Teach pupils about the BNP in a liberal learning environment

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

I think that we are in danger of bringing partisan politics into the classroom when either we adopt a pro or anti-BNP stance with reference to the growth of the British National Party in certain areas ("Primaries in BNP strongholds advised on how to fight the right", June 26).

How should teachers deal with these issues? By upholding an impartial and academic approach, surely.

If the BNP has to be mentioned by name, we could ask the case for and the case against the party. Answers could come back against: that it is a racist party; or for: that it is a party about keeping Britain British.

We could then explore what it means to be racist and what it means to be British. Learning will be advanced and practical toleration acquired in view of the fact that "not all clocks will chime at the same hour", however hard we try.

Pupils will still have differences of viewpoint even after a debate. However, diversity of views will prevail in all probability, but areas of difference will be narrowed. Even a view that is wrong may have something to teach us and, in interacting with it, we will acquire better reasons for holding our own views. But political issues should not be discussed below secondary level.

I once tried this interactive method with A-level students at a girls' high school on a different issue. The question was: "Should men and women be treated the same?" Some of the girls said yes and some said no. I gave time for each side to state its case.

Eventually, we all moved to the position where we said that men and women should be treated the same where they are the same and that they should be treated differently where they are different.

That was an interesting and unsuspected outcome. This method and process, commended by J S Mill in his essay "On Liberty", cannot be faulted as a way to teach and to learn in a liberal learning environment. By that method, I (we all) learnt something.

Reverend RMB West, Supply teacher, Holbeach, Lincolnshire.

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