Teaching economics teaches young people who to blame for their problems

No wonder Michael Gove wants to stop doing it.

While young people in Europe rise up in the wake of economic crises, in Britain they seem to have swallowed the rhetoric that someone else is to blame. They have no stake in the systems that govern them and Michael Gove wants to keep it that way.

You've heard about The Economic Crisis, right? How could you not, everyone's worrying about it. Open a newspaper, turn on the television, tune in to the radio or zone in on social media, and there they are, worrying. The Economic Crisis is always lurking nearby, threatening to breathe fire on us at a moment's notice. Governments have boldly tried and failed to slay it, losing limbs and public confidence along the way.

Our current government ministers set themselves up as bold knights guarding the people, keeping them at arms length from operations lest they get their own ideas and jeopardise the mission to calm everything down. They tell us The Economic Crisis was spawned by previous, incompetent knights and fed by the lazy and feckless, and we believe them. But the new crop of knights is better and bolder, they tell us.

And Gove the Barbarian is one of the boldest. He will smash down everything that gets in his way. He will use his might to protect the delicate workings of the State from the course and lowly masses. Teaching them too much about how it works is at best a distraction from the important business of moulding the compliant workforce that the government's economic plan requires, and at worst - well, I suspect he shudders to think.

So, in spite of vigorous lobbying behind the scenes, he has taken economics out of the citizenship curriculum and replaced it with personal finance. In itself, personal finance is a very welcome addition to the National Curriculum: I wish I had left school with some understanding of banks and budgeting. But, for Mr Gove, that's as far as it goes. He wants people to be responsible with their own money (after all, personal debt is no help to the economic situation), but he doesn't want to let people anywhere near the economy itself. Keep the plebs in the dark about politics, a little knowledge will only lead to trouble.

How irritating it must be, then, that trained teachers have their own ideas about teaching. He’s giving schools more freedom because he wants to free up the market, not because he trusts teachers. (I doubt he wants to ‘let a thousand William Tyndales bloom’, as Fred Jarvis pondered in the Independent.) It's time someone stamped out such subversive tendencies. It's time someone whipped schools into glorious mirrors of business that turn out neat, fragmented packages of knowledge and manners with ruthless efficiency. Little packages that expect nothing from the State; little packages that are eager for the System to gobble them up and fart them into the only bedroom of the last remaining council house. And Gove the Barbarian is the man for the job. 

But what happens if the slaying fails? Or if our knightly overlords lose their remaining credibility? So far, this government has only proved that politics can be pretty hopeless against such beasts as The Economic Crisis, which will likely turn on the people with vigour in the end. The failed attempts of politicians are simply evidence that mainstream politics does not hold the answers. So, people will look elsewhere to protect their own interests, as we have seen with the rise of the far right in Greece and rioting on the streets of Spain. Britain, so far, has got off lightly; we are kept in our place effectively. But for how long? And when our politicians lose their grip completely, do we really want an uprising of people who have been kept alien from political life?

So, put the economy back on the curriculum, Mr Gove. Fulfil your promise to ensure citizenship 'is even better taught' in schools. Prepare our young people properly for economic and democratic life. Otherwise, it will be each for themselves when the fire gets too hot, and your government's precious economic plan will be toast.

Michael Grimes is Online Communications Manager for the Citizenship Foundation.

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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.