As schools reopen, many parents will be delighted to see their children going off to meet, socialise and learn. Some semblance of normality is very welcome! However, it may also be that you find your child’s school is introducing new plans to show their commitment to a form of anti-racism that seems unhelpfully divisive and simplistic. These could be anything from changing the names of schools, giving pupils very selective reading lists or teaching content that assumes microaggressions and implicit bias are incontrovertible truths when, in reality, they are contested ideas. Do also have a look at the Education pages for more on this.
It can be difficult to raise any worries or questions about such issues with school staff – no one wants to be ‘the difficult parent’! If you do wish to raise questions about things that are happening, below is a template letter that raises some questions in a way that also shows support for schools. It can be adapted according to individual circumstances
It’s wonderful to have children back in school after such a long absence. My child has missed her friends and classmates… I’ve always been delighted with the way teachers have encouraged all children to work together and resolve problems in a constructive manner. No doubt you were as horrified as I was to witness the video of the killing of George Floyd… I am sure some teachers will be keen to discuss this and other issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement with their pupils. I am very happy for them to engage my child in such discussions however I am concerned that some of the approaches adopted may not be appropriate for school children. I have heard that some schools are sending children work based on some ideas that seem questionable at best. For example, children are being told that the UK is a systematically racist country, that white children are all privileged because of the colour of their skin, and that those with ‘white privilege’ have to make amends in order to be allies to children with black skins. I have since learned that these are key tenets of Critical Race Theory which might be ok for academic discussions, but surely it does not have the consensus needed for schools to be implementing initiatives that are based on its contested assumptions?
Having looked at some websites of companies who say they can help schools diversify their classrooms I am worried! Some are recommending highly selective reading lists for pupils and parents – with books that echo Critical Race Theory. Some think it is acceptable to set homework that requires pupils to send in details of microaggressions they have suffered, or may have perpetrated unwittingly. We are appalled at the murder of George Floyd, and abhor racism, but we are very concerned that introducing these ideas as if they were facts is anti-educational and self-defeating. I have always trusted that teachers broadly adhere to a position of politically impartiality in school (as enshrined in the 1996 Education Act and Teaching Standards). But some of these ideas encourage the opposite.
The fact that many children play together with little sense that skin colour matters, or that it should matter is surely a sign of progress that has been made over the years? But now some groups think it’s ok to tell children that skin colour is of paramount importance, and personal relationships will always be about power and oppression. This is a terrible and, at best, only partially true message to be giving children.
I don’t think teachers should be policing the political beliefs of their pupils (in as much as they have them, after all, they are not yet adults). I fully support teachers who strive to to teach our children through publicly recognised subjects so they may develop their ability to imagine, think and question independently. Obviously, racist behaviour and/or comments need to be condemned and taken seriously in schools, but the aggressive anti-racist training techniques that I believe some schools are deploying, often with encouragement from external training bodies, seems to be going way beyond this.
I hope you don’t mind me raising these concerns. I hope also that you would prevent your school from adopting such strategies because they do seem divisive and risk breaking the precious trust between parents and schools.