United Kingdom

Eton teacher sacked in lecture row says his campaign to be re-instated is a fight for free speech

An Eton English master fired over a provocative lecture on gender roles has claimed he is ‘making a stand for freedom’ in his campaign to be reinstated.

Will Knowland planned to tell boys at the prestigious public school that ‘nobody wants to watch films’ about transgender characters and women had always had the right to vote.

He was unable to deliver the lecture as part of a class on critical thinking due to the pandemic, but the pre-recorded talk, called the Patriarchy Paradox, was posted on his personal YouTube channel.

Mr Knowland says he was sacked by Head Master Simon Henderson over the contents of the talk and his refusal to comply with the ‘censorious’ instruction to delete the video.

Eton English master Will Knowland (pictured), who was fired over a provocative lecture on gender roles, has claimed he is ‘making a stand for freedom’ in his campaign to be reinstated

The £42,500-a-year school, whose old boys include princes William and Harry and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, disputes Mr Knowland’s account, and says his sacking was not an attack on free speech.

The Mail understands that while the school had no objection in principle to a lecture on patriarchy, it was his outlandish assertions and dubious use of images that caused alarm.

As part of the talk, Mr Knowland accompanied his comment on transgender film characters with a cartoon of a Superman character with breasts.

The teacher then approvingly quoted an article saying women want to be ‘overwhelmed by the sheer power of masculinity’ in the bedroom. 

He also planned to play boys a clip from the 18-rated gangster film Goodfellas, in which a woman confesses that her boyfriend’s brutality ‘turns her on’.

Separately he shared a video of himself weightlifting on the same channel.

His comments on rape, including that more than half of accusations are fictitious, prompted early supporters, such as Harvard professor Richard Wrangham, to withdraw their support when they emerged this week.

The lecture, created online because of the Covid crisis, was written for Eton's Perspectives curriculum, introducing older boys to issues which are the subject of fierce public debate (file photo of Eton College)

In an open letter to the school community sent on Monday, Mr Knowland argued he was dismissed ‘not for process but on a point of principle: I made a stand for my freedom to express information but also, and more importantly, for the boys’ freedom to receive it’. 

He added: ‘This is a deeply distressing episode for me and my family and we have been very touched by the messages [of support].’

He has received pledges totalling more than £45,000 to fund an employment tribunal, and hundreds of past and current pupils have signed a petition in support of him.

An Eton spokesman said: ‘The points [Mr Knowland] raises now, and doubtless others, should be, and will be, considered in the appeal hearing... Eton will therefore not comment in detail on them now.’

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