The Simon Langton Grammar School for boys in Canterbury is in the spotlight again, this time over plans to create an “unsafe space” where Sixth Form students get to read texts like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and openly discuss controversial matters.
The forum borrows from the concept of a “safe space”, which is where individuals feel safe in the knowledge that they can speak freely without fear of harassment, discrimination, abuse, criticism or any other forms of harm on their person and mental well-being. Safe spaces are also often attached to the ‘snowflake’ phenomenon, in which millennials are accused of being overly sensitive and emotionally fragile.
The school was criticised last year when it invited controversial right-wing speaker and former student Milo Yiannopoulos to deliver a speech there. According to The Guardian, the event was cancelled because of “the threat of demonstrations at the school by organised groups and members of the public”.
A grammar school in Kent has established an 'unsafe space' for discussions about sexism and gender https://t.co/EsNuXkQTw7
— Schools Week (@SchoolsWeek) November 20, 2017
Its move to create the “unsafe space” is now stirring debate again. Mashable in its report said the scrutiny is due to reasons “loosely connected to the alt-right movement in the US”.
Reports say Professor James Soderholm, who organised the Yiannopoulos event, is the teacher in charge of the forum. He is the director of humanities at the school, which despite being all-boys in the lower school, becomes mixed at sixth form level.
The school describes the “unsafe space” as “an antidote to the poison of political correctness”. It adds that it is being put in place to display “the most beautifully disturbed and disturbing ideas, all of them presented without trigger warnings”.
According to The Guardian, Professor Soderholm said: “The ‘unsafe space’ is a much-needed forum for debate about a host of issues seen from both sides of the ideological spectrum.
“We are not interested in fomenting xenophobia, racism or sexism. We are interested in evaluating arguments, not putting stilts under postures.”
Headteacher Matthew Baxter also explained to the UK daily that the programme would incorporate Mein Kampf in the “wider debate”, rather than have students directly studying it.
Classes will be optional and offered only to students in the sixth form (aged 17 and 18).
1) of course it is in Kent 2) of course they would use Hitler to "guide debate" 3) of course they'd invite Milo. How predictable and disgusting: https://t.co/QqpflgbOFT
— Laleh Khalili (@LalehKhalili) November 21, 2017
According to reports, Soderholm informed pupils their first session would be about the wildly controversial claim from fired Google employee James Danmore that “women are less capable as engineers” than men.
Eighteen-year-old student Sarah Cundy told The Guardian: “When [Soderholm] was talking about doing this, he said we’ll look at the memo and highlight the pros and cons of his argument. To hear a teacher say there are any pros at all in the argument did make me feel pretty uncomfortable.
“I think female and minority students are going to face more issues. I think there will be a rise in sexism, which I would say is already an issue at the school – especially with it being an all-boys school except sixth form.”
Baxter, however, explained that the course was designed to prepare students for university. The unsafe space is intended to break away from the conventional curriculum as “these are topics which sixth form students routinely discuss in their own time” anyway.
He added that the topics to be raised are, “ones which they [students] should be able to discuss with adults in a school which encourages ‘free speech’ in all the highest academic traditions of such a phrase.”