Values: British, Aussie, or Human?

I have a problem with being asked to teach ‘British values’ in schools in Britain. That is, I simply do not think there is such a thing as British values. You can read the government document on ‘Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools’ here.

According to said document (p. 5), British values are as follows:

Schools should promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

How this differs from any other set of values as defined by any liberal Western country, I fail to see. In fact, so far as I can tell, the trend of British values (I’m thinking of the very much ‘Britain for Britain’ right wing political – er – extremists that gained votes in the last election) is very much against mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. I hope it is obvious that I think this a very sorry state of affairs. So I’m not against democracy, law, liberty, or religious freedom – and I do think we should teach about them, particularly in Religion – but I don’t think these things can be legitimately classified as British values. I don’t object to teaching these values as human values.

I’m now living in Australia (did I mention that?) and according to the laws here, the statement quoted above could just as easily be titled “Australian values”. Of course, there are countries in which these values are not upheld – and we also need to teach students about these cultures. In fact, we teach to teach about them alongside the UN declaration of human rights, and in contrast to ‘human values’ rather than making it somehow nationalistic for political gain.

I am also dismayed at the recent #ReclaimAustralia rallies (though poorly attended, if the radio is to be believed) held across the country. This is the sort of radicalism I was talking about in my previous post that we need to teach students to think critically about: it is the sort of ideology that can be bought into easily by vulnerable students. I am much more concerned about this form of radicalism – prejudice, xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance – than I am about any extreme religious views, given its uncritical acceptance in some circles of society.

Firstly, I am offended by their attitudes to immigration. As an immigrant (yes, let’s call white people immigrants too) I want to be treated in exactly the same way as immigrants from other races. I want to learn about Australian culture, I want to teach about it, but I want to retain my identity as a Pom in Oz. I understand that. So if you’re going to ban immigration, take my visa away (no, please don’t, I like it here) and I’ll stop contributing to Australian society like the vast majority of immigrants of all nationalities and races.

However, this first objection pales into insignificance in light of my second objection. White Australian protesters marching with banners to Reclaim Australia (or Austalia and other such countries as spelt out on their banners) need only look back a couple of generations in their own family to find immigrants. If anyone should be protesting to Reclaim Australia, it is not these third, fourth or fifth generation white immigrants. It is the people who originally owned the land, the aboriginal communities.

I heard a very interesting interview on the radio on the way home from work tonight with Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner. He was reflecting on the clashes that have occurred between Reclaim Australia protesters and anti-racism protesters, and reminded us that the way to combat this extremism is with common sense. He condemned all violent reactions, and called for people to extend common decency to one another.

Showing human values is not about who can shout the loudest, but about who extends a hand of courtesy to those they disagree with.

In summary, I thought I’d find a good old British picture to show just how ‘British and Proud’ I am. (Need I say, tongue firmly in cheek).

Famous London Red Phone Booth

image: stokpic

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