Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Culture of Stupidity

As a Headmistress, I broadly support bringing back more rigour to the examination system, however I feel that children’s education and interest in education faces unprecedented threats from the ‘culture of stupidity’ all around them.
Over the last couple of decades, the growth of reality TV and the growth of celebrity culture have rampaged on hand in hand, supported by a general dumbing down of our culture. At first, reality TV may have seemed ironic – a TV experiment where we peered in at others’ lives but now it has taken on a live of its own and some of its stars reflect the education system they have been brought up in. Some children and teenagers see them as role models whose behaviour they wish to emulate and whose lives they wish to emulate. There is also an erosion of respect among children for adults as they mimic the behaviour they see on their screens and around them in the playground and classroom.
I am deeply concerned about the dumbing down of culture in the UK which I believe is having a direct effect on schoolchildren and on their education..even a school has now become the subject of a reality TV series – ‘Educating Yorkshire’. Where in the past this may have been a one-off documentary, this was presented as a primetime entertainment reality TV series, even with its own Christmas special. While I certainly applaud some of the inspirational teachers and pupils who appeared, I do have to question whether it is morally right to make reality TV stars of these children and their teachers.

Moving on to shows like The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea, I personally struggle to see their appeal. It is hard to see whether they are scripted or a real reflection of the main characters’ lives. They are simply mind-numbingly dull and can only anaesthetise the young minds we are supposed to be opening up to the wonders of the world and the beauties of the aesthetic world. As for the so-called stars of these shows, they are being lauded for their lack of intellect and, in some cases blatant stupidity to the extreme of a ‘culture of stupidity’ being the norm.
Lazy TV executives are now dipping in and out of these TV shows and cross-pollinating them with other so-called celebrities famous for doing nothing so we find the stars of the relatively unknown Geordie Shore on Celebrity Big Brother and the stars of TOWIE like Joey Essex on I’m a Celebrity – Get me Out of Here – thereby reaching a much wider audience.
The children and teenagers who watch these shows also find many of the stars easily accessible on social network sites and may even be able to interact with them so in many senses, they become almost like friends to them. The shows and their stars become a touchstone to their young audiences – the watercooler TV for their generation. They laugh along when Joey Essex tells millions he can’t tell the time and revel in his ignorance. What sort of message does this send to the nation’s teens, the majority of whom are within an education system which is bottoming out in the world education league – about working hard and improving their own rigour?
Yes, the likes of Mark Wright may have used the show as a springboard for a radio career but what do they see and think about working hard if young people, many like themselves, are effectively making a living out of swapping tittle tattle and minutiae about their love lives and beauty regimes and making millions.

Looking back to the beginnings of this culture of stupidity, perhaps grounded in the launch of Big Brother at the turn of this millennium, shows like this are virtually unrecognisable in terms of contestants if you compared the first Big Brother to one of the later series.
Clearly, the first contestants had no idea of the likely fame factor to arise from ordinary people doing something extraordinary like living in an Orwell-inspired project where they were locked away from the outside world overseen by Big Brother.
Ironic to look back at the fact that a series drawing from areas of a literary classic like 1984 should be part of the culture which has led to the dumbing down of our children. How many children today would be able to tell you who Orwell was let alone why Big Brother was thus called?

Reality TV now showcases the worst of human behaviour. The reality TV circus has come full circle because the rise of celebrity culture, the bedfellow of reality TV, has meant that our children have started to mirror some of those traits and they have become less respectful to their elders and peers. They can’t see the benefit of working hard which is perhaps one of the biggest challenges Mr Gove faces in his battle to improve the school system.
While TV companies continue to make shows for the lowest common denominator to make as much money as possible, this culture of stupidity will continue to infect our classrooms.
These stars become like friends to them – they discuss them at school and they believe they have more relevance in their lives than historical figures. Knowing about these so-called celebs and being like them becomes a currency to get on with their peers.

This culture of stupidity is a genuine threat to our education system. It is already infecting it…


Why I’m Backing Project 28-40

Research into why women are still grossly misrepresented in business life has exploded a few myths – chiefly that it’s not just the glass ceiling we should worry about but probably the corridors, walls and stairways! Basically, women are being held back at every level and it’s time to stop the ‘women have babies so they don’t get on’ myth that is tirelessly perpetuated as an excuse for the woeful under-representation of women at the top.
Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, is chair of Opportunity Now which has teamed up with accountancy firm PwC on the Project 28-40 campaign.
The project is asking 100,000 British women of all ages and from all industries and levels of seniority to share their experience of the UK workplace. The Project 28-40 campaign is so-called because those 12 years are “the danger zone” where many women fall far behind male peers in their careers.
She warns that we are making progress in the boardroom’ but we haven’t got anywhere on the pipeline recently’.
She told the Evening Standard this week: ‘I’ve been working on gender equality [in business] since 1991, and we haven’t got past the tipping point. Eventually, my hope is that we reach a point where I never need talk about this again.’
Global research firm Catalyst which aims to advance women in the workplace – has also been working on a similar project for some years.
Early results from Project 18-40 concur with findings from Catalyst that a key myth is about women choosing to have families which slows down or halts their career path.
Although both find that working mothers do face prejudice in the workplace, Catalyst’s research shows that women are as ambitious as men but that three primary hurdles are placed in their way: they are shut out of informal networks, they suffer due to stereotyping and they lack sufficient role models.
As an educator, what really concerns me is that women appear to face a playing field which is never level from the start of their careers so they are fighting against the tide from the beginning.
According to Catalyst’s report, PipePromise, women start off in more junior roles and earn less from day one. After that, male salaries increase faster than female as each salary is negotiated with regards to the last and men get more promotions than equally-qualified women. And promotions are more rewarding for men: in 2008, that meant pay increased by a fifth for men but just two per cent for women.
Research also explodes the ‘queen bee syndrome’ myth that other women will keep you down if they get the chance. The reality is that women are more likely to help you get on than men.
The research suggests that almost three-quarters of the women who are ‘developing new talent’ are helping women, compared with 30 per cent of men.
Heathfield old girl Tamara Mellon said recently in an interview with the Guardian: ‘I’ve got to a position where I can speak up. I think any woman who has got to that position should speak up and pull other women up behind us.’
Women are also likely to have other female mentors but not male mentors which means that conversely they have less access to mentors in a senior position because of the numbers game. Catalyst’s research shows around 62 per cent of men had a mentor at senior executive level, compared with 52 per cent of women.
At Heathfield, we are working hard on the launch of a project which will give our girls the maximum chance of success as they head out into the workplace by equipping them with valid work experience and knowledge. But, if we do not speak out about the barriers they will face once they get into the workplace, they will still face an unfair future.
Please join me in looking at Opportunity Now’s survey at and forwarding it to as many people as possible.