- THE TELEGRAPH - JUNE 20, 2021 - GAVIN RICE -
Should older students be taught white privilege as a theory to evaluate? Yes. Should it be taught as truth to 8 year-olds? Absolutely not
Fresh guidance has been issued by the National Association of Teachers of Religious
Education that children as young as eight should be taught about white privilege. This “key concept” should be introduced to tackle “systemic racism” and avoid language that reinforces “white power”, they say, in teachers’ latest attempt to recondition young minds.
When challenged on whether these doctrines should be peddled to prepubescent children, the NATRE claimed that it was encouraging debate. For anyone who has met an eight-year-old, this defence is humorous at best.
What has any of this to do with religion? Tragically, RE, originally designed to teach students about religions’ role in society, has been on a slippery slope towards becoming little more than a social studies blancmange. It now seems to have metastasised into a Trojan horse for transmitting the preoccupations of identity politics.
RE, is, at its best, the only subject in the curriculum in which students are taught anything akin to philosophy. During my five years teaching at Eton, the priority of the theology department was, alongside teaching its substantive content, the instilling of critical skills. New boys were given a crash course in logic, common fallacies and counter argument, equipping them to grapple with the ideas they would encounter.
Sadly, teaching the subject in this way is increasingly the preserve of independent schools: most pupils are experiencing RE as a vehicle for social indoctrination.
Should the concept of white privilege be taught at all? The answer must be yes. Just as A level theology candidates may study Marx, so critical race theory (CRT) should be taught – but as a theory to evaluate, not as a fact to be absorbed. Such ideas should be taught alongside the classical canon of Western thought, from Plato and Aristotle through Kant and Bentham to the present. Crucially, they should be taught to older students trained to think for themselves.
After all, white privilege is a contentious idea that goes far beyond a simple awareness of racism’s existence. It contains bold claims about the way society works. It flows from a tradition of thought championed by Foucault, in which society is understood not as an association of free individuals but as a gladiatorial arena in which power interests eternally butt heads.
CRT holds that white privilege operates at the level of the unconscious, with its beneficiaries mostly oblivious to their own unearned advantages. It reflects Marx’s principle of false consciousness, in which bourgeoisie and proletariat muddle along largely oblivious to the oppressive nature of capitalism. In CRT, white and non-white people operate in a world of illusions, unable to spot the system of racial oppression in which all else fits. Only those awake – or woke – to its evils can see the wood for the trees.
This extreme world-view does not admit of counter-evidence; dissenters are written off as still enthralled to the system. Yet to have a proper grasp of today’s discourse, it’s vital to understand CRT. If we want to teach it as a theory to young adults, and give them the tools they need to decide whether they accept it, I’d say: go for it. But teaching it to children as self-evident truth? That would be irresponsible and wrong.
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