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Should Politics be taught within secondary school?

Despite the higher youth turnout than originally anticipated, it has been estimated that around one third of millennials did not vote in the EU Referendum. Whilst the outcome of the EU referendum was disappointing for the majority of Millennials – statistically – if everyone within the 18-24 age category had participated in the EU referendum (and voted remain) the 3.78% required to equalise the leave vote would have been met, and the UK would have likely remained a member of the European Union. These statistics reveal that a large majority of young people are not realising their political power. So why did so many choose not to participate?

The truth is that many millennials have said that they did not understand the concept of the European Union and what it meant for the UK to leave it, evidenced by the tumult of bizarre notions which flooded social media. These misconceptions demonstrate that whilst our democracy gives people the right to vote, our education system is not reflective of this right. That is not to say that millennials were the only generation lacking an understanding of the EU; Google searches about the EU peaked following the referendum. But could a better understanding of the European Union, and political affairs in general be achieved if Politics were taught more widely in schools? Would more young people be willing to engage with politics?

Young Remainers by Ed Everett. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

Most millennials do not opt to take Politics at A-level, having no prior experience of the subject at GCSE level. Less than 13,000 students opted to take Politics at A level in 2013, a low number compared to the uptake witnessed in other subjects such as History (54,000) and Geography (36,000), which are also subject options at GSCE level. Less than a dozen students in my year opted to study politics – for the rest of us (including myself) – our political knowledge remained stunted. When I turned 18, I knew little of contemporary politics and my knowledge of Benjamin Disraeli surpassed that of Gordon Brown. I was born in a constituency which had been represented by Labour since the seventies, and I was naturally compelled to support the party. But I couldn’t name or differentiate between parties and their policies, and I was not alone. Would teaching Politics in schools as a compulsory GCSE foster an interest and better understanding of political affairs which young people would carry into their twenties, and later life? I believe so.

The counter-argument to teaching Politics in schools is that the Politics curriculum would be skewed in favour of the presiding Government at the time. The possibility of indoctrination would also be a risk as teachers could use their classrooms to influence bias – for instance – schools in Labour / Conservative majority areas could encourage their students to support the constituent party. The problem with this counter-argument is that this is already occurring – in addition to fifteen years of a Labour government during millennial’s formative years at school, many schools are already being criticised and accused for their left-wing bias. Society encourages us to be tolerant, but how can we achieve political tolerance if teachers are not presenting the full spectrum of political ideologies to their students? It could be argued that these schools are inadvertently raising a radically left-wing generation, who may be left-wing without choice.

This lack of choice is being exacerbated by the role of social media, which has come to play a huge part in recent elections and referenda. Millennials have and are continuing to develop their political understanding through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. The issue with this is that millennials are only seeing a limited snapshot of political affairs, such as ‘trending’ news. Trends do not necessarily convey truth, and in our post-truth world saturated with fake news, where anyone can publish online, how are we to teach young people to analyse and question multiple sources of political information before they form an opinion? In other subjects such as history, literature, and science – this questioning begins in the classroom. Why not with Politics?

Eye facebook detail macro by geralt. Public domain via Pixabay.

Besides this, political knowledge is subject to bias on social media, which is currently being manipulated for political affairs within 18 countries and systematically used to spread hatred against individuals, groups and collective ideas. As Millennials are more likely to discover political news on social media than on any other outlet, and are more likely to engage with similar-minded individuals within their demographic – they are highly susceptible to this bias, prime targets for political manipulation, and are incorporated into a network which promotes shared thought, whilst simultaneously attacking ‘the other.’ Social Media has created a digital echo chamber – a shared reality – where individuals feel secure in the knowledge that their opinions are validated by others. The issue here is that individuals are becoming increasingly narrow-minded: a recent study published by the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology revealed that 63% of participants chose to receive $7 for reading an article which agreed with them, rather than receive $10 for reading an article which challenged their views.

Adding Politics to the GCSE curriculum could inform students of the full political spectrum and enable them to form their political opinions before they consult social media first. If funding and resources complicated this addition, could Politics be incorporated into General Studies at A-Level? General studies prepared me for little in life; it did not teach me how to pay the bills or how to budget and save money effectively. A subject still ignored by most Universities, its relevance may be increased if it taught students about their right to vote, the parties they can vote for, and why they should be interested in the political future of their country.

The aftermath of the Brexit referendum has reverberated with millennials who are actively engaging with Politics more than ever before – as evidenced by the high youth vote in the 2017 UK general election. However, if the present and coming generations are to retain this engagement, they need more than the history of Victorian Prime Ministers to motivate them. Teaching politics in schools could inspire the coming generations to vote in greater numbers and realise their political potential sooner. I educated myself about political affairs when I left school, however I would have understood the relevance and importance of Politics in my own life much sooner had I been introduced to the fundamental aspects at school. Teaching Politics in school may not eradicate the bias prevalent in political and social media, but it would help to eradicate the bias present in secondary schools, present the full political spectrum to students, and give them opportunity to form their own political reasoning.

Featured image credit: Classroom by Wokandapix. Public domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Hamish Hossick

    It would be glib to suggest schools should concentrate on the basics before adding new subjects to the curriculum, so I’ll merely offer that providing context for pupils to reach their own conclusions after leaving school would best serve political interest. Until individuals are forced to make their own decisions as adults, they’re less likely to fully appreciate the motive of political change, but the biggest help would be knowledge of history, not modern studies, as they’ll be far better equipped to recognise the repetition of past mistakes and reasons for international relationships.

  2. Maxwell Cameron

    Great story. In my forthcoming book “Political Institutions and Practical Wisdom” (OUP, 2018), I argue that the practical wisdom we need to be citizens and rulers can be learned, and that public educational institutions have a duty to teach politics. It is amazing to me that we even have to make this argument! At the University of British Columbia, we have created a school for people who aspire to become politicians — the only one of its kind anywhere.

  3. Adam Davis

    I think you make a very wide range of pertinent and convincing points. Most schools these days are too fixated on churning out results batches rather than people, not really leaving any room for politics. Even the dedicated PHSCE time in schools is rarely concerned with anything close to politics; though citizenship is in its name….

    I think the shock waves going through politics right now is acting as a wake up call for many people regardless of their chosen (informed or not) affiliation. I just hope it reaches the younger among us.

  4. R Stevenson

    Balanced, thought provoking.

  5. Thomas Johnson

    This is a really interesting article,
    I personally feel that political bias isnt going to go away and that you could help tackle it with modules about how situations can be seen from many perspectives, and on how to make your own views.
    Opinion is everywhere and educating people to be equipped to deal with this is pretty important.

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