I have been a bit naive.
I grew up in the UK and thought we had freedom of thought. I was even fairly sure we had freedom of expression – Punks and skinheads in London in the 1970s certainly seemed to think so.
So I have been increasingly confused by what is going on right now in British politics, particularly well highlighted by the scandal surrounding Ken Livingstone.
If you have freedom of thought in a society, you stand a high chance of people in that society growing up being able to construct their own personal and historical narrative, and feeling secure enough that they are able to express that narrative – with reference to facts and evidence – without the thought police coming around to shut them up.
However the thought police are out there trying to control your words, your thoughts and your deeds – and it is utterly bizarre.
Humans who have been allowed to think freely all have different narratives.
Examples of these different narratives in the UK include:
- Scottish Independence narrative
- English narrative
- Welsh narrative (embedded in a different language!)
- Northern Irish Catholic narrative
- Northern Irish Protestant narrative
- British narrative
- Left wing ‘Labour’ narrative
- Right wing ‘Tory’ narrative
- Working class narrative
- Middle class narrative
All of these different groups have different narratives – and I have not even started to mention all the people living in these islands who have mixed heritage or non-British heritage who all have utterly different narratives.
- British Indian narrative
- British Pakistani narrative
- British Sikh Panjabi narrative
- British Sri Lankan Tamil narrative
- British Caribbean narrative
- British Jewish narrative
Even within these groups every narrative has a sub-set – so for instance a British Indian Hindu may have a very different narrative about the British Empire for instance than a British Indian Sikh.
To stereotype anyone, to expect them to fit into your own narrative, is just so ignorant.
So what I see going on right now in British politics is just childish and crass. If children can understand that everyone has a different narrative but we all have common ground, then I can’t understand what’s wrong with adults…
You have to be ready for anything in teaching in London. Primary children do not feel the need to hold back on what they are thinking or what they have heard others saying.
This statement from a ten year old boy came as a result of a discussion about Anne Frank’s diary, a short unit of work we had done in Literacy. We had talked about Hitler and his hatred of the Jews, and had talked about the way Anne communicated her feelings through a diary.
Out of the blue, after the lesson had ended the boy came up to me and said, ‘My family says they hate all Jews’.
Now, I believe in the concept of equality. I believe in the concept that all religions are equal, that no-one is better or worse than anyone else, and that racism and bigotry and prejudice exist everywhere in the world.
So I asked the boy a question. I said, ‘If another child had come up to me and said they hated all Muslims, that would be racist, wouldn’t it? Islamaphobic?’
Yes said the child, it would.
So I asked him if he thought that his family saying that they hated all Jews was also racist or anti-semitic… he said yes it was.
Now there are 2 problems here:
- Sometimes children lie on purpose to get a reaction out of you (fact!)
- Sometimes families are racist and sexist and xenophobic and prejudiced, but as teachers we have a moral duty to counteract that without setting the child against their family.
So I said, ‘Sometimes our families and our friends say things that we don’t agree with. They might be racist or rude or unkind. We don’t have to agree with them. If it’s our family we don’t have to argue with them, but we don’t have to think the same way as them’.
And I left it there. My moral compass is clear – racism and xenophobia and islamophobia and anti-semitism and all sorts of prejudices exist in all sorts of communities. I would say it is the norm. But it is always our job as educators to challenge those prejudices and get children developing their own moral compass for the future.
There is a bit of a problem in the British historical narrative right now. Because in days gone by, however ‘bad’ the British were (slave trade, Ireland, Empire etc.), we did (we were told) do ‘Justice’ better than anyone.
But the story’s gone a bit wrong recently. Because actually getting access to British ‘Justice’ if you are poor is fairly impossible nowadays.
And that means that everything that anybody ever fought for in the 1st and 2nd world war in this country was pretty meaningless. Because you can’t have ‘freedom’ for all if you don’t have ‘justice’ for all.
And you can’t have freedom if you are constantly afraid. And if you have no access to justice, you’re going to be afraid until the day you die…
So the way the story works now is, if you’re rich you’re fine. If you’re poor you’re going to suffer. They only need to dismantle the NHS and the state school system and we’re basically finally the same as the US. Utterly depressing.
Constructing a narrative is a vital for human beings to make sense of a complex world. The more complicated the world gets, the more we need simplified narratives to make any sense of the world at all.
My friend and ex-colleague recently delivered a Ted-Ex Talk using a narrative story-telling technique.
If there is any reason at all for me to write this blog, it is to try to construct a narrative around the undeniable fact that my adult life will be considerably harder than that of my parents’ generation, and where and why it all went so horribly wrong in the world.
My one hope is that out of these ramblings comes some kind of vision of how we can all get where we want to be, without making the most vulnerable in our societies suffer or die.
Some of the most subversive books I read as a child and teenager were Science Fiction books. Post-apocalyptic seems to be the theme. I would not allow my children to read these, they are mind-altering 😉
My most memorable and influential books were:
Day of the Triffids
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? (Philip K Dick)
We can remember it for you wholesale (Philip K Dick)
I just get a bit worried thinking that freight trains will be able to travel from communist China through Iran all the way to the heart of Europe.
But maybe that’s just me being paranoid.
Sound familiar, Jeremy Corbyn?