First, I will declare an interest, in pointing out that my partner Fiona Millar is a founder of, and regular contributor to, the Local Schools Network, which exists to support and promote the many good local State schools in the UK. The need for such a campaign is particularly strong when we have a Conservative government which puts the undermining and demonising of State education above recognising and building upon its many successes.
It is important too as something of a counterweight to the overwhelming bias against State schools in our national media, much of it fuelled by the fact that so many of the leading figures in the media use private schools, and therefore feel they have to justify their own choices by constantly running down what they consider to be ‘inferior’ education within the State system.
The right is also very good at using myths to promote their own views and preconceptions. Teachers are all lefties. There is no competitive sport in State schools. State schools don’t stay open after 4pm. They are violent places. Kids are treated as a mass not as individuals. Blah blah blah, all blah.
The ‘lefty’ myth is particularly useful to them, because at a stroke it tars hundreds of thousands with the same Guardian-reading brush, and one which undermines an entire profession made up of the same kind of mix that reflects society as a whole. It is the same approach they take to the BBC, labelling it as lefty in the knowledge that will keep the organisation on its political toes, and more likely to point right as a result.
But thanks to Fiona’s colleague at Local Schools Network, Henry Stewart, we now have a very modern example of just how brazen they have become under Michael Gove.
Under the headline ‘Bias and Propaganda in A Level History,’ he writes as follows:
‘Those on the right regularly complain of left-wing bias in the school curriculum. For instance Jago Pearson wrote in the Telegraph in January: “Michael Gove is right. My time studying History at school and university was dominated by Left-wing thinking.”
My son is currently taking his AS History and doesn’t see much evidence of this. Indeed he has been shocked by the opinionated support for Margaret Thatcher in the standard Edexcel text for his course:
On the Falklands, it states “Margaret Thatcher rose magnificently to the challenge… It was vital that aggression be defeated for the sake of British self-respect and the rule of law in the world … It was a simple case of right and wrong.” (p160)
On Northern Ireland: “The Maze was in every respect a model prison, confirming to all aspects of the charter of human rights yet the IRA denounced is as a ‘British death camp’. This was total nonsense, but the power of propaganda convinced many of the Catholic community in both the Irish Republic and within the Irish community in the USA that this was the scene of a modern atrocity When Bobby Sands starved himself to death in May 1981, there was outrage, yet Thatcher was rightly unmoved. It was self-inflicted and totally unjustified by any objective criteria, but it took political courage to say so and accept other deaths. Once again there was a display of courage and determination on the prime minister’s part but one that was not popular in liberal circles.” (p172)
This follows from a section on Thatcher’s first government titled “setting the country to rights” (p153) and comes before a section on how the defeat of the miners was “probably necessary to the modernisation of the economy.” (p169).
None of this is in quotes or from other sources. It is all presented as fact. Are students expected to talk of Thatcher’s “magnificent” response to the Falklands war? If this is the text book to work from, how will those who question her actions be marked?
Now all of the above are valid opinions about Thatcher’s government but they are presented as fact. I’m not a History teacher and this is my first experience of A level history text books but I would ask if its appropriate for a text book to be biased in this way. I’d love to know what others think of this.’
Well I will tell him what I think. It is evidence of the outright politicisation of education which, were a left-wing equivalent ever to have happened, would have led to screaming comparisons with North Korean brainwashing.
Bill Clinton once said that the left had to be a lot smarter than the right because the right have a lot of the best tunes, and the right-wing media sing them louder. Part of that mindset must be to see this for what it is, and make sure it becomes the kind of controversy it most certainly would be if, for example, children read in history text books that Labour came to power after a Thatcher era dominated by a greed culture which paved the way for the Global Financial Crisis, riots over the poll tax, political civil war in Europe, (plus ca change), a sterling crisis, mass unemployment, and an IRA terrorism campaign which only came to an end when Thatcher’s successors, John Major and Tony Blair, realised her way was not working. Discuss.