Monday, Jun 17, 2019 | Last Update : 10:02 AM IST

Schools need a new curriculum to fight bigotry

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : May 25, 2019, 7:02 am IST
Updated : May 25, 2019, 7:02 am IST

The protests outside Anderton Park school in Birmingham, in which the head teacher refuses to censor the curriculum, have become daily national news.

If schools adopted a curriculum which directly opposed Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or racism of any kind, there may be protests from some bigoted lobbies, but paying attention to these would be shameful.  (Representational image)
 If schools adopted a curriculum which directly opposed Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or racism of any kind, there may be protests from some bigoted lobbies, but paying attention to these would be shameful. (Representational image)

“If Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
What if the beholder be short-sighted?
It makes all features all the bolder
The ugly the most delighted…”
From Slimy Honeycomb by Bachchoo

The “sex education” we were fed in school in Pune in the late 1950s was not simply wrong and a disgrace, it should have been punishable by law. I was 12 at the time and very many of my classmates were much older as they remained behind in the class when they failed the annual final-exams — masturbators all!

It wasn’t part of our curriculum but once a week in what was then called the “9th standard” we were timetabled to be taught General Studies by a Mrs Chimulgund. She was a tall, imposing English lady, the wife of the collector of Poona and a volunteer teacher at our school.

She had, I thought, been appointed by our headmaster out of a mixture of an impulse to suck up to the collector and a conviction that our education needed broadening beyond examinable subjects.

Mrs C used to bring cuttings from newspapers and magazines on very diverse subjects, from politics to biological discoveries and biographies of people whose lives would be morally exemplary. Her classes were pretty riotous as some of my classmates assumed that General Studies were not worth studying.

When Mr Chimulgund was, as IAS officers were, transferred to pastures new and we said goodbye to dear Mrs C, the General Studies periods were handed over to a Mr Rais. He obviously thought that the gap in our education was an awareness of sex and he instituted a curriculum of “sex education”. I don’t think any of us knew what Mr Rais’ qualifications in any academic field were, or what he taught in the rest of the school, but we looked forward to his lessons as they became a forum in which we could openly pronounce what we regarded as “dirty” words.

Mr Rais was certainly no biological expert. His sex lessons were a mixture of completely erroneous instruction with a misconceived moral purpose. A lot of his “instruction” consisted of dire warnings against masturbation, or “self-abuse” as he called it. He told us that the spilling of seminal fluid would turn the individual blind. When questioned further, he assumed an authoritative tone and said that the seminal fluids in males came from the liquification through stimulation of some optic nerve.

Now some us in this class fancied ourselves as intellectuals and we found a book by an American sexologist on one of my classmates’ father’s bookshelves. It had a chapter on male masturbatory practice and asserted that it was a normal and natural activity and that no harm would come to the practitioners. This was cheerful news and we challenged Mr Rais with it, asking him why the ejaculation of the same male fluids during sex with a woman didn’t affect that same optic nerve. He may have anticipated this challenge and readily said that during intercourse there was an exchange of fluids and this contribution of the female prevented the erosion of destructive masturbation.

This was, most of us knew, complete rubbish and devious misinformation, but the power structures of the school, the ready and immediate threat of the cane for acts of cheek or insubordination kept us smugly quiet.

I don’t suppose any parents or guardians were told about Mr Rais’ sex education and there were no protests of any sort. It’s even possible that our fathers approved of scare stories about “pulling one’s own wire”, as our headmaster used to call it.

And now, gentle reader, in the contemporary climate of social and sexual equality and freedom, British schools have decided that scientific sex education is a necessary adjunct to growing up — as necessary as fundamental lessons in English or Maths.

In accordance with this enlightened contention, sex education has long been introduced in British schools but recently material of LGBT — homosexual and transgender subjects was introduced in primary schools.

Thousands of schools across the country have adopted this curriculum without any fuss, accepting that such education and awareness was part of the ideological equality this country has passed into law.

However, Muslim parents in Birmingham’s primary schools, where their children were in a majority, protested. They insist they are not homophobic but that this curriculum contradicted the teaching of Islam that homosexuality was wrong. In several schools, the head teachers decided to suspend the teaching of specific chapters, but some continued with it in defiance of vociferous parent and community protests.

The protests outside Anderton Park school in Birmingham, in which the head teacher refuses to censor the curriculum, have become daily national news.

The school contends that the leaders of the protest have no children at the school and are engaged in acts of demagoguery. One of the leaders, Shakeel Afsar says he got concerned and involved when his sister’s son brought home a book with a picture of a boy dressed as a girl. Mr Afsar insists that the transgender teaching in the school contradicts the values that they as Muslims live by.

The division of opinion has led some teachers to feel isolated. Some head teachers have had threats and severe abuse on the social media. Several parents have, illegally, kept their children away from school.

Thousands of protesters, in the main orthodox Muslims, have written to literally hundreds of schools all over England. The dilemma is whether schools should, and I believe they should, adopt curricular vehicles against homophobia. The age at which such an initiative should begin and how it is presented is a genuine matter for democratic discussion, even in Anderton Park.

If schools adopted a curriculum which directly opposed Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or racism of any kind, there may be protests from some bigoted lobbies, but paying attention to these would be shameful.

Tags: sex education