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Can ideology blind us to what is genuinely dangerous?

December 8, 2018

Recently I have been discussing at length the opposition to permanent exclusions.

I wrote about the ideology behind some of this.

I also wrote about what happens when schools don’t permanently exclude:

There have been a few recurring arguments that permanent exclusions, as they currently happen, are unfair. I wrote posts addressing whether they are unfair because of SEND or because of racism.

Ultimately the strongest argument to protect the right of schools to exclude is that of safety. While opponents of school exclusions seem to think that young people are permanently excluded to manipulate exam results, or due to racism, the reality is far more alarming. The Mirror reported that:

Sexual violence and harassment in schools will be probed by MPs for the first time after figures showed 200 pupils claim they have been raped every year.

The Commons Women and Equalities Committee launches an investigation today after shocking figures revealed the scale of sexual offences between teenagers.

Data last year showed 5,500 alleged sexual offences were recorded in UK schools – including more than 600 alleged rapes – over three years.

Another 4,000 alleged physical sexual assaults were recorded, the data revealed.

Research has claimed some teachers are turning a blind eye to the problem as the rise of practices like ‘sexting’ raise issues of personal privacy.

A YouGov poll of 16-18 year olds in 2010 found 29% of girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and 71% said they frequently heard sexual name-calling towards girls at school.

Permanent exclusion for students who show themselves to be dangerous is one of the key ways we would expect schools to keep their children safe from serious assaults and sexual harassment. Out of control children are also a danger to themselves. The following news stories that I found for a blogpost a few years ago all involve students being killed or maimed in circumstances where students disobeyed teachers:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1456897.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/north_yorkshire/4413357.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/3004667.stm

It seems incredible that anyone could endanger children by demanding that schools either stop excluding, or be constrained in their right to exclude on the basis of whether the student facing exclusion is of a particular ethnicity or has been labelled as having SEN, but that is precisely what we are seeing at the moment. Some proposed alternatives to exclusion are ridiculously naive. Some seem to think it could be sufficient to explain to a dangerous child that their bad behaviour is wrong, or ask them to talk about their feelings and what the school can do to make them happier. At times the willingness to endanger children would actually be funny if it wasn’t so serious. And this has made me wonder how common it is for people to be so blinded by ideology that they will put themselves or others at serious risk of harm. Are there examples of this from outside of education?

The first example that springs to mind are the many “humanitarians” who think that dangerous criminals should not be in prison. It is easy to find examples of violent criminals being treated leniently despite the risk to the public. The most recent case I’ve seen was that of rapist John Warboys who was due to be released from prison. The head of the parole board resigned after it was found that Warboys, who was convicted of one rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault and 12 drugging charges and was believed by police to have committed crimes against more than 100 women between 2002 and 2008, had his release approved without sufficient attempt to find out if he was likely to still be dangerous. His release was only stopped after 2 of his victims launched a legal challenge.

While those who are simply overly sympathetic to criminals and apparently unconcerned with their victims are common in criminal justice systems in western democracies, there have been those who, blinded by ideology, have been exceptionally unwise. In his book, The Psychopath Test, John Ronson describes the pioneering work of Elliott Barker at the Oak Ridge Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ontario in the 60s and 70s.

[Elliott Barker] successfully sought permission from the Canadian government to obtain a large batch of LSD….handpicked a group of psychopaths…led them into what he named the Total Encounter Capsule , a small room painted bright green, and asked them to remove their clothes. This was truly to be a radical milestone: the world’s first ever marathon Nude Psychotherapy session for criminal psychopaths.

Elliott’s raw, naked LSD-fuelled sessions lasted for epic eleven-day stretches. …they were encouraged to go to their rawest emotional places by screaming and clawing at the walls and confessing fantasies of forbidden sexual longing for each other even if they were, in the words of an internal Oak Ridge report of the time ‘in a state of arousal while doing so’.

Elliott himself was absent, watching it all from behind a one way mirror. He would not be the one to treat the psychopaths. They would tear down the bourgeois constructs of traditional psychotherapy and be each other’s psychiatrists.

Other experiments, equally unbelievable, also took place and this chapter of Ronson’s book is genuinely fascinating. Incredibly, some psychopaths showed signs of improvement and were even released following their treatment and apparent cure.

I learnt that, fascinatingly, two researchers had in the early 1990s undertaken a detailed study of the long-term recidivism rates of psychopaths who’d been through Elliott’s programme and let out into society…. In regular circumstances 60 per cent of criminal psychopaths released into the outside world would reoffend. What percentage of their psychopaths had?

As it turned out: eighty per cent.

The Capsule had made the psychopaths worse.

The crimes of some of the released psychopaths were absolutely horrific. Yet the authorities had condoned these ridiculous, experimental treatments and people had died as a result. Yet even now some of those involved defended what they did.

Not every case of ideological blindness to human evil endangers others. Sometimes people only endanger themselves. Two American cyclists and bloggers, Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, had a very strong belief in the kindness of human beings. According to the New York Times, they formed a plan to cycle all over the world. While on their expedition, they affirmed their positive view of humanity:

“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” Mr. Austin wrote. “People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.

“I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”

“No greater revelation has come from our journey than this,” he wrote.

In July this year, they were cycling in Tajikistan when they were spotted by men loyal to the Islamic State and were murdered.

Two days later, the Islamic State released a video showing five men it identified as the attackers, sitting before the ISIS flag. They face the camera and make a vow: to kill “disbelievers.”

It is not just dangers from human beings that we can under-estimate if influenced by the wrong ideology. Eccentric millionaire, John Aspinall, who died in 2000, owned a number of zoos and wildlife parks that regularly appeared in the news for all the wrong reasons. From his Guardian obituary:

The parks have been dogged by controversy after five zookeepers were killed in 20 years, three of them mauled to death by tigers. Yet Aspinall maintained his belief that keepers should be allowed to enter the enclosures where tigers roamed and bond with them.

Aspinall said his philosophy was to encourage keepers to come into close contact with potentially dangerous animals.

However, in 1980, he was forced to shoot two Siberian tigresses that killed two keepers at Howletts, and four years later a keeper was crushed to death by an Indian bull elephant in Port Lympne.

In 1994, the head keeper at Howletts was killed by a Siberian tiger. The most recent victim was Darren Cockrill, 27, who was crushed by elephant La Petite in its enclosure at Port Lympne in February.

In 1996, Aspinall won a high court case to maintain the controversial practice of keepers mingling with tigers, even though in May of that year, a boy was awarded £132,000 because his arm was ripped off by a chimpanzee at Port Lympne in 1989.

There is something in human beings, that means we can adopt belief systems that endanger ourselves and others. We can become convinced that multiple rapists need a second chance; that psychopaths can be cured with nude acid trips; that there are no parts of the world where people will murder us for the sake of it, or that wild animals just want to be our friends. In some of these cases, those who endangered others were in positions of power and influence, and could use their position or their wealth to put others at risk.

I am, obviously, not arguing that excluded children are the same as rapists, psychopaths, ISIS terrorists or wild animals. But we should be wary of those who refuse to see the danger in letting children run wild. People can endanger themselves and others with naive beliefs. People will use their power, influence and “expertise” in ways that put others at risk. I would argue that what we are seeing in the anti-exclusion movement is exactly that kind of ideologically-driven, dangerous naivety.

4 comments

  1. An excellent article. It reminds me of the recent case of Joshua Gardner, an 18-year-old who threatened a motorist with a 12-inch Zombie knife, only to receive a derisory suspended sentence. The judge saw him as a victim rather than a criminal, you see, just as we, in schools, view violent bullies as victims of an unjust society, thus giving them carte blanche to abuse people at will. It really is outrageous and, as you say, dangerous too.


    • One of the things I have noticed about bullies is that they have high self esteem. It is obvious from their behaviour, but no one believes this. Low self esteem is supposed to be their problem and efforts are made to raise this – so they stay bullies, but are seen as victims.


  2. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  3. […] Can ideology blind us to what is genuinely dangerous? […]



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