Pooh Behr

i didn't think much of an article by raphael behr so i wrote and told him why. judge for yourself.

Mr. Behr

Please find below an email I sent to two of my friends, a teacher and an academic (an educational theorist), critical of your piece (linked at top).

I would be interested to hear you respond to these criticisms.

You expect this sort of thing in the Daily Mail but not in The Guardian surely?

Perhaps you were ill that day/struggling to meet the deadline/some other excuse but it really is a shockingly bad piece of work (in my opinion at least).

Mr. Behr's article can be found here.

"One history teacher explained to me how she had met her citizenship obligations by placing al-Qaida terrorism in the context of CIA support for Afghan mujahideen during the cold war. A 14-year-old pupil proved he had internalised this long view by explaining that, while the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks were bad, they were also, in a sense, "payback". A statutory duty to inculcate civic mindedness had somehow equipped British teenagers with a pseudo-jihadi notion of terrorist murder as historical quid pro quo."

This is hardly a controversial viewpoint. See here and here for instance.

The American helicopters that get shot down are being shot down with US manufactured missiles, given them by the CIA in order to to shoot down Soviet choppers during the Soviet occupation. The Afghan's don't have the capability to make such missiles!

Afghan resistance to US occupation is "terrorist murder" apparently, whilst drone attacks on wedding parties etc is "collateral damage" - based on "pseudo-imperialist notions", to borrow the author's idiom.

Both instances are "terrorist murder" or neither are - our author is, it appears, as ideological blinkered and idiotic (and fundamentalist) as the jihadis.

"our classrooms have become inadvertent laboratories in queasy liberal social engineering. Teachers are also supposed to instil such useful attributes as environmental consciousness, emotional candour and respect for racial and cultural diversity. Some of these goals are made explicit in the curriculum for children as young as two."

would be more accurately rendered as "our classrooms have become [actually remain] sterile laboratories involved in class reproduction, drilling students in passivity and quiescence in an effort to maintain the status quo, with a one-size-fits all curriculum - as if pupils were merely empty vessels into which 'facts' can be poured or drilled into bored students, in an effort to halt the fecundity of original thought, creativity and the pupils' natural curiousity that should make learning a joy for pupil and teacher."

He mocks the notions that "environmental consciousness, emotional candour and respect for racial and cultural diversity" are "useful attributes". Would he therefore prefer their opposites, "environmental contempt, the stiff upper lip and to consider darkies from the perspective of the 'white man's burden'"?

Nor can our over opinionated, intellectually flabby edu-kash-un correspondent spell "instill".

"Obesity epidemic? Teach children about healthy eating. Too much teenage pregnancy? More sex education." Encouraging the Billy Bunter generation to eat better (I can hear Jamie Oliver's sobbing anguish!) and perhaps exercise is clearly an insane Trotskyist proposal! Keeping children ignorant of sexual health matters, contraception etc IS the reason we have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the EU. Unlike the less prudish Dutch and Swedes for instance. It is a well documented fact that female education in the third world is THE most significant factor in reducing fertility rates - educated women have less children. This is also true in the UK (the number of births per mother in social-economic group A is lower than that in D and E).

"equipping children with "skills to learn" - what a ridiculous idea!

Reminds me of Gradgrind in Hard Times, "“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”"

"Whatever adults know is old-fashioned, prejudiced and a barrier to learning instead of a precious commodity to be passed on." he says, setting up yet another absurd caricature - a straw man - that he can then knock down with a flourish of his vacuous erudition.

As Freire said -

"language is never neutral" - even the language of facts (a point particle physics agrees on - their are facts observation, no observation without an observer, no observer without a subjective factor. In this vein, Freire also talks about the importance of "naming the world" for oneself - since we cannot name the world (i.e. voice the facts as we see them) without saying something about how we wish and feel that the world should be.

Or, as the Bard put it, "Tis nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so."

Also note that he regards knowledge as a "commodity" (precious or otherwise). A fetishistic attitude. If I were to be charitable in my interpretation of that last quote of his (allow me to try), I would guess that he is trying to say that "the thoughts and experiences of previous generations are surely of value to the next generation" - a statement that despite its transparent obviousness he is incapable of expressing clearly. "Commodity"! As if knowledge were to be bought or sold, merely water to be poured into an empty vessel.

Pot kettle black (what chutzpah!) -

"Frustratingly, he tends to give credence to anecdote and sensational news stories that support his account, but not to data"

There is not one piece of data in this article.

From the same author's review of Bush's new autobiography "Short-sighted and lacking any real depth or analysis [...] Bush portrays his decision-making as studiously pragmatic." Physician heal thyself!

It is a miracle that this man is able to find employment of any kind, let alone have a position as a critic whose flaccid opinion is distributed to some half a million of our better educated compatriots everyday.

Strangely his name is an anagram of "far abler he" - a piece of data I think we can dismiss.

As to whether Furedi's book consists of (anagram) "rare duff ink", in fairness to Furedi, it would be virtually impossible (and certainly unfair) to judge his book on the basis of this thoughtless drivel.

Our education system may well be, in the opinion of Furedi, Behr and myself (to use that foul phrase that is the parlance of our age) "not fit for purpose" (as does the OECD - despite ten years of increased spending) but this analysis takes us not one nano-step closer to understanding why or what might be done about it.

Unlike Senor Freire, who I think is nearer the mark with -

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

That's better! I've limbered up the writing muscle and got that off my chest. I just thought the link would be of interest to you but when I examined it closely, the sheer horror it induced needed to be exorcised.

I think I'll send this to him actually - an act of friendship, the giving of the truth. I want to hear him defend himself against these charges. It's not the man that offends me, simply what he says.

I think this is probably the most thoughtless article I've ever read in the Guardian. How he had the temerity (presumably) to accept payment for it I'll never know.

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