We are creatures of habit. Despite the fact that many of us claim that we like ‘taking risks’, we rarely do. We do what we always do. Rarely do we ever ‘rock the boat’.
We have become a society that doesn’t do politics. We talk about it – lots! However, people’s participation in democratic activities is on the decrease – not only voting, but also campaigning/fighting for what we believe is right.
Alinsky argued, in his Rules for Radicals, that Community Organisers need to stay within the experience of our communities. Ironically, he argued this point to ensure that people do get out of their comfort zones and act more politically than they would otherwise do.
The world as it is is a world where the powerful aim to keep things as they are. It works for them. Why change things that work?
To build a world as it should be, it therefore takes people who are willing to subvert the status quo. Change rarely happens without tension.
In our schools, things are very prescribed: there are frameworks (Ofsted, the National Curriculum, assessment frameworks and their connected progress measures), there are structures, and these are often resting on rules set by people whose self-interest is not to question the world as it is. Remember, the world as it is works for them, so why change it?
I’ve argued before that teachers can easily become tactical disruptors. Building on their experience of teaching the skills required for children to succeed within our current system (e.g. reading, mathematics, writing, etc.), elements of disruptions can easily be added to the mix.
In our school, we increasingly – increasingly as this is still work-in-progress – start with the following postulate: it is our duty to make the world a better place through everything we teach. What we teach in terms of knowledge and skills, consequently, has to revolve around that. If not, we often tell prospective families, we’ve missed the trick.
There is nothing radical as such in our approach. Simply, we start with what Simon Sinek talks about in his Start with Why. Why do we do what we do? What’s the point?
Our point is that it is politics which makes the world go round. It is people getting involved and taking ownership of what they want society to look like that make our lives more meaningful. The choice to be a shaper of society – as opposed to a receiver – is exactly that: a choice.
School leaders interested in change need to not shy away from politics. As Cicero wrote, ‘Citizens are made, not born’. Democracy is learned by doing, good practice and eventually ‘informed consent’. And that’s tricky, because we’re told to remain neutral. Neutrality paralyses us and we therefore never reach ‘informed consent’. Doing so is exactly why our world either stagnates or derails in ways which, personally, bother us.
How to reconcile this tension between the need to be neutral/impartial and the need to realise that politics isn’t neutral is a key question we need to ask ourselves – openly.
Politics, as people mostly define it, is mostly partisan. And that’s where we often get stuck. We have to take sides and that makes us biased, something many frown upon within schools. But politics doesn’t have to be – and, in fact – shouldn’t be partisan. Politics should simply be about ‘informed consent’, reached through dialogue and the need to establish what works for me, beyond me. In the words of Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who am I? When I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
Veteran Community Organiser Mike Gecan recently argued, in an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, that we need to be much more fluid about our political views. Having to stick to a ‘party line’ isn’t healthy.
So, taking this back to experiences we, as teachers, are very familiar with, let’s do something straightforward: let’s talk about what we believe is right in terms of the challenges our communities face and let’s take on those who have the power to affect the change we seek and convince them that they need to implement the changes we believe are right.
Take the issue of Pupil Premium funds being used by some private sector companies to the disadvantage of vulnerable families: the fact that some companies don’t give students in receipt of the Pupil Premium the change they’re entitled to when they purchase meals (charging them the full equivalent of their Pupil Premium allowance, without giving them their change back when using less than said allowance) is wrong. Taking on those private companies and/or the Local Authorities that use them doesn’t make us partisan or anti-capitalist: it simply makes us justice seekers.
Let’s open up a wider dialogue between teachers, students, and families within our schools so we establish what our views are and let’s make our teaching clearer about what we stand for and how our curricula can meet the wider needs of the society we have the power to shape. Let’s not shy away from saying what we think, as school communities. And more than that, let’s act on what we believe is right for, as we’ve said before, it is not hope that leads to action but, rather it is action that leads to hope.