Let's hold on to our critical Britishness

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Paul C Boyd is a former teacher and author of 'The Pupil Exclusion Maze'

The recent outburst by the president of the National Union of Teachers, Baljeet Ghale, who says government plans for schools to teach "core British values" will fuel racism, is misplaced. Sir Keith Ajegbo's report on how diversity and citizenship should be taught, published in January, conceded that in Britain the term "British" refers to "identities across the UK".

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, the review says "the ability to reach unity in diversity will be the... test of our civilization". Among views on contemporary Britain, it quotes Benjamin Zephaniah, who says "the British are not a single tribe, or a single religion, and we don't come from a single place".

I am convinced that these values were spelt out in the government report All Our Futures (1999). This seminal report defined 21st-century Britishness and recognised that "Britain comprises an extraordinary variety of different cultures". That "culture" should be used in the broader social context of "the shared values and patterns of behaviour that characterise different social groups and communities".

It insists, therefore, that cultural education or transmission of our core values would need to take account of this diversity in order to "mitigate the difficulties of intercultural understanding". Rather than avoid the teaching of core values, our concern must be to shed ethnocentrism and Eurocentrism from our understanding of Britishness. Indeed, Sir Keith's review acknowledges "diversity and racism" in the teaching of the British citizenship curriculum.

I thought it was settled that our society oozes with institutional racism.

Thus, the transmission of core values is inextricably bound with purging education of institutionalised racism. All Our Futures endorsed the view that our core values are dynamic, diverse and evolving and had no doubt that "there clearly are some values which are at the core of our national way of life - our national culture". These were identified as "a commitment to the unique value and central importance of the individual" and "the idea of contingency: the view that things might be different from how they seem or are currently believed to be".

These two core values, it argues, and "the practices and attitudes they give rise to lie at the heart of our national heritage" and are "not negotiable if individual fulfilment and open enquiry are to continue to characterise our way of life". It is now entirely up to the teaching profession to transmit a notion of "core British values" within contemporary British society which develops critical awareness in our children and challenges conventional wisdom.

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