UK Debates ‘Safe Spaces’ for Kids to Talk About Radical Topics

(Photo: Patheos)

(Photo: Patheos)

Teachers in the United Kingdom are set to debate the launch of a campaign that would ensure schools and colleges have a “safe space” for students to discuss radical ideas without fear of being labeled as an extremist or being reported to the police.

“We want it to be possible to come into school and know that there is a safe space to discuss ideas and we don’t want teachers feeling that they need to close the space. There are some already thoroughly discussed cases where people have got it wrong,” said Christine Blower, NUT general secretary.

In addition, a discussion will be held among the National Union of Teachers concerning whether or not to push the Government to put an end to the ‘Prevent strategy‘ which requires educators to keep a lookout for students becoming radicalized.

Teachers argue that by asking them to help reduce instances of students being drawn into terrorism is actually causing a close to the debate and leading to an increase in radicalization.  Many teachers feel that there are already mechanisms in place within schools to safeguard against such situations, writes Javier Espinoza for The Telegraph.

There have already been instances in which students were incorrectly identified and brought to the authorities for questioning as a result of comments made in class.

However, the Counter Terrorism and Security Act requires teachers to prevent their students from being “drawn into terrorism.”

Meanwhile, Blower suggests that young people are more likely to be targeted to join terrorist organization while they are at their home computers rather than while they are at school.  She continued to push the importance of having spaces available within schools where students feel safe to discuss and debate any radical ideas they may be considering with each other and with educators.  By doing so, she said students will be better equipped to make well-informed decisions while they are by themselves at home, and could prevent any unreasonable decisions from being made.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, suggested that schools as a whole should be safe spaces for such discussions.  He added that it is an over-reaction to ask teachers to look for radicalization taking place, and states that teachers must be trusted to report any real concerns over children and terrorism as well as to protect students from being bullied for “who they are and what they think.”

A government spokesman said that no apology would be made for trying to protect young people from becoming radicalized.  He added that bringing attention to extreme cases and undermining teachers who are working to put a stop to such acts is irresponsible, and the Prevent program is instrumental in identifying at-risk children and offering support to schools to intervene in such cases.

“Good schools will already have been safeguarding children from extremism and promoting fundamental British values long before this duty came into force. We have published guidance on the Prevent Duty and made a wide range of advice and materials available to the sector through our Educate Against Hate website.”