I’d like to make it very clear that this is not a political post. My views on Scottish Independence and next year’s referendum are not important. This blog is a place for me to reflect on teaching and learning; nothing more. What cannot be denied, however, is that next year will witness a huge historical event, especially for our senior students. For the first time, many of the young people sitting in front of us will be given the right to vote. My concern is that they will not be sufficiently prepared to make an informed choice; their first vote could be the most significant vote in their lifetimes.
It is a very tricky area for teachers. On the one hand we must not be seen to promote our political views in class, I firmly believe that, despite the odd cutting remark in class about politicians. We are significant adult role models to our students, sometimes the most significant, and it would be wrong to use that role to influence them politically. However, in the absence of balanced political debate in the mainstream media, what should our role be? We are not electing a local councillor here, or an absent European MP. Either way the outcome of the referendum will alter the direction of our history. Surely it is our duty to prepare our students sufficiently to make that choice in an informed way.
As an English teacher I will spend much of next year studying the rhetoric of both sides. Hunting down articles, blogposts, papers which attempt to persuade on both sides. We will watch speeches, study mannerisms, repetitions. We will write about we we discover. I shudder to think of the number of Folio essays the SQA will have to mark on the subject. Perhaps a note of caution on how we might approach that. It seems to me that, for the first time in my career, this event might affect everything I do in class. We are educators with a duty to prepare and educate our young people for what is happening in their lives.
To sixteen and seventeen year-olds who will be voting for the first time it is unquestionably a huge political event. To teachers we must approach it as a topical, even historical, one. No more, no less. It worries me that, as an experienced voter with an interest in politics, I see no more than the usual ‘us and them’ politics filled with fear and political slogans from both sides. This must be more than a game simply to be won or lost. Our young people deserve more. Regardless of the outcome things will not be the same. And even though we in Scotland have always had a proud educational history, a valued and respected new Curriculum, we will need to adapt to a new political landscape either way.
We might well be weary of change in education. Almost three years on from the Donaldson report, two since McCormac, we may well think that change isn’t coming quickly enough. Either way sit yourself in the seats of those senior students who will be in your classes this year. How much of a change are they about to witness, at least in terms of the responsibility they are being given? It would be a shame if, in the face of adult indifference and political posturing, we missed this opportunity to prepare them for what is about to happen. Isn’t that what education is really for?