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Antidote to apathy

Adi Bloom reports on the anti-war protests that stopped lessons as pupils took part in local demonstrations

KIT Flemons belongs to the PlayStation generation, notorious for its political apathy.

His life has played out to the bubblegum soundtrack of Pop Idols, rather than the socially incisive lyrics of Bob Dylan that spoke for previous generations. But last week, the 16-year-old, with thousands of pupils across Britain, stood up mid-lesson to walk out of school to march against war in Iraq.

"We're too young to vote, so we're taking to the streets to make our voices heard. This is one of the major things that will happen in my life," the Year 11 pupil at The Blue Coat school, in Liverpool, said.

Matthew David, senior lecturer in sociology at Plymouth University, does not believe the pupil demonstrations represent a sudden shift in youth culture.

"This generation is over-cosseted. Physically, they're growing up faster than ever," he said. "But they're staying at home, because they can't afford to leave. They feel trapped, which generates a desire for rebellion."

He said that the Prime Minister has introduced a political dilemma into that high-pressure environment, laid out in language immediately accessible to children.

"Tony Blair has set aside political complexity for the language of good and evil. He has said it's all right to break the law if it's moral. But then children can refuse to go to school in protest, because it's a moral stand."

Inevitably there are children who join the protest because their friends are going along. Mike Barrett, whose 12-year-old daughter, May, took part in a walk-out at Calder high, in Calderdale, said: "She has heard both sides of the argument, but her understanding is at a fairly basic level.

It's difficult to know whether she arrived at her position by balancing the facts. I very much doubt it."

Dr David said the group impulse could be very powerful, especially if it provided an excuse to skip school. It was as natural as following a band or a football team.

"People ask where you were when JFK was shot, or what you did during the war. It's a way of defining generations," he said. "Young people are constantly told that they haven't been tested. This is their way of saying we want to be part of something too."

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