Friday, 30 December 2011

Women of the Year


Looks like it is women who have been the ones taking the lead doing the most courageous, the most daring and the most difficult things for humanity this year

 - Mona Seif,  for her strident resistance to the Mubarak regime in Egypt


 -  Pauline Pearce, for telling rioters to go an do something useful and stop rioting

have been two which some journalists have decided to give special mentions to. However I would like to mention some others who I believe deserve as much, if not greater, recognition for their struggles and  courage this year.

 - Aun Sung Suu Kyi for her continuing struggle and sacrifice,

 - Dorli Rainey, the brave octogenarian who was pepper-sprayed by police during an #occupy demo in America, and still came up saying more coherent things than any politician,

 - Vandana Shiva for her tireless campaign against economic imperialism by billion-dollar mutinationals in India,

 - Professor Diane Ravitch, for her well-supported and reasoned campaign against schools privatisation and "reform" in the US, which has helped inspire resistance to Gove's delierate wrecking of the education system here,

 - "Livvy" the brave transgirl who had the courage to face down adults who verbally assaulted her for having the temerity to be herself,

 - Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, the lesbian couple in Norway who risked their lives to save the young people targetted by fascist Breivik

and

 - all women protesters this year, who have braved deliberately targetted police brutality in a systematic attempt to intimidating them and others not to protest.

STOP PRESS: I forgot to include Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman who both won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for their work in promoting women's rights in extremely difficult circumstances.


Brave and inspirational women. The nominations for the men of the year, which have hit rock bottom with the inclusion of David Cameron, seem utterly pathetic in contrast.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cameron’s Europe: Collective Fantasy vs. Reality




David Cameron’s Idiotic and badly-informed decision to leave Europe will be bad for the UK in the long run. All of Alex Salmond’s birthdays and Christmasses have come at once, as Cameron’s actions in Europe have greatly increased the likelihood of a “yes” vote to Scottish independence. Britain’s influence in Europe has been effectively marginalized and reduced to that of bystander status.

However Eoin Clarke argues that none of this will harm Cameron, and this is important. There are still many things which Britain does not lose from being the Third-Class European, such as free trade and free movement of UK citizens around the EU, yet this is not the full story. Although it is becoming clear that what is left of British business is quite fearful of what Cameron has done.

But nothing will have any short-term effect; that will come later. It will come through Japanese, Korean and American companies not investing in the UK. The UK will no longer be regarded as a springboard to Europe, and, of course European countries, from Peugeot to VW, are now also much less likely to invest in the UK. It also means that the UK has lost influence in resisting legislation which it considers to be contrary to its interests. The veto has been shown to be worthless, it is influence, alliances and diplomatic engagement which count in the EU. It is here where Cameron has been shown up to be a political lightweight by president Sarkozy. One could not imagine Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major or Margaret Thatcher allowing that to happen.

Yet his misadventure may well play to Cameron’s advantage. The right-wing feral media, his own lunatic right and a number of “think tanks” will hit overdrive in an effort to present this loss as a victory. The City money pouring into Tory Party coffers at the rate of a million pounds a month will be used ruthlessly by the Tories to present Labour and the Lib Dems as people who would sell out Britain’s interests. The whole Europhobic culture of the Little Englanders will be ratcheted up in the coming months. Indeed Cameron may well use any short-term blip in Tory opinion polls as an excuse to call a general election which the other parties will not have the resources to fight, and before the economic consequences of his misjudgments start to come home to roost. The delusion of British independence will have obscured the harsh realities of an interdependent, globalised world. Exchanging some mythical  dictatorship by Brussels for a more real but less visible colonisation by Bejing is the reality. Cameron has truly sold out the national interest for the sake of short-term personal political gain. He will go down in history as one of the worst British prime ministers.

What to watch out for:

Cameron deliberately precipitating a general election by forcing the Lib Dems into a position where even they can no longer compromise. A manufactured election, catching the other parties on the hop and with a huge ratcheting-up in propaganda and right-wing media support, is what we can look forward to. Ed Miliband needs to start becoming more visible and more vocal. People will still be scared, frightened of the economic consequences of Cameron’s stupidity, he needs to be seen touring factories and businesses which do a lot of business with Europe, to drive that point home or he will be the first victim of a political ambush.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Dead Hand of Michael Gove


I take no pleasure in being right, and I genuinely hate to say “I told you so.” But I told you so. The latest “funding agreement” published by the Department for Education sets out conditions for Academies and “Free” schools to receive funding. Included in those conditions is the rule that they have to teach the “importance of marriage” over all other types of relationship.

This represents the perfect example of what I said would happen; academies and “free” schools would soon come under the direct control of Whitehall. In effect all these schools are now controlled by Michael Gove.

This comes after the incoming Tory-led government told us that these schools would be controlled by local people, and gave us a lot of talk about local control of public services, as part of the “big society”. I warned then that the opposite was going to happen. Now parents of children in these schools will lose control over their child’s school as elected parent governors are replaced by those appointed by the private company or group of religious zealots which controls the school. But, in a double whammy to local democratic control, the dead hand of Michael Gove now hangs over every “free” school and academy in the country, as he dictates what can and cannot be taught in those schools. Local control has been replaced by the Stalinist control of one of the most partial and extremist members of the 1%.

The result of this is nothing less than a slimmed-down, dumbed-down, rigid and uninspiring curriculum imposed on our children and a sustained effort on the part of Gove to reintroduce the homophobic Section 28 through the back door.

The Tories, especially Michael Gove, were fond of describing the local control of schools as the "dead hand of local authority control". This has always been a myth, eagerly propagated by the 1%-controlled media. Local authority schools have always been independently run, with parents having a majority on the governing body. I know I have served as a school governor, an elected one not an appointed one. Now these schools will be controlled by people appointed by, guess who? Yes, representatives of the 1%. The 1% who have wrecked our economy, are now in control of a large chunk of the nation's schools...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

My “Sneaky” Response to Mish



Mish seems to engage in what many people do when they can’t win an argument; putting words into their opponents’ mouths. This is similar to Dreger’s manufacturing of a mythical group of trans people who are apparently trying to force children to become transsexual against their will. Mish also appears to deliberately obscure issues;

“These researchers are refuted by positing there is a significant number of proto-trans kids who never reveal themselves as children, or are not brought to the attention of researchers (while it is only kids who are not who do, apparently…). Really? Is this like all the adults who were really happy with genital surgery as kids, but never actually come forward to confirm this?”

…and in doing so appears deliberately and highly disingenuously to confuse trans children with intersex children. She also fails to mention that the other reason I have suggested that this “research” is questionable in its validity.

She continues in the same vein;

Or, maybe they just found evidence for something that a lot of people who aren’t transsexual seem to be well aware of – that most kids who go through this kind of thing do not end up transsexual. But because of who they are, and because we don’t like their conclusions, we are going to put them all in the transphobic bucket and ignore them – and call anybody who dares cite any of their findings a transphobe too. Wow! Neat system dude”

…providing no evidence whatsoever that the implications of my empirical research are not true. I suspect she intends to suggest from this that I am accusing the researchers, which Dreger doesn’t actually quote, of being transphobes. This is another example of her putting words into my mouth, as I have said, a classic strategy for people who are unable to make a coherent argument to support their case. I have suggested, as have many others, that these “researchers” use psychological torture in the form of “reparative” therapy on trans children, and that they have a pecuniary interest in the outcome of their research, which, in my view, significantly undermines the validity of their findings. 

In fact Shannon Minter (1999) carried out a detailed study of the “research” carried out by the psychiatrists comprising the Invisible College and demonstrated that their research findings contradict both each other and themselves. Their data has never, to my knowedge, been made available to any kind of external audit; indeed there is quite a wide variation in the percentages they claim as if they are grabbing numbers out of thin air.  As such Dreger’s claims are based on unvalidated data from people whose research has been shown to be muddled and who may benefit financially from demonstrating that most trans children become non-trans adults. That is the point I made. Others have also questioned the validity of this data, suggesting that these trans children may well have not been “cured” but have simply decided to pretend that they have to avoid more “treatment”. To suggest that I accused these researchers of transphobia, however, is a lie.

Mish continues;

“you repeated what Dreger said herself – sneaky.”

So, quoting someone else is “sneaky”. I guess the whole output of pretty much every academic and journalist over the last few centuries must be “sneaky” in that case. Once again these are the tactics of someone whose argument fails to stand up.

“You see, another writer might say “Dreger makes clear that the analogy is weak, because people cannot be trains, and do grow up transgender, and do have gender identities” – but you don’t do that, you say Dreger is transphobic, because people cannot be trains, and do grow up transgender, and do have gender identities – so she is transphobic for saying what you said, except that she said it first.”

Again my mouth is full of Mish’s words. I did not say that Dreger is transphobic because, after she wrote about the boy wanting to believe he is a train, she said that this was a false analogy. I am saying she is a transphobe because she included the story about the train. If the story of the boy who wants to be a train is not relevant why did she include it? However, and this is important, and I am glad Mish brought this up; she has missed a crucial difference between what I said and what Dreger said about this analogy. This is what Dreger said;

“let me be clear that I don't think being a transgender adult is like being a child who imagines he is a locomotive.”

Read it carefully, Dreger is NOT saying that a child who wants to be a locomotive is different from a child who says he or she is a different gender. She is saying that the child who wants to be a train is different from an ADULT trans person. In other words she is not comparing like with like. IMO this is significant and represents a deliberate attempt to avoid being labeled transphobic whilst being transphobic. The only way this can be read is that she is therefore equating a child assigned female at birth but who says he is a boy with a child who says he is a locomotive. I am saying that Dreger is a transphobe because the only inference that can be made from this section is that she equates train-boy’s desires with those of trans children. She may be attempting to disguise it with carefully-chosen words but this woman has a PhD, and people with PhD’s are used to being very careful with words. 

Incidentally Mish later accuses me of generalizing from the particular to the general (which I don’t, read it carefully), whereas Dreger is clearly doing just that by using this anecdote.

In fact Dreger quite obviously uses the analogy to suggest that trans children’s desires are the same as the fantasies of the train-boy, only she chooses to do that in a particularly underhand way.

Predictably for someone who appears not to have read the article or my response to it very closely, Mish also lectures me about listening; “It is time you started listening to people like Dreger, and dealing with what they actually say, when they have something reasonable to say – instead of just demonising them as transphobic and hoping that will get you off the hook of having to actually deal with what they are saying.”

I have engaged closely with what Dreger is saying, and my accusation of transphobia is not made lightly. I have explained exactly why I think she is transphobic above and also because of the way she considers transsexual surgery to be the worst possible outcome, whilst any other outcome is OK. This is remarkably similar to the thinking of Raymond/Jeffries.

Here Mish contradicts herself;

“She considers an outcome that involves surgery is not the best possible outcome – hey, guess what, so do I.”

“Saying there are people who do not have to have transsexual sex reassignment surgery in order to deal with gender dysphoria is not transphobic. It is not saying one is better than the other.”

She also comes out with this;

“It is saying that people are different – diversity, remember?
… whilst at the same time suggesting, in a kind of sweeping generalization that;
“non-surgery is preferable to surgery, if at all possible.”

 Again there are plenty of trans people who would disagree with this. I know one who is awaiting surgery right now and is desperate to have GRS so that she can get on with her life. How much longer, under whatever Mish system she would like to see created, would she have to wait before assorted shrinks have a go at making her change her mind? One “therapist”, Az Hakeem, recently suggested that “years” of psychiatric therapy could “cure” transsexuals. I fail to see how years of messing with someone else’s mind is better than a relatively short time in an operating theatre. If I was given the choice I would rather people do things to my body than to my mind any day.

Mish again;

“– because surgery is surgery, it involves putting people under anesthetic and cutting them up, as opposed to leaving them alone.”

A disingenuous assertion. The alternative to surgery is usually years of psychiatric treatment, not “leaving them alone.” She goes on…

“It is like thinking that liposuction is not the best approach to losing weight, but that does not mean I’m ‘fattist’, far from it.”

Words fail me; gender reassignment surgery is equated with liposuction.

Mish adds the following;

“At no point does she imply these surgeries are being forced on children against their will. So, it seems it is you who is being disingenuous.”

Dreger’s article however says this;

“I am also sick and tired of trans-rights advocates acting like a certain current-day endocrinologist is ever-so-progressive because he essentially starts prepping genderqueer kids for surgery the moment they are presented by their distraught parents.”

On this subject Mish has this to say;

“The only people I hear arguing they should be medicalised and given endocrine disrupting drugs in preparation for a delayed puberty which will be induced using sex steroids in alignment with SRS, are some transsexual adults & activists, some physicians, and some parents. I do not hear many cis-gendered people demanding kids be treated – normalised – this way”

A desperate argument. Why should anyone who is not involved in trans activism, a physician dealing with trans children, or the parent of a trans child, be arguing for this treatment? However I particularly find problematic the way she uses the word “normalized” here. This seems to be done in the same way that pathologizing psychiatrists did as they positioned trans children in particular, and trans people in general, as passive objects with no preferences, agency or desires of their own. The inference being that trans people are passive objects being subject to and manipulated by others. Something Sandy Stone demonstrated as long ago as 1992 to be the fiction of certain “radical” feminist transphobe. This really does show how much further trans people have to go, before the rest of society considers us people rather than objects.

What my research, as well as that of Shannon Wyss, Surya Monro and the writing of Cris Beam, does is show that trans children are active agents who make decisions about their own lives, usually in very difficult situations, they are human beings with agency, their own minds, and their own feelings.
But the most dishonest aspect of both Dreger’s article and the response to it is the elephant in the room, which she finally can’t resist mentioning; hormone blockers. That is the difference between my position and that of Dreger. When she says “let the children alone” she isn’t just talking about 5 or 6 year olds, which might appear to be the case from the story of the locomotive-boy with which she starts the article. No , what I suspect she really means, and the article makes no sense otherwise, is; “Don’t give trans adolescents hormone blockers.” I am particularly glad Mish made this connection; it brings everything out into the open.

Teenagers and toddlers are very different. One of the particularly misleading things opponents of hormone blockers tend to infer is that they somehow have an inevitability about them. They do not. Hormone blockers are entirely reversible, and are given to trans adolescents, after the start of puberty, in order to give them the breathing space they need. This can save transboys from suffering the trauma (and physical discomfort) of developing breasts, and having periods, and transgirls from having to deal with unwanted erections, wet dreams, a deepening voice and facial hair. If trans teenagers change their minds they simply stop taking them and puberty in the gender they were originally assigned at birth commences.

Mish’s suggestion that they are given hormone blockers to help them pass better as adults is, of course only a small part of the story, but I am sure readers are getting used to this sort of distortion by now. In fact, other than saving young trans people from the trauma of puberty in a body with which they do not identify, hormone blockers are also prescribed because they can result in transsexuals having less surgery (something one would have expected Mish, from what she has said, to support). Transmen may not require double mastectomies, transwomen will not need extensive hair removal and are much less likely to need any facial feminization surgery or treatment to prevent scalp hair loss.

However the assumptions she makes in the statement “The argument is that otherwise healthy kids will be given hormone blockers” represents everything which appalls me about her arguments. This statement effectively dismisses the feelings of trans children. Children who are tormented or traumatised by being born in the wrong body may appear physically well but are unlikely to be having a good time mentally. A sound physical body does not necessarily make a healthy child. This effectively represents an erasure of trans children’s lived experience. Trans people are usually born with bodies that have nothing physically wrong with them; trans people manifest no physiological signs that they are trans, that is the problem. Convincing adults that they are trans represents their only option. If the adults around them are constantly equating their self-perceptions with much younger children who think they are trains their problems multiply. The way these children’s feelings are dismissed in this way is something I find particularly unacceptable.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Deliberately Disingenuous Dreger

Alice Dreger's spectacularly appalling article published in an issue of a journal edited by a known transphobe has IMO shown her up to be exactly what she claims she is not; a transphobe. I hope I am wrong about this but there are so many things wrong with this article that it is as difficult to draw any different conclusion as it is to know where to start.

 So I will start at the beginning. Although she claims she does not intend it to be analogous to trans people, she uses a story of a very young boy who, we are told, believed he was a railway locomotive, using this story to suggest that children who believe they are the other gender are engaging in similar games or childish make-believe. This is an appalling start to a truly vicious and deliberately misleading article about trans children. The idea that a child who claims he is an inanimate object is equivalent to one who claims he or she is a different gender of the same species is simply not comparing like with like. A person who is assigned a gender at birth that is different from that with which they identify is asserting their right of self-identification as a human being, not playing engaging in harmless childish play. A train is not a person, therefore a person who says they are a train is not to be taken seriously because an inanimate object does not have the capacity for self-determination or the ability to express an identity of any kind. A girl trapped in a boy's body, on the other hand, does have this ability. As such her allusion fails, it is one which has been employed over and over again by transphobes, and one I regularly have to deal with. The fact that it is being used by someone who claims not to be a transphobe is neither here nor there.

 However Dreger's argument is based on many more false premises and untruths than that. The first of which being her reliance on evidence which supposedly shows that gender variant children most often grow up not to be trans adults.

  “Most transgender activists do not want to hear that most children with gender dysphoria end up nontransgender; they want transgender to be understood as a biological, permanent, unchangeable, acceptable, natural variation.” 

She provides us with a link to the evidence. Unfortunately this link only sends us to another paper she has written which asserts this but provides us with no links or references to any empirical research that provides evidence to back up her claim. Now we have all been guilty of referencing our own work, but when I do that I link it to something which supports the assertion I am trying to make with empirical evidence, rather than simply me asserting the same thing with no supporting evidence. Indeed, if Dreger were writing this as an academic paper rather than a piece of journalism for an editor claimed by many in the trans community to be trans community to be a transphobe, she would be guilty of an academic crime.

 The problem for Dreger is that the evidence that the majority of trans children grow up to be non-trans is weak to put it mildly, it is highly contested, mostly carried out by individuals who have a pecuniary interest in exaggerating the results, and my own research has suggested that it is based on skewed and unreliable sampling. This research is largely carried out by psychiatrists belonging to what Ansara & Hegarty (2011) describe as an “invisible college”, a group who cite each other in order to make their own work appear more important that it really is. The problem for this research is that it is carried out on a sample that probably comprises less than 5% of trans children. This is because they only study what I have termed “apparent” trans children, and do not account for the other 95% who do not make themselves known to any adult as trans (I have called them “non-apparent” trans children). Further, the sampling is likely to be further distorted by some parents deciding not to take their trans child to a psychiatrist, or who take them to one which is not known or suspected to practice “reparative” therapy (ie psychological torture) on these children. It is also likely that any child who is becomes a victim of “reparative” therapy will pretend to be cured in order to get the shrink in question out of their lives. Some sociologists are currently following up former patients (“victims” would be a more accurate description) of these “psychologists” to find out if this is the case. I look forward to their report.

We do not have to look far to find empirical evidence that young trans people are active agents in concealing their gender identities from adults, Shannon Wyss’s (2004) careful and detailed research confirms this.

 One of the most serious inferences from this article is that trans people are trying to prevent children who might otherwise grow up or identify as “genderqueer” or some other non-transsexual variant, from expressing gender variant natures. Of course no evidence is put forward by Dreger to support this contention. Unfortunately for Dreger, there is evidence to suggest that those who force genderqueer kids into making a gender binaried choice are not trans people, but cisgender people. Brill and Pepper’s (2008) wonderful book about transgender children describes what happened to Marlow/Marla. Marlow was a boy who liked to have a female appearance, including wearing dresses, who played with “girls’” toys and engaged in “girls’” activities. However he was still very clear about the fact that he was a boy and went to school calling himself Marlow and insisting that male pronouns be used about him. He soon found that he was subject to the most severe bullying, mostly exclusion bullying, by the other children, and suffered greatly. He subsequently agreed, at the suggestion of his teachers, to adopt a female name and be called “she”. He didn’t like this but went along with it and the bullying was greatly reduced. In Marlow’s case no trans person was forcing him into the gender binary, the cisgender children and teachers in his school were.

 So Dreger has produced no evidence that trans people are forcing gender variant children into a transsexual gender binary position, yet I have produced evidence to demonstrate that cisgender people do. The experience of Marlow is far from unique, I have recently spoken to the mother of a trans child in the UK who had a very similar experience.

 Dreger’s reference to the Samoan Fa’fa’fine is particularly worrying. Although these people are permitted in Samoan culture they are subject to serious restrictions on their roles within society, as are many other third gender individuals, so for her to advocate this as a cultural model in the West would effectively mean allowing genderqueer/non-binary people to exist but to greatly restrict the jobs they can do and the roles they can play in society including restrictions on their sexuality and marriage rights. In the West we have trans academics, teachers, lawyers, pilots, musicians, etc. In fact we have trans people of many different sexualities and in any number of different jobs, including, in Poland, a member of parliament.

 The whole tone of Dreger’s piece seems to me to position any outcome which involves transsexual surgery as worse than any which does not. In reality an outcome which includes surgery is a very good outcome if you are a transsexual. Ask any transsexual and they will tell you that the path to obtaining the surgery they need is a long one and one filled with obstacles. To suggest, as she does, that this is an outcome which is being forced onto children against their will is simply to ignore reality.

 It seems to me that on this point Dreger’s position is little different from that of Janice Raymond or Sheila Jeffries; two notorious “radical” feminist transphobes who have both advocated hate-crimes against transsexuals, whilst being less concerned about non-transsexual trans people. If this is the case Dreger appears to be advocating little more than a less unsubtle version of this “rad” fem hatred.

 Her conclusion, to leave gender variant children alone and allow them to freely express their gender-variant nature is the correct one, however we should be clear about where the responsibility for pressure to conform to the gender binary is coming from, and it is not coming from any trans activists, it is coming from ordinary cisgender people.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Trans People on the Pinklist 2011. Who are they?

It has been wonderful to see seven trans people appearing in the Independent On Sunday’s Pinklist of top LGBT people in the country. Firstly, it needs to be said that this increase has largely been due to the efforts of one young lady; Paris Lees, one of the leading lights in Trans Media Watch and editor of the imminent Meta Magazine. So the first thing is to give Paris a big mention. Although I do not know all of these people, I am acquainted to various extents with 5 of them; Sarah Brown, Christine Burns, Jay Stewart, Roz Kaveney and Bethany Black, so I thought I would write a little about them in hopefully not merely a dry factual account (if you want that Wikipedia is the place) but from the perspective of having known these people.

Sarah Brown
Sarah is only the second trans person in the UK to be openly elected as a trans person. She was elected Cambridge City Councilor in May 2010. She has survived and prospered despite initially coming in for a lot of criticism by many other trans people on the left (myself included) for her support for the coalition government. It is important not to underestimate Sarah’s achievement, although there have been other trans people elected to office, including the mayor of Cambridge, Sarah is the second openly trans person in the UK to be elected anywhere. This may not sound much of an achievement compared with other trans politicians that have been elected in other countries; New Zealand, Italy and most recently Poland have elected trans MPs in their national parliaments, and in Tokyo (more populous than many countries) Aya Kamikawa has been a city councilor since 2003.
The difference for Sarah, and to underline her achievement, is that all these people have been elected on list systems, not under systems where individual candidates represent individual wards or constituencies as in the UK. The UK system is dramatically harder for minorities like trans people to break into, since trans people can represent a significantly higher risk, from a party point of view, as people vote for individuals rather than parties. If trans people were truly represented in proportion to our numbers in the population there would be 200 councilors and 6 MPs who are trans.
Sarah’s emotional speech at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in 2010 about how she was forced to divorce her wife and remarry in a civil partnership after her gender reassignment may have been one of the contributory factors to current proposals to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples.

Christine Burns MBE
Christine is a grandmother, a diversity expert in matters relating to the NHS and now mentors younger trans human rights campaigners. She was instrumental in the successful campaign by Press For Change, to achieve legal recognition for transsexual people in 2004 and has contributed immeasurably to helping trans people in the UK and around the world in their struggles for the human rights which most other people take for granted. Although she is no longer engaged in frontline activism, she still does a great deal of work behind the scenes and her advice has helped younger trans activists achieve some of the subsequent gains for trans people. She was one of the prime movers behind Press For Change’s successful campaign to introduce the Gender Recognition Act in 2004, a landmark piece of legislation which has resulted in huge improvements in the lives of all trans people.
For me she was the main motivation to become a trans activist after I saw her speak in the summer of 2007, at the Trans With Pride conference in Bethnal Green. In her speech she noted how, despite the gains made for transsexuals in the Gender Recognition Act, those trans people who did not have gender reassignment surgery could still be lawfully discriminated against. Since then she has helped me and countless others with advice and contacts as we campaign to improve things for trans people. An example of this has been the recent decision by Charing Cross gender identity clinic, to allow referrals for young trans people 6 months before their 18th birthday to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays in treatment for them and no interruption in support for them as they transfer from child to adult support services.
Christine’s blog, Just Plain Sense is one of the most popular and respected blogs about trans and diversity issues.

Jay Stewart
Jay is co-founder of Gendered Intelligence, a pioneering organization which has worked very successfully to improve the lives of young trans people and others. Recently he has become a father, which has added a great deal of pressure to his already very busy schedule. He organizes events through Gendered Intelligence, which often involve using creativity as a means of helping trans people express themselves and become more confident. Gendered Intelligence also provides diversity training in the area of gender variance with schools, colleges and universities and has collaborated with a number of other trans organisations.
Jay, currently completing a PhD in the department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College, has campaigned for trans people’s rights and was a past chair of FTM London. As organizer of the annual Trans Community Conference Jay has contributed to a bringing together of the trans community in a way which has been inclusive of younger trans people and their parents, something which is particularly important given their virtual erasure from public view as they conceal their gender identities out of fear of bullying or victimization. Gendered Intelligence has also pioneered a trans youth group in London which, until recently was run by a full-time fully trained youth worker, who also provided outreach training to others running trans youth groups around the country. This is a huge, and particularly positive step and has doubtless improved the lives of many trans people, helping them at a particularly difficult point in their lives. It has been particularly heartening to see how Jay has kept this valuable resource going despite numerous challenges and setbacks, and at a time when he is also doing a PhD and has a young family. An example to many of us in the trans community for his dedication, tenacity and organizational skills, the only thing I do not understand is why he was not in the PinkList list earlier.

Roz Kaveney
A feminist and a graduate of Oxford Roz transitioned from male to female in 1979, at a time when the prevailing received feminist wisdom was that being transsexual represented a false consciousness. This was the year that the famously hateful and misleading book by Janice Raymond, “The Transsexual Empire” was published which Roz reviewed in Gay News, a publication for which she was already working. Despite receiving for this what has now come to be a predictable volley of abuse from sections of the feminist community, Roz has always considered feminist scholarship an important part of her career. She was an advisory reader for Virago womens’ press and worked on numerous reference works such as the Cambridge Guide to Women Writing in English. She is still a thorn in the side of those feminists who despite describing themselves as “radical” harbour quite vicious hatred of trans people. Indeed her critiques of radical feminist transphobia have contributed to the marginalization of such views and raised the confidence of the trans community in the face of what has seems to have become an irrational and misguided hatred.
In a career which has also spanned journalism, as a reviewer for the Independent and the Times Literary Supplement and a commentator on Culture and Religion for the Guardian, she has also written for the New Statesman. Roz has also been very active in politics, becoming Deputy Chair of Liberty as a result of her work with Feminists Against Censorship, an organization she co-founded.
Roz has contributed to a great deal to the campaigns for trans human rights over the years. As a representative of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance she sat on the committee, with Christine Burns and Stephen Whittle, which negotiated the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.
Her belief in solidarity and respect in gender and sexuality reflected this in her scholarship in the area of pop culture in her insistence that the same levels of seriousness be applied to pop culture as “high” culture. It is most notable that throughout her diverse career her work has led to the normalization of the presence trans people in areas such as feminist scholarship, literary criticism and politics.

Bethany Black
Like many trans people Bethany struggled with life when she was young, and her attempts to commit suicide, her struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and having to come out to her family twice; as trans and as a lesbian, are sadly, things which many trans people will feel all too familiar. It seems however that these experiences gave her the strength and tenacity to make a career in the tough world of stand-up comedy where she is now the country’s only “Goth, lesbian, transsexual, stand-up comedian.” Despite the inevitable knock-backs and struggles to gain recognition and work on the stand-up circuit Bethany has thrived and forged a career in this challenging line of work since leaving university and undergoing gender reassignment surgery, describing her life as getting “better and better” since then. Her biggest influence in comedy was Josie Long, who demonstrated to her that not all comedians have to be older people. She started as a compere for a music club in Preston but the hostile reaction there did not prevent her from moving onto actual comedy clubs. She was eventually a finalist in the Funny Bones New Comedian of the Year Competition 2006 and the Chortle Student Comedy Awards 2007, and was nominated for “best debut” award in the Leicester Comedy Festival 2008.
Bethany is however also planning and looking forward to the future with a possible adaptation of her “Beth Becomes Her” show for TV and has co-founded Funny’s Funny, a group which plans to provide a free-entry comedy competition for female comedians.
It is good to see her active in promoting opportunities for women comedians since stand-up comedy, like most areas of the media and show-biz, is very male dominated. The only time I ever met Bethany was as a fellow panelist for a discussion organized by the first Bristol Pride committee. Her story about how she came out to her mother being particularly vivid. She described how her mother reacted, and how, despite having never been parted from her husband for more than a couple of days since they were married, she would have been prepared to leave him if necessary in order to support Bethany. Why other parents of trans people cannot give that level of unconditional love to their children is a mystery to me. An example of Bethany’s stand-up routine is available here. (look out for the joke about .pdf files, that had me rolling on the floor)

Finishing with Bethany Black represents the clearest example of why I believe these five people have made the 2011 Pinklist. Talent and quality. These people are good at what they do regardless of their gender identities. The right-wing media may describe the Pinklist as just “PCGM” (Political Correctness Gone Mad), but the PCGM brigade ignore the fact that these people are genuinely talented people who have made successful careers in their fields despite, not because, of their gender identities, unlike right-wing journalists who tend to have obtained employment because of their politics rather than their journalistic skill. This is why they are in the Pinklist and why they deserve to be there and deserve to be recognized as having made significant contributions to the life of the country as well as to raising awareness of trans people. Trans people are not just trans people, they are writers, diversity experts, politicians, scholars, parents, comedians, teachers, lawyers journalists, etc. Trans people are people and their inclusion on the Pinklist is a recognition of that and by proxy, a recognition of the entire trans coimmunity.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Getting trans people elected….

The UK is supposed to have one of the most trans-friendly legal systems in the world these days, yet we seem to be a long way behind the rest of the world in terms of having trans people elected. We represent 1% of the population and so there should therefore be at least 6 trans MPs in the House of Commons, one trans MEP some of the time in the UK section of the European Parliament, and a massive 200 trans local councillors across the country.The current total representation of trans people in elected positions is however, way below that; we have just one local councillor; the wonderful Sarah Brown, who sits as a Lib Dem on Cambridge City Council. Sarah’s achievement is particularly good when the treatment of trans people generally is considered, however as a country we are doing much less well than many other countries. The news that Poland elected its first trans MP was particularly pleasing since there appears to have been trouble with homophobia and transphobia in the recent past in Poland. However there have also been trans people elected to national governments in Italy and New Zealand, there has been a senior trans politician elected in Hawaii, and there is a long-serving Tokyo City councillor for Setagaya ward in Tokyo; a city with a population greater than that of Holland. Indeed Aya Kamikawa, is currently the longest serving elected trans official, having been first elected in 2003, and subsequently re-elected, something which no trans politician has ever achieved to date. So how why is our representation on elected bodies so low in the UK when trans people in other countries are being elected to more senior political positions? The answer lies, I believe, in the electoral systems. The UK mostly relies on First-Past-The-Post for elections, which means that people vote for individuals rather than parties. With the exception of Hawaii (where trans people are accepted to a much greater extent than most countries) Poland, Italy and Japan all use party list systems. This means that people vote for parties rather than individuals. The problem with voting for individuals is that, especially in closely-fought electoral contests, where the result really matters parties are reluctant to put forward candidates who might alienate enough voters to give the seat to a competitor. Parties are therefore likely to be much less willing to have a trans candidate where a cisgender candidate is available. Where a contest is likely to be personalised, where people are voting for a candidate as much as a party, the personal becomes more important, and even if only a relatively small number of people change their votes as a result of transphobia, that would be enough to make a difference in a large number of cases. The personalisation of politics also results in the media taking a greater interest in individual candidates rather then their policies and party lines, which could mean that electoral contests attract unwelcome attention from the Daily Mail, the Express, the Sun and other sensationalist right-wing media, which could have implications for the party across the country. The solution then, to getting more trans people into elected positions in the UK, is to concentrate them in the small number of elections where party lists, or top-up lists are in operation; the London Assembly and the European elections, here total party votes count and the direct link between a candidate and a particular seat extends through their party rather than a particular geographical area. The First-Past-The-Post system has not only saddled the country with a corrupt, incompetent, dishonest and destructive government, but also has the effect of reducing diversity in elected positions; this is particularly the case for minorities, like LGBT people, who tend not to be concentrated in particular geographical areas in the same way that ethnic minority populations are. The result is a government drawn mostly from wealthy male privately-educated Oxbridge graduates, and the disastrous policies which have flowed from such an out-of-touch group of people.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Facebook: a manipulation too far.

If you go to "Help" on Facebook and "Basics" and "News Feed Basics" you will find the following piece of information in their FAQ;

"How does News Feed determine which content is most interesting?

The News Feed algorithm bases this on a few factors: how many friends are commenting on a certain piece of content, who posted the content, and what type of content it is..."

The key word here is "determined"; a euphemism for "Decided."

In other words, a computer somewhere in Facebookland, controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, is deciding what appears in your news feed.

Not you.

Zuckerberg.

If the government decided that only phone calls, letters, newspaper reports, TV programmes, songs and radio news reports which were vetted by a computer algorithm it controlled could be seen by you, it would be described as Orwellian, and it would be; by the time it happened we would have already been taken over by a totalitarian state.

So how come no-one minds when a private company does this? State censorship is state censorship, private censorship is "just business..."

In fact on other websites people are used to being able to control what they see and how it functions, being able to control all sorts of settings. This control has largely been removed by Facebook, it is now a much more centralised, top-down, regimented outfit than it was in the past. Doubtless this controlling centralisation will be refined further until you only see posts which mention certain brands or which contain no political (or politically left-wing) content. This is something which will start to become frustrating for Facebook users, especially now those randon, throw-away one-liner conversations which made social networking a pleasure now seem to have become a thing of the past.

I'm starting to migrate onto Google+ for the moment, which at least isn't trying to impose its own thought control on me, I suspect someone with a bit of technical skill and an element of opportunist entrepreneurship will find the niche in the market for a social networking site that lets users control what they see, when how and in what order...

Zuckerberg has ended up destroying the goose that layed the golden egg; he will end up with a meaningless, over commercialised sanitised social network which bores more and more people until only the mindless use it, the rest of us will have gone elsewhere...

Monday, 29 August 2011

Breakdown of who has set up the first "free" schools.

• Religious 9

• “charitable” trust in chains with academies 3

• Ex private school 3

• Private company 2

• No information 2

• Community 2

• Teacher 1

• “journalist” 1

• “Asian Trade Link” 1*

* Asian Trade Link claims to be a 'community organisation' It is suggested by local press that it will not have any premises available by the start of the school year

Propaganda in the media asserts that they are being "set up by teachers, charities, education experts and parents." yet only one is set up by a teacher, three by parents three by companies describing themselves as "charitable trusts" and none at all by education experts. This makes a total of seven out of 24 which are set up by the groups the propaganda machine is telling us are setting them up.

In contrast to the propaganda three are simply former private schools getting taxpayers' funding, two are being run by private companies and a whopping nine are religious. Despite the fact that these three groups of schools make up more than half of the total number of "free" schools they are not included in the headline description. (In fact the three set up by "charitable trusts" are effectively run by private companies in all but name). I know I have worked for one of them in the past.

Once again the media has (willingly?) allowed itself to be duped into making it look like "free" schools are riding a wave of parental activism, when in fact only three out of 24 are. It is time for the media to stop swallowing press releases about education without doing some proper journalism first.

Ed Media Watch's first engagement with the press over biased educational journalism - in the Guardian!

Dear Chris Elliott,

I am writing as founder member of Education Media Watch, a new group forming to respond to the high level of misrepresentation and one-sidedness about education issues in the media. We are a group of educationists, teachers and parents who are working to challenge reports in the media which present one-sided stories about the education system. I have to admit I did not expect to have to write to you about a Guardian article so soon.

The article in question is this;

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/aug/28/first-24-free-schools

This is an article which represents exactly the kind of thing Ed Media watch is being set up to deal with; it presents 'Free' schools effectively from Michael Gove's perspective as though they are not controversial. It appears to have been 'churnalised' from AP and includes figures in support of the idea by the government but nothing from those opposed to free schools (a considerable number of people, particularly teachers).

In fact the figures quotes by the government at the end of the article referring to Charter Schools in New York, which are what 'free' schools are modelled on, are highly misleading and mask a high degree of selectivity in New York schools in relation to non-charter schools.

For example; although they tout an 86% catch-up with "schools in the wealthiest suburbs" in Maths and a 66% catchup in English these statistics appear to have been manipulated Chuchillian-style to be highly misleading. In fact although just over half (51%) produced gains in maths, only 29% produced gains in reading. In other words nearly half produced no significant improvements in maths and 71% no gains in reading. Nationally in the US, only 14% of charter schools have better results than local schools compared with 37% doing worse than local schools and 46% the same.

These phantom 'improvements' in school results in New York have come about despite huge funding imbalances which Joel Klein (now working for Rupert Murdoch) managed to engineer which has also resulted in resources being taken away from local schools and given to charters, this has resulted in smaller class sizes and other material advantages for children in charters. In addition charters take a lower percentage of children with special needs, a lower percentage of children for whom English is an additional language, and a lower percentage of hispanic and immigrant children, when compared with New York City averages. The imbalance in these figures is even higher when compared to local schools situated near the charters.

I could quote more data about charter schools in the US and in NYC in particular which provide substantial evidence that on average charter schools are failing in the US and failing despite being given huge increases in resources, money which, if it had been invested in normal local schools, would almost certainly have produced significant gains accross the board. For data supporting the figures I have presented here, and further information demonstrating that the assumptions implicit and explicit in the article are neither uncontraversial nor correct please refer to the links below;


http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/01/13/2010-01-13_new_york_city_charter_schools_need_to_focus_on_the_neediest.html


http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2009/09/27/2009-09-27_the_charter_school_problem_results_are_much_less_positive_than_a_new_study_sugge.html


I feel that the publication of this article (I don't know whether this was just online or in the print version) displayed a high degree of bias, largely by omission, but also presented the issue of 'free' schools as uncontroversial, when it is, in fact highly controversial. I also feel that this article represented the worst type of churnalism, which is something I have come to expect the Guardian not to indulge in.

I would like to ask that someone is given the space to respond to this article. I know it sounds odd to say 'respond' in relation to an article which is a report rather than an opinion piece but education news reports have become so one-sided and selective in their content (and here I am referring to the media as a whole, not just the Guardian) that articles like this are effectively opinion pieces in that they promote on particular view of the events to which they refer. In addition I would like to know why comments were not enabled for this article, and the contact details of the journalist or member of editorial staff who included the article. The article has no byline, merely saying it came from PA. It is Education Media Watch's policy to engage in a dialogue with journalists and editors when reports like this appear, to point out errors such as those apparent in this article and suggest how they might improve their own and their organisation's coverage of education issues in future. As such I would also like to ask for contact details of the individual responsible for the appearance of this piece such that we can ensure he/she is aware of the issues and able to make better journalistic decisions in the future.

Kind regards,


Natacha Kennedy

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Conservative Party Descends into Barbarism.

Possibly the most illiberal jurisdictions in the world are now North Korea and Wandsworth, south London. Why? They both impose punishments on the families of lawbreakers.

It has been well documented that the world’s only remaining Stalinist government punishes the relatives of those convicted of any crime, imposing terrible hardships and penalties on innocent people. Now Conservative-controlled Wandsworth council has joined Pyongyang in adopting the same approach to unconvicted relatives of criminals. The decision demonstrates how rapidly the Tories have descended into barbarism following the riots earlier this week.

Not only does the imposition of collective punishments go against every pillar of every civilised democracy in the world, but collective punishments have, in the past been shown to have incalculable negative consequences, particularly or those who impose them. For example most historians agree that Hitler’s rise to power was facilitated to a significant extent by the collective punishment imposed on the German people following the first world war.

However the knee-jerk lashing out at the mother of a young boy accused of involvement in the riots by Tory council leader Ravi Govindia is most worrying because it shows how the depth of anger revealed by the rioters is equalled by the viciousness of the Tories as they aim to extract retribution from anyone, for riots which have shown up their government’s policies for the charade they really are.

It is also likely that Mr Govindia is not merely engaging in a rabble-rousing persecution of innocent people however, but is doing what Tories around the country have attempted to criticise everyone else for; playing politics with the situation. It became clear very quickly, following the disturbances, that, other than David Cameron, who has played a bad hand appallingly, the person who has come out of this worst is Boris Johnson. Having gone from looking like a shoe-in for a second term as London Mayor, his appearance on the streets of Clapham has looked like the end of his political career. Here is a man you cannot rely on in a crisis, here is a man who hasn’t got a clue. The race for London Mayor has been thrown wide open once more, it is going to be a great deal closer than expected, it really isn’t looking good for the Tory candidate.

As such Govindia’s plan to evict council tenants who are relatives of people convicted of involvement in the riots does not merely represent a level of barbarity that even the fanatics of the Tea Party have dared to sink to, it represents a cynical attempt to rid London of a few potential Labour voters as his party tries to hold onto the office of Mayor using any dirty tricks it can.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Education Media Watch...?

Welcome to education readers from Twitter. This blog is normally about trans-related issues, but I didn't have anywhere else to post this, so please bear with me, I think this might be quite important and I would invite anyone who cares about education and the damage being done by the "media-Tory complex" to read this...

Natacha


This idea has, up to now, been little more the germ of a thought. Someone on twitter was complaining about things that are said in the media about teachers, I think it was following the publication of the KS2 SATs statistics when the papers spout their usual stuff about... some kids can't read/write etc because they haven't got level 4...etc. So it occurred to me that we should start an Education Media Watch group like the successful Trans Media Watch (TMW) which has worked to improve the portrayal and reporting on trans people & trans issues in the media.

They work by responding to media items about trans people and complaining to the PCC/Ofcom/BBC complaints/individual editors etc. to hold journalists to account. They seem to be steadily changing media portrayals of trans people. It seems that they don't generally do it by open and direct confrontation but by personal contacts and presenting journalists/editors with information and arguments which they might not otherwise consider and being available for them to ask questions.

So maybe Ed Media Watch might be able to do the same in terms of promoting greater respect for teachers, but would probably need to go beyond this and get people working in the media to present stories about education with different perspectives. Too often the government’s line that it is "improving schools by doing x,y or z" is never challenged, or only occasionally so, and then normally only by union leaders. There seems to be a kind of “doxa” in the media that more testing, less teacher autonomy, more privatisation, less teacher training, more discipline, more accountability, more Ofsteds, more phonics...etc, etc, etc is what we need to improve education.

It seems to me that according to this media consensus simply by becoming a teacher you become inherently untrustworthy overnight and need to spend huge amounts of time on accountability activities (in contrast to City types who, despite having bankrupted most of the planet, don't need to be held accountable). It also seems that most people in the media seem to think teachers don’t work hard enough and don’t deserve “long” holidays because we only work 9-3.30 and so more and more burdens are continually placed on us. Have you ever been to a staff meeting where the head has suggested that we do less work?

I think that one of the main reasons that teachers have so consistently been portrayed negatively in the media is

a) to put us on the defensive and

b) to make it appear that ‘something must be done’ to shake up these feckless, lazy and irresponsible teachers.

In many cases these journalists, who are portraying us so badly probably don't know any better and often aren't aware of any alternative arguments or criticisms of these policies, because this media orthodoxy is so ubiquitous.

A really good example of this media consensus was when Matt Damon (yes the Matt Damon Supremacy!) who is the son of a state school teacher in the United States spoke to reporters after his speech at the Save Our Schools rally in Washington DC a few days ago. Even the cameraman somehow quoted at him a figure of 10% of teachers that are incompetent. This figure appears to have been going round media circles in the US yet it is not based on any research. To my knowledge there has been no data compiled on the quality of teachers in the United States, which gives any figure for ‘incompetent’ teachers. Compiling such figures would actually be a huge task involving a large number of observations of lessons, and as far as I know nothing like this has ever been achieved anywhere to date. So where did this figure of 10% that even the cameraman knew about come from? I suspect it came from powerful interests in the media, or large corporate interests, like the Gates Foundation and Newscorp which campaigns to get control of as many schools as possible.

I don't know about you but I have felt, for years now, that whenever any government announces an education policy, its basic premises are almost invariably accepted without question by the media, and these policies have all too often, centered around blaming teachers rather than the system. The journos simply indulge in "churnalism" using government press releases. So my idea would be to promote a set of alternative arguments to each plank of education policy and make that available to journalists together with a means of getting hold of someone to speak about them, give quotes, interviews etc, like Trans Media Watch's Memorandum of Understanding, only probably a bit more complex. Combine this with a response to detrimental comments in the media about teachers, and we have a means of holding journalists to account, or at least letting them know they are "under the eye" and that they may have to deal with a long and tedious exchange of emails if they are not a bit more even-handed.

I guess we would probably have to start by monitoring media output on education as well to see where the biggest problems are occurring. So a group of teachers, likeminded parents (and maybe even the odd lecturer in education like me) getting together to set up some sort of organisation to do this would probably be the best way to start It looks like teacher/journalist Phil Beadle is interested and it may be a good idea to involve those nice people at Local Schools Network and maybe even potentially friendly journalists like Mike Baker.

I suppose initially we need to get started with some sort of strategy because we are not going to be able to deal with the huge amounts of education-related articles in the media all at once, so it may be that we have to think about dealing with certain elements of education reporting first or certain media organisations first. Trans Media Watch started by getting C4, New Statesman and the Guardian onside and then the Independent and now the BBC appear to be cautiously coming round. With the BBC’s charter requirement to maintain balance in its broadcasts, that may be a good place to start…

Anyway, any thoughts about how to proceed would be appreciated, I really only thought of this a couple of days ago so. In the meantime I will try and pick the brains of the founder of Trans Media Watch, the wonderful Jennie Kermode, who has, following the success of TMW, been advising trans groups in other countries on how to set up their own TMWs, and also other types of groups in the UK; apparently there is now a Disability Media Watch and an Islamic Media Watch, representing groups that are misrepresented by the media. Use the hashtag #emw.

Natacha Kennedy. London. 4 Aug 2011

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Yet another nail in the coffin of Rad Fem transphobia.

It is not as if the transphobic “Radical” Feminists need any more discrediting, “Rad Fem Hub” has done that job already. Sheila Jeffries’ transphobic rant has even raised questions of the sanity of those involved. Indeed her rant effectively marks the nadir of a campaign of hatred, which has seen many low points and has rarely climbed out of the sewers. Gendertrender's blog which reads like carpet chewing fascism has even tried to 'out' trans people by recording and searching the IP addresses of those who post on her vile blog, something which could endanger trans people's lives.

Indeed the well-known incitement to hate-crime, which Janice Raymond wrote back in 1979 set a low tone which subsequent equally transphobic rants adopted, based on conjecture and supposition rather than evidence or empirical research.

Once of those pieces of conjecture and theorising has formed the Rad Fem article of faith that, since girls are brought up to have lower self-esteem than boys by a sexist and misogynistic society, transwomen can never be real women. The fact that, despite this theory being around for quite some time, it has never been tested through research, suggests that, despite the Rad Fem hatred of transwomen being largely centred on this, the Rad Fems had little confidence in their own arguments.

Now, however, this crucial supposition has been tested empirically. A Swiss study, carried out in the US has shown that girls and women between the ages of 14 and 30 have no difference in their levels of self-esteem than males of the same age. Indeed the only differences in self-esteem were found to be culturally dependent rather than dependent on gender.

In other words, girls do not end up with lower self-esteem than boys as a result of their upbringing. One of the central arguments of Rad Fem transphobia has been comprehensively undermined. The entire theoretical basis for their hatred has been shown through empirical research, to be based on false premises.

This is not to suggest that I expect them to stop hating trans people. Their hatred has clearly become emotionally-based. It is as if Rad Fem transphobia has taken on the characteristics of a religion. The fact that the devil has been proven not to exist will not alter their beliefs that transwomen are evil.

One suspects they will scrape around to find some other theory, this time one which they hope will be impossible to disprove through empirical research. Meanwhile they sideline themselves as the rest of the world, especially other women, increasingly view them as some kind of eccentric cult which security services ought to keep half an eye on...

Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch & the New Education "Reformers"

If you read any of the right-wing press in the US it would appear that the people who know the most about education are not teachers, educationists or parents but billionnaires. Billionnaires have been getting involved in education "reform" in a supposed effort to "transform" American schools.

However his latest pronouncement, that schools can improve educational outcomes even when its pupils come from a poor socioeconomic background, suggests that he is getting desperate. I suspect he would like it to be true, but he needs to face facts, it is never going to be true. The biggest single determinant of educational failure is poverty. You can control for all other variables and find schools able to educate children regardless or ethnicity, religion, disability etc, but when you look at poverty, there is a particularly high correlation, which no education system has been able to change.

One can understand Gates's position; he is a very rich person. He woud like to believe two things; that his success is not down to his own good fortune for being born in the right bed, and that he is not rich becaiuse others are poor. In other words the billionnaires's refrain that the educational cart can be put before the horse is personal. It is about assuageing their own guilt, it is about making them feel that they became rich entirely deservedly and not because of any amount of good luck. It is also about trying to promote the ideology of the rich that the poor are only poor because of their fecklessness and laziness.

So the failed 20-year involvement of the very rich in schools in the United States is, underliying the need of the wealthy for personal justification, ideological. It is about trying to justify their own "success" and justify their oppression of the poor. Oppression which includes not paying their taxes

The problem is that right-wing billionnaires like Gates are able to shout louder when it comes to just about anything. They can both control and hog the media, and the constant repetition of this ideological position results in it being taken as self-evident, in the way Dr Goebbels constant repitition of lies made them "true".

Bill Gates used to be at the vanguard of a new age; whether or not you hate Microsoft, it was his operating system that made computers and the internet accessible to us all, and which initially helped enable the exponential generative growth of online and offline resources. However he has now become just another sad right-wing billionnaire, misusing his wealth to oppress the poor and disempower others.

Gates is part of a movement of right-wing ideologues, many of whom are very rich, who want to control education and force teachers to work in ways they think are best, even though they have never taught a class themselves in their lives. Why large amounts of money makes them "experts" on education is a question none of them have answered. Another of these right-wing ideologues with too much money is Rupert Murdoch, who is getting involved in education through the UK's right-wing education minister; Michael Gove. This is quite frankly alarming; after we have seen the way in which he runs his newspapers, one has to fear for any children who end up in Murdoch High School.

However Murdoch is not just getting involved in education in the standard way, sponsoring "Free" or "charter" schools like Gates and others; he is making "educational" softeware which will result in teachers having even less freedom to teach and making lessons even more boring and repetitive for children. The problem for rich oligarchs like Gates and Murdoch is that their "reforms" can only be implemented by destroying teachers' professional abilities. Their solutions all involve a high degree of centralisation and an excessive amount of testing, leaving teachers with little or no opportunity to exercise their professionalism as educators to benefit the children they teach.

Their educational ideology been shown to fail; schools in many parts of the US including New York and Wisconsin have had the ologarch's kind of education system for many years and have conspicuously failed to deliver the reform or "transformation" they have told us it can. Nonetheless they want to import it to the UK. It will be another expensive failure.

Yet there is an alternative; the education system in Finland works without any testing at all, it emphasises teachers' professionalism and trains them very highly, giving them the tools for the job they do and allowing them to get on with it. And it has worked. Finland's economy went from being almost exclusively reliant on timber in the 1970s to being a high-tech industrial/post-industrial economy today, thanks to its education system. It produces more patents per head of population than any other country in the world, and has a population which has been described as one of the most creatively entreprenurial on the planet.

Schools can do fine in terms of educating children without making them the playthings of the very rich and their lackeys on the political righ. It is time to say No to centralisation of schools, No to more testing and No to the failed policies of Murdoch, Gates and Gove. All we need them to do is shut up and pay their taxes.