The colleagues who produce these newsletters for us are sadly accustomed to my tendency to hand in my contribution at the 11th hour! But, of course, today, as I write this, at (quite literally!) 11:00, that hour has special significance, being that of the 11th day of the 11th month. It is Remembrance Day: the day each year when we recall with gratitude and due reverence all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries in war (note to FIFA- that’s all countries!).
I know many of you, like me, will be dismayed, even distraught, to have seen the recent political victories for those who promulgate division and exclusion- those who set a magnifying glass to the differences between races, religions and nations- those who fan our fears to feed our prejudices.
The old adage tells us that “we get the politicians that we deserve” but I believe it is exactly the opposite- politicians and governments get the electorates they deserve. Prejudice is de facto, the result of ignorance. The etymology of the word suggests we should define it as “judging before” i.e. before all of the relevant information has been considered. The antidote to prejudice is education.
Demographic analysis will show that those who voted for “Brexit” and Trump were on average older (and whiter and poorer) than those who voted the other way and my heart goes out to the millions of young people in the UK and the US who have been left bemused, angered and (worst of all!) disillusioned by the results of the recent electoral processes in their countries. Many of these older voters were not well-served by their educational experiences, leaving them susceptible to politicians who explain (and of course exaggerate) the ills of world in facile, emotive and prejudiced terms. However, far too many people under the age of 35 also supported “Brexit” and Trump for my liking, begging the question, “Are political leaders really doing enough to educate their electorates?” Notice how often politicians will use valuable air-time to convince us that their manifesto will deliver greater prosperity than that of their rivals. Politicians have “educated” us to use monetary wealth as the sole measure of success, even happiness. And yet how many of those who died for their countries in war would say that their main motivation in fighting was to secure greater wealth for themselves and their families? Very few, I suspect; my guess is that most, if asked, would have used one of two words to describe why they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice ….”peace” and “freedom”.
So yes, politicians need to raise the level of their public debates- stop talking about money and start talking to us about values and principles. Perhaps the greatest irony and tragedy of our current situation is that the one man who has set such a fine example in this regard, President Obama, is leaving the stage (broken-hearted, one suspects). But it is these same politicians who lead our public education systems and are they really doing enough to promote tolerance and altruism in our students?
You have heard me before saying that I believe an education in an excellent international school like KISU is priceless in preparing young people for life in the “global village”. But it is not just what such an education can do for the individual student but what, through those students, it can do for society at large. And what makes such an education so valuable…?
- Sharing your educational experience with children from all over the world of different races, ethnicities and religions in an environment where cultural, religious and ethnic diversity is celebrated
- Sharing your education with children of all different abilities and talents in an environment where each of you is equally valued and cherished as an individual
- Taking part in regular community service activities to raise your awareness of the challenges that so many face in their daily lives and enkindling in you a lifelong commitment to serving others
- Learning to work in teams of all kinds, whether in the classroom, the rehearsal room or the sports field and developing your ability to form and maintain relationships with all kinds of people
- Experiencing learning that challenges you to be inquisitive, resilient, collaborative and creative and where your voice in the process is heard and valued
- Experiencing learning that takes you beyond the classroom and out into the real world and that encourages you to see learning as a lifelong process of self-development rather than merely a ticket to a good university and future prosperity
- Learning to be confident and articulate in public forums
- Learning to take risks, to think critically and independently and to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in
- Experiencing learning that is designed to show you that things are often not as simple as they seem- that there are usually multiple sides to issues and that these deserve careful and thoughtful consideration
Political forces that promote division, exclusion, self-interest, fear, confrontation and prejudice are soon defeated history tells us. But if more children around the world were lucky enough to have an educational experience like the one our students enjoy, then I think we would be unlikely to have to experience again the sense of foreboding and trepidation that many of us feel today- and that on a day when we remember those who fought and died to secure peace and freedom for us.