Brexit in the classroom.

Like many in our profession, I am gutted.  The Brexit result has knocked me for six and I still cannot quite believe it.  Clearly, I am in Kubler-Ross’ denial stage of grief and mourning and the thought of acceptance still feels a long, long, way away.  I am left wondering how I am going to contain my own sadness, frustration and disappointment in the classroom.  Since my earliest political awakenings, it has made sense to call myself a European.  At school, we were encouraged (I think required) to take a European language through to GCSE.  I am not a natural linguist, but I struggled on with GCSE and A-level German, not just for the technical skill of language learning but also for the broadening of horizons and cultural awareness.  To be honest, I was probably better at the sociology than working our the differences between the nominative, accusative and dative cases.

I accept that the EU is a flawed institution, but in an increasingly globalised world it still felt morally right to be part of a larger group.  Whatever the economic arguments and I know they are disputed, being part of the EU said something more about our interconnectedness and interdependence on others.  Clearly, a majority of the population do not feel the same as me.   I am not familiar with the Brexit UK, it is a place that I do not recognise and I am going to have to try hard to understand the sequence of events that have led to this point of no return.  I guess I am mourning the replacement of Great Britain by little England; a place that I thought only existed in comedy sketches and the Daily Mail.

One could argue that this is my own political naivety and that at some point in the near future I will have to suck it up and move on.  Fair enough.  However, I am left with a burning sensation that I (we) have let down the young.  Three quarters of young people voted to remain and those aged 16 and 17 years olds were disenfranchised from the whole process.  In the weeks before the EU referendum, our own school mock election saw a resounding 80% vote in favour of remain.  Brexit is clearly something which most young people did not want.  One of the best things about working with young people is the hope and faith they have in the future.  They are not burdened with our cynicism and were more able to separate the truths from the lies of the EU campaign.  It feels like we have stamped on that hopefulness.  I hope this experience does not make them turn their back on the political process.  For those young people who have lived through the defeat of the general election and the failure of an EU referendum, politics must look like a bit of a hopeless cause. The skepticism of the baby boomers has trumped the optimism of the young.  To some extent the Brexit vote can be seen as the failure of progressive politics and vision.

The moral panic about immigration has been a recurring theme in my teaching, one in which we have carefully unravelled the facts from the dogma.  I still cannot believe that we have voted out on the basis of this fundamental misunderstanding about demographic trends.

The Brexit vote leaves many difficult things to explain including:

  • Why did David Cameron bet his shirt on this referendum as a means of solving his internal party struggles rather than the greater good.
  • Why we choose a binary referendum which does not measure the more sophisticated, complex and contradictory views that people might have on Europe.
  • Why are we divided by age, class and location with pro-European Scotland, Northern Ireland and London Vs anti-European England and Wales – we will have years of constitutional unrest.
  • Why those with the most to lose from Brexit have flocked to it’s banner because the political elite could not help contain the real anxieties about wages, housing and identity.

Young people will be worried about the implications of this referendum and at times of anxiety they will turn to a range of support mechanisms, including us their teachers.  We will need to offer some form of containment for the feelings of fear and uncertainty.  We will continue to talk about democracy and the respect of the democratic process, tolerance of different views, the universality of human rights and the continued importance of politics and political solutions.  For many young people, we will need to be the hope, in what may seem like a hopeless situation.