The world we live in today
Since completing the Teach First programme as a Secondary English Teacher in London in July 2016, I have been researching global citizenship and moral education around the world. Through my experiences as a teacher, I believed the exam driven culture in UK state schools gave little space for students to develop political and moral literacy. As a result, students could be leaving secondary school with GCSEs, but without the social and cultural capital to engage with the world around them. Yet, this engagement is more crucial than ever as a result of the political landscape we find ourselves in today.
Since the last coalition government, Britain has experienced a rapidly changing political, economic and cultural climate. The demise of the coalition government in 2015 gave rise to a Conservative government who no longer needed to mask the right wing agenda under ‘family values’ or the ‘Great Society’. Hushed acts of privatisation such as The Students Loans Company were no longer necessary. Instead, the dismantling the NHS swiftly accelerated. University fees trebled. The Human Rights Bill was scrapped. And now, grammar schools have been reintroduced under the masquerade of enabling social equality.
Brexit encapsulated the pockets of disillusionment and anger that many British people are left to grapple with, in the wake of policy shortcomings. The housing crisis in London, stagnantly low wages in the North of England and poor educational opportunities across the country are all blamed on the common scapegoat of the ‘immigrant’. Thus, the manipulation of voters during the Brexit campaign by both sides of the political arena created an ever more fearful and confused public. British identity was portrayed as under threat by the ‘other’, fear whipping up votes in an eerily Orwellian manner. It is no wonder many of us had no idea who to vote for. Instead, hatred became the language we communicated in; scapegoating, false claims and normalisation of xenophobia penetrated our streets.
We expect people to go beyond the endorsements of The Sun or televised debates because we cannot rely on mainstream media as our source of political education. The results of Brexit, and now, the election of a Trump administration demonstrate this deep political failure. Not only have governments implemented regressive social welfare policies, but so many of us are scare-mongered to preserve the power of the elite. Unreliable and unethical reporting was the norm, political lies were repeated, and Farage’s rise demonstrated that intelligent debate was almost non-existent in the EU referendum. No doubt the voter has the responsibility to go beyond the surface of what we are sold. But we cannot deny that it is easier to believe the simple narratives, especially when we are bombarded with so much information and little time to filter through the political noise.
Our society perpetuates this structural inequality by feeding us misinformation. So how do we counter this? As an educator and researcher, I believe a healthy and engaged electorate stems from informed citizens taught to question mass media, participate in multi-perspective debates, and be solution focused about social issues facing the world today.
I believe in educating young people on global citizenship and moral education. I believe in highlighting empathy as a value we should revere and not just leave for families to teach. I wholeheartedly believe that it is the coming generation (without forgetting our own role) that will take ideas forward into a more progressive, empathetic and ethical era. In the new year, I will be sharing what I learnt in Australia about how we can move towards a more value based, globally minded and holistic approach to secondary education.