Propaganda is not care

I saw a graphic that was presented next to an article for childminders on how to teach ‘British values’, as now required by the government, and the schools inspectorate Ofsted (which also governs children’s homes and childminders) will demand evidence of “actively promoting” something they call “British values”. The graphic includes some examples of good manners, some sly promotion of white cultural norms, as well as some examples of British culture such as “British music” and “British artists and sculptors”. The person who shared the graphic on Twitter thought it might be a troll, but it is presented in all seriousness albeit as “pointers” rather than as an actual educational resource:

To take this particular graphic, there are some startling inaccuracies, and some omissions:

  • The seasons are a month out. December is a winter month; that is when the shortest day of the year is. Some put the start of the season at the equinox or solstice (so, winter starts on 22nd December), and others at the start of the month in which it appears.
  • The examples of British music are all male, and contain no examples of non-white artists other than Freddie Mercury, who is curiously presented as a solo artist when the majority of his work was with the band Queen, the other members of which were certainly not just his backing players. Only pop and musicals are represented, except for “Welsh male voice choir” which is the only traditional form included. And it is not even true that people listen to “British music”; they listen to music in English, be it British, American or Canadian, Australian or Caribbean. Justin Fletcher, although his father Guy was a renowned songwriter, is himself a children’s TV presenter, not a singer or musician.
  • “British food” conveniently leaves out non-English cuisines other than “Haggis, neeps and tatties”. We also eat Indian, Italian and Chinese food, among many others. Most people don’t eat vegetables from their garden anymore, and seasonal fresh fruit is expensive.
  • There is nothing particularly British about good manners.
  • Phone boxes haven’t looked like that for decades.
  • “We use cutlery and napkins”: except that some non-white cultures typically use their fingers. (So do ‘we’, actually, when we’re eating food served with bread.)
  • “We learn to respect people with disabilities”: Only when they’re winning medals at the Paralympics. For the most part, we read the tabloids and learn that most of them are faking it so as to scrounge off the benefit system. And actually, a lot of disabled people hate the term “people with disabilities” even if it is in common use in other countries.

So, much as with the “Life in Britain” test that people seeking to take British citizenship have to pass (which the majority of native born Brits would probably fail), “British values” consists of a bunch of clichés about British norms, some of which are untrue, some of which are inconsequential and some of which are not uniquely British. But the message is that we all have to be the same, or at least similar; we eat the same food, listen to the same music and display much the same mannerisms.

But the biggest reason this is so offensive is that it goes against what many would argue really is distinctive about British culture in a good way: that the state does not intrude into everyday life and tell us how to bring up our children (and this includes who we agree to allow to look after our children when we are not around) and it does not try to fill children’s heads with propaganda. When a parent chooses a childminder, they may expect them to play with them, or let them play with other children, or help them with schoolwork, or some project they are doing themselves. They may not consent to having them taught ‘values’ that are handed down from on high and which they may not agree exist. I’ve only ever heard the term used by politicians and the tabloids, never by ordinary people, be they family members or teachers or anyone else in authority, in my life. Some childminders might be a bit more subtle about it and deliver reminders about sharing, table manners and so on when necessary; whether this would meet the Ofsted requirements is not clear.

The irony is that the closest parallel in recent British history is the apocryphal stories about childminders, nurseries etc being required by Labour and Liberal councils to teach children about “multiculturalism” by such things as making them wear saris. (Note: you actually have to learn how to put on a sari. I don’t suppose most non-Indian childminders knew how.) The objection to this is the same as to those stories from the 80s and early 90s: that it is intrusive and that childminders are not there to deliver state-sponsored propaganda. The difference is that this is true, and this and the earlier stories were cooked up in the same place: the Tory party and press. It is parents who pay childminders, not the state; they pay the state for the right to look after others’ children. Do you want your kids taught about the virtues of Banksy or Elton John, or to think they’re superior to their Asian friends who eat with their fingers, when you’re at work and they’re at the childminder’s? I thought not. This is not part of childcare. It is propaganda.

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