A student of Hampstead School in London was stunned to find himself at the centre of police action after his Head Teacher took exception to criticism of his leadership online. This story speaks loudly to the general clamp down on dissent in the so called ‘liberal democracy’ of the UK, and in particular on a young, tech savvy generation seeking to stretch its democratic muscles.
The ‘Hampstead Trash’ Blogger
Blogger Kinnan Zaloom & Head Jacques Szemalikowski (picture courtesy of London Evening Standard)
The Camden New Journal reports this incredible case as follows:
“A HEADTEACHER reported a teenage blogger to the police and phoned a university he had applied to with a warning about his behaviour after criticisms of the school appeared online.
Kinnan Zaloom, 19, has been told never to return to the grounds of Hampstead School in Westbere Road again after setting up a website attacking the way it is run.
The blog, The Hampstead Trash, makes claims about the school’s spending on promotional material and lack of investment in musical instruments and gym equipment, poor attempts to listen to pupils’ views about the school and a failure to push GCSE results to a higher level.
Mr Zaloom started the blog in February and continued with a series of articles – many containing fruity language – criticising the running of the school. He has compared his work to the irreverence and bite of Private Eye.
But the school’s headteacher, Jacques Szemalikowski, told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday) he took action because he was worried Mr Zaloom could be “developing into an anarchist”.
He went as far as calling Glasgow University, where Mr Zaloom hoped to take his degree-level studies, to tell them about the content on the website.
Mr Szemalikowski confirmed yesterday that he had blocked the blog from school computers, contacted police and phoned Glasgow University’s admissions officer.
He said he had “major concerns and was duty bound under legal acts for the prevention of violent extremism. It is fairly worrying stuff.”
Asked what had worried him about Mr Zaloom’s articles, he said: “The fact that Kinnan has mentioned the ideologies of anarchism and individualism on this blog.”
Mr Szemalikowski added: “I must do something. In the last year he has become more and more enchanted by anti-establishment ways of thinking and has even said that there is an inherent risk that every government is corrupt. I phoned Glasgow to warn them what sort of person they were dealing with, to advise them that this person thinks thoughts like these, and they could then make an informed decision. I am duty bound to do that.” The headteacher added: “I also reported what he had written to the police, and the officer I spoke to said he would pass these mad writings of his on to a colleague.”
The police did not pursue the case, the one agency involved that exercised an iota of common sense on the matter.
In response to the attempted clamp down on his freedom of speech, student blogger Zaloom said:
“It reminds me of Ingsoc” [a totalitarian government in the Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four], “people must conform or they are out”
While the Head might well dislike Mr Zaloom’s political views, this does not make them illegal. A student weighing up competing political ideologies, and questioning corrupt behaviours in his school and his government should be welcomed as a critical thinker, not flagged as a potential terrorist. The idea that this rattled Head Teacher abused his position to suppress a student’s independent thought and freedom of speech, that should be the matter being referred to police. At the very least the case should be referred to the Board of Governors as a disciplinary matter.
I was entertained this morning to find one my favourite Twitterers @der_bluthund sign-posting the case, and providing this response:
The Hampstead Trash posted an Editorial Comment following the Camden New Journal report. This piece exercised considerably greater maturity than the actions of the Head Teacher responsible for providing a framework of learning and development for these students.
It would appear that a new generation is being taught that thinking critically and independently, or raising one’s voice to power when power is over stepped or acting in error – is wrong. This foundation rock of any workable democracy appears to being smashed to pieces by the authority figures in our children’s lives.
The ‘Never Seconds’ Blogger
The Never Seconds blog was set up by nine year old Martha Payne (and her dad) to reveal the state of her school dinners to a wider population. Martha would take a picture of the day’s meal, and post it to the blog with the following categories rated out of 10; Food-o-meter, Mouthfuls, Health Rating. The post would also contain information on price, and whether the food contained any hair (after she found hair in a school meal).
In a very short time, the blog went viral, winning Best Food Blog at the Observer Food Monthly Awards.
However, in June last year, Martha was taken out of classes and informed she was no longer permitted to take photos of her school dinners. This, from the blog:
“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.
Martha has gone on to bigger and better things, working with students in such far flung places as Malawi and Japan in efforts to raise awareness about child nutrition – but she hasn’t posted another picture of a meal in her own school.
Democracy is Not Just a Vote
Democracy is not just about voting every four or five years, it is about all members of a society being an active, enfranchised part of the decision making process. By this measure, we live in an increasingly undemocratic society. How much democracy is there in our workplaces, schools, universities and communities? Almost none. We live most of our lives in undemocratic institutions where a small leadership dictate all policies, and our only real course of dissent is to leave – to another undemocratic institution.
These young people are putting in the time and effort to engage with their institutions on democratic terms – they are saying ‘your decisions impact me, and I want to be a part of those decisions’. The response has been not only to suppress this activity, but to attempt to smash the democratic spirit out of the students who express it. If we want to live in a democracy, then we need to foster the democratic impulse in every generation. We need to stand for these young democrats when the authority figures in their lives attempt to silence them.
Democratic Education – check out the idea of democratic education
Cooperative Businesses – why stay in a workplace which is undemocratic? You can withdraw your skills from institutions that operate this way, and join or start a cooperative business. It could transform your whole experience of work.
DID YOU READ & VALUE THIS POST? PLEASE THROW SOME COINS IN MY VIRTUAL TIP JAR!