The treason of the educational class

Censorship of knowledge and ideas is now expanding from campus to schoolroom

Knowledge; Robert Reid, 1896

Bad ideas owe their advance into mainstream thinking not just to bad people but also to otherwise decent people going along with such notions out of cowardice or other weakness.

The censorship of any thinking which conflicts with the orthodoxies of identity politics is increasingly destroying the western university as the crucible of reason, along with its core purpose to advance knowledge through the free play of evidence, ideas and argument.

This closing of the western mind is now taking place inside schools too. In America, high-school officials are increasingly imposing censorship and speech regulation.  A Vermont district has fired a school principal, Tiffany Riley, for writing on Facebook that she didn’t agree with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. As the legal commentator Jonathan Turley writes:

Shortly after that posting, Mount Ascutney School Board held an emergency meeting to declare that it is “uniformly appalled” and that Riley was “tone deaf” for making such a statement. In what should now be a major free speech case, the Board unanimously voted to fire Riley, citing her “denigrating, derogatory, or contrary to the movement for social equity for African Americans, including the Black Lives Matter movement.” 

The background to the affair is this. Before graduation at Riley’s school, an American flag was painted in the school grounds near to where the graduation ceremony was to be held. This was declared insulting or disturbing by a former pupil, Iyanna Williams. She expressed the view that “display of the flag is associated with exclusion of African American citizens from political considerations,” and wanted the addition of a painted statement representing Black Lives Matter or other associated ideas.

In other words, Williams was disrespecting the American flag because she was grossly disrespecting America as intrinsically racist, and she required the school to exhibit similar gross disrespect to its nation and its flag.  

The graduation was held without painting over the American flag and there were no Black Lives Matter displays. The row, however, continued and provoked Riley’s remarks. And this was the“denigrating” and “derogatory” statement that she made: 

I firmly believe that Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get to this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point. While I want to get behind BLM, I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all? Just because I don’t walk around with a BLM sign should not mean I am a racist.

For this entirely reasonable — indeed, anti-racist — point of  view, Superintendent David Baker told Riley that her comments were “inflammatory, “incendiary” and “racist” — and then expressed shock that she took offence.

Now look at what’s going on in Britain. The Sunday Times reports that the headmistress of Benenden, an independent boarding school for girls, has 

 “unreservedly apologised” for using the word “negro” in an assembly.

Shocked? Wait. Look at the context:  

Samantha Price, 46, headmistress at Benenden, the Kent girls’ boarding school where Princess Anne was a pupil, was explaining to pupils the origins of the month in 1926. At the time it was, according to Wikipedia, called “Negro History Week” in America, she said.

… Price said that “by using this word in this context I was attempting to show how far language around black people has come since then”.


Some of the senior girls protested about her use of the word, fearing that other pupils would think they were also entitled to use a word some find as offensive as the n-word.

A robust head would have explained to these pupils that she had used this word precisely to show how language developed to reflect changing cultural attitudes. She might have illustrated this with other examples of words once in mainstream use but now deemed insulting or offensive — for example, “Red Indian”, “mongol” or “retarded” for Native Americans, people with Down’s Syndrome or those with learning difficulties. She might have pointed out that, if nothing could be taught if there was any risk that some pupils might misinterpret it, very little could be taught at all.

Instead, Price said this:

However, in hindsight I recognise that it was not necessary to use the specific word and I accept that by using this word at all I have caused offence to some pupils. Clearly, this was never my intention and I unreservedly apologise for that error.

In effect, the error for which this head teacher was apologising was imparting historical and cultural knowledge to her pupils. She was apologising for the “error” of engaging in what was once known as the education of the young. That once-revered vocation, it seems, now has to give way to the cult of offended feelings, coerced conformity and the diktats of the young. Thus a society implodes thanks to the “trahison des clercs,” or the betrayal of the intellectuals.

In the same story, The Sunday Times reports that Halima Begum, the director of the Runnymede Trust race equality think-tank, said

she would like to see works by Bernardine Evaristo such as Blonde Roots replace texts such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies at GCSE.

Some might think that not just Lord of the Flies but George Orwell’s 1984 are no longer fiction but have become, terrifyingly, our contemporary reality.

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