In March 2014, the Trojan Horse scandal was splashed across the UK front headlines. A plot by hardline Islamists to take over various Birmingham secondary schools (the ‘Trojan Horse Operation’) was exposed by the authorities. The scandal raised questions about national security and how effectively our education system is safeguarded. However for me, perhaps what should have raised more questions is the way in which our government responded to the scandal.
Following inspections at fifteen different schools across the area, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman declared that there was ‘room to improve [the] active promotion of fundamental British values in our schools’. On face value, this appeared to be a positive move. It seemed more than reasonable that values such as democracy, freedom and tolerance should be embedded in our curriculum and thus in our children’s mindsets.
However, when I realised that what was meant by instilling British values was instilling cadet units in British secondary schools, I reconsidered my previous conceptions. This operation, which has been spearheaded by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, is designed to promote the traditions and values of the British armed forces to encourage youngsters to be more responsible citizens and to develop better ‘leadership skills’ and ‘more self-reliance’. Currently, around ninety state schools across the UK have a cadet unit. Under the coalition government George Osborne granted £500 million to the Cadet Expansion Programme and pledged that by 2020 there would be 500 more. Whatever happened to austerity?
Yet fundamentally, it is not the £500 million which concerns me, but the fact that the military is what our government chose to represent our values. Kids as young as twelve are being taught how to handle guns, how to plan battles and ‘evade enemy fire’. They can call it ‘military ethos’ and dress it up how they like but essentially, what this ‘Cadet Expansion Programme’ is doing is teaching children how to shoot and to me this is alarming. It will likely exacerbate the problem of gun crime as well as normalising violence, and this far outweighs any benefits the scheme might bring, such as teaching children how to ‘handle danger’ and ‘be more self-reliant.’
Amanda Everitt, chairwoman of Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, who strongly opposes the policy says, ‘we should be doing everything to discourage the use of weapons in any setting’. Supporters of the instillation of these Cadet Units argue that Britain’s liberal values are being promoted and thus our liberal democracy is being protected, but, like Everitt, I disagree.
Most Liberals do not support value pluralism because it involves taking a stance of total neutrality and encourages completely unlimited freedom. Under Liberalism, core liberal values are seen to be superior to other sets of beliefs. In the case of the Trojan Horse scandal, extreme Islamism was not tolerated and the government’s supposedly liberal intervention involved the promotion of British values that were deemed superior. These being: democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom and mutual respect and tolerance. Most of us in this country would agree that extremist versions of Islam are not liberal and should not be tolerated in our society. However, that does not give our government the right to step in and use the military to bring in what they perceive to be the ‘right’ values.
Undoubtedly education can be a great way to enhance and enrich the mindsets of our future doctors, engineers, lawyers and politicians; but we must tread with caution. Education is a powerful weapon as well as being a powerful tool, and we should therefore think very carefully about how we approach situations such as these.
The Trojan Horse scandal threatened the fabric of our society — it brought to light just how divided and schismatic our nation was becoming. It was natural that the government would want to take action, but it is the way in which they went about it which is questionable. Ultimately, do we really want our children growing up thinking violence is normal in the name of ‘British values’?