Education during the Tory Culture Wars

Hearts Over Minds Series

Written by Ahmad Faisal Muhibzada

Last Tuesday, I went on a school trip to the City of London for a historical tour into how London became the financial capital of the world. I expected the experience to give me an insightful, nuanced and holistic understanding into how London had amassed such great wealth over the centuries. I ended up leaving the tour feeling slightly misguided. The nasty, morbid and embarrassing history of British colonialism had simply been plastered over and concealed, the guide created a portrayal which appeared to be nothing short of nationalist. 

Whilst touring us around the early coffee houses where English merchants would trade coffee, I found it particularly frustrating how the guide’s lecture lacked any discussion of the exploitation and literal enslavement employed by English colonists. His rhetoric instead appeared to suggest that it was the competitive edge and skill of the English which allowed them to reach such levels of economic domination. How could it be that such a crucial, infectious aspect of European imperialism was left out of the picture? 

 

It appears that polarisation and nationalist rhetoric which has been spearheaded by the Conservative party since the BLM protests has manifested in what many have coined the “Culture War”. Particularly after the toppling of Edward Cullen’s statue in Bristol, many on the right feel as though the progressive left is actively seeking to undermine British identity and national pride. Either by erasing British history or by creating what many would call an overly Machiavellian and ‘anti-British’ portrayal.

In order to prevent this supposed erosion of Britishness in schools, many in the Conservative party have made altering how history is taught of top priority. The Department for Education has issued specific guidance restricting teachers from advocating for Black Lives Matter or contesting the legacies of controversial figures such as Winston Churchill. Instead requesting that teachers “teach the benefits of the British Empire”.

Despite politicians on both sides of the aisle agreeing that racism is a prevalent issue and every effort should be made to stamp it out, the actions of the government continue to undermine any effort made to educate students on British racism in the form of Empire and imperialism. This nationalist agenda will likely manifest until eventually, just like the tour of The City, the true history of imperialism is distorted into one of glory and not atrocity. 

It is essential that we do not allow demagogue politicians to construct farcical culture wars as pretenses to further their own political agendas. Empire, colonialism and its aftermath should be taught in unbiased, factual detail. Exploring how Britain’s wealth was fostered by the exploitation and enslavement of hundreds of millions of people, with similar structures and rhetorics being used to justify racism and xenophobia today.

 

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