Do pupils care as much today as in 1968?

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Presumably with an eye to those of us who have trouble with numeracy, the media is currently reminding us that it is 40 years since 1968: "The year of Student Revolution"

Presumably with an eye to those of us who have trouble with numeracy, the media is currently reminding us that it is 40 years since 1968: "The year of Student Revolution".

As one who was 16 in `68, I find looking back a thought-provoking business. I would love to report that I spent the spring and summer between the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Grosvenor Square but, inevitably, the reality was nearer to two hours of homework a night. Revolutionary activity was pirate Radio Caroline under the bedclothes.

However, I remember watching the news bulletins with excitement and a suspicion that riots in Paris were more relevant to me than hippies at Haight-Ashbury. I was also politically aware enough to be distressed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and the ramifications of both those events.

What I didn't realise was that `68, instead of being in the vanguard of youthful protest, a template for my future political activity, was, in fact, virtually the last hurrah. De Gaulle eventually faced down the students and workers, the burning of American cities seemed to rebound on the poor and the black instead of threatening the comfortably powerful, and, despite huffing our way through university, opposing apartheid and supporting civil rights, it would be difficult to claim that my generation changed the world in all the ways we thought we could. Indeed, many of the leading names of 1968 can be found in corporate heaven or political mediocrity these days, and it looks very much like we blew it.

On the radio last week, one of the leaders of the Paris riots spoke of his delight that they had not "won" - because, he said, "we had absolutely no idea what we wanted"!

And what of the pupils we teach today? Would they take to the streets for civil rights, do they even drag themselves away from Bebo or the Xbox for long enough to notice political events in the world? Cynical before their time, do they even care?

Well, I think some do, and they are less naive than we were and better prepared for the real world. Let's hope they take up the torch and make the world a better place, for is that not the whole point of our job?

Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston.

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