Friday, 23 Feb 2024

‘Brainwashing a Generation’: British Schools Combat Andrew Tate’s Views

As the seventh graders settled into a lecture hall at a school near London, the topic at hand was not human rights, historical events or different religions. “Andrew Tate,” a teacher said, pointing to a photograph projected on the wall. “What do you know about this man?”

Some boys giggled at the mention of Mr. Tate, a social media influencer famed for his misogynist comments. One boy said he liked him because “he has a strong masculinity,” fast cars and a fit body. The teacher projected some of Mr. Tate’s claims, among them that women who are raped should bear some responsibility. A few boys agreed.

“He is wrong,” said the teacher, Jake White. “That is a load of rubbish.”

In schools across Britain, educators are mobilizing to fight back against Mr. Tate’s messages, belatedly realizing the outsize influence he has among their students. A British-American former kickboxer, Mr. Tate gained a following of millions with videos glorifying wealth and a particularly virulent brand of male chauvinism, before being barred last summer from many mainstream social media sites.

In December, Mr. Tate, 36, and his brother and business partner, Tristan Tate, were arrested in Romania on charges including rape and human trafficking, and were still in custody. Their lawyer there, Eugen Vidineac, said in an interview with the Turkish broadcaster TRT that they were innocent.

Neither the arrests nor the social media bans have stopped Mr. Tate’s messaging from proliferating among young people, and his videos remain available online. Mr. Tate has said that women “belong” to men, should stay at home and need men’s direction. He has portrayed men as victims of feminism and false rape accusations, belittled men who do not adhere to his ways and promoted dubious get-rich schemes.

As his video and audio snippets spread from TikTok to school corridors, adults became aware of Mr. Tate’s existence, and traction.

Believing that schools are a microcosm of society — and a preview of its future — educators said it was crucial to target Mr. Tate’s influence early. Since last fall, principals have sent letters to parents warning of his reach, and Britain’s education secretary has said that influencers like Mr. Tate could reverse the progress made in countering sexism.

British schools were already reckoning with what officials have recognized as an endemic culture of sexual harassment of students, leaving both young girls and boys feeling victimized and often unsure of the rules of interaction. Now, educators unexpectedly find themselves spending class time discussing Mr. Tate rather than their lessons.

“I am sad that I have taken up important curriculum time to talk about Andrew Tate,” said Chloe Stanton, an English teacher in East London. “But women have to fight enough in society without this type of attitude to deal with.”

In recent months, Ms. Stanton said, students have started bringing up Mr. Tate in class. They extol his wealth and fast cars. And for the first time in her 20 years of teaching, her 11- to 16-year-old students have challenged her for working and asked if she had her husband’s permission.

She has heard students talk casually about rape. “As the only woman in the room, I felt uncomfortable,” she said. Once, a student asked her if she was going to cry. At home, even her own three sons seemed to defend Mr. Tate.

“He is brainwashing a generation of boys, and it’s very frightening,” she said. “They seem to think he is right. He’s right because he’s rich.”

In the Midlands, Nathan Robertson, a specialist who works with students who need additional support, said that in the past year, he had regularly heard Mr. Tate broadcasting from students’ smartphones. Many in a class of 14- and 15-year-olds he worked with cited Mr. Tate as a role model. When the topic of abortion came up in class, boys began laughing, he said, and called feminism poisonous. Some said that women did not have any rights and that men should make decisions for them.

At a school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a line popularized by Mr. Tate to deride people who do not own luxury cars — “What color is your Bugatti?” — became widespread, said Charlotte Carson, a history and civics teacher.

At first, educators tried to avoid taking on Mr. Tate’s views directly, for fear of giving them a platform. But once they grasped his popularity, they decided that countering his influence took priority.

Though there are no official figures, teachers and administrators around the country said that school-based efforts had become quite common.

During third period one January morning at Merchant Taylors’ School, an all-boys school in London, a lecture hall of 16- to 18-year-olds fidgeted in their seats as two sex and relationship experts asked them to explain Mr. Tate’s appeal. They promised no one would get in trouble.

“It’s the feeling that men are still being looked down upon,” said one boy at the front.

“So he empowered young men who were feeling hard done by?” asked Allison Havey, a founder of the RAP Project, which runs the workshop. “Yes,” the boy said.

One student wanted to know why it was wrong to say it was a woman’s responsibility to protect herself if she was walking alone at night. Another asked what the difference was between coercion and seduction. A third boy wanted to discuss false accusations of sexual assault.

Though it is mandatory for schools in Britain to teach relationship and sexual education, Mr. Tate’s appeal has pushed the RAP Project and other groups, which have run long run such workshops, to delve more deeply into definitions of misogyny and masculinity.

The school where Mr. White teaches, the Epping St. John’s Church of England School, northeast of London, organized a weeklong series of assemblies in response to Mr. Tate’s arrest and his obvious hold on young people. Three male teachers led the sessions (“The boys look up to these guys,” said Mike Yerosimou, the principal), and although misogyny was not their field of expertise, they did research and prepared along with some female colleagues.

They asked students to discuss some of Mr. Tate’s quotes with a partner. One boy, who said he watched more than 10 of Mr. Tate’s videos every day, was concerned that a woman could ruin a man’s life by falsely accusing him of rape.

The teachers played videos about sexual harassment and toxic masculinity and tried to debunk Mr. Tate’s views. They said that being a man was in fact about qualities like respect, “loyalty” and “quiet reassurance.”

After the students left, the teachers wondered: Would the class have any effect?

Many educators say that Mr. Tate’s influence is particularly hard to defeat because his lavish lifestyle, quick wit and success attract young boys. Since they have already warmed up to him, they accept his misogynistic views.

“In this society, material success conveys a sort of being right,” said Michael Conroy, the founder of Men At Work, a group that trains teachers and youth workers to support young men. “And he is combining that with very dangerous messages.”

Those messages, educators said, have found fertile ground among young boys wrestling with questions of how to be a man at a time when traditional gender roles are being challenged. Sensitive to terms like “toxic masculinity,” which for some can feel like a personal attack, some boys find in Mr. Tate a validation of that anxiety, through a worldview that casts men as victims. His arrest, they said, reinforced that narrative of victimization.

“He is handing to these boys a script to respond to their dissatisfaction,” said Ms. Carson, the history teacher in Belfast.

Whether Mr. Tate is worsening society’s misogyny or merely reflecting it was a point of contention among educators.

“Those ideas and those thoughts existed before Andrew Tate,” said Mr. Robertson, the outreach specialist in the Midlands. “But some patterns of misogyny have increased as a result of him becoming more popular.”

Teachers believe it is their job in part to help students understand that despite Mr. Tate’s popularity, his views are outside the mainstream.

“We have to help educate them because the world has changed,” said Deana Puccio, a founder of the RAP Project. “The great thing about Andrew Tate is that we’re finally having the conversation.”

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