The Education Secretary has insisted that children are not ‘snowflakes’ and should be allowed to read books containing racial slurs. Nadhim Zahawi warned against creating “fake filters” for students, arguing that “those in positions of responsibility should teach young minds how to think, not what to think”.
It comes after the government issued guidance earlier this year aimed at helping teachers avoid ‘promoting disputed theories as fact’ in England. Speaking to Chopper’s Politics Podcast from The telegraphthe education secretary said it was important to remember the resilience children have shown during the pandemic.
“These children are resilient. They have been through the Covid pandemic, the mistaken closure of schools. They are not snowflakes at all. They’re really resilient, and I think it’s important to remember that,” he said.
He added: “Those in positions of responsibility should teach young minds how to think, not what to think. Kids…if you teach them to be curious, if you teach them to filter and rely on quality journalism and understand both sides of the argument, then you’ll be doing something really great. Don’t bring your own fears and biases into the classroom would be my mantra.
When asked if children should be able to read racial slurs such as those contained in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, he replied, “Totally. I think it’s really important that kids can be curious…to understand where these things come from, rather than (where you) create these kind of fake filters for them.
Government guidelines on political impartiality in schools, published in February, suggested that British Empire teaching should be presented in a ‘balanced way’. It has been criticized by anti-racism campaigners, who called it “disturbing”, while teacher leaders said it would prevent students from tackling difficult issues in the classroom.
Mr Zahawi, whose family fled Iraq to the UK as a child, told the Telegraph: “We have to learn all aspects of empire, on both sides. Why am I saying this? Because actually some people…may not have seen what my family went through. The legacy of the British Mandate in Iraq was a grand civil service that the Baathists – Saddam Hussein and his ilk – later dismantled and set the country back decades.
“And you talk to Iraqis today, they always go back to a world where they had a public service that was the pride of the nation, that really served the people. And I think that’s important, for the children of ‘to learn today that there are really important things that we have done in the world that are a real legacy, as well as, of course, some of the not so good things.
Mr Zahawi also said he was “deeply uncomfortable” with people “starting to see everything through the 2022 lens”.
“You don’t become a better nation, a more cohesive community, by denying the past, by suppressing the past. Half of Whitehall should be demolished… You explain the past and you have to explain both sides,” he said.
“There are really important things that have happened that are great things that we have exported to the rest of the world, as well as not so good things. And that’s really important. I am deeply uncomfortable with the fact that we are starting to see everything through the lens of 2022, when life was very different in previous centuries and values were different then.
On political debate in schools, he said: “The first thing I had when I set my guidelines for political impartiality was ‘you want people not to think about politics ‘. It’s not true. During an election period, I will never refuse a debate in one of my schools. But I want the kids to hear ‘blue’ team and ‘red’ team and ‘yellow’ team and ‘green’ team.
“Because they need to hear all the arguments – they need to be able to test the arguments themselves. We don’t need to put warnings on things.
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