So I won’t say the B word. The one we all know is rumbling round the world news channels (and some non-news channels may I add). The one that politicians and pub-politicians seem to debate with equal levels of emotion and apparently equal levels of understanding. Britain’s attempt to untangle itself from the EU is, whether you support the B word or not, an all-encompassing facet of British life at the moment. Ignored are the rocketing stabbings in our capital, neglected our schools ever depleting budgets, ill-considered the hospital waiting times for our most needy. But what does this mean for teachers?
Now like many other teachers across our nation I regularly show my small charges Newsround. I’ll be honest, my personal opinion is it isn’t actually very good. My class often comment on how weird certain sections seem, how they feel a little patronised and how often they outright advertise certain ‘celebrity’ author books, ignoring those that are far more worthy of recognition. But that is beside the point (at least for this piece).
What is more interesting is the range of political views and opinions that my ten-year olds bring to school with them. We are all undeniably products of our environments especially at such a young and impressionable age. However, this becomes an issue when a child raises a tentative paw in the air and utters the immortal words, ‘but what do you think?’
Now, according to the DFE “All staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times, and should not use school resources for party political purposes.” Let’s be honest, this doesn’t happen. At least not everywhere. It isn’t practical. But who decides what is OK for teachers to share and what isn’t? For example, open criticism of the B word would, I imagine, be largely accepted. However open support? Now I feel that would prompt a potentially different outcome. Much like a teacher voicing support for the Conservatives at the last election. Would parents have been accepting of this if their child had come home and reported such? Even more boggy is the area of religion.
Another perfect example is the acceptable lambasting and criticism of US President Donald Trump (note I am not defending him here). Clearly a widely held view and opinion is that he is perhaps lacking in the intelligence, morals and values expected of the head of the most powerful country in the world. However, according to our training as teachers we should not be voicing this opinion in any way, shape or form. We are meant to be impartial, imparting knowledge not opinions.
Now either the rules need to change to allow teachers to express their own thoughts freely. Or teachers should stop doing so, as many are. I know this from experience and from conversations had with many colleagues in different schools.
It isn’t even that I have a particular opinion on religion for example. But it is one of those facets of education that I do think we have a moral obligation to consider. Small comments, little sniggers even, at the expense of this party or that, sit with children. Deep within their psyche and absolutely can influence future opinions. To suggest otherwise is frankly naïve. So how exactly are we as professionals meant to address such issues, issues that clearly surround our young learners? Merely saying, ‘well I have my opinion but I am not allowed to discuss it,’ simply isn’t good enough. What are the alternatives?