First published in New Socialist: http://newsocialist.org.uk/transmissions/statement-department-education-guidance-personal-social-health-and-economic-education/
Date: Monday September 28 2020
As educators and movements across the UK are taking strides towards achieving just and fair education for all pupils, the government has released chilling and worrying guidance for institutions’ PSHE programmes, as Sex and Relationships Education is made mandatory in all schools. The guidance, which specifies what kinds of resources and external speakers can be used in school PSHE lessons, is a thinly veiled attack on a wide range of movements fighting for urgently-needed social justice causes, and has implications far beyond its apparently narrow scope. As educators committed to anti-racist work, we are gravely concerned about the way this guidance appears to censor materials produced by anti-racist organisations and activists. We note that the guidance appears to be emboldening and validating far right organisations, and we aren ready to oppose this on all possible fronts.
This new guidance puts groups wanting to replace the economic system on a par with those endorsing racism, antisemitism and violence, or the overthrow of democracy. CARE, the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators and The Black Educators Aliance vehemently attack this new guidance for setting up black and brown children to fail as soon as they enter education, and undermining ‘freedom of speech’. This is an act of violence upon tens of thousands of educators’, students’ and parents’ lived experiences, meeting them with gaslighting and adversarial opposition. We are denied our lived experiences and silenced yet again. This is what racial gaslighting sounds like. According to Amnesty International, “governments have an obligation to prohibit hate speech and incitement”: this guidance itself is an incitement to hate speech, and an act of hate speech in itself.
“This is an act of violence upon tens of thousands of educators’, students’ and parents’ lived experiences, meeting them with gaslighting and adversarial opposition. We are denied our lived experiences and silenced yet again.” tweet this
The practical implications of this guidance mean that speakers and resources from a wide range of organisations will now effectively be barred from schools. The broadly-written guidance prevents educators from using any materials from organisations which “fail to condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people or property”, even if those materials do not in themselves incite or describe illegal actions. This means that if any activist in an organisation, for example, pulls down a statue of a genocidal coloniser or slave trader, every member of that organisation will be banned from schools. Many informal educators and community organisers, particularly Global Majority, will have associations with organisations which at one point or another may have engaged in civil disobedience or actions deemed unlawful, as civil rights movements have done throughout their history. These informal educators are now being censored, in a move which appears to directly contradict the Department for Education’s commitment to “free speech.” During the era of civil rights protests in the US, now celebrated as a just and worthy cause, many people did not approve of the methods used by movement leaders such as Martin Luther King to protest against injustice: he was said to be an “outside agitator” causing trouble. Many who quote Martin Luther King today, using his words out of context to condemn protests, would have openly opposed him at the time: according to this guidance, he would not have been allowed to set foot in a UK school.
Beyond the direct impact of the guidance on speakers in schools, its language – which includes language like “victim narratives” and “unsubstantiated accusations against state institutions” – sends a very clear signal to those on the far right of education who wish to silence discussion of anti-racism in schools and maintain the white supremacist status quo. We can already see right-wing groups, such as ‘Common Sense UK’ and Reclaim, celebrating the fact that this guidance seems to prohibit discussing Black Lives Matter in schools. This echoes the recent executive order signed by Trump in the US, prohibiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory and mandating a ‘patriotic curriculum’; in both the US and the UK, governments are making policy designed to appeal to those who do not want the status quo of white supremacy to be disrupted.
As well as its impact on anti-racist work, the new guidelines appear to restrict a number of other types of liberation work. Organisations which oppose capitalism and may use tactics of civil disobedience include environmental groups such as the School Climate Strikes Network and Extinction Rebellion. The guidance will also impact care for transgender students: teaching advice on gender released with the guidance uses language clearly designed to appease trans-exclusionary reactionary movements. It does not include any material on how to positively support trans students in Sex and Relationships education: instead, it only focuses on what not to do, using language that could mislead some teachers into thinking they should not support trans students’ stated identities and needs. Just as the guidance shows concerning censorship of education about politics, it also risks censoring trans lives in a way very reminiscent of Section 28.
“Stoking up fear about anti-racist political movements while at the same time scaremongering about gender is a hallmark of fascist ideology, which seeks to eliminate all threats to the supremacy of the white nuclear family.” tweet this
Stoking up fear about anti-racist political movements while at the same time scaremongering about gender is a hallmark of fascist ideology, which seeks to eliminate all threats to the supremacy of the white nuclear family. We will not accept an education system designed on these terms, and will resist it every way we can.