Views Editor & Investigations Editor
Ah, politics – the topic to most avoid at social gatherings and a source of worldwide anguish. The turbulence of today’s political climate has drawn a huge divide between individuals across all nations, with identity politics becoming the number one dinner party conversation topic, leaving no one without their ever important “left wing” or “right wing” labels.
Despite all large political parties becoming more centralised, there appears to no longer be a middle ground when it comes to identity politics and one either has to be a compassionate “leftie” or a die-hard “rightie”. Interestingly, this divide becomes representative of so many other dichotomies across the world - age, class, race, sex, wage rate, religion. It all boils down to red or blue.
So, with all the unrest and turmoil, parents of young children are increasingly trying to instil political views into their kids in order to convince them and steer them through the thought-machine they deem to be correct. So, should we adjust the national curriculum to include non-biased politics as a compulsory subject, or is that intruding on the personal and sociological education of children by their own parents? Or, is the influence of the media, surpassing the influence of formal and informal education anyway? Will children learn about, and debate, their politics on Twitter, rather than at home or in school?
We have somehow managed to create a political system that involves a vast percentage of the population having little to no knowledge of the way the system actually works. And with over 30% of britons still not voting in general elections, you begin to wonder if this would change if the public had a clear idea of the weight behind their vote. If they knew the difference between their council and their constituency, knew who to hold responsible for their bins and who to ask about their childcare costs, political engagement surely would skyrocket. “Citizenship” is already on the syllabus, so why not write up a set-in-stone curriculum to transform what currently is dismissed as a mickey mouse subject, and use it instead to create new generations of informed and empowered voters?
It is difficult to be neutral; it is within our nature to have opinions and preferences. Wilfully or not, teachers often project their political affiliations onto students. It may not be verbally direct, but one can often assume which teachers lean more to the left and which more to the right. And whether we believe it is unprofessional or not, some teachers are blatantly honest about their political views. So, if we give teachers the time and resources to educate the youth of Britain on politics, the chances are that they may deliver a prejudiced education; however, this is understandable – have you ever tried to argue a cause you wholeheartedly don’t believe in, or remain completely impartial during a heated debate?
Then again, we already teach Government & Politics at A-Level (at some sixth forms in England, at least) - so why can't this be extended to GCSE years? Surely we don't want to encourage a political system wherein citizens are reaching voting age with no formal education on how politics actually works.
A political education does not have to be all about political party affiliation. It should be centred around facts and tolerance of differing opinions. If politics is to be taught from a younger age, it is imperative that the curriculum be outlined specifically to be fair and factual and simply a conduit for young people to make their own minds up. Children will never escape the education they receive at home and with the media, and the bias that comes with it, being such a prominent feature in young people’s lives, perhaps including it as a regulated curriculum subject would be a step towards political autonomy.
With a strict national curriculum guideline, and a focus on political systems and the way things work in the UK, teaching politics poses no more of a risk of teachers influencing their students than, say, history does. And you would think that would be a risk we are willing to take as a country in order to raise a fully informed set of voters. The argument for this seems pretty responsible and irrefutable, and the fact that politicians haven't yet rallied behind it begs the question: do they benefit from the population being largely uninformed of the UK's political processes?