Saturday, June 30, 2007


For non-Brits: British government bodies are often accused of "fudging" an issue. We even hear of "a typical British fudge". The term means something like "an evasive compromise", "handling a dilemma by vagueness" or "concealing what is really going on by vague or misleading words". It might not be too unkind to describe the whole of British politics as one big fudge. I doubt that the word is capable of precise definition but precision is, after all, anathema to it. At any event, it is an essential word for those who claim any insight into British affairs

Government claims of improved examination performance are based on lower test standards, according to an end-of-term report on Tony Blair’s education record as Prime Minister. The school curriculum has been narrowed, and teachers are being forced to teach only for the next tests, say Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen, authors of the study by the right-wing think-tank Civitas.

“Better results in our schools give no assurance of better-educated pupils. They often signify worse educated pupils,” the report concludes. Ms de Waal said that Mr Blair had failed in his aim of closing the gap in achievement between rich and poor children because his emphasis on league tables and targets had broken the link between achievement and learning. The Government had become sidetracked by structural reforms and innovations. “The Government is not allowing teachers to have the autonomy to teach. If we really wanted to see better standards, we would leave the teachers alone — they are suffering from initiative overload,” she added.

The report cited research from Robert Coe, of the University of Durham’s School of Education, that found evidence of grade inflation at A level. Dr Coe compared the A-level results of students with verbal and mathematical reasoning test results, and found that a candidate given an F in A-level mathematics in 1988 would, on average, get a C in 2005. Students of average ability in 1988 gained E grades in geography and biology and Ds in English literature, history and French. In 2005 teenagers of similar ability were awarded C grades in all six subjects.

At GCSE, grades had also been inflated, the Civitas report claimed, largely because of the increasing numbers of students taking vocational qualifications that the Government deemed equivalent to four GCSEs.

The report also questioned the validity of primary school test results. It noted that, in Year Six, for four months normal teaching was discarded for nearly half the time and pupils were coached for national curriculum SATs.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, disputed the report’s explanation of A-level grades. “Teachers have got better at coaching students for exams. The modular system of A levels has also helped to raised achievement because it means that pupils don’t have to learn everything for last-minute tests,” he said.


Friday, June 29, 2007


The NHS chequebook proves it

The family of a premature baby who died after emergency surgery to the wrong lung have agreed an out-of-court settlement with the hospital trust concerned. Clarke Jackson was born three months prematurely at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, in April 2004, weighing 2.2lb (1kg). He died less than 11 hours later. The child’s family have pursued a legal claim against the hospital trust insisting that medical staff made a series of errors that led, at least in part, to the baby’s death.

The hospital has acknowledged that an X-ray examination revealed a problem with the baby’s left lung but that it went on to treat his right lung instead. Clarke continued to struggle for breath as his condition deteriorated.

Katrina Jackson, 34, the baby’s mother, has also claimed that staff failed to check on her during her 17-hour labour, that she was left to give birth alone and that there was nobody present to give emergency care immediately after the birth. These claims are denied by the trust, which insists that the child was so poorly he was unlikely to survive.

Mrs Jackson, of Manchester, said that the circumstances of Clarke’s death had left her wondering whether he could have lived had he been given immediate care. Mrs Jackson, who has three other children, said: “Clarke was breathing, kicking and showing all the normal signs of life when he was born. We believe he would have had a good chance with better care.

“It has left us with the question, ‘What if?’ I was in the hospital for five weeks, yet when the moment came to ensure the safest possible delivery the hospital staff just were not there doing basic things. “I had to insist on seeing Clarke’s medical records. If I hadn’t, we would have been brushed aside with the explanation that he as too poorly and wouldn’t have made it. Getting left and right mixed up has killed my son.”

The family have agreed to accept an undisclosed five-figure sum. Adam Smith, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This is an alarming and tragic case where hospital staff made fundamental errors.” A spokesman for the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust said: “A full investigation was carried out by the trust and lessons have been learnt to minimise the risk of this tragedy occurring again. “Clarke was very poorly and was unlikely to survive but the trust has accepted that the clinical error contributed to his tragic death.


A woman with a twin brother has fewer children

Patriarchy in the womb? Let's see the feminists get around this one! Not that the facts bother them, of course

TWIN brothers can leave quite an impression. The mere presence of a boy in the same womb as his sister causes her to develop bigger teeth than she otherwise would. Girls with twin brothers perform better on spatial-ability tests. They have better ball skills than most females; squarer, more masculine jaws and are more likely to be short-sighted. Now it seems that sharing the womb also has a deleterious effect on the sexual reproduction of women with a twin brother.

Virpi Lummaa of the University of Sheffield, in Britain, and her colleagues made the claim after studying detailed data from several generations of church records from many parishes in Finland. To ensure their findings were not skewed by modern health care, they confined their investigation to the years before Finns gained access both to contraception and assisted conception.

They report that women with a twin brother were 15% less likely to get married than were women with a twin sister. Those with a male twin also had a 25% lower chance of giving birth even though they lived just as long as those with a female twin. When the researchers considered only married women, those with a twin brother on average had two fewer children during their lifetimes than did women with a twin sister. And finally—to rule out any influence of sharing a house as well as a womb—Dr Lummaa checked the results were the same for women whose twin brothers died before they were three months old. They were. The researchers reported their findings in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As with the teeth and the jaw lines, the purported cause of atypical female biology is early exposure to testosterone. This hormone is made by a male fetus's developing testes from about seven weeks after conception and is thought to diffuse through the amniotic fluid, influencing his sister's growth. But the exact mechanism by which a twin brother lowers his sister's chances of reproductive success is unclear.

Lesbianism is one possibility. (To what extent is impossible to tell, because the Lutheran ministers charged with collecting exhaustive demographic details did not probe quite that far.) But physiology could also play a part. Some cancers of the reproductive system, and a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, which reduces fertility, are more common in women with relatively high early exposure to male hormones.

Dr Lummaa's results also suggest that, if a woman wishes to maximise the chances of passing on her genes, she would do better to avoid producing pairs of twins consisting of one boy and one girl and go for a single-sex combination instead. Mothers included in the study who produced opposite-sex twins had 19% fewer grandchildren than did mothers who gave birth to same-sex twins.

Evolutionary theory thus predicts that there should be fewer pairs of girl-and-boy non-identical twins than single-sex pairs of non-identical twins. Whether that is so requires another set of figures. Finnish church records, helpful as they are, do not distinguish non-identical same-sex twins from identical ones. In the eyes of God, unlike those of natural selection, twin girls are created equal.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Having opinions about race is not the same as racism

The article below is a typical rant about racism from a Left-leaning Australian newspaper. Typically, it makes no distinction between opinions about race and racism. To do so would deprive the author of much of the warm inner glow of righteousness she got from writing it. But, as any psychologist can tell you, attitudes are not the same as behaviour and it has been known since the 1930s that, in this field particularly, attitudes and behaviour are often very different. My favourite example of the disjunction is a neo-Nazi I once knew who was great friends with a very dark-skinned Bengali. I also once knew a very kind man who spoke very ill of Asians but who was in fact happily married to one.

We all have opinions about groups of people. What do most men think about busty women, for instance? And what do women think about tall men? There is rarely indifference in either case. So there is nothing wrong about opinions of racial or ethnic groups either. It is only when people are ill-treated solely because of their race that there is cause for concern and the label "racism" is justified.

The article below mentions the multifarious prejudices that the English typically have -- class prejudices and regional prejudices particularly. They even mock redheads! As an Australian who has spent some time in England, I have myself experienced the mocking comments that the English sometimes direct at Australians. I just directed a few mocking comments back which were received with perfect good humour and which moved the conversation onto a perfectly amicable level.

People will always be mocked by someone for something and it is about time everyone grew up enough to handle it. So let us hear from the self-righteous one:

I was at a smart party with a bunch of people I hadn't seen for years. Suddenly there was a yelp at my elbow. Fabulous Miss C, tanned to the gills, absolutely cured. She'd also done something to her face. "I hear you're living out at Springvale now. P told me. She said there aren't any dogs out there, because the chinks have eaten them all." And off she went into a squealing peal of laughter. It's a long time since I heard someone say "chinks" and make a joke like that. I told her that what she said was ridiculous, that of course there are dogs in Springvale, hundreds of them. I should have also told her she was revoltingly racist, that talk like that is not acceptable. But I did not.

A friend was dining at the home of "aristocrats" when the hostess rattled her jewels and complained about all the new immigrants from Africa, crowing that they should "send them back up the trees". The company laughed indulgently - such a rabid old eccentric. One simply could not take her seriously. No one told her off.

Racism is a disease found among people of all incomes, education levels and ethnic types. Even within the same ethnic type: in London Australians are patronised, treated as "dumb colonials" with the wrong accent. A German friend lived there for many years and waited for the inevitable swipe at every dinner party. "It was relentless," she told me. "Germans are seen as humourless, efficient manufacturers of precision instruments. We are disliked but we are taken seriously. Australians are not taken seriously. My only defence was to get ahead of them, tell a joke against Germans before they got theirs in."

I was warned a guest I had from the Balkans was sure to be a "broken and scarred person". When I suggested that such stereotyping was racist the response was angry. How dare I accuse them. My years working in the Jewish community have elicited "concern" from some. "Do they - uh - pay you properly?" When I return a quiet, withering gaze they too get angry: "Oh for God's sake! I just wanted to make sure you were alright!"

More here

Perhaps two small examples of mocking the English back might help someone. The first is of my own devising and the second I owe to the inimitable Barry Humphries. The two examples spring from derogatory comments about Australian wine and comments about Australian male friendships being suppressed homosexuality. The two comments I make on such occasions are:

"Australians are much like the French. They make a small amount of good wine and a lot of rough wine. And the stuff that is too rough even for them they sell to the English"

"That's just a rumour put out by Australia House to attract all the English immigrants"

I have always found that both comments get a "Touche!" response.

Why has British social mobility declined?

For once I agree with Britain's famously Green/Left "Viewspaper", ironically called "The Independent". Their article below concludes that education is the key to social mobility and that British social mobility has declined from what it once was. They do not however go the extra step and face the fact that Britain's dumbed-down educational system MUST lead to reduced social mobility.

Only a high quality education for all or elite schools where selection is on ability only (which the Grammar schools once were) could give the capable children of the poor roughly equal opportunites to the children of the rich. The children of the rich will always go to good (mostly private) schools but the dumbing down of government schools in recent years has deprived the children of the poor of similar opportunities. The reduced social mobility in Britain in recent years is in fact GOOD EVIDENCE of the decay in British government-provided education.

But the Leftist fervour for equality was the aim of the dumbing down of government schooling in the first place. You cannot make everybody into high achievers so the only way to create some semblance of equality is to dumb everybody down to one low level. So the policy has succeeded in its aims. Those aims are not however consistent with giving full opportunity to the more capable children of the poor. Short of a Soviet-style red revolution, the present policies of equality in fact entrench existing social divisions

Why are we talking about social mobility?

New research confirms the image of Britain as a relatively rigid society. There is proportionately more chance that, if you're born poor in Britain, you'll stay poor. Academics, supported by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, have been following the changing fortunes of samples of children born in 1958 and in 1970. The group born earlier are doing relatively better in terms of "life chances": "Early indications are that the decline in social mobility for those growing up between the 1970s and 1980s reflects a strong episode of worsening social mobility that was not seen before or since. The trend of worsening has stopped, but the UK remains very low in the developed-world rankings and faces a serious challenge if social mobility is to be promoted."

Gordon Brown has made opportunity one of his themes, declaring in his leadership speech that: "Wherever we find opportunity denied, aspirations unfulfilled, potential unrealised; wherever and whenever we find injustice and unfairness, there we must be also - and it is our duty to act."

In the 1980s, the Conservatives were the party of social mobility; from Essex Man buying his council house and shares in the privatised utilities to the yuppies in the City. The Conservatives have recently become interested in the upwardly mobile again. They controversially changed their policy on grammar schools because they doubted their contribution to mobility. According to front bencher David Willetts, "stark figures" about declining mobility "have exposed our complacent belief that British society is inexorably becoming more socially mobile ... our schools are entrenching social advantage".

Both Tony Blair and the former Conservative prime minister, Michael Howard, talked about a "British dream", a version of the American dream, where a baby born in a log cabin can make it to the White House. The fact that the Conservative leader, David Cameron, is an Old Etonian, and has become popularly thought of as being fond of "hugging hoodies", has also prompted more interest in the issue.

What is social mobility?

Social mobility is the extent to which a child's social status can alter through the course of their life. It also relates to how easy it is for a child born to parents in one social class to wind up in another class. Social mobility, however, can exist side by side with vast differences in wealth (indeed, some claim such disparities amount to an incentive for the diasadvantaged). A society with equality of opportunity can be one where there is little "equality of outcome". In reality, societies that are less unequal in the first place tend to have fewer opportunities for individuals to leap class barriers.

How unequal are we?

In terms of income and wealth, we're more unequal than for decades, with the very rich (average incomes in excess of œ500,000) now pulling further away from the merely prosperous. In terms of equality of opportunity, if you were born in 1970 into the poorest quarter of the population, there's a 37 per cent chance you'll be staying there; for those born in 1958, there was only a 31 per cent chance of remaining in that stratum. But ...

Are we becoming more unequal?

Yes and no. We're no longer feudal, after all; the age of deference has long gone; women and ethnic minorities enjoy legal protections and there is, probably, less snobbery and prejudice around than before the Second World War. Sociologists have found that there has previously been little "long-range" mobility in Britain for people born between 1900 and 1960.

An Oxford University study reported that then only about 10 per cent of boys from working-class backgrounds ended up in the professional classes. Post-Second World War, the rise of the "meritocracy", much hyped in the 1960s, appears to have stalled. Although there was a decline in mobility between those born in 1958 and those born in 1970, matters did not get worse for children born through the rest of the 1970s and 1980s: "it appears that the downward trend in social mobility has halted."

Even so, while for those born in the early 1980s the gap narrowed between those staying on in education at age 16, inequality of access to university education has widened further. The proportion of people from the poorest fifth of families obtaining a degree has increased from 6 per cent to 9 per cent, but the graduation rates for the richest fifth have risen from 20 per cent to 47 per cent.

Measures such as SureStart, reforms in schools and child tax credits might have improved mobility since 1997, but it's too early to tell. Differences in life chances for people from different ethnic origins, reflected in their very different representation in the various social groups, persist strongly.

Immigrants to the UK have historically been downwardly mobile. Many first-generation Commonwealth migrants during the 20th century were forced to take manual jobs in the UK, having held white-collar positions in their country of birth. So most minority ethnic groups show high levels of children moving into a higher class than their parents, consistent with the idea that their parents suffered downward mobility on arrival in Britain.

Ethnic minorities are more likely to be socially mobile (in both directions) than the white population. Whereas 57 per cent of the white population were found not to be mobile in a census study, this dropped to 42 per cent for those of Indian origin and 37 per cent for Pakistanis, both groups seeing broadly equal rates of upward and downward mobility.

How does Britain compare internationally?

The Sutton Trust researchers found that the UK is bottom of the table of advanced countries for which there is data. Although the gap in opportunities between the rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in Britain those gaps are getting wider.

Does money matter?

Yes, but not as much as some might think. According to the Sutton Trust researchers, "While it is clear that family income differences between the rich and the poor do have a big impact on children's educational outcome, the estimated impact of income is modest relative to the large differences in attainment between children from richer and poorer families. Consequently, while reducing child poverty can have some benefits, policies to increase intergenerational mobility will need to focus on raising poorer children's attainment through targeted services and access to the best schools.

So what's the key to social mobility?

Education would seem to be the consensual answer, although there is huge disagreement on whether structures, standards or spending make the difference. The Sutton Trust study states: "The strength of the relationship between educational attainment and family income, especially for access to higher education, is at the heart of Britain's low mobility culture and what sets us apart from other European and North American countries." Common sense tell us that if the poorest children in the worst housing are sent to the worst schools then they're unlikely to prosper. On that, the academics and politicians seem to agree.


Filthy British government hospitals that won't come clean

Keeping a hospital clean does not require a lot of money or complicated equipment. It does require will. It requires someone to exercise authority and take responsibility

In the same week that saw the Conservative party announce its plans for the National Health Service came news that one in four NHS organisations in England is failing to comply with basic hygiene standards. Survey after survey reveals that patients are more concerned about catching an infection in hospital than any other issue.

The rise of the hospital superbug is the visible sign of a bureaucracy in crisis. Cases of MRSA in England and Wales have increased by 600% in the past decade alone, according to government figures. Britain has one of the worst records in Europe. The danger of contracting a bug here is more than 15 times higher than the next safest countries. Hospital-acquired infection (HAI) affects 300,000 people a year, claiming as many as 20,000 lives, with more than 5,000 a year dying of hospital superbugs such as MRSA.

Keeping a hospital clean does not require money or complicated equipment. It does require will. It requires someone to exercise authority and take responsibility. Florence Nightingale understood this when she cut the fatality rate of wounded soldiers from 40% to just 5% by imposing basic standards of hygiene and sanitation. She organised her nurses on almost military lines and subjected them to military discipline.

What do we have instead? One former matron, now in audit work, pointed out the difficulty of disciplining a nurse for incompetence in the NHS today. Modern management is meant to "nurture" its employees. "You can't bawl them out or they'll sue you for harassment," she explained. Instead, "in a nice, soft voice, you have to ask if that was the way she had been taught? Did she consider it appropriate?"

The hospitals I visited during a year's research appeared helpless to do anything about their wards and staff. A sister in charge of a ward has little say in how her ward is cleaned, when it is done or by whom. Certainly she has no power to discipline cleaners. All she can do is complain to the cleaning manager who deals with the outside contract cleaners.

One Filipina nurse complained: "No one tells the cleaner to change their water when it gets dirty. If you don't stipulate in the contract that the water should be changed four times when you wash a particular ward, they won't do it." She was shocked that her NHS hospital had no night cleaners as they do in the Philippines, she said.

NHS staff themselves often fail to take the risk of HAI seriously. At a hospital board meeting I attended, a consultant admitted: "I don't get stroppy with staff if they do not wash their hands." "I do," replied another doctor. "But you are a surgeon," pointed out the first, "and I am just a gentle physician." Stroppiness is not seen as a virtue in the NHS.

I was standing outside a side room, containing a patient with MRSA, talking to a matron and a nurse manager from infection control. Earlier I had been shown the apron and glove dispenser at the entrance of the room. Every nurse is supposed to put these on before touching the patient, then remove them before leaving the room. Suddenly I noticed a nurse walk in, see to the patient and then depart. She had not, despite the presence of her matron and infection control manager, touched the dispenser.

Neither woman appeared to notice. In my astonishment I interrupted them. Had I misunderstood? Was I being very stupid? It appeared not. The matron tut-tutted. "You've got to have eyes in the back of your head with these girls," she said. The infection control manager nodded sympathetically. "Doctors are far worse," she added. There was no question of a reprimand, let alone the sack.

Compare this with the enforcement of health and safety legislation elsewhere. One industrial chemist, who found himself a patient of the NHS, was horrified when he witnessed a similar scene. He would have been sacked on the spot for not wearing the protective clothing or equipment provided by his employers. NHS health and safety legislation, so powerful that it can close down a hospital, does not - as the chief executive of one hospital pointed out to me - even include infection control.

So will "autonomy and accountability", the Conservative proposals for NHS reform, do anything about our dirty buckets? The main feature of the report is how little it differs from Labour's own NHS reforms.

Patients, the Conservatives promise, can choose to be treated in the private or public sector as long as the cost is the same or below that of the NHS. If the cost is higher, patients cannot top up the NHS with their own money. This is exactly what many might wish to do when they discover how the rates of HAI in the private sector compare with the NHS. Infection rates for hysterectomies, for example, vary between 0.74% to 2.8% in private hospitals. In the NHS they are as high as 11%.

It is almost impossible for patients to make that comparison. Private hospitals include the information on their websites or are happy to give it over the phone. The matron of one told me proudly that its rate was 0% per 10,000 beds: "We often get inquiries and quite rightly so. I would want to know." In the NHS the Healthcare Commission provides information on trusts but not on individual hospitals.

Even an NHS GP found it difficult to discover such information. He explained that patients are on the "choose and book" system, but choice was restricted to locality only.

The Tories agree that standards of information in the NHS are "lamentable". They promise to provide the public with information on the "prevalence" of HAI - not only hospital by hospital, but also department by department. This information is vital. Competition and patient choice will do more than any government policy to force good practice up through the management hierarchy of the NHS.

Meanwhile, we have allowed authority to absent itself where it should be all important. Any politician contemplating healthcare reform must start with the basics. And the basics are a clean pair of hands.


BBC employs Hamas member: "Despite Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) opposition and per the request of the BBC, the coordinator of government activities allowed a Hamas member who works for the BBC to enter the Gaza Strip last week to assist in efforts to release kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston. Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post that a week ago, a request came from the BBC asking that a Palestinian employee of the news company who is believed to be a close associate of senior Hamas officials be allowed to enter Gaza."

Comment on the hypocritical British boycotters of Israel: "The PACBI boycotters and their UCU fellow travellers would deny to Jews the rights that they upholds for other, comparable peoples. They adhere to the principle of national self-determination, except in the Jews' case. They affirm international law, except in Israel's case. They are outraged by the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, but are untroubled (say) by the Islamic nature of Iran or of Saudi Arabia. They regard Zionism as uniquely pernicious, rather than as merely another nationalism (just as earlier generations of anti-Semites regarded Jewish capitalists as uniquely pernicious, rather than merely as members of the capitalist class). They are indifferent to Jewish suffering, while being sensitive to the suffering of non-Jews. They dismiss anti-Semitism as a phantasm exploited by Jews to pursue their own goals."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

British mother denied cancer drug -- has to sell her house

It's very pesky trying to cash in on your health insurance when the government is the insurer. What if she did not have a house to sell? Tough luck!

A mother has been forced to sell her home to pay for private treatment with a cancer "wonder drug" after funding for it was denied. Debbie Mitchell, 39, said she was "left to sit in the corner and die" after her local primary care trust refused to pay for Sutent for her stomach cancer. The drug costs 2,500 pounds a month and to pay for it she and her partner John Forrester have now had to sell their 340,000 four-bedroom detached home in the Staffordshire village of Derrington.

"It's heartbreaking," she said. "We built the house ourselves from scratch - it's our dream home. "We love the house, we love the village, we love the people, but we've been left with no alternative. "I can't believe it's come to this. We live in such a cruel world."

Miss Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, and had 40 per cent of her stomach removed. In May last year she received the devastating news that the disease had returned in the form of GIST (gastrointestinal stomal), a rare mutating cancer. South Staffordshire PCT paid for her to be put on the drug Glivec, even funding a double dose for her which would cost 58,000 for a year's treatment. But in February, cancer specialists treating her said her tumours were still growing and recommended Sutent, which has been shown to shrink tumours dramatically and can prolong life for two years or more.

The drug, which is widely prescribed throughout Europe and the U.S., has already been licensed for use in Britain. But it has yet to be approved by the Government's drugs watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Until NICE guidelines are introduced, it is up to primary care trusts to decide whether to fund treatment with Sutent. It is funded in parts of Britain, but Miss Mitchell's PCT refused to pay for it on the grounds of cost and clinical effectiveness.

Its decision came even though, at 29,000 a year, it is cheaper than the double dose course of Glivec. Some experts also estimate Sutent has a 50 per cent chance of working on tumours whereas Glivec has only five per cent. "I can't take it, there's no logic there," said Miss Mitchell. "It is a postcode lottery whether you receive Sutent or not. "We all put money into the NHS pot and therefore we should all be allowed the same treatment. "My oncologists have written to the PCT, saying that I should be given the drug. Yet the PCT has not bothered to look into the circumstances of my condition, despite all the evidence. "What's the point in developing these drugs if they're not going to be used?"

She and Mr Forrester, 37, who co-own a limousine hire company, will move next month with her 18-year- old daughter Amy to a smaller 240,000 pound house they have bought in nearby Stafford. Mr Forrester's four children stay with the couple every other weekend. Miss Mitchell said: "We'll still have a mortgage because the money we've made off our house is going toward the cost of the treatment. "We've got enough money for a couple of years of the drug at the moment. After that we'll have to remortgage the new house."

In a letter sent to Miss Mitchell, the PCT defended its decision saying: "The request for treatment was turned down due to lack of evidence of clinical and cost-effectiveness."


Hijacking education in Britain

From global warming alarmism dressed up as Geography to 'happiness teaching' through yoga: the classroom has been hijacked by zealous campaigners who care little for pedagogy

Over the past two decades, the school curriculum in Britain has become estranged from the challenge of educating children. Pedagogic problems still influence official deliberations on the national curriculum, of course. But increasingly, educational matters are being subordinated to the imperative of social engineering and political expediency.

As I write this essay I receive word that the Equal Opportunities Commission has just dispatched 40 pages of guidance to head teachers and governors in England about how they should go about tackling inequality between the sexes. The guideline, The Gender Equality Duty, is the product of an imagination that regards the curriculum as principally a political instrument for changing attitudes and behaviour. `The gender equality duty presents a fantastic opportunity for schools to make a coordinated effort to tackle inequality and ensure that all pupils are able to fully achieve their potential' declares the Commission. (1)

Instructions to schools about how to close the gender gap compete with directives that outline how children should be taught to become more sensitive to cultural differences. Everyone with a fashionable cause wants a piece of the curriculum. The former national chair of the Professional Association of Teachers wants pupils to `learn about nappies' and has demanded the introduction of compulsory parenting classes for 14- to 16-year-olds. (2) Others insist that teachers spend more time talking to their class about sex or relationships or climate change or healthy eating or drugs or homophobia or Islamophobia.

The school curriculum has become a battleground for zealous 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 recent 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, the current education secretary, is a very busy man. Not only is he introducing global warming studies, he has also made the instruction 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 the task of transmitting the latest fashionable cause or value. Johnson is indifferent to the slave trade as part of an academic discipline with its own integrity; rather he sees slave trade studies as a vehicle for promoting his version of a multicultural Britain. `This is about ensuring young people understand what it means to be British today' (3), 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, learned crucial parenting skills and feel very British, they'll be taught how and why to lose weight. A curriculum devoted to a total makeover has little energy left for dealing with such secondary issues as how to gain children's interest in real education.

Increasingly, the curriculum is regarded as a vehicle for promoting political objectives and for changing the values, attitudes and sensibilities of children. Many advocacy organisations that demand changes to the curriculum do not have the slightest interest in the subject they wish to influence. As far as they are concerned they are making a statement through gaining recognition for their cause in the curriculum. The government, too, is in the business of statement-making. It may lack an effective drugs policy but at least it can claim that schools provide drugs education.

In recent months the politicisation of the curriculum has acquired a powerful momentum. Back in February climate change emerged as the new Big Theme for the curriculum. According to proposals published by the Department of Education, 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'. As Alex Standish argues in his essay Geography Used To Be About Maps published in the CIVITAS report The Corruption of the Curriculum, this subject has been transformed into a crusade for transmitting `global values'. And global values usually mean the latest Hurrah Causes championed by the cultural elites through the media.

This was the intention behind Alan Johnson's announcement in February 2007 that `we need the next generation to think about their impact on the environment in a different way'. This project, aimed at manipulating how children lead their lives, is justified through appealing to a higher truth. Johnson claims that `if we can instil 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' (4). Literally save the world! That looks like a price worth paying for fiddling with the geography curriculum.

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, `values about what?', was carefully avoided. Instead, those advocating citizenship education have cobbled together a 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.

A few years down the road and the meaning of citizenship is even less clear than when schools started teaching it as a subject. Back in January 2007, 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.

The essays by Michele Ledda, Alex Standish, Chris McGovern, Shirley Lawes, Simon Patterson and David Perks in The Corruption of the Curriculum deal with different school subjects. But they all point to similar problems that afflict their area of specialty. Their accusation about the corruption of the school curriculum is not made in the spirit of polemical excess. Corruption in these cases refers to the erosion of the integrity of education through debasing and altering its meaning. As a result some subjects such as geography and history no longer bear any resemblance to what they were in the past. At least the new dumbed-down happy versions of science and mathematics bear some relation to their subjects. But history without chronology is like learning maths through skipping over the multiplication table.

The uniqueness of twenty-first century philistinism

Of course there is nothing new about attempts to influence the values and beliefs transmitted through the school curriculum. Competing claims made on the curriculum reflect confusion and an absence of consensus about how to socialise children. At least in part, the `crisis of education' is symptomatic of an absence of consensus about the basic values of society.

Back in the early 1960s the social philosopher Hannah Arendt recognised the tendency to confuse the lack of moral consensus in society with the problem of schooling. There had to be a measure of consensus about the past before a system of education could affirm its virtues. `The problem of education in the modern world lies in the fact that by its very nature it cannot forego either authority or tradition, and yet must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition' she wrote in 1961. (5) In other words, the crisis in education is often a symptom of a more fundamental erosion of authority and tradition. The diminishing relevance of the values of the past is a constant theme that underpins debates about education.

Arendt was one of the few observers to note that in a changing world society finds it difficult to establish a creative balance between the achievements and legacy of the past and the provision of answers to new questions and challenges thrown up in the present. It is because it is so difficult to mediate between old and new that educators continually experience their profession as facing a crisis. The challenge of sustaining respect for the past and being open to change can provide important insights about how to go about the business of teaching and learning and developing new knowledge. Unfortunately, in recent decades the British education establishment has become estranged from this challenge. It has distanced itself from the past and devotes itself to searching for and inventing values `appropriate' for our times. Indeed, one of its distinct characteristics is its obsessive search for novelty.

There is nothing unique about the experience of an education system in crisis. What is distinct about our time is the reluctance of educators to attempt to develop a system of schooling that can mediate between the old and the new. The growing tendency to reinvent subjects, modernise them or make them more relevant is driven by the objective of inventing a new tradition. Unfortunately traditions cannot be cobbled together out of thin air. If they lack an organic relationship to people's lived experiences they will lack a capacity to inspire. That is why every initiative taken to improve citizenship education falters and creates a demand for a new idea!

However, it would be wrong to perceive today's crisis of education as simply the contemporary version of an old problem. For a start, education has become far more politicised than at any time during the past two centuries. When Blair made his famous `education, education, education' speech what he really meant was `politics, politics, politics'. In the absence of a consensus of what it means to be British and what are the fundamental values that society wishes to convey to young people, the curriculum has become subject to constant partisan disputes and political experimentation.

The contemporary crisis of education is subject to three destructive influences that are in many ways unique to our time. Firstly contemporary pedagogy has lost faith in the importance of knowledge and the search for the truth. Increasingly educators insist that there is no such thing as the truth and children are instructed that often there are no right or wrong answers. The relativistic turn in pedagogy has important consequences for epistemology and the quality of intellectual life in the west. (6) It also has profound implications for the way that the curriculum is perceived. If the meaning of the truth and the status of knowledge are negotiable, then so is the curriculum.

Studying a subject or body of knowledge is rarely perceived as a good thing in itself. More importantly, the diminished status assigned to knowledge has encouraged a relativistic orientation towards standards. That is why officials have been so pragmatic about the way they wheel and deal about the content of school subjects. From their perspective, lowering standards has become the default position when confronted with a problem. Of course they rarely promote new initiatives through acknowledging that they have made the curriculum easier. Instead they suggest that the changes introduced make the subject more relevant and appropriate for our times. The recent announcement that delivery of education will become more personalised represents the logical outcome of this trend. Personalised learning displaces the idea that there is a coherent body of knowledge that needs to be assimilated in favour of the principle of teaching what works for the individual. Such a promiscuous attitude towards knowledge creates a situation where there are no real pedagogic barriers against pressures to politicise the curriculum.

The second destructive trend haunting education is the enthronement of philistinism in pedagogy. The striving for standards of excellence is frequently condemned as elitist by apparently enlightened educators. Forms of education that really challenge children and which some find difficult are denounced for not being inclusive. There have always been philistine influences in education but it is only in recent times that anti-intellectual ideals are self-consciously promoted by educators. The corrosive effects of anti-elitist sentiments are evident in all the subjects discussed by the authors in Corrupting the Curriculum.

The third important influence that is distinct to our times is a radically new way that educators perceive children. In recent decades it has become common to regard children as fragile, emotionally vulnerable things who cannot be expected to cope with real intellectual challenge. It was in this vein that in April 2007 Alan Johnson instructed teachers to routinely praise their pupils. According to guidelines, teachers ought to reward children five times as often as they punish them for disrupting lessons. (7) That this inane formulation of the relationship between praise and punishment is circulated through the institution of education is a testimony to the impoverished intellectual and moral climate that prevails in this domain. But the exhortation to institutionalise the praising of children is not an isolated attempt to flatter the egos of young people. Increasingly the therapeutic objective of making children feel good about themselves is seen as the primary objective of schooling.

The consequences of this tendency to infantilise children have been enormously destructive. At a time when Britain's schools face serious difficulties in providing children with a good education, they are to be charged with providing happiness lessons. This initiative is the latest technique adopted in a futile attempt to tackle the crisis facing the classroom through the management of children's emotions. Making children feel good about themselves has been one of main objectives of US schools during the past three decades. By the time they are seven or eight years old, American children have internalised the prevailing psychobabble and can proclaim the importance of avoiding negative emotions and of high self-esteem. Yet this has had no perceptible impact on their school performance.

In Britain, too, educators who have drawn the conclusion that it is easier to help children feel good than to teach them maths, reading and science, have embraced the cause of emotional education. During the past decades they have also adopted a variety of gimmicks to improve classroom behaviour through helping children to relax. Some schools have opted for yoga, others use aromatherapy or chill-out music to improve concentration and learning.

Perversely, the more we try to make children feel good about themselves, the more we distract them from engaging in experiences that have the potential for giving them a sense of achievement. These programmes encourage a mood of emotionalism in the school. I can predict with the utmost certainty that an expansion of the resources that schools devote to managing the emotional life of children will encourage pupils to turn inward and become even more preoccupied with themselves. Emotional education will have the unintended consequence of encouraging children to feel that they have a mental health problem. The branding of this therapeutic project as emotional education attempts to convey the impression that new forms of behaviour management possess educational value. They don't.

There are no easy magical solutions to the problems facing education. In one sense the system of education in a modern society will always be subject to new problems and challenges, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to restore a curriculum fit for our children. Firstly, education needs to become depoliticised: politicians need to be discouraged from regarding the curriculum as their platform for making statements. Secondly, society needs to challenge the tendency to downsize the status of knowledge and of standards. Anti-elitist education is in reality a masquerade for social engineering and needs to be exposed for its destructive consequence on school standards. Thirdly, we need to take children more seriously, uphold their capacity to engage with knowledge and provide them with a challenging educational environment. Children do not need to be made to feel good nor praised but to be taken seriously.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NHS shafts carers

Thousands of dementia sufferers are being denied access to crucial drugs because of "critical errors" by the Government's drug watchdog, the High Court is to be told today. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is accused of using "flawed and out-of-date figures" to play down the impact of the drugs on the lives of carers of dementia sufferers. When it decided to restrict access to three key drugs, NICE concluded that even on the most optimistic assessment, the benefit to carers of more widespread use of medication was negligible.

Central to the case being presented by the Alzheimer's Society today is its calculation that the drugs, which slow the progress of dementia, can save carers an hour and a half each day in caring duties. The society, which represents dementia sufferers and their families, will also tell the court that NICE underestimated the cost of full-time residential care at 355 pounds a week. In fact, the weekly cost can be 1,500. The charity says that wider use of the drugs would help dementia sufferers to stay in their homes longer, saving local authorities millions of pounds.

The case, the first legal challenge to a NICE decision, has been brought by Eisai, the licensed holder of one of the three drugs in question. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer is backing Eisai's case. The Alzheimer's Society is acting as an "interested party" in the judicial review. Its evidence on how carers could benefit from wider use of the drug is new to the case. It will run until Thursday. The judge will then take several weeks to reach a decision. The court can order NICE to reconsider.

In 2005 NICE said that the three drugs, Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon, should not be available on the NHS. After a protest by those affected, NICE reconsidered and decided that the drugs could be prescribed, but only to people with middle-stage dementia. Five appeals were rejected, and a judge ruled in April that there were grounds for a judicial review. NICE has never said how much its decision to restrict access to the drugs would save the NHS, but experts put it at about 9.4 million a year.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "These treatments have benefited so many families. Where is the justice in NICE's decision to snatch them away? Another 100,000 people will develop dementia this year."

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said: "Non-drug interventions have an important part to play and the evidence indicates that drugs are not effective for some patients."

Elsie Johnson is certain that her husband, Alan, 68, has benefited greatly from the Aricept he was prescribed as soon as his Alzheimer's was diagnosed in 2000. Under NICE's guidelines, he would have had to wait until his condition had deteriorated. Seven years on, the couple can still go on holiday, shop and take outings near their Gateshead home. "A month or two after he was put on Aricept, he really perked up and started to take more interest in life. We lead a pretty good life together," Mrs Johnson told The Times. "It is a terrible situation when psychiatrists are telling their patients that they know they have Alzheimer's and they know what will help, but they can't do anything until they get worse, so come back in a year." She added: I don't understand why scientists are spending time and money developing new drugs if NICE is going to stop people from getting them."


School tests: a little bit of stress is good for you

The only thing worse than the UK government's conveyor-belt testing of schoolkids is the anti-testing argument that says exams are evil and children 'can't cope'

There is no need to have one day each year when the `nation's 11-year-olds' are reduced to `a state of panic', argued Keith Bartley, chief executive of the UK General Teaching Council (GTC), last week. SATs tests, he said, must go. SATs, or Standard Assessment Tasks, are carried out when children are seven, 11 and 14 years old, in order to test students' grip of the national curriculum at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. The results of the tests are used as the basis for school league tables, which show parents and others how a school is performing overall. SATs - along with GCSEs and AS levels - have been under scrutiny for some time. Teachers have been accused of `teaching to test' (focusing on the achievement of `targets' during the examination period to the detriment of encouraging real understanding); `drilling to test' (exerting too much pressure on kids to pass); and even `fiddling tests' (in order to make their school's performance look better on paper). Now, however, the focus has shifted on to the stress and panic that SATs apparently provoke in young people.

`England's pupils are among the most frequently tested in the world', the GTC's Bartley said in an interview with the Observer last Sunday. Apparently, a typical British school pupil will sit 70 tests during his or her time at school, starting in Year 2 and continuing (at the discretion of individual schools) every year thereafter, until they reach Year 10 and begin preparing for their GCSE exams.

Talking to the BBC, John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: `There are all sorts of malign effects from the current testing regime. There is enormous pressure on youngsters and there's a lot of training to take the tests.' Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for education, agrees. She says her party has `called for tests to be scrapped for years'. Psychologists, meanwhile, report that they are now `going into schools at unprecedented rates to tackle exam stress, with children as young as six suffering anxiety' (1). `All are affected by the anxiety transmitted by their teachers', said Martin Johnson of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

There are plenty of reasons to attack the culture of testing in schools - but stress isn't one of them. Government testing schemes are part of an educational climate in which teachers are no longer trusted to get on with their jobs. And that is the basis on which the GTC should attack SATs. Teachers should have autonomy in their own classrooms, to teach their pupils unfettered by the educational vogue of the month; to enthuse pupils with their own idiosyncratic love of a subject; and, yes, to set tests in order to monitor children's progress, but when they feel that it is necessary and in an independent way that allows the teacher to tap into the class's abilities.

By contrast, the targets set by the government are often arbitrary. The authorities' externally-imposed tests on all children from seven to 14 come across like abstract hoops that both teachers and children must jump through. These tests bear little relation to actual understanding or enjoyment of a subject. Instead, they are a means of ticking a box to show that each child has achieved the same bland level of rudimentary skills, and thus they can stifle passion, flair and originality in the classroom.

To its credit, the GTC has made some of these points about the `testing culture' - but by choosing to focus mainly on the alleged stress and panic caused by exams it has actually undermined the idea of testing per se. In this sense, its criticisms of SATs, alongside the criticisms made by others, are not a great improvement on the government's testing culture, since they communicate the idea that examination itself is problematic: too elitist; too judgemental; too stressful.

Since New Labour swept to power in 1997, there has been a permanent revolution in education. Every minute facet of education has been held up to the light and found wanting - but no coherent idea of what education should consist of has been put forward. Instead of challenging the degradation of education at the hands of the Blairites - of which the constant government roll-call of ever-changing targets is a symptom - the GTC has seized on a trendy issue: stress. The union doesn't point out how teachers are now regarded, at best, as an impediment to a child's osmosis-like learning and must therefore be monitored closely; instead it claims that the very nature of testing is iniquitous, which it isn't.

Indeed, far from questioning the government's insatiable thirst for statistics, the GTC puts forward its own version of targets, targets, targets. It proposes that a system of `cohort sampling' should replace the current SATs system. Under this scheme, less than one per cent of primary school children and less than three per cent of secondary students would take national tests. The samples would be selected randomly and tested to see how the school overall is performing. `You do not have to test every child every four years to know whether children are making more or less progress than they used to', Bartley said, somewhat ridiculously inferring that the nation's children will progress as one through the education system, and that a one to three per cent sample is perfectly representative of all their collective achievements. And what will `cohort sampling' mean for the little `stressed-out' martyrs selected to take on all the exam stress of the exam-free 97 to 99 per cent of the kids? Six-year-old hara-kiri? Bartley doesn't hypothesise.

Tests for young children and teenagers can be a good thing - when set by teachers and schools rather than imposed from on high. They can sharpen the brain. There's nothing like a bit of independent cramming to ram a principle home - and once principles are rammed home they can be applied throughout a subject, aiding understanding. What would be the point of learning French, for example, if you didn't have to go through all that dull stuff about grammar and vocabulary? (Which simply has to be learned in a laborious, repetitive way; that is, it has to be `drilled' home. And nothing will make a pupil learn better than the threat of a test to pass or fail.) Yet the GTC seems to have absorbed the idea that testing is essentially elitist and bad, and that the worst thing a child can do is fail. In truth, the worst thing for education is the demonisation and fetishisation of its disparate elements: exams are this week's bogeyman; next week it will be something else.

The idea of a classical, liberal education must be reclaimed: an education where teaching is thorough and where free ideas circulate, unbridled by government diktat. A first step to this will be allowing teachers to claw back their independence: and that means allowing them to set their own tests, as a way of aiding a class's learning, as and when they please.


There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up. Chris notes that the British "Conservatives" are now to the Left of Labour in many ways

Monday, June 25, 2007


One gets that impression. See the folly below. The NHS is famous for denying helpful drugs to its patients but has now decided to make one class of drugs widely available -- a class of drug that appears to do as much harm as good. See here and here. "Kill 'em or cure 'em" seems to be their thinking. Note the following crucial sentence in a big review of the evidence on the efficacy of statins: "A second review evaluated only trials in primary prevention and found similar reductions in CHD events and mortality, but a non-significant effect on all cause mortality". In other words, statins saved you from heart attacks but raised your risk of death from other causes -- the two effects cancelling one-another out. THAT is what the NHS now wants to give to millions, regardless of whether they have any current health problems or not. Isn't government wonderful? Note also the negative comments about statins in the first article I cover in today's posts on FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC.

MILLIONS of people are to be prescribed cholesterol-busting drugs on the NHS in Britain’s biggest mass medication programme for adults. The government’s drugs watchdog is expected this week to recommend the systematic screening of all adults at 40, 50 and 60 for heart disease. Those found to have a 20% chance of developing it over the next 10 years will be prescribed statins, the cholesterol-lowering “wonder drugs” that have had dramatic results in preventing heart disease. New research suggests that as many as 14m -- half of all adults aged 40 or over -- could be eligible for the drugs even though they have no symptoms.

Some doctors say a national screening programme could prevent up to 14,000 deaths a year. Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer, claiming 105,000 lives a year. Other experts fear, however, that a programme of mass medication would make millions of adults dependent on drugs for the rest of their lives. Dr Peter Brindle, a researcher in cardiovascular disease at Bristol University, said: “ This is turning people into patients. They are going to be offered this preventative drug for the rest of their life with all the risks and side effects. There has to be a public debate about whether society feels this should be done.”

Statins are considered to be safe but patients can experience muscle pain or liver problems. Some doctors argue that it is not worth risking these side effects for people who are not suffering symptoms of heart disease.

At present patients who have suffered a heart attack or angina are eligible for statins on the NHS and some of those at risk, but not ill, are already being prescribed statins at their GP’s discretion. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is expected to argue that a systematic screening programme would pick up millions of other people who could benefit from the drugs. GPs would be expected to do the screening, checking patients’ cholesterol levels, blood pressure and weight and whether they smoke. Men are at higher risk than women.

If 14m people were subsequently prescribed statins, it would cost the NHS at least 560million pounds a year. But, say cardiologists, it could save billions in treatment costs. Research by Dr Ift-ikhar Haq, a consultant cardiologist in Newcastle upon Tyne, shows that if everyone aged 40 and above was screened for heart disease, 47% of those who show no symptoms would qualify for preventative treatment with statin drugs. Statins work by lowering cholesterol, which can cause fatty desposits in the arteries leading to heart disease.


British schools to be dumbed down even further

The Leftists running the show only want the kids to be propagandized. They live in dread of the kids acquiring real knowledge. Facts are fatal to Leftism

STATE secondary schools are being told to ditch lessons in academic subjects and replace them with month-long projects on themes such as global warming. The pressure to scrap the traditional timetable in favour of cross-curricular topics is coming from the government’s teaching advisers, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). It has provoked anger from traditionalists who believe it marks a return to discredited “trendy” techniques.

Schools piloting the new-style lessons for 11-14-year-olds have merged history, geography and citizenship, with teachers drawing up the lessons in teams. Mick Waters, the QCA’s curriculum director, believes the changes will help spur enthusiasm and cut truancy. He said: “The challenge for schools is to create a nourishing and appetising feast that will sustain learners and meet their needs. “Although the national curriculum is organised into subjects, it has never been a requirement to deliver it entirely as discrete subjects.”

Critics, however, have insisted that the project-based approach, which was popular in primary schools until the 1990s, led to pupils failing to master the basics. Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: “This will narrow what children learn. People come with up these ideas for the less academic but they wouldn’t dream of letting their own children be taught in this way.”

The first sign of a backlash from teachers has emerged with a petition on the Downing Street website against the removal of some of the academic content from a science GCSE curriculum launched last September. About 130 science teachers have signed the petition, which calls for the course to be scrapped because it requires pupils to discuss issues such as pollution but not to learn “hard science”, such as the periodic table in chemistry. The petition reads: “Many anticipated it as ‘science fit only for the pub’. Now, at the end of its first year . . . science teachers (particularly physics teachers) are indeed judging it to be overly simplistic, devoid of any real physics and inadequate preparation for further study. This GCSE will remove Britain’s technological base within a decade.” Stuart Billington, head of physics at a large comprehensive, said: “I would never allow my own children to sit in my own classroom and be taught such a shambles masquerading as ‘science’ . . . You can imagine how I feel delivering it to 100 other people’s children every week.”

The QCA last week produced examples of what will be expected from state secondary schools next year when the changes to the timetable for 11-to-14-year-olds are introduced. They include a school that has suggested 16-year-olds could be paid to help teachers in class. Wombwell High, a comprehensive in South Yorkshire, has already dropped single subject lessons for a third of its timetable. Teachers work in teams and the projects begin with four classes working together in the hall. Tolworth girls’ school in Surbiton, Surrey, has reclassified English as “communication”.

The project-led approach took hold in primary schools in the 1970s after a report from a government-appointed education committee. Teachers were told to emphasise soft skills and “learning by doing”. Schools were told to scrap projects in 1992 after an inquiry found pupils were missing out on the basics.

Waters has told schools they need to build the timetable around the “needs” of pupils. He said: “At the moment most schools are in the traditional mindset, which means they take content and divide it up into fragments called timetables. They do it as it has always been done. “The idea [of the new timetable] is to offer less prescription and more opportunity to interpret the curriculum. Cutting across all subjects are curriculum dimensions; a set of themes including creativity, cultural understanding and diversity.”


Medieval play threatened by 21st century curse - of political correctness

Since the 14th century, actors and actresses have taken to the streets of York to depict the great moments in Biblical history from the Creation to the last judgment of Christ. But the medieval Mystery Plays are threatened by a 21st century curse - of political correctness. The city council is planning a "multicultural reinterpretation" of the plays as part of a bid for up to 120,000 pounds of Heritage Lottery Fund cash.

Precisely how the age-old stories featuring Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ and his apostles will be "revitalised" for a multi-cultural society has yet to be revealed. However, it has been admitted that refugees and actors from foreign countries could be asked to participate. Traditionalists are outraged that the plays, which are usually performed from wagons in the street, could be re-written for PC reasons. The council is hoping to win lottery funding for the next three performances in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

A report supporting the bid for lottery cash states: "The bid will encompass a production by 16 to 25-year-olds in 2008, a wide-ranging educational programme with schools in 2010, and a commission of a multi-cultural reinterpretation of the Mystery Plays for 2012."

Liberal Democrat councillor Christian Vassie, the council's leisure and culture "executive member", said it was yet to be decided how the plays could be changed to be "multi-cultural". However, he admitted that it was necessary to be "inclusive" to win lottery funding for the next three plays, which will cost up to 200,000 pounds to stage.

The pageant was first recorded in York in 1376. It was both an act of worship and community theatre for the entertainment of the public. But religious upheaval during the 16th Century led to the plays being stopped in 1569. They were revived in 1951 and have remained a popular crowd-puller ever since. Performances in modern times have been held in the streets of York, the city's theatre and inside York Minster. Christopher Timothy, Simon Ward and Robson Green are amongst the accomplished actors who have played the role of Christ in recent years and Dame Judi Dench, who went to school in York, also performed in the Mystery Plays.


The pitter-patter of tiny 'footprints'

Women in Britain are having more children. And for some green miserabilists that can only mean more mouths to feed and more carbon to clean up. The old misanthropic Zero Population Growth attitudes are still alive and well among Greenies and their fellow-travellers

Last week, the UK Office for National Statistics released the latest figures for live births, revealing that the fertility rate - the number of live births per 1,000 women - is at its highest level for 26 years.

The number of babies born rose from 1.8 babies per woman in 2005 to 1.87 in 2006, the fifth annual rise in a row (1). While young, British-born women are having fewer children, older women and immigrant women are more than making up for it. The `mini-baby boom' is perhaps all the more remarkable given the relentless dire warnings about the `risks' for women in having children (2). And yet, the fact that most women are still choosing to have babies is, for some commentators and professionals, problematic and even `irresponsible'.

We can look upon the increased fertility rate as positive for a number of reasons. For one thing, the fact that women are choosing to have children later in life reflects the improved position of women in British society. The postwar peaks in the fertility rate depended on keeping women at home. But as society's attitudes have changed, women have been able to carry on into higher education, establish careers and gain economic independence, too. Of course, even today, women will still be expected to shoulder the burden of childcare, reflecting the market's inability to provide collective assistance in child rearing. But the fact women now plan to have children around their careers, rather than motherhood being the only `career' going, is a development surely worth celebrating.

Not everyone is of the same opinion. Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society said that although `it's reassuring that more people are getting pregnant and starting to reverse the population decline. I wouldn't want these figures to send the message that it's okay to have babies much later in life' (3). Why not? What happened to choice? Although it's true that it is more difficult for women to conceive in their late thirties and early forties than in their twenties, and there is a small increase in the possibility of birth defects, there have been massive advances in reproductive technologies. When 63-year-old Patricia Rashbrook gave birth in April 2006, it was clear that age is not the barrier to reproduction it once was. Limitations on motherhood seem to have more to do with the views of health professionals than any scientific barrier.

The increase in the UK's fertility rate is positive for another reason: it means the misanthropic overpopulation lobby hasn't won all the arguments just yet. Most adults still see taking on responsibility for raising the next generation as both important and worthwhile, a reflection that maybe the human race isn't such a `lost cause' after all. The rising fertility rate also refutes priggish suggestions that the entire British population are far too addled by drink and drugs to bother with children.

Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, there are those who can only read grim negativity into the increased fertility rate. David Nicholson-Lord of the Optimum Population Trust said: `We advocate that people should stop at two or have one fewer child than they planned for environmental reasons. The current population is unsustainable. The closer we get to two births per woman, the more concerned we get.' (3)

Fears about `rising population' are nothing new, of course. Thomas Malthus saw population increases as problematic because he reckoned, wrongly, that agricultural productivity wouldn't be able to cope with greater numbers. `The power of population', he wrote, `is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.' Without checks on population growth, whether human or natural, there would be famine, he argued.

While Malthus was proved wrong by events, other population worries surfaced. From the late nineteenth century until the 1940s, elitist thinkers constantly fretted that the `wrong' type of people were breeding in greater numbers and thus threatened the `moral fibre' of Western nations (4). Eugenics and forced sterilisation of `inferior people' were championed by elite thinkers, until such ideas and practices were well and truly discredited by the Nazi experience.

The revival of population `concern' by organisations like the Optimum Population Trust is in some ways worse than the old elite's contempt for the masses. At least bourgeois intellectuals in the early twentieth century believed that some humans had distinguishable and worthwhile attributes that needed to be preserved. By contrast, today's environmentalists see all humans as parasites on nature, a uniquely destructive force on the planet whose presence shouldn't be welcomed, let alone encouraged. So David Nicholson-Lord sees no difference between `good' or `bad' people, as previous elite thinkers would have done; rather he thinks that any population increase is necessarily bad because it causes environmental damage. Becoming a parent is reprehensible because it increases the number of `carbon footprints' on the earth.

Environmental policies are often demanded because of the urgent need to tackle climate change and to safeguard future generations. Campaigners insist that reducing carbon emissions is about ensuring the survival of the human race, not just saving endangered species or rainforest trees. This is why critics of environmental orthodoxies are sometimes painted as being `selfish', `short-sighted' and even `anti-human'; apparently to ignore climate change is to be blas‚ about humanity's future. In truth, if environmentalists had their way, there wouldn't be any future generations to `save' - or certainly there would be generations vastly shrunken in number. For Nicholson-Lord, if there's a choice between the environment and humanity, the former must and should take priority. As he tetchily puts it: `people aren't considering the environment when they are planning their family' (5). Want to do `your bit' to stop climate change? Don't have any children!

Unfortunately, these sorts of foul outbursts also reveal the extraordinary political consensus around environmentalism and, by proxy, anti-humanism. So instead of counter-debates and discussions on the gloomy prognosis of climate change alarmists, we merely get various shades of green. As a consequence, `the environment' has gone beyond an `objective reality' to become a subjective moral absolute. Mentioning the magic words `the environment' has become a way of imposing an unquestionable `good' over any issue in human society, whether it is on expanding airport runways, building new homes, improving infrastructure for transport or starting a family.

At root lies a sentiment that humans no longer have a place on the planet. The fewer of us, the better. The increased fertility rate in Britain is something worth celebrating. But safeguarding the prosperity and future of the next generation will require fewer measures to `save the environment' and more arguments to counter environmentalists. Honestly, humanity's survival depends on it.


Pesky that China is now the biggest CO2 emitter. It's their OWN countries that Greenies want to harass. So we read:

The words of Andrew Pendleton, Senior climate analyst, Christian Aid:

Rich countries cannot blame China for climate change when the primary reason for the expansion in its greenhouse gas emissions is producing cheap goods for western markets (China passes US as worlds biggest CO2 emitter, June 20). As most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were emitted by rich countries in industrialising, we can hardly lecture China as it tries to develop. Tragically, these finger-pointing politics are being played out while the impact of climate change on the world's poorest is becoming ever more apparent. The new UN figures showing that the number of refugees rose last year by 14% is backed up by recent research from Christian Aid indicating that by 2050, 1 billion people will have been forced to leave their homes.

What we must do with great urgency is share the burden of reducing both rich and developing world emissions in a way that reflects historical and current responsibility and capability.

The words of Dr Victoria Johnson, Climate change researcher, New Economics Foundation:

Carbon footprint data from the Global Footprint Network, which also includes levels of consumption, shows that the per capita carbon footprint of people living in China is still almost one-tenth that of the average person living in the US, and a quarter that of someone living in the UK. The US and other developed nations are increasingly consuming goods produced by other countries, a process driven by globalisation. This has resulted in the geographical displacement of the emissions resulting from the goods we consume, usually to countries with higher carbon intensities.

By ignoring the driver of demand, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's misleading conclusions simply take us further away from an international climate change agreement based on responsibility. And a recognition that, as consumers, we must not only do things differently, but also do less.


Britain gives up control of its own foreign policy: "While Blair left Brussels insisting he had preserved Britain's control over its foreign policy, the small print of the treaty prepares the way for a powerful new EU diplomatic service with ambassadors worldwide. They will report to a "high representative" who will be vice-president of the European commission and will chair meetings of EU foreign ministers. The treaty commits the EU to a "common foreign and security policy". Member states must support the policy "actively and unreservedly, in the spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity". They are barred from taking any action -- such as launching military strikes or declaring war -- that could damage the EU's standing. Downing Street said an annex to the treaty ensured it would not affect foreign policy. But opposition politicians said the annex was a "declaration" rather than a legally binding "protocol". They demanded the treaty be put to a referendum."

The British airforce is still relying on the military version of the De Havilland Comet -- the first passenger jet ever flown (in 1952): "The station commander of a Nimrod spyplane that exploded over Afghanistan warned a year earlier that an "unexpected failure" was likely with a similar ageing plane already 10 years past its out-of-service date. The comments were made in August 2005 at the end of an internal report into a leak of superheated air in the bomb bay of a Nimrod. In the report, an unnamed group captain says the leak was "a particular concern as the ageing Nimrod MR2 is extended beyond its original out-of-service date" of 1995. The leak of the hot air was not the first time there had been an unforeseen failure of a piece of equipment on board a Nimrod "in recent months" as a direct result of the aircraft's age, he added." [OK: I know the B52 has been going since 1955]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

British girl takes school to High Court over 'purity ring' ban

A TEENAGE schoolgirl will appeal to the High Court today to overturn a ban on her wearing a "purity ring" at school to symbolise her decision to abstain from sex before marriage. Lydia Playfoot, 16, from West Sussex, says the silver ring is an expression of her faith and should be exempt from the school's rules on wearing jewellery. "It is really important to me because in the Bible it says we should do this," she told BBC radio. "Muslims are allowed to wear headscarves and other faiths can wear bangles and other types of jewellery. "It feels like Christians are being discriminated against."

Ms Playfoot's lawyers will argue that her right to express religious belief is upheld by the Human Rights Act. There have been a series of rows in schools in recent years over the right of pupils to wear religious symbols or clothing, such as crucifixes and veils. Last year, the Law Lords rejected Shabina Begum's appeal for permission to wear a Muslim gown at her school in Luton. That case echoed a debate in France over the banning of Muslim headscarves in state schools.

Ms Playfoot's parents help run the British arm of the American campaign group the Silver Ring Thing, which promotes abstinence among young people. Members wear a ring on the third finger of the left hand. It is inscribed with "Thess. 4:3-4", a reference to a Biblical passage from Thessalonians which reads: "God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin."

Lydia's father, Phil Playfoot, said his daughter's case was part of a wider cultural trend towards Christians being "silenced". "What I would describe as a secular fundamentalism is coming to the fore, which really wants to silence certain beliefs, and Christian views in particular," he said.

Leon Nettley, head teacher of Millais School in Horsham, denies discrimination, saying the ring contravenes the school's rules on wearing jewellery. "The school is not convinced pupils' rights have been interfered with by the application of the uniform policy," he told the Brighton-based Argus newspaper. "The school has a clearly published uniform policy and sets high standards."


Britain is now Absurdistan

Back in Britain for the past week I have had a welcome chance to take in once again the simple defining pleasures of this great country. The sun dappling Oxford's mellow stones on an early summer evening. A drenching downpour on the lumpy hills of Middle England. The sheer, consuming energy of modern London. And, of course, the wisdom of Andrew Marr.

Like millions of my fellow countrymen I found myself watching the final instalment this week on the BBC of A History of Andrew Marr by Modern Britain. I think I got that the right way around but I didn't pay a lot of attention to what the script said because the pictures were all about him.

There he was, in almost every frame, like some Zelig figure, replaying a crucial moment from our country's past. Up there, admiring the soaring architecture of the Scottish parliament; over yonder, traipsing through the fields near where the government scientist David Kelly took his own life; long shots of him poised, Winston Churchill-like, pondering the origins of his people's genius.

More striking for me, even than the immanent narcissism of the whole thing, was Marr's final, dewy-eyed observation to end the series. As I said, I can't now remember the actual words, but I think it was something to the effect that, for all our tribulations, it was still the greatest of privileges to be able to say you were born in Britain.

Well I don't disagree with that, but of course Marr's conclusion was a classic BBC man's paean to his country. It capped a lengthy peroration on the great success of multiculturalism. How we could still be proud of ourselves not because of some fuddy-duddy ideas about tradition or individual freedom, but because we're now a lovely big melting pot of a country.

I defer to the greater knowledge of modern Britain evidently garnered by standing in empty fields with camera crews, but I wonder if this is really the right conclusion. I love Britain as much as anyone, and I certainly believe it is our openness that makes it such an attractive place. But I can't share the optimism about our multiculture, and much more importantly, my own impression is not of the triumph of the British spirit but of its steady subversion by an ever-growing dependency culture.

In its funny little way the news this week that the Advertising Standards Authority had banned reruns of the 1950s egg advertisements that featured Tony Hancock was more compelling evidence on the state of modern Britain than even Marr's obiter dicta. "Go to Work on an Egg" was unacceptable, we were told, because it encouraged an unhealthy lifestyle. I had no idea that we had a government body that still operated on Stalinist principles but there it is. How long will it be before it is not just the free speech of advertising that is curtailed but the evil practice it promotes, and we ban egg consumption along with smoking? Goodbye England. Welcome to Absurdistan.

At root of this nonsense is, of course, the sheer scale of government. The reason you can't be allowed to eat an egg is that, because of the lack of real choice in healthcare provision, you're no longer responsible for the financial consequences of your own actions. If you get heart disease from too much cholesterol, the State, collectively known as the NHS, will have to treat you; and that costs the State more and more money so the State will have to stop you from doing it in the first place.

This is the self-perpetuating logic behind the unstoppable momentum of the expanding State. The bigger it grows, the more it intrudes into our lives, and the more it intrudes into our lives, the more dependent we become on it. Education is the same. Our great universities are struggling to compete in a global market because they are hamstrung by the State. They are dependent on central government for their funding; but that funding is insufficient to meet the needs of global competition. But because they need government money for what they do, they cannot break free.

Leviathan is now so large that, outside London, half the population is dependent - either through public sector jobs or benefits - on taxes. Its power is so large that it has bent us all into submission. It has produced a culture in which no one needs to take responsibility for anything because someone else is always there to back us up.

That in the end, was what was behind another sorry spectacle of Britain's decline this week - the Fulton inquiry into the capture of the Royal Marines and sailors in March by Iranians. It was of course, to outward appearances, magnificently Gilbertian - the first Sea Lord doing the honorable thing and shuffling off the blame on to anyone but himself. But its message was very modern. Mistakes were made but no one made them.

It's also this loss of any sense of personal responsibility and accountability that has created the conditions that have allowed Britain steadily to surrender meekly to the encroaching ambitions of European elites for the past 30 years.

This weekend, at the EU meeting, we will be treated to yet another of those fantastic pieces of kabuki in which we fulminate loudly about preserving our independence even as we humbly accept the loss of another chunk of our sovereignty. It's always the same: the rest of Europe comes up with some great new plan to give itself bold new power; the British government says it will never allow it to happen, girding itself with all the paraphernalia of red lines and threatened vetoes. Then, every time, clutching some fig leaf "concession", our prime minister comes back claiming a victory for British self-rule, while in Brussels they celebrate another step towards their rule.

The worst thing is, nobody in Britain really seems to care. We'll demand a referendum, of course, but will be rudely told it's none of our business; how dare we seek to shape the decisions of our rulers? And as the dutiful serfs we are, we will, in the end, simply apologise and humbly submit.


A summary of some of the lies that Australia's Leftist historians have told in order to condemn British settlement in Australia

From the inimitable Keith Windschuttle. I met Keith once many years ago -- when he still had hair

There are two central claims made by historians of Aboriginal Australia: first, the actions by the colonists amounted to genocide; second, the actions by the Aborigines were guerilla tactics that amounted to frontier warfare.

Lyndall Ryan claims that in Tasmania the Aborigines were subject to "a conscious policy of genocide". Rhys Jones in The Last Tasmanian labels it "a holocaust of European savagery". Ryan says the so-called "Black War" of Tasmania began in the winter of 1824 with the Big River tribe launching patriotic attacks on the invaders. However, the assaults on whites that winter were made by a small gang of detribalized blacks led by a man named Musquito, who was not defending his tribal lands. He was an Aborigine originally from Sydney who had worked in Hobart for ten years before becoming a bushranger. He had no Tasmanian tribal lands to defend. He was just as much a foreigner in Tasmania as the indigenous Hawaiians, Tahitians and Maoris who worked there as stockmen, sealers and whalers at the same time.

Musquito's successor as leader of the gang was Black Tom, a young man who, again, was not a tribal Aborigine. He had Tasmanian Aboriginal parents, but had been reared since infancy in the white middle class household of Thomas Birch, a Hobart merchant. Until his capture in 1827, he was Tasmania 's leading bushranger but, as with Musquito, his actions cannot be interpreted as patriotic defence of tribal Aboriginal territory.

Ryan's account of the alleged abduction of Aboriginal children by settlers is replete with so much misinformation it is impossible to excuse it as error. In 1810, she claims, Lieutenant-Governor David Collins warned settlers against kidnapping Aboriginal children. However, there is no evidence Collins ever gave such a warning. None of Collins' orders in 1810, or any other reference cited by Ryan about the abduction of children, support her claim. Ryan footnotes the newspaper, the Derwent Star of 29 January 1810, as one of the sources she consulted. However, according to the Mitchell Library, that edition of the newspaper is not held by any library in the world. It has been missing since the nineteenth century. Ryan claims that in 1819, Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell issued an order about the abducted children. She says: "Sorell ordered that all Aboriginal children living with settlers must be sent to the charge of the chaplain, Robert Knopwood, in Hobart and placed in the Orphan School." However, the proclamation Ryan cites does not say that. It merely ordered magistrates and constables to count the number of native children living with settlers. Moreover, there was no Orphan School in Hobart in 1819 or at any time during Sorell's administration. The first such institution in the colony, the King's Orphan School, was not opened until 1828 and Reverend Knopwood was never involved in running it.

Henry Reynolds claims Lieutenant-Governor Arthur recognized from his experience in the Spanish War against Napoleon that the Aborigines were using the tactic of guerilla warfare, in which small bands attacked the troops of their enemy. However, during his military career Arthur never served in Spain. If you read the full text of the statement Reynolds cites, you find Arthur was talking not about troops coming under attack by guerillas but of Aborigines robbing and assaulting unarmed shepherds on remote outstations. Reynolds edited out that part of the statement that disagreed with his thesis.

Reynolds claims that Arthur inaugurated the infamous "Black Line" in 1830 because "he feared `a general decline in the prosperity' and the `eventual extirpation of the colony'". Reynolds presents that last phrase as a verbatim quotation from Arthur. However, Arthur never said this. Reynolds actually changed the words of one of the most important documents in Tasmanian history but no university historian picked up what he had done. Historians commonly describe the "Black Line" as an attempt to capture or exterminate all the Aborigines. However, its true purpose was to remove from the settled districts only two of the nine tribes on the island to uninhabited country from where they could no longer assault white households. The lieutenant-governor specifically ordered that five of the other seven tribes be left alone.

Lyndall Ryan cites the Hobart Town Courier as a source for several stories about atrocities against Aborigines in 1826. However, that newspaper did not begin publication until October 1827 and the other two newspapers of the day made no mention of these alleged killings.

Ryan claims that frontier warfare in Tasmania's northern districts in 1827 included: a massacre of Port Dalrymple Aborigines by a vigilante group of stockmen at Norfolk Plains; the killing of a kangaroo hunter in reprisal for him shooting Aboriginal men; the burning of a settler's house because his stockmen had seized Aboriginal women; the spearing of three other stockmen and clubbing of one to death at Western Lagoon. But if you check her footnotes in the archives you find that not one of the five sources she cites mentions any of these events.

Between 1828 and 1830, according to Ryan, "roving parties" of police constables and convicts killed 60 Aborigines. Not one of the three references she cites mentions any Aborigines being killed, let alone 60. The governor at the time and most subsequent authors, including Henry Reynolds, regarded the roving parties as completely ineffectual.

Lloyd Robson claims the settler James Hobbs in 1815 witnessed Aborigines killing 300 sheep at Oyster Bay and the next day the 48th Regiment killed 22 Aborigines in retribution. However, it would have been difficult for Hobbs to have witnessed this in 1815 because at the time he was living in India. Moreover, the first sheep did not arrive at Oyster Bay until 1821 and it would have been very hard for the 48 th Regiment to have killed any Aborigines in Tasmania in 1815 because at the time they were on garrison duty in County Cork, Ireland.

The whole case is not just a fabrication, it is a romantic fantasy derived from academic admiration of the anti-colonial struggles in South-East Asia in the 1960s, when its authors were young and when they absorbed the left-wing political spirit of the day. The truth is that in Tasmania more than a century before, there was nothing on the Aborigines' side that resembled frontier warfare, patriotic struggle or systematic resistance of any kind.

The so-called "Black War" turns out to have been a minor crime wave by two Europeanised black bushrangers, followed by an outbreak of robbery, assault and murder by tribal Aborigines. All the evidence at the time, on both the white and black sides of the frontier, was that their principal objective was to acquire flour, sugar, tea and bedding, objects that to them were European luxury goods. We have statements to that effect from the Aborigines themselves.

Unlike Lyndall Ryan, Reynolds does not himself support the idea that the colonial authorities had a conscious policy of genocide against the Aborigines. Instead, Reynolds's thesis is that it was the settlers who wanted to exterminate them. He claims that throughout the 1820s, the free settlers spoke about and advocated extirpation or extermination. However, even on the evidence he provides himself, only a handful of settlers ever advocated anything like this.

In 1830, a government inquiry into Aboriginal affairs conducted a questionnaire survey of the leading settlers to determine their attitudes. It was possibly the first questionnaire survey ever conducted in Australia. Reynolds knows this survey existed because he has quoted selections from the settlers' answers in at least two of his books. However, he has never mentioned the survey's existence in anything he has written. Why not? Well, obviously, if his readers knew there had been a survey they would want to know the results, that is, all the results not just a handful of selected quotations. I examine the full results in my book. They show that in 1830, at the height of Aboriginal violence, very few of the settlers were calling for the extermination of the Aborigines. Some wanted to pursue a policy of conciliation towards the Aborigines. Othes were against violence but wanted to remove the Aborigines to a secure location, such as a peninsula or island. Only two of them seriously advocated exterminating the Aborigines. But theirs were the only words that Reynolds quoted.

The full historic record, not the selective version provided by Reynolds, shows the prospect of extermination divided the settlers deeply, was always rejected by government and was never acted upon.

In the entire period from 1803 when the colonists first arrived in Tasmania, to 1834 when all but one family of Aborigines had been removed to Flinders Island, my calculation is that the British were responsible for killing only 120 of the original inhabitants, mostly in self defence or in hot pursuit of Aborigines who had just assaulted white households. In these incidents, the Aborigines killed 187 colonists. In all of Europe's colonial encounters with the New Worlds of the Americas and the Pacific, the colony of Van Diemen's Land was probably the site where the least indigenous blood of all was deliberately shed.

Why, then, have the historians of Tasmania told this story about genocide, frontier warfare and widespread bloodshed. I suggest several of the reasons in my book: to make Australian history, which would otherwise be dull and uneventful, seem more dramatic than it really was; to assume the moral high ground and flatter their own vanity as defenders of the Aborigines; in some cases to pursue a traditional Marxist agenda or to indulge in interest group politics of gender, race and class. But the greatest influence on them has been not so much a commitment to any specific political program but the notion that emerged in the 1960s that history itself is `inescapably political'. This is a phrase Reynolds used in 1981 in the introduction to his book The Other Side of the Frontier. He also wrote in a journal article: "history should not only be relevant but politically utilitarian, . it should aim to right old injustices, to discriminate in favour of the oppressed, to actively rally to the cause of liberation."

I completely disagree. That position inevitably corrupts history. Without it in Aboriginal history, there might have been less licence taken with historical evidence and a greater sense of the historian's responsibility to respect the truth. The argument that all history is politicised, that it is impossible for the historian to shed his political interests and prejudices, has become the most corrupting influence of all. It has turned the traditional role of the historian, to stand outside his contemporary society in order to seek the truth about the past, on its head. It has allowed historians to write from an overtly partisan position. It has led them to make things up and to justify this to themselves on the grounds that it is all for a good cause. No cause is ever served by falsehood because eventually someone will come along and expose you. Truth always comes out in the end, and when it does it discredits those causes that were built on lies.

More here


I regret that your report (Feb 22) on Isaac Newton's beliefs failed to put them into any historical context. What is noteworthy about recent research is not that Newton was an "apocalyptic" thinker: all Protestant scholars in 17th-century Britain held such views. The apocalyptic consensus is not difficult to understand, given that any departure from the literal reading of the Book of Revelation was considered heresy. Edmond Halley, who was confronted with this accusation in 1691, presented papers to the Royal Society on "the necessity of the world's coming to an end", to prove "that I am not guilty of asserting the eternity of the world".

In Newton's days nearly everyone believed in heavenly retribution and the catastrophic end of the world. The Church worked hard to scare an insubordinate flock, while political radicals prophesied cometary disaster and social upheaval. Newton, in contrast, kept publicly quiet on the subject for most of his life. He endeavoured to discredit both camps by debunking their shared belief in impending doomsday.

In the unpublished manuscripts referred to, Newton did ponder the end of the world "in the year of the Lord 2060", but stressed: "I mention this period not to assert it, but only to show that there is little reason to expect it earlier, and thereby to put a stop to the rash conjectures of interpreters who are frequently assigning the time of the end, and thereby bringing the sacred prophecies into discredit as often as their conjectures do not come to pass. It is not for us to know the times and seasons which God hath put in his own breast."

By pushing back a tentative date for the apocalypse by more than 500 years (if not advocating an indefinite point in time), Newton assailed both an over-zealous orthodoxy and political radicals whose fanaticism had led to a century of mayhem and who threatened the stability of British society. Far from being a prophet of doom, Newton calculatingly established the foundations of the scientific age that turned terrifying comets into predictable objects and wild fear-mongering into dispassionate risk analysis.