Katharine Birbalsingh: Free us to think for ourselves
I am the teacher who spoke at the Conservative Party Conference and then found herself out of a job. Some might argue that had I criticised the education system at a National Union of Teachers conference, I would have been cheered on by the delegates. Had I blamed our broken education system on lack of funds, institutional racism or the challenge of private education, I would have been the darling of the Left and all would have been well. It was the fact that I sided with the Right that has turned me into a mortal enemy.
But we are all in pursuit of the same utopia, aren't we? We want every child to have the best possible education, to feel safe and happy to reach for the top and for schools to provide environments where this is possible. Or do we? It is interesting that teachers come up to me in the street, voicing their support, agreeing with everything I've said yet refuse to tell me their names because they are scared to speak out "given the current climate". By "the current climate", they are pointing to leftist ideology that insists that private-style education for a comprehensive intake of students is simply a contradiction in terms. The Left has a stranglehold over teachers and gives them little freedom to think outside their ideological box. For a long time, I have been a victim of that ideology.
The other day, I had tea with a friend to bring her up to date with the details of my personal drama. She is originally from Calcutta, married to a very liberal Scot, and has two children. I begin, as I always do these days, defending my actions. I try to explain my reasons for voting Conservative, why it doesn't mean that I'm a bad person, why I believe right-wing thinking is what we need in schools.
My friend leans forward. "Well, you know, Katharine, I never told you, but I voted Conservative, too."
Such is the state of political freedom in this country. We may believe we all have freedom of speech, but when we diverge from the pack we don't tell even our closest friends. Peer pressure is not only the main force that keeps children in gangs, walking as if they're constipated, speaking as if they've never read a book and permanently playing on their portable video-game machines: it is also the principal reason most adults vote the same way from the day we were born until the day we die. Political persuasion is tribal and no one is ever meant to change their minds.
I grew up in a very left-leaning family and went to a state school. Fresh out of Oxford, where I read Marxism Today, I began teaching, firm in the belief that racist, white teachers were responsible for black underachievement. I thought that state schools had no money and that the poor (both black and white) were left to languish.
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