To many, the question in the headline seems like a no-brainer. In the superficial and binary mode that characterises much of today’s public thinking, a negative answer could only mean that you think schools should be racist. This may be one reason why, as the new report by Don’t Divide Us – Who Are the Experts? An investigation into anti-racist third-party organisation in schools – shows, third-party anti-racist organisations are being invited into schools by heads, Senior Leaders and Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) working groups. The activist educators who work at these organisations, many of which are for-profit companies, are not shy of promoting the idea that merely to have no problem of racism in a school is insufficient; schools need to be actively anti-racist.
In practice, as our report illustrates, this means promoting three central beliefs that hitherto would have been regarded as outright political propaganda:
- Britain is a structurally racist country due to the lingering effects of its history – or a particular distorted and reductive version of it.
- Because of belief (1), Britain’s institutions must also be institutionally racist, and the white majority of citizens, irrespective of depredations due to class or economic status, have racial privilege.
- Because of beliefs (1) and (2), those from ethnic minority backgrounds must lack this privilege and therefore suffer from its lack; in other words, irrespective of class or economic status, they must be disadvantaged.
These beliefs form a tautological system of thought that insulates itself from criticism (they fit under a broad umbrella term of Critical Social Justice, or more specifically, Critical Race Theory). Such a belief system is incompatible with open-questioning or critique, and when it extends beyond the seminar room it becomes actively authoritarian. No dissent is brooked. That is why many of the organisations in our sample promote the erroneous belief that colour-blind approaches have failed, or are themselves oppressive. As one Early Years Advisor at Herts for Learning, a school-based company with a budget of £23 million plus, asserts, “Being colour-blind is not an option.” Not much viewpoint diversity there.
The ideologically authoritarian implications of these organisations are masked by the superficial gloss of ‘anti-racism’. In Culture and Society, Raymond Williams wrote about how new ideologies rarely announce themselves; they piggy-back on belief systems that already exist and are already legitimised. Today’s EDI industry is an apt example of this process. When most people hear the phrase ‘anti-racism’ they think of attempts to overcome obstacles preventing ethnic minorities from participating in the political and civic life alongside their fellow majority citizens as equals. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. Critical Race Theory uses the imputed experiences of minorities (or those who share their worldview) to stigmatise the values, beliefs and practical norms of the majority.
Aided by the Equality Act 2010, some schools exploit the carve out for ‘positive action’ to normalise the idea of racialised identities that require separate curricula and pedagogic practices. The EDI agenda amounts to a radical overturning of important legal and ethical precepts that have shaped Britain’s education system since 1944. The most important of which is that of impartial teaching, as stipulated in the Education Act 1996, Sections 406 and 407. Indeed, a representative of BAMEed, an organisation in receipt of a government grant, is on record as warning teachers of the “impartiality police” who “will come after them” as they seek to ensure “the long tentacles of anti-racism” reach every aspect of school life.
We might all experience school life in individualised ways that make it hard to see underlying patterns. But the third-party organisations in our report are unashamed about their desire to “change the culture” or “change society”. There’s nothing wrong with political interests per se – and teachers expressing their own beliefs at age appropriate levels, and in relevant teaching contexts, are perfectly acceptable. But using schools and the curriculum, as these new third-party organisations do, to try to influence what political choices children make as adults, amounts to indoctrination; it is also deeply anti-democratic.
Our answer to the question in the title is: no. If schools are educating properly, and with confidence in what they are doing intellectually and ethically, they will be contributing to forming future citizens who will not fear independent thought, which is the perfect, democratic antidote to bigotry and racism. As citizens who value education and democracy, we have launched a petition – Education not Indoctrination – that we aim to present to the Government in the autumn. You can find the petition (signed by Lord Sumption, Lionel Shriver, Matt Goodwin, Inaya Folarin Iman and others) here.
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert is the Director of Don’t Divide Us.