Appalling evidence of Britain's confusion and utter intellectual degeneration. "What have burnt toast, Gerry Adams and a burger to do with September 11?," from Mick Hume in the TimesOnline, with thanks to Neil:
EVER WONDERED what our schools are teaching children about terrorism? To judge by some of the material in an education pack being used in my London borough, the questions might include: could al-Qaeda poison your burger? Did the American Government stage the September 11 attacks? And what lessons for the Middle East can you learn from arguing with your mum?
The glossy pack of CD-Roms and worksheets is for secondary school citizenship classes. Called 9/11: The Main Chance (no, I don’t know either), it is sponsored by the Neighbourhood Regeneration Fund (no, I don’t know either). When I saw it reported in the Walthamstow Guardian, it sounded too bizarre to be true. Having studied the pack, I can confirm that it is bizarre, but it is true. So here is a glimpse of what might be going on in the citizenship classes that the Government now claims will teach children “our values”.
9/11: The Main Chance attempts to deal with September 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and human rights in a simple way intended to make sense to pupils not keen on conventional teaching methods. The result seems more likely to raise levels of confusion and concern.
A worksheet on the targets chosen on 9/11 asks pupils: “Are there any possible targets in your local area?” If that is not enough to get them boycotting public transport, it asks: “What weapons or methods could be used?” There follow helpful links: one to a story on “Food terrorism — the nightmare scenario” illustrated by a juicy burger (which seems an extreme way to get children off junk food), the other to a report “How safe is our water? The threat of terrorism”, which may help the water companies to cut consumption. When the Walthamstow Guardian asked if the 9/11 attacks should be used as a teaching tool, one educationist said the pack was not about “preaching” to children, but about providing “impartial and unbiased information” and “letting them make sense of it”.
That would be information such as: “The terrorists had shown that, despite America’s size and military power, careful planning and complete faith could defeat them.”
So al-Qaeda defeated America. Or did it? After all, according to this impartial pack, “it is not known whether Flight 93 was taken over by passengers or shot down by the military”. The only people to whom this should be “not known” are conspiracy theorists. You might as well tell kids it is not known whether men really landed on the Moon.
The outside sources of “impartial and unbiased information” include a news website that speculates about whether images of Satan appeared in smoke over the Twin Towers, and the mystic significance of the number 11. Another link, to explain the role of the US Vice-President, turns out to be an excerpt from a 9/11 conspiracy website that asks whether Dick Cheney “was directing the response to the attack. Or was he directing the attack?” The pack’s main attempt to situate 9/11 in some context is a lengthy list of “Osama’s grievances”. Raising the chestnut about terrorists and freedom fighters, the pack asks: “Which category do these people belong in: Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Gerry Adams, Martin Luther King?” A better question might be: what do any of them have to do with 9/11?
The orthodoxy today is that all education must be made “relevant” to pupils’ own experience. Thus the section on “Tolerance and 9/11” ends with a quiz about how you would react if your mum burnt your toast, or your brother lent your favourite DVD to his mate. The lesson on conflict resolution suggests that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is like a family dispute about sharing.
No doubt this teaching pack was put together by well-intentioned educationists, despite the inaccuracies and omissions. Of course it is not “pro al-Qaeda”. But nor does it appear to be pro anything else. Instead it reflects the wider confusion and incoherence about these issues. We are unsure who we are or what we stand for as a society, and it is nonsense to expect citizenship classes to fill that vacuum. Government commitment to teaching “values” is worthless when we don’t know what those might be.