Last weekend I was able to attend a day organised by The Centre for Personalised Education in Walsall looking at Alternative Educational Futures. There I heard Dr Rachel Sara Lewis speak about Radicalisation in Education. It was a moving and powerful talk. She spoke about the responsibility now given to schools and teachers - on top of all their other responsibilities - by the Prevent Strategy, and the dangers of criminalising young people for things they are not even aware of. She described how a culture that refers to young people as "the other" can actually lead to further isolation and risks of radicalisation. Radicalisation can be defined as "a deranged quest for identity". She spoke of a schooling system which neglects the individual and the right to develop one's own identity. She spoke about racism in schools as a black, British, Muslim, qualified teacher, home educating mother - with a doctorate. It was fascinating .... and challenging .... and thought provoking.
There followed an interesting talk by Dr Harriet Pattison considering post-internationalism, identity and the fundamental British values David Cameron spoke of, which were so quickly integrated into the National Curriculum. Do you know what they are? What do you think they should be? This in itself is an interesting question .... isn't it? Were we consulted? And would we agree - all of us - across lines of class, race and culture - on these shared values, which are quintessentially British?
Should you be in any doubt, according to the guidance from the DfE, the fundamental British values which schools should promote are:
The rule of law
Mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
I was surprised that freedom if speech is not on the list, a freedom we have clearly seen slip away in recent years. Are there values you think ought to be on that list that are not?
How do we imagine schools are to impart these values? Does veiling certain children with suspicion, segregating, penalising and isolating them help foster the unity and tolerance we desire?
One of the things about the racist backlash after the EU Referendum was the surprise of the white liberal middle classes that such attitudes should exist in "their" Britain. Any person of colour in this country knows racism exists, lurking beneath the veneer of political correctness. My husband encounters it frequently in the classrooms he walks into as an Asian teacher. Dr Lewis encounters it frequently every time she is stopped in her car and questioned about her identity. Are such incidents surprising to those of us with white skin? I think one of the most fundamental of British values is our unwillingness to talk about uncomfortable subjects, to ignore the elephants in the room, to politely cover over any perceived offence. But our silence or our ignorance about these issues doesn't make them go away.
Interestingly, the list above includes individual liberty, and I am thankful for that. It is a liberty which means I can freely choose to home educate my children. But does this liberty extend into schools? Dr Lewis seemed to be implying not. Not when a girl can be taken aside and questioned in accordance with Prevent for choosing to wear hijab in her teens. Indeed, for home educators of different cultural backgrounds, enculturisation can be a strong argument for choosing to educate their children alternatively, to impart a positive self-identity and a sense of pride and happiness in being who they are, from where they're from, but British. Indeed, to impart these very British values we deem to hold so dear.
A few recent articles came to mind as I listened to Dr Lewis speak ....
1) Black American families take school into their own hands
I read this article about the growing number of African American families choosing to home educate, and was particularly struck by a comment from the mother featured who remembered her son telling her "Mom, I love being black. I just love the colour of my skin." She goes on to say, "a lot of children — especially African American children — don't grow up feeling that way about themselves." By failing to give children that sense of feeling good about themselves - about who they are - we could argue schools are failing.
2) Quarter of English state primary schools are "ethnically segregated"
One of the things I have noticed in our city in recent years is the opening of several new faith schools - one for Muslim girls, and one for Sikh children. Whilst we might agree that it is important to respond to calls from faith communities for appropriate schooling, I feel a sadness that other secondary schools in our city lose the diversity that these students would bring to mixed school communities. Of course, we can argue this about more established CofE and Catholic schools, too. And the government cannot be seen to allow the Christian schools, but not give the same privileges to those of other faiths. So, what solution? The sacred / secular divide such as is found in France to keep religion out of schools certainly doesn't seem to have helped community cohesion any more positively there.
3) How to defeat terrorists? True extremism
This article was published in the Guardian at the end of 2016. I read it then, and as a person of faith, was struck by what the article concludes: "The implication of the theologically illiterate Prevent strategy, for instance, is that if religious people were a bit less religious they would be a lot less dangerous ... As Jonathan Swift famously explained: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Which is why I want religious people to be more extreme in their faith, not less; to put aside their own boiling inadequacy and to trust in God’s greatness and that he knows what he is doing."
If we consider home educating families of faith, or of ethnic diversity, why the need to shroud their motives with suspicion? Maybe what they want is to pour into their children enough love, enough self-belief, enough self-worth, enough radical faith, hope and, yes, in some cases, religion, that actually they would know who they are, where they come from, what their place is in the world, how and why to love their neighbour as themselves, to truly respect those of different faiths and beliefs and to demonstrate an individual liberty which is not threatened by the other, or by being 'other' but which dreams, as Martin Luther King so famously said, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."