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24th November 2015

Left-wing ideology and stifled debate in schools

Romy Biscoe asks whether schools and academics suffer from an unconscious left wing bias that harms debate amongst students

In my experience, teachers and academics make no secret of their left-wing sympathies. Their enthusiastic support for trade unions, willingness to threaten strike action and even NASUWT calendars in classrooms, does more than hint at their political orientation. I don’t take any issue with this, free speech means we should be able to support who we like, and say what we like.

Speaking from personal experience, however, it is when this left-wing ideology is conveyed in schools as fact, and the lack of debate in schools in general, that is concerning.

At secondary school, the often subtle but pervasive influence left-wing views would have was worrying. As Jago Pearson said in his article in The Telegraph, left-wing thinking still prevails in schools, and it is teachers themselves who are often unconsciously indoctrinating children and young people.

In theory we were taught to consider both sides of the argument, however I often found debate was stifled when it came to ideas that weren’t left-wing. My headteacher at secondary school opened up her speech for the GCSE presentation evening with a criticism of the Daily Mail and continued this with a vitriolic denunciation of Michael Gove. Regardless of whether you share the Mail‘s political stance, it was wrong to make a blatant political statement when the counter-argument was never going to be heard. Head teachers should surely not use a presentation evening for political posturing, regardless of the message.

The government, and its education reforms were constantly criticised without considering the effect these biased opinions would have on young people. Again, whether you agree or disagree with the coalition government’s policies, as it was at the time, is irrelevant. The worry that I have is that left-wing views are portrayed as the correct views to have, as if left-wing ideology is inevitably the only form of opinion you should have.

Even at university, in my first seven weeks I have found that university teaching is imbued with more left-wing thinking. When on the subject of the Iraq War, there were sarcastic tuts about American imperialism and unnecessary military might from a lecturer. This may be true, and I am not taking a side on the Iraq debate here. But surely, such biased presentations of an issue before we have even studied it and debated it in seminars, is a sign that, from personal experience, debate is stifled if it does not fit with a certain viewpoint.

However political stance is not the issue here. It would be just as much of a concern if right-wing thinking was prevailing in schools and academic institutions. The dominance of left-wing views feeds into a more general concern with the fact that from a young age, young people’s minds are being dominated by one opinion in schools and are not engaging in wider debate.

At Eton, generally considered a ‘Tory’ school, they introduce left-wing ideas into the classroom to be debated. This allows young people to consider their thoughts on both sides of the political spectrum, and come to their own conclusions.

Whether politics should be taught as a compulsory subject in secondary schools is contentious. Debating, however, whether it is in the form of British parliamentary competitive debating, or just to discuss the week’s news, should be present in schools. Sitting down in a classroom to discuss current affairs, even for just an hour a week, would help broaden young people’s minds and engage them with current debates.

If resources cannot permit this, ensuring that within the classroom debate is broadened would ensure young people’s minds are not infiltrated with only one viewpoint. It is especially important if they are from a background where politics and current affairs are not particularly discussed or thought about. Although it is difficult to be entirely objective, playing devil’s advocate with both sides of the debate would allow young people to be inquisitive and develop how they articulate their thoughts. These are skills that would help them in education but also give them an advantage in future career prospects.

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