Political Education

There are three ways I can think of to repair Britain’s crippled democracy. One is a fairer electoral system than our present ‘FPTP’ one. (Here’s one way of doing it while still retaining local accountability: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/.) The second way is the introduction of a truly ‘free’ press: i.e. one that is not only ‘free’ in a commercial sense, or ‘free’ to anyone who can buy it up.

The third way is the introduction of proper political education in schools. That would involve teaching pupils about the fundamentals of the British constitution, such as it is; how to recognise ‘propaganda’, especially of the ‘fake’ sort; fact-checking against sources; questioning; and – most important of all – how to think rationally, in a joined-up way, and with a regard for the contexts of ideas and events, of which the ‘historical’ context could be one. I understand that some schools have been trying to do much if not most of this. My heart goes out to them, in these dangerously divisive times. (They may, incidentally, find my forthcoming book helpful.)

One of those schools appears to be the one in Nottingham whose pupils, as part of their Politics course, recently wrote a letter to the Education Secretary highly critical of the impact of government policies on them; and also, more generally, of Boris Johnson’s ‘hypocrisy’ (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10494787/Nadhim-Zahawi-slams-Nottingham-school-told-pupils-criticise-Boris-Johnson-Partygate.html.) That of course angered Conservatives no end, and seemed to confirm their age-old prejudice against any kind of ‘political education’ in the hands of teachers, whom they have long suspected to be, as a genus, ‘left-wing’.

This goes way back. I remember that in my schooldays – I’m talking of the 1950s here – we weren’t allowed to be taught any History post-1914 (or even earlier), on the grounds that it could so easily be twisted by evil Marxist pedagogues into political indoctrination. ‘Working-class’ history was discouraged too. The equivalent issues today, similarly mistrusted by the Right, appear to be ‘Black’, Women’s, Colonial and ‘Queer’ histories: all of them threatening to poison the public discourse with what is termed ‘wokery’. (Whose excesses, incidentally, also often anger me.)

Today’s Tories dislike these disciplines and approaches mainly because of the threats they pose to their own dominant world view. It was the ‘Left-wing’ slant of those Nottingham school-kids’ letter that they objected to. If Politics is to be taught in schools, say the critics, it should be ‘balanced’: on the one hand Johnson the liar and hypocrite; on the other hand brave Sir Boris, killing the dragon ‘Covid’. Both sides should be presented equally. (Rather as they are supposed to be on the BBC. ‘On the other side of the argument we have the Flat Earther, Mr…’)

I don’t suppose it has occurred to these Tory critics that, if teachers do tend to be Left-wing, it could be because they are more highly educated – even ‘brighter’ – than other people; and consequently more likely – often, if not always – to be right? – Of course this is an ‘élitist’ view, and so dangerous to voice publicly. But élitists have a right to be heard too.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to Political Education

  1. Tony says:

    In my 1960s grammar school political activity was rather frowned upon, especially given the conservative assumptions (emulating the public school ethos etc) even though in a working class area. There was no political education, and I had to study ‘British Constitution’ in the public library, obtained grade A, and regarded by the teachers as a bizarre thing to do. In the 1964 ‘mock’ school election the small Labour group was defeated by the Conservative, but at least Labour won the real election.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In my school ‘mock election’ in the 50s (in which I was too young to vote) the Communist candidate had to have a bodyguard, and the Conservatives were on track to win until a late candidate entered the lists, representing the ‘Intellectual Extremists’ and headed by a joker known as ‘Daddy’. No policies, but a wonderful slogan: ‘Sideways with Daddy’. He won with a landslide. The Headmaster – keen on serious political education – was livid.


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