by Eric Kaufmann
Friday, 18
February 2022
Debate
10:30

Rules for politics in the classroom don’t go far enough

Nadhim Zahawi's attempt to reduce partisan teaching is full of holes
by Eric Kaufmann

This week Nadhim Zahawi’s Department for Education issued new guidance to schools on how to teach contentious subjects such as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This is an overdue step in the right direction. It clarifies that schools mustn’t parrot the talking points of partisan organisations on sensitive issues, but should approach them in a balanced manner. It reminds schools that they have an obligation to be impartial, unlike a Nottingham School where pupils who, after watching a documentary critical of the Prime Minister, were then encouraged to write letters calling on him to resign.

However, the guidance operates at an abstract level, with little indication of how partisan teaching will be monitored, or what the scale of penalties is for repeated non-compliance. The devil is always in the details, and here we find precious little on how Britain’s misdeeds should be contextualised (did other places have slavery and empire?), the definition of balance (50-50 or 99-1?), and positive guidelines on what should be included in the curriculum (i.e. the excesses of communism and utopianism).

In all these respects, the guidance lags far behind important developments in America which have outlawed, for instance, teaching that white children are part of an oppressor class because they share the same pigmentation and culture as those who instituted racism in the past. While such bills have occasionally departed from liberal values by banning books, their main thrust — which seeks to protect children’s right to equal treatment — is sound and should be emulated in Britain.

Many also include a requirement for materials on controversial subject areas to be placed online, which British guidance should include. Newer American legislative initiatives also mandate that schools must teach about the genocidal excesses of the Left as well as the Right in civics classes, rather than skewing instruction solely toward the sins of the latter. This is vital for a more balanced view of the past to take root in future generations.

In addition, the guidance shies away from precision over the contentious topics most likely to cause problems.

For instance, it says that certain values are consensual not political, such as ‘challenging discrimination and prejudice, including racism.’ That is true for traditional racism, but what if a teacher decides to broaden its remit to include ‘structural racism’, which holds that gaps in racial outcomes are prima facie evidence of discrimination? Or that saying ‘anyone can make it in Britain’ reflects unconscious bias? Nothing in this guidance would prevent the teaching of an unscientific Critical Race Theory (CRT) approach.

The guidance gets concrete on questions such as climate change, but avoids setting out examples of what balance might look like in controversial subjects such as empire, the trans debate and racism. While Black Lives Matter is mooted, the only stipulation is that teachers don’t advocate for defunding the police. Stonewall goes unmentioned. Nothing would prevent the teaching of CRT or a strongly Left-biased approach to British history so long as a minor chord of centrism was included. Teachers are told they ‘should ensure’ they are not expressing their personal views as fact, but allows school leaders to decide if they wish to enforce this or not.

Without more clarity around the definition of contentious terms, enforcement mechanisms, curriculum content and transparency, this guidance is unlikely to achieve its objectives.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
22 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
4 months ago

You cannot hope to teach Politics to young students impartially.
Teach them about the systems of government, the machinery of government, how things become law, maybe. That is more process oriented and can be done on a more objective level.
But the moment you rely on teachers and lecturers to discuss political parties and policies it is impossible that they will be able to avoid filling impressionable young people’s heads with their own political biases – then you are on a very slippery slope if that is a core subject to be marked and graded.
History has always been a battleground as modern ideas clash over how our past should be interpreted. Facts are secondary to narrative in today’s teaching of history – and our broader society and culture suffer as a result. The identitarian left has already captured most of the teaching profession and most of the cultural institutions of this country. Much of the current fashion of supposedly “decolonising the curriculum” has in fact narrowed rather than broadened what is taught. It’s decades since children were told the British Empire was simply a force of unalloyed good for the world, but the pendulum has swung far too far the other way. The current fashion is to teach that it was simply a 300 year carnival of atrocities and depredation. What lessons can be learned from History if it is shorn of all context and nuance? 
The Humanities is already well-known to be hopelessly skewed in its world-view thanks to the massive left bias of faculty members. This leftist world view already has undue influence across most of our higher education – but it is another thing entirely if politics itself becomes the curriculum topic.
Can we expect an essay – factually correct in every particular – yet written from a right of centre perspective, to receive the same critical appreciation as an essay written in woolly liberalese, sprinkled with the appropriate buzz-words and sticking to the orthodox, approved view?
Who honestly thinks such a move – ostensibly to “broaden” a student’s outlook, is likely to do that, rather than narrowing a student’s view to see the world through the same prism as their professor’s?

Ed Cameron
Ed Cameron
4 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

True. I was astonished when told by a sympathetic history professor that I had too much faith in humanity or was hopelessly naïve (or both) to trust that I would receive a fair grade for my papers if I did not subscribe to the assessor’s view. And that was 40 years ago. 

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
4 months ago
Reply to  Ed Cameron

That brought back memories. Nearly fifty years ago I followed a literature course, and one topic was ‘sincerity in poetry’. There were two parallell seminar series : one given by a very eminent academic whose thesis was that it didn’t matter if the poet actually believed what he wrote as long as it was good poetry, and the other seminars were
given by a slightly less eminent academic whose thesis was that it could not be good poetry if the poet did not sincerely believe what he wrote.
The exam paper was marked by the second academic.
Guess which group of students got, on average, higher marks?!?!

Actually in hindsight the marks didn’t matter. I attended wonderful seminars given by an inspirational, world-class facilitator (rather by a second-rate old prune living in a fantasy arty-farty world of her own) and I learned the almost equally valuable lesson that organisations do not work on a principal of fairness. Also that there was no point getting upset about it : just move on.

Last edited 4 months ago by Fred Atkinstalk
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Putting the current teachers in charge of education the students is like putting vivisectionists in charge of a petting zoo.

Then putting the Teachers Unions in charge of interfacing the teachers with the Government charged with education the nations children is like putting Luddites in charge of a cotton mill.

The only hope for the West is ‘School Vouchers’ where every parent is given the funds their local school would receive – which they can apply to any school of their choosing.

Let the Sheep Liberal/Lefty parents send their kids to the mental abattoir to be educated – if the Right minded then have the choice to send their children to get a useful education.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
4 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Definitely with you on the vouchers. Sure, charter schools could become woke too. But as long as parents can leave, they have a market reason not to, and those that can’t or won’t realize this will take the hit to their wallet. Public schools get away with their current shenanigans because they have a monopoly. It leads to bad results in business and government, why would anyone be surprised it should have a similar result in education?

Ed Cameron
Ed Cameron
4 months ago

I do hope Professor Kaufmann does not suffer invective or worse punishment from the academic managerial class, his peers, students or drive by slanderers for this hopeful glimmer of rationality.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
4 months ago

Schools – beyond teaching facts and figures – should teach how to think, how to study, how to commit facts to memory, how to gain new skills and new knowledge, and most important, how to develop a sound character. Without a good heart, all else is to no positive purpose.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

You know a Teaching Degree is the easiest degree in all the University system – AND that students now days are about average intelligence mostly – and that it takes at least a 115 IQ to pass any real courses – and very few of them have that – And Thus – the stupidest students elect teaching degrees as that is all they are capable – and then they teach the children.

Peter LR
Peter LR
4 months ago

I think this piece misses an important point – the age of the children. Most abuses of bias are towards young primary age children who have not fully developed their questioning capacities and tend only to challenge a teacher if asked to.
Ensuring teaching materials can be viewed by parents online is essential. The row in Brighton was because the Greens tried to prevent people from assessing teaching materials on race by claiming industrial copyright restrictions. I think they are adopting the old Catholic mantra: give me a child until they are 7 and I will give you the man!

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter LR

The Woke version of this is: give me a child until they are 7 and I will give you the gender-neutral transsexual two-spirit non-binary non-birthing man.

Last edited 4 months ago by Julian Farrows
Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

A simple up vote didn’t seem adequate! Brilliant!

George Glashan
George Glashan
4 months ago

Do kids listen to their teachers? on anything.. but specifically politics? that doesn’t chime with me. Kids are definitely picking this progressive stuff up on social media and from influencers but teachers? if that were true conservatism would have gone extinct decades ago. it’s one of the benefits of the maxim ” those who can, do. those who can’t, teach” schools for decades have been full of lefty activists types who would love to indoctrinate the young, but there rubbish at it and they fell into teaching because as a profession it’ll take anyone with a pulse and degree to run their glorified creche. i think this new guidance credits teachers with far to much competence.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

You say that but I think you give young people to much credit.
My sons not long ago completed secondary education. They are still extremely angry about what they were subjected to.
There experience was that indoctrination started at infants school and continued right through until sixth form. The basic narrative was the that the world was a hierarchy of victims and they being white and male were right at the bottom, everything was the fault of people like them and the only way to atone was to slavishly adopt all the right values and attitudes.
Almost all their male contemporaries succumbed. They all have the same left wing values and views which if challenged they are unable to justify and just respond with the same old tropes and slogans. If you present them with an idea that is not consistent with the orthodoxy they get al overcome as if you have offered them a piece of forbidden fruit and if they take even a single bite they will be damned forever.
They give the impression of being cowering eunuchs and have the physical presence to match.
I agree that the education system is far from the only influence but it does play a very significant role. Both my sons believe that that the education system cannot be reformed and should be abolished and replaced. They do not think what exists provides any value that could not be delivered in 18 to 24 months of tutoring. As my youngest son put it on leaving grammar school “that was 12 years of very expensive child care”

George Glashan
George Glashan
4 months ago

thanks for your thoughts Ethniciodo , sorry this will be a bit of a brief response, ive twice written out a full response and twice it crashed and i dont have the heart to write that all out again, so in short.
your probably right, its been a good 25 years since i was at school, for primary school none of this was an issue the teachers were all female, middle to old aged and of christian values, not even a hint of politics ( other than the airy fairy be nice to everyone stuff)
I had slightly misremmbered my own high school experiance, perhaps the reason i wasnt indoctrinated is because i was a frequent truant , i just wasnt at school often enough for it to take a hold. but by high school there has a definite lefty/ whatever issue was popular in the guardian activist vibe.
my own son starts school next year so i guess ill find out what things are like soon enough.
sounds like youve done a good job with your own sons, we cant raise everyone elses sons for them, and who knows maybe we are the wrong ones to raise our kids as independantly minded, they are the ones that will struggle to adapt to the pornography adicted, zoom calling, gender bender , pod working, own nothing and be thankful for it life thats coming down the line.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

“I had slightly misremmbered my own high school experiance, perhaps the reason i wasnt indoctrinated is because i was a frequent truant , i just wasnt at school often enough for it to take a hold.”

Hi George – same here, I was the school problem child as I could not take authority – the school and I settled down to a mutual system of ignoring each other and I left early with out even being able to write a sentence virtually. I did do high school later as an adult. It was a nightmare in actual school – but fine as an adult, but I had a few years of real hard life on the road calm me down and make me want education.

The plus side was my street education did make me able to think as life on the edge is a real education in many things….

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I am afraid that might be the only way to escape the system.
All my sons’ friends are invested. They have been to university and on the treadmill where the right values are institutionally policed.
The guys of the same age I meet down the gym seem to have been effectively cast-off by the education at an early age as irredeemable. They all work in physical or practical jobs (groundworks, pluming, gas, electricity roofing etc.) and I am not sure that they are aware that the woke world exists. The trouble is it is coming for them.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

George
Thank you, but I do not think I can take much credit.
I remember by sons at school being quite angry on occasion. What I did not realise was how corrupt education in this country had become.
There is a book called the Purple Hibiscus that they were required to study for GCSE. My eldest son refused to open it. Even the revision notes made him angry. He still got an A* which speaks volumes.
My youngest son, when it was his turn, had to do a presentation on the book to the class. He really ripped into it describing it as second rate, anti-white, anti-male and anti-British and as having no relevance to him and only finding it way onto the syllabubs for having the right politics.
I did take notice but did not realise. It was only when BLM kicked off and my youngest son showed me some of the test books he used at school that the penny dropped and I was appalled. Woke ideology seemed to have penetrated most subjects but particularly history, geography and English. Worse still, working back the same nonsense even pervaded their education at primary school. The only thing I can say in defence of the teaching staff is that most of them do not seem to be politically motivated. They seem to be doing only what they are told.
In any event, as BLM kicked off a letter was written by a very upper middle class female former pupil demanding that the school should decolonise the curriculum. It would have to be a middle class former female pupil wouldn’t it. I suspect there is something in the Marxist handbook about setting the female of the race against the male and she had wholly bought into the oppression nonsense and so regarded white males and their works as the enemy. The letter was countersigned by about 100 former pupils
My eldest son wrote a rebuttal which amongst other things raised some of the issues mentioned above. He showed it to some of his school friends who agreed with content but were too terrified to put their names to it.
My eldest son in particular had been been through a long and difficult process. As he describes it, when thing to him did not seem to make sense he started off afraid to consider questions that could call in to doubt orthodox values and opinions. He describes feeling as if even asking these type of questions would make him a bad person and that if he started looking for answers he would be on the path of no return and he as person would be marked with some indelible stain.
As to me, I feel like Charlton Heston as he rounds the corner and sees the ruins of the Empire State building and exclaims “Oh my God, what have we done”

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

Prof Stephen Hicks said the group which had the highest support for the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s was the Elementary School Teachers. What percentage of teachers are prepared to question the orthodoxy, any orthodoxy ?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I thought that but stopped short of saying it

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

The Opposite – that “schools for decades have been full of lefty activists types who would love to indoctrinate the young,” Shows it worked, that the teachers were the product of lefties – this was not true post WWII when a great many teachers were ex-military and not some lefty girl who has never had a real job in her life, like now….

But the Left captured the schools after that generation as the men left teaching as the system hounded them out.

David McDowell
David McDowell
4 months ago

Seems like it has completely ducked the hard stuff. Typical.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

Simple solution. Make very arts student write their thesis in Latin and be examined in their Viva in this language , even better if in Greek. Up to 1920 one had to pass a paper in Greek to matriculate to Oxford. Lord Denning( Law Lord ) went to a grammar school which did not teach Greek so he taught himself and went up to read Maths at Oxford. Which shows if one has the ability and drive one can learn, even if one comes from a family of modest means. Very few Socialists are Classicists and have spent the 20th century removing the Classics from comprehensives and state education in general..
Tom Denning, Baron Denning – Wikipedia