So it’s been decided that we ought to be teaching British values in our schools. Michael Gove and David Cameron are absolutely agreed that this is a whizz bang idea, and will no doubt be cracking on with that forthwith. Worryingly, I don’t violently disagree with the values that Gove and Cameron are spouting so far. They generally involve vague notions like equality and democracy and tolerance, all of which seem peachy fine.
However, there is, I think, a problem here, and it comes down to the fact that the whole notion of teaching British values sounds a bit, well just a bit earnest. There’s no obvious self-depreciating humour or social awkwardness about it. The notion that we have values that are worth teaching feels a bit self-important. My gut reaction is that any attempt to teach British values should include a section where the teacher looks a bit embarrassed and mutters, ‘Or not. You know, it’s up to you really,’ and then stares at the floor.
And secondly, let’s take a minute to consider what it was that caused Gove and Cameron to decide that equality and tolerance and democracy are of sufficient import to be proactively promoted in schools. Was it a response to the fact that the pay gap between men and women is still around 15% (and much much higher in some professions)? That would make sense – maybe Gove and Cameron recognise the importance to teaching business leaders of tomorrow to value their staff equally. Was is a response to news that police forces in the UK received nearly 8000 complaints of racism over the last 8 years and upheld less than 1%? Maybe Gove and Cameron think the only way to tackle ingrained racism is from the cradle with the next generation. Or was it in response to the fact that in 2012-13 over 42,000 hate crimes (crimes linked to race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender reassignment) were recorded in the UK? Maybe they believe that that sort of prejudice and ignorance fueled violence needs to be tackled from school onwards by promoting tolerance and equality.
But no. None of those things were are the forefront of politicians’ minds when they came out with their ‘British values’ soundbites. They were reacting to the Birmingham schools ‘trojan horse’ affair, where it is alleged that muslim governors attempted to ‘infiltrate’ extreme values and teaching into schools. That might make a person question the sort of tolerance and equality that were discussing here. It looks at though Gove and Cameron think it’s important that people who look or think differently from them learn to value tolerance and moderate their own views accordingly. The sorts of intolerance and inequality that are long-term and chronic and form part of our status quo are fine to carry on as they were. Or maybe I’m being to cynical. Maybe promoting equality and tolerance is a good thing, regardless of the impetus.
Well, this was intended to be a jokey sort of post where I commented on the British penchant for humour and self-depreciation. With hindsight, it seems to have got away from me a tiny bit.
Anyway, no doubt good spirits will be restored by next week, and if you can’t wait until then I’ll be doing my writerly thing in Worcester tomorrow (21st June 2014) along with Sue Moorcroft, Christina Courtenay and Liz Harris when I host the Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe’s Author Panel. Tickets and downloadable festival programmes here.