by Peter Franklin
Monday, 22
November 2021

Benenden’s head is wrong on wokeness

The girls' school head is the latest actor in the culture wars
by Peter Franklin
Not a snowflake… Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

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:

“Older adults should not use terms like ‘woke’ or ‘snowflakes”’ to mock the younger generation and their commitment to campaigning on issues like misogyny, Black Lives Matter, gender identity and climate action, a leading headteacher has said.”
- The Guardian

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:

“As they go into their 20s and into further maturity, what was such a passion for them when they were younger will end up just going by the wayside…”
- Samantha Price

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:

“This so-called ‘woke’ generation are actually simply young people who care about things: about causes, about the planet, about people. It ultimately comes down to something very simple: being kind. Isn’t that what we all want our toddlers to be? We teach them to be kind.”
- Samantha Price

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?

Join the discussion

  • So the usual way I address young people: “You stupid, craven, ignorant, sheep….” is Problematic? I thought I was just being strait forward.

    And in the lead photo – the Anarchist Flag in the background – it is not such a summer of love kind of symbol, the Black flag over Red is Antifa, that Fascist, Racist, hate group – so it is all not so innocent….the A O is anarchist, which is hand in hand with antifa, and also a political movement of Nihilism and anger. (and is also aligned with satanist symbols)

    Most of these young are snowflakes, and so naive and ignorant of the real world., and it would be good for them to get some exposure to what they really are supporting, so they may see its dark side. Maybe this Headmistress needs to give classes on the Actual Meaning behind the protests and riots and anti-social nature of youth protests.

  • You’re kidding, right? I am foursquare against Greta, that annoying little twerp. Yet if she mentioned global overpopulation as being the main problem in global warning and many, many other maladies, I’d be marching with her.
    Shameful betrayal? Adult activities are held to adult standards. If the snowflakes can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  • This is a good observation. Wokeness is an obsession of the elite, and if people want to join the elite, or give their children a chance to join it, they will go woke to do it.

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