Tuesday 22 December 2009

You can't upset a 14yo girl with leukaemia any more - it's political correctness gone mad!

The Mail on Sunday's front page about the 'sacking' (which wasn't) of a Christian teacher has a new development.

The parents who complained about the behaviour of teacher Olive Jones have now given their version of events to the media. Needless to say, it's quite different to that outlined by Jones, sycophant 'journalist' Jonathan Petre and the Mail on Sunday.

But here's what should make people exceptionally angry.

The parents have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is seriously ill with leukaemia. As if that wasn't stressful enough, the selfish actions of Jones and the pathetic way the Mail on Sunday wanted to push their 'political correctness gone mad' agenda no matter what the truth means they are now thrust into the media spotlight through no fault of their own (except for trying to protect their daughter).

Jones and the Mail on Sunday left them little choice but to speak out given the dismal, one-sided nature of the coverage that spread around almost every media outlet going, and several political blogs too.

Yes, they could have kept quiet, but as they were being smeared all over the media (and abused in reader comments) as almost everyone bought into the line Jones was spinning, why should they?

But frankly, haven't they got enough to deal with without all this?

The Mail on Sunday should be treated with utter contempt for forcing the family into this position, which was sadly inevitable once Petre's story spread. Perhaps Editor Peter Wright would like to explain how he thinks putting the family in the spotlight in this way is in any way justified?

Petre should consider why he thought it was right to file this story despite not getting any proper account from the other side about what really happened and producing something that was so obviously incomplete and half-baked.

And then there's Jones, who seems to want to play the martyr. Her friends at the Christian Legal Centre (whose involvement should also be questioned) have put out a statement on her behalf saying she:

stands by her account.

So not content with causing distress to the family by running off to the media in the first place, she's now calling them liars as well.

Not sure which bit of the Bible that is in...

Here's what the girl's mother said:

'Mrs Jones was employed to teach maths but used every opportunity to discuss religion, despite the fact I made it clear we were a non-religious family and didn't want to talk about these issues in this way.

'On one occasion she asked my daughter to pray with her, my daughter was distressed by this behaviour.

'On another, after the death of my daughter's close friend, Miss Jones told my 14-year-old daughter that when young people die they go to heaven. These conversations upset my daughter deeply.

'The sessions with Mrs Jones became increasingly traumatic and we decided it was not appropriate for this woman to come to my home.'

The father added:

'Mrs Jones' actions caused our family much distress at what is a difficult time. We no longer wanted Mrs Jones to come to our home at any time in the future and we asked the tuition service to deal with the matter.'

The first point is very valid. Jones was meant to be teaching maths, not RE, so she really doesn't have much right to start talking about religion anyway. That's not an issue of 'political correctness', just a question of professionalism.

But, if she did start to talk about her faith and was told to stop, why did she continue to discuss it?

Secondly, in the original Mail on Sunday article, Jones made out she was 'unaware' of the parents' objections. Their statement clearly contradicts that.

Thirdly, Jones claimed after the last visit:

She left on what she thought were good terms.

Yet the parents say the sessions were 'increasingly traumatic' and their daughter was 'distressed' and 'upset'.

Fourth, she said she never pushed her 'beliefs down other people's throats'. Given the number of times both the original article and now the parents' statement claim otherwise, that looks false.

On top of that Jones admitted in the original that a similar complaint about her inappropriately discussing her religious beliefs with a pupil had been made three years earlier.

It should also be remembered - because so many journalists forgot it - that Jones remains under investigation. She has not been sacked, but is not being used until the complaint is resolved. Whether she thought getting the media on her side would help her remains to be seen - it may just have backfired on her.

Jones also said:

'It's a sad situation that in today's society our freedom of speech has been suppressed.'

Nonsense. She was asked not to talk about certain things when she was in another person's house because it was upsetting their cancer-stricken daughter and yet she carried on. That's not a question of free speech.

Jones told the Mail on Sunday of her belief that her life was saved by a direct intervention from God when, as a teenager, she thought she was going to die in a tractor accident before the 'sound of a rushing wind' spared her. More likely: she was never going to die in a tractor accident. But to be telling this story of a life-saving miracle to a teenager with leukaemia is not only spectacularly ill-judged, it is in exceptionally poor taste.

She also said, with a mind-boggling lack of tact:

'I've been left so devastated by the whole situation.'

Yes, she's devastated. That was the line she and the Mail on Sunday wanted to put out to make her the victim rather than the parents struggling to deal with a very sick daughter or, more importantly, the girl herself.

Sadly the Jones/Mail version has already spread - that she was sacked for offering to pray for a sick child. The less-catchy but more-truthful version which says her services are not being used until after a complaint about her upsetting a sick child is fully investigated, hasn't.

Eventhough the Mail published the parents' comments last night, only the Telegraph and Bristol Evening Post has (so far) followed suit. Why the difference?

And, why the difference in the way the Mail has treated these events? The original was on the front page and the main editorial in Sunday's paper and the lead on their website for most of that day.

The story containing the parents' views is not on the Mail's homepage at all at time of writing. Over one hundred stories are - including ones about a pop star without make-up and whether Simon Cowell has put on weight.

But the article which suggests their main story from two days before wasn't entirely true? Less important than that, apparently.

Moreover, they published over 200 comments on the original article. They have so far (in 19 hours) allowed no comments through on the follow-up.

A statement from the North Somerset Council Press office explains:

Teachers like Olive do not have to set aside their faith, but personal beliefs and practices should be secondary to the needs and beliefs of the student and their family and the requirements of professional practice.

That perfectly reasonable view is now what is described as 'political correctness' and 'persecution'. That view, according to the Mail on Sunday, is the view of 'zealots'.

On Sunday, blogger Iain Dale (who should know not to believe everything that is printed in the Mail on Sunday) dismissed the parents' complaint as 'vexatious' without waiting to hear their side of the story. Vexatious means annoying, irritating to the subject, without sufficient grounds. Yes, how annoying and groundless for the parents to try and protect their seriously ill daughter from distress.

Like most others, he hasn't bothered reporting the parents' comments. His post was headlined 'One rule for Christians...' and he suggested:

Does anyone seriously imagine the teacher would have been sacked if she had been a muslim, and offered prayers for the child? Of course not. And rightly so.

Does anyone seriously imagine the Mail on Sunday would have splashed a fawning, unquestioning interview on the front page if a Muslim teacher had been talking to a pupil about his or her religion? Of course not.

Meanwhile, the Christian Legal Centre - who have helped peddle the lies - said in support of Jones:

It is time for a common sense approach to be restored in all these matters.

So to the CLC, a family wishing to save their sick child from upset by complaining to the employers of the intransigent woman causing the distress is not 'common sense.'

But spreading lies and misinformation in the papers and causing further upset to the family is 'common sense.'

Who are the zealots?


  1. I'm feeling angry about this. Its tiring annoying and draining enough for a well person to have someone bang on endlessly about their pet obsession whether its religion or stamp collecting. It must be intolerable when it is your tutor who is doing it so you are a captive audience and on top of that you are unwell.

    If your maths teacher insists on spending his/her time with you talking about some nerdish hobby no one would think twice about it if you say the teacher is not acceptable.

    It sounds as though some "Christians" expect to have the right to waste your time listening to preaching in your own home because otherwise they are not getting the right to free speech. What irritation and potentially dangerous nonsense.

  2. "Does anyone seriously imagine the teacher would have been sacked if she had been a muslim, and offered prayers for the child?"

    Yes. And no doubt the Mail would have backed the decision, and spun it into FANATIC ATTEMPTS TO RECRUIT TERMINALLY ILL CHILD AS SUICIDE BOMBER.

  3. Only discovered Tabloid Watch very recently but it's fast becoming one of my must-reads every day. The skilful way MacGuffin manages to cut through the crap and expose bollocks reminds me of Ben Goldacre's excellent 'Bad Science' website and newspaper column.

  4. Thank you, Hector. That is very high - and undeserved - praise.

    Thanks also to the other readers and people who have taken the time to comment. Really appreciate it.

  5. This shows how anybody can make any kind of nonsensical claim to be discriminated against "as a Christian" and receive the Mail's unquestioning support, along with equally nonsensical cries of "it would never happen to a Muslim!". (Because obviously, nobody ever discriminates against Muslims, do they?)

    Even if this woman genuinely believes she has been badly treated (as she apparently does), does she really consider this a "Christian" way to behave towards a family already under unbearable stress?

  6. I second Hector, I discovered TabloidWatch a month or two ago and now read it everyday. All points are well argued and researched, and I think MacGuffin deserves some sort of award for taking the time to do it!

  7. i used to have private tuition at home and never had any problems, but i bet that if i'd had a teacher who kept trying to talk to me about a completely irrelevant subject to the lesson, my dad would have told them to stop wasting my time and his money and either get on with teaching what they're supposed to teach or don't come round again. if the teacher was there to teach maths, not religion, then the parents' point of view is understandable, especially if she uses the lesson time to talk about death/afterlife and the kid doesn't want to think about it.

  8. just the fact that she was talking to a child who is seriously ill about what happens when you die is tasteless enough. it's a really upsetting story. those parents as you say have now been forced into the spotlight when it seems what they wanted was to care for their child's welfare. i am so sick of the mail and it's stupid, nasty and unprincipled mess of expression.

    so angry!

    but seconds to the praisers of this blog, i read it every day too and it offers me hope! despite all the depressing topics tackled..

  9. I agree with Hector. This blog has become compulsory reading for me. I seethe every time I come across the Mail or the Express because of their utter hypocrisy - they call for a return to values whilst knowingly distorting the truth. What is upsetting is the knowledge that the everyday readers of the papers will accept the lies and base their views and judgements on them.

    Does this matter? Yes it does. The line put out by these papers poisons the common view of immigrants, all politicians, global warming and other issues where honest, nuanced comment is essential.

  10. My friend has sadly joined this Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=249236674767&ref=nf

    I posted a link to this article on the group's wall.

  11. "On another, after the death of my daughter's close friend, Miss Jones told my 14-year-old daughter that when young people die they go to heaven. These conversations upset my daughter deeply."

    I find it interesting that the girl was distressed at being told people go to heaven when they die - pretty much everyone except for militant atheists and fundamentalists tell their children that.

    I do sympathise with the parents and the daughter, there are ways of approaching these things and this teacher clearly got it wrong, but this I found to be stretching the point a little. I know of few teachers who wouldn't talk about it in these terms if there was a death of a child.

  12. Tiffer -

    The kid is sick and she got upset that the teacher was talking about death. You don't see how an authority figure bringing up death when you know you're sick and could quite possibly die might be just a teeny bit upsetting? Especially if you're 14 years old?

    You don't know how the conversation went either - there are ways to talk about heaven that are incredibly upsetting. And very religious people (at least in the US) never seem to understand just how upsetting their beliefs can be to people who don't hold them. Really - the idea that if I don't hold the same beliefs as you I'm going to burn in Hellfire for all Eternity is a horrible belief to hold. And yet any time a Christian evangelizes to me I hear some version of that. If this teacher is half as ham-handed as some of the fools who have accosted me in the street hoping to convince me to "come to Jesus" I can see why the kid would get bent out of shape. (Again - recalling that the kid is SICK and quite possibly DYING any discussion of death is probably going to be a trigger for her anyway, even without the threat of Eternal Damnation to Burn in Hellfire hovering over it).

    Finally this is a teacher not a priest. If the parents had wanted their daughter evangelized at they would have brought in a priest. The teacher should do her job and leave her personal life out of things. If you hired Richard Dawkins to tutor your kid in biology and then he went into a long discussion about how harmful theism was with your kid you'd be rightly upset about it. Why can't you understand that parents who aren't religious might just be equally upset at someone coming in and telling them how to raise their children? The presumption of this teacher is just astounding to me, and the fact that she immediately turned it around and preemptively tried to make herself the martyr by running to the press about it makes me sick.

  13. Another interesting aspect about private tuition - the industry has no regulation at all.
    ANYONE can become a private tutor.
    Despite repeat attempts to highlight the matter, Parliament has yet to close the loopholes.
    So, nutter evangelists who put Jesus as a higher priority than seriously ill children and their distraught parents will keep their jobs and return to work again and again...

  14. Excellent piece of blogging.

  15. I can see how talking to a dying girl about her recently deceased friend is going to upset her. The tutor was completely out of order, I don't care what she thought she was going to achieve, whether it was a miracle recovery or saving her soul before she dies, what she did was a breach of trust and was traumatic and WRONG.

  16. I am a Christian and having read both sides, feel that there's been a massive over reaction on both sides. As Christians we believe we are saved through Christ and this should be shared so others may be saved...we aren't caring about people if we actually believe our beliefs and say nothing. At the same time we are supposed to find sensitive. loving ways of doing this. Olive was clearly inappropriate in her role as tutor and I sympathise with the parents. The daily mail has been irresposible, but Christians who genuionely believe God can help others do need to share the Good News caringly and sensitively. This will sometimes lead to persecution. What do other Christians think?

  17. I think Tiffer speaks the voice of reason!


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