Chairman of East London Humanists Paul Kaufman on preventing young being lured into extremism


- Credit: Paul Kaufman

How do you stop young people being lured into violent extremism? Existing policy has clearly failed, and recent proposals by Theresa May contain few new ideas.

One omission is the teaching of ‘critical thinking’ in our schools.

Critical thinking is just shorthand for learning to think for yourself in a rational way. Schools should be educating children in the skill of making their own decisions and life choices by weighing up evidence.

This is in contrast to making decisions based simply on faith, which by definition does not require evidence but simply acceptance based on trust. In other words, schools should be equipping young people with the intellectual tools to question all beliefs, including extremist ideology.

The suggestion may seem obvious, but this and previous governments have failed to ensure critical thinking is at the heart of every school curriculum.

If anything the present government turned the clock back in February with a decision to exclude Humanism and non-religious belief from parts of the school curriculum.

The decision flies in the face of a letter calling for inclusion signed by over 100 eminent educationalists, philosophers and theologians, including the former Archbishops of Canterbury and Oxford, Rowan Williams and Richard Harries.

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Of course, the government decision does not stop schools deciding to teach about non-religious perspectives, and a number of schools in Newham provide brilliant examples of this.

It is important, to teach children to be tolerant of each other’s beliefs.

However, unless children are taught the importance of questioning beliefs then we should not be surprised if some are attracted to the twisted world view of ISIS without questioning it.

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