Eton college, alma mater of 20 British Prime Ministers and on whose playing fields, according to the Duke of Wellington, the battle of Waterloo was won, has been much in the news over the last couple of weeks. But on this occasion for a rather less vainglorious achievement. English master Will Knowland has recently been sacked for gross misconduct, after posting a video on YouTube of a lecture on masculinity that he had been asked to deliver as part of Eton’s Perspectives course. In it, he put forward the apparently revolutionary view that men and women differ psychologically and that not all of those differences are socially constructed – he said indeed that women benefited from masculine qualities, such as strength, courage and tenacity. He has subsequently said that his aim was to ‘detoxify masculinity’, showing that men and women, in their difference, are of equal worth and should be treated alike with dignity and respect.
However, a female member of staff apparently took issue with these views, and the lecture was summarily cancelled. But by then Mr Knowland had already uploaded the lecture to his personal YouTube channel, and he refused to take it down ‘without good reason’ (https://youtu.be/wTHgMxQEoPI ). It is for this that he has now been sacked. But the story does not end there, because boys at the school, their parents, and alumni have all risen in his defence. A petition has even been launched calling for his reinstatement (https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/letter-from-boys-to-provost-about-mr-knowland.html ).
What on earth is going on?
It is beyond question that in recent years society has become ‘feminised’. Men have been encouraged to get in touch with their feminine side and to talk about their feelings, and much has been made of the equality of the sexes. Which latter point is right – men and women are of equal value, and it is right that women should be allowed to exercise their gifts – gifts that for the greater part of history have unquestionably been suppressed. But equality of opportunity should surely mean recognition and celebration of what is distinctive, which the attack on supposed patriarchy goes far beyond. The truth is, men and women are different, and it is the innate and unique qualities of both that combine to create and enrich the wonderful diversity of life. But these days society, wallowing in a climate of self-indulgent victimhood, seems to have lost balance and become dangerously over-weighted. Which is harmful to the wellbeing of us all. For society to regain its moral compass and direction, it is imperative that men recover, and take pride in, what it is to be a man – the distinctives, in fact, of masculinity. It is vital men rediscover the imperatives of self-sacrificial service, nobility and chivalry. Just as women must be allowed to be fully women, and their voices given equal weight.
It is of concern that, in this very public row, Eton is seemingly pursuing political correctness at the expense of intellectual rigour and integrity, and that the college is refusing to allow expression of ‘challenging’ views. But should one be surprised? VfJUK thinks not. A few years ago, the college quietly appointed as one of its consultants Simon Fanshawe, eminent writer, broadcaster … and a founder of the LGBT campaigning group Stonewall. These days Simon Fanshawe says on his website that he works to create effective change in organizations (http://simonfanshawe.com), and his brief, with regards Eton, was apparently to make the curriculum LGBT compliant.
Somewhat unusually, Mr Fanshawe’s appointment was never publicly announced, nor posted on the college website. But it would appear that his efforts to change Eton’s culture have been startlingly successful. One can only wonder, in fact, if parents know what it is their sons are now being taught. And, if they do, what they think? At fees of £42,500 a year, will they really consider this money well spent?
Needless to say, Eton has robustly defended its decision to sack Will Knowland (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/eton-head-defends-decision-to-sack-teacher-in-free-speech-row-3ph5fd6gc). But for one of the nation’s leading public schools – up to now justly renowned for its excellence in teaching boys independent thought and respect for individuality – for such an institution to enforce ideology over debate, while suppressing the inconvenient evidence of science, is worrying in the extreme. If experience is anything to go by, some of these boys will be our future leaders – the question is, do we really want to be guided by those who have been taught to give way to ideological pressure and who are demonstrably fearful of engaging in debate?