BRADFORD, England (AP) _ To his critics, Ray Honeyford is a racist masquerading as a defender of education. To his supporters, he is a brave man crucified for speaking the truth.
Honeyford, 51, is headmaster at Drummond Middle School. He’s a bearded, bespectacled white man running a junior high school where 90 percent of the students are of Asian descent.
His suspension by the Bradford city government has stirred a national uproar. His union, which failed in a last-ditch attempt over the weekend to secure his reinstatement, said it will take his case to the High Court.
Honeyford was suspended for attacking multicultural education, a widespread British policy which obliges schools with large ethnic minorities to put their mother cultures on as equal a footing as possible with British culture.
Honeyford said he believes he is being hounded ″because I’ve challenged the race relations lobby’s orthodoxies.″ This lobby, he said, is putting Drummond’s white pupils at a disadvantage while doing little to ease non-white children into the English social mainstream.
The Honeyford affair poses a fundamental question for all of Britain: Is it a country whose ancient Anglo-Saxon culture must predominate, or a polyglot immigrant society where all cultures are to enjoy equal status?
One in 20 Britons is non-white. Bradford, a city in northern England, has the highest percentage of blacks and Asians in Britain - one in seven. The city’s population of 468,900 includes 42,400 Moslems who came from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Until 1962 Britain freely admitted hundreds of thousands of citizens of Commonwealth countries. Workers from India and Pakistan, for example, were recruited to work in the textile mills in northern England.
However, over the last two decades immigration controls have been gradually tightened, and citizens of Commonwealth countries no longer may enter Britain freely.
In Bradford, Drummond school meals follow Moslem dietary law. Girls wear slacks instead of shorts in the gym and attend single-sex swimming lessons. Asian languages, history and geography are stressed, and children’s storybooks are edited for racial stereotypes.
Defenders of multiracial education argue that it is unfair, for instance, to ask a girl of strict Moslem upbringing to write an essay on ″a walk in the country″ if the sheltered existence she leads at home means she may have never taken such a walk.
But Honeyford said he fears the system is isolating Asian children from English society.
″These are British children,″ he said in an interview. ″Most of them speak with a Yorkshire accent. Some of the boys are probably going to play cricket for Yorkshire.″
School, he said, should be preparing them ″to relate to English people, get an English job and negotiate their way through situations where English life, culture, presuppositions and humor predominate.″
Honeyford has put his case in articles for high-brow journals. The most controversial appeared last year in the ultra-conservative Salisbury Review.
Racism, he charged, has become ″the icon word of those committed to the race game, and they apply it with the same sort of mindless zeal as the inquisitors voiced ’hannot cope with democracy...the heroin capital of the world.″
Honeyford warned that Drummond’s white children had become the disadvantaged ethnic minority, since many Asians spoke English as a second language.
In response, Drummond parents formed a committee led by Jenny Woodward, a white parent and leftist. They demanded Honeyford’s dismissal, organized marches and ran a weeklong alternative ″strike school″ attended by 218 children.
A city government subcommittee stepped in, voting 8-7 that Honeyford had lost parents’ confidence. He was suspended with full pay pending further deliberation.
Last month Drummond’s board of governors voted to reinstate Honeyford, but the final decision rests with Bradford’s education director.
As the case grabbed national attention, Honeyford traipsed from door to door trying to persuade Asian parents that he was not a racist. But Ms. Woodward’s group stopped him, claiming his action was offending parents.
″His obvious view is that to be British is somehow far superior to any other form of culture,″ she said in an interview.
David Harte, secretary of Honeyford’s union, the National Association of Head Teachers, told a British television interviewer: ″He’s nowhere near being a racist in any way, shape or form.″
Pakistan-born Faqir Rahman, whose 10-year-old son attends Drummond, said in an interview: ″If Mr. Honeyford is so against our country, customs, religion, how can we expect him to be a good headmaster?″
However, a pro-Honeyford petition has gathered 9,000 signatures, many of them Asian names.
Mubarik Iqbal, also Pakistan-born, defended Honeyford, accusing the left of distorting Honeyford’s views. She said many Asians want their children to have a British upbringing but are afraid to speak out.
″Many Asian people in Bradford cannot read English,″ she said in an interview. ″They are being told silly things like ’Honeyford says Pakistanis are corrupt and use heroin... Honeyford is attacking Islam.‴