Schools should look to promote "positive social activism" among their students, as a way of countering the threat of radicalisation, an expert on extremism has said.
Speaking at the conference of the ATL section of the National Education Union, William Baldet, Prevent coordinator for Leicestershire and Rutland, set out practical things that teachers could do to reduce the risk of their students being radicalised.
- Promote social activism: Mr Baldet said that one of the "many myths" about Prevent was that "we are trying to shut down any kind of activism or debate or protest”. However, he said those involved in counterradicalisation actually often asked schools "why are you not promoting positive activism?"
He said: “I’ve known of teachers taking their kids down to Vodafone to campaign that [the company wasn't] paying [corporation] taxes. What a great initiative – positive activism, positive campaigning."
Mr Baldet said that showing young people that they could effect change through peaceful, democratic processes was one of the most effective ways of undercutting extremism: "If they don’t think those processes can ever work, then they will try to start to bring about change in another way, and that’s what the extremists are counting on.
“[If] they see Vodafone saying ‘yeah we’ve slipped up, we need to pay our taxes’, then you’ve got political action that leads to change.”
- Teach citizenship: “Building civic and political engagement" in young people through citizenship lessons is "absolutely critical", said Mr Baldet. "If you’re not invested as a member of this country, then you won’t think twice, potentially, about hurting it if the right ideology comes along to exploit that," he added.
- Encourage debate: “When I was 13, 14 years ago, we had to debate whether Nelson Mandela was a terrorist or a freedom fighter," said Mr Baldet. "We had debating societies within our English lesson, and we were forced to have these really complex, nuanced debates. I’d never heard of Nelson Mandela at 13, and I had to go out and spend a week researching him. It gave us an opportunity to talk about the issues that people cared about, and as young people we had that safe environment to start talking about these issues and these concerns.”
With young people spending large amounts of time in social media "echo chambers", where their views go unchallenged, Mr Baldet said schools should foster debate. "What we need to start doing is give them the space to have these debates and have these discussions, because if they’re not going to have them in a safe environment, they’re certainly going to have them online,” he said.
- Develop critical-thinking skills: According to Mr Baldet, “nuance and ambiguity are the things that extremists fear the most”.
"All extremist organisations, all terrorist organisations, they manipulate the heart strings, they tug on emotions," he said. "What we need is for young people to have the skills to look at the material that is coming in, particularly through social media, and to critically analyse that."