Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Corrupting the British curriculum

Why is it ‘brainwashing’ when faith schools teach values but ‘raising awareness’ when the state teaches the pieties of environmentalism?

So what’s the difference between subjecting children to the zealous propaganda of their elders in a faith school and in a secular school? According to today’s cultural commentators, it is ‘brainwashing’ when carried out in a faith school, but ‘raising awareness’ when conducted in a so-called secular environment.

The current wave of hysteria about the apocalyptic consequences of climate change, following most recently the publication of the IPCC summary on 2 February, is being harnessed towards ‘re-educating’ schoolchildren. According to proposals due to be published this week, cautionary tales about global warming will become integral to the British school curriculum. This instruction about global warming will masquerade under the title ‘geography lessons’, but in truth it constitutes a new kind of behaviour management.

This was clear when UK education secretary Alan Johnson announced his new moralising enterprise last week. Johnson said he wants children to alter their behaviour. ‘We need the next generation to think about their impact on the environment in a different way’, he declared. This project, aimed at manipulating how children lead their lives, is justified through appealing to a higher truth. Johnson claims that ‘if we can instill in the next generation an understanding of how our actions can mitigate or cause global warming, then we lock in a culture change that could, quite literally, save the world’. Literally save the world! That looks like a price worth paying for making some changes to the geography curriculum. In truth, the moralisation of education will only nurture ignorance.

The school curriculum has become a battleground for moral campaigners and entrepreneurs keen to promote their message. Public health officials constantly demand more compulsory classroom discussions on healthy eating and obesity. Professionals obsessed with young people’s sex lives insist that schools introduce yet more sex education initiatives. Others want schools to focus more on Black History or Gay History. In the widespread media outcry over the sordid scenes of moral and cultural illiteracy on Celebrity Big Brother, many demanded that schools should teach Britishness.

The government hasn’t yet announced any plans for introducing Appropriate Behaviour on Reality TV Shows into the curriculum…but nevertheless, Alan Johnson is a very busy man. Not only is he introducing global warming studies, he has also made the study of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade a compulsory part of the history curriculum.

For Johnson, the subject of history, like that of geography, must be subordinated to a higher good. He is not interested in the slave trade as part of an academic discipline with its own integrity; rather he sees slave trade studies as part of a moral crusade. ‘This is about ensuring young people understand what it means to be British today’, he said in defence of his reorganisation of the history curriculum. Johnson’s title, education secretary, is something of a misnomer. He seems to have no interest in education as such. His preoccupation is with using the classroom to transmit the latest and most fashionable prejudices. He can’t even leave school sports alone, recently announcing that PE lessons will now stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle and will raise awareness about the problem of obesity. So after children have received instruction on how to behave as green consumers, lead responsible sex lives and feel very British, they’ll be taught how and why to lose weight.

This ceaseless attempt to instil in schoolchildren fashionable values is symptomatic of a general state of moral confusion today. Instead of attempting to develop an understanding of what it means to be a good citizen, or articulate a vision of public good, Britain’s cultural elites prefer to turn every one of their concerns into a school subject. In the classroom, the unresolved issues of public life can be transformed into simplistic teaching tools. Citizenship education is the clearest example of this corruption of the curriculum by adult prejudices. Time and again, school inspectors have criticised the teaching of citizenship, which is not really surprising considering that leading supporters of citizenship education seem to have little idea what the subject is or ought to be about.

Nick Tate, former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, argued that citizenship education was ‘about promoting and transmitting values’, ‘participation’ and ‘duties’. But the obvious question of ‘values about what?’ was carefully avoided. Instead, those advocating citizenship education have cobbled together a ‘hurrah list’ of unobjectionable and bland sentiments that have been rebranded as values. Alongside fairness, honesty and community, even participation and voting have been turned into values. Professor Bernard Crick, a key adviser to the government on citizenship education, stated that ‘students must demonstrate a commitment to active citizenship, commitment to voluntary service and concern for the environment’.

A few years down the road and the meaning of citizenship is even less clear than when schools started teaching it as a subject. Last month, a review of how schools teach citizenship found that the subject failed to communicate any sense of what it means to be British. Anyone with the slightest grasp of pedagogy will not be surprised by the failure of successive social engineering projects in the classroom. The absence of any moral consensus in Britain today will not be solved through subjecting children to sanctimonious platitudes. Those who are genuinely interested in educating children and inspiring them to become responsible citizens will instead look to real subjects, which represent a genuine body of knowledge. Propaganda campaigns around the latest fashionable ‘value’ only distract children from learning. Values-led education has helped create a situation where children learn that the Holocaust was awful, but do not know which country suffered the greatest number of casualties during the Second World War. It will produce children who know that the slave trade was bad, but who are ignorant about how the right to vote was won in Britain.

And they will learn in geography that we face human extinction, but will not be able to name the highest mountain in Europe. In other words they will be values-rich but uneducated.


British students to be disciplined for publishing Mohammed Cartoon

Cambridge University is in effect putting its behind up in the air and saying to the Muslims: "F**k me". Cambridge has of course long been a traitorous place. Post below lifted from Pub Philosopher

While the French establishment was leaping to the defence of Charlie Hebdo, the authorities at Clare College were considering taking disciplinary action against students who published one of the Mohammed cartoons in the college magazine. The magazine, Clareification, had been renamed Crucification for a special issue on religious satire.

According to the local paper, the student who wrote the piece containing the cartoon is in hiding and the college chaplain has met leaders of Cambridge University's Islamic society and local Imams in an attempt to reduce racial tension. 

This may just be a precaution but the college clearly has some concern that the cartoon might provoke a violent response from Muslims at the university or in the town.  Even so, most of the authorities' wrath has been directed at the students who produced the magazine. Clare College fellows have called for a Court of Discipline to be convened, something which has not happened for many years. Officials of the college, the students union and Cambridge University have queued up to condemn the publication of the cartoon.

Printing this cartoon may have been an irresponsible act but if you can't push the boundaries of free speech in an academic environment, where can you do it?  Universities are supposed to be places where people experiment, test ideas and think the unthinkable. If people are not free to defy conventions and make themselves unpopular in a university,  they will not be free to do so anywhere.  The university authorities should be saying that they disapprove of the cartoon and find it in poor taste but are nevertheless duty-bound to defend the students' right to publish it. 

The great and good in France may still appreciate the importance of defending free speech.  Cambridge University, the second oldest in the English speaking world, now seems to have other priorities.

Update: Local Muslim leaders have expressed outrage over the printing of the cartoon and are demanding public apologies from all the students involved.      

20 billion pound NHS computer system 'doomed to fail'

Labour's multi-billion- pound project to create the NHS's first ever national computer system "isn't working and isn't going to work", a senior insider has warned.

The damning verdict on the ambitious 20 billion pound plans to store patients' records, and allow people to book hospital appointments, on a central computer network has been delivered by a top executive at one of the system's main suppliers. Andrew Rollerson, the health-care consultancy practice lead at the computer giant Fujitsu, warned that there was a risk that firms involved in the project would end up delivering "a camel and not the racehorse that we might try to produce".

His bleak assessment was delivered in a speech on the health service's national programme for IT that he delivered to a conference of computer experts last week and which is reported in today's Computer Weekly magazine. Fujitsu is one of the main firms involved in the project after winning a 896 million pound contract to deliver systems in the South of England.

Mr Rollerson underlined his message with a series of downbeat slides, including one showing a huge oil tanker being hit by a tidal wave, one with the word "Lost?" alongside a picture of a desert island and one with a man walking a tightrope. Another slide declared "visionary leadership is still missing" alongside the famous World War One poster of Lord Kitchener declaring "Your country needs you". His presentation even featured a picture of a huge alligator with the message "We have become obsessed by the alligators nearest the boat." The final slide showed two women mud-wrestling and asked: "Where would you rather be?"

In his speech, Mr Rollerson voiced concern at the direction of the NHS programme and the lack of vision on how the health service can make best use of new technology. "What we are trying to do is run an enormous programme with the techniques that we are absolutely familiar with for running small projects. And it isn't working. And it isn't going to work," he told his audience. "Unless we do some serious thinking about that - about the challenges of scale and how you scale up to an appropriate size - then I think we're out on a limb."

Mr Rollerson added: "There is a belief that the national programme is somehow going to propel transformation in the NHS simply by delivering an IT system. Nothing could be further from the truth. A vacuum, a chasm, is opening up."

His comments are the latest sign of problems in the ambitious project, which is expected to cost the taxpayer around 7.6 billion more than estimated. Last year it emerged that there had been 110 "major incidents" involving the system in just four months. A letter signed by 23 leading computer scientists urged the Commons health select committee to launch an inquiry to "establish the scale of the risks" facing the project.

Stephen O'Brien, the shadow health minister, said: "Even those from inside the programme are now telling the Government that it is coming apart at the seams. "This is another example of the heavy-handed, top-down failing approach of this Labour Government."

The Department of Health last night insisted that the programme was a pivotal part of NHS reform. [How unwise to say that!] A spokesman said: "David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, is fully committed to the national programme for IT as it is a necessary part of modern health service. "He sees this as one of his key strategic priorities as it is key to the successful delivery of patient centred care."


Britain: New cancer drug to save a thousand lives a year

More than a thousand women a year will survive breast cancer thanks to a type of drug that improves survival rates by 17 per cent, new research shows today. A study of 4,742 post-menopausal women found that switching from the present gold-standard breast cancer treatment tamoxifen to the new drug exemestane after two or three years resulted in the dramatic fall in death rates. The study followed the progress of women who were treated for a total of five years and monitored for a further three. Women were assigned randomly to a full five years of tamoxifen, or treatment with tamoxifen followed by exemestane.

Giving women tamoxifen after surgery already reduced the risk of dying by 33 per cent. After another two to three years of exemestane, plus a further three years of posttreatment follow-up, survival was found to be significantly improved. The chances were 50 per lower than they would have been with no drug therapy. An estimated 31,000 post-meno-pausal women have breast cancer diagnosed in Britain each year. In 80-85 per cent of cases, the disease is fuelled by oestrogen. Whereas tamoxifen interferes with the activity of the hormone, exemestane reduces the levels produced in a woman's body.

The charity Cancer Research UK, whose scientists were involved in the study, said that the treatment would prevent an estimated 1,300 deaths each year. Professor Charles Coombes, director of The Cancer Research UK Laboratories and head of cancer medicine at Imperial College, London, said: "This is the first time any hormone treatment has been shown to reduce the death rate more than tamoxifen alone. "Switching drugs also seems to avoid the side-effects of long-term tamoxifen therapy, such as cancer of the womb and deep vein thrombosis."

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: "These results are really very encouraging... We will continue to follow the results of this study to see how well the women fare in the longterm." The drug, sold under the brand name Aromasin, is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as an alternative to tamoxifen after two to three years. However, it is not available everywhere.


Mice study shows that one severe genetic disability can be "switched off"

It's very loose terminology to refer to the syndrome as "autism", as autistic people normally have physical health within the normal range

A severe form of autism has been reversed in mice, offering the best indication yet that it could be possible to treat a condition that affects more than 10,000 children in Britain. Rett syndrome is the most physically disabling of the autism spectrum disorders, leaving many children unable to speak, walk or use their hands, and has long been considered incurable. It also causes breathing difficulties and primarily affects girls, 1 in 10,000 of whom has the condition.

Research at the University of Edinburgh has shown that these symptoms can be treated successfully in mice by activating a single gene which, when defective, causes Rett syndrome. The findings, which are published in the journal Science, surprised scientists, who had not thought that restoring the MECP2 gene's function would be a promising approach to therapy. If it is possible to develop drugs that mimic MECP2, or the protein it produces, they could be used to treat Rett syndrome even at an advanced stage, said Adrian Bird, who led the research. He said, however, that while the study suggested a mechanism by which a new drug may work, much more research was needed before a therapy became available.

Professor Bird discovered in 1990 that the MECP2 gene was involved in Rett syndrome, but felt that it would be difficult to treat the disease simply by improving its function. In his most recent study, Professor Bird reactivated MECP2 in mice that had been born with the gene switched off and the symptoms of Rett syndrome. After four weeks the mice, some of which had been close to death, recovered, becoming almost indistinguishable from normal mice, and their movement and breathing problems disappeared.

"The results we came across were entirely unexpected," Professor Bird said. "It had been thought that Rett syndrome is irrevocable, but our findings show that the damage to nerve-cell function is, in fact, reversible." Chris James, director of the Rett Syndrome Association UK, which, along with other charities, helped to fund the research with the Wellcome Trust, said: "This is a very significant step on the road to future therapeutic approaches to Rett syndrome. It will give hope to those families affected by Rett syndrome."



Cutting out meat could go a long way towards stabilising climate change, Ben Bradshaw has argued. Britain may need to go back to Second World War-style rationing if climate change runs out of control, environment minister Ben Bradshaw has warned. Mr Bradshaw pointed out that food production did just as much damage as private transport and housing.

He spoke out as a new government website advised shoppers to help the planet by avoiding meat, cheese and even British veg grown out of season. The website makes clear that eating beef, lamb, chicken and dairy products contributes to global warming because of the energy and land needed to rear animals. Sheep and cows also emit harmful methane gas.

Mr Bradshaw told a meeting of food experts that the public would not currently tolerate a "nanny state" approach to what they ate. But he warned: "If the impacts of climate change are as bad as predicted, we may need to go back to rationing." ...



The Valentine's Day bouquet - the gift that every woman in Britain will be waiting for next week - has become the latest bete noire among environmental campaigners. Latest Government figures show that the flowers that make up the average bunch have flown 33,800 miles to reach Britain. In the past three years, the amount of flowers imported from the Netherlands has fallen by 47 per cent to 94,000 tons, while those from Africa have risen 39 per cent to 17,000 tons. Environmentalists warned that "flower miles" could have serious implications on climate change in terms of carbon dioxide emissions from aeroplanes.

Andrew Sims, the policy director of the New Economics Foundation, said: "There are plenty of flowers that grow in Britain in the winter and don't need to be hothoused. "Air freighting flowers half way round the world contributes to global warming. "You can argue the planes would be flying anyway but the amount of greenhouse gases pumped out depends on the weight of the cargo." Vicky Hird, of Friends of the Earth, said: "We don't want to be killjoys because receiving flowers can be lovely but why not grow your own gift?"

The figures also revealed that imports of roses from Ethiopia have grown from zero to 130 tons a year since 2003. Kenya is the second biggest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands, followed by Colombia and Spain. In total, Britain imports more than 315 million pounds worth of flowers, with the typical Briton spending 39 pounds a year on them.

Source. (H/T Tim Worstall).

Mothers' Day Now Incorrect

More from the Unhinged Kingdom:

"A school has banned the making of Mother's Day cards because the headteacher does not want to upset children without a mother.

Helen Starkey has ended the tradition in the interests of "sensitivity"....

The move has angered parents at the 357-pupil Johnstown Primary School in Carmarthen, West Wales.

One mother said: "No one wants to be hard-hearted to those kids without a mum at home but it means that 95 per cent of pupils are being deprived of a traditional activity.


British housing wisdom goes full-circle: "Britain's cul-de-sacs, long the butt of metropolitan snobbery, are now being targeted by the Prince of Wales as an environmental menace that foster crime, car dependence and obesity. Prince Charles has persuaded Britain's biggest housebuilders, including Barratt, George Wimpey and Bovis Homes, to halt the postwar spread of suburban closes, a boom reflected by the Channel 4 soap Brookside. Under new guidelines, they will bring back higher density housing in Victorian-style grids, to encourage people to exercise by placing shops and amenities within walking distance. Charles's adviser, Hank Dittmar, director of the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, which is drawing up the code, said the sprawling and looping design of cul-de-sacs forces people into their cars. Dittmar claimed that many people routinely burn a litre of petrol on a shopping trip for a pint of milk. The new code states that every home should be within a five-minute walk of a shop selling basic foodstuffs."

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