The grinch who stole Christmas cards
Primary school pupils in Wales have been banned from exchanging cards in the name of saving the planet and its ‘wretched’ Africans.
In recent years, as the festive season draws closer, stories inevitably emerge about how ‘political correctness has gone mad’, with council officers censoring Christmas carols on the grounds of ‘religious preference’, re-branding Christmas ‘Winterval’ and preventing people from hanging up decorations or bringing home-made food to school Christmas parties in the name of ‘health and safety’ (1). But for evidence that environmentalism is now overriding ‘PC’ favourites like multiculturalism and health and safety, look no further than Evan James Primary School in Wales, which has banned Christmas cards – on environmental grounds.
‘The reasons for not having cards are endless’, head teacher Nicholas Daniels claims. Although one could speculate that a big motivating factor was to remove the crushing burden of handing out the cards from teachers (‘We are a big school. We have 68 pupils in two classes in year six. The magnitude of cards is horrendous’), Daniels’ argument was explicitly moral. ‘We did take a strong moral ground on the matter… We knew we would face opposition but we decided to do this on moral and environmental grounds. Cards in school cause litter problems and can become a popularity contest about who gets the most.’ (2)
Evan James Primary School pupils are therefore prevented from handing out their own cards on school property. The head teacher at the neighbouring Parc Lewis Primary School has followed suit by discouraging cards and urging parents to ‘donate £1 (instead of cards) for Oxfam and we will send the money to purchase a goat or mosquito net (for a family in Africa)’. This was explicitly ‘to help us get the Eco School Gold Award-Green Flag’ (3).
School kids are already regularly being fed alarmist stories about the coming climate apocalypse, not least through the dissemination of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth to all schools, despite its well-understood inaccuracies. Now children are being told that even the simple pleasure of exchanging Christmas cards with their friends is sinful, and re-educated to redirect their desires away from warm human interactions to winning an ‘Eco School Gold Award-Green Flag’.
If the report earlier this year which suggested that half of children often lose sleep from worrying about climate change is anything to go by (4), rather than lying awake in excitement waiting for Santa Claus, children will be kept up by scary visions of climate catastrophe.
The Welsh schools’ policies neatly express the general hectoring, moralising tone of environmentalists, and they show how firmly ‘green’ ideas have taken hold in our public institutions. The message being conveyed here is, first, that regardless of how much pleasure we might get from it, consumption is wasteful, and, second, that it is even morally degenerate, since there is an implicit trade-off between Western consumption and the well-being of the world’s poor. So parents are implored help ‘a family in Africa’ instead of buying cards for their own kids.
The idea that it might be possible to expand consumption, and hence improve living conditions, in both the West and the developing world is simply not considered. Rather than being taught that the problems we face are social, and amenable to being overcome through concerted collective action, kids are being taught the reactionary dogma that society has limitations that cannot be transcended. The only way to deal with inequalities is for us Westerners to stop consuming and to donate pittances to the poor (in both senses of the word) Africans.
Imploring us to buy goats or mosquito nets for Africans instead of cards or gifts for each other does not just further a miserabilist attitude to the festive season over here, but a patronising attitude to Africans. As Sadhavi Sharma has pointed out before on spiked, rather than helping fulfil Africans’ own aspirations for a developed society where they, too, can enjoy high levels of consumption, these ‘gifts’ reinforce the image of the developing world as just a huge farm and subsistence farming as a ‘way of life’ rather than an undignified activity that no one would engage in out of choice (5). Mosquito nets, too, are, at best, a second-best solution to a malaria pandemic that is killing a million Africans a year (6). If the schools really want to help Africa, why not raise money for the electricity, transport and communications infrastructure that would really lift communities out of grinding poverty?
There is one last twist to the story. One of the ‘countless reasons’ given by Nicholas Daniels for banning cards was that not all children get the same amount’. So handing out cards ‘can become a popularity contest about who gets the most, with the risk some children could be left out’ (7). So now even distributing Christmas cards has a potential ‘risk’ attached to it. But schools cannot shield children from every potential threat to their self-esteem, and nor should they. Children don’t all have the same number of friends, but no one is (yet) suggesting that we should ban friendships for fear of a negative impact on the self-esteem of those children who have few friends. Coddled children will never become sufficiently robust to deal with the fact that differences in personality and popularity are simply a fact of life.
It seems, that in the run-up to the festive season, children will just continue to learn all the wrong ‘facts of life’: that consumption is bad, that the ‘poor little black babies’ in Africa need you to sacrifice your Christmas cards so they can have a goat, that the environment poses absolute limits to human development, and that normal human interactions pose a threat to our basic sense of well-being. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Lee Jones is a doctoral candidate in politics at Nuffield College, Oxford.
Sadhavi Sharma explained why patronising Christmas gifts get her goat. Lee Jones was not surprised that children are losing sleep over climate catastrophe. Peter Smith said environmentalists are massacring Valentine’s Day. spiked readers named some of the miserabilists turning Christmas into a killjoy season. Frank Furedi analysed the War on Christmas. Or read more at spiked issue Modern Life.
(1) For a compendium of such stories, see We Wish You a ‘PC’ Christmas, 9 December 2006
(2) School defends Christmas cards ban, Western Mail, 14 November 2007
(3) ‘Scrooge’ school bans children giving Christmas cards, Daily Mail, 14 November 2007
(4) See Turning Kids Green with Fear, by Lee Jones
(5) See Why these patronising gifts get my goat, by Sadhavi Sharma
(6) See It’s time for all-out war on malaria, by Paul Driessen
(7) ‘Scrooge’ school bans children giving Christmas cards, Daily Mail, 14 November 2007