The girls' school head is the latest actor in the culture wars
Speeches given to the Girls’ Schools Association annual conference tend not to make national headlines. But today is an exception. Remarks given by Samantha Price, the headmistress of private girls’ school Benenden, have received widespread media coverage — including in the BBC, The Times, and the Daily Mail.
This is how The Guardian sums up her argument:
From the quotes trailed in advance of her speech, Price is worried that young activists might be discouraged by a negative reaction from older people:
Really? Calling someone a “snowflake” is just about the gentlest mockery imaginable — and if that’s enough to cause a meltdown, then perhaps the point is self-demonstrating. Previous generations of young activists have faced a whole lot worse — and it’s not like that stopped the march of progress. For that matter, it hasn’t stopped young activists from the current generation either. Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has been relentlessly mocked — she even has her own Spitting Image puppet — but she continues to turn the publicity into opportunities to spread her message.
If young people want to participate in public debate, then taking them seriously means not exempting their opinions from legitimate criticism. However, Price is in danger of infantilising both the opinion and the opinion-giver. This is what the BBC reports her as saying:
But it isn’t as simple as that. I doubt that most people would count the treatment that Kathleen Stock received from student activists at Sussex University as “being kind”. And then there’s Samantha Price’s own brush with cancel culture. Last year, it was reported that she had to apologise after she use an outdated racial term. She only did so to provide a historical example of no-longer acceptable language, but still faced protests.
For its own good, we need to distinguish youthful activism in general from wokeness in particular. The latter isn’t characterised by “people who care about things”, but by pathological offence-taking. A further defining feature is the notion that structures of “privilege” must be dismantled — for instance, the privilege of an expensive private education.
Would the headmistress of Benenden would consider that a kindness too?