Posted on September 1, 2004

Rightwing Thinktank’s School Aims To Teach Traditional Culture

Sarah Hall, Guardian (UK), Aug. 31

A rightwing thinktank which promotes pamphlets opposing immigration and asylum is writing to supporters urging them to help fund a school because it fears “our culture is in serious decline — one might say meltdown”.

Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, is calling for shareholders for its New Model School, which aims to offer a “no frills” education for less than £3,000 a year.

The independent primary will teach maths, phonics-based reading and French, as well as “social skills and good character”, when it opens in Queens Park, London, in a fortnight. Civitas says the reason for establishing it is to preserve “the values and knowledge on which the survival of the culture depends”.

The school will initially admit children aged four and five but hopes to expand, offering lessons up to the age of 13.

In a letter to supporters, the organisation’s deputy director, Robert Whelan, says Civitas has “gone from being a thinktank to a do-tank” because of the depth of its concerns.

“As you know, we deal in a number of different issues, but we feel that education is, in some ways, the most important,” he writes. “This is because education is fundamentally a process which transmits from one generation to the next the values and knowledge on which the survival of culture depends. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how greatly many people fear that our culture is in serious decline — one might almost say in meltdown. It is for this reason that we have taken such an unusual step.”

Last night, the former immigration minister, Barbara Roche, who received the letter, described it as “alarming”.

“I was astonished to read the letter and alarmed at its content. Are schools going to be established that will attack our multiracial, multicultural society? Will the contributions of, for example, black and multiethnic servicemen and women during the second world war be excluded from history teaching?” she asked.

She also criticised the fact that, as a registered charity, Civitas benefits from Gift Aid, meaning any donations to the school will be boosted by 28% by the Inland Revenue.

The former Home Office minister believes she was put on Civitas’s mailing list after buying some of its booklets, including one by Dr David Coleman, an adviser to the anti-immigration Migration Watch, in which he argues that the cultural benefits of migration are “rather difficult to specify beyond a wider range of ethnic restaurants for the middle classes and new kinds of pop music”.

Other titles, promoted in a list sent with the letter, include: Do We Need Mass Immigration? and Tomorrow is Another Country: What is wrong with the UK’s asylum policy?

Such titles will raise concerns that the school will promote a kind of insidious racism.

But yesterday Mr Whelan said he was horrified by any such suggestion and said Civitas’s concerns about “cultural meltdown” referred to the fact that children were no longer taught about historical events such as the Magna Carta, nor about economic and political institutions.

“There is a gross ignorance of our history and traditions and that’s what we are going to teach these children about.”