A guest post by Craig Rickards, an experienced music teacher who has worked at an all-girls secondary school in England for over thirty years.
We are grateful to Mr Rickards for allowing us to publish his insights into the chilling effect of an ideology that cannot be questioned and the impact this has within the school environment. We also thank him for his courage in challenging it.
The silencing effect of toxic ideology in schools
It was during the period of the English civil war in the mid-17th century that one of the most sinister events, or series of events, in our history took place. This was when the self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ Mathew Hopkins, along with his chief cohort John Stearne, went around the little market towns of East Anglia and carried out a prolonged period (nearly three years) of witch hunts, trials and executions of innocent people.
It seems remarkable today that this was allowed to happen, even knowing that most people at the time believed in God, possibly the devil and in some cases the power of witchcraft. This, though, was a time of instability and social upheaval where suspicion, finger pointing and conspiracy was rife at all societal levels. Even so, one would have thought that if enough wary individuals had got together and opposed him they could have averted the catastrophe. In the end, the demise of Hopkins was largely down to one brave clergyman, John Gaule, who wrote a publication; ‘Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft’ and sent it to the House of Commons as well as embarking on a programme of Sunday sermons to suppress witch-hunting. I say brave because prior to that one of Hopkins’s unfortunate victims was a Reverend John Lowes, vicar of Brandeston who was executed along with 17 others on the same day in Bury St. Edmunds.
It has always seemed to me that those who indulge in a high level of false selfhood and lies, whether it be collectivised false selfhood (toxic ideology) or individual (often called narcissistic personality disorder), actually know on some level that what they are doing is profoundly wrong.
At the end of World War Two the Nazi leaders were not treated as being the innocent victims of indoctrination into a toxic ideology. Mr Hopkins may have convinced himself that he was a servant of God but this didn’t stop him employing extremely dubious methods of investigation during his trials. For example, using a lightly sprung metal spike that retracted back into its wooden handle when you stabbed someone with it and magically popped back out when retracted, creating the desired illusion (the idea being that witches didn’t bleed after being stabbed). The most notorious method though was the water trial. Here the accused’s hands would be tied to their feet before they were tossed into a mill pond or moat. If they sunk to the bottom and drowned they were innocent but if they bobbed around near the surface gasping for breath they were guilty. A perfect though blatant and horrendously cruel double bind.
It is my belief that double bind can be found wherever there is a high level of false selfhood or toxic ideology. Unfortunately it isn’t usually as obvious as the water trial and is often simply ‘felt’ before being understood on a cognitive or intellectual level. It can be found in ideology that is more often associated with the political right, such as racism and sexism. But it can also be found in ideology that is usually associated with the political left/liberal such as the recent rise of the phenomenon now being called ‘Woke’ or ‘Wokeness.’
No reasonable person can deny that racism, sexism, homophobia, issues concerning Islam and Islamophobia and transphobia are to varying extents and in various ways, real and sensitive moral and social issues. But here is the rub. Woke is a form of toxic ideology or collective false selfhood that seems to be actually feeding off these issues as a source of narcissistic supply. Therefore it actually needs people to ‘seem to be’ racist, transphobic etc, just as Mathew Hopkins had to find ways to ensure that it seemed that people were witches. And if people don’t seem to be racist/transphobic enough the goalposts have to be widened and forms of double bind/gas lighting employed to ensure that they do. Hopkins wanted and needed people to appear to be bad, not good. If there are no witches to eliminate he’s out of business.
So how does this magic trick work and what do groups like the Mermaids charity have in common with a character like Mathew Hopkins? Well firstly they are self-appointed experts who have exploited the fertile ground of social conflict and upheaval. i.e. English civil war, culture wars/Brexit. In this climate Hopkins was somehow allowed the freedom to go from town to town doing ‘good honest necessary work’ (and being generously paid for it in gold sovereigns) just as Mermaids have somehow been allowed to go from school to school doing ‘good honest necessary work’. Also the main factor at work is the fear of accusation and punishment. To be accused of witchcraft in one of those little towns meant almost certain death. People would have kept a very low profile and would have been very reluctant to speak up for anyone else who was accused, for fear being accused themselves. Some no doubt would have been relieved to be able to point the finger at the old spinster on the edge of the wood who was loosing her teeth and who kept herself to herself.
No one is likely to be executed for witchcraft today, but as someone who has been working in an all-girls secondary school for thirty odd years and witnessed the sudden emergence of rapid onset gender dysphoria in only the last 3-4 years I have observed how any conversation on the issue seems to be ‘shut down’ (among both staff and pupils) due to a very real fear of being accused of transphobia, a relatively new word/syndrome in our common vocabulary. Who, working in education, can afford to be accused of cruelty towards and a lack of care and compassion for the relatively new phenomenon which is ‘the transgender child’? And Mermaids will and do accuse schools and individuals of being transphobic and not complying with gender legislation. Schools can also be made to feel guilty if they are not signed up as ‘Stonewall Champions’. At the same time most of the girls and former girls who are ‘the victims’ seem to be very confident and empowered. They seem to know that they have the staff over a barrel.
To some extent the trans ideology would have found its way into the school anyway, but an invitation to Mermaids to come in and educate both staff and pupils on the issues seems to have speeded up the process. Why would pupils doubt experts who have been invited into the school by senior management? It seems that the more the ideology spreads, the more evil the crime of transphobia becomes and the more easy it is to fall into the trap of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Job done. We’re all now walking around on egg shells. The bind is simple but effective. Speak the truth and you are an evil transphobe. Don’t speak the truth and you are living a lie (obviously). For truth to eventually emerge we must already know on some level what truth actually is. But must we now live with what is known as ‘existential guilt’, the guilt of not being true to ourselves?
Well not quite.
I said to a girl recently who had opened up to me about her troubles during an individual lesson: “Look, just because you played with dinosaurs instead of dolls when you were little and just because you prefer watching Dr Who to Love Island, it doesn’t mean that you’re a boy.”
Even a couple of years back when all this started to kick off, I gave one of my 6th form pupils an essay that I’d written on the issue. In her previous individual lesson (before which she’d told me she needed to ‘educate me’) I’d allowed her (as the leader of the schools Stonewall group) to educate me on the topic of gender identity and the 76 different gender identities etc. Giving her the essay was probably a bit risky but I knew we had a good relationship. She picked up on a couple of things from the essay and confessed to me that she had some reservations about the transgender thing but daren’t raise them at a Stonewall group meeting. She’s at Uni now but we’re still in touch. Just before she went she came round to our house with her mum with a card and present. I’m glad I didn’t bottle it.
Compared to the witch trials this trans issue amongst children doesn’t seem to be too sinister. However, if my point about feeding off this issue as a source of narcissistic supply is consistent, it implies that the witches in this case are the transphobes, not the children who are simply the pawns in this ideological con trick. We are effectively being told that if we question the trans ideology we are child abusers. But what if the problem is the other way round. The mother with Munchausen’s by proxy feels the need to make her child ill, or seem to be ill in order to fulfil her own deep rooted false selfhood and psychological disturbance. Could this be something like a collectivised version of the same sort of thing? It’s very difficult to discern because all we see is the hyper caring mother. And if an ideology is telling a thirteen-year-old girl who is all over the place in terms of ‘Who am I’ and ‘Do you love me’ that it’s fine to take puberty blockers and have her breasts removed then it seems to be pretty sinister to me. Especially if it has, at root, nothing whatsoever to do with compassion and concern for children.
Since our return to school in September after the spring/summer lockdown, things have changed somewhat. The Stonewall group is much less well attended than it was two years ago and fewer girls seem to be exercising their right to boyhood and the like. Since the tragic George Floyd event in the summer it’s all been about racism. And one or two social justice warrior types in the 6th form have been doing surveys among pupils and ex pupils to try to expose racist attitudes among the staff. Such is life in a modern secondary school.
It seems that the rise of woke is still a growing concern, and due to its hidden nature and its ability to hide itself behind a masquerade of care and compassion, a very difficult problem to tackle. But at least with its most disturbing manifestation i.e. the issue of trans kids, the winds of change seem to be afoot. The new government guidelines issued in September stating that ‘pupils must not be told that they may be a different gender based on personality or clothes’ and the High Court ruling in early December preventing under 16s from being prescribed puberty blockers without application to court are a welcome step in the right direction and a massive kick in the teeth for activist groups such as Mermaids and Stonewall. It feels as if someone has pointed out that the emperor is wearing no clothes and some people are suddenly waking up and saying; “Yes, of course, I knew that all along.”
A huge amount of credit should go to those who have worked tirelessly all along – who have stared the demon in the face as it were and simply refused to submit. Those such as Stephanie Davies-Arai, Posie Parker, Heather Brunskell-Evans and their supporters who have campaigned relentlessly and who simply won’t take bullshit. And also to the brave kids who are beginning to come forward to state that they had been given poor guidance and advice, lack of proper counselling and almost been given a push towards early transition.
Ideology is an extremely powerful force. It will rampage through a society unless it is understood and opposed. Hopefully, if enough people wake up to what is going on and are brave enough to take a stand, things can change for the better. If people do nothing the overriding ideology that is now being called ‘woke’ will find its way into all the institutions of society, including the Higher courts. Not even science and fact-based institutions are impervious. If the ideology is allowed to become the moral centre of ‘The Establishment’ we will be living in a dystopia.