Monday, April 15, 2024
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Eton, not this brave teacher, is in the wrong


LORD Waldegrave, provost of Eton College, has declared that the sacking of English teacher Will Knowland was not about free speech. It was, he told the Daily Mail, about a matter of internal discipline. ‘Eton,’ he insisted, ‘will never cancel debate.’

Knowland, you might recall, had refused to take down his YouTube video lecture entitled ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’. It questions ‘current radical feminist orthodoxy’. In a letter to the Eton community he pointed out that he had ‘explained to the Head Master that I wasn’t endorsing all the ideas in my lecture, but I wanted the boys to be made aware of a different point of view to the current radical feminist orthodoxy’.

In his memoirs, A Different Kind of Weather, Waldegrave recalls that quite early in his political career, watching Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands war, he came to the conclusion that for all his ambitions, he simply did not have what she did, that ‘I was not quite well-enough equipped for the task. There was something missing’. In educational terms, his Falklands moment has returned and, once again, he is found wanting.

A petition launched by Eton pupils had gained close to two thousand signatures within twenty-four hours of the story breaking.  

Waldegrave argues that an ‘independent barrister’ has provided the school with a written opinion that the video lecture broke the Equality Act and the Education [Independent Schools Standards] Regulations. In other words, the school is doing no more than it is obliged to do by law. It is in effect obeying orders. This defence [Befehi ist Befehl] was discredited at Nuremberg in 1945-46.

If anyone is in breach of its legal duty in the Knowland case it is surely Eton College. In 2014 the Department for Education, under its so-called ‘British Values’ requirement, made very clear the rules for presenting controversial topics in schools: ‘We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.’

Amongst the examples published in its guidance were these:

·       ‘an understanding that the freedom to hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law’;

·       ‘an acceptance that people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour’;

·       ‘an understanding of the importance of identifying and combating discrimination’.

In other words, the teacher concerned in this dispute was upholding the requirement for ‘balance’ in the curriculum. By closing him down, the school may itself be the party acting illegally. It should ask its ‘independent barrister’ for a refund.

Not so long ago, TES (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) published an online lesson asking children to ‘give three good reasons for joining ISIS’ and telling them to imagine the world ‘from the point of view of a soldier of the faith’.

It was only after I had brought this material into the public arena that TES kindly decided to remove it from its website. To the best of my knowledge there were no sanctions against the editor of TES. You can get away with anything, it seems, provided it is woke enough. There do not appear to have been anycomplaints from within the educational establishment about lesson plans promoting ISIS.

The treatment of Will Knowland is an outrageous attack on freedom of speech. I understand his predicament. Thirty or so years ago myself and a colleague, Dr Anthony Freeman, suffered much the same fate.  We were history teachers at Lewes Priory School in East Sussex and had dared to criticise the academic quality of what was then the new GCSE examination. We lost our jobs as a consequence.

The educational establishment prefers that our story remains firmly swept under the carpet. Its editorial control of matters educational in Wikipedia, for example, has ensured the suppression of the Hansard record of the House of Lords debate on what happened. It was removed from the entry for both Lewes Priory School and for the Campaign for Real Education. For those interested in forbidden material, here it is:

In due course, the story of Will Knowland will be struck from the record, too.

On learning of what had happened to him, Dr Freeman, my former colleague from Lewes, sent me this message: ‘The true insignia of fascism, the Order of the Boot, awaits another sentient and brave soul who has wagered his material wellbeing and that of his family and lost.’

The career and livelihood of Will Knowland must be saved.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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