Perhaps the most important value that education can impart to pupils is that of tolerance. Henry Stewart, a founding member of the LSN, wrote a blog for this site recently which showed how the school where he is chair of governors, Stoke Newington School, is taking valiant steps to in-calculate this crucial value into its pupils. Most particularly, the lessons were aimed at celebrating diversity so that its pupils can learn that the sexual choices that humans make can be a cause for celebration -- and not shame, an emotion too often that walks hand in hand with sexual choices. The school was inclusive in its approach, celebrating the lifestyles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gender (LBGT) people during a week focusing upon these issues.
Toby Young savagely attacked these lessons in a recent blog for the Spectator. He writes: "The very idea that a group of 12-year-old schoolchildren would be dragooned into ‘creating banners and other materials’ to promote LGBT week is preposterous. How many ‘transgendered’ pupils could there possibly be at a comprehensive in Stoke Newington? It stretches credulity to breaking point." His language is instructive. He uses the verb "dragooned" to describe the way in which the pupils were taught; in other words, suggesting that they were taught about these issues against their wishes. But there is absolutely no suggestion that they were "dragooned", kicking and screaming against their will, into anything.
Furthermore, Young uses the adjective "preposterous" to describe the activities on offer, thereby pouring scorn on something which aims to encourage understanding, further knowledge, develop creativity and, most importantly, combat prejudice. His refusal to appreciate the need to get children thinking about these issues is deeply troubling; it suggests that he thinks that they should not be discussed, explored, or thought about at all. It has worrying implications for what might happen at his own school; how many teachers would suggest now similar approaches at his own school?
But I suppose his rant does raise an important debate. How do we tackle the deep-rooted homophobia and intolerance of sexual diversity that exists in our society? How do we bring up our young people to feel comfortable about their sexual preferences?
One thing is for sure, not by pouring scorn on the brilliant efforts of Stoke Newington School.