Political violence and extremism is rarely out of the news these days. So-called ‘multiculturalism’, religious tolerance, sexual and cultural diversity are concepts under attack, sometimes literally.
The Teachers‘ Standards in England (September 2012) state that teachers ‘must not undermine fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs‘.
All statements of values are problematic, of course. But I challenge you to ask yourself why you should feel professionally responsible for the ‘individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’.
Let me pitch you a few examples…
‘Tolerance’ for parents that are of a religious group that, for example views teaching science to girls as undesirable?
Or ‘respect’ for those who believe that ‘intelligent design‘ is a scientific concept?
Or the ‘individual liberty’ of people who think that burning books is a legitimate form of religious or political protest?
I read recently that the General Pharmaceutical Council in the UK – the body charged with regulating the professional standards of pharmacists – will allow pharmacists with strong religious principles to refuse to sell or prescribe products (such as the ‘morning-after’ pill or contraceptives) if they feel that doing so would ‘contradict their beliefs’.
Should pharmacists, or teachers for that matter be allowed to put their religious principles before the perceived needs and interests of their clients?
And what about your colleagues?
If some of your colleagues held the strong religious belief that, for example ‘homosexuality is a sin’ or that ‘the earth was created in seven days’, you might think twice about whether you could exercise ‘mutual respect’ at a peer professional level, let alone a personal one.
And what if a colleague finds your political, social, sexual or religious beliefs or your atheism for that matter, objectionable or abhorrent? Should they have the choice of not working with you?
Where would that leave us as a profession?
But I’m asking a lot of questions here… and here’s one more…
What’s your view?
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and as a teacher trainer and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.