Let’s not beat around the bush here: the government ordering schools in England not to use resources from organisations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism is idiotic at best and frightening at worst.
This is not going to be an article debating the virtues and vices of capitalism itself. I think we would be here all day if that were the case. But whether you’re a committed Marxist or a staunch Thatcherite, prohibiting criticism of it is a ridiculous thing to do.
First of all, let’s suppose you think capitalism is just fine as it is. It’s a bestseller in the marketplace of ideas, and it really has proven its worth. Why, then, the sudden demand for the state to intervene? Surely if you think capitalism is such a great idea, the government getting involved is the last thing you would want? What if the next one was to come along and start championing another economic system?
The government compares a desire to overthrow capitalism to a desire to end free and fair elections. Such a comparison is ludicrous. If one were to start intimidating voters or committing electoral fraud you are clearly in the wrong. But what if you started to argue for higher taxes, or tried to raise the issue of tax avoidance, or advocated for greater government spending? When Dutch historian Rutger Bregman tried to argue for these things at the 2019 World Economic Forum, many called him a communist. Yet he claimed he was doing this to save capitalism, to “tame this beast”. So who decides if you are capitalism’s saviour or assailant?
Restricting and censoring these debates surely goes against the spirit of democracy
The government says even when the material itself is not extreme, it cannot come from organisations who hold “extreme political stances”. But again, who decides what’s extreme and what isn’t? Sure, we need some protections. I wouldn’t want a racist or a homophobe wandering into the local comprehensive. Yet politics is rarely simple. I’d call building an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island an extreme idea, but apparently, it’s just fine when the Home Secretary considers it.
Restricting and censoring these debates surely goes against the spirit of democracy, which the government says in the same guidance it wants to protect. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is arguing for state–funded educational organisations to be impartial and present a broad spectrum of views, and for an end to no–platforming. And also, they’re restricting the views they don’t like. Hmm.
Secondly, the notion that the government must act to save kids from crazy communist teachers sneaking Marx into maths lessons is just ridiculous. It’s dangerous McCarthyism with a dash of Helen Lovejoy’s “won’t somebody please think of the children?” thrown in. The fact ex-Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey genuinely seems to think teachers are “overly indoctrinating” children and “forcing ideas” on them makes me want to bang my head repeatedly against an interactive whiteboard. Maybe it was just the school I went to, but I never saw any of the Tory kids fastened to a chair and made to watch anti-capitalist material with their eyes clamped open. After years of austerity and inequality, they think it’s the schools who are to blame for anti-capitalist feeling? If you’ll pardon a second Simpsons reference, the Tories have turned around after ten years in power only to ask “am I so out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong”.
We need more debate, bold new ideas and a generation of politicians and economists who can think outside the box
Maybe as Joanna Williams argues, teachers themselves are not responsible but the nature of relationships and sex education means teachers are enforcing values on kids, somehow. I agree with Williams that we need more critical thinking in our schools, but by stopping RSE? Let’s just say I’m not convinced. Particularly after the global financial crisis and the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic I think we can all agree capitalism, at least in its current form, simply isn’t working. Stopping Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ+ organisations from being discussed in schools really doesn’t change the fact the current system is an unfair one. It’s all very well saying it’s still fine to talk about capitalism in English and History, but if you can’t point out its flaws when discussing the issues of today, that is still a problem.
We know that capitalism has been important in history. Good luck trying to explain the twentieth century without mentioning the word. But it also will shape our futures. Capitalism cannot be ignored when discussing race, the environment or quality of life, to name but a few areas. We need more debate, bold new ideas and a generation of politicians and economists who can think outside the box. Whether you think the world needs a tweak or an overhaul, we can all recognise that it is imperfect. We should be challenging kids, not restricting them.