Once upon a time, our education institutions were great bastions of thought and debate where speech flowed freely, and new ideas could be formed and challenged.
Sadly, the same cannot be said in today’s world where those ideas that do not conform to a certain agenda are silenced in our schools and universities and in some cases, people find themselves ostracized and kicked out for failing to toe the line. So, what happened? How did we go from free thought to wrong think?
“No Platforming” policies have existed in Student Unions for decades, with the National Union of Students first adopting one in 1974. These policies have allowed speaker events to be shut down and in some cases expulsion from campus. People “cancelled” by protests and student groups include government ministers David Willetts and Eric Pickles, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and British National Party MEP Andrew Brons. The latter of these incidents ended with the then NUS President Wes Streeting, now a Labour frontbencher, being forced to apologise for his organisation’s actions and suppression of speech.
What is even worse are the cases of people being forced from universities for refusing to confirm to certain left-wing ideologies, the most notable of which is probably the case of Kathleen Stock. The former Brighton Uni philosophy professor was forced to resign after students protested on campus after she made comments on biological sex that did not conform to what some call “the trans agenda”.
But this is not just restricted to higher education and universities. Just this week, 17-year-old name Leo Shepherd was kicked out of Burnley College for tweets in support of the government’s Rwanda policy on the ground’s they were “dismissive and light-hearted about a serious matter” How in a just society can a young person be denied the education they rightfully deserve because of some tweets they made. Why do educators, who have so much power over someone’s life chances, get to abuse it in pursuit of their own left-wing agenda?
When I reached out to Mr Shepherd for comment, he said:
“I feel extremely overwhelmed and slightly agitated but very supported and confident. I hope I’m able to come out well but I’m really not sure how this will go”
It cannot be right for someone like Leo to be so uncertain about their education simply because so-called educators don’t like their politics.
So, what can be done for our young people? This cannot be allowed to continue and there is a ray of hope. The Department for Education have introduced The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill that seeks to protect staff, students, and visitors’ freedom of speech through the ability to sue academic institutions as well as by creating a Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom to serve as an ombudsman on the Office for Students board. While this won’t solve the problem in its entirety, it is a welcome first step.
It is going to be a long road back to having our education institutions become the bastions of free speech they once were, but it is one we must take. Schools and universities should prepare people for the wider world and teach them how to think, not what to think and stifle their chances if they refuse to comply!