Students React to the Banning of Anti-Capitalist Material in UK Schools

"I'm not even 18 years old and I've been through two recessions. That politicised me and made me an anti-capitalist, not teachers telling me the way I should be thinking."
September 30, 2020, 5:16pm
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Photo: Wojciech Strozyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Last week, the government ordered schools in England not to use resources from organisations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism in RSE lessons, part of the wider PHSE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic education) programme.

The Department of Education guidance told leaders and teachers involved in setting the RSE curriculum that anti-capitalism is categorised as an “extreme political stance”, comparable to the opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and the endorsement of illegal activity.

Following a petition to add education on diversity and racism to school curriculums after this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the government said there was no need to change the curriculum because RSE lessons already teach “the importance of respecting others, even when they are very different from them, or make different choices or have different preferences or beliefs”.

Critics have pointed out that this new guidance is hypocritical. If teachers are unable to use resources produced by “anti-capitalist” organisations – which could include many political and anti-racist groups – students will not be exposed to any material that highlights these “different preferences or beliefs”.

We asked five young people for their opinions on the new government guidance.

Guy, 17, Herefordshire

The Conservative Party essentially banning the critiquing and challenging of capitalism – a fundamentally flawed system – is a hypocritical measure. Taking that decision away from schools and the senior leadership teams to make that judgment on behalf of their students, and provide the education that they think their students deserve, within fair boundaries, is a slippery slope towards some form of discreet authoritarianism.

If the Labour Party were in government and suddenly banned organisations who critique socialism from teaching in schools, that would be branded as fascism, communism or some sort of hardline measure. Classifying anti-capitalism, or the critiquing of capitalism, as an extremist view sets a really bad precedent for what's supposed to be a free and open democracy. They put it in the same category as racism and advocating breaking the law. It's just not comparable. Capitalism is a political ideology. 

Lissy, 16, Windsor

Just before summer, we had a couple of PSHE lessons about the Black Lives Matter protests, in the midst of everything that was happening in London. We discussed the spray painting on the Churchill statue and the behaviours and attitudes against policing, and what it means to defund the police. So [this new guidance] is mostly taking away any kind of platform for young people to debate and discuss these kinds of things.

As young people, we don’t really get many opportunities to do so unless we’re actively involved with these [protest] groups. It’s just another way for the government to mostly silence marginalised communities and groups like BLM and Extinction Rebellion, who I think they’re scared of. Young people have historically been left, so I think it’s another way to push those capitalist views onto people and discourage you from joining groups like that.

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Photo: Joseph Reid / Alamy Stock Photo

Hasan, 17, London

I think the Tories know they've lost the argument with young people. It's ridiculous for them to make the assertion that young people are being brainwashed by teachers. There's no need for young people to be brainwashed, because the reason a lot of us don't agree with Tories or are left-wing in the first place is just our lives and lived experiences.

We've grown up with ten years of austerity. I'm not even 18 years old and I've been through two recessions. Those are the things that politicised me and made me an anti-capitalist, not teachers telling me the way I should be thinking. I also think this plays into the culture wars the Conservatives want, because they've lost the argument, especially in terms of economics. Young people are bearing the brunt of all crises, and this is the last resort to let us not be critical of the world we're about to inherit.

Alfie, 18, London

I don't think you're going to see a considerable difference in an average class, but I think you will have teachers who are actually going to be worried about the materials they're using now. It's not just about anti-capitalist materials, but it's about using any materials from organisations that are anti-capitalist.

The first thing that came to mind was Verso, which publishes a lot of left-wing political books. They're firmly anti-capitalist and have a huge range of books, for example, on everyday economics and sex work. If teachers are banned from using that in the classroom, that's really worrying, and it depends on how far the government will go. I think the fact they released it as guidelines related to Ofsted rather than teachers being charged with criminal activity is perhaps more encouraging, but still a worrying development that's been shoehorned in.

Mahnoor, 16, Stoke-on-Trent

I personally disagree with the guidelines they have released. This may be because of my left-wing views, but if anyone takes a holistic approach to this, they would disagree. The BLM protests and movement would be heavily censored due to its anti-capitalist and "violence against property" views and actions. However, in history those who have succeeded in claiming rights – such as The Suffragettes – did use violence. This rule will marginalise their struggle.

This rule also goes against the idea of freedom of speech, and it goes hand-in-hand with censorship. This rule is basically indoctrination. The government blames schools for "imposing left-wing ideas", but it's the rise in inflation, the cuts in funding, the exploitation and the deterioration of the quality of life that makes the youth anti-capitalist. 

@thediyora