Sunday, October 15, 2006

Veiled Teachings

The story of the Muslim teaching assistant sacked for wearing a veil seems to run and run. What we do see, however, is that the woman is a hypocrite. According to BBC News, "Ms Azmi later admitted she had taken the veil off to be interviewed for the job by a male governor." So what she is basically saying is that it is acceptable for her full face to be seen by adult males, but she doesn't trust primary school kids to not lust after her should they see more than just her eyes. Or, that religious principles only matter once you have a job.

What concerns me most of all is the symbolism of a teaching assistant wearing a veil, regardless of whether the children do or don't understand what she is saying. For at heart, it seems to suggest a singular lack of trust of the children in the classroom, or at the very least, a lack of trust of the other teacher. And yet the teacher-student relationship must, at its very heart, be based on one of trust.

While there is a need for the student to question the knowledge passed on to him, the student must be able to consider that the motives of the teacher are pure. Yet by continuing to wear the veil, the teaching assistant is suggesting otherwise. Quite apart from the fact that the teaching assistant is putting up a very visible barrier between her and the class.

I'm very pleased that Jack Straw has shown the courage to come out and raise the issue of the veil, despite the political risks involved (although he protests that he is surprised at the reaction, he must have known what invective was going to fly at him from predictable quarters). The veil is the most visible barrier imaginable to a common understanding that everyone seems to claim that they want.