“Aren’t we supposed to be agents of societal change?” were the words which greeted a colleague of mine recently during a meeting with his line manager. And it is true that teachers are agents of change, but the issue is what that change actually is. It is one thing to help children understand mathematical problems or show them ways in which to structure their writing, but it is another matter entirely to embark on some moral crusade in the name of social justice and political activism. I have worked in education for several years, having taught in both secondary schools and universities, and it has been ever more apparent that so-called professionals see the indoctrination of children with Leftist ideology as fundamental to their role. The woke brigade is, I can assure you, on the march in education and it is winning more ground over time. This article stems from a series of experiences and observations, though the core of it was triggered (as one might say in woke world) by a recent experience with PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic education). It is intended in the first instance to provide a snapshot of some of the work which happens in schools, though I am sure readers here could very well already have a good idea about that. In the second instance, it outlines why that work is (to use another woke word) problematic before theorising why such problems arise in schools.
Whilst there is plenty of evidence that Leftist ideology either has permeated or is permeating academic subjects, my focus here is on some teaching resources which were recently sent out by management to all form tutors at my school for use in PSHE. In times gone by, this tended to focus on issues like drugs and drug abuse. However, over time it has increasingly covered issues like sex education, bullying and relationships (one might wonder how previous generations managed to get by just fine without being specifically ‘educated’ about such matters). In still more recent times, PSHE has been used to teach children about the hundreds of different genders which supposedly exist and which defy biology, and it has also been used to scare them about the impending doom which awaits us all with climate change. It might come as no surprise that, yes, PSHE was also used to put the fear of Covid into children by instructing them on the dangers of not wearing a face mask. It was not, of course, used to warn children about the risks of wearing face masks or indeed of the risks of mRNA vaccines (even though PSHE used to educate children to, in the words of Nancy Reagan, ‘just say no’ to drugs).
PSHE topics have also spilled over into staff training, with INSET (In-Service Education and Training) days being used to deliver woke programmes like unconscious bias and how to tackle climate change. Incidentally, staff at my school were told during more than one INSET day not to question vaccines as teachers are not doctors (whilst at the same time the school took it upon itself to dish out medical advice by actively promoting mRNA vaccines). Other staff training and professional development typically includes sessions focusing on issues relating to safeguarding and radicalisation. The irony of course is that, despite providing training on those issues, schools fail to recognise how they are actively complicit in a form of abuse as well as a form of radicalisation. I have sat through many a session now which was meant to raise awareness of radicalisation but which failed to even acknowledge the role played by religious fundamentalism. Everything instead zeroed in on the so-called ‘far Right’, which at this point in time seems to be a label used to describe anyone who is even slightly Right of centre, and totally ignored the radical far-Left activism which is conquering education.
Nonetheless, the case I wish to focus on in this article is that involving a set of PSHE resources which were recently distributed via management to all teaching staff. The overall theme of the resources was misogyny and they were sent out as a reaction to all the reportage on Andrew Tate. The first issue here is, to my knowledge, nobody in management actually made the effort to go and look at any of Tate’s videos and nobody bothered to investigate any of the context around them. In other words, management were eager to follow a ready-made narrative without making any effort to engage in any form of critical thinking whatsoever. This is a phenomenon which in my experience happens routinely in education, a point which I will come to again later. The second issue is that by implication most teaching staff assumed all adolescent boys were in immediate danger of becoming misogynists simply by watching an Andrew Tate video. If indeed pupils could be magically transformed by a video, we’d surely see millions of teenagers going on shooting sprees by virtue of the fact they had watched John Wick or played Call of Duty (though I note such warped logic has been used elsewhere, such as by the prosecution in the Rittenhouse case).
One of the centrepieces of the PSHE material sent out to teaching staff was a ‘Wheel of Power/Privilege’. This was breathtaking in its stupidity, disingenuous in its claims and disgusting in its promotion of discriminatory attitudes. It divides people into different groups and locates particular groups at the centre of power and others far removed from power.
The first problem here is how power is measured and defined. It is not clear whether power means controlling the executive branch of government, holding a top position in some form of employment, controlling the media, owning property, running your own business or something else altogether. However power is defined, this ‘educational’ resource establishes a hierarchy of victimhood, with the implication that some demographics are deprived of any influence and are therefore more deserving of attention, sympathy and support. Ironically, this overlooks the fact that minority groups and interests hold considerable power and influence within politics, media and education. One need only watch the BBC or virtually any soap for a few minutes to see evidence of that. Indeed, some institutions appear to actively discriminate people on the basis of ethnicity; Oxford University, for example, is running an event specifically for ‘BAME’ students. From police officers actively participating in LGBTQ+ events to examination boards proudly announcing how their courses celebrate trans people, it is patently clear such groups are far from disempowered and have in fact taken control of much ground. But alongside establishing a hierarchy of victimhood, the ‘Wheel of Power/Privilege’ embeds a narrative which appears to encourage hatred towards a particular group, notably heterosexual white men. Evidently, those looking to tackle misogyny think it is perfectly okay to promote misandry, presumably because in their minds men are the source of all evil and hold all the levers of power (however power is defined). Clearly, those enthusiastically circulating PSHE material at my own school failed to notice that most of senior management are women. Hardly evidence of male power and privilege. What we have here is a PSHE resource which is the direct product of the kind of cultural Marxism espoused by the likes of Herbert Marcuse and which is intended to create division and hatred.
The next major issue with the ‘Wheel of Power/Privilege’ is it is itself bigoted towards every single demographic group and ignores economic realities. It assumes that all people who superficially belong to one identified group are homogenous and will share the same attitudes, opinions and socioeconomic prospects. In other words, the type of diversity promoted is one which is skin deep only and does not value diversity of thought, opinion or individual effort. Nobody is supposed to deviate from the narrative prescribed by the woke priesthood. And this is where such educational materials reveal an impressive degree of economic and historical illiteracy. We do not live in some kind of feudal system, and we do not adhere to the concept of a Great Chain of Being, with everyone being assigned a particular place in society by God (incidentally, I am aware of at least one school where the chaplain routinely emails staff to apologise for the inclusion of prayers in a chapel service on the off chance someone is offended). People’s socioeconomic status is not fixed and they can move into different career paths and boost their earning potential if they are so determined.
Nevertheless, for some it is far easier to make a career out of being a loser than it is to engage one’s brain and do something productive. Much easier it is to set up straw bogeymen, sew division and use the currency of false morality to cash in on other people’s earnings. As one educational professional recently said, “Once you’ve done the training, it really opens your eyes. You see inequalities everywhere, and you can’t unsee them.” And of course you will see inequalities everywhere. Not everyone can be a Tiger Woods and not everyone can be the Prime Minister and not everyone can be a millionaire. But that is the entire point of such ‘training’; it is self-perpetuating and encourages those who buy into it to see evidence of inequality everywhere. Why? Because the answer will of course be to hire more diversity training and services, and that is a very lucrative industry indeed.
Why is it such awful, disingenuous, and downright fallacious teaching materials find their way into the classroom? Part of the explanation is deliberate intent, with a significant number of teaching staff being aligned with Left wing ideology. A poll by the Times Education Supplement in 2019 found 49% of teachers voted Labour and, whilst polls are not exactly the most reliable source of information, I can well believe this one. I know of certain members of senior management who regularly post messages of support to Left-wing figures like Michelle Obama and those same managers eagerly anticipate on LinkedIn how they plan on introducing the latest woke ideas into school. This public genuflection to woke prophets and prophecies presumably also has something to do with the desire of senior managers to win validation and approval amongst their woke peers. Conformity is therefore a serious problem and those who question dogma suddenly find themselves being targeted by those who resemble the ‘busybully’ described by the economist Antony Davies. The busybully is the individual who
…doesn’t believe in equality under the law, or that any particular form of tolerance is a virtue. Instead, he believes that where his views regarding what is good and proper differ from those of others, the Government should impose his views on everyone else. He will convince himself that this is a matter not of opposing views but of truth and error, ignoring the fact that the right to hold an opinion is not contingent on that opinion’s being correct.
Of course teachers are entitled to their own views but the danger is twofold. Firstly, diversity in education all too often comes down to superficial outward appearances with little or no consideration paid to diversity of opinion. The inevitable result is the creation of Left-leaning echo chambers. Secondly, there’s a loss of understanding of what a teacher’s role is, with busybully political activism increasingly being the priority for some as they seek to impose their views on children. This is sometimes done under the guise of wellbeing initiatives whilst the curriculum in general increasingly pays homage to woke trends, effectively eliminating diversity as more subjects promote the same narratives. This is clearly less about academic rigour and stimulation, and more about indoctrination. A cursory glance through the National Education Union’s Educate magazine reveals educational professionals boasting about their attendance at COP27 and LGBT+ conferences, and this indicates some have indulged in far too much Left-wing political activism. This is the type of politicisation which Joanna Williams outlines in How Woke Won when she observes “teachers come to see tackling broader social problems, as defined by them, as integral to their mission”. It is increasingly evident that some teachers have long since forgotten what the core purpose of their job is.
Some of my own students have told me about their experiences with teachers who have spent entire lessons berating Donald Trump or promoting some pet social justice cause. I have sat through assemblies where the Head promoted an ‘equity’ agenda and I have seen that same head idolise Greta Thunberg and organise a climate change protest outside of a place of worship (and in the process disrupt academic progress).I have come across teachers who have proudly bragged about their membership of the Labour Party in their personal statements for job applications, and I have worked with several colleagues over the years who have openly attacked anything and anyone who is remotely conservative. All this, at least as far as those behind it have claimed, has been done with the intention of doing good. But we would do well to remember T.S. Elliot’s observation that
…half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm – but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.
Those who are engaging in woke classroom activism are the type of ‘useful idiots’ which Lenin once alluded to and the temptation for such individuals to introduce woke ideas into the classroom where they have a captive and impressionable audience must be irresistible.
But, despite the apparent prevalence of Left-wing ideology amongst teaching staff, I suspect there is also a more mundane explanation for their use of woke teaching resources. I know a lot of people will argue teachers have it easy and will point to things like the summer holidays and the fact that a typical school day finishes somewhere between 3 and 4pm. However, if you are doing it properly, teaching is an extremely demanding job both physically and mentally, and I can assure you a real teacher’s day finishes a lot later than 4pm. And despite the issues which exist with teachers actively promoting an ideological agenda, there is a good chance that in many cases the explanation as to why they end up using woke resources could well come down to simple practical convenience. In the midst of so many demands a teacher has to deal with, being given a readymade resource to use might feel like a good way to ease workload and pressure. Thus, unsuitable material potentially finds its way into a classroom as the politically active take advantage of the workload of those who are genuinely busy to railroad through their own propaganda.
Milton Friedman once argued that we should not measure initiatives by their intentions but by their outcomes. And the outcomes of woke activism in schools are worrying. Through the promotion of concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT), teachers might think they are finding ways to prevent racism and the like. Given the way in which these issues are incessantly flagged up, one might imagine the Ku Klux Klan’s membership has skyrocketed to levels not seen since the 1920s (it had perhaps as many as five million members c.1926, by the way). Yet that is not the case now. The implication of initiatives like CRT and unconscious bias and all the talk of ‘privilege’ indicates one has to look very hard to find racism and discrimination. And herein lies one of the major outcomes of indulgent woke classroom initiatives: perception and reality drift far apart, and assertion of narrative displaces objectivity. As Thomas Sowell notes, “there are few things more dishonourable than misleading the young”. This is precisely what some teachers are doing, intentionally or not.
It is possible, probable even, that some teachers may genuinely believe they are doing good by raising awareness of issues like discrimination, but what they are in fact doing is encouraging children to see people on the basis of what they are and not who they are. They perhaps think the use of resources like the ‘Wheel of Power’ can work as vaccines to prevent contagion. But there is a real risk here. The way in which some teachers are going about this is resulting in younger generations becoming turbo-charged against anything which remotely challenges the views they have been conditioned into accepting and internalising. Woke teaching and learning resources are helping to set the conditions for a societal cytokinetic storm. That is perhaps what some are aiming for as they see the disruption of society and culture as a way of attacking capitalism.
But how much of an impact are woke teachers having on children? Are they really brainwashing children? Kevin Donnelly of the Australian Catholic University argues those who have gone through a woke education emerge “culturally illiterate, morally adrift and programmed to be new-age warriors of the cultural-Left’. No doubt that is what the politically active woke teachers intend and there certainly is some evidence they have been successful. I have encountered a fair number of students over the years who seem to have swallowed woke ideas wholesale. They have asserted things like Brexit is racist, that Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are ‘reincarnations’ of Hitler, that men can be women and that eating meat is bad and that humans are causing the weather to change. They have believed that free speech is dangerous, that the West has an evil history and that there is too much racism and not enough representation of minorities. Young people’s apparent relaxed attitude towards conformity might further be reflected in a recent YouGov survey which indicated 51% of those aged 18-24 believed the Government had not been strict enough with its Covid regulations. One wonders, however, whether such attitudes and results are a product of activist teachers and lecturers pushing their agenda in the classroom or whether they are a product of more general contexts. The propagation of woke ideas tends to be insidious and children are exposed to it in various ways outside of school. This is perhaps because mainstream media regularly creates forms of entertainment and news reportage which deliberately make a point of pushing woke narratives, alongside the ubiquitous influence of social media with its woke twitchfork mobs.
Yet there are reasons to be hopeful and the future may not be as bleak as Kevin Donnelly’s observation suggests. Despite my concerns about the state of education and my even greater concerns about some teachers and managers in schools, their woke agenda may not succeed. Not all teachers support woke ideology and some actively challenge it where possible, and that can result in them coming into conflict with school managers. They may be a minority and they are certainly embattled but rest assured they do exist. These are the types of individuals who show real courage in an era of cancel culture, unlike the vacuous woke conformists who say the right things to the right people just to climb up a career ladder and feather their own nests to the detriment of their colleagues and pupils.
Some may lament the apparent predilection of many youngsters for shallow entertainment and their need for instant gratification. Some may argue today’s children are ignorant, lazy and much weaker academically, and indeed that may be true in some cases. But I know there are plenty of pupils and students out there who do not simply absorb woke propaganda and who are not afraid to ask questions and challenge assertions. I recall chatting to some Year 11 students last summer about their upcoming GCSE examination for drama and they all joked about how the secret to securing the top grades was to write about LGBT issues. Quite often I hear individual students poking fun at cancel culture and commenting on how it is ludicrous, and many a student has come to me to express their dismay at how other staff have attempted to promote concepts like white privilege. Opportunities to debate and discuss (and I do mean genuinely debate and discuss) political and philosophical issues are popular amongst pupils and students in my school as they realise the only true ‘safe space’ is that found in open and honest discourse.
Back in 1944 Friedrich Hayek observed “it is not so difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought”. There is unfortunately plenty of evidence he was right and there are many woke warriors in the education system who are eager to enforce intellectual and cultural conformity onto the next generation. Those who promote woke initiatives often do so without the willingness to look at outcomes and without the maturity to accept responsibility and pay the costs for when it transpires those outcomes are horrendous. But, whilst there is indeed a problem within education, it is not necessarily a lost cause just yet. A few brave professionals are out there who do take a stand against this insidious cultural Marxism and, I can assure you, a growing number of young people are increasingly tired of having woke narratives forced onto them. The future may yet be bright, or at least we ought to hope it is.
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