Is anti-capitalist youth work next?

The Guardian reports that the government has ordered schools in England not to use resources from organisations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism.

Department for Education (DfE) guidance issued on Thursday for school leaders and teachers involved in setting the relationship, sex and health curriculum categorised anti-capitalism as an “extreme political stance” and equated it with opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and endorsement of illegal activity.

Put aside for a moment the issue of the impact of this fait accompli upon youth workers in schools I wonder where this leaves an open-ended youth work practice, which seeks to encourage a critical dialogue as to the roots and contemporary manifestations of oppression and exploitation?

Where does it leave In Defence of Youth Work itself, which in its founding letter argues that Capitalism is revealed yet again as a system of crisis: ‘all that is solid melts into air’; which in its cornerstones argues the continuing necessity of recognising that young people are not a homogeneous group and that issues of class, gender, race, sexuality and disability remain central?

Indeed what are these self-appointed censors going to say about articles with titles such as ‘The Impact of Neoliberalism upon the character and purpose of English Youth Work and beyond’, written by members of the IDYW Steering Group for the SAGE Handbook of Youth Work Practice, which begins:

In this chapter we argue that the present state of English youth work exemplifies the corrosive influence exerted by neoliberal capitalism upon its character and purpose. In doing so we hope to contribute to a collective understanding of how youth workers might criticise and resist on a national and international level neoliberalism’s arrogant contention that there is no alternative.

and which closes:

Our starting point is not youth work per se. It is a radical educational praxis, often described as critical pedagogy, which does not belong to any particular profession or institution. At heart it is about the struggle for authentic democracy, about the continued questioning of received assumptions. It is obliged to oppose neoliberal capitalism. Educators committed to this radical praxis do so in a diversity of settings, under differing constraints and across the board.

Is it mere coincidence that in the same month the Tories invoke the threat of ‘extreme political stances’, the American President has launched a scathing assault on the liberal New York Times 1619 Project? It sets out its stall as follows:

Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.

In an article by Michael Desmond, ‘Capitalism’, well worth reading, he asserts, in order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.

In response Trump rails against decades of Leftist indoctrination in schools, which have defiled the American Story.

I fear that we are not taking the insidious global slide to authoritarianism seriously enough. To be in conversation with young people about prejudice and injustice, sexism, racism and transphobia, precarious work and trade unions, the environment and climate change, anarchism, social democracy and socialism, all these talking points necessitate grappling with Capitalism’s past, present and future. Doing so is to play a part in the emergence of the critical young citizen, who will whatever their political leanings resist being told what they have to think.


  1. That’s outrageous Tony. Censorship of this kind seems more consistent with a dictatorship and a step away from human rights… thanks for keeping us updated.

  2. Well,what a turn up eh? Young people are taught to be anti capitalist/seek a different way of being/doing things,because they are taught to.
    Their lived experience of structural inequality,exploitation and oppression,is of nothing when
    compared to their willingness to do what they’re told.Believe what they’re told .
    By teachers etc……..another turn up for the books? Given the decades long pathologist gets of young people’s behaviour,ideas and cultures.Oh well if only we’d known.
    It is undoubtedly true that some teachers,youth workers may well be anti capitalist,as they may well have other beliefs.That is not the same as the work/teaching/practice being anti
    Capitalist .Or indeed it’s purpose.
    As we know ,believe and practice education etc is a way of enabling young people to explore,test out and work through who they need to be,what kind of world they want to be part of. And what they need to know,experience and develop to bring this all together.
    Obviously,this entails looking at the world around them,coming to a judgement about how it has developed this way.And then crucially working out how they respond to this.
    Surely the educator’s/youth workers role in this is to help them negotiate this.Not the same as deciding this is the outcome/desired impact.
    By coincidence the NYA has just produced it’s Curriculum Document,see In Defence FB,a cursory glance sees the return of Purpose.
    This is to be welcomed,given the blind alleys of Impact/Outcome
    that await without that sense of what doing and why?
    It re-affirms the role of the work/worker as Critical Dialogue,and exploring Young peoples starting points.
    As I say a cautious welcome,till we’ve mulled,chatted through,whined and moaned. Whilst ending up with a conclusion.
    As for the Anti Capitalist teaching non sense,it’s more disruption,playing to the gallery,displacement and undoubtedly part of the wider authoritarianism.
    Aimed at a neo managed democracy,which pens in pluralism,the gains of the enlightenment and Bourgeois Revolution.
    Ie that we are of equal value, equal citizens and entitled to be part of the civic realm as equal participants and subjects.
    Summed up as Equality,Solidarity and Liberty
    Another World is Possible:Organise,Educate,Agitate

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