Should Politics be a Compulsory GCSE?

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The great Cultured Vultures debate: Should Politics be compulsory at GCSE?

In the corner for the motion, we have Rudi Abdallah, fighting for awareness and politicised youth and in the against corner we have Stacey Warner, with lashings of cynicism. Who will win? You decide.

 

The Argument For – By Rudi Abdallah

In the run up to last year’s Scottish independence referendum, the SNP enfranchised millions of teenagers by courageously lowering the voting age to sixteen. Across numerous debates, the newly politicised youth demonstrated that they could maturely assess the advantages and disadvantages of independence, with humour and righteous anger. While the enfranchisement of sixteen year olds across Britain was rightly raised before the 2015 general election, the formal advancement of children’s political education was never mentioned. If future generations are to be fully enfranchised, Politics must become a compulsory subject at GCSE level.

Knowledge is power, we’re told by politicians and businessmen who’ve actively engineered the disenfranchisement of this generation through neo-liberal policies. Successive homages to intellectual empowerment have been somewhat undermined by the political class’ decisive commitment to omit debating the introduction of politics at a decisive stage in the education system. Learning about ‘real life’ is limited to the laughable PRE or PSHE, depending on your school’s stance on mythological entities, and the much ridiculed General Studies. Where is the hunger among the political class to educate future generations about the key political and historical figures of the past two centuries who have shaped today’s geopolitical landscape?

Analysis of voter turnout at this year’s election by market research giant Ipsos Mori found no increase in the amount of young people voting from the 2010 election. More worryingly, young people are half as likely to vote as our more vintage citizens, jeopardising the legitimacy of future governments. Apathy sprouts from many causes, but one of the main contributors is a belief that voting won’t change anything. Studying politics from a young age would explain why and how it matters to be engaged with democratic processes. A carefully tailored Politics curriculum could, with the right teachers, equip students with the knowledge to confront the wealth of manipulative information swamping us in our everyday lives.

The menu would forsake abstract theory for relatable topics. For example, a personal finance component would detail how politics and business intertwine on issues like mortgages and loans, making everyday scenarios that pepper adulthood seem far less terrifying. A critical thinking component would demonstrate how to analyse explicit and implicit messages in complex texts. Students would also be given digestible introductions to key political works, which would help form an invaluable foundation in their political education.

It would be silly to suggest that every child would become a raging political activist, but that makes its introduction more appealing. Different students have different tastes, after all. Rather than being fattened for pub quizzes, students will be nurtured on useful information about how politics shape the country they live in. Immersive teaching techniques would supplement relatable material as teachers attempt to coax out students’ thirst for learning. Students’ opinions would collide energetically on current political issues in informal debates. Combined with the lowering of the voting age to sixteen, this could make future generations more intellectually empowered, rather than creating a nation of spin doctors.

Indoctrination is a predictable concern critics should abandon. The Scottish referendum proved that young people could intelligently process vast quantities of information and come to a decision based on what they thought was the best outcome for Scotland.

Cultivated ignorance leads to indolence; indolence leads to apathy; apathy leads to the ascension of fascism. Before long, Tesco’s will form a political party, win an election, enslave the population and force us to work on special plantations on which special bags for bags for life will be grown. If this outcome is to be avoided, politics must be introduced to the national curriculum.

 

The Argument Against – By Stacey Warner

I think Rudi makes a very convincing argument however, I do not think politics should be a compulsory GCSE in our current educational system. There is no doubt that the schools system in this country is crying out for reform – you could write a week’s worth of articles on that topic alone. One of the biggest issues in politics, second only to figuring out whether George Osborne is constipated or smiling, is how to engage with people who aren’t already engaging with political issues. Certainly, I think that politics in schools could be a platform for achieving this but making a subject compulsory is not the way to create engagement.

There seems to me to be a great paradox in the school system. It’s hard not to have a mental image of overcrowded classes with rowdy delinquents when I think of classrooms in the UK but really, can you blame our young people for the levels of apathy towards schooling? From a very young age you are taught to behave and do well in your SATS so you can do well in secondary school and do well in GCSEs so you can go to college and do well in your A Levels so you can go to university and get a good degree so you can get a good job. But this is deeply flawed.

For many young people, University is still something dominated by the rich. It’s essentially like saying “behave yourself and listen so you can find yourself in a life time of debt” and unsuprisingly, even 8 year olds have figured out it’s probably not worth it when you can sit around talking about Pokemon (or whatever kids talk about these days instead). Not to mention that some people simply aren’t academic but that in no way means they should not be able to achieve a good job. However, with a shortage of placements and internships and generally any other option other than the straight and narrow academic route, for many young people there is not a happy ending at the end of school.

Adding to this that politics is still viewed as a subject for the rich, you could get as many As in political subjects as you like, in this climate it will never compare to a background at Eton. With this in mind, pushing forward politics as a compulsory subject will likely push people into further disinterest and disengagement with the subject as it becomes another dead end of the system. Although I like to think it’s unlikely, it is incredibly open to abuse. The national curriculum is dictated by government policy. The thought of that power in the wrong hands teaching politics could shape the country in a powerfully dangerous way.

I like the idea of making politics accessible to young people, I think it is important but I don’t think you can achieve this through making it a compulsory subject, particularly not in this climate.

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