27 years ago today the Berlin wall fell. It remains one of the very few lessons I remember from school, our teacher got very excited and passionate about the significance of the day. The date bears a historical burden as it was also the day in 1938 of the anti-Jewish pogrom ‘Kristallnacht’, a harbinger of later inhumanity. He confidently proclaimed that it was probably the most important historical moment of our lives, the end of the cold war and a new era of peace and prosperity. A wall which symbolised so much fear and division fell in a peaceful, popular uprising. We were witnessing a triumph of the human spirit, a victory of freedom over bondage.
Today, as we contemplate the consequences of a Trump Presidency and I cannot help but feel the same feelings as I felt in that Year 9 history classroom all those years ago. In 2016, we have witnessed seismic shifts in our political and social landscape. Brexit and Trump represent a generational challenge to progressive politics and liberal ideas. These values represent the moral compass of my classroom and it feels as though they are being eroded from within. I do not know if I truly believe that politics is the answer as much as I used too. My rallying cry to my students has always been a version of Marx’s famous quote …
“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” (Theses On Feuerbach, 1888)
… I just don’t know whether I believe the change is possible any longer. What faith can one have in political processes that seem broken.
I am also left wondering about the usefulness of polling and political science as it has proven itself to be fairly useless in the last couple of years. The social scientist in me wonders whether there is a flaw in the sampling frame, the question design or some issue with social desirability as they are consistently unable to make the right call. Or does the presence have a more pervasive influence on the electoral outcomes. wondered whether the publishing of the polls may have some unintended response and influence on the wider population. Perhaps it is more of an art than a science?
Anyway, I digress. The question is how do we as educators pick ourselves up and carry on when it feels like the fabric of our outlook, the certainties of our beliefs are being unpicked one by one.
Professor Albus Dumbedore gets it right when he tells Harry Potter “Dark and difficult times lie ahead.” Our political systems seem broken, our leaders have lose their heads, racism, misogyny and locker room banter is on the rise. The world has become more inward looking, nationalism triumphs over rational economic self interest, populism triumphed over experts, paranoia and fear triumphed over trust. It seems as though we do have “dark and difficult times” ahead; the future seems more uncertain than ever before.
The campaigns we have witnessed in the American elections and the Brexit referendum were dreadful and offer no models to young people about how to engage in political debate. These campaigns were an embarrassment and the behaviour on show would have led to a serious reprimand if it was how a young person behaved in class. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned winning the argument? As any teacher knows, success will require all sides to work together and find the common ground. Is this possible after the deep wounds of these recent campaigns?
However, once we have got over the shock and a period of mourning, we need to recover and regroup, ‘keep on – keeping on’ as Alan Bennett might say. There is hope sat in front of us everyday. Everyday we are surrounded by possibility and potential. By hope. Potential floods the room like Lynx deodorant after PE. Dumbledore’s quotation ends: “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” I know the young people that I work with will make better choices than their predecessors. Now is not the time for giving into political apathy. Teaching has never mattered more as they will be the ones who will really make a difference in the challenges ahead.