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Chris McGovern: Fake news was invented in the British classroom (by the Left)

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Daniel William Finkelstein, Baron Finkelstein, OBE (born 30 August 1962) is a British journalist and politician. He is a former executive editor of The Times, remains a weekly political columnist, and is now associate editor. He is a former chairman of Policy Exchange, who was succeeded by David Frum in 2014. He was elevated to the House of Lords in August 2013, sitting as a Conservative.”

This, according to Wikipedia, is a brief biography of Baron Finkelstein. Is any of it true? I have no reason to doubt it, even though I am aware that Wikipedia entries can be pretty dodgy at times. The Baron himself, indeed, has warned readers of The Times to beware of ‘fake news’ and fake information. He is especially concerned about the vulnerability of schoolchildren

He argues that, “From an early age, our children need to be taught how to understand and interpret things that are seen on the internet, how to assess evidence and how to spot techniques used to fabricate it. We need also to teach people to understand their own cognitive weaknesses. Our tendency, for instance, to seek out information, however unreliable, that appears to confirm the point of view we already have. This task seems to me urgent.”

How right he is, but by delving into the world of opaque mirrors that constitutes our education system, he is entering territory of which he seems to know little. Finkelstein may be an articulate member of our intelligentsia, but he appears to be well out of his depth when it comes to understanding what goes on in the classroom at many people’s local comp.

I have no desire to be disrespectful. I would not dream of criticising Baron Danny, for example, for not having the knowledge to fly a jumbo jet from Heathrow to Hanoi or to make a perfect soufflé. I do criticise him, however, for presuming he has much of a clue about what is going on in schools these days. If he had any idea, he would have given his Times piece a very different slant.

Given his family’s Jewish background in Hitler’s Germany, it is small wonder that Finkelstein is very aware of how the Nazis distorted the ‘truth’ in a vile way and with appalling consequences. Sadly, it is not just Nazis who distort truth. These days the greater threat to truth comes from ‘right on’, well-intentioned, liberal-minded teachers. They have been brainwashed by their own schooling and by their teacher training, and by the expectations of their teaching mentors and of Ofsted inspectors.

I wonder, for example, what Finkelstein would make of one of the most widely used and popular school history textbooks, much reprinted, currently used in many schools across the land. It is entitled, Minds and Machines: Britain 1750-1900 and its authors include senior educational advisers to government. In order to denigrate all things British, bogus evidence is invented for pupils to use in forming an opinion of the British Empire. In relation to colonised people, for example, it states that “we have tried to imagine what they would tell us if they were to come back from the dead.” Pupils thus learn that an undead Princess Rani Lakshmi would tell us that: “The British punished survivors by firing cannon balls through them at point blank range”, and so on and so on. Yes, imaginary evidence, ‘fake news’, in its purest form.

Lessons in ‘fake’ history have been all the rage in our classrooms for decades. Where the heck has Finkelstein been? It began in earnest with a craze for ’empathy’ that struck the GCSE History exam when it was introduced in the late 1980s. You know the sort of stuff, Danny – “Imagine you are are member of the PLO and justify blowing up an El Al jet with its passengers etc”. The BBC even produce a book with exercises on empathising with the IRA Brighton bombers. Mrs Thatcher was appalled when I pushed it her way.

Since Finkelstein expresses a particular interest in the internet he might check out a GCSE teaching pack entitled World Terrorism since 9/11/01. It was published online by the Schools History Project as part of a GCSE exam course. Through 13 sources, terrorists and their victims were presented as having, broadly speaking, equal points of view – “value relativism”. Osama bin Laden was covered by two extracts of his own words, “balanced” by a few neutral lines of biography and by a copy of an FBI wanted poster for him. Of the other nine sources, two were pro-USA, two were pro-bin Laden and four were neutral. The final source provided 16 quotations from the world’s press on the third anniversary of 9/11. Eight of these came from the Islamic world and were, largely, hostile to the West. The other eight were from Europe and Asia. Five of them were critical of the USA. The US press was not represented.

More recently, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack, we have had The Times’s sister publication, The Times Educational Supplement, publishing a model lesson asking children to imagine that they are fighters for Isis and to write about the good side of membership; not least white slave girls. For evidence the children are directed to the online Isis in-house magazine.

All of this is promoted in schools in the name of political correctness and value relativism. It has quite a stranglehold in the classroom. Baron Finkelstein and other intellectuals need to get a grip on reality. Sorting out this mess, Danny, will be a lot harder for you than flying that jumbo to Hanoi.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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