When Boris declared himself in favour of Brexit, he threw oil on troubled flames. I could rant rhetorically about how an educated global polyglot could simultaneously hold the view that we take no responsibility for shared endeavour with our neighbours, but then I remembered. Far from the lovable buffoon, he is a cynical and easily bored opportunist. London as the global melting pot? Yes, unless it loses party votes. The UK as a model of integration? Yes, until it loses party votes. Who cares, therefore, that they stabbed each other in the back? (We all should, see below)
Civilisation took another knock in another part of the forest, where Trump’s victory was utterly impossible right up until the moment that it seemed altogether likely. What’s the most worrying thing? Not the reprehensible views and the ghastly boasty claims but his capacity to invent stuff then passed off as facts. How many Mexicans, exactly? Who’ll pay for the wall? Which parts of Europe are controlled by Isis? Is Hillary Clinton actually a criminal?
And so "post-truth" is the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year. They define it as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."
We’ve got a bit in our Behaviour Policy at school which talks about truth and lies. It says:
Our investigations may lead us to a judgement that a child is lying. Lying is not unusual while growing up, and testing boundaries is normal. Some children lie habitually or occasionally. We would ask parents to remember that when a child asserts that he or she is telling the truth, that may also be a lie. We teach children that they are more likely to be believed if they usually tell the truth.
I was talking to a governor in an advanced state of despair about this earlier in the week. He asked: how can we possibly tell children to live good lives when it is patently obvious that the way to get on in life is to be foul, and to lie with every breath? Well, we do it because it is right. We do it because children want to be respected, happy people. We do it because we model a better world inside our little communities and if that involves pulling up the drawbridge to protect our values then up it comes. Church schools have been at it for years: these are our beliefs, which the world doesn’t value. We can learn from them.
Which brings me on to the most famous ex-church school head of them all, the rapidly receding Sir Michael. All hail, once again, his principled opposition to grammar schools, the debate about which is a perfect example of post-truth policy. Academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it. Grammar schools are attractive to some because they are an appeal to the emotions and to an idea of life as it might once have been designed, not as it is or as it should be. The man says, grammar schools are wrong, but comprehensives can celebrate tradition ritual and formality. (Yes, good). Comprehensives have been remarkable escalators of opportunity and great forces for social cohesion (Yea, verily). There is no reason why headteachers shouldn’t insist that children stand up when the Head enters the classroom or sing the school song or learn whole tracts of Shakespeare by heart. Pardon?
In aping the hideous proxies of the rich and harping back to a bygone era, Wilshaw undermines himself. Our schools have ritual, tradition and formality of their own. They should be deeply rooted in the school’s DNA, respected and upheld. They should be for the right reasons, to build up community and model a better world, and for no other reason. Traditions cannot be mandated externally. They cannot be imposed: they grow.
Gove, Johnson and Trump have done civilisation a great disservice and materially endangered the future of our young for personal gain. In protecting that future, schools will have to be very clear about their character and resist lies, bigotry, reaction, flummery and false logic. From sea to shining sea.