Naked Politics Blogger
Whether or not you are someone who personally considers Primary school to be an appropriate point in a child’s education to begin teaching them about homosexuality, one cannot question the noble motivations of Andrew Moffat, the assistant head-teacher of Parkfield Community School.
Moffat has recently attempted to implement a programme called “No Outsiders”, a programme developed to combat homophobia in education. One would envision that in 2018, a man that has been shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation’s Best Teacher prize trying to educate children in tolerance by having them read something as innocuous as Mommy, Mama and Me, would not be an issue of great contention. Yet, based on the reaction of some of the religious community to this programme you would think that the school was engaged in psychological torture and religious persecution.
At least, that would appear to be the conviction of Fatima Shah, who claimed that the school’s decision was “inappropriate” and “totally wrong”. She cited her faith as a moral justification for initially pulling her ten year old daughter out of school, stating that “Children are being told it’s OK to be gay, yet 98% of children at this school are Muslim. It’s a Muslim community. He said all parents are on board with it but, in reality, no parents are on board with it”. Shah was not alone in this sentiment. By the 31st of January four hundred parents, the majority of whom were Muslim had signed a petition for the subject to be dropped from the curriculum.
So, what transpired in Birmingham could be construed not only as a clash of attitudes but as a clash of cultures. A divide has been drawn in the sand between Religious Conservatism and Secular Liberalism, with the school standing in favour of the latter and the parents acting as the driving force for the former.
The school had an opportunity to take a firm stance against the majority socially conservative Muslim parents. To remind them that in Britain, homosexuality, and indeed, homosexuals are nothing to be stigmatised or hidden away from children. It doesn’t matter if there is a strong “Muslim community” in Birmingham. Birmingham is a British city and Britain does not endorse a conservative stranglehold (Islamic or otherwise) over education.
Well, no. What actually happened was that a mere few days later, at the first sign of resistance, the school decided to shirk its principles and shrug off the victimization their assistant head-teacher had faced. The school failed to act when Moffat had made claims that he was threatened and targeted via a leaflet campaign, and instead decided to prioritise the offended sensitivities of Conservative Muslim parents over their commitment to combat homophobia.
My fellow students, the majority of whom are left wing, scoff at the notion of free speech and scorn the idea that the contemporary culture of outrage is detrimental to our society. Now, however, they are joined by predominantly Muslim parents who have added their voices to the outrage machine to harass a man currently shortlisted from a World’s Best Teacher award and to pull their students out of what appear to be a handful of innocuous lessons about tolerance. Something has to give.
Instead of standing by Moffat, the schools minister Nick Gibb asserted that it was important to take the religious beliefs of their pupils into account regarding the delivery of certain content in order to ensure that topics were handled appropriately. Once again, the appropriateness of attempting to combat bigotry is at the centre of this clash of values. I feel like I must take issue with the so called religious beliefs of the pupils. We are dealing with primary school children. Primary school children do not have religious beliefs. They merely parrot the beliefs of the parents. That’s what this is truly about, the outrage of Conservative Religious parents, the majority of whom, in this case, are Muslim. Take whatever side of the debate you want but let’s at least be honest about it.
It is on the religious convictions of the parents that I derive my biggest criticisms of the schools decisions.
Benali Hamdache, writer for the Guardian, campaigner and co-chair of LGBTQIA+ Greens has expressed his support for the school’s “No Outsiders” programme. He is an openly Gay man and a Muslim, a combination which he admits did not make his childhood easy. Yet, far from being an example of multiculturalism’s failure, Hamdache stands as an example of its success. In his article “Pupils shouldn’t be denied LGBT lessons-no matter what their parents say” Hamdache explains how there are numerous examples of LGBT Muslims being accepted by their families.
Evidently, the supposedly “inappropriate” decision of the school to educate its students about same-sex relationships is a matter of subjective opinion not universal or absolutist truth. The parents who cite their religion as a justification to remove their children from the programme and campaigning to have the lessons shut down are merely putting forward their own opinions. They are cloaking their bigotry under the veil of cultural differences and religious freedom and Parkfield Community School, by cancelling the “No Outsiders” programme have validated them.