Let’s talk politics!

Let me explain where I am on Jeremy Corbyn.

Though I am a lifelong Labour voter, I was not and am not, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I thought he was incompetent and inept and that he did not have the qualities required to be the leader of a party let alone a government or a country.

But when he was elected Labour leader two years ago, I set him two tests. They were:

  1. Can he motivate young people to get involved in politics and actually turn out and vote?
  2. Can he bring forth left-wing social democratic ideas and policies that have not been heard for the last thirty years and persuade people to support them?

The answer to those two tests has been a spectacular ‘Yes’ and I have to take my hat off to him and give him credit.

Now what should teachers do?

I am not suggesting that they go into school next week and start talking about what an amazing result this is for Jeremy Corbyn – though obviously that might come up as a talking point.

What I am suggesting is that teachers recognize that in the right circumstances, young people are indeed interested in political issues and need opportunities to talk about them – to explore and challenge personal values, wider political and even so-called ‘universal’ values.

Teachers can be crucially instrumental in this – and they don’t have to be politics, sociology or citizenship teachers either. Without distracting too much from the pressures of covering a syllabus, teachers of subjects like history, IT, English, and all the sciences are teaching subjects with huge philosophical, moral and ethical dilemmas inherent within them.

Talk about them.

For example, start a debating society (if your school doesn’t already have one.) Let the pupils and students decide what the motions should be and let them manage it.

When I was at school – a largely working-class comprehensive school on the outskirts of Liverpool in 1970s – we had a debating society and no subject was considered off limits.

We debated abortion, euthanasia, immigration, gay liberation, apartheid, women’s equality. Scores of students attended most debates (and once, there was nearly a hundred) – so energized were we to argue for or against a particular motion; to challenge or defend accepted norms and values.

Over the last year I have felt very depressed about the political landscape in the UK and abroad. What with the disingenuous claims if not downright lies told us by both sides in the EU referendum, the so-called ‘fake news’ that seems to pervade social media and not least the terribly distressing political assassination of the MP Jo Cox – it has been easy to despair.

Now I feel proud again.

Not just of Jeremy Corbyn because he has defied my low expectation of him – but proud of the voters of all political hues across Britain and of the British political system for defying the low expectations some politicians and some newspapers had of our values and our intelligence.

Let teachers capitalize on this moment with their pupils and students and engage them in issues that affect their future.

Let’s talk politics!

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.


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