The trials of a sixth-form Brexiteer
The emergence of Generation Snowflake, a cohort of fragile young people now arriving at university never having had anyone disagree with them, should not be a surprise. For we are growing up in schools where we are repeatedly told never to say anything that might be deemed offensive. Indeed, in the run-up to the EU referendum, my teachers’ intolerance towards ideas they deem offensive, or merely ‘unfashionable’, reached new heights.
When a friend and I outed ourselves as Leavers, the reaction among our peers and teachers was disgust, mixed with shock and horror, that a young person could possibly support Brexit. During the debates we had at school, it became clear that Remainers think that anyone who supports Brexit is a bigoted Little Englander. The contempt shown by my teachers for those who dared to have a different opinion to them was bad enough, but the real ugliness was only unleashed when their worst nightmare came true and Britain voted to leave the EU. There were tears, and there were recriminations.
As they had scarcely met anyone supporting Brexit, they could not understand how this had happened. Their only explanation was that the electorate was misguided, brainwashed, uneducated and motivated only by their hatred of immigrants. They were not at all embarrassed by their disdain for ordinary people. In fact, teachers and pupils openly said that democracy is a sham, that we need ‘experts’ to make the big decisions and that idiot Leavers should not have been able to vote in the first place. I’ve not been around long, but I have never seen anything like it. I knew this kind of loathing of the ‘masses’ existed, but in the past it had been disguised.
The same low opinion of people is shown by my teachers’ and classmates’ rejection of freedom of speech on the grounds that, firstly, the public are too uneducated to hear dangerous views, and, secondly, the public are too weak and vulnerable to hear something that might offend them. Over the past year my freedom-loving friend and I have had ongoing debates at school about whether there should be a limit to freedom of expression. We have not yet found a teacher who believes in unfettered freedom of speech.
The most shocking encounters have been with our philosophy teacher. First of all, she declared that she completely disagrees with freedom of speech and the very idea of a free press. (I am not kidding.) Secondly, she became hysterical when we said that no religion, including Islam, should be above mockery or criticism (this was after we were shown a video ridiculing Christianity). She told us to ‘get out’ of the classroom, while whining that we can’t criticise the prophet Muhammad because it says not to in the Koran. We heard from another teacher that apparently we have ‘extreme’ views. (As far as I know, we haven’t yet been reported to Prevent.)
If believing in freedom and democracy makes you an extremist, we are really in trouble. Schools are encouraged to teach students about British values, such as tolerance and pluralism. But when they don’t know what these principles are, little wonder they fail to uphold them in practice. In particular, the idea of tolerance is very confused. We are not told to allow unpleasant views to be shared and then to challenge and criticise them; rather, we are told either to shut up and respect all beliefs, or to censor and shut them down. To understand why hypersensitive university students are cowering in Safe Spaces and banning ideas they disagree with, you only need to sit in on a Year Eight citizenship lesson.
Tanya Kekic is a sixth-form student.