Critical thinking and questioning minds – Call to action from Hillsborough justice campaigner

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Critical message: In an emotive address, Professor Phil Scraton described his role in the fight for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 (Image: Duncan Palmer Photography)

The importance of helping our students to develop “critical and questioning minds” has been underlined by one of the people who helped win justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Professor Phil Scraton was given a standing ovation at the SSAT National Conference after he described how he fought for nearly 30 years to find out the truth about the disaster.

A professor of criminology at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, in the Queen’s University School of Law in Belfast described to teachers at the event just how he had pieced together evidence that had been withheld from the initial inquiry. Speaking to individuals who had refused to cooperate with the official line given by the police and other emergency services, he arrived at the conclusion that there had been a huge cover-up in the investigations into the disaster.

Prof Scraton also spoke about the willingness of some media outlets, such as The Sun, to promote a negative and inaccurate narrative about the events of the day in April 1989, which remained the accepted view of the disaster for more than two decades.

Prof Scraton, who wrote Hillsborough the Truth, described as the definitive account of the tragedy, was invited to address the event to demonstrate how teachers had a duty to challenge official orthodoxies and accepted wisdom about what works in schools, and the messages being put out by the government and others.

He said he wanted teachers to encourage their students to think critically, look at evidence and draw their own conclusions about events, rather than accept what they were told.

After his address, Prof Scraton told SecEd: “The biggest and most important lesson for educators is to nurture what I call a critical examining, questioning mind, that does not take anything for granted.

“We need to question the interpretation of the ‘truth’ that others give to us, particularly the official discourse. That is a very important issue. Never take official explanations as gospel truth, but challenge and question what is being said.

“I would never tell teachers what to do, but in terms of my own work as an educator, I help my students develop critical and questioning minds, (and) never to accept the official discourse. This is particularly true in the times in which we are now living.”

Sue Williamson, the SSAT chief executive, said there were lessons in Prof Scraton’s experience for the teaching profession.

“We have often allowed politicians to paint a picture of a failing school system and a profession reluctant to change,” she said. “Reality was not allowed to get in the way and school leaders were unable to present a more realistic picture of the school system.

“Phil Scraton referred to the importance of research, examining evidence, and drawing conclusions thoroughly, rigorously and with authority. As a profession, we are engaging more in and with research, which is a great thing. However, we do need to get better at challenging the conclusions when the data does not support them, and agreeing what works and what doesn’t in particular contexts.”


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