No one can deny that there is increasing polarisation in today’s politics, as politicians seek to ascribe blame for systemic failures or fail to engage with science or reason, but nowhere is this more obvious than in the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US.
Some may argue that systemic racism in the US is a problem that we don’t share in the UK but a country whose wealth and growth was built on imperialism and exploitation cannot help but be the product of its making – you just have to look at the Brixton riots, the death of Stephen Lawrence in the 90s and the McPherson report that that found the Met to be institutionally racist, the attempted deportation of the Windrush generation, or even the post-Brexit threats to children of colour that their families were about to be deported because of the colour of their skin.
When pundits hark back to the halcyon days ‘before the EU’ or ‘before namby pamby liberals’ started weakening the backbone of the country, they’re harking back to days when people of colour had little to no voice. Even when they had the right to vote the system was stacked against them in terms of education, jobs and access.
Failure to understand just how a system which refuses to fund education, health and social care effectively can trap generations away from achieving their potential is a failure to understand privilege. It is a failure to question the assumptions that underpin our social framework and our economic operations.
We talk about the need to engage children with education; we talk about their need to be happy and the importance of developing the learning skills that will support children throughout life. At the Learn2Think Foundation we are passionate about the goal of education being the development of compassionate, creative and critical thinkers.
With the changes our society faces, whether it is learning to adapt to the impact of covid and the potential transformation of education and working life, the impact of climate change on global supply chains and our way of life, the most necessary change has to been to date ignored. What the US protests have show is that at some point society will say, thus far, no further. It is not acceptable to protect and support the few to the detriment of the many.
In the UK BAME populations have suffered considerably more from the effects of coronavirus, and it is those with customer facing jobs like deliveries, warehouse workers, fast food worker who have been encouraged to go back to work now in jobs facing the public, while some banks and insurers have recommended that staff work from home until at least the end of the year. We need to think about the world our children will be facing and start asking the hard questions.
Children are often motivated by the need for fairness and that seems something sadly lacking in our world today. Psychology has taught us that one of the key factors in predicting adult well being is childhood emotional health. Maybe that is why we don’t ask difficult questions of children or answer them directly, and we don’t encourage them to think about topics that might be upsetting. It’s understandable but is it the right way to deal with issues and challenges that are going to affect the rest of their lives?
Few children today are not aware of what happens in the news, they’re online and they’re connected. We can’t protect them from the worst excesses that the press and the internet has to offer. But there is a way to change the way they experience these things.
Last year saw the release of a film about US children's TV personality Mr Rogers. He always said, ““When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Hiding children from the reality of the world won’t help them in the long run. Instead we need to teach them why the world is the way it is and how to make it better. Help them understand. Help them see the ways in which our society needs to be better. And help them learn how to make it so.
This article initially appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Education Today https://www.education-today.co.uk/