Personal experiences of PC in education

The state of education across the world

Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Nathan » 18 Dec 2012, 11:58

(Gavin, I've noticed the thread on a 1970s grammar school education but this is a big enough deviation that to me it merits its own thread - feel free to move if you disagree.)

I was speaking to a lady at church on Sunday who happily told me that her son's school nativity play included Malawian songs and some kind of Polish traditions she didn't quite understand. I didn't tell her what I thought of it leaving the children confused as to the heritage of the country they'll likely be spending their whole lives in because it was clear she wouldn't see my point of view, but came up with this idea for a thread to discuss political correctness in schools, either from experience as a pupil, teacher or parent. I'm interested in particular in finding out how far back it goes.

I was born in 1984. I went to a small village primary school, which was 100% white English-speaking, and an all-boys' grammar school, probably 95-96% white but homogenous enough for there to have been no kind of ethnic tension.

All the way through primary school I had female teachers every year - the only man I remember in the entire school was the caretaker - and it was clear some of them didn't like boys (the fact that the class was probably 60-65% girls probably didn't help). It may just have been my perception but I remember a strong female bias towards some of the activities we did, like sewing, PE lessons consisting of dancing, or arts and crafts lessons being taken up by making Valentine's cards. Aside from the fact that girls were allowed to play on both the netball and football (a concession taken up by only one girl) teams while boys were only allowed to play football (likewise girls were allowed to join the Cub Scouts or the Brownies while we only had the choice of the former), the one thing which stood out at the time as not quite right was the sports day in my last year, which would have been 1995.

We had a sprint race, and I came second. One of the helpers gave me a 'silver medal', only a cheap round piece of cardboard with some silver foil around it and a ribbon to put it around your neck, but it seemed like a nice add-on. When I noticed that everybody else had been given an identical one as well though, regardless of whether they came first or last, my instinctive reaction even at age 11 was that mine was made meaningless as it was now no measure of having achieved anything - I threw it away.

On to grammar school, where there were still quite a lot of older teachers with old-fashioned methods who'd been at the school 20+ years - many had also been there as pupils. Roughly 80-90% of the teachers were male - when I started it had only been about ten years since the school had had its first female member of staff. We had a borderline psychopathic Latin teacher who could be perfectly affable on occasion but used to keep order by shouting right in people's faces and throwing board rubbers or even chairs at anybody who misbehaved (and who died of a heart attack at barely 60 years old two years after taking early retirement). The headmaster wore a gown to do morning assembly and still kept a cane on display in his office some years after using it had been banned. Until about 1998 our assemblies had compulsory hymn practice for which we were all issued with hymn books.

As for PC, I remember RE was the worst culprit. Even though practically everybody was from a Christian or post-Christian background all religions were given almost equal coverage regardless of their impact on our history and culture. A lot of what we did had the most tenuous link to actual religious beliefs and heritage and very little substance. One thing which I knew was unnecessary was how a lesson in forgiveness turned into a hagiographic project about Nelson Mandela and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. One sign of how uninteresting it was to us was that nobody at all chose to do the subject for A-level.

English Literature was also infested with PC thinking. It was the National Curriculum more so than the teachers themselves, but some the poems I remember having to study for GCSE were not from any of the giants of our literary canon like Wordsworth or Keats or Thomas Hardy but translated poems written by Masai warriors or poems written by writers I'd never heard of in the West Indies - nothing to do with our own literary traditions at all.

Likewise, I studied History all the way to A-level and never once covered the likes of Nelson or Wellington or the origins of our legal and political systems. Studying the British Empire consisted of one single lesson debating its pros and cons. I also did A-level Geography, and had an old-school teacher who used to lament the decline in standards and regularly say how 'nobody can be allowed to fail these days', and who used to give us old O-level papers as A-level practice (and which were really difficult!). I left school before Citizenship classes were introduced so can't say what they were like.

Overall, compared to most people my age who I speak to I think I got a very good state education, which leads me to wonder just how bad the bad schools are, not only in PC madness but low standards and the removal of anything seen to be too difficult.
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Elliott » 18 Dec 2012, 13:37

That's an interesting post, Nathan.

Let me say first that your experience of the gender of teachers closely matches my own. There was only one male teacher at my primary school, and I was never taught by him. Then at secondary school there was a fairly even mix of male and female teachers.

It sounds like your education was more academically-rigorous than mine (there were no Latin teachers at my school, for example, and I really wanted to take that subject!) but also more PC.

Scotland has always had "its own identity" to distinguish it from the normal British identity (namely English). As a result, I think Scotland got away with a certain insularity for a while. We would be taught Robert Burns poems and read books like The Boy With the Bronze Axe (set in Skara Brae). I think there was a slight sense that we had to repair/defend our own Scottish identity which would otherwise be drowned out by England and America.

But England doesn't have that defence, and it certainly didn't in the '80s and '90s. I don't remember anyone talking about preserving English identity until just a few years ago. So it makes sense that, without a concern for its own identity, England was more vulnerable to PC/multicultural education. (It's also a far more multicultural society than Scotland, of course.)

If it's any consolation, I think Scotland has now well and truly jumped on the PC/MC bandwagon, so it's catching up with the self-hatred that England's schools have been teaching for years.

With regard to examples of PC in my own education, this is a little tricky for me because I was never a typical boy. I hated football, indeed all sports, but I loved sewing, making things and writing stories. In fact it was when making things became quite masculine (planning, designing, perspective drawing etc.) that I immediately lost interest in it because there was no spontaneity any more! In a less PC age (say, the 1950s), I would have been barred from the sewing classes and forced into football etc., and I would have hated that. So you could say I benefited from PC, at least while at primary school, because it allowed me to do things boys used to be barred from. I remember my father hated that I loved sewing, weaving and patchwork etc. He said schools shouldn't teach boys sewing because "it turns them into sissies". And that was an ignorant comment, because we have always had male tailors, just as we've always had male chefs. On this I would say only that most boys are not going to enjoy sewing, but that doesn't mean there needs to be a rule about it. Education should be flexible. If a young boy is prepared to be taught in a roomful of girls and take any stick for it in the playground, then just let him.

But, still, I am strongly opposed to PC when it incurs on the academic side of things. It pains me to hear about "New History" and "Ethnic Maths" or whatever the name was, because you just know that some leftie intellectual has cooked it up to confuse people and reinvent the West via its children, and the teaching will be inherently fatuous because it has a political agenda.

Thankfully, most of my teachers at school (both primary and secondary) were quite old-fashioned. A lot of them retired just a few years after I had them, so they were pretty dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists. This was good because they were better at teaching, more thorough, than the younger teachers. I noticed that the younger teachers were less interested in their subjects and were very into "discussion", which sounded good except that you didn't learn much.

My favourite subject at secondary school was Religious Studies. However, I have to admit that we hardly focused on Christianity at all, but rather on Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. This was part of the reinvention of Religious Studies as a non-prescriptive subject that didn't "teach" people to be religious (Christian) but instead taught them quite objectively about the world's major religions, as a matter of curiosity rather than instruction. I think it was necessary for RE to be reinvented like this because, in an increasingly Atheistic society, parents were objecting to the idea of their children being force-fed Christianity like they had been 30 years before. Again, my father showed an out-of-date attitude to the subject, always referring to it by the name he had known "Religious Instruction" and struggling to grasp that I wasn't being "instructed"! In fact it was a very open subject. Its full name was RMPS - religious, moral and philosophical studies - which indicates how little time there would be for any special focus on Christianity, even if such a focus existed, which it didn't. At the time, I liked that, because I wanted all the other stuff and I was curious about other religions. But now I wish I had been taught more about Christianity. For example, I actually didn't know what distinguished Catholicism from Protestantism until a few years ago, which is quite astonishing.

I would say the place where PC really came into my secondary education was in the subject of History. I will never tire of repeating the fact that, in all my 17 years of education (primary, secondary, college, university), the British Empire was never mentioned. I never cease to be startled by that. The British Empire was at its height in 1925, yet a British kid starting school in Britain just 60 years later would never be taught a single thing about it. That is a breathtaking speed of change in a society.

But really, my complaints about my education relate more to the lack of academic rigor than to political correctness. I think I escaped PC, whether because it hadn't quite reached Scotland by 1994 (when I started secondary school) or because my teachers were of another age. They were certainly hamstrung by a debased and restrictive curriculum, but I don't think many of them had much time for PC.

The main problem with my education, and this ruined RMPS as much as any other subject, was being taught with kids who were less academic and much, much less engaged with the subject. The teaching was necessarily lowered to their level, and the more able kids learned very little. This happened with every subject I studied, with the single exception of Maths where I was decidedly average. But I should have learned so much more about history, religion, philosophy, art history and English... it's sad to think of the waste. You could say that PC was responsible for that, in that the school catered to all levels. In a less PC age I would have been sent to a grammar school.

It gets worse, though. I have no doubt that my secondary school has turned a lot more PC in the 12 years since I left it, especially in the arena of English teaching. It is astonishing to see people taught 10 years after me, who are very intelligent, but who don't know how to spell the word "speech". Apparently they are now told by the English teachers that spelling and punctuation "don't matter".
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Podori » 18 Dec 2012, 14:31

I can share some anecdotes.

In my elementary school German class we wrote a vocabulary test. I got one word wrong but the student next to me failed utterly - two correct words out of 20. Both of our test papers had the same comment written in red at the top of the page: Good try! with a condescending exclamation point.

When I was attending middle school our English teacher told us that everyone in the class was equally intelligent. Her words were: "No one here is smarter than anyone else. You are all intelligent in different ways."

My high school social studies teacher taught us a superficial lesson (it goes without saying) on the cultures of Africa by having us look up African recipes online, cook them at home and bring them in to share with the class. I remember most of the food being either badly cooked to the point of being inedible or Westernised to the point that an African wouldn't recognise it. My dish of seasoned bananas certainly was. It didn't help that the class was at the end of the school day, so all the food had cooled down and congealed in its plastic containers. The teacher tried to microwave the containers but, as it happens, the heat was unevenly distributed in the food and you took alternating bites of disgustingly cold meat and piping hot vegetables.

In all my 12 years of public education we were not taught Greek philosophy, the Roman Empire or the Bible. We did, however, study Japanese Shinto and Chinese lunar new year traditions, and we went on a visit to the city Chinatown. We had lunch at a large Chinese restaurant. The tone of the meal took a sharp turn for the worse when one of the students found unpleasant animal parts in her bowl of rice.

We studied the biographies of the emperors of Brazil in greater depth than the kings and queens of England. The Dom Pedros took precedence over the Edwards, Williams, Henrys, Richards, Marys, Elizabeths and Georges.

As a teacher in Korea - it was this year, in fact - I had a very public argument with one of my colleagues about our English lessons. (My colleage is co-ordinator of our professional development program.) For one of our training seminars he had provided us with guidelines that advised us to make English class fun and relevant to the students. In my feedback form, which was published online, I criticised this approach because, firstly, languages take a lot of work to learn and it cannot be fun every day, if at all. (I have observed that no one has fun getting to grips with English spelling and, most despised of all, irregular verbs.) Secondly, I told him that the relevance of the English we taught was not important. Our students were still young and immature and they could not be expected to grasp the relevance of their lessons with so little world experience to inform them. I told him that transmitting knowledge, not fun or relevance, was the key to providing high quality teaching.

His answer was that educators who emphasised knowledge above other aspects of learning would fail their students. He preferred to teach his classes in such a way that would engender healthy attitudes in his students and prepare them to build a healthy society. I answered that knowledge was necessary for any healthy society and our role was to teach the English language, not to socially engineer our classes in a country where we were guests. He did not like that.
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Damo » 18 Dec 2012, 16:27

In my niece's school, they've had Polish day and Africa day but dropped celebrating St Patrick's day.
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Paul » 19 Dec 2012, 00:51

How utterly shocking and disconcerting. Grotesque even.

Sorry about the delay on the other thread. I've been busy and what with the time of year also. I'll get back to it asap.

I reckon it was the norm back in the 60s and 70s and even earlier, for primary school teachers to be predominantly female. As mentioned, at my infant school (a separate school for the first 3 years of education), all 3 teachers - which included the headmistress who taught full-time - were female. At junior school, there were 3 female teachers and one male teacher. There was also a remedial class run by a female teacher and the head was male and didn't generally teach all the time, but could do sometimes.

I never got any sense that the female teachers didn't like boys. Not once, not at all. That's not to say they didn't like girls either. They quite obviously liked all children, insofar as they had chosen to make a career out of being with them for the next 40 years plus. They could be strict of course but there was never a shred of real malice towards anyone. That would be unthinkable and very difficult indeed for any child to deal with, surely?

I think it's ultra-disturbing to say (and presuming it's true) that school-teachers actively dislike an entire set of puils. Moreover that it's the female ones that are the ones doing the disliking. This is topsy-turvy in itself as regards very broad views about the capabilities of each sex. Females are (or were, or should be) less likely to be biased in any way and are capable of more empathy. And of course when the target is the entire opposite gender ........ it sounds like a futuristic vision of some insane society gone sour.

Is it really this bad now? Or is there a degree of your own perception of this .... which may well be subliminally influenced by other biases you may have noticed creeping into society?

As it happens I believe all you say and I don't think you're imagining it. I'm just trying to find excuses as to how this could be a possibility, so as to shy away from the harsh reality.

What a terrible scenario and recipe for utter disaster.
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Yessica » 17 May 2013, 08:41

I'd like to answer your question too. Like you I am a child of the 80s, but was born in Germany (in the GDR, which however did not exist any longer when I went to school).

I received religious education in both primary and secondary school. In primary school it focused on the teachings of the bible and staying on the straight and narrow. We also learned religious songs. Native ones as well as
German versions of English songs such as "Does your anchor hold?" and a song I believed to be called kumbayamaloht at this time. (Later I realized that the song was English and the text "Come by here my Lord").
The students were made attend church services on Sunday (unless the parents signed a paper stating that they did not bring them up Christian). Also they were made help their neighbours as a religious duty. Thus we were made collect old bottles and bring them to the recycling station, help plant a community garden and so on.

In secondary school I had an religious education teacher who was an atheist, which made things very complicated. We did not really learn anything. Instead he made us discuss things such as the allegory of the cave. Could have been interesting if we were older and smarter, but we were to young to my mind. We still were to attend church services but only once a month (we had a little booklet, were we collected the signatures of the pators). We also helped arrange church services in our auditorium on special occasions such as the end of the school year (nearly all of the christian students in our school were members of the mainline protestant "evangelical Church in Germany", which does not believe a religious service must be hold in a church).

Few students were roman catholics and they were teased as saint worshippers and popist. I always wondered why it was okay to tease roman catholics but not okay to tease other faithes.

We learned some pc dogmas (as I call it today) such as that minorities are never to blame for anything. For example we learned that it was okay for immigrants to be unable to speak basic German after twenty years of living here, because foreign languages were hard to master. Yet we had to master Latin, English and Acient Greek in much shorter time. I think it's quite funny my school expelled German students for poor mastery of Latin, yet did not expel immigrants, who did not master our language.
(Today my school has

While all our teachers were white, we learned about unearned "white privilege", "middle class privilege" and so on. For example we learned people who went to the opera were pretty privileged and that it was a bad thing. My parents like the opera and I felt deeply ashamed because of it. That is what I do not get: isn't privilege supposed to be some kind of advantage? When you are ashamed what does it make a privilege?

Unlike you we learned something about the British empire, but we learned it was a very bad thing.

We learned that the only reason for well-off people to be rich is the fact that they cheat. For example in fourth grade we had to read a story about a rich farmer who employed a day laborer. The farmer however did not pay him as well as he promised.
We were asked how we felt about that story. I wrote that I did not understand the day laborer. Why did he not go to court? After all there must have been some kind of contract. I got a failing grade. The only right way to feel was to feel deeply sorry.

One of our teachers was a feminist. She held the opinion that boys were not intelectually on par with girls and also said so in class. Nobody seemed to take notice. She also said she hoped that "mother" would be only used as a curse word one day - as she thought children were better of in daycare centers.

Several of our teachers put forward the opinion we should have few children in order to do something good for the environment.

In sports class we typically did not receive indiviual grades, but grades for performance as a group. For example for doing a contra dance or for performance as a soccer team - but this is okay with me, because it is hard to judge the individual performance here and German culture never valued individuality in sports.

Having said this. Most of our teachers were okay and we learned also a great deal of usefull things. I am very happy that I went to school in Germany, because I really do thing we learn more than people in other countries especially when it comes to math and the natural sciences.
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Rachel » 22 May 2013, 21:40

My school experiences were different to everyone here.
From when I started school in 1981 to 1988 there was zero political correctness in history and religious teaching.

In my Middle School (1986-88) all the elderly female teachers were obsessed with how Britain won the War and how great Britain generally was. I remember circa 1986, a teacher writing a list of inventions on the blackboard and saying "All these inventors were British - of course."
There was no "National Curriculum" at the time so teachers could do what they liked.

I remember them saying how Britain was "a lone island facing all of Nazi dominated Europe" in 1940 or whenever that was. It was just after I first learned about the Holocaust too. I came home and told my Mum (I was 9 or 10 years old) about Britain, a little island fighting the Nazis alone.

My Mum said "The teachers are lying - there was a whole British Empire fighting the Nazis including Australian and Indian soldiers. The Empire was huge."
That was how I discovered that the British Empire existed. In all their sickly patriotism they never once mentioned the Empire at school. They never mentioned it at Secondary school either. I spent 13 years at school and no teacher ever mentioned the Empire.

My point is: As annoying as extreme political correctness and self flagellation is, over extreme patriotism can be just as annoying.

I then entered Secondary School in 1988.
It suddenly became extremely PC. R.E lessons suddenly taught all religons.
Suddenly all the history lessons were about the slave trade and immigration in British history.
My Secondary School had more pupils with different religions in it. It was the first time I met Muslim Pakistanis in my class. There were about 4 Muslims for every 30 kids in class. They got to study only Islam while everyone else (Christian, Sikh, Hindu,... or me the only Jew there,) had to do all religions. It was a bit unfair. Personally I prefered there being less religion at Secondary school. I always detested those compulsory long Christian religious assemblies in Middle School. I don't mean to insult Christians here by saying that. I also found Rabbi's sermons at the synagogue borring too. I'm just not a very religious person. Of course it's extra dull when it's not even your own religion. My parents refused to get me out of Christian assemblies at Middle School. Don't ask me why.

I think teaching extreme PC in history is just as bad as extreme patriotism. Can there not be some happy medium where the superior contributions of Western civilisation are emphasized while he negative things are still mentioned but without the terrible self flagellation and self hate that we get now.?
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Re: Personal experiences of PC in education

Postby Rachel » 22 May 2013, 22:59

I just wanted to say to you Yessica - I enjoyed reading your insider views of PC in school in Germany.

I love it when people on this forum write insider views of different countries like "Liviu" in Romania and Caleb in Taiwan.
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