The Case for Compulsory Political Education

The United Kingdom needs compulsory political education. An opinion so universally agreed upon, and beneficial to all aspects of society, that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been made law. Michael Gove was so insistent on radical, wholesale reform that he never really saw the genuine issues with our education system. Nicky Morgan talked a big game, but ultimately failed to deliver much at all. Justine Greening has only been in office for a few months at the time of writing, but has made no promises to respond to the call that has grown ever more insistent – particularly in the fallout from the UK’s referendum on the European Union.

The arguments are plentiful. You can rattle them off one-by-one: A Politics class for 14-16 year olds would give them a better understanding of how the world around them works. More politically knowledgeable teens would be more likely to vote, and thus key decisions (such as referendums and elections) would be more representative. Universal understanding of politics and the decisions being taken by government makes the government more accountable for its actions. Perhaps best of all, political education negates the effect of media spin and bias – we would form our own opinions, rather than simply doing what we’re told.

There are a hell-of-a-lot of myths surrounding key political figures and the world of party politics. It may come as a surprise to some, if you haven’t had the opportunity of political education, but the Conservatives don’t actually hate poor people. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t actually make a point of being friends with terrorists. Politicians that voted for airstrikes in Syria in 2015 don’t actually condone the murder of innocent children. Funny – if the only political education you’d ever had was from The Sun or The Daily Mail you would swear otherwise.

It’s no secret that youth voter turnout in the UK is dire. The EU referendum churned out arguably the most horrific stats yet: 36% turnout in 18-24 year olds. A study by the University of Warwick showed that Britain has the worst youth voter turnout in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation & Development,) which is comprised of 35 major economic powers. Since 1964, the 18-24 age group has consistently been the worst for voter turnout in general elections. This isn’t because all teens are politically apathetic – on the contrary, it was young people who were most outraged as Britain voted to leave the European Union – just that many have become disillusioned with the political establishment and the media. Indeed, many never have the electoral process explained fully to them. In discussion with young people that didn’t vote in the EU referendum, the most common excuse was: “I didn’t know enough to feel that my vote was valid.” That, in no sense of the term, is representative democracy.

After all, where is the harm? The few opponents of political education that I’ve come across have one main argument; some worry that some teachers may have extreme views that they could impress on young teenagers. Ridiculous. Teachers already go through an intense screening to ensure they’re the right kind of person to be working with children. A political curriculum set by an independent and neutral board, would mean a diehard communist teacher couldn’t preach Leninism as fact without all of his or her students failing dismally.

As the UK grows ever more outward-looking and internationalist in its dealings, we need a politically educated future generation. If nothing else, political education would teach teens critical thinking in a way they aren’t currently exposed to.

What, really, are we waiting for?

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