Thousands of schoolchildren are planning to go on ‘strike’ on Friday to protest about government inaction on climate change. Called the ‘Youth Strike 4 Climate’, it has been inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl called Greta Thunberg who has spent every Friday since August protesting outside the Swedish parliament and has encouraged others to follow her lead. To date, there have been strikes in Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands, among other countries, with up to 70,000 children taking part each week.
From a school’s point of view, this kind of thing is a nightmare. Teachers are usually working to a detailed plan in which a syllabus is being taught in a particular sequence. If a student misses a day, they’re going to have difficulty understanding the next lessons in the classes they’ve missed because they’ll have skipped a step.
The teachers will either have to ‘catch up’ the students who were absent — at lunchtime or after school, which means extra work for them — or differentiate what they’re teaching in the next lesson, so some children are being taught the latest step and some the previous step. Plenty of schools will be forced to close because they won’t be able to cope with the logistical fall-out. (To read more, click here.)
You have to admire the inexhaustible capacity of the social justice left for taking offense. This week, the straight white male in the stocks is Jay Fielden, the editor-in-chief of Esquire. His sin? To put a white teenager called Ryan Morgan on the front of the March issue, accompanied by the line: ‘What it’s like to grow up white, middle class and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity and a divided country.’ Turns out, it’s a lot harder if you appear on the cover of Esquire.
‘Really @esquire?’ tweeted Karamo Brown, a television presenter in Los Angeles. ‘“What’s it like growing up white, middle class and male…” How idiotic! It’s the same as it’s always been… full of privilege that women, people of color, lgbtq people & immigrants don’t have! I’m done.’ Another outraged tweeter, Leslie Mac, who runs ‘anti-racism boot camps’ in North Carolina, was even angrier: ‘Y’all – this Cover Story in @esquire is thee WHITEST SHIT I’ve come across all… well all week at least. I’m so fucking tired of press stories about poor white boys while marginalized people are actually dying because the current “era”.’
It goes without saying that both those commentators have blue ticks, Twitter’s imprimatur of approval. You’d have thought the blue-tick chorus would have learned its lesson after prematurely shaming Nick Sandmann, the 16-year-old Catholic schoolboy who was falsely accused of harassing a Native American protester at the Lincoln Memorial last month. But apparently this was not a ‘teachable moment’ for the Wokerati. After Esquire posted its March issue online, an author called Sarah Weinman – also the proud bearer a blue tick – compared its 17-year-old cover star to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who shot and killed nine black worshippers at a church in 2015. (To read more, click here.)
The Guardian last week published a ‘we, the undersigned’ letter from 50 ‘artists of conscience’ urging the BBC to boycott this year’s Eurovision Song Contest because it’s taking place in Israel. ‘Eurovision may be light entertainment,’ they wrote, ‘but it is not exempt from human rights considerations — and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian human rights.’ The signatories included such luminaries as Julie Christie, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Vivienne Westwood and Ken Loach.
Ken’s inclusion will have come as a surprise to those Israelis who saw his film I, Daniel Blake in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago. Ken’s hypocrisy was pointed out when he chastised Radiohead for ignoring the cultural boycott of Israel. ‘Radiohead need to decide whether they stand with the oppressed or the oppressor,’ he thundered in the Independent. Asked why Ken hadn’t observed the boycott, his producer Rebecca O’Brien said she’d done the deal ‘accidentally’ and without Ken’s knowledge, a claim pooh-poohed by his Israeli distributor Guy Shani. ‘I can’t tell you how absurd this is,’ he said. ‘We’ve been showing his movies for years. I have been paying him money every year.’ Still, let’s give the old booby the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Ken genuinely isn’t aware that nearly all his films have been distributed in Israel. (To read more, click here.)
The Department for Education (DfE) published its finalised data on the 2018 GCSE results last week, revealing that, for the second year running, white pupils are doing worse in English secondary schools than any other ethnic group. According to the new Progress 8 measure, which assigns a score to GCSE entrants based on how much progress they’ve made between the ages of 11 and 16 relative to children of similar abilities, Chinese pupils do the best, with a score of 1.08, Asians are second (0.45), then blacks (0.12), mixed race (-0.02) and, bringing up the rear, whites (-0.10). What that score means is that on average white children are behind by a tenth of a grade in each of their best eight GCSEs compared to all English schoolchildren with the same grades at the age of 11.
Needless to say, the data has already been dismissed by heads of schools that have been labelled as ‘underperforming’ thanks to their poor scores (about 10 per cent of English secondaries are below the DfE’s ‘floor’ standard). They argue that Progress 8 penalises pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds because it treats how children perform in the tests they take at the end of Year 6 in primary school as the only relevant data point and ignores parental socio-economic status. A fairer measure, they say, would be for the DfE to assign progress scores to pupils based on their GCSE performance compared to children from similar backgrounds with the same results at the age of 11. By that metric, their schools would be about average — in some cases, above average. Incidentally, the reason non-white children from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t penalised by Progress 8 is because a much higher percentage of them speak English as an additional language, which means their test scores at the end of primary school, when they may not be fluent in English, underestimate their academic ability. As they go through secondary their English improves, they get better at taking tests and, as a result, they appear to make more progress than white children. (To read more, click here.)
Last November, a school in Brighton called Dorothy Stringer made the news when it was revealed that 76 of its pupils are either transgender or gender-non-conforming (TGNC). This isn’t as unusual as you might think. At another school, which also hit the headlines last year, 17 pupils are in the process of changing gender and many schools now have policies in place to support pupils who identify as TGNC, including more than 80 with “gender neutral” uniforms. Referrals to the Tavistock, Britain’s only NHS clinic specialising in children and young people who are TGNC, jumped from 697 in 2014-15 to 2,016 in 2016-17, an increase of 289 per cent.
In some cases, these patients will be prescribed “puberty blockers”, drugs that delay the onset of puberty. If they’re over 16, they may be offered hormone therapy so they develop the secondary sexual characteristics associated with the gender they identify with — breasts for those transitioning to female and facial hair for those transitioning to male. Older patients may even be given the option of gender reassignment surgery, provided their psychotherapist is satisfied they are genuinely suffering from “gender dysphoria” (see below).
Should we be alarmed by this trend? And make no mistake, it is a growing phenomenon. The Sunday Times reported in January that a record number of children are applying to change their gender by deed poll — seven to 10 a week. (To read more, click here.)
Donald Trump is often criticised by liberal news organisations like CNN and the New York Times for resorting to the phrase ‘fake news’ whenever he’s asked an awkward question. This is evidence of his slipperiness, we’re told, as well as his arms-length relationship with the truth. What’s more, it’s irresponsible to repeat this charge endlessly because it undermines public trust in journalism. That’s not just bad for the fourth estate; it’s bad for democracy.
There’s some truth to that, which is why it was so disheartening to see the liberal media go out of its way last weekend to confirm Trump’s cynicism. I’m thinking of the coverage given to an incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Friday when a group of Catholic schoolboys from Kentucky came face to face with an elderly Native American called Nathan Phillips. Video footage surfaced on Twitter of one of the schoolboys standing inches away from Phillips, seeming to smirk as the indigenous man banged a drum and chanted, and hundreds of journalists immediately expressed their disgust. It didn’t help that the boy was wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and he and his friends had just been on a pro-life march. Anne Helen Petersen, a ‘senior culture writer’ for BuzzFeed News, described the boy’s expression as ‘the look of white patriarchy’, while Kara Swisher, an opinion writer for the New York Times, compared him and his friends to ‘Nazis’. CNN’s Bakari Sellers suggested he should be ‘punched in the face’. To read more, click here.)
I’m writing this on an aeroplane flying back from Toronto, where I was attending a party thrown by Quillette, an online magazine. Canada might seem like a long way to go for a social gathering, but I’ve been working at Quillette for almost a year and hadn’t yet met the editor-in-chief, Claire Lehmann.
Claire is quite something. She was doing a graduate degree in psychology at the University of Adelaide when she became disillusioned by the lack of viewpoint diversity in her field. There’s no hard data on the ratio of left-wing to right-wing academics in Australia, but it’s probably the same as it is in America, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in psychology departments by 17.4 to one. That’s not an error. In fact, psychology is less one-sided than some other subjects, such as history, where the ratio is 33.5 to one. But instead of bellyaching about this ideological monoculture, Claire decided to do something about it. She dropped out of graduate school and set up Quillette. (To read more, click here.)
There’s a scene in Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s masterpiece about the collapse of western civilisation, in which a particularly sadistic boy named Roger starts to throw stones at a weaker, younger lad called Henry. Yet when he tries to hurt the boy, he finds he cannot do it. ‘Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them,’ writes Golding. ‘Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.’
Golding attributes this six-yard forcefield to civilisation. It’s the legacy of the various authorities Roger has been conditioned to respect — parents, school, policemen, the law, etc. And as anyone who’s read the book will know, eventually this protective barrier collapses. The theme of Lord of the Flies is that the savage constrained by the rules of civilised society is never far from the surface. The rule of law and relatively low rates of violence we take for granted in countries like the UK could easily collapse, unleashing a Hobbesian dystopia, a war of all against all. (To read more, click here.)
For the first time in its history, the American Psychological Association (APA) has issued guidelines for mental health professionals working with men and boys. That may not sound like a momentous event, but the APA is a powerful body in the US. It has 117,500 members, including the vast majority of practising psychologists, and an annual budget of $115 million. Its guidance documents carry the imprimatur of scientific authority and are hugely influential when it comes to policies and behaviour in public institutions. This edict will be referred to by university administrators when policing sexual interactions on campus, by the courts when deciding who to award custody to in divorce hearings and by HR departments when assessing complaints about male employees. It’s not an exaggeration to say this new guidance will affect the lives of millions of men and boys for years to come.
I cannot claim to have read the entire 30,000-word document, but I’ve got the gist: masculinity is a bad, bad thing. Traditional male qualities like courage, self-reliance, competitiveness, stoicism, personal ambition and a love of adventure are ‘psychologically harmful’. On the face of it, men and boys might appear to benefit from ‘patriarchy’ — after all, 95.2 per cent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are men — but in reality the emotional repression needed to maintain this ‘privilege’ exacts a terrible toll. It is the ethical duty of psychologists, as well as parents, teachers, coaches, religious and community leaders, to root out these masculine pathologies and help men become… well, less manly. (To read more, click here.)
The Guardian has published a piece by Andrew Adonis urging Oxford and Cambridge to set up ‘access colleges’ which would only admit applicants from comprehensives.
I’ve long been a fan of Adonis. He did more to drive up standards in state schools as a Labour education minister than most Conservatives do as education secretaries. Unlike his partisan colleagues, he has also been wholly supportive of the free schools programme and gave me some much needed words of encouragement when I was trying to set one up. So I was disappointed to see him resurrect this old idea. The last time it was run up the flagpole, five years ago, I opposed it in an Oxford Union debate and my views haven’t changed. (To read more, click here.)