Last week, Girlguiding, the leading UK charity for girls and young women, caught my attention – and many other people’s – when it tweeted in celebration of Aceweek, “a time to raise awareness and understanding of the asexual community.”
It paid tribute to “all” of its “asexual volunteers and members” in a post that raised a lot of questions about the purpose of the organisation. What is Brown Owl doing, after all, lecturing on this matter – as opposed to teaching girls about, say, how to put up a tent?
Forget camping trips and frolics with friends, though, it seems that girls are learning about a whole host of psychosocial matters when Mum and Dad drop them off at Brownies. Indeed, Girlguiding’s Twitter page is littered with posts about “microaggressions” and diversity and inclusion, among other things.
In one post, Girlguiding warns that “88% girls aged 7-21 feel it’s urgent that we do more to protect the environment.” But why are children as young as seven even being polled on eco policy? You might ask. Is this what we want after-school clubs to focus on?
Unfortunately, Girlguiding’s Twitter feed seems emblematic of a wider trend, which is the PSHE-ification of Western society. Organisations increasingly believe it’s their role to lecture children on the birds and bees (or neither, in the case of asexuality), and everything in between.
PSHE, as many will know, stands for Personal, Social and Health Education. Back in my day that was learning about sex, drugs and eating disorders, among other interpersonal issues. Lessons lasted an hour maximum and were not the dominant feature of a child’s education.
In 2021, however, the number of social issues a child is supposed to know about goes much further, and delves into completely fringe territory. A BBC film to support PSHE in schools, for example, taught children that there are 100 or more gender identities.
Schools are also expected to teach kids about mental health and emotional wellbeing – something I fear leaves them more confused than empowered. How will young children be able to tell the difference between normal sadness, or if they have this thing their teacher told them about – depression?
Furthermore, children are learning about climate change, with no consideration for how scary some of this information is. So in depth is their knowledge, apparently, that a group of eight to 12-year-olds were recently sent to Downing Street for the “Children’s Climate Conference”, where they grilled Boris Johnson on his policies.
It’s hard to believe that we have a Conservative government while this PSHE-ification phenomenon intensifies. We seem to talk more about these matters than traditional parts of education, and it’s become the default for the state, teachers and organisations – essentially anyone other than parents – to take ownership of personal development.
At the risk of sounding like Mary Whitehouse, I should point out that I’m not against PSHE lessons, per se; for some children, sex education is vital in homes where parents don’t want to talk about it. But it’s the extent to which PSHE now dominates education, the scope of what it covers and its lack of political neutrality – especially in the case of climate change – that is troublesome.
The PSHE-fication of our society goes further than schools, though; it now seems that in almost every area of our lives we are offered some sort of pastoral care. As Andrew Gimson recently wrote for ConservativeHome, one of the areas the nation is most bossed around over is climate change.
And, indeed, with the advent of COP26, I have been amazed at the amount of moral guidance I have received by way of adverts. My Twitter feed has had many from eco conscious companies, telling us all to do more. Eastenders and other TV shows have even embedded environmental lessons into their storylines. Industries seem to have forgotten their primary functions – to sell, entertain, and the rest, appointing themselves the teacher at school to our childhood selves.
Sadly the public does not seem resistant to this occurrence. The pandemic, in fact, reinforced people’s urge to be parented, from whether they should wear a face mask to the politics of eating a scotch egg in a pub. The apocalyptic warnings from COP26, where attendees can only wash their hands in cold water (for sustainability purposes), hint at how the state – and others – could next direct our lives.
Either way, we are heading in the wrong direction. That Girlguiding now opines on asexuality should be a wake up as to what is now prioritised in education. It’s time to let kids be kids, and for the adults to grow up.