Message to TeachFirst: debate means not censoring views you don’t agree with
A debate pits opposing views against each other. That’s the theory. And TeachFirst appeared to subscribe to this definition when it launched its recent social mobility summit.
TeachFirst said it ‘invited a range of external speakers with differing views to debate issues around education’. One of these was Toby Young, director of the New Schools Network, the taxpayer-funded charity which promotes free schools.
As part of the post-summit ‘conversation’, TeachFirst asked Young to contribute one of two ‘independent blogs for our website with opposing views’. Young wrote a piece arguing that IQ was the strongest predictor of GCSE performance.
Young’s argument didn’t please TeachFirst. It removed his blog and issued a statement:
‘One of the pieces submitted, by Toby Young, we disagreed with. We wanted to give the opposing view, so we published Toby’s piece alongside a rebuttal from Sonia Blandford, who has recently written on similar subjects. The aim was to drive debate. But we shouldn’t have published his blog, even with the rebuttal: it was against what we believe is true and against our values and vision. We apologise. Although we don’t want to provide a platform for those views we also don’t want to cover over our mistake, so this note also serves as a record.’
To recap: TeachFirst asked Young to write a blog opposing someone else’s opinion. That’s what debate is – the airing of differing views. But when TeachFirst disagreed with Young’s article they issued a rebuttal and then deleted it because TeachFirst didn’t ‘want to provide a platform’ for the views he expressed. TeachFirst then apologised for publishing it in the first place.
The nature v nurture debate has been ongoing for decades. My own (unscientific) view is that attainment is a bit of both – the elasticity of the brain (all those millions of pathways) and the environment which nourishes the brain (nutrition, stimulation, communication, schooling…) both contribute to attainment. Whether nature trumps nurture, or vice-versa, I’ve no idea. And attainment is, in any case, more than exam results.
Leave that aside. Views about IQ should be heard. The only caveat is when, as in any argument, the views don’t stray into hate speech which could lead to inhuman treatment of certain groups of people. That’s why I attacked Boris Johnson when he said those with low IQ lacked ‘spiritual worth’. A dangerous view for someone who’s now Foreign Secretary.
Young has now been described a ‘free speech martyr’. Writing in the Spectator, Young says 'Martyr is putting it a bit strongly' - he was ‘no platformed’ because his views were 'verboten'.
But Young's views should be heard. TeachFirst was wrong to delete Young’s article just because they disagreed with the views he expressed.