In a world where politics can be divisive and controversial, how should teachers approach the subject? Clearly it is important that young people are as engaged as they can be in the political sphere. With many of the most prevalent issues in today’s politics inherently divisive, how can one hope to give a broadly neutral opinion? Clearly, some of the complexities around politics in the classroom warrant a closer examination.
The aftermath of the economic crash in 2009 has given rise to a policy of austerity in many countries across the world. This was seen as a necessary measure by many: a way to revitalise and protect a fragile global economy. But, as countries have begun to recover, people find themselves torn between two camps. One proposes that current measures are essential and must be continued to ensure sustained economic growth – the other claims that austerity is both deeply damaging and unnecessary, taking invaluable support away from those who need it most. This has created a political rift between two sides whose views are often irreconcilable. Such vastly different, and often highly charged, opinions could be seen as a minefield for a teacher.
However, to many, the current political landscape has presented an opportunity. The result of such high feeling means that many young people are now more politically engaged than ever before.
Voter turnout among young people has started to creep up, with about 58 per cent of young voters casting their ballots in 2015, up from just 38 per cent in 2005. Though teachers must still tread carefully, it is far more straightforward to engage young people with debate on policy and politics. Apathy has been replaced with action.
The current climate is not only making it easier to engage students, but also how you can engage students. Many teachers are employing a variety of new techniques like these to encourage greater engagement and also help students develop essential debating and public speaking skills. This, in turn, helps students to work together and communicate more effectively. Understanding how to work with people and to listen to those whose opinion may be different to your own are two vitally important attributes. Teaching politics is one of the most effective ways to teach those skills.
Teaching politics in the classroom can also help students to develop an interest in areas that may otherwise not get the attention they deserve – and help them make sense of the world they will head off into at the end of their education. This is especially true of domestic policy, exemplified by the junior doctors’ strike and the recent academisation proposals for schools.
Understanding these debates is not only healthy, but may also affect how pupils think about potential future careers. Those considering pursuing jobs in education, or with a predilection for communication and presentation may be effected by new proposals on our education system. Similarly, any budding doctors may wish to know why there is such controversy surrounding the NHS at the moment. If you can keep your politics relevant, you will prove to be much more engaging to your students.
Despite the potential pitfalls, teaching politics in today’s landscape has the potential to be dynamic, stimulating and rewarding. Students are becoming more engaged than ever before. Their teachers should try to do the same.
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