No rebellion gene - I protest

15th February 2008 at 00:00

Speechless. Saddened. Ready to turn the clock back to kingdom come. It was my reaction to being told by a college lecturer that not one student in her sociology class (aged 16-26) has been involved in any form of protest.

They were apathetic, they said. No offence to people who want to make our society more compassionate or who wish to stick their heads above the parapet, they added. We do care, they asserted, but we seem to have been born without the rebellion gene. We can't get worked up enough to leave any sort of calling card. And, anyway, what would we rebel against?

What indeed? If you are a typical Scottish senior pupil, you are probably registered with various computer social networking sites and spend most of your leisure hours in their addictive grip. You most likely have a job, which means you hurriedly do your homework after your evening shift. Weekends are the light at the end of your tunnel, because then you will drink yourself to blankness and still be wrecked on Monday.

In S6, you'll apply for university despite not being able to read a textbook for more than half an hour without switching off. Being a rebel doesn't fit into the lifestyle.

Who is to blame for the evolving of our young people into beings who can engage in negative behaviour in school but who, on the other hand, have missed out on the importance of the peaceful protest?

I reflect on my student days in the 1970s. I remember being hauled out of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh by two policemen for being part of a group who were disrupting a speech by Edward Heath. I recall lively protest marches during the 1980s when Thatcher was attempting to disempower the unions. My two daughters, born in the 1980s, often accompanied me on campaigning manoeuvres and so, from a young age, they learned the importance of freedom of speech and the need to stand up against injustices.

Right or wrong, there was a clear demarcation between establishment figures and protestors at that time. No such boundary exists today. In the move away from adversarial politics, teaching unions, like other unions, are no longer viewed as active factions of rebellion. Teachers seldom march now.

I have also observed that political hustings, during general elections, have become low-key, almost cosy, affairs with little bite. This is true even when such events are devoted solely to education.

So what are teachers to do in a world populated by gamekeepers? In the absence of active poachers who agitate for change in the form of a better- quality education for pupils and improved conditions of service for staff, to whom do we turn? In education, as in the health service, we can never assume that the systems in place are consistently reliable. A huge amount of professional trust is essential, but sometimes good and bad practices can fail to be spotted, acknowledged and acted on.

Where are the revolutionaries to instigate change? Little wonder that, if our voice of protest is muted, the young people whom we teach also forget they have that most precious of commodities - freedom of speech. They should use it. Poachers may be a pain in the neck, but they ensure that gamekeepers do their job.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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