Old Etonians today slammed the ‘woke agenda’ at the elite school after an English tutor was sacked over a controversial ‘gender roles’ lecture as 2,500 people signed a pupil petition calling for him to be reinstated.
English teacher Will Knowland was dismissed over the speech intended for one of the school’s ‘Perspectives’ classes – which are delivered to older students to help them think critically about issues of public debate.
He appealed the decision, and a disciplinary panel at the £42,500-a-year school will consider his fate on Tuesday – although the decision is not expected to be announced for several days.
In an exclusive interview with MailOnline, an ex-pupil who left Eton in 2019 said he was ‘not entirely surprised’ about the teacher’s dismissal which he described as ‘a frightening case of censorship’.
It came as a colleague resigned as head of the ‘Perspectives’ programme and attacked the ‘so-called progressive ideology’ that he feels pupils are being ‘indoctrinated’ with.
Dr Luke Martin, who is still teaches at Eton, accused Head Master Simon Henderson of presiding over an atmosphere of ‘religious fundamentalism’, where deviations can lead to mockery or ‘formal discipline’.
Eton has said Mr Henderson was not on the panel that sacked Mr Knowland so insists the move was not his decision.
Will Knowland was sacked over a controversial lecture on gender roles intended for one of these lessons
A petition from current pupils protesting the move hit nearly 2,500 signatures – up from 1,000 on Tuesday
The former pupil accused the school of being hypocritical for banning Mr Knowland’s lecture about the role of men in society while allowing a woman to give a speech about ‘toxic masculinity’.
And he fears that Mr Knowland’s appeal against his dismissal which takes place next week is likely to be ‘a kangaroo court’ as he believes the school has already made up its mind to fire him.
Mr Knowland had wanted to deliver an online lecture to boys entitled the Patriarchy Paradox as part of Eton’s Perspectives classes for older pupils to consider different viewpoints.
He was refused permission to screen it directly to pupils after concerns were raised about its content which included incorrect statistics about rape and suggesting women wanted to be ‘overwhelmed by the sheer power of masculinity’.
How ‘Trendy Hendy’ is overseeing a woke revolution at Eton
Simon Henderson took over his role as Eton College headmaster five years ago and was nicknamed ‘Trendy Hendy’ by pupils.
He is said to have a habit of wearing chino trousers and open-necked shirts, overseeing what has been viewed as a cultural change at the famous school.
Mr Henderson once suggested he might get rid of Eton’s traditional tailcoats and is known to be interested by modern management techniques.
In 2016, he announced plans to split Eton’s deputy head-master role into two, creating one deputy head for ‘academic’ affairs and another for ‘pastoral’ matters.
He has also created a new role of ‘director of inclusion education’ to oversee diversity at Eton, and made a woman the Lower Master, or deputy head, for the first time.
A source has told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Henderson ‘feels strongly’ about changing perceptions of Eton as an ‘old fashioned pillar of social and male elitism’.
The school has pointed out that the decision to sack Mr Knowland was taken by a disciplinary panel that the headmaster doesn’t sit on.
Mr Knowland responded by posting the video on his personal YouTube site, and was fired after he repeatedly refused to take it down.
The former pupil who is now a university student described Mr Knowland as ‘a lovely man who had been completely wronged by the school and the headmaster’.
In a spirited defence of the teacher, he said: ‘I have seen what the school can be at its very best, so it is a shame to see it acting the way it is at the moment. It’s sad to see the school that I love going down a pretty appalling track.
‘Will Knowland was a really good bloke in my experience and always acted in what he thought were the boys’ best interests.
‘He led discussions and never spoke against anyone or shot anyone’s opinions down. It was always very open. He was a really good teacher and a very good guy.
‘He always gave up his time to help boys. I have got nothing but good things to say about him
‘He has been treated appallingly. Any school that treats its staff this way should be held to account. It would be very worrying if they weren’t.’
The pupil suggested that the school had changed for the worst under the current headmaster.
‘There has been a growing trend of political correctness at the school – a woke-thinking agenda,’ he said.
‘It was only a matter of time before a teacher got fired for his opinions.
‘The day he [Mr Henderson] joined, the direction of the school changed. I remember for example an assembly he gave where he outlined that the school would seek a policy to have a 50/50 ratio of male and female staff rather than just having the best person for the job.
‘For a school like Eton which prides itself on excellence, the idea that excellence is no longer the parameter that people are hired on was just a sign of things that there coming.’
The former pupil also attacked Eton’s provost Lord Waldegrave for comments he made about the case.
The peer sparked outrage this week when he stated that there had been a ‘false narrative’ in reporting the case and claimed that Mr Knowland’s dismissal was as a result of refusing to accept ‘internal discipline’
Lord Waldegrave had been due to chair the teacher’s appeal against his dismissal, but reportedly stood down after furious Old Etonians accused him of being biased.
Eton headmaster Simon Henderson, who took over the role five years ago and has been nicknamed ‘Trendy Hendy’ by pupils
The ex-pupil said: ‘It would not have been hard for the Provost to say, “We understand the very important issue he was concerned about. We always advocate freedom of thought for our students and I assure you that we will do everything in our power to make sure the correct decision is made”.
‘Instead he just came out to attack Mr Knowland. It shows that it will be a complete Kangaroo Court. The school has made its decision essentially.’
Highlights from theology teacher’s letter protesting his colleague’s sacking
‘In the past few years at Eton I’ve become aware of a worrying trend. There is a growing promotion of a so-called ‘progressive’ ideology, that claims to be tolerant, inclusive and kind. This ideology is, of course, present in other institutions.
‘But what has dawned on me over the last few years is that it is remarkably similar, in a particular respect, to the forms of religious fundamentalism that I’m familiar with: if you disagree with it, you’re excluded; if you think differently, you’re not tolerated; if you raise objections, you’re mocked or face formal discipline.
‘I’ve become increasingly concerned that some schools, including Eton, are moving towards a point where it will be accurate to say that they are trying to indoctrinate their students into this worldview.
‘As I said above, I am wholly opposed to the indoctrination of minors due to the damaging effects it can have. Over the last year or so I have taken some action, which culminated in me writing to the Head Master and Lower Master last June to relay my concerns.
‘In WSK’s [English teacher Will Knowland] video he offers a perspective on the topic of masculinity. I don’t agree with all the views expressed in the video, but then why should I? The Point of Perspectives is that boys are exposed to various perspectives, some of which they disagree with.
‘Since WSK was suspended, and then dismissed, my concerns about the prospect of indoctrination have returned. There are some who argue that school students shouldn’t be exposed to the contentious opinions of any of their teachers (or outside speakers).
‘I disagree, but even if we are to grant this, it must then also apply to the many talks offered to boys in the name of ‘inclusion’. As a general point, I think it is patronising towards the boys to think they’re unable to handle controversial views.’
The pupil said that Mr Henderson’s appointment had led to ‘free-thought and free expression starting to lose its place in the school’.
He said he had witnessed condemnation of boys who dared to ‘express an opinion which did not confirm to the modern day politically correct line’.
The former pupil said that Mr Knowland had been his teacher for the Perspectives classes and had encouraged even-handed debate.
He said: ‘We would have the lecture on a Monday and later in the week there would be a class where you and 15 other boys would discuss the subject matter as a group.
‘When I was in that class in 2017/18 we had a outside lecturer – a woman – come in and talk about modern day feminism. She talked about the same things that Mr Knowland was sacked for. Stuff like patriarchy, toxic masculinity.
‘The point is we had this lecture and no one considered it dangerous. We had a discussion and boys challenged her views.’
Many pupils are demanding Mr Knowland’s reinstatement, including a boy who was sent home after writing to Mr Henderson demanding that the head resign.
But other figures, including Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who initially supported Mr Knowland, have distanced themselves after being told the actual content of his lecture.
Eton master Dr Luke Martin, in his letter posted online by a supporter of Mr Knowland, said he was resigning from leading perspectives classes.
He said he did not agree with Mr Knowland’s remarks, but added: ‘Why should I? The point of perspectives is that boys are exposed to various perspectives, some of which they will disagree with.’
He said that Mr Knowland had expected another member of staff to give a talk offering the opposite point of view, but a female teacher had ‘declined the invitation’.
Dr Martin argued that Mr Henderson was overseeing a ‘worrying trend’ at the school, which counts princes William and Harry among its old boys.
He added: ‘There is a growing promotion of a so-called ‘progressive’ ideology, that claims to be inclusive, tolerant, and kind.
‘But what has dawned on me over the last few years is that it is remarkably similar, in a particular respect, to the forms of religious fundamentalism that I’m familiar with. If you disagree with it, you’re excluded; if you think differently, you’re not tolerated; and if you raise objections, you’re mocked or face formal discipline.
‘I’ve become increasingly concerned that some schools, including Eton, are moving towards a point where it will be accurate to say that they are trying to indoctrinate their students into this worldview’.
Eton College, pictured, has been accused of ‘religious fundamentalism’ after a teacher was sacked for planning to deliver a ‘questionable lecture’ to pupils
Dr Martin went on to call for Mr Knowland’s reinstatement.
In an open letter, Mr Knowland said: ‘I made a stand for my freedom to express information but also, and more importantly, for the boys’ freedom to receive it.’
Eton firmly denies that the case is an attack on free speech, but relates more directly to discipline among employees and preserving the reputation of the school.
Dr Martin could not be reached for comment.
Video lesson about death of ‘chivalry and honour’ that got English teacher sacked and sparked freedom of speech row
A video of the lecture made by an Eton College teacher at the centre of a freedom of speech row has been posted on Youtube.
Will Knowland, an English teacher, had wanted to deliver a questionable lecture to boys in which he cited incorrect statistics about rape and approvingly quoted an article saying women wanted to be ‘overwhelmed by the sheer power of masculinity’.
In the lecture, named ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’, he claimed the male role as a ‘protector’ benefits society as a whole – including women.
And he warned that ‘shaping men and women to be more similar actually exaggerates their differences’ – which he described as the Patriarchy Paradox.
He says that a world without men would be ‘awful’ for women and complains that chivalry and honour – which he labelled as good male qualities – are being driven down by terms such as ‘toxic masculinity’.
The virtual lecture, which was never actually shown to students at the £42,500-a-year- school in Berkshire, resulted in Mr Knowland being sacked from his job.
Mr Knowland’s lecture The Patriarchy Paradox explores the conflict between the concepts of sex and gender.
He argues that the ‘shaping of men and women to be more similar actually exaggerates their differences’.
Mr Knowland argues that the idea of patriarchy – a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership – could be equally grounded in biology, rather than something that is constructed socially.
And he says some women may actually chose the traditional gender roles because it benefits them.
Mr Knowland points out that male roles in the animal kingdom, including those of the lion, are primarily to provide protection.
Will Knowland, an English teacher, had wanted to deliver a questionable lecture to boys in which he cited incorrect statistics about rape and approvingly quoted an article saying women wanted to be ‘overwhelmed by the sheer power of masculinity’
As a result, he says men have traditionally been the sex to fight wars – pointing to the difference in the development of male and female bodies in adolescence.
He points to a cage-fighting match-up involving transgender fighter Fallon Fox, who broke the skull of female opponent Tamika Brent when the pair fought in the Octagon.
He says: ‘If it is not fair to pit men and women in sports, then it is not fair to pit men against women on the battlefield.’
He says men’s lives are also more expendable because women are the ones who are able to give birth. However he says that a world without men would be ‘awful’ for women.