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Teaching controversy in schools

Throughout the course of their education children and teenagers will inevitably encounter contentious questions. In a world where wider discussion of these subjects is often defined by populism, polarisation, prejudice and ‘alternative facts’, teaching these issues in an honest and supportive manner can be challenging. Deputy Head (Academic) at City of London School, Glenn Bezalel, considers the importance of teaching controversy in the classroom.

Education in an age of ‘fake news’ and ‘cancel culture’
Barely a week goes by without news reports of schoolteachers and university lecturers falling victim to what Dame Sara Khan has called “freedom-restricting harassment”. Ms Khan, as the government’s Independent Adviser for Social Cohesion and Resilience, has recently warned of a climate of censorship “antithetical to our democratic way of life” – and this applies to our schools as well.

From a Religious Studies teacher at Batley Grammar School who had to go into hiding in March 2021 following accusations of blasphemy to a UCL lecturer reportedly banned from teaching her course for fear of offending the Chinese government just last month, educational leaders could be forgiven for wishing to protect their institutions from cohesion threats. As Ms Khan concluded, she does not believe that “schools are given adequate support, guidance and training on how to mitigate and manage such incidents…

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