I teach 7 and 8 year olds – not a lot of room for politics, you might say. But I, of course, would disagree.
Part of it depends on what you define as politics. For me, politics is how the world works. No one can say that their lives are unaffected by politics, unless they live completely off-grid and with no connections whatsoever to the state – be that healthcare, benefits, education, whatever. And something tells me there aren’t too many people around like that.
So how does politics enter the classroom? In any number of ways.
We’re currently studying the Romans, and specifically Boudicca’s revolt. One of the powerpoints I’m using to teach from is entitled “Whose land is it anyway?”. Enter the whole issue of power vs. indigenous people – does the strongest always win, or do the oppressed have rights too?
In Literacy, we’ve been reading The Perfect Hamburger by Alexander McCall Smith. It’s all about the independent business trying to survive in the face of the new chain restaurant that’s just opened up in town. Cue discussions about supermarkets destroying the high street, the value of local diversity, the very existence of independent retailers.
And don’t try telling me that kids don’t understand these issues. They get it in spaces. If you talk to any young children about fair trade, they think it makes perfect sense – as do many adults, to be fair. They also don’t get why all trade isn’t like that – their opinion tends to be “well, why would we do it any other way?”.
My job as a class teacher is not to push my own political views on my class – indeed, teachers are specifically forbidden to ‘politically indoctrinate’ their classes. Which is why I encourage debate. I may well present my view, but I’ll just as often play devil’s advocate. I don’t want them all to be perfect little clones of me – God forbid! – but I want them to think about these issues. I encourage them to disagree with me – provided of course they can give at least some kind of reason. Disagreeing for the sake of being disagreeable doesn’t get you very far in my classroom, nor indeed in society.
Around the time of the general election, I spent some time with my class discussing what was going on – “so what is this thing all the adults are going on about, then?” For some of them their knowledge didn’t go much beyond the fact that there were blue ones, red ones and yellow ones, but most of them knew who the party leaders were. We also decorated handprints to send to parliament, where the children could write their own ideas for what the politicians should be doing. Their ideas included: cleaning up the streets, giving kids more areas to play, having more police on the streets to make things safer, increased funding for the armed forces so they could have enough safety gear. So once again, don’t tell me that kids don’t get it. Sometimes, I think they get it more than many adults. Indeed, the day after the election, many of them came up to me to ask me “who won, miss?” There then ensued some discussion about draws in football, as a rough analogy.
I’m not saying all this to hold myself up as some model of perfect practice, but more to point out that kids aren’t stupid, and that politics is something which they can deal with, and which they want to deal with. They just need the opportunities.