Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Sex education, Muslims, and pluralism

Parkfield Community School in Birmingham has been the scene of angry protests by, largely Muslim, parents against a new educational programme introduced by Headteacher Andrew Moffat.

 

Steve Latham

 

“No Outsiders”, a curriculum designed by Moffat, is intended to teach tolerance of all lifestyles, and is in line with government policy, about teaching acceptance on LGBTQ issues.

Previously Moffat was given an MBE for his work on equality, and has been nominated for a global best teacher award.

But some Muslim parents have objected to what they see as ‘indoctrination’ by the state in matters of morality.

Consequently, some withdrew their children from the lessons, which they deemed unsuitable for this primary school age group.

However, despite personal criticisms aimed at him, Moffat should not have been surprised by the strength of the reaction.

He has previous form on the issue. In 2014, he resigned from another Birmingham school, when parents similarly protested against his introduction of LGBTQ equality teaching.

Himself gay, Moffat clearly has a vested interest in introducing such discussions into schools. Perhaps he foresaw, and even wanted to provoke, these protests.

Nevertheless, the lessons have temporarily been suspended, pending discussion on how best to proceed.

They are, however, not abandoned. School and government have re-affirmed their support for LGBTQ equality education in all schools, including at primary level.

Still, the conflict highlights wider issues of inclusion in a diverse society. Moffat’s initiatives, after all, are deliberate interventions in a full-blown culture war between traditionalists and progressives.

While stressing acceptance of all communities, the sessions did emphasise the need to treat gay and lesbian relationships, and parenting in families, as completely acceptable, and to be affirmed.

This clearly runs counter to conservative understandings of Islam. For, although there are, obviously, gay Muslims, the majority position remains one of rejection towards homosexual acts.

Parkview encapsulates this collision between hostile worldviews. The challenge is how to embrace diversity, in all its forms, where groups continue to hold deeply antagonistic beliefs.

In a pluralistic culture, how can we include both LGBTQ sexual libertarianism, and the traditionalism of conservative religious groups? Should we even try?

Does secularism entail the imposition of a single, western liberal, perspective, or the construction of a neutral public space, where opposing ideas co-exist?

Do the human rights of disadvantaged sexual minorities trump the rights to religious freedom of other excluded racial or religious minorities?

Presumably the problem does not come from children learning that gay people exist, and should be treated fairly.

The difficulty arises, at least for a Muslim cosmoscope, with the normalisation, teaching the acceptability, of such relationships.

Can children learn, the rather sophisticated notion, that there are divergent, competing, systems of morality?

Some think gay relationships must not only be tolerated, but should be affirmed, by other people, and by society and the state.

Others, albeit a minority within western cultures, believe such sexual relationships run directly counter to God’s will.

Our task today is how to be inclusive in a field that is increasingly fractured and polarised.

(Photos: Pixabay)

 

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