Education is Liberation

Whilst we criticise the cuts of the Coalition government, we must remember that their budgetary proposals are ideologically driven. Privatization and low welfare support are conveniently Conservative principals. Interestingly, it has been noted that women bear the burden of these: yet it appears that we are being targeted beyond financial reforms.

The same government that abolished Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for the most impoverished students has decided it must intervene for the so-called benefit of pupils. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove has recently announced to influence the curriculum of Free Schools and Academies: namely, that the importance of marriage must be taught.

The model funding agreement for these schools states that they must ensure children are “protected from inappropriate teaching materials and learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children.” It is surprising that a Party, which holds conservative values advocating less State interference in private spheres, is so explicitly dominating what is taught.

The 2011 matrimonial survey by Grant Thornton has demonstrated that whilst infidelity and ‘growing apart’ are the main reasons for divorce, money is in the top 5 causes. So at a time when unemployment and financial concerns are heightened, is it really fair for the government to so adamantly insist in the importance of marriage, when they are arguably somewhat responsible for divorce due to huge job redundancies and welfare cuts? To argue that this is counteracted by proposed tax breaks for married couples does not address this problem: it merely financially pressurises and entraps couples into loveless marriages, which surely breeds resentment and unhappiness: an unlikely positive atmosphere for the children.

Furthermore: why do married couples especially deserve tax breaks? 92% of lone parents are women (according to the Fawcett Society), who are also more likely to live in poverty, rely on welfare support and use public services or be employed in the public sector (all of which are currently facing huge funding cuts). So if anything the focus should be on supporting these mothers, not demonising them.

A happy home life is not dependent on whether or not ones parents have signed a marriage certificate. Whilst 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, 2 women will be killed every week by a current or former male partner, and the Department of Health reporting that 750,000 children witness domestic violence every year – the emphasis in education should be about respect within relationships, whether married or not.

It has also been noticed that Gove’s new instructions do not require teaching children about homosexual relationships, and even in our ‘progressive’ society, we have yet to see the legalization of gay marriages – Civil Partnerships have only existed since 2005. Many gay couples have chosen to adopt, have artificial insemination or choose surrogacy. Even with the best intentions of teachers, the maliciousness of the school playground will surely have consequences for children who do not have married parents, or whose parents are gay. If children are to be taught that hetero-normative marriage is ‘right’, the potential fuel for bullying those who do not have this home life is enormous. Aside from this, where is the thought for gay children or children who do not see themselves being married? It is unfair to indoctrinate children by teaching them to uphold traditional values when this is not a reality for many, and why should it be?

The emphasis in schools should be on tolerance of all choices, and allowing children to decide their own sexuality, and their own desires in life.

Feminism, and the determination for gender liberation inherently opposes the traditional, nuclear family, which the Conservatives are attempting to encourage. In actuality, second-wave feminism (most noticeably during the 60s) placed emphasis on dissolving the traditional family. A regression to these values of 2.5 children and hetro-sexual, married parents is likely to oppress women to revert back to being confined in the home and being full-time mothers. Teaching gender politics in schools and prioritizing gender equality in the government’s agenda could arguably avoid this however. Yet to do this would naturally undermine traditional family roles – it is not convincing that encouraging traditional family values can be simultaneous with gender equality. Liberation must stem from choice.

Whilst the reforms currently affect free schools and academies, a shift to the government taking responsibility for the curriculum will likely eventually affect all state schools.

In assessing the language used, we must also consider what is defined as ‘inappropriate’. The BBC reported in May 2011 that of those surveyed: 41% felt it ‘inappropriate’ to teach sex education, 27% stated there is ‘no need for children to know about sex’ and 22% being concerned that they would ask further questions about sexuality and sex. So perhaps there is a legitimate concern that ‘inappropriate’ will soon include sex education. Yet embarrassment or sexual taboos do not empower children and young people to make educated, safe and consensual sexual decisions. Especially in a society where children are over-sexualized and girls encouraged to wear make-up and heels at a young age: avoiding the ‘making love’ topic has a much worse impact than making a few parents squirm. If we really think our children are waiting until they’re married to have sex, we’re being naïve. Let’s ensure they have access to adequate sexual education to ensure their sexuality is in their own time, on their own terms.

The purpose of education is to provide students with knowledge to live their lives in confidence and tolerance. Not to enforce moralistic and outdated principles.

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~ by Bobi Pasquale on December 17, 2011.

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