enjoy better jobs and opportunities than many, but not all, ethnic minorities. But it ignores the fact that many Whites don’t share this privilege, and may be as disadvantaged or more than some other deprived ethnicities. I think the reason for this is that the whole concept of White privilege was formulated by middle class radicals thinking specifically about the White middle class, and lumping all Whites in with it.

I think we’re probably going to hear much more about the problems of the White working class as time goes on. The right-wing internet host and YouTube Alex Belfield has already put up a video about the plight of White working class boys. Another right-wing outfit – I think it’s called the New Culture Forum or something like that – has also put up a long video about ‘The Demonisation of the White Working Class’. I think the intention here is to exploit working class White discontent as a way of attacking the anti-racist affirmative action programmes.

Because the Tories certainly don’t care about the working class, whatever it’s colour. The Tories smashed the coal industry partly as a way of destroying the trade unions. It was the miner’s union, remember, that defeated Ted Heath. Thatcher had no interest in manufacturing, and her Labour successor, Tony Blair, blandly assumed that its role in the economy would be taken over by the financial sector. Since David Cameron’s election victory, the Tories have insisted on austerity, holding down wages, promoting zero hours contracts and attacking workers’ rights, as well as cutting the welfare benefits working people need to keep body and soul together. It’s all in the name of creating an impoverished, cowed, demoralised workforce that will take any job, no matter how poorly paid or insecure. Most of the people claiming benefits and using food banks are now people actually in work. But instead of doing anything for them, the Tories simply drum up jealousy against those even more disadvantaged. You think of the rants the Tories screamed about how they were going to cut benefits to the unemployed in order to make work pay. The unemployed were scroungers, malingerers and layabouts, who shouldn’t earn more than working people. But in all too many cases, the benefits system does not provide enough for the people who need it to live on. And how seriously the Tories take their slogan of making work pay is shown by the fact that they’ve done nothing to raise wages. ‘Cause it’s all the working class’ fault they’re poor.

In contrast to the Tories’ posturing, the people who are serious about protecting and advancing the White working class are the Labour left. The very people the anti-immigrant, racist Brexiteer right despise as traitors. But left-wing Labour activists like Richard Burgon have made it very clear that they will work for improving the conditions of White working class communities as part of their commitment to bettering conditions for all of Britain’s working people, Black, brown, White or whatever.

And you can believe them.

The Tories, however, will do nothing but patronise the White working class, drumming up racial resentments and jealousies while pushing through policies that will make them, and the rest of the working class, even poorer and more miserable.

Lib Dems Want More Black History Taught in Schools

July 7, 2020

Also from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020 was a piece by Will Hazell reporting that the Lib Dems have called for schools to teach more Black history. The article on page 15 runs

The national curriculum should be reformed so schools teach children more about black history and uncomfortable aspects of Britain’s imperial past, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The party has also demanded improved teacher training so school staff can avoid “microaggressions”, under proposals worked up with the Diversity Reform Initiative – a new organisation which aims to tackle racial disadvantage in institutions.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Layla Moran, the Lib Dems’ education spokesperson, said: “Changes to the history curriculum, such as learning about non-white historical figures and addressing the darker sides of British history honestly, are a vital step in tackling racism in our educational system.”  

It’s a good point, and Labour should be demanding the same. Unfortunately they aren’t. Mike put up a piece the other day about how the Labour Party is hemorrhaging members thanks to Keir Starmer’s right-wing leadership. Starmer’s a New Labour centrist, who has done precious little to challenge the Tories, thanks to his decision to advance only constructive criticism during the pandemic. Many of those leaving the party are Black and Asian, who resent his almost total inaction on racism and his halfhearted dismissive attitude towards Black Lives Matter. If the Lib Dems prove to be more serious about tackling racism, they could well attract these disaffected former Labour voters.

That said, I am not impressed by some of the policies suggested by the Diversity Reform Initiative. I am not convinced of the existence of ‘microaggressions’ – I think it is something that has been thought up by oversensitive, resentful individuals to justify their bitter hatred of mainstream society. Of course respect goes both ways, but there is already a problem with discipline in some schools and I think a focus on suppressing ‘microaggressions’ on the part of teachers will only make things worse.

Scientists Demand Outlawing Teaching of Creationism in Wales

September 6, 2019

Here’s a different issue to Brexit and the Tories, but one which, I think, also raises profound questions and dangers. According to today’s I for 6th September 2019, David Attenborough has joined a number of other scientists backing a campaign to ban the teaching of Creationism as science in Welsh schools. The campaign was started by Humanists UK. The article, titled ‘Attenborough calls for creationism teaching ban’, by Will Hazell, on page 22, runs

Sir David Attenborough is backing a campaign urging the Welsh Government to outlaw the teaching of creationism as science from its new curriculum.

The broadcaster is one of dozens of leading scientists to sign a letter calling for evolution to be taught at primary level as well as an explicit ban on teaching creationism as science.

Humanists UK, which organised the letter, claims the draft national curriculum does not teach evolution until ages 14 to 15.

The letter reads: “Pupils should be introduced to [evolution] early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else.

“Without an explicit ban on teaching creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum.”

In 2015, the Scottish Government made clear that creationism should not be taught in state schools, while in England, state schools – including primaries – have to teach evolution as a “comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidence-based theory”.

The new Welsh curriculum, due to be rolled out in 2022, set out six “areas of learning and experience”, including science and technology.

A spokeswoman for Wales Humanists said it “could allow schools much more flexibility over what they teach”. “This is very worrying, as it could make it much easier for a school to openly teach creationism as science,” she added.

But a spokesman for the Welsh Government denied the claims, saying: “It is wholly incorrect to claim that evolution will only be introduced at 14 to 16.

“We believe that providing children with an understanding of evolution at an early age will help lay foundations for a better understanding of wider scientific concepts later on.”

Both Mike and I went to an Anglican comprehensive school, which certainly did teach evolution before 14 or 15 years of age. In the first year I can remember learning about the geological history of the Earth and the formation of the continents. We were also taught evolution, as illustrated by the development of the modern horse from ancestral species such as Eohippus.

Theories of Evolution before Darwin

I am also very much aware that the history of religious attitudes towards evolution is much more complex than the accepted view that Christians and other people of faith are uniformly opposed to it. One of the first books promoting the evolution of organisms from simpler ancestral forms was written by Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather. Erasmus Darwin was part of the late 18th century scientific group, the Lunar Society, who were the subject of book, The Lunar Men, published a few years ago by the British writer and academic, Jenny Uglow. I think Erasmus was a Quaker, rather than a member of a more mainstream Christian denomination, but he was a religious believer. In his book he argued that the evolution of different organisms made the existence of a Creator ‘mathematically certain’. Erasmus Darwin was followed in turn by the great French scientist, Lamarck, who published his own theory of evolution. This was highly influential, and when Darwin was a student in Scotland, one of the lecturers used to take him and the other students to a beach to show them the shells and other fossils showing the evolution of life. And one of the reasons why Darwin himself put off publishing his magnum opus, The Origin of Species for so long was because of the reception of another, preceding book on evolution, Joseph Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chambers’ book had caused a sensation, but its arguments had been attacked and refuted on scientific grounds. Darwin was afraid this would happen to his own work unless he made the argument as secure as possible with supporting facts. And he himself admitted when it finally was published that even then, the evidence for it was insufficient.

The Other Reasons for Darwin’s Loss of Faith

Darwin certainly lost his faith and it’s a complete myth that he recanted on his deathbed. But I think the reasons for his loss of faith were far more complex than that they were undermined by his own theory, although that may very well have also played a part. Rather, he was disturbed by the suffering in nature. How could a good God allow animals to become sick, prey on each other, and die? I might also be wrong here, but I think one of his daughters died, and that also contributed to his growing atheism. As you can understand.

Christian Acceptance and Formulation of Theories of Evolution

At the same time, although Darwin’s theory did cause shock and outrage, some Christians were prepared to accept it. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, when he debated T.H. Huxley on Darwin’s theory, opened the debate by stating that no matter how uncomfortable it was, Christians should nevertheless accept the theory if it were true. And after about two decades, the majority of Christians in Britain had largely accepted it. One of the reasons they did so was theological. Some of the other theories of evolution proposed at the same time suggested that evolution was driven by vital, supernatural energies without the direction of a creator. The mechanistic nature of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rebutted the existence of these non-materialistic forces, so that Christians could still believe that God was in charge of the overall process.

In the 1840s in Britain, Samuel Baden-Powell, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford, proposed a view of evolution that attempted to prove that it was driven by the Almighty, by comparing it to the manufacturing process in factories. In 1844 the Polish writer, Juliusz Towianski, published his Genezis z ducha – ‘Creation through the Spirit), an explicitly religious theory of evolution. He believed that God had created the world at the request of disembodied spirits. However, these were given imperfect forms, and since that time have been striving to ascend the evolutionary ladder back to God through a process of transformation and catastrophe. By the 1900s in many Christians eye evolution had become an accepted theory which posed no obstacle to religious faith. The term ‘fundamentalism’ is derived from a series of tracts, Fundamentals of Christianity, published in America in the early 20th century. This was published as a response to the growth in religious scepticism. However, it fully accepts evolution.

Scientists Against Evolution

The Intelligent Design crowd have also pointed out that rather than being the sole province of churchmen and people of faith, many of Darwin’s critics were scientists, like Mivart. They objected to his theory purely on scientific grounds.

Creationism, Christianity and Islam

If the history of the reaction to Darwin’s theory is rather different than the simplistic view that it was all just ignorant religious people versus rational scientists, I also believe the situation today is also much more complex. A decade ago, around 2009 when Britain celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species, there was a determined attack on Creationism, particularly by the militant New Atheists. Some of this was driven by anxiety over the growth of Creationism and the spread of Intelligent Design. This was framed very much as combating it within Christianity. The problem with that is that I understand that most Creationists in Britain are Muslims, rather than Christians. There was an incident reported in the press in which one Oxford biologist was astonished when a group of Muslims walked out of his lecture. This was Steve Jones, who presented the excellent Beeb science series about genetics and heredity, In the Blood back in the 1990s. One male student told him frankly that this conflicted with their religion, and walked out of the lecture hall, leaving Jones nonplussed. The far right Christian Libertarian, Theodore Beale, alias Vox Day, who really has some vile views about race and gender, caustically remarked on his blog that this showed the powerlessness of the scientific establishment to opposition from Islam. They were so used to Christians giving into them, that they didn’t know what to do when Muslims refused to cave. That said, I would not like to say that all Muslims were Creationists by any means. Akhtar, who led the demonstrations against the Satanic Verses in Bradford in the late ’80s and early ’90s, angrily declared in one of his books that Salafism – Islamic fundamentalism – did not mean rejecting evolution, and he could point to Muslims who believed in it.

Scepticism Towards Evolution Not Confined to the Religious

Another problem with the assumption that Creationism is leading to increasing scepticism towards evolution is that the statistics seem to show the opposite. Back around 2009 there was a report claiming that 7 out of 10 Brits didn’t believe in evolution. One evolutionary biologist was quoted as saying that this was due to the marginalisation of the teaching of evolution in British schools, and demanded that there should be more of it. Now it might be right that people don’t believe in evolution because of its teaching or lack therefore in British education. But this was the same time that the New Atheism was on the march, led by Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. This was supported by statistics showing that Christianity and church attendance was well in decline in this country. According to the stats, although many people identified as Christians and about 70 per cent at the time declared they believed in God, the actual number who go to church is far smaller. Only a few years ago further polls revealed that for the first, atheists were in the majority in this country. The growth of disbelief in evolution can’t simply be explained as the product of Creationism, whether Christian, Muslim or whatever.

Atheists and the Problem of Persuading Creationists to Accept Evolution

There’s also the problem here in that, however, well meant Humanists UK’s campaign may actually be, at one level they and Richard Attenborough are the last people, who should be leading it. They’re atheists. A few years ago Attenborough was the subject of an interview in the Radio Times, in which he photographed chatting with Dawkins. He was also quoted as saying that he had stopped believing in God when he was child, and at school he used to wonder during services how anybody could believe in such rubbish. He’s not the first or last schoolkid to have felt that. But it does mean that he has a very weak personal position when dealing with Creationists. Many Creationists object to the teaching of evolution because not just because they think it’s unscientific, but because they also believe that its a vehicle for a vehemently hostile, anti-Christian or simply irreligious and atheist political and intellectual establishment to foist their views on everyone else. A campaign insisting on the teaching of evolution by an atheist organisation like Humanists UK will only confirm this in their eyes.

Anti-Creationist Campaigns also Attacking Reasoned Critique of Materialist Views of Evolution

Another problem with the campaign against Creationism is that is leading scientists to attack any critique of the contemporary neo-Darwinian theory or materialist views of evolutionary. Gordon Rattray Taylor, a former Chief Science Advisor to the Beeb and editor of the Horizon science series, himself published a detailed critique of conventional evolutionary theory, The Great Evolution Mystery, shortly before his death in 1981. He states in it that he doesn’t want to denigrate Darwin, but he concludes that it is not so much a theory, as a subset of greater theory that has yet to be formulated. He also quotes another evolutionary biologist, von Bertalanffy, who said

‘I think the fact that a theory so vague, so insufficiently verifiable … has become a dogma can only be explained on sociological grounds’.

Rattray Taylor himself concludes

Actually, the origin of the phyla is not be any means the weakest point in the Darwinian position. Many facts remain inexplicable, as we have seen. Modern biology is challenged by ‘a whole group of problems’ as Riedl remarks. Now, however, the attempt to present Darwinism as an established dogma, immune from criticism, is disintegrating. At last the intellectual log-jam is breaking up. So we may be on the verge of major advances. The years ahead could be exciting. Many of these advances, I confidently predict, will be concerned with form.

It is unfortunate that the Creationists are exploiting this new atmosphere by pressing their position; this naturally drives the biologists into defensive attitudes and discourages them from making any admissions.

Evolutionists have been blinkered by a too narrowly materialist and reductionist approach to their problems. But the trend of the times is away from Victorian certainties and Edwardian rigidities. In the world as a whole, there is growing recognition that life is more complex, even more mysterious, than we supposed. The probability that some things will never be understood no longer seems so frightening as it did. The probability that there are forces at work in the universes of which we have scarcely yet an inkling is not too bizarre to entertain. This is a step towards the freeing of the human mind which is pregnant with promise.

Conclusion

This is an effective rebuttal to the charge that challenges to materialist conceptions of evolution are a science-stopper, or that they will close minds. Rattray Taylor’s book was published in 1983, 36 years ago. I have no doubt that it’s dated, and that scientific advances have explained some of the mysteries he describes in the book. But I believe he still has a point. And I am afraid that however genuinely Humanists UK, Attenborough and the scientists, who put their name to the letter, are about making sure Welsh schoolchildren are scientifically literate, that their efforts are also part of a wider campaign to make sure materialist views of evolution are not challenged elsewhere in society and academia.