School accused of ‘indoctrination’ after ‘partisan’ lesson on Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and racism

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  • Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
    Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
    American actress
A close-up of a child's homework exercise book which shows cut-outs of headlines from online newspapers discussing the Royal Family
A close-up of a child's homework exercise book which shows cut-outs of headlines from online newspapers discussing the Royal Family

Primary school children are being given lessons on the Royal Family, race and propaganda, as nine and ten-year-olds are asked to consider whether the Duchess of Sussex would have as many “haters” if she were white.

Year Five pupils at a state school in Manchester have been asked to consider whether the Duchess’s treatment by the “bad media” led to her leaving Britain and her role in the family.

Worksheets posted by teachers on social media show young pupils sharing their conclusions that “people think that the Royal Family have been racist to Meghan”, stating she was “treated differently” because one member “asked her if her child will be black or white”.

The lesson, at Birchfields Primary School in Fallowfield, was condemned by campaigners as “inculcating a set of cultural values in a way that is very close to indoctrination”.

The school’s headteacher insisted the debate was “balanced, constructive and thoughtful”, allowing young people to discuss the “big” topic in a “safe and supportive environment".

Close-up of school exercise book
Close-up of school exercise book

The project, part of a topic on the Royal Family including the more traditional naming of Kings and Queen in history, came to light after Year Five teachers Mr Pickering and Miss Hamand posted photographs on Twitter of children using the worksheets.

The lesson appeared to be based on an article posted on Buzzfeed, the news and entertainment website famous for its viral listicles, in which newspaper and online articles about the Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex were placed side by side to compare alleged media bias.

The nine and ten-year-olds, who cut out the photographs to paste onto their worksheets, were asked to consider how people saw the monarchy, with suggested talking points including: “If Meghan was white, then she wouldn’t have as many haters.”

“I think Meghan and Harry have been treated horribly and I fully understand why they moved to the USA for a more peaceful life away from the bad media,” read another option.

Handwritten responses from the children included: “Some people argue that Kate can do anything and since Meghan is black whatever she does is wrong even if she did nothing.”

One said: “Some people argue that Kate Middleton is better than Meghan Markle because Kate is white and Megan [sic] is black.

“Some people think that Meghan is a bully.

“However, other people think that the Royal Family have been racist to Meghan and she is treated differently because of the colour of her skin.”

Children work on their Royal Family lesson
Children work on their Royal Family lesson

The posts were highlighted by several members of staff at the school, with teacher Mrs Ahmed saying: “Lessons like this make me feel proud to be a part of this school.”

Headteacher Miss Offord said: “Excellent lesson in critical thinking, so proud of our school.”

The social media posts received more than 1,300 “likes”, with fans of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex responding with warm praise and compliments on pupils’ writing.

“This generation is gonna abolish the monarchy,” said one Twitter user, “Beautiful”.

But one online critic said they were “absolutely stunned” the school had endorsed the lesson, while another asked: “So now they are teaching Oprah in school? Isn't there a standard curriculum for teachers to follow?”

‘Incredibly one-sided’

Dr Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert, co-ordinator and head of education at Don't Divide Us – a voluntary association of parents, teachers and academics which campaigns against the "divisive obsession" with racial identity – said the lesson as shown on social media was “incredibly one-sided” and “very partisan”.

For it not to be considered “indoctrination”, she said, “there would need to be evidence that children had been encouraged to reflect on a range of issues”, with the work on show suggesting no other “possibilities have been considered”.

“It is inculcating a set of cultural values,” she said, adding that the lesson was “conceptually quite complicated” for nine and ten-year-olds and “clearly just the teacher’s point of view”.

Samantha Offord, headteacher of Birchfields Primary School, said: “At our school, we believe that it's important that we have mature conversations with our young people about key issues that are present in our society – this includes big topics like racism and the power of the media.

"These class discussions are always balanced, constructive and thoughtful – and in this case particularly – led to some incredibly insightful discussions with our students.

"At no point did the lesson look to criticise the Royal Family or present a one-sided view of the topics in discussion.

“And we feel it is right to give our pupils an open forum to discuss major issues, in a safe and supportive environment."