Our young people show courage, not fragility

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23 June 2017 by ATL
Generation snowflake is a myth.  It is part of a long, and dishonourable tradition which blames the young for the sins of their elders, insists Mary Bousted, ATL's general secretary.

The idea that the system is geared towards cosseting generation snowflake from perceived harm is simply not bourne out in the real world.

Were you to believe the thesis of Claire Fox’s book ‘I Find that Offensive’, you would conclude that the young generation are, indeed in a parlous state: indulged, cossetted, catastrophised by their elders and unable to deal with arguments which challenge their beliefs.

But so much of Claire’s arguments are based on partial evidence at best, and none at worst. She asserts that ‘ban happy leftie councils, hyper attuned to appeasing cultural grievance, are not figments of tabloid writers’ imaginations’ and cites the case of a self-harming pupil at a special school who was given a disposable safety razor to cut him/her self while supervised by a teacher (a case which certainly got tabloid headlines).

Shock! Horror!  The world has gone mad. Who is to say no to this child?

Well, actually, the teachers did. Very quickly. They complained to the local authority who immediately investigated the case, stopped the practice and reported the school leader to the teaching council. 

Far from being a case of adults supinely following the wish of the pupil, this is a case of adults exercising responsibility and professional judgement. Putting proper boundaries round the mistaken wishes of a child who they recognised should not be able to do just what they wanted, however much they wanted it.

Claire is quite clear when she identifies student voice and pupil centred education as key culprits in the creation of generation snowflake. But I wonder just where did Claire acquire her entirely misplaced belief that English state schools are child centred? Her examples are bizarre.  She believes that primary school teachers routinely deploy a range of techniques in their classrooms such as aromatherapy, yoga and chillout music. I go into many state primary classrooms and I have never seen any such practices. So, where’s the evidence Claire? How many primary teachers uses aromatherapy and yoga?

The sad truth is English schools are not child centred.  They teach the national curriculum which is devised by government and, at present, under the close control of the school’s minister Nick Gibb and his obsession with facts, facts, facts.  Try telling the six and seven-year old pupils who are required to not only use, but be able to recognise and name, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, noun phrases, past and present tenses, the progressive form, statements questions and commands, that the curriculum they are taught is child centred.

Try telling this year’s GCSE students suffering from an unrelieved diet of 19th century fiction as they take their English GCSE, or the big, new, fat, hard, maths syllabus, that they are at the centre of everything that they are being taught, particularly as the arts and creative subjects so many of them love are squeezed out of the EBacc curriculum.

Next, Claire tells us, entirely inaccurately, that Ofsted has given official encouragement for students to assess the standard of lessons. This is not true. I even checked with Sean Harford, Deputy Director of Ofsted, and he confirmed what I already knew, that Ofsted have never encouraged students to do this.

And now we come to the heart of the matter. Having created a whole host of paper tigers, the heart of Claire’s argument is that she, and people like her, are victims.  Victims of political correctness.  Censored by their inability to say just what they think. 

For Claire, the battles of inequality are over. The progressive demands for equal treatment, fought by feminists, anti-racists, gay rights activists and others, no longer need to be fought and campaigners on these fronts have, in her words, ‘degenerated into apolitical victim privileging, which uses victimhood as a currency for attention, resources and even power.’

But these battles are not over. The world is not equal. There is still systemic discrimination against women and girls.  Just look at the statistics.  There has been, over a 3-year period, 5,500 alleged sexual offences (including 600 rapes) which have been reported to police as having occurred in schools. You must be brave, and certainly not a snowflake, to be an advocate for equalities issues.

Claire asserts that words do not matter.  They can’t really harm anyone.  So abuse on twitter is, according to her ‘ultimately just words uttered by a bunch of pathetic saddos’.

But it is not snowflake to say that words do matter. Vygotsky shows us that words are the medium through which thoughts are translated.  They have a material effect upon the world.  It is not supine emotional fragility which makes so many young people, who want to be engaged and involved in argument and debate on the issues of the day, retreat when they are faced with a barrage of vile abuse on social media.

The younger generation are not snowflakes. They work harder at school than we ever did. They achieve excellent results, only to find that there are no decent, well-paying jobs to be had. They pay extortionate amounts in rent and have no hope of owning their own home in large swathes of our over-priced towns and cities.

But they keep going. Youth unemployment is very low in the UK. This is, surely, a testimony to a generation who know the odds are stacked against them, but show enormous courage, persistence and tenacity. And good luck to them.

Article first appeared in the 23 June 2017 edition (No. 5254) of Tes Magazine.

Tagged with: 
Emotional resilience