How to use The big picture

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Ted's teaching tips.

Children have seen images like this on television many times. This frightening scene raises difficult issues about why citizens take to the streets to protest, and whether all problems can and should be resolved inside a debating chamber. The topic needs sensitive handling.

Protest and riot.

Think of issues that have led people to protest, peacefully or otherwise (unemployment, such as over Rover and the closing of coal mines, pro- and anti-hunt marches on Parliament, a school or football club threatened with closure, pollution). Why do people march or engage in violence (more noble motives: draw attention to political and religious issues, perceived unfairness or injustice, a feeling of powerlessness, lack of confidence in institutions; less noble motives: vandalism, violence, drink, theft, purely to get on television)?

Power.

Who makes political decisions in our society (Parliament nationally, elected councils locally)? Who are the other "decision makers" (directors of companies about their products; journalists; people in charge of institutions)? How are decisions made in school? Who decides the curriculum, tests, which books or equipment you use, the timetable, what you do in lessons? What are the headteacher, teachers, support staff, governors, parents and pupils able to decide?

Northern Ireland.

This scene took place in Northern Ireland. What do children understand about the events there in recent years? Why is it such a complex issue (long history stretching back centuries, allegianes to different religious and political beliefs)? What countries have you heard of where there has been internal strife or "civil war" (the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe)?

Writing.

The council has decided to build a road through a park and children's playground where you and your friends play. Describe how you get together, write to councillors, attend meetings and fight for your cause.

Ted's talking points.

Should we take "direct action" if we disagree with the Government or another powerful body, or is it a citizen's duty to accept what those in charge decide?

For Governments are elected for many years, so they often embark on action that was not in their party manifestos. If citizens feel let down, public, democratic protest is their right. None of us will agree with everything a government does, even if we voted for it. In France, even pupils go on street marches. Banning protest would produce a totalitarian state. Anti-poll tax demonstrators and suffragettes changed official policy when nothing else would have worked.

Against Although people talk about "peaceful" protests, demonstrations often become violent and property is damaged. If you can change policies by rioting, we are living by the law of the jungle. The point of democracy is that you have a chance to vote out of office anyone you disagree with. In a civilised society you should ask your elected representatives, like councillors and MPs, to raise issues peacefully.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter


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