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Teachers who tailor lessons so as not to offend Muslim children are becoming a problem

Frank Furedi
Frank Furedi

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

Teachers who tailor lessons so as not to offend Muslim children are becoming a problem
A new survey in France has found many teachers are self-censoring lessons for fear of upsetting Muslim students. This defeatist attitude represents a refusal to uphold cultural values – and it’s happening in Britain, too.

Unfortunately, the killing of school teacher Samuel Paty in an Islamist attack last year has led many French teachers to avoid discussing issues that might offend their Muslim pupils.

survey on this subject conducted last month makes for chilling reading. It shows that nearly half of French secondary school teachers avoid or downplay topics such as sexuality, the Holocaust and evolution in order to avoid provoking the anger and hostility of their Muslim students.

When 49 per cent of teachers state that they fear discussing subjects that could upset Muslim students in order to avoid creating a ‘scene’, it is evident that it is not only education, but France as a whole, which is in trouble.

And the situation is getting worse. The survey, published in Charlie Hebdo this week, indicates that self-censorship by teachers has risen 13 per cent since a similar study was undertaken two years ago. The poll also reveals that in areas with a high immigrant population, seven out of ten teachers stated that they occasionally or regularly censored themselves.

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The reluctance of so many French teachers to uphold the cultural values of their society does not simply reflect a mood of defeatism, but also an unwillingness to defend their way of life.

Before you think that the failure to challenge the views of Muslim children is simply a French problem, think again. Many teachers in the UK indicate that they are under constant pressure not to raise so-called ‘sensitive’ subjects with their Muslim pupils.

I still remember being horrified five years ago, when I read an account of the proceedings of the National Union of Teachers Conference. One motion demanded that teachers should be able to ‘avoid class discussions of Islamic extremism’. The justification for this, as then NUT General Secretary Christine Blower put it, is that “some of our members are frightened to discuss things in class because they are worried that if there’s any discussion that they will have to report this to the police”. 

Reading between the lines it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the motivation for this motion was more or less the same as what led to the practice of self-censorship by French teachers.

In my discussions with English teachers, it became painfully evident that many of them were wary of talking to their pupils about the antagonism between jihadist radicalism and British values. Numerous teachers said they found such discussions hard to handle and, when they attempted to raise difficult questions, they found they received little support from their superiors.

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The reluctance to report pupils to the police was never the real problem here; it was the unwillingness to tackle difficult and controversial issues. That is why some educators have avoided addressing radical Islamic influences in the classroom.

As in France, many British schools have shied away from tackling thorny questions with Muslim pupils. A report published in the aftermath of the race-related disturbances in Bradford in 2001 found that “some teachers in Bradford consider the Holocaust to be a difficult subject to approach with Muslim pupils”.

A study published by the Historical AssociationTeaching Emotive and Controversial History, reported that a “history department in a northern city avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils”.

It also mentioned another history department in which “the Holocaust was taught despite anti-Semitic sentiment among some pupils”. However, the same department deliberately avoided teaching the Crusades at Key Stage 3 because teachers believed that a “balanced treatment of the topic would have directly challenged what was taught in some local mosques.”

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In recent years the situation has become worse. One teacher from a school in east London reported to me that her managers had actively discouraged her from discussing the Charlie Hebdo massacre with her Muslim students. Another teacher reported that such discussions were avoided in order to prevent an Islamophobic backlash.

It is not just fear that leads to a situation where teachers are reluctant to stand up for the values of their community. In many cases they are unable or unwilling to uphold the values of their society.

Many British educators regard pride in one’s community and nation as a mild form of xenophobia or racism. They believe that any expression of British patriotism is a form of prejudice that needs to be neutralised in the classroom. Over a decade ago, many teachers responded to New Labour’s plan for compulsory citizenship classes in schools by claiming that patriotism “should not be taught in school”. 

If, indeed, you believe that there is something wrong in taking pride in your nation, it is not surprising that you will feel little obligation to teach and argue for its values. As so many French teachers told the pollsters, ‘why make a scene’?

Unless schools stand up for the values of their community it will be impossible to create a cohesive society. Rather than offering a solution, schools that refuse to discuss controversial topics with their Muslim students are the problem.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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