Pupils must be free to question everything
OFSTED chief Amanda Spielman has warned that extremists are using schools to ‘actively pervert the purpose of education’, peddling religious ideologies that narrow children’s horizons and cut them off from society. Parents and community leaders have founded schools to use them to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology. Rightly, Ms Spielman is determined to tackle such people, and she has called on school leaders to use ‘muscular liberalism’ to defend decisions they make, rather than fear causing offence. I’m sure many will say: ‘Hear! Hear!’ As headmaster of The Fulham Boys School, a Church of England free school in West London, I heartily agree that such extremists should be tackled. However, I have no time for a muscular liberalism that appears to be holding the megaphone on social media. Far from encouraging young people to question and think about the world around us, how society is framed, the laws we pass and our values, it dictates how we think. By insisting on their own rights and freedoms, muscular liberals deny others theirs. Their liberalism prescribes that some things can no longer be debated and discussed, and that people who hold views that are not liberal are to be labelled as dangerous extremists. But isn’t that wrong? I detest extremist ideology that makes young people adopt a view without question, to hate rather than consider, and that leads them into violence, terrorism and murder. But I also hate muscular liberalism that tells us how we should think and live our lives. I want my young pupils to question everything: where have we come from, the origins of the universe, abortion, euthanasia, views on sex, marriage, relationships; to have the right to be a boy and be called one; to say men and women are equal, but different. As a Christian headmaster, liberalism should allow me to believe the Bible, and in a school built upon the Christian faith, to expose boys to it, encouraging them to question it. As Ms Spielman pointed out, quoting Psalm 119, our duty as leaders is to ‘teach knowledge and good judgment’. Surely this is part of it. Furthermore, liberalism should allow schools to have a distinctive ethos and give people choice in the type of school they want to go to. Ms Spielman defends the right of headteachers to set uniform policies to promote cohesion, rather than adopt a passive liberalism that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence. As long as we make it clear what we are about, are transparent and open to scrutiny, it should surely be up to parents and pupils to decide if they want our schools or not. And if they do, to respect their ethos and culture.
ALUN EBENEzER, London W14.