Prevent duty should guard against dangers of authoritarianism, academic says

17th October 2017 at 11:29
Convincing Brexit supporters of the merits of 'British values' may be harder than convincing newly-arrived immigrants, pamphlet argues

The Prevent duty should not just protect pupils from radicalisation by terrorists – it should also guard against the dangers of authoritarian leaders in the west, an academic has said.

But, he adds, it may be hard to convince Brexit voters of the merits of these types of British values.

Prevent should be revised so that pupils are made aware of the ascent of autocratic leaders around the world, who are endangering fundamental values, such as respect for democracy and the rule of law, according to Randall Curren, professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester, in New York state.

In a new pamphlet, Professor Curren says that teachers should not only teach resistance to radicalisation, but should also “reflect the threat to democratic values posed by the growing authoritarian sentiments cultivated by populist movements”.

Moral insight

The pamphlet, published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, argues that the Prevent duty could be used to support character education.

Professor Curren believes that character education currently focuses excessively on virtues such as perseverance and self-discipline. He believes that someone of good character has to have “moral insight” and “good judgement in deciding what to do”.

To demonstrate good character, pupils need to have a sense of broader foundational values, he argues, such as those outlined in the Prevent duty: democracy, rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance.

But, he adds, developments in countries such as France, the USA, Turkey and Germany have seen democratic institutions challenged or undermined.

'Strong' leaders

The pamphlet states: “Teachers must be prepared to address the relationships between democracy and a rule of law, in a context in which authoritarian populist movements are undermining democracy in many countries around the world.

“It is vitally important that young people understand the patterns of populism through which autocratic ‘strong’ leaders claim to be the one true voice of a select ‘true people, seek to discredit and destroy the ‘undemocratic’ courts, independent press, universities and other institutions essential to public reason and a democratic rule of law, and thereby place themselves and the pervasive corruption they engender above the law.”

Professor Curren goes on to argue that new immigrants to Britain may find it easier to support such British values than Brexit voters.

He states that “convincing native Brexit supporters of the merits of ‘British values’ may be harder than convincing newly arrived immigrants of them” given the fading hopes of the former – and typical high hopes of new arrivals. 

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