With the prevalence of cancel culture, far too often we have witnessed young and woke students demanding the firing of their teacher because something he or she said offended their leftist senses. In light of this, it’s especially refreshing to see students at Eton rallying to support a teacher who was fired over his speech.
Founded in 1440 by King Henry VI and boasting a tuition cost of $57,000 (USD) a year, Eton College is one of the most prestigious high schools in the United Kingdom. Its all-male student body — comprised of 13- to 18-year-olds — is known for educating royals and future political elites in the U.K, counting Prince William and Prime Minister Boris Johnson amongst its alumni.
Will Knowland, the teacher at the center of this controversy, has taught at Eton for nine years. Recently, Knowland made a 33-minute video for his online class entitled “The Patriarchy Parody.” His stated goal was to make his students aware of the “different point of views to the current radical feminist orthodoxy.”
While citing scientific as well as historical evidence (he made about 41 academic citations in his talk), Knowland used his video to challenge the widespread idea of “toxic masculinity” and to support his point that masculine virtues like strength and courage “can be beneficial to women, the family, and society.”
Most of the ideas Knowland shared in his video were mainstream merely a decade ago and are still shared by many people today. To several modern leftists, however, his speech has been regarded as radical, harmful, and “sexist.”
Administrators at Eton forbade Knowland from showing this video to his class, insisting it broke Britain’s equality law and regulations for independent schools. In response, Knowland posted it on his own YouTube channel. When Eton administrators demanded Knowland take down his “hateful” video from YouTube six times, six times he refused.
Simon Henderson, Eton’s headmaster, dismissed Knowland from his teaching position last week. According to Henderson, any expression will be censored as long as a single member of one of the school’s designated minority groups deems such expression “offensive” or “hostile.”
The Daily Mail reports “while the school had no objection in principle to a lecture on patriarchy, it was his [Knowland’s] outlandish assertions and dubious use of images that caused alarm,” such as displaying a cartoon of Superman with breasts or “approvingly” quoting an article that said women want to be “overwhelmed by the sheer power of masculinity” in the bedroom.
After Henderson became headmaster at Eton five years ago, he earned the nickname “Trendy Hendy” for bringing a leftist cultural revolution to Eton to change an “old fashioned pillar of social and male elitism.” As relayed by The Daily Mail, “At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer, the school announced it would be ‘decolonizing’ its curriculum. Boys are shown a film about a trans man who conceived and gave birth, and the school hosts workshops run by a gender equality charity.”
Because Knowland is the sole wage-earner for his family, losing his teaching job caused financial difficulty in his household. On his fundraising page, Knowland wrote, “My wife and I will be made homeless along with our five children.” Still, Knowland refused to give up his beliefs and his natural right to free speech.
In a letter to the Eton community last week, Knowland explained:
The headmaster felt that some of the ideas put forward in my lecture — such as the view that men and women differ psychologically and not all of those differences are socially constructed — were too dangerous for the boys to be exposed to. I explained to the headmaster that I wasn’t endorsing all the ideas in my lecture, but I wanted the boys to be made aware of a different point of view to the current radical feminist orthodoxy.
It seems the majority of students at Eton agreed with Knowland. More than 1,000 of the total 1,300 students at Eton sent an open letter to the provost and started an online petition demanding Knowland’s reinstatement.
In their open letter, the students argued Knowland’s video is “a model for how to convey a contentious argument impeccably” and struggle to identify “where Mr. Knowland’s video steps out of the realms of academic debate and into genuinely discriminatory private opinion.”
Students said they perceived “hypocrisy” from the school for insisting on firing Knowland to protect “minorities,” given his dismissal came after having a different from that of the majority. “His view is not very uncommon or exceptional,” they maintain, “It is simply different.”
Furthermore, the students contend Knowland’s dismissal was “a gross abuse of the duty of the school to protect the freedoms of the individual, especially where those freedoms run up against the norms held by the majority,” and showed “a complete lack of moral integrity and backbone.”
The students who penned the letter view the cruelty of Knowland’s immediate dismissal as incompatible with the school’s image of being an open and tolerant education environment. Students asked: “Are the boys also bound by the same restrictions to expression? Should boys who express the same idea as Mr. Knowland expect to be similarly dealt with?”
To the provost and all the other adults who are in charge, the students offer a lesson on the importance of free speech:
Young men and their views are formed in the meeting and conflict of ideas. A conflict of ideas necessarily entails controversy and spirited discussion. The headmaster’s ‘hostility’ test excludes nearly all of what makes up a liberal education. How can the school reasonably expect teachers to engage in the promotion of free thought inside and outside of the schoolroom when the consequence of overstepping some poorly defined line of acceptability is to lose their livelihood and home? Is this not an abuse of power?
In addition to push-back from students, headmaster Henderson is reportedly facing a revolt from some school staff over Knowland’s dismissal. These teachers told Daily Mail reporters they’ve lost confidence in Henderson’s “aggressive wokeness” agenda.
We’ve become accustomed to assuming that today’s young people, who’ve been indoctrinated with leftist ideas since elementary school, are usually the key drivers behind “cancel culture.” We fear all hope is lost with this “snowflake” generation.
Nevertheless, a majority of students at Eton demonstrated that young people can learn to appreciate critical thinking and free speech when they are taught by open-minded teachers. Let’s hope that in the coming New Year we will see more American youth follow in their footsteps.