Political correctness, or otherwise.
Written by Dr Peter Jepson.
I have recently been challenged to produce a short paper on the merits, or otherwise, of a newspaper article that discusses the sanitisation of some History lessons. This article, in the Daily Mail, explains how research from the Department for Education and Skills had established that some schools have been dropping the holocaust from history lessons so as to avoid offending Muslim pupils.
While I do not teach History, and have no direct knowledge of that subject area, I am responsible for the delivery of Law, Politics, and Citizenship to AS/A2 Level students.2] From my experience of having devised lesson materials, for all three-subject areas, it is my considered opinion that interesting lessons do not come from sanitising out the controversial areas of the syllabus. Indeed, students come to life when there is controversy and debate within a classroom. It is through such intellectual debate that students derive enthusiasm to conduct further research and thereby develop interest for the subject.
What is more, removing controversy from a lesson is a recipe for allowing political correctness to send us all to sleep. Having made such a statement - I am not arguing that a teachers/colleges/schools perception of what is politically correct should be erased from a subject syllabus. I am not making such an argument, because I believe it is far more desirable to see political correctness as opposed to political incorrectness. Indeed, I argue that if there is a willingness, and desire, to enable politically correct messages - through an academic syllabus - this will only be successfully achieved if there is a meaningful, honest, and open, discussion about the reasons behind the need for the politically correct message. Do we really expect pupils to recognise that racism is wrong if we are not open and honest about the nature of racism and the harm that it can do within society? If we are to expect students to grasp the reasons why racism is wrong we will not achieve such by simply saying: “Never be racist” or “The holocaust was wrong and we cannot discuss it”. Surely, we should be strong enough in our belief that racism is wrong to place it on the table for an open discussion. Likewise, there are some people that deny some of the details of the holocaust – we should not be afraid of confronting such beliefs with evidence that will enable the truth to prevail. We either have belief in the truth of our academic argument – or we do not. If it is an argument that is correct in morality and/or fact – it will stand up to the strength of examination.
Consistence with equal opportunities policy.
Obviously, it is important in any class discussion to try and ensure that equal opportunity policies are not abused. This means that it can be useful for students to discuss, as part of a controversial subject area, how arguments and opinions relate to and are consistent with the College, or Schools, equal opportunities policy.
In thinking about equal opportunities policies, it is important to reflect upon the word "diversity" and what it means. An examination of the Oxford English Dictionary produces a definition that signifies: "being diverse", "variety", and "a different kind". This again helps emphasise that we should be prepared to recognise differing opinions and beliefs.
The need for balance.
What is clear is that those of us that are involved in teaching/lecturing should not be afraid of using the vehicle of education to examine issues and beliefs. That being said, we should not set out with a political agenda. We should aim to ensure that balance exists within the syllabus. The important thing to remember is that balance can only exist if we allow politically incorrect views –as well as politically correct views - to be discussed and examined.
Dr Peter Jepson
Author of the book: ‘Tackling Militant Racism’.
 Head of the Department of Laws at Strode’s Sixth Form College in Egham, Surrey.
 The word “diversity” can now be found in most equal opportunity policy statements.