Melissa Benn

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Below, details of some of the events I have been – or will be – taking part in over the autumn, as part of publication of ‘What Should We Tell Our Daughters?’ ( Unless otherwise stated, this will usually be the title of the session…)

Please come along – and join the discussion…

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Friday 23rd August

6.30pm Greenbelt Festival
Venue: Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire

Monday 9th September

‘Finding a public voice’ Key Note Speech at Induction Day: Camden School for Girls, North London.

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( above, picture taken with the Camden Sixth Form leadership group – what a team!)

Thurs 19th September

“How to be Female and Awesome.’ 4pm Blenheim Literary Festival with Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman and Polly Morland, author of The Society of Timid Souls -Or How to be Brave (published by Profile).

further details from: http://blenheimpalaceliteraryfestival.com/literature-events-2013/thursday-19/how-to-be-female-and-awesome.

Saturday 21st September – mid afternoon – Brighton

Labour Women’s Conference. Debate with Bonnie Greer and Caroline Criado-Perez on ‘everyday sexism and how to fight it..’ A thousand strong audience here; according to Harriet Harman, who spoke later in the day, this was the largest ever political meeting of women held in this country, certainly in recent times.

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( You can just about spot the One Nation logo behind my head!)

Tuesday 24th September

Discussion on BBC Woman’s Hour about the book with Erinn Dhesi.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03bds3m

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( Erinn and I just before we went into the studio: her first time on national radio, she was amazingly calm!)

Thursday 26th September – Publication Day!

‘Meet the Author’ Interview on the themes of the book with Nick Higham on BBC News 24.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24282455

Saturday 28th September,

Noon, Wigtown Book Festival
Venue: County Buildings Wigtown, Newton Stewart Scotland DG8 9JH

Daily Telegraph review of my session. Complete nonsense to suggest any of the men were shrinking in their seats. But hey – you’ve got to add colour to a report don’t you?

Thursday 3rd October
6.30p.m. City Books Event. Brighton and Hove Sixth Form College, Dyke Road, Hove BN3 6EG
Further info: info@city-books.co.uk
01273 725306

Also on October 3rd:

10 pm. Discussion about the themes of the book on Nightwaves, BBC 3′s arts and ideas programme. The interviewer was Anne McElvoy, who was, as in all my previous encounters with her on radio, in a ‘spatty’ frame of mind. I think she thinks of me as the archetypal progressive lefty comprehensive-education- supporting ‘muesli eating’ feminist whom she needs to challenge at all times. My aim here, as always, is to demonstrate the grace, good humour and gritty combativeness that goes with my kind of politics.(All that muesli eating helps, I reckon…..)

Link to the programme here.

Sunday October 6th

Appearance on Fiona Phillips’ BBC London programme to discuss the book and the question of role models for young women. Below, with Fiona Phillips and Briony Kimmings, actress and playwright.

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Link to programme here; my interview took place over the last half hour of the programme.


Monday October 7th

Guest on The Current, CBC’s breakfast show; discussion with Jen Gerson and Roxanne Gay on the theme of whether Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are empowered or exploited…..


Tuesday 8th October

7pm Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford
48-51 Broad Street
Oxford
OX1 3BQ

Thursday 10th October

Evening Event at Toppings Ely
Venue: St Peter’s, Broad St Ely CB7 4BB

further info: ely@toppingbooks.co.uk

Friday 11th October

Lunchtime Key note talk to: the Association of Maintained Girls Schools, London.

2013 AMGS CONFERENCE5

Saturday 12th October

12.30pm Wimbledon Book Festival, with Viv Groskup
1 Archway Mews, 241 Putney Bridge Rd, London SW15 2PE

Tuesday 15th October

7.30pm Off the Shelf Literature Festival, Sheffield
for further details: Tel 0114 273 4716/0114 273 4400


Thursday 17th October

Event with Stella Creasy MP at Royal Society of the Arts on ‘What Should We Tell OUr Daughters?’

You can listen to the podcast here.
This is a full recording including audience Q and A.

Tuesday 22nd October

Evening Event with Newham Books and Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman.
Venue: Wanstead Library

Wednesday 30th October

Lady English Lecture
Melissa Benn: ‘What should we tell our daughters? Equality and feminism in the 21st century’.

Hosted by:

St Hilda’s College
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 – 17:30
Jacqueline du Pré Music Building
Oxford

You can watch the video of the lecture here.


Saturday 16th November

2.30pm Chorleywood Bookshop Festival

With The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman

More details here: http://www.cwlitfest.org/events.html

Sunday 24th November

3.30pm Folkestone Book Festival

Wednesday 27th November

Bristol Festival of Ideas, Watershed. 6.30 pm

(sold out)


Sunday 1st December

Cambridge Winter Wordfest with Alison Wolf, author of The XX Factor. Venue and time TBC

more details: Cambridge Wordfest, 7 Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EL
T: 01223 515335

(sold out)


I shall also be doing a number of talks and debates in early 2014 – in Cardiff, the Lake District, Plymouth, East London among many places – to mark publication of the paperback of ‘Daughters.’ Details will appear on this website soon.

If you didn’t catch it the first time, you might be interested now?

School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education

The story of the struggle for Britain’s schools, and a passionate call for education as a public good.
School Wars tells the story of the struggle for Britain’s education system. Established during the 1960s and based on the progressive ideal of good schools for all, the comprehensive system has over the past decades come under sustained attack from successive governments.

From the poorest comprehensives to the most well-resourced independent schools, School Wars takes a forensic look at the inequalities of our current system, the damaging impact of spending cuts, the rise of “free schools” and the growth of the private sector in education. Melissa Benn explores, too, the dangerous example of US education reform, where privatization, punitive accountability and the rise of charter schools have intensified social, economic and ethnic divisions.

The policies of successive British governments have been muddled and confused, but one thing is clear: that the relentless application of market principles signals a fundamental shift from the ideal of quality education as a public good, to education as market-controlled commodity. Benn ends by outlining some key principles for restoring strong educational values within a fair, non-selective public education system.

And here are some of the reviews:

“In this polemic, Benn sets herself up as a one-woman commission of inquiry, analyzing the social, political, and financial case for comprehensive schooling in a climate of spending cuts and a culture of privatization.”
– The Times
“This is a tremendous book. It is a passionate polemic about the most important policy divide of the day … It is powerful but also reasonably argued … [and] marks her out as one of Britain’s foremost advocates of comprehensive education.”
– Anthony Seldon, Observer
“Benn’s book could well be an important watershed. It is a clear-sighted re-statement of why universal, comprehensive education is – obviously – the best option. It should, and hopefully will, be taken as a rallying call to the left.”
– Phil Beadle, Independent
“An exceptionally well-informed, cogent, and spirited account of the debates over secondary education in Britain.”
– Stefan Collini, Nation
“If you read just one book on education this year, then make sure it’s School Wars by Melissa Benn. Brilliantly researched and compellingly written.”
– Roy Blatchford, Director of the National Education Trust

For more reviews and discussion of the themes of the book, please go to Verso’s website.

Since my younger daughter, who is just 16, started A-level politics this autumn, every evening meal has been dominated by a spirited discussion on subjects as various as responsible capitalism (do I really believe in such a foolish, contradictory thing?) to the merits, or otherwise, of an unwritten constitution.

Unsurprising, then, that yesterday morning, over breakfast, we were intently discussing the issue of lowering the voting age, following the decision to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. As Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional expert, said on the Today programme this week, it may be an unsatisfying, rather ad hoc way to bring about such a major change, but it makes the introduction of votes to 16- and 17-year-olds throughout the UK far more likely.

 

Read the rest of the piece here.


To see previous pieces by Melissa Benn published in The Independent, click here.

Below a recent review of a remarkable book by a remarkable woman, that appeared in the Guardian:

If You Sit Very Still by Marian Partington


Some years ago, while making a Radio 4 series on forgiveness in private and public life, I interviewed an apple-cheeked woman of impeccable middle-class stock. Everyone who trooped through the studio had a gripping story of betrayal or violence to recount, yet, all these years later, it is Marian Partington’s authenticity and intensity that I most vividly recall.

If You Sit Very Still has taken a further decade….read on

Last month I attended a fascinating discussion about the Finnish school system by Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, an account of how Finland created one of the most successful school systems in the world. In this brief extract from Pasi’s talk, he explains how, in order to create a high quality universal system, the Finns had, first, to abolish private and selective education, which created an unacceptable gap in achievement. This then prompted me to ask a question……… read on.

Over the past couple of weeks i Have been reading and listening to some of the new Happiness Gurus. Last weekend The Guardian gave away Happier, a slim, aggressively yellow book by Tal Ben-Shahar ; this morning, I watched a TEDX speech on line given by an American psychologist, Shawn Anchor, who really should be – is, already – a stand up comedian, on the same subject.

What strikes me, increasingly, is how much these happiness messages run directly counter to the values, both explicit and covert, that young people are taught to hold, particularly at this rather mean spirited point in our society, and particularly within schools. These are, that results matter above all else; only A stars really count: Oxbridge or a Russell Group university are the only places worth aiming for etc

In terms of paid work, the goals are similar. What is prized? Work in some highly visible occupation such as politics, law, media or banking ( yes, even now, although, personally, I have yet to understand what any of these milk-round graduates are actually doing in these glass palaces of post crash capitalism.) And these careers are only worth something if you climb to the top. ( Who salutes a back bench MP who has campaigned hard over many decades to create a fairer society?)

Leave aside the massive issue of inequality of access to these same so called goals; is Super Achievement worth aiming for at all?

Not according to the Happiness Gurus. Ben-Shahar urges us to throw off the Rat Race mentality while Shawn Anchor claims that concern for success actually blocks productivity. (An interesting footnote: only those who have succeeded in the Rat Race can repudiate it. So Shawn Anchor’s talk carefully emphasises his Harvard career while Ben-Shahar begins his book with a story about winning a top athletics tournament as a highly driven, and unhappy, sixteen year old.)

Still, there’s a lot of sense in what they say. It is hard to learn to relish the ordinary moments of life when culture rewards only those ‘mountain top moments‘ of an extraordinary goal achieved.

But what neither the Stressed Over Achievers nor the Laid Back Happy Ones seem to address is the question of meaning. Neither seem to ask: what does happiness or achievement mean if neither are grounded in a life, or actions, based on the things that really matter: strong, honest relationships: kindness ( ‘the ruling principle of nowhere’ as the writer Jan Morris once memorably observed) and deeply held moral and political values, even those these might well lead you far from the centres of power, status or money.

A final footnote: I have long noticed that while contemporary culture rewards those who seek glory and status, history tends to reverse the equation and honour those who advocate, and uphold, justice. So, incidentally, does some of our most substantive, moving and enduring literature: cf George Eliot or Theodore Dreiser.

As a new drama series called Pan Am – a mile high version of Mad Men by the sounds of it – prepares to hit our screens, a brilliant piece by Tanya Gold today on the appalling way in which discussion of womens lives, and feminism, is framed by the press and most broadcasters in this country. The situation is pretty similar in terms of other issues with any radical tinge whatsoever, including trades unionism, the left in general and alternative views of state education.

Below, an interview by Samantha Laurie  in November’s RIchmond magazine. Please click  Melissa layout to read.

Somehow, I think my appearance at the Richmond Literary Festival on November 25th is going to be my trickiest talk yet! A couple of weeks ago I did a long interview with Richmond magazine’s Samantha Laurie which is published this month here. The interview itself, and various follow up e-mail discussions, waas a veritable clash of competing ideas. From these, I learned a great deal more about the educational landscape of this area of London and the powerful interests behind its fragmented school solutions. Given Ms Laurie’s clear personal passions on education, quite different from my own, she treated me extremely fairly in the piece. For that I am very grateful.

…with an interesting website called New Left Direction. See what you think – a slightly different kind of interview.


Welcome to my website. I am a writer, novelist and campaigner. Follow the link below to my latest book. Join the conversation on Twitter. Or comment on this blog......

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