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‘Teachers must engage young people with the news’

The news may feel depressing, but teachers should try to engage their students in current affairs, writes Sarah Simons

Teachers should engage young people in the news, Sarah Simons writes

The news may feel depressing, but teachers should try to engage their students in current affairs, writes Sarah Simons

If I were to summarise all the current news into a single omni-headline, it would be "HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?"

It’s all a bit thumbs-down at the mo, isn't it? Apart from Meghan and Harry obvs. They’ve somehow bypassed my usual royal-rage and funnelled me straight into "ahhh, and her mother’s lovely too".

First of all, there’s Brexit. Stay with me… I know the subject’s at best a frustrating yawn, even for news jockeys.

The thing is, it’s about 350 million times more complex than anyone thought, least of all the government, and most of us are struggling to understand what’s actually going on.

'I don’t know the answers'

Mrs May keeps trotting over to Brussels clutching her homework, then slopes back hours later with a “could do better”.

I try my best to offer Brexit clarity when asked, but I don’t know the answers, because the people I'm looking to for answers don’t have ‘em either, in the current kick-bollocks-scramble mess of politics.

And it’s not just the B-word that’s foxing me. No one’s blowing my skirt up with British party politics either. There’s no leader I can properly get behind, and they’re all dithering with policy until they discover what the consequences of Brexit actually are.

As a lifelong Labour voter, I’m not supposed to have sympathy for a Conservative prime minister, but I do. It’s bewildering!

Don't get me started on Trump...

Theresa May seems to be trying her hardest to wipe up David “IT’S ALL HIS FAULT” Cameron’s political skid marks, while surrounded by a shower of jackals with one foot in a tap shoe, ready to dance on her career grave.

And what about Mr Corbyn? He’s painted by people whose opinions I trust, most of whom are liberal lefties like me, as extremes of a) charity shop magic-Jesus, or b) dangerous cult leader with a secret sinister agenda. Either way, it’s problematic.

Then there’s the 45th… Sorry, I did a bit of sick in my mouth then… president of the United States.

“I have no opinion on D Trump,” said no one ever. But if I start on him we’ll be here for three days and we’ve all got classes to teach. Sufficed to say. Not a fan.

'Why aren't you watching?'

On top of that, there are those images of horrific environmental disasters which are the new normal – dolphins with carrier bags wedged up their blowholes, formerly chunky polar bears with the stature of a deck chair, tropical seas that look like a Heinz Big Soup of plastic tat.

Also, there’s the rise in violent crime, unbearable poverty, and a mélange of brand new awful stuff that emerges daily. And through all of it, there’s Russia lurking in the shadows, like the caretaker in Scooby Doo, but without the threat of being held to account by pesky kids of any nationality.

Even with all of that said, when I hear a grown-up utter “I’m not watching the news because it’s too depressing” I have to suppress an eye-roll and remember not to dismiss everything they say following that admission.

Why aren't you watching? Surely this is the time to keep your wits about you? The news won't all be OK so long as you keep still and don’t look directly at it. The news isn’t a honey badger or my bank statement.

'We need to push through the fatigue'

I do have more empathy for young people who refuse the news, who ask: “What’s it got to do with me?” However, this does automatically trigger an evangelical rant about how they are the very ones who should be engaging.

They will be the sparkling new voters who can boot out the wrong ‘uns in my crappy generation and lead us towards a better world. Organise! Be the difference! Something about the 1960s!

Yes, the news is currently overwhelming in its confusing extremes, but as teachers, we need to push through the fatigue and stick with it. It’s our responsibility, for a number of obvious reasons:

  1. In a climate of disinformation, we need to help our young people work out what’s real and what's not.
  2. Opening up discussion about current affairs encourages a culture of curiosity about how other people live and why they believe what they believe. It helps investigate polarised views and can empower young people to contribute to the world around them.
  3. Keeping on top of the news, chatting about it, considering contexts helps us escape the echo chambers that many of us inhabit. Hearing and really listening to a range of views promotes a deeper understanding of political, societal and cultural motivations.
  4. How can we talk the talk about the value of learning if we’re not willing to walk the walk? Being interested in what’s happening outside of our own lives is modelling the behaviour we expect of our students.

'A hurricane of very important events'

I wonder how we’re going to look back at this turbulent, divisive, often dangerously regressive time in history that we are living through right now.

It certainly feels like a hurricane of very important events is whipping around our ears. It’s our responsibility to watch the news channels, read the papers, listen to the radio, get online and have a sense of what’s going on, even though it’s bloody hard work.

We need to get to grips with how the hell all of this happened, at the very least to safeguard it from happening again.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands,and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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