SHARING a long table at a beachside eatery on holiday in August with a party of two young couples was an illuminating experience. One of the women, joyful in the early stages of pregnancy, was animatedly telling her companions that her child’s generation would be instilled from birth with anti-racism. Her hipster husband nodded admiringly and agreed.
Mum-to-be went on to enthuse about the anti-racist agenda that suffused every area of the curriculum in the primary school where she taught. Everything would be so much better for these children she said, than it ever had been for previous generations. They metaphorically patted each other’s backs and agreed that enlightenment had arrived in the nick of time.
The sentiments expressed by our fellow diners no doubt came from good intent. The problem is that the anti-racism industry is a tree with far-reaching branches which touch the angry, the good, the kind, the innocent, the very young, and of course, those with a genuine grievance. Racism is a hateful form of stupidity, but it would be fair to say that in the main part, this country is not a racist one. To insist otherwise is divisive and untrue.
Small children do need to learn that they must treat others as they would like to be treated and be honest. Abiding by these two rules is what most people do, most of the time.
Reflecting on my own career as a mother (23 years so far) and my work in several schools, I can’t recall ever having heard a child make any reference to race. In the bad old 1970s, my first best friend was a mixed-race child. I remember being aware of her beautiful Indian mother, and her blond ‘pink’ father. Beyond making these observations, I gave the subject no thought. We enjoyed playing together. End of story.
The latest must-have for small children is Anti-Racist Baby, a board book by Ibram X Kendi. The first page tells the baby that as an anti-racist, he is raised to transform society. There is, apparently no neutrality (he can’t be blind to race, or disinterested). He must talk about race. He must point at problematic policies. Most chilling of all, he must ‘confess when being racist’. This book is described in one review as ‘perfect for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society’. Shouldn’t children be allowed to enjoy the magic and wonder of being children for a few precious years before they need to become politically aware?
A just society is more than desirable, it is the basis for a tolerable life, and we should of course strive for equality of opportunity for children. However equality of outcome seems to be desired now. I remember the uproar at a school where I worked in 2017, when the chair of governors told me that she felt the SATs had been set by someone who had attended Eton and Oxford and had no idea about the lives of ‘ordinary’ children. Her complaint was that the English comprehension exercise used a text which had been written in 1906. This was mystifying to me, as I wondered whether ‘ordinary’ children were not considered able to use their brains. Such poverty of expectation is depressing for children and teenagers, it will also leave them woefully unprepared for life beyond school. Shameful, surely?
My own daughter’s school did not set prep during the awful months of remote learning, citing the need to avoid stress. During the Easter term, three off-curriculum days were laid on, including one devoted to ‘mindfulness’. I looked at the agenda. Not for the first time that term, the girls were asked to bake cupcakes and share photographs of the results. They should then redesign the school shield (using a printed outline to make this easier). I went up to my 12-year-old daughter’s bedroom to give her the timetable for the day. She groaned, and pulled her duvet over her head, saying she’d rather do lessons than make another expletive cupcake. I agreed. The weather was lovely, and we went out to take photographs of the carpets of snowdrops growing beside the river that runs through our village, ignoring the suggested mindful activities. I reflected that good mental health grows from a sense of achievement (gained through academic rigour, amongst other things), freedom to enjoy time with one’s friends, and fun.
The Free Speech Union has found 15 schools (believed to be the tip of an iceberg) in which critical race theory is taught as fact, although the Education Act 1996 states that it is illegal for schools to teach any contentious political ideology. Children are also told that the concept of toxic masculinity and that Britain’s history is a tale of oppression and plunder are facts. Subjected to this sort of ideology, they may well believe that their country is a vile place with a shameful past.
This year, freshers at the universities of St Andrews and Durham have been required to take (and pass) ‘unconscious bias’ tests before being allowed to begin their courses. One of these unfortunate students said that she always knew that university would be woke, but she hadn’t expected to be asked to own her guilt for being white. She went on to say that when she arrived at Durham and moved into her accommodation, she and her fellow freshers were excited and keen to make friends. After the imposition of the unconscious bias tests, an uncomfortable awareness of race ensued. To what end? These young people had struggled through the muddle of education policy during the pandemic to get to university, only to have this happy and exciting new chapter in their lives tainted by the warped ideology of critical race theory.
It seems that from cradle to graduation we are determined to stamp all over childhood and youth. Could we please stop?