Sunday, 26 June 2016

Brextolling The Virtues Of Youth

With scooters cast on the ground beside the park picnic bench and shared portion of potato scallops in hand, two lads, no more than 13, discussed the outcome of the EU referendum on a sunny day in a Yorkshire village. They understood the significance of the links between the world wars and Brexit as they discussed why each war began and what they thought of the outcome of Thursday's vote. They didn't have all the facts they needed but were drawing their own conclusions based on what they knew. What mattered to me was that they were politically engaged - something, it would seem, we've not quite experienced before in my living memory.

In writing this I am well aware that I am not bringing anything new to the table. Many teachers have already voiced the opinion I am about to give. In the last few days educators have observed the heightened awareness of politics, and, regardless of your position on the matter, or the position of the children we all teach, one thing is clear: we must carpe this diem. 

I wore the motto 'Suivez La Raison' on my sixth form blazer; and now it is our job to teach tomorrow's adults to suivez the raison. It's very difficult to have a working democracy if those in the electorate are being misled; we must show children the importance of finding out facts for themselves in a discerning manner. We must equip them with the critical skills to be able to do this - this could be through researching and evaluating non-political issues as well as political ones. If the future electorate, one who seem increasingly desirous to involve themselves in politics, are able to find truth for themselves then good decisions will be made by the people of this country.

Once our young people are aware of the facts, there are two other things we need to encourage them towards: respecting the views of others and actually voting.

Slightly disturbing has been the spiteful comments surrounding, amongst other voter groups, the elderly vote - I don't believe it is right to be so vitriolic along the lines of 'Why should those with the shortest life expectancy decide the future of those with the longest?' Despite disagreements, we have to respect the views of others where decisions have been made in 'good conscience' (the water gets murky here, although issues such as racism should be clear-cut). Part of this skill involves being able to debate which does not cause dissension - something often not modelled by our politicians. Our young people are about to embark on a period of time where they have to learn to live in a divided country - with our guidance they have the chance to adapt to that more quickly than the rest of us.

Perhaps a better responses from young people on this issue would be to channel their heightened emotions into encouraging their peers to engage: only 43% of 18-24 year olds and 54% of 25-34 year olds voted in the referendum. Many colleagues on twitter have reported deep engagement from those not yet eligible to vote, hopefully in future elections we will see that 43% figure rise as a result! but it is now our job as educators to keep the momentum going. Interest in these matters will always pick up around the time of huge change but we can keep the debate current: there are always interesting debates going on in the houses of commons and politics stories are never really out of the press. It may well be worth noting too that many teachers fall into the 25-34 category: in our attempts to engage our peers we must be as active as we want our students to be.

So far this referendum has left many, even those who voted leave, with a sour taste in their mouth; at the moment it appears to have been a hollow victory. But regardless of your views on Britain's relationship status with the EU, we can all be optimistic about the future of our politics based on the potential that our up-and-coming electorate has shown. The children are our future and we teachers have the privilege not to indoctrinate, but to guide the nation's youth towards political engagement and a brighter future.

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