For a while now I have been meaning to write about British values and its teaching in schools.
We are human and we have the capacity to do things in good faith or bad. What I am taking aim at here is the bad faith arguments against teaching British values not the genuine concerns that some may have.
The fundamental British values are listed as:
- the rule of law;
- individual liberty;
- mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith
So here are the main arguments I’ve come across against teaching them:
1) British values are just human values
The world is full of counter-examples. Even when other countries have these values, we still need to teach children about how these have developed in our society and the reasons why. By all means compare and contrast but to pretend that there is a uniform journey across all nations or that these values are practised in one way only is not true.
2) It’s racist.
What isn’t these days thanks to the postmodernists and critical race theorists?
Anyone who associates being British purely with being white is the racist here (regardless of political persuasion). They haven’t been paying attention to society at large and they are assuming that those of us with different colour skin who were born here or live here do or should associate with some foreign country elsewhere.
In essence, the far right use this aspect of identity to undermine my birthright and the left do it to reject the nation state.
Either way, I don’t see what right anyone else has to impose on me what priority different aspects of my identity should have.
I can’t be from anywhere else and I couldn’t care less that the majority of people in the country of my birth are white and have been throughout history. Those who claim this is an inherent problem are usually hoping to exploit the division but rarely have a rational reason for the belief they hold.
Why don’t you want non-white people to see themselves as British is a fair question to ask people of all political persuasions.
3) The British don’t live up to these values – look at our history.
If perfection is your poison then sure. No person, group, nation should ever claim to have any values because guaranteed there will have failed at some point or another to live up to them.
This is a nihilistic argument and it pays little attention to the guidance I have come across. I’m happy to be corrected, but nowhere have I seen that you should lie or be dishonest. There is no reason I know of why you can’t look at both when we have lived up to these values and where were haven’t so that we can, together, learn from this.
4) Acceptance not tolerance.
The definitions of acceptance are as follows:
The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.
The process or fact of being received as adequate, valid, or suitable.
Agreement with or belief in an idea or explanation.
I am not religious and I can’t do the above for those that are. The argument is essentially one of validation which stems from a personal insecurity.
Tolerance is the correct term – it’s based on the fact that we are not carbon copies and so at some level we should live and let live as far as possible. We also need to be aware of when we are at the limit of our tolerance and be able to state this to each other. PC culture is reviled by some precisely because it limits our ability to state this in favour of protecting people’s feelings and has become a way of pretending that problems don’t exist when they do.
5) We should be challenging these values.
By all means my anti-British values friends. As long as you are willing to critique the alternative values and those doing the challenging then I have no issue with that at all.
If the purpose is to create or promote a separate set of values which furthers ones own ideological cause (be it political, social, religious) with no examination of the pros and cons of those values then it should be seen for what it is – the kind of bad faith argument that we should reject.
6) The nation state is a problem as is identity at that level.
I can only repeat points made in 5). Does this involve a critique of both nationalism and internationalism? If so, fine; if not, why not?
The middle class left in particular may wish to consider how their own near addiction to radicalism for it’s own sake, utopian internationalism and hatred of the nation state has fed into the extremist thinking present in this country. Critiquing others is easy, thinking critically about ones own beliefs and ideas, less so.
7) It’s a right wing imposition that the left wing should resist.
Only by cherry picking from the history of the British left can one end up at this position. A position that startlingly ignores the role of the left in ensuring that we do live in a truely representative democracy, to give just one example of the contribution made to these British values.
It was a fundamental mistake on the part of the left to hand over British identity to the far right in the past. This requires rectifying not doubling down.
All societies need core values in order to exist peacefully. In Rwanda the lack of this core was identified as having contributed to the genocide and constructing one essential to preventing future conflicts. We are not in such dire straits but we are a society lacking cohesion and the cracks exist. Papering over them with meaningless statements about how we are all the same is not enough. How are we? In what way? Why?
British values provides us with a core that recognisibly stems from the history of the British, they are the best of our values.
Should the core be added to? Should it change? Yes because all societies evolve over time but this doesn’t mean a complete rejection of everything and a requirement to start anew.
What I am rejecting more than anything is utopian/dystopian visions and ideas, which feed off a nihilism based on an inability to cope with human imperfection.
Britain can’t be all things to all people but it can’t be nothing either. Its people can’t be nothing. My parents came here to contribute to Britain not to seek revenge or settle scores – their positive contributions are in danger of being written out by those who seek the use a single period of the history of my ancestors to impose a national self-loathing.
Yet history dwelt upon is not history learnt from.
British values gives us a core, they give us the basis of a conversation, they give us the capacity to examine ourselves and they give us a way forward.