In a 2014 survey by the United Kingdom’s National Union of Teachers (NUT), an intriguing piece of information arises from an otherwise uninteresting document. The survey (created and cross-examined by YouGov Plc) asked a small yet representative sample of 826 teachers across England and Wales, by region, to complete a survey regarding their confidence in the, at the time (2nd to 9th December 2013), coalition government. Among a number of responses unrelated to this article, there is a particular area of notable interest; in response to a question regarding their voting intentions ‘if there was a general election tomorrow’, 85% said they would use their vote and within this percentage, 12% said they would vote for the Conservative party, 6% said they would vote for the Liberal Democrats (a now small but at the time major centrist political party), 43% would vote for Labour, and 25% said they didn’t know; the article states:
“Excluding the number of ‘don’t knows’: 57% would vote Labour; 16% Conservative and 7% Liberal Democrat.”
As one can easily see, we can state that Labour receives the votes of a large majority of teachers; this is backed up by a more recent YouGov poll from 2015 (18th March-5th April) in which another proportional representation of 742 teachers from England and Wales were asked similar questions. Regarding General Election voting, data shows that 29% would vote Conservative, 44% would vote Labour, 10% would vote Liberal Democrat, 7% UKIP, and 6% Green Party. Once again, we can see a left-leaning, Labour majority in teaching positions, a fact that becomes more important when we look at university students. In a Student Politics 2015 poll of 13,039 final year students, we are given interesting information about the voting intentions of students; unlike the last two polls, Conservatives and Labour are predicted from this survey to receive very similar numbers (31%) from this particular demographic, however; the poll also suggests that 25% of undergraduate voters intend to vote for the Green Party (Britain’s most left leaning large political party). These two pieces of evidence suggest that at least 56% of the student population is left leaning (including those who would not vote), mirroring, or coming very close to, that of the 2014 NUT study (57% left leaning), and the 2015 YouGov poll (50% left leaning). In all cases, this bias is disproportionate to that of the general population; in the 2015 General Election, the Conservative party won with 36.8% of the vote, with Labour coming second with 30.5%. No matter how one looks at the situation, data would suggest that those involved in the world of education generally have a left leaning bias when compared to the majority of the population, however; it is impossible to infer from the information presented here, what exactly this bias means in terms of the quality of teaching, or what sort of ‘Left Wing’ we are talking about in particular.
To establish what sort of ‘Left Wing’ we mean, we first have to introduce new evidence; in this case, the National Union of Student’s president; Malia Bouattia. Ms Bouattia is the NUS’s first black, female, Muslim president, and one that prides herself on these characteristics. On Ms Bouattia’s website, under the ‘About’ section, Ms Bouattia talks about organizing walkouts against the War in Iraq, her role as the ‘NUS Black Students’ Officer’, and her position as a founder of ‘Muslimah Pride’, formerly known as ‘Muslim Women Against Femen’, a movement that prides itself on being anti-patriarchal and anti-Islamophobic. Ms Bouattia has been criticised in the past for calling the University of Birmingham “something of a Zionist outpost” in conjunction with “it also has the largest Jewish Society in the country, whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists”. Ms Bouattia is also an avid defender of ‘no-platforming’ and ‘safe spaces’, two things that she thinks will ensure the “engagement, inclusion and accessibility for all”. To characterize Ms Bouattia’s viewpoint would be to call her ‘Progressive’; the Progressive Left, or ‘Regressive Left’ as popularised by writer and columnist Maajid Nawaz, is, as many of you know, a left-leaning political ideology that focuses on subjects such as gender equality, racial representation, ‘institutional’ injustices, ‘LGBTQ’ issues, and less specific issues regarding sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia. To suggest that Ms Bouattia subscribes to such a political position may seem unfair as she appears to have never called herself Progressive, however; when comparing her politics to that of Progressivism, one would notice a number of distinct similarities and cohesive talking points; as such, to characterise Malia Bouattia as being part of the ‘Progressive Left, or ‘Regressive Left’ is ultimately justified and realistic.
Another example of what sort of ‘left-wing’ we could be looking at can be found in the ‘no-platforming’ of famed and hugely influential gay rights advocate Peter Tatchell in February 2016 at Canterbury Christ Church University. Tatchell, one of the UK’s most famous advocates for LGBT social rights, was stopped from being able to speak alongside National Union of Students’ LGBT representative, Fran Cowling, after Cowling authored an email to the university, refusing to accept an invitation as a speaker at the “re-radicalising queers” conference if “Transphobic” Tatchell was going to share the stage with her. In the year prior, Tatchell had signed an open letter to the Guardian Newspapers’ sister publication, The Observer, in support of free speech and, ironically, against the growing trend of ‘no platforming’ in universities; the letter cited the cases of Kate Smurthwaite and Germaine Greer being ‘no platformed’ from separate universities on fairly similar grounds. Cowling considers the move to be an incitement of violence against transgender people, and has also accused Tatchell of using “racist language”, an accusation that Tatchell responded to by stating:
“This sorry, sad saga is symptomatic of the decline of free and open debate on some university campuses. There is a witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere. Allegations are made without evidence to back them – or worse, they are made citing false, trumped-up evidence.”
While Tatchell is considered progressive by some, there are many, including Cowling, that claim that Tatchell is clearly not progressive enough. For Tatchell to be ‘no platformed’ there must have been those in either the NUS, or Christ Church University who condoned, or supported, Tatchell’s removal from the event; this only adds to the picture we are starting to create from these case studies.
When looking at all the data and examples collated here, it is very easy to jump to conclusions and some of these conclusions may not be entirely accurate, however; some do need to be made and, as such, some will be made. The people working in the education sector are disproportionately left-leaning, as are the students who are currently being taught by them; when attempting to work out what this means, we have to look at what has happened as a result of this bias; in this case, it has lead to a National Union of Students run by people who freely ban speakers from talking at universities, simply due to their ideas. While being left leaning does not necessarily mean one supports these positions, there are ideologies within the broad and blurry sphere of the ‘left’ that actively do support said decisions; in this case, they appear not necessarily to be the dominant faction in terms of numbers, but definitely a major group that has just about enough support to make actual changes from a position of power; the NUS.
It is hard to say whether or not there is a correlation between student and teacher bias, however; if we look at the United States, a country in which there is a connection between the two biases, we can see what happens as a result of this behaviour. As I’m sure you are all aware, during 2015 and early 2016 we witnessed a number of major, and minor, student protests around the country; the most prominent, Mizzou and Yale, created international headlines due to their arguably rather excessive and reactionary responses to perceived acts of racism. While the events of these ‘uprisings’ have been talked about at great lengths by both the mainstream and alternative media, not many have acknowledged why these events ever came to such fruition. One could argue that the swastika made of faeces, the supposed white supremacists who shouted racially motivated obscenities at passersby before disappearing into the wind, and ‘racially charged’ graffiti found on dorm walls were, whether true or not, simply a justification for a movement that had been building up for quite some time. Particularly in the case of Mizzou, it was hard to define what the movement was; while we characterise it as a ‘student protest’, there are vast quantities of evidence to suggest that the professors were in some cases just as much to blame as the students. The ‘infamous’ Melissa Click, an assistant media professor who called for the forceful removal of student journalist Mark Schierbecker, when he attempted to document the protest, is a good example of a teacher whose political bias manifested itself in the classroom, resulting in mass protest in support of the issues she championed. As a result of the protest, and subsequent news coverage, Mizzou forecast a large drop in enrollment and budget, “The situation for next year is grim,” said council Chairman Ben Trachtenberg; as predicted back in March, these fears came true with enrollment of new students dropping by almost 25% and overall student population dropping by 6%. While 6% does not sound like much, one only needs to take into account that Mizzou (or the University of Missouri, as it is formerly titled) is the largest university in the state and has a population of around currently (October 2016) 32,777 students; if 6% of this population was to leave as you are reading this, it would be a group of around 2000 students, or the equivalent of a major high school, disappearing. When one also considers that the average student at Mizzou spends either $26,140 on fees if they are citizens of Missouri, or $41,422 if they are not; you start to realise that 2000 students not attending your university is a huge amount of money you have lost (probably around 40 million, average tuition + accommodation * number of students lost).
If what happened to Mizzou is what can happen to any place of education, given the right circumstances, it is arguably in the best interests of schools, colleges and universities to avoid those circumstances from ever arising; if a direct correlation between political bias of the teacher and the content of the class is discovered, and proven to be commonplace, it is also arguably in the best interests of those same establishments to stop it before it becomes a problem. In the UK, we are starting to see the same issues and phenomenon from the United States crop up in our education system; while these are generally not proving to be a large problem as of yet, they easily have the potential to be, and when they become an issue, we will really wish we had done something before it got to this point.