An Education in Double Standards

Friday December 11, 2015

“In my opinion ther's too much of this 'ere eddication, nowadays” remarked old Linden. “Wot the 'ell's the good of eddication to the likes of us?” “None whatever,” said Crass, “it just puts foolish idears into people's 'eds and makes 'em too lazy to work.”


You may recognise these lines, they are from Robert Tressell’s seminal The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. I have been thinking long and hard about this scene in the book, where the workers are on their well-deserved break, drinking weak tea and discussing life.

So, wot the 'ell's the good of eddication?

Dylan Wiliam, in his 2013 Principled Curriculum Design study, suggested that the purpose of education is either for Personal Empowerment, Cultural Transmission, Preparation for Citizenship or Preparation for Work. Many educationalists, teachers and students would debate that it’s probably a mixture of all four.

Teachers in schools work relentlessly to teach students content, encourage them to debate and question things and develop skills to enable them to transform and apply knowledge rather than simply consuming it. Of course, there are some people (usually not teachers, who don’t work in schools) that don’t share this view of education…bankers! I have written about Paulo Freire’s ‘Banking’ analogy here

Why is it important to constantly question the purpose of real education? Well, a recent article reports that a safeguarding leaflet is warning parents, “…that young people who take issue with government policy or question what they are told in the media may have been radicalised by extremists.” Yes, you read that correctly.

The information guidance is from the Camden Safeguarding Children Board and is called, Keeping Children and Young People Safe from Radicalisation and Extremism: Advice for Parents and Carers.

The leaflet indicates potential signs of radicalisation, including: ‘Showing mistrust of mainstream media’ and ‘Appearing angry about government polices, especially foreign policy’.

A week after the government (with the support of 66 Labour MPs) voted to support airstrikes in Syria with immediate effect, I struggle to see how and why some people aren’t angry about this particular government policy, in fact – like me – many are bloody furious.

When compassion in politics sounds like a dirty word and humanitarian approaches seem like weak points of view, many media outlets were more interested in the rhetoric of the Shadow Foreign secretary (Hilary Benn, son of the late Socialist Labour MP, Tony Benn) rather than the outcome of the parliamentary vote.

It seemed to be more important in how Benn said things rather than what he actually had to say. People shouldn’t have critiqued Hilary Benn’s DNA but instead should have criticised the content of his speech (someone has, brilliantly, here). Hilary Benn’s comments were another sad example of comparing deaths as either collateral damage or unfortunate losses of life. The difference being of course, that he – and like so many of his Westminster colleagues – judge the importance of people being killed based on how much the victims look like ‘us’.

To illustrate the point, compare two excerpts from Hilary Benn’s speech last week and a speech from his father from 1998, where he argued against bombing in Iraq.

Hilary Benn -

“If it had happened here, they could have been our children”

Tony Benn -

"Aren’t Arabs terrified? Aren’t Iraqis terrified? Don’t Arab and Iraqi women weep when their children die?”

Why shouldn’t people in a democratic society criticise the government? Why should people lay down and accept unjust and ill-informed decisions? Why should citizens of our country trust everything they read in the paper and see on the television? Isn’t it our job as educators to explain, stimulate and encourage students to think about these questions?

After all, as Dr. Louise Richardson, from the University of St. Andrews wrote, “Education is the best possible antidote to radicalisation.” . Unfortunately, it appears that we only encourage authentic education for certain types of students. We have double standards at play here, where young Muslims who do question decisions, argue against certain approaches and express their own views may be in fear of being referred – by their teacher, college lecturer, doctor or even child minder - to Channel as a potential extremist.

It seems now that even thinking can be dangerous.

Author Arun Kundnani suggests that, “It’s convenient for a government that’s facing a critique of its foreign policy to be able to say the blame for terrorism is nothing to do with our foreign policy but it’s to do with this alien extremist ideology that somehow landed in Britain from the Middle East". 

What can we do as teachers? Well, I have the privilege and responsibility of working alongside hundreds of magnificent Muslim students (and magnificent non-Muslim students). I work hard in ensuring that they all have the right to a real education, an education that should not change due to their religion or values, an education that delivers and enhances the true purpose of what education is for.

And, I know what I can’t and won’t do…and that is to give up.

Frank Owen looked around at his peers during another tea break, and he thought to himself, "They were the enemy. Those who not only quietly submitted like so many cattle to the existing state of things, but defended it, and opposed and ridiculed any suggestion to alter it".


Tait Coles is a teacher and SLT member in a multi-ethnic inner city school. He is the writing a book about some of the issues touched on in this blog and is the author of Never Mind the Inspectors, Here's Punk Learning.

Punk Learning 1



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