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Dr Muriel Newman

Politics in Schools on Trial

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Schools around New Zealand that are using Al Gore’s controversial film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ to promote the Government’s climate change agenda should be warned that a High Court ruling in Britain has just found that the film is unfit for schools.

Last Tuesday, a British High Court Judge ruled that school children need protecting from political propaganda like Al Gore’s creative film making. The Court action was taken by Stewart Dimmock, a lorry driver and school governor from Kent who argued that his 11 and 14 year old sons should not be subjected to political propaganda and ‘brainwashing’ in the classroom: “I wish my children to have the best education possible, free from bias and political spin, and Mr Gore’s film falls far short of the standard required”, he said.

Mr Dimmock was responding to the Labour Government’s decision to send copies of Al Gore’s film to more than 3,800 schools in England. The film was part of a Climate Change Resource Pack aimed at children aged 11 to 14 years.

During the three-day hearing the Court heard that Al Gore’s film contained serious scientific inaccuracies, that it was ‘politically partisan’, and that it contained ‘sentimental mush’. The Government was accused of backing the film as a way of ‘brainwashing’ pupils on global warming.

As part of the evidence, it was pointed out that Al Gore himself has gone on record saying that it was appropriate to over-represent the facts on global warming in his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in order to get the message across: “I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is”. (To read Al Gore’s full interview in Grist Magazine click here )

While Justice Sir Michael Burton will deliver his ruling in the case later this week, he has already stated that the film promotes “partisan political views” and that schools will need to issue a warning to the students before they show it. He has determined that the Government must amend the Guidance Notes to Teachers to make clear that the film is a political work that promotes only one side of the argument, and he has also decided that the eleven serious inaccuracies in the film that have been identified by the Court, must be pointed out to the children.

The eleven inaccuracies the High Court identified in the movie are:

1. The film claims that melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro evidence global warming. The Government’s expert was forced to concede that this is not correct.

2. The film suggests that evidence from ice cores proves that rising CO2 causes temperature increases over 650,000 years. The Court found that the film was misleading: over that period the rises in CO2 lagged behind the temperature rises by 800-2000 years.

3. The film uses emotive images of Hurricane Katrina and suggests that this has been caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that it was “not possible” to attribute one-off events to global warming.

4. The film shows the drying up of Lake Chad and claims that this was caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that this was not the case.

5. The film claims that a study showed that polar bears had drowned due to disappearing arctic ice. It turned out that Mr Gore had misread the study: in fact four polar bears drowned and this was because of a particularly violent storm.

6. The film threatens that global warming could stop the Gulf Stream throwing Europe into an ice age: the Claimant’s evidence was that this was a scientific impossibility.

7. The film blames global warming for species losses including coral reef bleaching. The Government could not find any evidence to support this claim.

8. The film suggests that the Greenland ice covering could melt causing sea levels to rise dangerously. The evidence is that Greenland will not melt for millennia.

9. The film suggests that the Antarctic ice covering is melting, the evidence was that it is in fact increasing.

10. The film suggests that sea levels could rise by 7m causing the displacement of millions of people. In fact the evidence is that sea levels are expected to rise by about 40cm over the next hundred years and that there is no such threat of massive migration.

11. The film claims that rising sea levels has caused the evacuation of certain Pacific islands to New Zealand. The Government was unable to substantiate this and the Court observed that this appears to be a false claim. (For more information see HERE)

This case against the British Government has only been possible because of amendments to the British Education Act which prohibit political indoctrination by banning the teaching of partisan political views and by requiring that political issues are presented in a balanced manner.

Section 406 of the Education Act 1996 states that local education authorities, school governing bodies and head teachers shall forbid… the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school. And if political issues are brought to the attention of school pupils, the authority, the governors and the head are required by Section 407 to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that… they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.

The New Zealand Education Act does not have such clear safeguards to protect children from indoctrination by political propaganda. That is undoubtedly why the school curriculum not only teaches children about environmental activism (listing Greenpeace as a useful resource for primary school children) but also Maori activism by listing as a resource the Maori Independence site HERE, where the introduction states: “Maori have a long tradition of struggle and resistance against colonisation and the Crown sponsored theft of Maori land and resources. This site focuses on the ongoing struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga and the people who continue to resist the pressures of colonisation and cultural and economic genocide”.

The infiltration of partisan politics is now embedded within the New Zealand education curriculum.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Bruce Logan, a former teacher and founder of Maxim Institute, puts it this way: During the 1970s I taught in secondary schools in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and in each country, the process was the same – English and history curricula became politicised. Literature was distorted to promote ready-made social attitudes. Instead of taking a text for study in order to learn something about human nature, literature was beginning to be used as a lever for instilling fashionable social messages around topics such as ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’, or Neo-Marxist-inspired insights to ‘class consciousness’. (To read Bruce’s article click HERE)

While many countries have now retreated from this outcomes-based approach to learning in favour of a more traditional focus on syllabus and standards, New Zealand is continuing down the radical path. Next month the Government’s controversial new curriculum will be released, which replaces the teaching of facts, figures and general knowledge, with the teaching of skills such as how to hold a conversation, and how to ask for help!

The British High Court case has reminded us that education should be free from political bias with facts being presented in a fair and impartial way. Given the increasing politicisation of our curriculum, surely it is time to introduce into our education act the same safeguards that British children have in theirs?

This week’s poll asks: Do you think New Zealand children should be protected from political indoctrination by introducing provisions into the Education Act that are similar to British law? That law forbids the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school. If a political issue is raised, schools are required to offer a balanced presentation of opposing views.

Reader’s comments will be posted on the NZCPR Forum HERE.