The Chinese Water Torture of Disinformation

Today I read this:

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools for England, said she supported the shift back towards traditional academic subjects at GCSE, as these offered the best chance of progress to higher-level study. … But she added Ofsted expected a broad education, including the arts, to be available in the early part of secondary school, arguing that schools should “embrace creative subjects” through extra activities such as plays, art clubs and orchestras. (Source:

At first, like many others on twitter, I was cross. Only Extra-Curricula? Huh!

But then I stopped and reflected on what I have come increasingly to think of as the Chinese Water Torture of Disinformation. This involves the steady drip-drip-drip of a constant but oh-so-gentle stream of things which in themselves are quite innocuous, after all who could be really affected by a gentle dripping? But which cumulatively over time lead to a significant change, either in the individual being tortured, or, in the case of music education, in the systemic but, again, oh-so-gentle effects of the dripping on the subject and its associated activity.

Am I being overly melodramatic? Probably. Well, maybe! But think what we have had dripped on us recently. In no particular order, here is a stream of consciousness list:

  • The telescoping of KS3 to 2 years, meaning we have lost a third of the time
  • The effects of the EBacc on GCSE importance perceptions
  • The internal market in school subjects created by accountability measures, placing music at the bottom
  • The effects of carousel type arrangements reducing already meagre time
  • The changes in GCSE syllabi prioritising certain forms of knowledge
  • The whole knowledge-skills thing in some quarters devaluing musical knowledge and prioritising knowledge about music (what Beethoven had for breakfast type stuff)
  • The unreasonable demands of some whole-school assessment systems
  • A focus away from musical learning and towards written learning in some schools (eg writing about singing, not doing singing)
  • The increase in after-school time for core subject top-up sessions, thus cutting music extra-curricula provision
  • The lost lunch times, preventing extra-curric music happening then
  • The mindsets that we seem to have start exam teaching in Y7, when this may not be appropriate for music (they need to learn and do first).
  • Whole-school CPD which largely ignores, or is irrelevant to music

And many, many more, I’m sure.

And now we are told that music is ‘nice’ as a sort of extra-curricular cultural capital input. Drip-drip-drip.

And whilst I will be accused of being far too Machiavellian, let me also invoke Godwin’s law, wherein any internet conversation will turn to Nazism at some point. Or reductio ad Hitlerum as Wikipedia nicely calls it! Well, Joseph Goebbels knew a thing or two about propaganda and messaging, and he said:

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

And this, for me, is what the Chinese water torture of disinformation is doing. Words are being twisted, but they are also being used against us. After all, what reasonable person could believe that the core school subjects are not important? Where the cunning manoeuvre comes is in saying that if you don’t agree with this, you are against it.

“What, so you are in favour in lowering standards then, you blobby blobs?”

“No, I merely think that music and the arts are important too.”

“Yes of course, but we are in favour of raising standards, and so you want to dilute this?”

“No, I merely think that music and the arts are important too.”

“So you are in favour of Britain not competing on the global stage because our youngsters will lack the knowledge needed?”

“No, I merely etc…”

Very, very clever.

And finally, as my thoughts are of music, another Goebbels gem:

“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”

And for the press, today add social media, and the effects of external groupthink (I haven’t mentioned Orwell!)

The great keyboard is being played, but we want the music changing.



About drfautley

Professor Education at Birmingham City University, UK.
This entry was posted in Music Education, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Chinese Water Torture of Disinformation

  1. mrcjbolton says:

    Great post! Yesterday I delved deep into the depths of Kenrick library to find the SCYPT Journal (The Standing Conference for Young Peoples’ Theatre). Many of the articles, from the mid 80s to mid 90s shared a similar sentiment. I’m trying to remain an optimist and think that the pendulum must swing back to the arts soon!

  2. mrcjbolton says:

    Reblogged this on mrcjbolton and commented:
    Something to consider here…

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