Feb 03, 2023
9 mins read
Is there a link between culture wars and increasing monetisation and privatisation of UK education?
Unsure whether this post is vital or misguided. The underlying battles around Critical Race Theory (first seen in the US, now increasingly in the UK) have been blown up into deeply concerned and sometimes aggressive movements. I'm plumping for vital as it took an awful long time for teachers in the US to grasp the impact of some of the grassroots movements that resulted in legal action against schools, death threats for educators, and the progressive take over of school boards.
The grounds for the action centred around fear of kids being indoctrinated about systemic roots of racism and other topics like sex education and information about the LGBTQ communities. CRT is framed as an anti-white movement that is systematically brainwashing children to be ashamed of their heritage. The same was evident here in the reaction to the Sewell Race Report. This is a recent critique of the report and I recommend everyone watches this response from John Amaechi OBE from the time the report was published.
There was a huge weight of pre-emptive right wing media reporting framing evidence of institutional or systemic racism as a betrayal of the good character of our non-racist nation. Can it perhaps be argued that staunch denial of any deeper roots for racism (beyond immediate circumstances and meritocracy) is in itself evidence of ongoing issues?
What do the experts say?
Commentary from a specialist in such theories and subjects. Each screenshot links to the quoted source. Exactly the kind of professional that may be discredited and ousted if a movement similar to the one in the US gains the same kind of populist and aggressive traction. You may not agree with the nature of teaching or the history of inequality and how things have changed, but as so many are fond of repeating, if we lose our history we are likely doomed to repeat it. Balance in all things, not wholesale dismissal of any value, history or theory that does not align with government preferences.
Reporting all plays on existing concerns in society. The 2020 George Floyd protests against police brutality and the protests that spilled over into the UK had concerned a great many people. This reporting looks at links between those flash points and activity in darker corners of the internet
Trump aligned media (like Fox, Breitbart, and Alex Jones' Infowars) worked as hard as feasible to stoke those fears. It often revolved around The Great Replacement Theory (snapshot on the long history of that theory here from Britannica). The idea that resident non-white people, non-Christian faith groups, atheists, agnostics, the LGBTQ community or immigrants would destroy a native way of life. A way of life contrasted with increasing diversity and progressive tolerance for people and policies viewed as liberal. The movements are often not irrationally linked to demographic time bombs, implications of that for support of the ageing population, and the expected migrant waves associated with climate change related displacement.
On Christmas Day GB News' Keith Prince tweeted this. Suggesting Muslims will make up over half of the UK population by 2050. Linking it to the first Christmas message from King Charles that placed emphasis on pluralism and tolerance
Then he later tweeted the below correction. The referenced statistic appears to be a misreading of this Pew research on the relative faster growth of Muslims as a share of population versus other faith groups. A percent rise against a low baseline was apparently misinterpreted by some as Muslims becoming that absolute proportion of the population. Needless to say the statement spread further and faster than the later correction.
The actual 2050 high migration estimate for the Muslim population in the UK is 17.2%. This academic paper traces the great replacement theory and different takes on 'The Muslim question' as they evolved across the world over the last few decades
This Byline Times reporting explores links between various think tanks advising the government and content produced to support policy proposals relating to immigration. Some of which appears to lack expected due diligence and source verification. Associates of some staff are also questioned.
At this point it is important to say we must have means to discuss concerns in a free and tolerant way and I am a vehement supporter of freedom of religion. I am not however happy to tolerate pushes for doctrine as law at the expense of democracy, or inaccurate statistics and intentionally inflammatory stories to either mask the truth or to stir up division artificially. I am not dividing up any of the organisations or bodies mentioned into any particular one of those pots, I am just sharing context.
Is it mostly concern for children?
The US-centric race related campaigning also links to a fundamentally market-centric objection to state funding for schools. As the pictured tweet above highlights (linking to source), the progressive privatisation of US state schools is incredibly lucrative. Potential commercial links surfaced here around the attacks on National Trust, when they shared information about colonial history of their properties. The Restore Trust organisation put together grassroots movements to take over the National Trust board, arguing dangerous 'wokeness' and harmful misinterpretation of history.
At the same time the Tory Common Sense Group called the National Trust 'Cultural Marxists' another term with a long history (excerpt above is from reporting at the time). Restore Trust reportedly has links to a number of right wing free market think tanks like the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation and Institute of Economic Affairs. That in turn played into concerns about planning liberalisation advertised for Investment Zones and Freeports, some of which have huge customs areas that encompass national parks like Dartmoor. plus more broad potential environmental deregulation in the Retained EU Law Bill.
But back to the US. Where did it end up?
This excellent Byline Times article tracked the US movement around CRT and the funding behind it up to the insurrection on 6th January 2021. The pictured tweet above links you back to the video on Twitter. It clarifies the niche degree level source of the term Critical Race Theory. It was never meant as a manual. It was (in the academic tradition) an exploration of one perspective on societal structures and history. Since evolved into a Shibboleth for the US right wing. A thing to be terrified of. A thing that indicates your children are in danger. Raising the question that motivated the threads and this post:
Could it happen here?
Other good references in case you are interested. Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers, covers history of how a movement relating to flags in school and school prayer laid a lot of groundwork for current events. This thread of mine (1) explores how that is intersecting with current events in the UK
This episode of the Dave Troy Presents podcast covers similar ground on history of movements.
This thread (2) ties things together with similar movements in the UK. Including Critical Race Theory being talked about as a threat both on GB News and in a letter writing campaign from an organisation called Don't Divide Us that gives parents tips on how to spot Critical Race Theory in lesson plans. A campaign promoted by Bannon's Breitbart. The thread is huge and covers a lot more ground for more general government conduct, transparency, and deregulatory / rights erosion trajectory.
The letter writing campaign was reported in The Times as a group of concerned parents with none of that context. It coincided, perhaps by chance, with an increase in complaints to the Office for Students about threats to free speech from biased curricula.
Is this a defund, discredit, privatise plan being played out?
This thread (3) starts with the hilarious take down of a Civitas study into wokeness in our universities (screenshot above is my favourite part of that). It then moves on to the GB News bit on CRT again, but also flags the kind of accounts promoting the wokeness report. It then explores how Office for Students pitch year after year for Free Speech policing powers. With support of bodies like the Free Speech Union, in turn with reported ties to Republican think tanks and advocates for radical deregulation like Peter Thiel (Byline Times reporting on Toby Young's FSU here and separately on Peter Thiel's free speech advocacy when he campaigned for reinstatement of Jordan Peterson at Cambridge University).
It also talks about parallels to events in Hungary, with a report on signs of Orbán aligned charities pitching to get involved with curricula in UK schools. Which all sounds pretty far out there, until you note that Wharton, our then chair of Office for Students, was at the Republican Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest endorsing Orbán.
Something that was flagged in the House of Commons. Also noting Hungary is no longer classed as a democracy and the startling parallels between policies pushed by De Santis in Florida and those that were seen in Hungary as it progressed towards more authoritarian rule.
This is a long read on that comparison (source for above excerpt) and the path Hungary took away from pluralism and elected representation.
This feels especially timely as the Higher Education Freedom of Speech Bill will be debated in the Lords again on 7th February. Will this be based on good faith concern about our children? Is this a deflection from the issues caused by dire long-term underfunding and the increasing uberisation of employment for so many higher education staff?
All things driving current strike action and based on recent debates around unions, protests, poverty, LGBTQ people, minorities and migrants I was concerned enough to do all this digging and dot joining, but I am open to challenge and wanted to provide you with some means to exercise some of the critical thought apparently being bled out of education.
Perhaps it is also worth noting that mentions of CRT and Trans stories in right wing US media tend to plummet after their elections. As I said, just some food for thought
Links to compiled PDFs of Twitter threads mentioned in the article. Downloadable as extras in case you find them easier to read. Free to members, or for a small fee for others to cover costs. Each thread has links to more of the mentioned context and sources. Insurance against any Twitter hiccups for my account or those linked. If you feel like tipping me a wee coffee to go towards subscriptions, time, events, books etc (this is not my day job and I should probably not spend so much time on it) that would be fab.
Thread 2 - CRT, Foreign Influence, UK Governance
Thread 3 - Civitas, Wokeness, Free Speech and Schools Discredited
The first thread was too old to compile so linking again here so you can read online if you missed it in the body of the post above.