The personal is political was a rallying slogan of the student and feminist movements of the late 1960s, but it perhaps rings even more true in 2019. Social media serves to amplify beliefs and viewpoints: everything is political, it pervades every corner of life and no more so than in the past few years with the ongoing Brexit debacle. Except there’s one place Brexit hasn’t managed to infiltrate…the classroom.
Our National Curriculum prioritises Shakespeare and quadratic equations over Walpole and proportional representation. While there is merit to be found in every subject, it’s impossible not to sympathise with the multitudes who protest that they’ll never need know about x+y post-sixteen but are then packed off into the big wide world none the wiser about the system that governs them.
The ostensible reason for keeping politics off the curriculum seems to be that educators can’t be trusted to withhold their party political prejudices and would unduly influence susceptible minors. On the one hand, this line of argument discredits the vast majority of teachers who, let’s face it, are experts at biting their tongues. On the other, conversations already take place with inquisitive students – enshrining the content to be covered in the curriculum would help to ensure balance.
The need for healthy debate
Natasha Devon, a former UK government mental health champion for schools, argued after the Brexit referendum that ‘the wisdom of the political classes is often that we are too stupid or uninterested to be trusted with the details and so tribal politics, which deals in broad, meaningless brushstrokes, prevails.’ Conspiracy theorists have it that the lumpenproletariat are deliberately uninformed, making them easier to manipulate. We could go round in circles discussing the purposes of state education but surely near the top of the list should be to provoke thought. Our Debate Packs are one way of doing this, their foregrounding of current affairs sneaking implicitly political dialogue into the classroom. Yet if politics is indeed implicit in everything, shouldn’t we be more explicit in our teaching of it?
Brexit on the national curriculum?
If I were Secretary of State for Education (a game all teachers love to play!), I’d declare it time to end this abstention and task head teachers across the country with squeezing KS3/4 Politics onto the timetable. Then, having added one extra pressure, time to set about alleviating some others…