Thursday, 12 May 2016

The trauma inflicted on the nation`s children

By Claire Fox

"Even if youre not a parent, a teacher or a primary school pupil, you can't have missed that its Sats week. The media is drowning in tales of tearful tweens and the trauma being inflicted on the nation's children by the tyranny of testing."

"To be honest, while headlines scream `factory-farming education` and `inhumane testing treadmill`, I want to scream back: `Oh please stop whining`..."

"Why do those on the brink of life's great adventure of adulthood seem so cowed and scared, to the extent that they demand protection from offence? My argument is that fragility is a core part of many young people's identity because we socialised them that way. And that takes me back to primary school. In the book I trace a parallel between over-coddled children - pre-loaded with therapeutic concepts, encouraged to complain at discomfort - and the growing number of over-sensitive, offended young adults in academia. School policies in particular have promoted notions of vulnerability from an early age..."

"Every trope used in relation to the #LetOurKidsBeKids bunk-off presages the problems ahead. The parents' complaint against the government's primary curriculum is that children find it `crashingly dull`, urging teachers instead to teach `stuff that actually interests and engages children`. So lesson number one for these primary school pupils: if your interests aren't catered for, if you dont enjoy what or how you're being taught, you have a right to storm off in a strop? Once we concede education should be sanitised to cut out the horrible bits, we're setting up future demands for trigger warnings when lectures might contain any material deemed unpleasant."

"But for me the most destructive aspect of phenomena such as Let Our Kids Be Kids is how they incite the young to see their problems through the prism of psychological harm. Irresponsibly, campaigners have asserted that pupils are `traumatised` by the prospect of failing the tests, with Sats blamed for inducing stress, panic-attacks and anxiety. Indeed Natasha Devon (who is co-founder of the appropriately named Self-Esteem Team) fell out with her government masters when she weighed in to the Kids Strike row by declaring `the culture of testing and academic pressure is detrimental to mental health`..."

"Claire Fox is the director of the Institute of Ideas, a panellist on BBC Radio 4s The Moral Maze and a regular contributor to TV and radio debates, including Question Time and Any Questions?

My criticism is that she conflates political correctness, mental fragility and testing in primary schools as if these different strands coalesce into a single narrative. That is not necessarily so. It is true that they are all being enacted in the classroom and we have a right to ask, towards what end?

Pupils must take care to exude British values, whatever they are, because they can shift and seem rather strange. For instance, it`s important to tip toe around gender identity these days and there are many more identities than you might think. Diversity is something to celebrate but ethnicity ought not to be mentioned. Sustainable development is an acceptable part of the script but do take care how you express that in terms of environmental activism or you may end up in front of police officers accused of being a future extremist. And don`t forget your family is under surveillance too. Political correctness and the politics of offence is being practised in school, and it is no accident.

As for what is being done about mental health, Clair Fox is correct that children are being pre-loaded with therapeutic concepts. Social and emotional learning is now part of the school curriculum so that if girls and boys speak the language of emotion and sensitivity that is because they have been encouraged to reflect on their feelings ad nauseam. Of course, the one thing children can do is dramatise and play it up; there is no surprise about that. Kids are playful by nature. It is a pity that they do not have a more enriching experience to play around with.

Testing children in primary schools is another dead end. So much of what is going on in school is a complete waste of kids` time. And yes, some of it is harmful. If the only language around to protest is the language of trauma, so be it. It is good to see parents getting involved.

At this point it might be worth having another look at UK Column`s coverage of MAPPA, the Police and Crime Bill and the growing networks around children`s mental health. It begins about 15 minutes into the programme and suggests a much darker agenda is afoot. 

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