Politics in the curriculum: How schools can stop the non-participation crisis.
Young people are angry. That anger needs direction. At a time where hate politics, hate personalities & fake news have wrongfully attained an ‘intellectual’ veneer, the inclusion of politics in education is vital.
At a time of such much misinformation getting Generation Y & Z participating in democracy in a positive way is a battle that can be won in the classroom.
In the 2017 elections, voter turnout was 68.8%. With the numbers of 16-24 year olds voting coming in at over 60%. The estimated turnout of 18-24 year olds in the 2017 General Election is the highest since 1992. In fact, against popular belief, the number of exam entries for A-Level Politics has risen from 16,605 to 18,495. Although this is massively behind the 37 odd thousand taking up English Literature, Political Studies offers a different type of literacy altogether. Despite the never contested stereotypes, young people are voting. They just need to be better informed on who to vote for & how they can make a positive contribution to democracy. I was at school when Citizenship was compulsory, I’ve taught in schools where SMSC is compulsory. But making politics compulsory could have incredibly powerful positive long term effects on our young people.
Why doesn’t politics appear in our curriculum?
‘Teachers are meant to be objective & apolitical’
I absolutely agree with this statement. Teachers should remain non-partisan, not enforce their opinions on their students. I agree. But lived experience, the dynamics of social class, age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation & disability all have great bearing on our lives. We can leave them dynamics at the door but totally ignore them? Not so easy. Teachers have educate children & enable them to access their rights as citizens. Being a part of the political process is one of those rights. This isn’t calling for all teachers to stand on tables wearing berets & Che Guevara t-shirts & chant “Ooooh Jeremy Corbyn”. But bringing their experiences of democracy, or may be other political regimes they’ve witnessed or experienced, that’s what will cultivate engagement & get students to understand why politics is so important.
‘You’re all left-wing Socialists’
For the love of it, I’ve met many a Conservative teacher. But this assumption that teachers are revolutionaries & will wrong politicise the masses, this born perhaps a lack trust may be? A strong, broad & contemporary curriculum would prevent any of this political ‘brainwashing’. If for example, the Headteacher oversees the planning of the curriculum which is then approved of my Ofsted, surely the biases & fears will reduce. This would mean making the intention to allow politics to enter the classroom & i’m not sure how many Heads are prepared to allow that to happen.
Socialisation isn’t association.
At large, we have free will to vote & select our own political biases. Yet we see that people who wrongly make the public eye, spreading often vicious hatred & misinformation. Schools aren’t creating militias. They are supposed to be creating the next generation of citizens. Thus allowing young people to leave school with limited knowledge of their democratic rights as members of the electorate, is that correct? This is no disrespect to PSHE & Citizenship, the latter I know is being phased out of schools. But an hour a week of PSHE, which is usually & wrongly seen as ‘down time’ for students and some staff, it isn’t enough. At the minimum, students should know roughly what the main political parties principles are, or at least their names! Socialisation is about reducing that ‘them & us’ barrier that has been created in politics, dare I say on purpose. Politics is seen as something that ‘happens’ in London & has no impact on our lives. Thats now many students see politics not realising the very school they spend 30+ hours is formed through political processes!
‘Sir, what is Brexit?’
I’ve heard that may be 1,000 times in the past 3 years. The fascination & commitment to reporting Brexit in the media means all we seem to hear about is Britain attempting to leave the EU. At a time of instantaneous communication & information on an unlimited scale at our fingertips, why can’t kids just Google Brexit & find out for themselves? Being taught something and reading/hearing about it are very different things. Yes we expect our students to be aware of current affairs & watch the news. But are they understanding what they are seeing? Teachers through pedagogy & differentiation can make politics accessible for all students. It’s still so shocking that many students even by sixth form have no idea or no intention to understand the political process. Teaching about Brexit & the it’s potential impacts won’t create a stampede or a ruckus of political unrest, it may make students realise the importance of being a citizen, rights, responsibilities & national identity. As teachers too, it challenges us to make sure we are disseminating the correct information & also fully aware of the political climate that effects our very existence!
I think deep in the underbelly of political actors is the view that once schools begin to make politics central to school curricular, that a well-informed & socially literate future electorate will ‘oust’ those in Westminster. Bringing wholesale changes that will destabilise the status quo & force middle Britain back to suburbia. This mass conspiracy theory is so wide of the mark. Yet I believe deeply rooted in rational behind the limited scope of politics in the educational diet.
May be if we made politics a core subject more Politics graduates would join teaching. As many of them study politics because they want to help others. There’s perhaps no better way to help others than teach them. Whether is deliberate or not, the exclusion of politics in the curriculum is creating mass misconceptions, mass misrepresentations, mass apathy, mass misunderstanding, mass oversimplification & mass misinformation on discussions, debates & issues that need the most attention.
Thank you for reading.