Monday, June 11, 2007

"Gangs" Incorrect in Britain

We read:

"Youths who hang around committing crime and anti-social behaviour should not be described as gangs, the Youth Justice Board said today.

Using the term to describe groups of youths was "inappropriate" and could actually make their activities worse, a major study on gangs suggested.

Instead of the phrase "gang-related" the report used the term "group-related", although it declined to coin a new definition of what constituted a gang.


PC brigade ban pin-ups on RAF jets - in case they offend women and Muslims

British battiness keeps spreading

It probably shows how old I am but it was the picture of the great old plane above that I liked best

In killer heels and little else, they have a definite deadly charm. But the risque images of women that have decorated warplanes since the First World War have been scrubbed out. The Ministry of Defence has decreed they could offend the RAF's female personnel. Officials admitted they had no record of any complaints from the 5,400 women in the RAF.

But commanders are erring firmly on the side of caution and "nose art", as it is known, has been consigned to the history books. Harrier jump jet bombers currently launching daily airstrikes against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan have been scrubbed clean to comply with the orders. Critics said the MoD should be focusing on more important issues - such as the quality and quantity of equipment available to British forces sent off to war.

Nose art first appeared on warplanes during the First World War and enjoyed a golden age during the Second World War when thousands of American fighters and bombers were decorated with pictures of glamorous women. Military commanders tolerated the practice as a morale booster. Famous examples include the Memphis Belle, a U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bomber that was the subject of a 1990 Hollywood movie. Many RAF units picked up the practice from the Americans. During the Second World War it was common to see images of movie stars including Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell on British bombers heading for Germany. Nose art enjoyed another surge in popularity during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars, when risque images appeared on many British warplanes.

The decision to ban the images followed a visit by glamour models to southern Afghanistan before Christmas. During the trip they signed paintings of themselves on RAF aircraft. Commanders decided the images were sexist and insisted there was no place for them in the modern armed forces. There was also concern that they could cause offence in a muslim country where until 2001 all women were forced to wear the head-to-toe burkha in public.

Glamour model Lucy Pinder, 23, who visited the RAF detachment at Kandahar last November and signed a painting of herself on a Harrier jet, said such images were only "harmless fun". "It's very flattering and it's nice that they get to do something that takes their minds off things for a while," she said from her home in Winchester, Hampshire.

Conservative MP Phillip Davies said: "Has the MoD really got nothing better to worry about at a time when there are serious concerns over equipment and resources available to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

An RAF spokesman defended the decision to remove images which he said "cut across" the service's culture of equal opportunities. "If you have women flying aircraft and working on them as engineers then these kinds of pictures are inappropriate," he said. "That's why it's crossed the line and that's why they have been removed."


Abortion-Loving British Media Furious Over Catholic Bishops' Intensified Opposition

Bishops call publicly pro-abortion Catholics who receive communion "a cause of great scandal"

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales are on a pro-life roll that has infuriated pro-abortion media pundits. The Archbishop of Cardiff in Wales is the latest to enter the fray, in conjunction with the upcoming 40th anniversary of legalized abortion in Britain, with what amounts in British Church circles to stern words for political supporters of a "woman's right to choose."

Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, told BBC Radio that people who have publicly repudiated the Church's teaching "ought to remove themselves from receiving communion because it would be a cause of great scandal."

Archbishop Smith said, "A priest or bishop is not permitted to refuse communion unless it is quite clear that the person has been excommunicated or there is a very public rejection of church teaching."

Smith's comments follow those last week by Keith Cardinal O'Brien or Edinburgh, who called abortion "an unspeakable crime," and the chief prelate of England and Wales, Cormac Cardinal Murphy O'Connor who told Catholic abortion proponents in Parliament to rethink whether their support is compatible with continuing to receive Holy Communion.

"The pastoral reality is," Smith continued, "that if a Catholic politician manifestly, clearly goes against the church's teaching, then they ought to remove themselves from receiving Communion, because it would be a cause of great scandal."

English Catholics, accustomed as they have been historically to persecution and diminished legal and social status, have traditionally kept a low religious profile in political life. But increasing pressure on religious freedom by the homosexual lobby, the growth of public sentiment in Britain against unfettered abortion and an increase in political activity by British Evangelicals has emboldened Catholic leaders.

The apparent ending of the bishops' 40 year long reticence on abortion has touched off a storm of editorial rage in the overwhelmingly pro-abortion British press, accustomed to more diffident language from English Catholics.

Jackie Ashley railed in the Guardian today, calling the bishops' defence of life "an assault on women's right to abortion." She predicted a "return to the dark ages...of the horrors of backstreet abortion."

Ashley said Bishop Smith's comments were important because of the "ferocity" of the tone and issued a threat against any further public opposition by Catholics. The bishops' statements, she said, are "language and thinking wholly against our constitution and tradition. What they have done is perilous for their religion, never mind for women who have decided to have an abortion."

In the Scotsman, columnist Dani Garavelli, who claims to be a Catholic "at odds" with the Church, called the Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and sexuality, "dogmatic, intemperate and ultimately self-defeating." While she admitted that Cardinal O'Brien had a democratic right to dissent, Garavelli called his homily "at best emotional blackmail and at worst a threat to the political system."

"The Church is swapping its role as lobbyist for something altogether more sinister," Garavelli writes. "If it gets away with this, how long before the threat of `excommunication' is extended to the position of Catholic MPs and MSPs on other issues such as civil partnerships or sex education?"

Set against this, Jemima Lewis, a self-proclaimed "pro-choice liberal" and "lapsed Catholic" columnist in the Independent, wonders what has sent the "liberal establishment into conniptions." "I should have thought the freedom to voice one's beliefs was a central feature of any democracy," Lewis remarked. "As if we liberals would never dream of imposing our ideas about, say, gay adoption upon a doubtful public."

"You can't win a debate by shouting down your opponent. It makes you look as though you've got something to hide," Lewis concludes.


Who would be a boys' football coach?

A new survey shows many men are reluctant to work with children in case people think they're secret paedophiles

Both the UK government and big volunteering organisations have long denied that Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and other child protection measures put adults off volunteering. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which passed through the Houses of Parliament in London at the end of last year, requires that all those who work with children must submit to a background check first. As one Home Office official responsible for CRB checks recently assured me, it is only those who have something to hide who are put off.

Yet a new survey by the children's charity NCH - at the start of Volunteering Week - finds that 17 per cent of men wouldn't volunteer to work with children because they would face a criminal records check. Moreover, 13 per cent wouldn't volunteer because they fear that they could be perceived as a paedophile.

These results are a marker of twisted contemporary attitudes to adult-child relations. A man who says that he likes teaching children is now apt to draw glances. `So, why do you want to teach boys' football anyway?' To enjoy teaching and being with children - an enjoyment that is surely essential if we are to pass on experience and knowledge to the next generation out of enthusiasm rather than dry obligation - becomes suspicious.

Only the joyless bureaucrats, who have their child protection handbooks in their back pocket and know the `correct manner of comforting a child', are deemed okay to allow near tender young people. They are beyond suspicion because they have effectively placed themselves under perpetual monitoring. Working with children becomes less a source of enjoyment, because an adult is driven to develop young talent or has passion for a sport or art, and instead becomes a procedure that must be carried out correctly.

NCH is understandably worried by these survey results, and says that male role models are essential for children's development. How right it is. But NCH's response - to emphasise the ease of CRB checks, and outline the secure procedures it has in place - may not assuage the doubts of reluctant men. The NCH chief executive, Clare Tickell, gave a description of male volunteers that was not unlike that of prisoners on day release. `We work hard to ensure volunteers are checked by the police, trained and monitored, which we hope encourages men to come forward and helps assuage the public's concern.'

Come forward, football coaches, to be checked by the police, trained and monitored! Some men may be deterred because they don't want petty past convictions - youthful graffiti or pub fights - to be revealed to their fellow volunteers. Others may be deterred because this just doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun.

There is a bizarre assumption here: that if everybody is `careful' about how they behave with children, this does something to combat paedophilia. The withdrawing of ordinary human concern is seen as the solution to dealing with twisted individuals. This is quite the opposite of the truth. It is surely only by affirming good intentions that those with less good intentions are shown up and dealt with. Once we view millions of genuine adult child relationships as poisonous, we blur the distinction between the decent and twisted, the good and the bad.

Child protection procedures mean that children grow up in an increasingly sterile world, devoid of enthusiastic adult role models that could spark their passion for sports or hobbies. And when decent adults withdraw, or place themselves under perpetual checks and monitoring, this cannot leave children any safer either.


Comeback for "progressive" education in England

I once taught at a "progressive" school so I know how little many students learned there

Katie Harris, 11, is telling me that she recently spent a lesson making paper aeroplanes and measuring how far they flew. What did she learn? "It was really enjoyable. It wasn't just about one subject like maths, there was science in there as well," she replied. Katie is a pupil at Bursted Wood primary in Bexley, southeast London, one of eight schools in the borough at the forefront of a stampede back to "creative learning" and progressive teaching methods that were popular more than a decade ago. Despite the bad press such methods got back then, when they were blamed for turning out thousands of children who couldn't read or write properly, a survey of 115 primary schools last week revealed that four out of five are returning to teaching based around "topics" such as chocolate.

At Bursted Wood, traditional secondary-school style classes in subjects such as history, geography and maths have been ditched for topics planned out on "creative learning wheels". I look at one wheel, laid out on a card, with the school's head teacher, Ely Prynne (pictured). The topic is The Groovy Greeks: children are encouraged to learn about maths, for instance, by studying patterns and right angles in Greek art and analysing graphs showing their favourite Greek gods.

Prynne is evangelical about the changes. "I find our children's knowledge is being deepened," she says. "Instead of doing half an hour of history, half an hour of geography, we take a theme. For example, one topic was called Time Travellers. "It took an idea a bit like the Tardis and Dr Who, with the children travelling through time to visit the Tudors. We went to a local building where the children made candles and learnt Tudor dances."

Like thousands of primary school teachers Prynne started her career, 30 years ago, teaching young children through themes and topics. It was all the rage at the time. But in 1992 a report commissioned by the then Tory education secretary, Kenneth Clarke, pinned blame for declining standards on such methods. The report followed the introduction of a national curriculum in primary schools prescribing which subjects had to be taught. Jim Rose, Robin Alexander and Chris Woodhead, dubbed "the three wise men", were the report's authors. They discouraged the "playschool" approach and recommended more traditional teaching methods. Later in the decade a literacy and numeracy hour was introduced and English and maths standards started to rise. Now it seems another wave of reform is taking place and the traditional methods are being jettisoned.

"The national curriculum was very constricting. Teachers felt they did not have ownership, now they do," says Prynne, whose school is held up by government agencies as an example of good practice. The change started, she says, four years ago when teachers were encouraged to break out of the straitjacket of the national curriculum and make lessons more imaginative.

The only problem is that test results for 11-year-olds at Bursted Wood, while still above the national average for maths and English, have fallen since 2003, when Prynne introduced the new timetable. Last week she said that the innovations had "nothing at all" to do with the dip in results, which compared two different groups of children. Meanwhile, 25% of 11-year-olds nationwide are still leaving school unable to read or write properly. "It is not just about results," she says. "It is also about things like confidence and a love of learning." She adds that the "creative wheel" covers the content of the national curriculum and the school also still provides a literacy and numeracy hour.

However, David Hart, a former head of the National Association of Head Teachers, has warned: "Theme-based schooling will disadvantage pupils . . . and make the secondary teacher's task much more difficult." Blair Chandler, 11, has been taught both ways. When he started at Bursted Wood there were separate traditional subject lessons. But in the last four years he has been on a "creative learning journey". "This is much funner," he says. Perhaps. But is it more educational?

How much history or geography do your children know? Go on, ask them. Ruin the family Sunday. It isn't their fault. Our children leave primary school in pitiful ignorance because teachers remain committed to half-baked notions. According to a survey, four-fifths of state primary schools have abandoned traditional subject teaching in favour of what is known as "topic" work. Boring old history and geography have been replaced by exciting projects on, say, "chocolate".

Time and again, back in the 1980s, I'd listen to a primary school teacher tell me that he or she "taught children not subjects". Children don't, the argument went, think in terms of history and geography. They experience the world in all its buzzing confusion, and, if school is to be "fun", the artificial boundaries between subjects must be broken down to allow the child to experience the full interdisciplinary richness of human experience. The fact that the boundaries are not artificial did not seem to cut much ice. Neither did the fact that children are unlikely to make much progress in, for example, science, if they are forever encouraged to think about how chocolate is made.

The national curriculum, improved things for a while, but now teachers seem to be slipping back to their old ideological ways. Prep schools will, of course, still teach history and geography and the gap between standards in state and private schools will widen further.


British health boss in trouble

The political career of health secretary Patricia Hewitt is lying on a trolley in some dark hospital corridor, very probably labelled “Do not resuscitate”. In a couple of weeks, Dr Brown is expected on his rounds to put Hewitt out of her misery. But until then she must put up with the pain. She’s already been attacked in recent weeks by midwives and junior doctors. Last week hospital consultants joined the fight by accusing Labour of crippling the health service.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, said the service had been harmed by botched reforms. “Political meddling has brought the NHS to its knees,” he told the association’s annual consultants’ conference. He was speaking despite an announcement by Hewitt that, as a patient, the NHS was showing a modest recovery. After running up debts of 547m last year, the latest accounts showed a 510m surplus.

How has this been done? According to NHS figures, 17,000 jobs have gone in the past year and training budgets have been trimmed. And, according to critics, the cuts are endangering the government’s drive to cut waiting lists. “Half a million hospital patients could be waiting more than a year for treatment,” The Times reported.

Andy Burnham, the health minister, defended the government’s record, saying all but eight trusts have reduced waiting times. Not everybody does so badly. There is one area of the country where 98% of patients are treated on time. That’s Leicester – whose MPs include Hewitt.


Heads up from David Thompson "Some of you may have seen Vanessa Engle’s witty BBC4 documentary series, Lefties, screened in February last year. The 3-part series revisits the “alternative politics” of the 70s and 80s, when the far left was an all-too-serious force in British political life. Among the gems to savour are the endless factional disputes over exactly how capitalism should be toppled, the farcical mismanagement of the News on Sunday, an earnest exposition on “penile imperialism”, and interviews with former self-styled radicals, now sitting by private swimming pools, fretting about fridge ownership or planning to work on lama farms. The three episodes – Property is Theft, Angry Wimmin and A Lot of Balls - can be viewed online here. Given a generation of young lefties with little, if any, experience of what their dreams entail when applied in the real world, it’s worth casting an eye over what happened when Socialism wasn’t just something people laughed at.

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