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British values for toddlers? The fine line between stupid and, uh, clever

After approximately five minute in her new job, Nicky Morgan has managed to float an idea so resoundingly idiotic that it almost deserves applause for effort.

In a consultation document published today, the Minister for Education suggests that local authorities should strip funding for early years childcare provision if the provider does not adequately teach ‘British values.’

This, of course, demands to be mocked and parodied. My instantaneous reaction on Twitter was to say “My 6 year old is at playscheme today. If he doesn’t come home wanting to conquer Ireland and shout at foreigners I’m reporting them to Nicky Morgan.”

Even the Guardian’s explanatory note that this would include such topics as ‘liberty and democracy’ doesn’t help. Believe me, as someone who has helped a couple of kids traverse a route out of babyhood and toddlerdom, the last thing you want to teach them about is liberty. The world is a benign dictatorship until your kids are at least five (but ideally about 27.)

Once I’d stopped swinging wildly between hilarity and despair, I popped over to the consultation document to have a look for myself. And you know what? Brace yourself, but there’s a germ of something not too silly in there. As the great philosophers once said, it’s a fine line between stupid and, uh, clever.

The relevant section of the document describes ‘exempt childcare providers’ as those:

which the local authority has reasonable grounds to believe—

(aa) does not actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; or

(bb) promotes, as evidence-based, views and theories which are contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations;

Now, let’s clear the stupid out of the way first. It is highly inaccurate and (let’s be kind) a bit xenophobic to describe belief in democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and all the rest as ‘British values.’ Most of them are originally Greek values, come to think of it, the remainder are shared by the overwhelming majorities of cultures on Earth. In an accompanying statement the DfE said early years education providers “will be expected to teach children about fundamental British values in an age-appropriate way. For children in the early years, this will be about learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes.” Because filthy foreign kids don’t learn any of that stuff, right? Damn it, they barely know how to queue.

Describing these values as ‘British’ is a dogwhistle revelation of the thinking behind this clause. The government is (or wants to appear to be) worried that it might find itself funding a creche run by some Abu Hamza-type radical who is ta king taxpayers’ cash to indoctrinate tiny kids into extremist beliefs.

As Beatrice Merrick, the chief executive of the British Association for Early Childhood Education noted “there is no evidence of extremist values being promoted in nurseries anywhere – not Islamic ones, at least.

However, strip away the nonsense about Britishness, and this would be rather a welcome change. It would prevent religious groups of all flavours – including Christians – accessing early years grant funding in order to run Bible classes or the equivalent, or to operate under an ethos of bigotry. While the proposed rules may look to be targetting those from non-white, non-Christian communities, I could easily imagine that those falling foul of these provisions (notably the ‘bb’ section) may turn out to be evangelical Christians.

It is rather ironic that including the rather redundant words about ‘British values’ Morgan will win the admiration of the conservative right and the ire of the radical left, but if adopted, the measures would be likely to create a welcome safeguard for secularism  and may one day end up with the Daily Mail bleating about persecuted Christians not even being allowed to teach kids that the world is 4,000 years old and that the gays will burn in hell.

It is indeed a fine line between stupid and clever.

 

Comments

  1. Pen says

    I find the term ‘British values’ pretty offensive. It’s nearly as bad as when they start bragging about ‘Christian values’ and it turns out to mean, you know, being a reasonably decent person – carrying the implication that non-Christian people aren’t. I actually wonder if they’ve cottoned on to the fact that we don’t like hearing about ‘Christian values’ and decided to use ‘British’ as a substitute. Thing is, I find misguided patriotism just as revolting as unsolicited religion, and quite a few of us around here are ambivalent about our Britishness anyway. Why insult us by suggesting a bunch of perfectly reasonable ideas are specifically British. It’s got nothing to do with their inherent value anyway. And as you joked, we might be confused as to what British values actually consist of, based on observation. Stick to the list of specific things you want to promote, government, that’s my advice.

  2. lelapaletute says

    Yup, if they just ditch the ‘British values’ reference then that’s a thoroughly unobjectionable policy, actually. Although if applied across the educational board, would probably scupper funding for most religious schooling of any kind. I might even be willing to swallow ‘British values’ if that were the intention, end justifying means etc.

  3. Thil says

    I suspect your rightin this case but in the abstract I don’t see that calling something a “british value” necessarily implies that it’s unique to Britain. I mean I would say that forgiveness is one of “my values” but that doesn’t mean I believe that no one else in the world believes in forgiving people

  4. Adiabat says

    I agree with Thil. I think people are reading implications into the term that aren’t intended.

    And I’m not certain why, but I’m a little disconcerted about the phrase “contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations”. I understand the intention behind it (to prevent holocaust denial and creationism being taught), but for some reason things like the Hillsborough disaster keep flashing up in my mind. I don’t like the idea of giving the government additional powers to silence groups who disagree with their version of events.

  5. Ally Fogg says

    Adiabat / Thil

    I’d ask yourself what meaning the word ‘British’ carries in that clause of the document?

    If they mean ‘values which are considered important but of course are considered just as important in any other culture’ then why include it at all?

    I’d suggest it can only be there to differentiate ‘our’ values from some unnamed ‘other’ culture which is assumed not to share them.

    As for the other point, to be honest I’m not sure why anyone would or should be teaching pre-school kids about Hillsborough anyway! But the important thing to note is that this is not about legal bans on any kind of teaching, it is about saying what the state ./ taxpayer will or will not pay for.

    So while it is reasonable to say that the government should not be dictating what is or is not ‘state-endorsed knowledge’ about matters of religion, politics, etc, I don’t think it is unreasonable for the state to draw a line under what will or will not be eligible for state funding.

  6. daveallen says

    I’d ask yourself what meaning the word ‘British’ carries in that clause of the document?

    Is marketability meaning?

  7. daveallen says

    I mean, it’s probably an attempt to head the likes of Baroness Warsi off at the pass, innit?

  8. Kevin Kehres says

    The only thing that comes to mind is a Monty Python sketch with the oh-so-stiff-upper-lip headmaster teaching the boys how to be proper soccer hooligans — or how to do a human sacrifice in true Druid manner.

  9. Ally Fogg says

    Yep. If there were still such a thing as a topical comedy sketch show they could have an absolute ball with this one, trying to teach British values to a bunch of three year-olds with crayons stuck up their nostrils.

  10. TMK says

    It is highly inaccurate and (let’s be kind) a bit xenophobic to describe belief in democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and all the rest as ‘British values.’

    Only if you read it these values are British as opposed to British values are like this. Aka as >British values onlyalso British values<.

    Now, i am not British, but isnt the later true?

    Most of them are originally Greek values

    That is debatable. I mean, Greeks understanding of democracy and individual liberty is far away from ours, rule of law was more of a roman thing, and tolerance, well, they killed Socrates for blasphemy.

    For children in the early years, this will be about learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes.

    Yeah, if you get a child to a childcare provider that actively opposes that values, they would have more trouble acting that way later on.

    Because filthy foreign kids don’t learn any of that stuff, right?

    That is not something that intrinsically follow from your previous quotes.

    Describing these values as ‘British’ is a dogwhistle revelation of the thinking behind this clause.

    And that is likely true, that British Values is a code word. So, i actually agree with you, its just that your initial criticism was not based on what you quoted, which would make someone who is not already convinced alienated to your conclusion.

  11. 123454321 says

    I’m not getting this at all. Perhaps it doesn’t help that I’ve just consumed a bottle of finest.

    Aren’t ‘values’ a natural attribute to any closed community which has goals and objectives surrounding economic or competition-driven desires? Without ‘values’ there is limited purpose, and that surely must affect behaviour and results, whether that be for a business or a Government-led country (which is nothing less than a glorified, giant business). Having ‘values’ is meaningful, isn’t it? I wouldn’t like to attend a school with no values. I wouldn’t like to have parents with no values. I wouldn’t like to hang around with buddies with no values. I wouldn’t like to have kids with no values and I wouldn’t like to live in a country with no values.

    Everyone and everything should have values, shouldn’t they? What’s wrong with a county having values? What’s wrong with British values? Would Britain be a better or worse place without values? Kids learn 90% of their lifetime values by the time they’re five.

    So I don’t get it, but perhaps I will by tomorrow morning…..

  12. Pen says

    @12

    What’s wrong with British values? Would Britain be a better or worse place without values?

    There are no values British people learn by the time they are five or twenty-five that aren’t widespread throughout the western world. Very few of the ones they learn are held universally in Britain, even if you care to look just at people of long-term British ancestry. And along with all that, not every single one of even the most widespread ones is remotely laudable or fit to be encouraged. Frankly, values painfully similar to the ones the government wants to discourage in religious teaching, especially if it’s non-Christian, are pretty widespread. The idea is to promote better ones as much as possible, to everyone.

    Kids learn 90% of their lifetime values by the time they’re five.

    Citation needed.

  13. brucegee1962 says

    @13:

    There are no values British people learn by the time they are five or twenty-five that aren’t widespread throughout the western world.

    Erm. So then the people who wrote this would say, “Fine — we’ll just substitute the word “western” for the word “British.”

    Which pretty much does nothing to solve the problem, right?

    Let’s just run a highlighter over the idea that it’s those swarthy, inscrutable easterners that this is aimed at. Come to think of it, wasn’t “The Pre-school of Fu Manchu” one of Sax Rohmer’s better efforts?

  14. Schala says

    There are no values British people learn by the time they are five or twenty-five that aren’t widespread throughout the western world. Very few of the ones they learn are held universally in Britain, even if you care to look just at people of long-term British ancestry.

    There’s always the importance of tea time. And generally liking tea over coffee.

    Never understood why “tea parties” was an *american* and *little girl* thing, when it seems *everyone* in Britain, in TV shows and movies, drinks tea at certain times, in certain ways. While few in the US seem to drink tea in comparison.

    Of course, they probably pale in comparison to China, India and Japan, who made complicated tea ceremonies long before British people even heard of tea.

  15. Jacob Schmidt says

    I suspect your rightin this case but in the abstract I don’t see that calling something a “british value” necessarily implies that it’s unique to Britain.

    Not necessarily, but, implications being heavily context dependent, that’s a rather trivial statement.

    Generally speaking, “nation’s values” is xenophobic. Scaremongering about communists, atheists, jews, muslims, christians, westerners, etc, often follows from such phrasing.

  16. Pen says

    There’s always the importance of tea time. And generally liking tea over coffee.

    Schala just excluded me in my own country!!!! Ally, do something!!

  17. Lucy says

    “Most of them [democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs] are originally Greek values, come to think of it, the remainder are shared by the overwhelming majorities of cultures on Earth.”

    It doesn’t matter what they were originally, but the Greeks didn’t believe in individual liberty or tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs, they persecuted people with different faiths and beliefs and they maintained a slave economy in which women and children and captives were not citizens.

    And they aren’t shared by the overwhelming majority of cultures on earth, they are actually relatively rare.

  18. Lucy says

    Pen: “I find the term ‘British values’ pretty offensive. It’s nearly as bad as when they start bragging about ‘Christian values’ and it turns out to mean, you know, being a reasonably decent person – carrying the implication that non-Christian people aren’t. ”

    It doesn’t imply that at all. It implies that we have our own cultural mores that operate within our own culture.

  19. Lucy says

    What you fail to account for Ally Fogg, is that there is already a central, (politically ideological) curriculum for nursery children designed by the Labour government which stresses diversity and multiculturalism. The Tories, not surprisingly in the aftermath of the failures of that approach, and in light of growing international pressure on Britain to tackle its unique capacity amongst countries of the western world to produce people who threaten international security, wish to stress cohesiveness and mono-culturalism. If you’re going to be in fits of giggles over one, then be consistent.

    http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110113104120/http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/earlyyears

  20. Lucy says

    Pen: “There are no values British people learn by the time they are five or twenty-five that aren’t widespread throughout the western world. ”

    They aren’t talking about nurseries run by people from the western world, Pen. The concern is Islamic nurseries and schools and Islamic organisations in Universities operating on principles of gender discrimination, teaching creationism, promoting religious sectarianism and religious-supremacism, anti-western and anti-democratic sentiment.

    I don’t know whether the government is making as assessment that this is a genuine issue now, whether they are making the assessment on advice that there is a demographic time-bomb in the next 20-30 years and are taking preventative action, or whether this is a reaction to the Trojan Horse scandal where for a number of years Ofsted failed to take appropriate action and Head Teachers felt unable to and so additional guidance is now required. A good journalist, one who won’t let his (or her) own politics get in the way, will find out I’m sure.

  21. Adiabat says

    Ally (6):

    I’d ask yourself what meaning the word ‘British’ carries in that clause of the document?

    Longstanding values established in British law and custom and/or Values which our state wishes all people residing in Britain to adopt.

    That’s such an obvious reading I’m surprised you missed it. And as you can see, there’s no logical reason why other cultures can’t have similar values.

    I don’t even consider your reading to be a reasonable interpretation. It’s far-fetched and requires one to assume, a priori, that the person using the term is being racist, in order to conclude that they are being racist.

    I don’t think it is unreasonable for the state to draw a line under what will or will not be eligible for state funding.

    I agree, yet I think it’s reasonable to criticise where that line is drawn. I’d rather the proposals explicitly state what they will and not fund, rather than use such language that enables this or any future government to de-fund (essentially the same as ban for any non-rich citizens who can’t afford home-schooling or private education) any views they disagree with.

  22. Ally Fogg says

    Longstanding values established in British law and custom and/or Values which our state wishes all people residing in Britain to adopt.

    I think that ‘and/or’ in there is really interesting, Adiabat.

    I think most people would agree with your first part: ‘Longstanding values established in British law and custom.’

    In fact, I would dispute that this is an accurate description of some of the traits they list – things like “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” or “challenging negative stereotypes” are actually pretty new, historically, and it is highly questionable the extent to which a majority of the population buys into them.

    I think what is really interesting is the idea that British values might be those which ‘our state wishes all people to adopt.’

    I don’t doubt that this is how politicians’ minds work, but is it entirely unproblematic? I don’t think so. I have a real problem with the notion that the government of the day can decide what British values should be and then set policies to attempt to inculcate them. Don’t you?

  23. Adiabat says

    Ally (24):

    In fact, I would dispute that this is an accurate description of some of the traits they list – things like “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” or “challenging negative stereotypes” are actually pretty new, historically

    We’re not doing too badly on “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”: Catholics and Protestants have got along for a while (in Britain anyway) and we’ve had a sizeable Jewish population for a while now. Even Islam was having an easy time before the rise of Radical Islam, which is maybe pushing this tolerance to the limit.

    I agree “challenging negative stereotypes” is very new, but it ‘feels’ old, if that makes sense. Maybe because it’s very ubiquitous. (This one’s not in the list provided in the OP. Is this value in the original document?)

    and it is highly questionable the extent to which a majority of the population buys into them

    I have more faith in the population. I’d say most people hold the same values as those given in the OP, but maybe not to the extreme level that the Guardian would prefer.

    I don’t doubt that this is how politicians’ minds work, but is it entirely unproblematic? I don’t think so. I have a real problem with the notion that the government of the day can decide what British values should be and then set policies to attempt to inculcate them. Don’t you?

    See the last paragraph of my last post; I’m not a big fan of each new government pushing their own views on everyone. What I’m wondering is whether you had the same problem when Labour was pushing multiculturalism?

    I think the main difference is that the majority would agree with the values being peddled in the OP document, or with the idea that more people should adopt them. They are, beyond the odd quibble, values which have governed the zeitgeist of this country for a while and made it into the liberal democracy it is today. If we agree, for the sake of argument, that there is no racism intended in the term ‘British Values’, do you object to any of them? Do you object to the idea that people who don’t hold those values should be encouraged to adopt them?

  24. Ally Fogg says

    I’m afraid we can’t agree, even for the sake of argument, that there is no racism intended in the term ‘British values.’

    Racism (albeit of a very subtle, dogwhistle flavour) is the only possible purpose I can see for that phrase being there.

  25. Kevin Kehres says

    Ally is totally correct. The term was intended to mean “white upper-class male non-immigrant Christian softened by Enlightenment” values.

    It’s a dog whistle for the privileged. Xenophobia at its absolute finest.

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