This illustrates how perverse our society has become

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Normally, I don’t give a hoot for what goes on at places like Eton College, the venerable English publicpublic school in England and Wales is a fee-charging endowed school originally for older boys which was public in the sense of being open to pupils irrespective of locality, denomination or paternal trade or profession. What other countries call a public school is called a state school in England and Wales. (i.e. private) school, but there is currently a controversy involving Eton which to me illustrates how perverse our society has become.

A masterThat’s what teachers are called at Eton., Will Knowland, who has been teaching at Eton for nine years, was supposed to give a lecture in a course called “Perspectives” taken by older students to encourage debate and critical thinking about current issues. He entitled his lecture “The Patriarchy Paradox“, and in it talked about radical feminism and gender ideology (London’s Daily Telegraph characterized it as questioning “current radical feminist orthodoxy“, and I would say it also questions “radical transgender orthodoxy“).

Due to the Covid-19 situation he recorded and uploaded his lecture to the school’s intranet. Other teachers of the “Perspectives” course reviewed the lecture, and one of them complained about the content. Because of this complaint the school administration had the video removed from the school’s intranet, and insisted that Mr. Knowland also remove it from his personal YouTube channel. When he refused, the headmaster, Simon Henderson, fired him for “gross misconduct“.

According to the headmaster, Eton’s lawyers say that elements of the lecture constitute a violation of the Equalities Act, and that he had no choice but to fire Mr Knowland.

Mr Knowland has appealed this decision, and an appeals panel is scheduled to consider his appeal; if they do not rescind his dismissal, he has already announced that he would take the matter to the Employment Tribunal.

Current Eton students have launched a petition calling the school’s actions “institutional bullying” and “a gross abuse of the school’s duty to protect the freedoms of the individual”. The petition has garnered over 2000 signatures from current and  former students, and there are discussions among these former students (“Old Etonians“) to withhold donations and bequests from the school for betraying its values. There is also a crowdfunding campaign which has raised £45,000  for a potential Employment Tribunal case.

So, curious what terrible things Mr Knowland might have said that warranted his dismissal, I went and looked up his YouTube channel and found the lecture. Here it is:

Having followed all the various controversies on these subjects, it was quickly clear to me what set off the complainant; what I find hard to understand is why the headmaster sided with the complainant instead of supporting Mr Knowland’s freedom of speech at a school that claims to nurture debate and critical thinking.

To summarize, Mr Knowland points out that rather than being a social construct the binary nature of human beings as male and female is based on biology, and manifests in a number of physiological differences, which have led to men and women fulfilling different roles in practically all cultures across the world, throughout history. This, of course, flies in the face of extreme feminism which claims that the traditionally different roles for men and women are social constructs designed to allow men to dominate women and to keep women “in their place”. It also flies in the face of the currently fashionable transgender craze which considers a person’s sex itself to be social construct “assigned at birth” which can be changed at will.

Mr Knowland has really done his homework in preparation for this lecture; he does not just claim things but quotes from a wide range of literature to document every claim he makes in his lecture. And he restricts himself to criticizing ideas, he does not resort to attacks on or criticism of people.

My wife has pointed out that Eton’s dismissal of Mr Knowland has ensured that every student at the school will have watched his lecture with bated breath, and that is certainly true, and it goes way beyond that: When this started, Mr Knowland’s YouTube channel hat around 750 subscribers; today his channel has over 4000 subscribers, and the video of “The Patriarchy Paradox” has been viewed almost 70,000 times.

That articulating the arguments in Mr Knowland’s lecture results in him being dismissed from a reputable school like Eton demonstrates how perverse our society has become. One of the Old Etonians quoted by The Telegraph on this controversy said, Eton is “so publicly turning against its own founding principles of both fairness and open debate. The sense among middle-ranking donors is the least we can do is support the efforts of the current generation of boys, who seem to have a better understanding of the school’s values than its own leadership.

Of course the school’s administrations sees things differently; the provost, Baron Waldegrave, who sided with the headmaster over the firing of Mr Knowland, wrote to parents: “Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking. Boys are encouraged to think about and discuss challenging topics. Eton will never cancel debate. Everyone accepts, including the teacher concerned, that such freedom cannot be absolute.

Agreed. The perversity is that the ideas presented in Mr Knowland’s lecture are considered to have crossed that line. 


Note: Unfortunately most of the newspaper reports I have relied upon for this post are behind a paywall. 

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