I’ve written on this kind of topic before; equally, I have hi-lighted some of the issues that governmental policy have on education and, subsequently, young people. I think it’s no secret that I probably stand with Ken Robinson when he suggests that we need to completely rethink how we do education and that we need to move away from standardisation.
I would like to weigh in and suggest that there is a need for re-thinking education in light of political participation; that is to say that we should be empowering our young people to think about how they will choose to participate within democratic society.
A few things to outline from the start is that I do not uphold ‘active citizenship’ necessarily; although I’m no great objector. I believe that young people, and people in general, should be encouraged to participate but I have fortunately withstood developing a linear mind-set on what participation should look like. Political participation does not have to include turnout at elections, although that would be nice. On the other hand, despite how I might be sounding, I’m fundamentally against the conservative perspective of citizenship which played out through the development of the ‘Big Society’. I don’t think that it is fair to encourage voluntary work in areas where there should be a salary; I don’t see the economic sense in that. Equally, Big Society suggests that political participation is intrinsically linked to work and employment.
In light of the above, I’m probably suggesting nothing new or original, but I am hi-lighting an idea that is rarely spoken about. Using education to empower rather than standardise. Let’s explain through the medium of a mini-story:
“Mark decides that, having completed his education, he would like to seek employment. He struggled at school academically, and never managed to find something on offer that suited him. He appreciates that in the modern economy the lack of a job can lead to more pressures which come from exams; benefits, forms, targets, etc. Mark decides to go down to the local McDonalds with a view to apply for a job; unfortunately, having spoken to the manager he finds that there are no jobs available. Disappointed, he decides to grab some food whilst there and notices that the person who serves him is someone that he perceives not to be British (it later transpires that this person is British!). Dejected, he goes home and switches on the television only to find that it is the news. He finds that boring but as he goes to switch the channel he sees a man standing in the pub talking about how immigrants are taking our jobs and how our links with things such as the European Union are breaking this country and putting people out of work. He then realises that this person leads a political party that is anti-immigration. Mark feels strangely connected to the man that is speaking like he would, in a pub, but talking politics – that’s a man that he can get behind as a leader! He signs up to campaign with them and feels like he is making a difference and feels like he has a part to play despite his social situation. He remains loyal to the political party that gave him his first voice on the first issue that he felt truly passionate about to this day. “
Okay, so it’s an easy story to write – but are we sure that this isn’t the case for some young people like Mark? I do not believe that there is a generation emerging that is more racist than the last. Racism does exist, in many forms, but I can’t accept that this example would make someone like Mark intentionally racist. I think that it is the outpouring of an individual that seeks to have a voice, having found none previously. Unfortunately, what has empowered him is a racist narrative that they have accidently bought into!
Everyone goes through education but few are empowered by it, and even fewer are those that are empowered and turn to politics to participate. What if we radically re-thought how we used education? Imagine using Politics and Religious Education as cross-curricular subjects which helped underpin the holistic individual. In Maths, why not learn the mathematic principles through the context of current economic issues? Or in English, studying a religious text for the use of poetry or metaphor? They’re both subjects that address some of the fundamental issues the UK currently faces socially; I believe that education in this way can help alleviate the issues.
I’m only at the beginning of this thought process, and it is a journey that will last a couple of years. I’m hoping to have a solid manifesto for political and religious education by the end of my PhD. However, in the mean time I plant this seed:
“Education isn’t enough, we could be doing more; we are blind if we think we’ve done enough. Change is not an enemy; complacency is”.