This is also a central tenet of the freedoms of thought, speech and expression – all goals that the right-wing ideology of the Government claims to protect. To be very clear, we must unequivocally state that anti-capitalism and critical race theory are not nebulous self-destructive “ideologies,” but very real, legitimate, and urgent forms of intellectual methodology.
We at the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) wish to thoroughly reject the UK Government’s recent stance on teaching anti-capitalism and critical race theory in schools, and stand in solidarity with the communities who are being demonised in this process. A significant aspect of a well-rounded education is learning how to critique global systems, especially those that are systemically unjust.
Capitalism is not an infallible higher power, but a structure that has and willingly continues to entrench inequality to safeguard ever-increasing profit margins. Education is not protected against its ill effects. Capitalism has either created or exacerbated problems ranging from poverty, homelessness, and child hunger to the global climate crisis, gendered and racialised wealth gaps, and the impact of the ongoing pandemic. It is, therefore, not only valid but absolutely necessary to call out its failings and demand better. Any attempts to keep education “apolitical” are but concealed attempts to naturalise and render invisible the current hegemony, as well as the suffering it justifies inflicting on schoolchildren. After years of admonishing educators and academics for supposedly being uninvolved in “real life,” it is particularly disingenuous to now prohibit them from commenting on current affairs and from addressing how they shape their students’ experience and, consequently, their worldview. Education cannot be forced to bend to capitalism and be treated like any other business: it must enable youth to critically examine the past and the present to envision a better future.
Critical race theory is not an attempt to attach unnecessary guilt to an entire demographic, but a reflection of the very real structural issue that is racial inequity. White privilege is a fact and structural racism does exist, both inside and outside academia. To acknowledge both is not to suggest any sense of superiority for a community, but to recognise that, historically, there have been grave injustices done to the BAME community that continue to have an impact today and must, therefore, be rectified. It is also worth noting that social progress is non-linear; there always lies the danger of a reactionary backlash setting back the clock for marginalised people.
Both of these concerns are, fundamentally, about justice and the goal is to create a truly just society. Groups like Black Lives Matter strive towards that very goal, so it is particularly shameful that they are being actively targeted and falsely vilified as part of the Government’s current campaign. It is worrying if anyone thinks that equality is a destructive idea. The Government’s decision may not overtly impact the HE sector which we are a part of, but that does not mean we – or any other university-level institution – should be complacent. We owe a level of care and responsibility to schoolchildren, not least because many of them will eventually enter the HE system. Contrary to fearmongering, groups like the LSFRC do not have any hidden, nefarious leftist agenda. Rather, our focus is and will always be to celebrate academic rigour and innovation in service of society, not profit – and one of the best ways to do so is to champion and consciously uplift marginalised voices who can provide us all with valuable contributions. Critiques of capitalism and structural racism are vital to this cause.
We have already seen how damaging it is to sanction critical thinking that threatens the dominant ideology, both in and out of the UK. Schools are a space that are meant to nurture learning and compassion, and the Government is ensuring that this will no longer happen. When Section 28 was introduced, it condemned an entire generation of LGBTQ+ individuals to silence, stifling their personal, professional, and academic security. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the continued existence of homophobia and transphobia in the country can be attributed largely to that very toxic policy. Similarly, the entrenchment of prejudice against minority communities in countries like India, Bangladesh, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil, to name just a few, are all inextricably linked to the treatment of children in educational institutions and the inability to critique such discrimination. Moreover, we have to recognise that there is nothing accidental about these joint prohibitions. Critiques of capitalism, structural racism, and gender-based injustice are all much maligned by the far right and seen as an imminent danger to their declared conservative project. British mainstream media, while declaring itself unbiased, has deliberately silenced precisely those attacked by reactionaries.
We must also point out how these policies are likely to disproportionately impact scholars who come from working class, BAME, international, and LGBTQ+ backgrounds – those who are likelier to be in precarious employment (and immigratation status), thus making it harder for them to openly criticise the decision. The Government is aware of this and even callously weaponised tokenism, highlighting BAME voices within the Conservative Party to further their agenda.
To be clear, minority communities are not monolithic, but solidarity must be extended to those who are most at risk. Their silence should not be seen as an endorsement of the direction British education is heading in. Many of us in the LSFRC team fall into these demographics, so this is very much a statement coming from the perspective of those being directly impacted.
We wish to end with a commitment to standing with the oppressed and with articulating clearly how this oppression is perpetuated. This not only means creating a safe and secure space within our own remit, but vocally condemning any attempt that undermines fair treatment of marginalised people – something the UK Government’s education policy would only further contribute to.