Last Friday, The Guardian published an open letter from education academics criticising recent government pronouncements on the need for political neutrality and balanced presentation when dealing with political ideas. Academics and teachers at DDU disagree profoundly, especially to their claims that criticisms of CRT amount to attacks on black scholars. You can read our reply here:
We are a group of academics and educators who share the belief that social progress against inequalities of any kind is best arrived at through open debate and public consent. We are concerned that academics at one of Britain’s leading education institutions have misread the direction of recent policy statements concerning Critical Race Theory (CRT), which they claim threatens not only free speech but black scholars themselves.
Against the claims their letter makes we would make the following points. Nothing is being “proscribed”: anti-capitalist material, white privilege and kindred concepts can indeed be discussed, so long as they are presented as one set of beliefs or worldviews among others. At present, we have a situation where some primary schools are endorsing the idea that ‘anti-racism’ only means focussing on ‘white privilege’ and ‘black oppression’ – theoretical abstractions that of course can be discussed in the appropriate context, which we would argue is not primary classrooms or necessarily allsecondary classes either.
If CRT is an epistemologically validated and widely accepted theory among the academic community, then it should be open to critique from within academic circles, and also from the wider public via political representatives. Education is, after all, a public good funded by the public.
The authors assert, with no evidence, that racism is on the rise, and continue to make the egregious claim that to criticise CRT amounts to an attack on black scholars, again with no evidence. If anything, the fields it informs – such as decolonising education and black studies – have been expanding due to not inconsiderable institutional support. More broadly, CRT approaches become increasingly present in school curricula by percolating through existing courses, reading materials and pedagogic approaches.
Dissent, diversity and critique are indeed “the lifeblood of democracy” so it is strange to see education experts be so impervious to the likely effects of their accusation. No-one wants to be seen as a racist, least of all teachers. Their unsubstantiated allegations are themselves likely to have a chilling effect on the very freedom of thought, speech, and diversity of views they want to protect. There are informal ways of chilling free speech and viewpoint diversity as well as government pronouncements. Unwarranted accusations of bigotry aimed at your critics can be just as effective.
Theoretical innovation and controversies are the bread and butter of academic life. But academia is not school, where the knowledge taught should be the most reliable and most evidenced, not that considered the most politically radical by academics. If these academics really believe that schools should be teaching children that some of them carry privilege because of the skin they were born into, thereby suspecting the ethical status of the majority of population; if they really think the first duty of schools is to tackle racism by divisive and controversial theories rather than to educate, they should come out and argue for their views openly rather than attempt to delegitimise well-meaning criticism.
Signed by academics, lecturers, teachers and educational professionals at Don’t Divide Us (https://dontdivideus.com)
Philip Hammond, Professor, London South Bank University
Jim Butcher, Reader, Canterbury Christ Church University
Marie Daouda, University Lecturer, University of Oxford / Secondary teacher, St Peter’s International College
Paula Boddington, Senior Lecturer, New College of the Humanities
Fabian Steinbeck, PhD candidate, University of Sussex
Carole Sherwood, Psychologist
Adrian Hart, author of The Myth of Racist Kids
Tarjinder Gill, Primary Teacher
Mark McConnell, Secondary teacher
Amber Muhinyi, Independent Researcher
Howard Sherwood, Designer and Photographer
Sally Ingrey, London college lecturer
Douglas Hedley, University of Cambridge
David Butterfield, University of Cambridge
Nico Macdonald, lecturer
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, independent scholar, writer and teacher
Ian Burns, London secondary teacher
Brian Eastty, retired secondary teacher
Nicholas Kinloch, historian and educator
Dennis Hayes, Director of Academics for Academic Freedom
Dr Ruth Mieschbuehler, senior lecturer, University of Derby
Paul King, lecturer, Birkbeck University London
Guy Turnbull, London secondary teacher
Calvin Robinson, education consultant DfE, school govenor
Matthew Edwards, London secondary teacher
I. Hagley, secondary teacher
Paul Booth, senior lecturer in History (retired), University of Liverpool
Kirsty Miller, psychologist and lecturer
Kevin Rooney, secondary teacher
Photo credit: Andrew Ebrahim, Unsplash