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Liberalism, education, and promoting 'British values' in schools

Easton, Christina (2020) Liberalism, education, and promoting 'British values' in schools. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Since 2014, all schools in England have been required to “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”. This prompts the question of whether teaching liberal values can be justified in a way that is consistent with the core principles of liberalism. This thesis addresses this and other philosophical questions relating to the values that are taught in state educational institutions. I begin by setting out the ‘British values’ policy, including its political motivations and the way that it has been implemented in schools. I then turn to liberalism itself, proposing a new account of the distinction between comprehensive and political forms of liberalism. I reject the political liberal view that legitimate policy requires a neutral justification, arguing instead for what I call ‘comprehensive minimally controversial liberalism’. I discuss three applications of political liberal thought to education policy – the issue of compulsory high school education for Amish children, the place of Religious Education on school curricula, and the proposal that a norm of neutral discourse should operate in classroom discussions of political issues – and show how each is problematic for political liberalism. Throughout, I emphasise the importance of discussion, yet discussing political issues can evoke some difficult, harmful forms of student speech. I therefore also address how teachers ought to respond to their students’ ‘words that wound’. I finish by applying the theoretical conclusions of previous chapters to the ‘British values’ policy and offering recommendations for how the policy could be brought closer to liberal ideals. I argue that not only is it legitimate to teach liberal values, but sometimes schools ought to teach with the aim that their students come to adopt highly controversial beliefs.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Christina Easton
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Supervisor: Voorhoeve, Alex and Bovens, Luc

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