Fundamental British values of freedom and justice need to take more of a central role in our education system, argues Chris Everett.
Unique British freedoms have been part of this land since the very idea of Britain. From the Parliaments called for by King Arthur in Medieval texts like Morte D’Arthur to appeals from Burke for English liberties, via Milton’s Areopagitica, the idea of Britons retaining certain rights and privileges is as important in our shared literary and historical culture as wine is in France. So why isn’t it part of the school curriculum?
I don’t mean the modern, legalistic interpretation of these rights and liberties either. No, I’m talking the earthy, spiritual ideas in and beyond the Magna Carta, their role in shaping our country today, and why they must be defended and espoused at all costs.
Part of Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms did include a well-meaning nod towards teaching “British Values”, but the vagueness of teacher guidance around these points together with their hostile packaging in the face of educator ire hardly ensures consistency. Perhaps if children were being taught about the marketplace of ideas from an early age, as well as their ancient rights to freedom from persecution without trial, censorious campuses would be rolled back and Twitter mobs would think twice before directing their ire on untried innocents like Professor Tim Hunt.
You could even teach them via a “cross-discipline” approach that so many teachers desire. Outside of the obvious references to the Magna Carta in History and John Stuart Mill in English; you could teach about brave scientists like Dr Priestley, discoverer of oxygen and a dissenter through and through, in chemistry, or the background of football as an expression of freedom on ancient holidays in PE. Even subjects like Food Technology (Home Economics to the over 40s) could be covered by the shroud of British rights and freedoms through the popularisation of coffee and coffee houses in promoting free speech and free markets.
ID cards, detention without trial, rendition: all policies that would be vocally opposed by a generation grounded in British rights and liberties. Teach these freedoms and protect not just these ancient laws, but the very idea of Britain.