When I was 16 I failed all my O-levels, bar a grade C in English Literature, and concluded I wasn’t academically bright. Instead of retaking my O–levels, doing some A-levels and trying to get a place at university, I decided to pursue a career as a tradesman and enrolled on a residential work experience course. It was a bit like a boarding school, except it offered students a technical and vocational education rather than an academic one.
It was a miserable period of my life. The stench of failure hung over the institution like a toxic cloud and my fellow students and I were treated as if we were semi-delinquents who might at any moment go off the rails. I was apprenticed to a succession of skilled tradesmen, but they regarded me with suspicion and had little or no patience for teaching me the rudiments of their professions. Hardly surprising, given the premise of the school. In effect, the local education authority was telling these proud working men, most of whom were exceptionally competent, that their livelihoods were last-ditch alternatives for students of below-average ability. (To read more, click here.)
Across British politics, there is a recognition that technical and vocational education has been
badly neglected. The Government has recently made this one of its core priorities, via the
introduction of T-levels for students aged 16 and over and new Institutes of Technology. This is particularly urgent, given our imminent departure from the European Union. According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 43% of vacancies in skilled trades/occupations were due to skills shortages in 2015, and an additional 3.6 million vacancies in mid-level skilled occupations, such as advanced manufacturing, are predicted to arise by 2022.
Yet the existing technical and vocational schools are close to collapse. The University
Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools that are meant to provide this type education for 14-19 year-olds have become dumping grounds for children struggling in mainstream schools. As a result, they are languishing at the bottom of the league tables and struggling to fill their places. Nearly a third of those opened since 2011 have already closed.
I've just written a report for the Centre for Policy Studies that identifies a key problem that has hobbled technical and vocational education in Britain for more than 100 years and proposes a radical solution. In the report, ‘Technically Gifted’, I argue that we must break the Gordian Knot linking technical education to academic failure by allowing these schools to select their pupils according to aptitude for their occupational specialisms, instead of being forced to take those rejected by their mainstream neighbours as not bright enough to cope with the ‘common core’ of academic GCSEs. Rather than thinking of technical and vocational schools as second best for children of below average ability, as they have been since the beginning of the 20th Century, we should regard them as schools of opportunity for children of all abilities who have a particular flair for this type of education. And the pupils at these schools should still be expected to do the ‘common core’, thereby ensuring they don’t become an ‘alternative pathway’ for those who cannot cope with a broad and balanced curriculum.
The Young family’s annual summer holiday could not have got off to a poorer start, thanks to Ryanair. As veteran customers of the budget airline will know, you have to jump through an endless number of hoops beforehand to avoid having to pay punitive fees at the airport. In fact, the cost of failing to navigate the advance check-in website correctly is so high, ‘fees’ is the wrong word. Fines, more like. Fees are what you have to pony up in order to avoid paying the fines, since checking in is far from free.
Anyway, Caroline got one thing wrong in spite of peering at Ryanair’s website for at least two hours the night before, debit card in hand. So we got hit with a hefty fine at Stansted airport for not having already checked in our second piece of baggage. The check-in clerk agreed that the system was so absurdly overcomplicated that it had clearly been designed to trip people up — and then merrily transferred the remainder of our life savings to her employer. (To read more, click here.)
This summer has seen yet another group of thought criminals being mobbed on social media. Some of them are the people you’d expect, such as the American journalist Jesse Singal, who wrote a cover story for the July/August issue of the Atlantic about parents of transgendered teens agonising over whether to accept their children’s new identity or to try to talk them out of it. That dilemma is particularly acute when the teens in question are only 13 and pushing their parents to allow them to have surgery. Singal’s crime, in the eyes of trans activists, is that he interviewed several older teens who have changed their minds about transitioning and are now grateful to their parents for not letting them take that irreversible step.
But other people targeted by the Twitchfork mob in the past few months are unusual in that they’re liberals who, until recently, were enthusiastic participants in these public shaming rituals. The most prominent is James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn is a hashtag activist who wrote a Facebook post last year accusing another director of being a sex pest. Gunn also regularly criticises Donald Trump, which is how he attracted the ire of the alt-right activist Mike Cernovich last month. Cernovich drew attention to some terrible jokes Gunn had made on Twitter in 2008 and 2009 about rape and paedophilia and, even though Gunn had already deleted and apologised for those tweets, he was fired by Disney as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. (To read more, click here.)
If you’re looking for a good beach read this summer, look no further. A few weeks ago I was reading the blog of an American anthropologist called Gregory Cochran when I came across a reference to an author I’d never heard of: Taylor Anderson. According to Cochran, he’d written science-fiction books about an American destroyer that heads into a storm to escape a Japanese battleship during the second world war and ends up in an alternative universe.
It looks a lot like our world, except there was no massive asteroid strike 66 million years ago, which means no mass extinction event. As a result, dinosaurs still roam the Earth and the species at the top of the food chain are vicious, lizard-like creatures called the Grik that look a lot like velociraptors. When the Americans emerge on the other side of the storm, they’re immediately confronted by a sea battle between the Grik and the Lemurians, a more gentle, human-like species descended from the lemurs of Madagascar. They’re not forced to choose sides, but the captain of the ship, Matt Reddy, cannot bear to watch the slaughter and decides to engage the Grik force. Thus begins an epic adventure. (To read more, click here.)
Reading about James Gunn’s defenestration by Disney for having tweeted some off-color jokes 10 years ago, I was reminded of my own ordeal at the beginning of this year. I’m British, not American, a conservative rather than a liberal, and I didn’t have as far to fall as Gunn. I’m a journalist who helped set up one of England’s first charter schools, which we call ‘free schools,’ and I’ve sat on the board of various not-for-profits, but I’m not the co-creator of Guardians of the Galaxy. In some respects, though, my reversal was even more brutal than Gunn’s because I have spent a large part of the past 10 years doing voluntary work intended to help disadvantaged children. It is one thing to lose a high-paying job because of your ‘offensive attitudes,’ but to be denied further opportunities to do good hits you deep down in your soul. At least Gunn can now engage in charity work to try and redeem himself, as others in his situation have done. I had to give up all the charity work I was doing as a result of the scandal. In the eyes of my critics, I am beyond redemption.
My trial-by-media began shortly after midnight on January 1, when I started trending on Twitter. The cause was a piece about me in the Guardian newspaper which had just gone live. The headline read: “Toby Young to help lead government’s new universities regulator.” That was a bit misleading. I was one of 15 non-executive directors who’d been appointed to the board of the Office for Students, a new higher education regulator, not one of its leaders. The reason was because of the four schools I’ve co-founded and because I’m one of a handful of conservatives involved in public education. Liberals outnumber conservatives on nearly all public bodies in Britain and the Office for Students is no exception. Of the 15 non-executive directors announced on January 1, only three were identifiable as right-of-center, myself included. The chair, Sir Michael Barber, is the former head of research for a left-wing teaching union and spent eight years working for Tony Blair in Downing Street. (To read more, click here.)
Are we witnessing the rebirth of Radical Chic? That was the term coined by Tom Wolfe in his 1970 essay about the party given by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein for the Black Panthers at their 13-room penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. It described a weird trend, beginning in the late 1960s and peaking in the early 1970s, whereby the crème de la crème of New York’s moneyed elite embraced radical left-wing causes, such as the anti-war movement and black power. They did so without irony, seemingly oblivious to the absurdity of trying to ‘stick it to the man’ while living on trust funds established by their robber baron forefathers. It was a way for them to enjoy the fruits of capitalism without stooping to defend it, to have their cake and eat it — or, rather, their Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts, which is what the Bernsteins served at their party.
I’m thinking, in particular, of the progressive posturing of Teen Vogue, which, in spite of being owned by a man with a net worth of $11.6 billion, recently ran a sympathetic profile of Karl Marx to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. ‘You may have come across communist memes on social media,’ it began. ‘The man, the meme, the legend behind this trend is Karl Marx, who developed the theory of communism, which advocates for workers’ control over their labour (instead of their bosses).’ It went on to explain, in the same breathless, upbeat tone, that capitalism only emerged as a result of violent exploitation: ‘Some examples of violence that aided in the establishment of capitalism in the United States include stealing the land of indigenous people and trafficking Africans through slavery.’ (To read more, click here.)
It was only a matter of time. The headteacher of a primary school in Ilfracombe in Devon has banned ‘Flossing’, the dance craze linked to the video game Fortnite, on the grounds that it’s being used to ‘intimidate’ other children. ‘Fortnite is about mass killing of other human beings and being rewarded by a dance of celebration if you are successful,’ she told the Telegraph.
This is the latest example of the moral panic surrounding Fortnite, a video game in which up to 100 players compete against each other, either individually or in ‘squads’, to see who can be the last man standing. So far this year, the National Crime Agency has warned that it is putting children at risk from online paedophiles, Matt Hancock has condemned it for ‘damaging’ children’s lives and the Daily Mail ran a story about it under the following headline: ‘Girl, nine, is in rehab after becoming so addicted to Fortnite video game she “wet herself to continue playing and hit her father in the face when he tried to take away her Xbox’’.’ (To read more, click here.)
According to a poll of 538 experts on women’s issues, the United States is one of the ten most dangerous countries in the world for women. Admittedly, America is ranked tenth, but it’s still considered more dangerous than 183 other countries, including Iran, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh and Myanmar. That’s quite a claim when you bear in mind that Iranian women caught not wearing a full hijab are routinely sentenced to 74 lashes, that an estimated 94 per cent of women in Sierra Leone have had their genitals mutilated, and that thousands of Rohingya women and girls have been raped by Myanmar’s soldiers and militiamen in the past year. What can these so-called experts be thinking?
According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which carried out the survey, it was a ‘perception poll’. In other words, none of the standard data metrics used to evaluate how dangerous a country is for women, such as the incidence of sexual violence, were used. Instead, the respondents were asked to name the five countries in six different categories that they perceived to be the most dangerous. A clue as to how objective they tried to be has been provided by Zakia Soman, a women’s rights activist and one of the ‘experts’ polled. When asked by the BBC why she had ranked India above Somalia and Saudi Arabia — India came top in the poll — she explained that she was holding India to a higher standard because it’s a democracy. But surely she wasn’t being asked to judge countries according to whether they lived up to their own ideals, just how dangerous they are, plain and simple? ‘It’s not about the ranking,’ she snapped. ‘Our society is ruled by misogyny and patriarchy.’ (To read more, click here.)
A controversy has erupted in Folkestone over a forthcoming screening of Zulu, the classic British war film. A charity has arranged to show the film at the Silver Screen Cinema on Saturday to raise money for members of the armed forces and their families, but the event may have to be cancelled following a letter to the town’s mayor signed by 28 locals objecting to Zulu’s ‘racist overtones’. ‘The film glorifies the myth that was created in 1879 after the humiliation of the British military defeat at the battle of Isandlwana,’ they write. ‘The Battle of Rorke’s Drift was, in reality, little more than a footnote after a far more important and far more gory battle earlier in the day, 11 miles away at Isandlwana.’
The Folkestone letter writers may not know it, but they are part of a growing movement to cleanse popular culture of its politically incorrect content. It is known as ‘the awokening’. In America, numerous films and TV programmes have been criticised for being insufficiently ‘woke’ — that is, failing to advertise their awareness of the systematic biases and challenges facing marginalised communities. I’m not talking about The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s silent epic which has long been condemned for its sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, but much more recent fare, such as Friends. The long-running 1990s sitcom is now considered ‘problematic’ — woke-speak for ‘completely unacceptable’ — because, among other things, it poked fun at one of its characters for being an overweight adolescent. That falls under the banner of ‘fat shaming’, one of the deadliest sins in the woke decalogue. (To read more, click here.)