Throughout my 12 years in education in the UK, it was only 9 months ago in September that I first came across politics at school. Previously to that, I had very little knowledge of politics – to be honest I didn’t even know what the difference between government and parliament was or that there was such thing as the EU, let alone be interested in politics enough to dedicate a whole blog post to explaining the pros and cons of the EU. But now, after studying AS level government and politics for 9 months, you could say I’ve completely changed.
It seems ridiculous that, for 15 years of my life, I lived without even the basic knowledge of politics or how government worked – politics was just some ‘adult’ thing that us kids didn’t need to worry about until we were 18 and were suddenly expected to vote on important stuff. And quite frankly, it is ridiculous. I mean, it’s compulsory for 11-16 year olds to study and take exams in subjects such as English Literature but not politics? Clearly it is much more important to be able to write a 3000 word essay on how the plays Of Mice and Men and Death of a Salesman present the tragic reality of America in the 30s/40s than to know what government actually is, how our electoral system works and what the EU actually is. Politics is something that we are all expected to participate in and know about as adults yet English Literature (not slating English Lit entirely, just using it as an example here) – which only a small proportion of people will go on to pursue careers in – has a whole three years worth of GCSE dedicated to it. I’m not saying we should all aspire to be politicians, nor am I saying that a GCSE politics should be made compulsory (which may lead to political apathy) – I’m purely saying that politics should be taught and offered in the UK at an earlier stage than a-levels, which, by that time, you are already 18 and expected to make an informed vote.
So, without further or do, I present you with an awesome, very important list of why politics should be taught in schools:
- When it comes to voting, knowledge is key: so, you’re 18 years old – congratulations you can now vote! But hang on, what’s all this about registering to vote? And what the heck is this manifestation? Manicure? Manifesto-thingy that I’m supposed to read? Do I tick the box or cross it? Does it matter? How many people can I vote for again? Why can’t I just vote for who I want to be Prime Minister? Ok so I’m not saying everyone is this ignorant to politics at the age of 18, but if it wasn’t for me taking AS politics this year, I believe I certainly would be. I honestly had no idea that in the UK we have constituencies (not constitutions as I used to call them, although we have one of those too…sort of) and that in General Elections we have to vote for an MP to represent our constituency in the House of Commons. I genuinely thought we just voted for whichever party we wanted to ‘win’ and form government, not that the government is formed of the party that has the most seats (MPs). If you don’t know anything about the electoral system in the UK (which is called first-past-the-post in case you didn’t know) then you are likely to be having the same misconceptions of how it all works as I was. The only way I escaped the state of viewing elections as some ‘distant, mysterious event that no one really knows much about’ is by studying it at AS level, something few people in the UK seem to do.
- We are the future generation of politicians: young people, yes, you and I, are the ones who will grow up to fill the shoes of the politicians we see in the news now. Believe it or not, someone you know from school will probably end up with some sort of political career, whether it be a politician themselves, a pressure group activist, a civil servant – whatever. The point is, we are going to be the ones forming the government in 10, 20, 30 years time. Now, it is a well known fact that the House of Commons is not representative in the sense that most of it’s members are older, white males who have had some sort of private education. Clearly, the whole population of Britain is not older, white, privately-educated males so how can it be fair that the people with the most power in society represent a small proportion of those they govern? The truth is, it’s not. In my opinion, the only to solve this representation dilemma is to make politics more accessible to young people from all social and educational backgrounds and encourage young people to pursue careers in politics, no matter whether they went to Eton or the local comprehensive. At the moment, the earliest possible time you can actively study politics is at a-level, as I’ve mentioned a few times, and even so not many people actually choose to study it because they’ve had no previous experience of studying it and hence don’t want to waste one of their four a-level options on a subject they might not even like. So, if politics was introduced or offered in schools at a younger age, it would give young people more of an insight into the political world and the jobs available ad perhaps make it easier for people from all walks of life to have political careers, instead of the select ‘elites’ that dominate the government.
- For the sake of democracy: fun fact: democracy derives from the Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’, meaning ‘rule by the people’. But how can we have a true democracy if we aren’t equipped with sufficient knowledge to be able to make an informed vote for a party/candidate that best represents our ideological views? How can we even form ideological views without political knowledge? I wonder how many voters simply chose a candidate because their tiny, 2-inch photo ‘looks’ the nicest out of the half a dozen others on the ballot paper or because they have the ‘best’ name…If a lot of people are making uninformed votes because they simply do not know anything about the candidates and what they stand for, then how can the results of the election be an accurate, true representation of what the people stand for? The thing about our representative democracy is that our MPs are ‘supposed’ to represent the views of their constituents but if their constituents don’t know who their voting for, then it isn’t really a true representative democracy. So, for the sake of democracy, we should be educated about politics at some point in our education to allow us to actively vote for candidates who actually represent our views and to help us figure out where our ideological standpoint actually is.
- Apathy needs to be reduced: why am I even letting myself get started on apathy? If there’s one thing about politics that deeply annoys me (ok there is more than one thing, but don;t get me started on them either) it’s apathy. In case you don;t know, political apathy basically means not being interested in politics, like, AT ALL. So much so that you can’t even be bothered to travel 10 minutes to your local polling station on election day or, even worse, not even be bothered to spare a couple of minutes of your time to register to vote (by the way, all those lucky over 18 year olds who can vote in the EU referendum, you need to register to vote BEFORE the 7th of June – I even included a handy link for you). Most people who are politically apathetic have that ‘view’ of politics being a boring thing that they don’t need – or want – to care about. But you SHOULD care – it is your chance to have your say on issues that affect your life. Also you might be apathetic because you just don’t know anything about politics or understand it so cannot see the value of it. This is exactly why we need to be taught politics in school. I’ve recently been made aware of an organisation/campaign called Bite the Ballot which aims to get more young people interested in politics and is driving young people to vote and #turnup for elections/referendums. I think it is a really great campaign and I would absolutely LOVE to get involved with it one day. Their website is very informative and as loads of shocking figures about 16-24 year olds politically apathetic attitudes (for example in the 2015 General Election, only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted) that really motivates me to want to make a change and help young people #takepower. I highly recommend you take a look, even if you are not in the slightest bit interested in politics – you never know, you might just change your mind! Anyway, back to the point – increased political education from an earlier age would surely help to reduce apathy amongst young people however I am aware that making – for example – GCSE politics compulsory could lead to more apathy as students would get bored and fed up of if they were forced to do it. I still think we should at least be taught politics in the run up to GCSEs (e.g years 7 and 8) and offered politics as a GCSE so that, with prior experience of the subject, more young people will actively be taking an interest in politics.
- Reducing the stigma of politics: at my school, as I’m sure is the case at many others, politics is seen as a bit of a joke. I mean, we all have a good laugh about how certain politicians resemble kids TV show characters (of the transport variety) and animals for the most part, but, does anyone actually know anything about these politicians and what they have achieved? Amongst young people, I find you are often seen as ‘boring’, ‘nerdy’ and sometimes even ‘mad’ for being interested in politics and backing up all these politicians that are becoming the source of teenage banter by explaining the good things they have done (although sometimes this is quite a challenge) for our country in counter to the bad and sometimes stupid decision they make that teenagers seem to hold a grudge towards politicians for. Perhaps the reason that most of our politicians come from privately-educated backgrounds is because in state schools politics isn’t viewed as being ‘cool’ and isn’t socially acceptable amongst young people. This is, in my opinion, purely because youngsters lack knowledge of politics and, as I mentioned earlier, often view it as an ‘adult’ thing that we don’t need to worry about or take seriously. But, if politics was to be taught in schools, then surely it would reduce this stigma and not only encourage more youngsters to follow political career paths, but to actually bother to inform themselves about political parties and to turn out to vote without fear of feeling ‘uncool’.
So, I’m hoping you’ll agree that there are lots of reasons as to why politics should be taught in schools in the UK. From searching the internet, I have so far only discovered one reason against my viewpoint – that teaching politics in schools could lead to teachers ‘injecting’ their political views into their students. However, I’m not saying that teaching politics in schools would involve evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of political party (because we all know that would end in some biased lecture about how so-and-so ruined our such-and-such) but that we should be taught about all the non-partisan things such as how first-past-the-post works, what democracy is, the difference between government and parliament etc. Therefore, I believe that there is in reality no reason why we shouldn’t have a better political education in the UK and, until we do, I shall be campaigning for the implementation of one.