Eton last night defended its decision to sack an English teacher following a dispute over a lecture.
A freedom of speech row erupted at the elite £42,500-a-year school after pupils revolted following the sacking of Will Knowland.
More than 1,000 children have so far signed a petition calling for his reinstatement amid claims he was subject to the ultimate censorship over the planned lecture in which he was due to question ‘current radical feminist orthodoxy’.
A freedom of speech row erupted at the elite £42,500-a-year school after pupils revolted following the sacking of Will Knowland (pictured)
The lecture was posted on Mr Knowland’s personal YouTube channel, but not delivered to pupils as he intended.
Addressing the issue for the first time, Eton provost Lord Waldegrave, who is chairman of the school’s governing body, said matters had been distorted, insisting: ‘Eton will never cancel debate.’
The former Tory Cabinet minister defended the 580-year-old school’s record on free speech.
He said two barristers had found that the lecture on Mr Knowland’s YouTube channel broke equality law and regulations governing independent schools.
Eton provost Lord Waldegrave, (pictured) who is chairman of the school’s governing body, said matters had been distorted, insisting: ‘Eton will never cancel debate’
The peer said Eton was left with no choice after Mr Knowland allegedly refused six times to remove it while a solution was found, and he was dismissed for gross misconduct – a decision that is now under appeal.
The provost said: ‘Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking.
‘Boys are encouraged to think about and discuss challenging topics. Eton will never cancel debate. Everyone accepts, including the teacher concerned, that such freedom cannot be absolute.’
The lecture, entitled The Patriarchy Paradox, would have been delivered as part of a course taken by older pupils to encourage critical thinking.
The English master, who has taught at Eton for nine years, suggested that science and history offer evidence that masculine virtues, such as strength and courage, can be beneficial to women, families and society.
In a detailed letter to the Eton community last week, Mr Knowland said: ‘The Head Master [Simon Henderson] 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.
More than 1,000 children have signed a petition calling for his reinstatement amid claims he was subject to the ultimate censorship (pictured: Eton headmaster Simon Henderson)
‘I explained to the Head Master 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.’
The school, whose old boys include princes William and Harry, PM Boris Johnson and author George Orwell, was accused of being ‘heartless and merciless’ in its treatment of Mr Knowland and of ‘prioritising emotional safety over intellectual challenge’.
But Lord Waldegrave told the Mail that such suggestions were pushing a ‘false narrative’ and the decision to part company related to Mr Knowland’s refusal to accept ‘internal discipline’.
He stressed: ‘When the Head Master received complaints about this particular video, there were suggestions that it broke the Equality Act and the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations.
‘An independent barrister was consulted who said, in a written opinion, that this was indeed so.’
Lord Waldegrave said Mr Knowland was asked to remove the video – which was ‘clearly identified with Eton’ – from his YouTube channel.
He added: ‘The Head Master proposed a temporary removal while a way forward could be explored. The master, on six occasions, refused to do this.’
The former Tory Cabinet minister defended the 580-year-old school’s record on free speech (pictured: Central courtyard of Eton College)
The peer said Mr Knowland was dismissed for a ‘persistent refusal to accept a reasonable – indeed inevitable – instruction’ following an internal investigation.
Lord Waldegrave insisted: ‘I think it right to make clear what the issue is. It is not about free speech within the law, behind which Eton stands four-square.
‘It is about a matter of internal discipline, quite properly now subject to appeal.’ Mr Knowland, whose wife Rachel is a former singer who made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, has set up a fundraising page to help bring a case to an employment tribunal.
He has raised more than £14,600 from over 360 well-wishers. On his fundraising website, the father-of-five wrote: ‘I have been dismissed from my employment. My wife and I will be made homeless along with our children.’
Explaining his refusal to remove the video from YouTube, he said: ‘Because I believe passionately in free speech, I said I would only take it down if given a clear reason, which is how I ended up being dismissed.’
Last night, the video – uploaded in September – was still on YouTube and had been viewed more than 28,000 times.
The petition against his sacking said: ‘There is a sense that by dismissing Mr Knowland the school is seeking to protect its new image as politically progressive at the expense of one of its own.’
Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown warned of the danger ‘of telling people what they should think rather than allowing them to make up their own opinions’.
Professor Steven Pinker, a psychology expert at Harvard in the US, said: ‘For a teacher to be fired for discussing findings backed by scientific evidence – even if they are controversial and some may prove to be mistaken – is an assault on the values that every educational institution should hold dear.’
Lord Waldegrave: We will never cancel debate at this school
Recently, a false narrative has been circulating in the national – and even international – media about Eton. Someone might even say it was fake news.
The narrative is that a teacher has been sacked for preparing a video lecture about radical feminist doctrines on gender which put forward an alternative viewpoint for discussion by boys.
It is alleged that he was sacked for having the temerity to articulate such views. This is false.
Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking.
Boys are encouraged to think about and discuss challenging topics. This happens in the classroom every day and in a wide variety of lectures given both by Eton’s own teachers, and by outside visitors.
Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking, says Lord Waldegrave (pictured)
In the last few years visiting speakers have ranged from the Secretary of the Communist Party of GB to my late friend Sir Roger Scruton; from, indeed, radical feminists to far different voices.
After one spirited and argumentative meeting a distinguished professor visiting from California told me that he doubted such debate could have taken place there without complaint.
I am proud of that, as are we all at Eton, and we do not intend to put that tradition at risk. Eton will never cancel debate.
But everyone accepts, including the teacher concerned, that such freedom cannot be absolute. Eton has exactly the same duties under the law as any other school.
When the Head Master received complaints about this particular video, there were suggestions that it broke the Equality Act and the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations.
An independent barrister was consulted who said, in a written opinion, that this was indeed so.
At this point the Head Master had absolutely no option other than to relay the legal advice received and ask, and then instruct, the master to take down the YouTube video, which was (with permission from the school) clearly identified with Eton.
The Head Master proposed a temporary removal while a way forward could be explored.
The master, on six occasions, refused to do this.
In the last few years visiting speakers have ranged from the Secretary of the Communist Party of GB to my late friend Sir Roger Scruton; from, indeed, radical feminists to far different voices (stock photo)
A disciplinary investigation by another barrister (who took the same view as the first about the law and the regulations) led to a panel hearing by three very experienced and senior teachers, at which the Head Master appeared as a witness.
They heard the evidence and determined that the master’s persistent refusal to accept a reasonable – indeed inevitable – instruction from the Head Master in such an important matter amounted to gross misconduct which should result in dismissal.
Whether or not that decision was correct is now subject to appeal. In the normal course of events, I would not comment before such an appeal was heard.
In this case, because a false and potentially damaging narrative has reached the media, I think it right to make clear what the issue is.
It is not about free speech within the law, behind which Eton stands four-square. It is about a matter of internal discipline, quite properly now subject to appeal.
Video lesson about death of ‘chivalry and honour’ that got English teacher sacked and sparked freedom of speech row is posted on YouTube
A video of the lecture made by an Eton College teacher at the centre of a freedom of speech row has been posted on Youtube.
Sacked English teacher Will Knowland hit out at radical feminism and the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’, which he said had been used to attack men and male qualities.
In the lecture, named ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’, he claimed the male role as a ‘protector’ benefits society as a whole – including women.
And he warned that ‘shaping men and women to be more similar actually exaggerates their differences’ – which he described as the Patriarchy Paradox.
He says that a world without men would be ‘awful’ for women and complains that chivalry and honour – which he labelled as good male qualities – are being driven down by terms such as ‘toxic masculinity’.
Will Knowland, who taught English at the £42,500-a-year school in Berkshire for nine years, said he was dismissed over a lesson titled ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’
The virtual lecture, which was never actually shown to students at the £42,500-a-year- school in Berkshire, resulted in Mr Knowland being sacked from his job.
Hundreds of pupils and members of the wider Eton community have now accused the school of hypocrisy, cruelty and a ‘complete lack of backbone’, and asked if Eton was ‘protecting its new image as politically progressive at the expense of one of its own’.
Mr Knowland’s lecture The Patriarchy Paradox explores the conflict between the concepts of sex and gender.
He argues that the ‘shaping of men and women to be more similar actually exaggerates their differences’.
Mr Knowland argues that the idea of patriarchy – a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership – could be equally grounded in biology, rather than something that is constructed socially.
And he says some women may actually chose the traditional gender roles because it benefits them.
Mr Knowland points out that male roles in the animal kingdom, including those of the lion, are primarily to provide protection.
As a result, he says men have traditionally been the sex to fight wars – pointing to the difference in the development of male and female bodies in adolescence.
He points to a cage-fighting match-up involving transgender fighter Fallon Fox, who broke the skull of female opponent Tamika Brent when the pair fought in the Octagon.
The lecture, created online because of the Covid crisis, was written for Eton’s Perspectives curriculum, introducing older boys to issues which are the subject of fierce public debate (file photo of Eton College)
He says: ‘If it is not fair to pit men and women in sports, then it is not fair to pit men against women on the battlefield.’
He says men’s lives are also more expendable because women are the ones who are able to give birth. However he says that a world without men would be ‘awful’ for women.
Mr Knowland adds that ‘women have always been spared the worst of work’ – pointing to the death of male slaves in the building of historical monuments such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China.
In a point to arguing the good that men have achieved, he also says that men have also invented ’90 per cent of inventions that have improved women’s life expectancy’.
Following Mr Knowland’s sacking, a petition has been launched supporting him – and has been signed by 800 people.
Whatever happens, the aftermath is going to be tricky for headteacher Simon Henderson who was yesterday obliged to reassure parents about this ‘difficult and emotive issue’ (file photo)
The petition says: ‘Young men and their views are formed in the meeting and conflict of ideas… which necessarily entails controversy and spirited discussion.’
Mr Knowland, they add, ‘is loved by all who have encountered him’ and the students ‘feel morally bound not to be bystanders in what appears to be an instance of institutional bullying’.
‘Eton has been here for almost 600 years,’ said one source close to the conflict.
‘And this is a battle for its very soul. Cancel culture has arrived with cult groupthink reaching right into the heart of the school. It’s meant to be a bastion of learning and free speech.
‘George Orwell went to Eton. What would he think? 1984 was meant to be satire, not a how-to manual.’
Mr Knowland has appealed his sacking. His appeal will be heard on Founder’s Day, December 8, by a panel chaired by former Cabinet Minister Lord Waldegrave, himself an Old Etonian.
Eton’s headmaster Simon Henderson sacked Mr Knowland for gross misconduct amid the fallout from a lecture about the nature of masculinity
Mr Knowland and his wife Rachel live in a grace-and-favour detached four-bedroom house owned by Eton. If he fails to win back his job on appeal next month, they will be homeless
Mr Knowland will have the support of the Free Speech Union, whose founder Toby Young said: ‘This is a landmark case.
‘Schools must be places where children are taught all sides of these big questions and allowed to make up their own minds, not indoctrinated with the latest political orthodoxy.’
Whatever happens, the aftermath is going to be tricky for Simon Henderson who was yesterday obliged to reassure parents about this ‘difficult and emotive issue’.
‘We are limited in what we can say at the moment, given that a disciplinary process is ongoing,’ he wrote in a message.
‘Mr Knowland has chosen to publicise his version of events in advance of the disciplinary panel to which he has appealed.
‘So as to be fair to all parties, the school cannot provide substantive comment before a final decision is reached.
‘I appreciate that a lack of information is frustrating and leads to increased speculation, however the school needs to respect the integrity of the process.’
Mr Knowland, meanwhile, is longing to return to Eton and doesn’t see why he can’t.
He writes: ‘Respect for Eton – its past present and future – means upholding its traditions of discussion, argument and persuasion and eschewing the culture of intolerance that has swept through other institutions.
‘As Hailz Osborne [the school’s head of inclusion education] has said, in promoting diversity, which includes intellectual diversity, ‘the challenge is to enable people to say uncomfortable things’.’