Wednesday, August 05, 2015

MP says to use anti-terror powers on Christian teachers who say gay marriage is ‘wrong’

New Extremism Disruption Orders should be applied on those who “teach” traditionalist Christian views about marriage in the classroom

New banning orders intended to clamp down on hate preachers and terrorist propagandists should be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong”, a Tory MP has argued.

Mark Spencer called for those who use their position in the classroom to a teach traditionalist views on marriage to be subject to “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs), tough new restrictions planned by David Cameron and Theresa May to curb radicalisation by jihadists.

In a letter to a constituent, Mr Spencer, the MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, insisted that Christian teachers were still “perfectly entitled” to express their views on same-sex marriage – but only “in some situations”.

Christian campaigners said Mr Spencer’s remarks confirmed what they had previously warned: that those who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman would now be “branded extremists”.

The National Secular Society, which supports same-sex marriage, said the proposed banning orders could be one of the biggest threats to freedom of expression ever seen in the UK.

David Cameron outlined the counter-extremism plans after the General Election

Ministers have signalled that the orders, expected to be a key plank of the Government planned new Counter-Extremism Bill, would be used not only curb the activities of radical Islamist clerics but those who promote other views deemed to go against “British values”.

Ministers have defined British values in the past as including broad notions like democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

Mr Spencer was writing in response to an email from a constituent who was concerned about claims by the campaign group the Christian Institute that EDOs could be used against those with traditional beliefs.  He wrote: “I believe that everybody in society has a right to free speech and to express their views without fear of persecution.

“The EDOs will not serve to limit but rather to guarantee it: it is those who seek to stop other people expressing their beliefs who will be targeted.  “Let me give you an example, one which lots of constituents have been writing about – talking about gay marriage in schools.”

He went on to insist that Christians with traditional views on marriage are “perfectly entitled to express their views” but suggests it could constitute “hate speech” in some contexts.

“The new legislation specifically targets hate speech, so teachers will still be free to express their understanding of the term ‘marriage’, and their moral opposition to its use in some situations without breaking the new laws.  “The EDOs, in this case, would apply to a situation where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong.”

Opponents say the new orders would be a threat to free speech

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of the Christian Institute said: “I am genuinely shocked that we have an MP supporting the idea of teachers being branded extremists for teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.  “This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been warning about.

“The Government says we’ve got nothing to worry about from their new extremism laws, but here is one of its own MPs writing to a constituent saying EDOs would stop teachers teaching mainstream Christian beliefs.”

He added: “Ten years ago the Conservatives opposed Tony Blair’s unpopular law against ‘inciting religious hatred’, saying it jeopardised free speech – yet here they are seeking to bring in an even worse law.   “EDOs will be a gross infringement of free speech and undermine the very British values they claim to protect.”

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society said: “If EDOs really could be used to prevent teachers from talking about same-sex marriage, unless they are inciting violence, they are an even greater threat to freedom of expression than I had feared.

“To suggest that EDOs guarantee freedom of expression [as Mark Spencer suggests] is not just inaccurate, it is the opposite of the truth; they are the largest threat to freedom of expression I have ever seen in Britain.

“The spreading of hatred is far too vague a concept to be the basis of legal sanctions, and would be worryingly open to misuse, particularly by ideological opponents.”


Why are fewer boys going to university?
A point not considered below is that boys are more aware that university education is not a very good deal these days.  The Ph.D.s flipping hamburgers phenomenon
A report published last week by the Independent Commission on Fees has uncovered a widening gender divide in university admissions. For whilst over a third of 18-year old girls enrol on a higher education course in Britain, only one quarter of boys follow suit.

So why are fewer male students applying for university courses?

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of UCAS, believes the "potential of young men is somehow being let down by the school system". This suggests that the methods and techniques used to prepare pupils for their GCSEs and A-levels are angled more towards female students, and that schools and sixth forms may not be preparing boys adequately enough for these academic hurdles.

But before we blame the institutions over the individuals, it is important to acknowledge that last year, the gender divide in A-level results was the smallest in almost two decades – showing that there is virtually no discernible academic difference between the sexes.

If Curnock Cook's assertion that schools are failing boys is wrong, what is responsible for the gender divide that seems to suddenly develop between the end of sixth form and the beginning of university?

University application statistics show a huge gender gap, with over 80,000 more girls completing UCAS applications than boys. But with applications submitted before final exams are taken, these figures suggest a lack of aspiration in boys, rather than an educational deficiency. Whilst they clearly and consistently achieve A-level results only slightly below the female average, a large number of the male student population are actively making the choice not to further their education.

The potential explanations are numerous. In the US, where a similar trend has occured in recent years, the debate often focuses on the motivation of men. It has been suggested that the male psyche does not possess a desire as strong as its female equivalent to achieve high levels of academic success and that this, coupled with rising tuition fees, may have caused disillusionment amongst boys approaching university age.

It's easy to appropriate the same logic for Britain, where a lack of educational aspiration among boys could be coupling with the financial deterrant of top-up fees. As evidence, look no further than the upturn in paid apprenticeships, which jumped by 63.5pc from 2010 to 2011.

Additionally, recent years have seen a steady growth of campaigns encouraging female students to pursue higher education. After it was discovered that only 13 per cent of STEM (scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical) courses were populated by women, a considerable push has been made to raise these numbers. However, no such corresponding campaigns have been launched to encourage either working class or disillusioned young men into university.

And this is despite Universities Minister David Willetts claiming, two years ago, that the government needed to target working class boys for university places in the same way that the institutions are obligated to fill quotas for ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups. It's feasible that the gender divide we now face is a direct result of girls having been targeted more actively for places than boys.

Another potential explanation for these numbers may be found in recent changes to how institutions award qualifications for 'gender-biased' subjects.

After A-levels, courses in which girls can be found to overwhelmingly outnumber boys (subjects with 90 per cent or more female applicants, such as the fields of beauty or textiles), are increasingly being spun out into three-year, degree-level undergraduate courses. For example, BAs in make-up and hair or knitting are now available. However, the equivalent stereotypical crafts for men (subjects with 90 per cent of more male applicants like bricklaying and plumbing), can still only be mastered through apprenticeships or college courses.

Clearly, not all traditionally-female vocational courses have been turned into degrees – many BTECs, NVQs and Diplomas in 'female' subjects are still being taught at colleges around Britain. But the statistic that female apprenticeship enrolments are dropping by an annual figure of approximately 50,000 does correlate with the rapidly establishing trend of beauty, social care and administration courses being transformed into degrees.

Dr Mark Walters, of the University of Sussex, believes that pushing more boys onto university courses, perhaps by turning traditional male hands-on skills such as bricklaying into university-based courses, is not the best way to close the education gender gap. "I am not sure it is necessarily the case that we need to encourage more boys to go to university – though, generally speaking, I believe a university education can be of benefit to most people regardless of gender."

"It is more the case that we need to move towards a society where both men and women are accepted in any profession," Walters continues, "There are barriers to entering certain professions – and at the moment this means that the university sector is seeing a larger intake of female students."

However, this observation is problematic. For whilst it does appear that universities currently have a much larger intake of female students, these figures only pertain to British nationals. When one includes students who come to study in Britain from overseas into the statistical mix, the gender gap shrinks significantly. So perhaps the issue is not 'Why are fewer boys going to university?', but rather 'Why are fewer British boys going to university?'

And this is a significantly easier question to answer. Not only is Britain still governed by outdated, ingrained traditions of gender stereotyping (seen in the bricklaying vs. beauty debate), but in a climate eager to dispel any suspicion of misogyny, these once male-dominated institutions are now overcompensating by offering girls opportunities that simply aren't available to the male student population. Earlier this year, for example, a student was ridiculed when he proposed the inauguration of a Male Human Rights Society, despite a female equivalent existing without prejudice.

Ultimately, although there are clear figures showing a gender divide in the UK university system, the root cause is unclear. Increased pushes for female STEM students may be the cause of the imbalance, but the changes of vocational courses into university-level degrees, institutions' possible inequitable treatment of male students, or the way the different genders rationalise spending money could just as likely be to blame.

What is clear is that despite acknowledging this gap, the government and the universities themselves appear untroubled or simply indifferent to the divide. But by leaving this demographic imbalance unchecked, it will only become more pronounced, and eventually result in a stubborn gap that Mary Curnock Cook believes "could, on current trends, eclipse the gap between rich and poor within a decade."


DC’s ‘scarlet letter’: a recipe for injustice

Lawmakers in Washington, DC have proposed the idea of having a ‘scarlet letter’ that would permanently mark the transcripts of students who are investigated by campus authorities for sexual misconduct. If they are introduced, these markers would ‘follow [the accused] to new schools [and] into the workforce’.

Considering the Kafkaesque nature of campus sexual-assault proceedings, which infamously lack even the most basic elements of due process, and the vague (not to mention unromantic) definitions of consent that are often used in them, one would think requiring men who are convicted in these tribunals to be branded for life was a recipe for injustice. But that’s not even the worst part.

This scarlet letter wouldn’t just apply to students who are convicted of sexual misconduct, but also to those who ‘try to withdraw from school while under investigation’. You heard right: if a student tries to escape his inquisition, his life will still be ruined. When I forwarded this story to a bleeding-heart-liberal relative of mine, the first thing she said was, ‘Aren’t we in America?’. Apparently, men on college campuses are exempt from exercising the rights all Americans enjoy.

These men’s lives and careers could be put at huge risk, all because of a hysteria around sexual assault on campus that is based on misleading statistics and scaremongering. As with all moral panics, this one is replete with ironies and unintended consequences.

In arguing for the scarlet letter, DC lawmakers argued that mere expulsion from college is an inadequate punishment for rape. No shit. How about, rather than increasing punishments for ‘Title IX’ convictions, and bringing in actual judges to rule on campus cases, we do away with these kangaroo courts altogether and leave it to the proper authorities. Scarlet letter? How about a jail cell?

The class divide

The crusade against campus sexual assault is led by upper-class young women who claim that they are at constant risk of being targeted. However, non-college women of the same age, who are often more disadvantaged, are at a far greater risk of being sexually assaulted. Apparently, giving trust-fund babies at Yale recourse for regretted sexual encounters is more important to ‘liberal’ activists than protecting society’s more vulnerable young women. Moreover, it should be noted that merely expelling rapists from college, instead of locking them up, only leaves them free to rape again – only this time, not on campus.

Throughout this crusade, activists have sought what Tom Wolfe called ‘the Great White Defendant’ – privileged frat-boys or athletes who, they claim, are the source of the trouble. However, like all arbitrary laws, campus tribunals disproportionately target the vulnerable. One student who is currently suing Amherst College in Massachusetts alleges that the college’s sexual-assault policy has only ever been used to punish male students of colour. A Harvard law professor has also argued that Title IX courts disproportionately impact ‘sexually stigmatised minorities’ – a harsh reminder that false accusations of rape against black men were not so long ago used to justify lynchings in the South. How quickly we forget.

The folly of witch-hunts

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has described the campus rape hysteria as today’s ‘moral panic, an extraordinary popular delusion, a madness of crowds’, which has led to calls for ‘increasingly draconian measures’ akin to ‘witch-hunts, blood libels, red scares… and satanic-ritual day-care prosecutions’.

As this moral panic wears on, and punishments become more draconian, lawmakers must recognise the truth: witch-hunts don’t get the actual witches.


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