We live in strange times. An orange man in the white house has been offensive towards women (half the world’s population), Muslims (there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world), Mexicans, Disabled people, the LGBT community. But I am not allowed to say that this is wrong.
As a teacher in the classroom, I am bound by the professional conduct code which prevents me from sharing my political opinion with students. Therefore, I cannot state that these sentiments are not acceptable in the society in which we live. I think that these codes do not serve us well in the current climate. Yes, I do believe that there is a place for freedom of speech and expression, however not to the point where racial hatred is being incited.
Recently in my Year 10 class, the students were studying the play by J.B Priestly- ‘An Inspector Calls’. It is largely a socialist play whereby Priestly expresses the ideology that we live as part of a wider community and everyone is responsible, for not just themselves, but their wider society. Ironically it was during the Michael Gove administration that they decided to keep this text on the GCSE curriculum. Simultaneously the Tories have cut back on disability benefits, bought in the bedroom tax, slashed funding for schools and the NHS- the irony is an understatement, don’t you think? In the classroom, we discussed how and why homelessness had risen, and who would be responsible for this situation?
Ironically the play teaches social responsibility and morals that would be very much applicable today, and it was through this discussion with a group of students I realised how sheltered they were from the real world that we live in. We discussed ideas such as democracy, capitalism, socialism which are running themes in the text. The big question I posed that got them really thinking was:
‘Has anything really changed?’
They thought that nothing had really changed. The capitalist world was still alive and well today. Are we responsible for each other? Are there still vulnerable people in society? Homelessness has increased in the last 5 years in London. There are 1000,000 people using food banks in the UK. Is this ok? Has anything really changed in a century?
When the terms capitalism and socialism and democracy were discussed whilst studying the play it became hugely apparent that the students were not aware of the political system in Britain. We talked about the existing parties who they were and what they stood for. What did far right mean? Who in history had Far-Right values? We talked of the extremes of Hitler and Mussolini and their values and ideologies. What were their values? How about Stalin? Students did know that Hitler had been the reason behind the holocaust and the extermination of the Jewish community from Germany. Students did know that Jews had to flee Germany to escape the atrocities which were taking place.
It wasn’t long before the students saw the correlation between their history lessons and the current issues which blight the world today.- ‘Like the Syrian refugees leaving Syria, Miss?’
‘So if Priestly was alive today what would his advice be to the politicians of this country?’
‘We should help them, Miss ‘
‘But how has our current government helped? Do you know ?’
Shaking of heads.
‘Why do you think you don’t know? Who would be responsible for letting you know?’
‘Maybe the news?’
How do we receive our news?
And I opened yet another can of worms…
It became apparent as we discussed the impact of the Media that the students were not aware of how the newspapers were aligned with particular political parties; so we discussed the spectrum from Left to Right. Students had some ideas but talking about newspapers and where they would be on the spectrum. We then discussed where the politicians would lie on the spectrum. The idea of Left and Right wing politics was alien to the students. We discussed the values of each side.
The Socialist values (Priestley’s values), were seen as largely Labour values whereas the Capitalist values (Mr.Birling’s values) were seen as Conservative values. We also discussed the characters from ‘An Inspector Calls’ and how Sheila and Eric had originally been aligned with the more Capitalist perspective on society, however as the play unfolded they found that they had regretted their actions and wanted to redeem themselves, but it was too late…