Wednesday, November 24, 2004


And they still think they can dictate to others after having been shown to be incompetent themselves!

A Church of England school has been told to drop the word "saint" from its name in case it offends other religious groups. The practice of calling schools after saints or bishops alienates people from other faiths and non-believers, say officials and councillors in Islington, north London. The row is over the name of the first Church of England secondary school to be built in the borough, which lost control of education five years ago after Ofsted found it was running some of the worst schools in the country. Islington council plans to incorporate the existing St Mary Magdalene Church of England Primary School into a new City Academy for five- to 18-year-olds.

The church, which is giving 2 million pounds towards building costs, has been told by the local authority - a partner in the scheme - that the name of the new school cannot be religious. James Kempton, children and young people spokesman for the council's ruling Liberal Democrat party, said a consultation had been launched because of concerns over the use of the word "saint". "We want to create a school that is open to everybody in the community, not a school that selects through the back door," he said. "We need to ensure this is a school which is appropriate for Islington in the 21st century. "Church-going is now a much less significant part of people's lives."

Parents, governors and teachers at St Mary Magdalene, however, are determined to keep the name. John Stewart, the head teacher, said: "We have been serving the community in the area since 1710 and there is no reason why we should change our name. "The name makes our Christian ethos clear to everyone and there are plenty of Church of England schools named after saints in Islington and elsewhere which take children from many other faiths or none who want the education and ethos we offer."

The council has suggested that the school be called the Islington Academy or the Barnsbury Academy. The London Diocesan Board says that if the new school is to have a new name, it should be "Magdalene Academy", which would still denote a Christian ethos. Most parents want to keep the existing name, however. Kate McMurdie, 33, said dropping it would be "ludicrous" and offend parents who took their religion seriously. Karen Hicks said that it would take away the school's identity and make it like any other.

Tom Peryer, the London Diocesan Board's director for schools, said there had been a long history of hostility towards faith schools in Islington. A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said the Jewish community would have no objection to the school being named after a Christian saint. "We live in a multi-cultural country," he said.


'Informed choice' is no choice at all

The UK government's White Paper Choosing Health makes a mockery of the word "choice"

One of the most striking things about the UK government's White Paper on Public Health, published earlier this week, is its emphasis on choice. It is mentioned twice in the title alone - Choosing Health: Making Healthier Choices Easier - and 35 times in the paper itself. UK health secretary John Reid says the paper's 'starting point' (no less) is that people should be 'free' to make 'informed choices' about their lifestyles. Brushing aside howls of nanny statism from some quarters (and accusations of Not Doing Enough from others), Reid declared: 'We believe that, in a free society, men and women ultimately have the right within the law to choose their own lifestyle, even when it may damage their own health.'

That even this latest piece of petty interventionism into our personal lives can be launched in the lingo of choice shows how degraded the c-word has become in British politics. In its quest to 'improve the nation's health', the White Paper proposes banning smoking in public places where food is prepared, restricting TV ads for junk food aimed at kids, and publishing endless advice about what kinds of food and exercise we should eat and take - yet it does all of this in the name of 'supporting' people in 'making healthy choices'. When a government can talk about bans in one breath and enabling choice in the next, you know that choice today means something other than individual self-determination.

Take the idea of informed choice, a buzzphrase of our age and the choice of choice in the White Paper. Some mistakenly believe that the 'informed' in informed choice refers simply to information, as in providing people with enough info to empower them to make real decisions. So the White Paper argues that 'people want to be able to make their own decisions about choices that impact on their health and to have credible and trustworthy information to help them do so' (3). The proposal for a traffic light system on food products - where foods with a high fat, sugar or salt content would get a red label for 'stop' and fruit and veg would get a green label for 'go' - has been hailed as a way of allowing us to make informed choices.

In fact, the informed in informed choice comes from the other OED definition of informed - not as in to 'impart information', but as in 'enlightened, educated, knowledgeable'. The informed choice is the right choice, the good choice, the healthy choice, the kind of choice made by Islington-dwellers who walk and cycle, buy fruit and veg, rarely patronise the likes of McDonald's, and spend time cooking meals at home (with fresh ingredients, of course). The distinction isn't between choices made with the help of info and choices made without, but between enlightened people who make The Informed Choice and unenlightened people who do not; between those who are knowledgeable and those who are seen as being beyond the reach of reason, easily swayed by garish TV ads for tempting 'junk food'.

Informed choices are not about choice at all; they are about pointing us dullards in the direction of salvation. As Dr Michael Fitzpatrick noted in The Tyranny of Health, today's debates about health are often thinly disguised moral judgements on lifestyle and behaviour (and especially the lifestyle and behaviour of a certain class of people). 'Once we had the seven deadly sins; now we have the four targets of health', wrote Fitzpatrick, in response to the last White Paper on Public Health. In this context, the informed choice is the path to enlightenment, and those who stray from it can expect to be reprimanded. As the White Paper says, it's all about choice, but with 'two qualifications'..the government will 'exercise special responsibility for children who are too young to make informed choices themselves', and will enforce 'special arrangements for those cases where one person's choice may cause harm or nuisance to another'.....

A leader in the Guardian raised the problem of smokers, who, it believes, are so in thrall to nasty nicotine that they cannot be left alone to make decisions, informed or otherwise. '[Reid's] emphasis on giving people the information, but letting them make an informed choice, ignores the fact that smokers are gripped by an addiction', the paper said. Jacqui McClusky of the children's charity NCH argued that poor families are unable to make informed choices because they apparently cannot afford the kind of foods that might soon have a green-for-go label stuck on them. 'The government has emphasised the importance of individual choice, but ignored the fact that those families living in poverty have little choice', she claimed.

Iain Macwhirter, columnist with the Glasgow Herald, went so far as to argue that, 'Right now, the tyranny of choice poses a far greater danger to liberty and well-being than the nanny state'. Macwhirter is gutted that the government did not demand 'legal restrictions' on advertising during children's programmes, instead proposing a voluntary code, because 'as every parent knows, it is extraordinarily difficult to combat the images transmitted daily through television and other media which implant in children's minds a profound antipathy to anything remotely healthy'. So again, choice needs to be restricted - because children are under the sway of the evil marketing of big food companies, and parents are apparently powerless to resist the resulting pester-power demands for 'happy meals' over 'healthy meals'. In short, if you're a smoker, poor, or a parent, choice is the last thing you need; far better just to be told what to do and be done with it....

More here

No comments: