British schools and universities represent an oppressive space for young students who believe in free speech or hold pro-Brexit beliefs
If you think that you have been made to feel uncomfortable for holding eurosceptic, pro-Brexit beliefs, spare a thought for those young Brexiteers trapped firmly behind enemy lines in the clutches of Britain’s left-wing educational establishment.
Tanya Kekic, a sixth-form student, writes in Spiked about the post-referendum climate endured by those who supported Brexit:
As they had scarcely met anyone supporting Brexit, they could not understand how this had happened. Their only explanation was that the electorate was misguided, brainwashed, uneducated and motivated only by their hatred of immigrants. They were not at all embarrassed by their disdain for ordinary people. In fact, teachers and pupils openly said that democracy is a sham, that we need ‘experts’ to make the big decisions and that idiot Leavers should not have been able to vote in the first place. I’ve not been around long, but I have never seen anything like it. I knew this kind of loathing of the ‘masses’ existed, but in the past it had been disguised.
The same low opinion of people is shown by my teachers’ and classmates’ rejection of freedom of speech on the grounds that, firstly, the public are too uneducated to hear dangerous views, and, secondly, the public are too weak and vulnerable to hear something that might offend them. Over the past year my freedom-loving friend and I have had ongoing debates at school about whether there should be a limit to freedom of expression. We have not yet found a teacher who believes in unfettered freedom of speech.
The most shocking encounters have been with our philosophy teacher. First of all, she declared that she completely disagrees with freedom of speech and the very idea of a free press. (I am not kidding.) Secondly, she became hysterical when we said that no religion, including Islam, should be above mockery or criticism (this was after we were shown a video ridiculing Christianity). She told us to ‘get out’ of the classroom, while whining that we can’t criticise the prophet Muhammad because it says not to in the Koran. We heard from another teacher that apparently we have ‘extreme’ views. (As far as I know, we haven’t yet been reported to Prevent.)
If believing in freedom and democracy makes you an extremist, we are really in trouble. Schools are encouraged to teach students about British values, such as tolerance and pluralism. But when they don’t know what these principles are, little wonder they fail to uphold them in practice. In particular, the idea of tolerance is very confused. We are not told to allow unpleasant views to be shared and then to challenge and criticise them; rather, we are told either to shut up and respect all beliefs, or to censor and shut them down. To understand why hypersensitive university students are cowering in Safe Spaces and banning ideas they disagree with, you only need to sit in on a Year Eight citizenship lesson.
This is concerning indeed, though not surprising. This blog has previously reported on the plaintive cries for help and/or of frustration from young conservatives, eurosceptics and civil libertarians who found themselves being ruthlessly persecuted at school, often with the full knowledge and participation of their own teachers. And clearly the EU referendum has taken that pre-existing hostile climate for free speech and injected it with steroids.
One marvels in particular at the philosophy teacher who “became hysterical” at the mere idea (not even the act) of criticising Islam, and who pre-emptively ejected Kekic and her friend from class as punishment for daring to suggest that all ideas should be open to debate and criticism. On might have thought that adherence to this view would be a prerequisite for anybody seeking to teach philosophy of all subjects, but apparently there are now schools employing philosophy teachers who actively oppose the idea of critiquing certain ideas and belief systems.
Where teachers lead, impressionable students will often follow. And the clear message being sent by the academic establishment – not only at the university level but at the school level too – is that the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is firmly in charge now. Free speech is even less of an absolute right than it was before, woolly metro-leftism is firmly established as the only acceptable political worldview and ideas should no longer be judged on their own merit, but rather on the identity of their proponent and the position which they occupy in the Hierarchy of Privilege.
When I appeared on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year to discuss the phenomenon of oversensitive students, I joked that something strange seems to happen in the minds of otherwise sensible young people the moment they first set foot on a university campus, making them suddenly obsessed with their racial and gender identities and utterly incapable of tolerating alternative viewpoints. But of course this facetiousness disguised an important truth, made clear by Kekic: the fact that we are raising our children to be this way from birth, through our therapeutic culture, worshipping of the self, encouraging of a state of constant personal fragility and a starkly authoritarian attitude toward any speech which even remotely contradicts certain established orthodoxies (Islam is above reproach, the EU is fundamentally good, etc.)
There are already whole industries – certainly in academia but elsewhere too – where holding conservative or eurosceptic beliefs amounts to social or professional suicide. The other day I attended a meeting of good people involved in various social enterprises and charities in the third sector. After I brought up the topic of the EU referendum in passing, the speaker proceeded to wax lyrical about just how awful Brexit is, never thinking for a moment that anybody in the room might possibly disagree with her. Though it was amusing, I also felt a pang of awkwardness and discomfort, knowing that I was surrounded by people who would be utterly repelled if I revealed my own true feelings about Brexit (I did anyway).
The point is that as a grown man and a political blogger well used to debate and disagreement, I still paused momentarily before airing a perfectly mainstream and acceptable opinion in front of people who strongly disagreed and who thought that those who supported Britain leaving the EU were stupid at best and malicious at worst. How, then, must those young people with conservative or eurosceptic beliefs feel, who have not yet developed so thick a skin? How are they to feel comfortable expressing their sincerely and legitimately held political views when finger-wagging teachers casually accuse them of “extremism” and conspire to silence them altogether?
There is a cancer in our schools and universities, metastasising throughout the entire educational establishment. It is a tumour which sucks the life out of free speech and academic freedom, and encourages dull, lumpen conformity invigilated by a watchful, censorious, politically correct Taliban.
We need to excise that tumour before it kills off independent thinking, freedom of speech and academic enquiry for good.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty