MUSCULAR LIBERALISM IS A BULLY
I read with interest the front page of the Times on Thursday February 1st 2018, where Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, was quoted as saying that extremists are using schools to ‘actively pervert the purpose of education’; peddling their religious ideologies to narrow children’s horizons and cut them off from wider society. Parents and community leaders have opened schools, and used them as vehicles to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology. Rightly, Ms Spielman is determined to tackle such people who actively undermine British values and she went on to say she is going to ‘face them down’. And she called on school leaders to use ‘muscular liberalism’ to defend decisions they make, rather than fear causing offence.
I’m sure many will read this and think ‘hear, hear’. I for one heartily agree that extremists who narrow children’s horizons, pervert education and peddle religious ideologies should be tackled and ‘faced down’.
My issue is, I also have absolutely no time for ‘muscular liberalism’. It’s a liberalism that isn’t liberal at all, but rather a perverted liberalism which forces people to think ‘liberally’. That is as educationally un-sound as the worst extremist.
This ‘muscular liberalism’ appears to be holding the megaphone on social media today. Far from encouraging young people to question and think about the world around us, how society is framed, the laws we pass and values we live by, ‘muscular liberalism’ dictates how we think.
On insisting on their own rights and freedoms, ‘Muscular liberals’ deny others theirs. Their liberalism prescribes that some things can no longer even be debated and discussed. People who hold views that are not liberal are labelled as dangerous extremists. But isn’t that wrong? I detest extremist ideology that makes young people adopt a view without question, to hate rather than consider, and leads them into violence, terrorism and murder. I think it should be ‘faced down’. But I also hate ‘muscular liberalism’ which tells us how we should think and live our lives. That too should be ‘faced down’, and it always will be at The Fulham Boys School.
We want our young men to question everything: Where have we come from, origins of the universe, abortion, euthanasia, views on sex, marriage, relationships; to have the right to be a boy and be called one; to say that men and women are equal but different. As a Christian headmaster, liberalism should allow me to believe the Bible. And in a school built upon the Christian faith, to expose boys to it, encouraging them to question it. As Ms Spielman pointed out (quoting Psalm 119), our duty as leaders is to ‘teach knowledge and good judgement’. Surely this is part of it.
Furthermore, liberalism should allow schools to have a distinctive ethos and give people choice in the type of school they want to go to. I was interested to hear Ms Spielman defending the right of Head teachers to set uniform policies as they see fit in order to promote cohesion, rather than adopt a passive liberalism that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence. As long as we make it clear what we are about, are totally transparent and open to scrutiny it should surely be to parents and pupils to decide if they want our schools or not. And if they do, to respect their ethos and culture.
Muscular liberalism is neither liberal nor muscular. It pushes its agenda and forces us to all think the same. It’s a bully, and like all bullies needs to be ‘faced down’.