'Teachers need to step up: they can help to fight the Donald Trump and Brexit reactionary revolution'

7th January 2017 at 16:01
In this post-truth era, it's up to teachers to ensure that young people are being empowered and encouraged to challenge and question

The past year has been frightening.

As I think about the egregious remarks made by President-elect Donald Trump and their ability to divide, terrorise, outrage and exclude, I worry about the future for all the young people in education right now who are searching for a role model, and thinking about their futures.

Perhaps the most frightening development following the Brexit vote and Trump is the acceptance of post-truth politics.

“An unquestionable sum would go to the NHS each week,” remarked Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, or a “tumultuous wall will be built by Mexico” boomed Trump. To the naive voter, these promises were catalytic to ballot-box decision-making. Decisions based on lies.

The real problem rests not with the lies, but with the idea that anyone might accept them as truth.

But within most contemporary education systems, questioning or challenging authority (the teacher) is a rarity.

In much of China, rote learning is the norm – with the teacher lecturing unchallenged from the front of the class – while in this country, most teachers are under such huge pressure to cover a vast curriculum and to hit school targets that they rarely have time for interruption for questions.

It is up to educators to change this. The next world leader is sitting in a classroom today.

The importance of young people being empowered and encouraged to challenge and question cannot be understated.

Teachers 'couldn't be more important'

The global impact of the Trump era is yet to be revealed – but you can be sure it will be global. Don’t think for one second that we’re not directly affected by the actions of the “land of the free”.

The success of the Right in gaining the highest political power with a narrative of pro-guns, anti-gays, limiting women’s reproductive rights and building physical national borders will give new momentum to those with similar views here and across Western democracies. “If he can do it, why can’t we?," they’ll cheer as they grab their pitchforks.

The extraordinary modern norm of accepting equality for many different minorities is under challenge.

In recent years, it need hardly be said, we’ve seen vast strides of progress in achieving social and civic liberties for under-represented groups.

But we’ve become complacent. We’ve forgotten that progressive rebellion is nearly always followed by reactionary counter-revolution. This is where we find ourselves. And this is why the role of educators – right now – could not be more important.

Educators must be curating minds that question their realities, not just accept them.

We must reject echo chambers, post-truth proselytes or sycophants. We don’t need more Donald Trumps, Nigel Farages or Marine Le Pens; we need Martin Luther Kings, Harvey Milks and Rosa Parks. And we need them now.

Teachers are essential if they are to emerge.

Oliver Beach is a former inner-city teacher, Teach First ambassador and star of the BBC show Tough Young Teachers

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