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The opening of our free school, Michaela Community School, has been postponed to 2013. I suspect we won't be the only ones this year. While 79 free schools were approved to open in September 2012, I predict that not more than 30 or 40 will actually do so.

Buildings are what free schools need first of all. So after our early setbacks in Lambeth and Wandsworth we are now scouring inner London for a site big enough to accommodate a secondary school, in a borough that will accept the idea of a free school, in an area that has a deprived intake. The search is challenging and it is far from certain that we will open in 2013.

Yet there is a silver lining to the disappointment. When the Guardian published the news that we were postponing, the rejoicing that I expected was muffled. As one left-winger put it on Twitter: "All it means is that a good school isn't going to open." I was also impressed by those who simply stayed silent, suggesting that they too could see that the failure of our school to open was not cause for jubilation.

Another article in the Guardian, by Peter Wilby, even managed to recognise the sense in our knowledge curriculum. My modest insistence that inner-city children should read at least one Shakespeare play (from beginning to end) during secondary school — at private school, pupils read one a year — was not mocked or derided. Wilby understood what I have been saying for so long: inner-city children can achieve and learn as much as any child at private school. While their backgrounds may present challenges, this doesn't mean that we should abandon all hope of introducing them to worlds they never knew existed, and instead spend six weeks of English lessons studying The Simpsons because it is judged to be "engaging" for them. 

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Alex Bensky
April 10th, 2012
1:04 AM
I regret to say that in many American schools if they teach about George Washington it's mostly to talk about the fact that he was a slaveowner, or to highlight Lincoln's views on race which were not in accord with contemporary liberalism. Nor would many schools--both public (in our sense, government-supported) and private--see much use in teaching Shakespeare when there are black and Latino writers who are much more relevant, or so they claim. It's the students who are being robbed. My mother once told me that when she was about twelve, which means she and her mother would have been in the US about five years, her father somewhat longer (and none of them had come here speaking a word of English), she was trotted out proudly for the neighbors. "Judith is studying Shakespeare in school," my grandmother bragged. Further, if either set of grandparents had been told that their children should not learn about and admire Edison, or Washington, or Whitman, they would have screamed high and low. My grandparents' grandchildren have become doctors, university teachers, foreign service officers--I turned to the dark side and became a lawyer--businessmen, teachers, and so forth. There is a connection. Students are being robbed of opportunities to grow both as part of the work force and as citizens.

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