children in school

Children across the country have finally returned to school, but in their five months away there has been a cultural sea-change.
Children across the country have finally returned to school, but in their five months away there has been a cultural sea-change.

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, headteachers have come under increasing pressure to signal that they are on the 'right side of history' on a wide range of issues.

This has meant modifications to school curricula and pastoral policies that have been rushed through with little consultation with parents or staff. As a result, pupils are being subjected to an even more suffocating form of 'woke' education.

For their part, many teachers have attended 'unconscious bias' training sessions, despite the fact that the science behind such courses has been largely discredited.

Others have been advised to read up on books such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (which claims that all white people are racist and that their denials are further proof of racism) and How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi (its thesis being self-explanatory).

One teacher told me about a school assembly over Zoom in the early days of the lockdown in which pupils were berated for their 'white privilege'.

Prestigious schools such as Eton and Eltham College in South-East London have promised to 'decolonise' their teaching practice and combat 'systemic racism'.

Other private schools have pledged their support for Black Lives Matter, despite the fact that this explicitly anti-capitalist movement objects to their existence and would happily see these institutions razed to the ground.

Perhaps all this was to be expected. For several years, a notably one-sided form of politics has been creeping into the classroom.

For example, 70 per cent of teachers in the UK opposed Brexit, and those who supported it quickly learned to keep their opinions to themselves.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with teachers having a political view, or even communicating such views to their charges, so long as they are encouraging pupils to think critically about these ideas rather than treating them as dogma.

But when politics has a direct influence on the curricula itself, critical thinking in a whole range of areas of life is unlikely to be fostered.

Last year, the charity Youth Music called for pupils to be taught about the work of the rapper Stormzy instead of Mozart. The idea that young black pupils are inherently incapable of appreciating classical music is not only wrongheaded, it is about as patronising as it gets.

This is the bigotry of low expectations. As a former teacher, I understand the temptation to assert one's own politics to the captive audience of the classroom. But when it comes to contentious issues, it's important for teachers to take the impartial approach. They should be teaching pupils how to think, not what to think.

Instead, too many young people are being taught a partisan narrative in which complex issues are reduced to uncritically 'good' (the NHS, the EU, immigration, identity politics) and 'bad' (gentrification, capitalism, Brexit, Donald Trump).

And now that the Black Lives Matter movement has gone mainstream - unquestioningly supported by celebrities, football stars and all major corporations - the divisive ideas of many of its proponents are being imposed on children throughout the country.

I am convinced that the consequences of such hasty overhauls could be extremely damaging, both for the children and society at large. This is not simply a case of taking a firm stance against the poison of racism, as schools are already legally obliged to tackle racist incidents and teachers understand the importance of challenging prejudice.

The problem lies with what is known in academic circles as 'anti-racism'. The phrase itself sounds noble. Who isn't opposed to racism? But regardless of all good intentions, it is based on a divisive ideology that I believe sets race relations back by decades.

At the heart of all these sudden changes is a relatively obscure field of study known as Critical Race Theory. According to this worldview, society is divided into the oppressors and the oppressed, and all white people are complicit.

If you've been wondering why we keep hearing phrases such as 'white privilege' and 'systemic racism' from politicians and other public figures, this is the reason.

Ironically, many believe that these theories are in direct opposition to the ideal of colour-blindness espoused most famously by US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who dreamed of a future in which people would be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Critical Race Theory, by contrast, insists that race should be uppermost in our minds at all times, and that every human interaction involves an element of racism.

Indeed, white people who deny their racism are said to be suffering from 'white fragility'.

To many, it seems like a theory almost designed to exacerbate racial tensions in society.

Take, for example, Channel 4's recent documentary The School That Tried To End Racism, in which 11-year-old pupils were separated by race and asked to reflect on their ethnicity. Leaving aside the obvious trauma this caused to these impressionable young people - with one boy breaking down in tears and fleeing from the classroom - the entire premise of the show was based on the deeply flawed tenets of Critical Race Theory.

What looked like a one-off televised experiment is now being rolled out in schools across the country. It goes without saying that all ideas should be up for discussion, but when schools are teaching highly contested theories as though they were irrefutable truth, we are now in the realm of indoctrination.

The Chartered College of Teaching, the professional body for teachers, has distributed resources to schools that focus on identity as seen through the lens of Critical Race Theory.

These help them teach about 'whiteness, including white racism, white identity, privilege, power and intersectionality'. (The Oxford Dictionary defines intersectionality as 'the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage'.)

These attempts to enforce identity politics onto children are potentially in violation of the 1996 Education Act, which insists on political neutrality in teaching.

The risk that these developments pose cannot be overstated.

How absurd that the skewed logic of Critical Race Theory might suggest that a mixed-race child should perceive one parent as the oppressor and the other as the oppressed.

Children who had once been taught that treating people differently on the basis of skin colour was morally wrong are now be encouraged to see everything through the prism of race. In other words, the achievements of social liberalism and the civil rights movements are being unravelled in the name of anti-racism.

Most teachers are complying -some reluctantly - with the new dogma. This is to be expected, given that those who dare to question the validity of Critical Race Theory are leaving themselves open to false allegations of racism.

With teaching staff caught in a storm of half-baked academic theories and the increasingly shrill demands of activists, it is hardly surprising that so many are left bewildered or, worse, are quitting the profession. And if the teachers are struggling, how can we expect children to keep up?

It isn't just the teaching profession that has been affected. Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed that MPs are to be given lessons on woke language and history by consultants who declared the words 'lady' and 'pensioner' to be offensive.

Recently, too, BBC staff were instructed to take a day's paid leave to 'educate' themselves on diversity, inclusion and Critical Race Theory.

Kerris Bright, chief customer officer and member of the BBC Executive Committee, provided a list of resources for staff, including texts on 'Whiteness', 'The End Of Policing' and 'The Urgency Of Intersectionality'.

So much for BBC impartiality.

This kind of knee-jerk response is understandable. Nobody in a civilised society approves of racism, or would tolerate it in the workplace. But the unthinking application of Critical Race Theory is having the unintended consequence of making our society more racist, not less.

Healthy working relationships are being corrupted by an insistence that race should be at the forefront of every discussion.

Theories that should have remained in the realm of academia have escaped into the mainstream, like a virus from a poorly secured laboratory.

Many will be surprised to hear about the extent to which these pseudo-academic ideas have spread to schools, but this focus on the young hasn't come out of nowhere. For years, social-justice activists have understood that the indoctrination of children is the best way to ensure that their orthodoxies are embedded in society.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote that 'there is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five'. He was right. This explains why the genre of woke children's literature is thriving.

Who Are You? The Kid's Guide To Gender Identity, by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, aimed at three-year-olds and over, takes readers through the multiplicity of fashionable new identities, such as 'genderqueer, non-binary, bigender, neutrois and two-spirit'. ('Neutrois' refers to a gender identity that is neutral or null. 'Two-spirit' refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit.)

Children from a very early age are being taught that the whole concept of gender is a total fiction, despite it being the most essential aspect of their existence.

No wonder so many of the young generation are confused.

Other recent bestselling woke children's books include Feminist Baby, by Loryn Brantz, Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X Kendi, and The Little Girl Who Gave Zero F*cks, by Amy Kean.

Afua Hirsch, a columnist with The Guardian newspaper, has penned a paean to Supreme Court judge Lady Hale, whose controversial ruling on Brexit delivered a devastating blow to Boris Johnson's Government.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the book appeared to be 'deliberate propaganda to bend the minds of children' - which was, of course, the whole point.

With children's authors, headteachers, politicians, many sections of the media, HR departments and the managerial class almost universally on board with these divisive ideas, it will prove difficult to undo the damage.

And now that this ideology is irrevocably embedded in school curricula and distorting young minds, the matter has taken on an even greater urgency.

Increasingly, parents are seeing for themselves the results of this sudden politicisation of the classroom. They may even find that they are having to deradicalise their own children after school hours, and explain to them why the lessons they have learnt from their teachers are so wrong-headed.

It will not be easy to challenge this trend and re-establish the primacy of liberal values and the dream of Martin Luther King.

But for the sake of the next generation, we have an obligation to try.

My First Little Book Of Intersectional Activism, by Titania McGrath (Andrew Doyle's satirical alter ego), is published by Constable.