Read what Chris Powers (our International Officer) has to say about European education in schools (or lack of!).
A friend of mine recently sent me an article written by a Raheem Kassam with the title “Yes, there is EU propaganda in schools, and it’s worse than you think (and no she didn’t buy the argument either). Essentially the author was trying to revive the UKIP idea that the youth are being brainwashed into supporting the EU, rather than simply that young people actually care about human rights, peace, mobility, and retaining a strong voice in the world. We’re happy to have multiple and overlapping entities be they local, regional, national, or supranational identities – both of the British and European kinds (both are unions of nations). No propaganda is needed to help people understand the benefits of working together rather than each tribe ploughing their own lonely furrow. Common humanity is instinct, tribalism is learned. It’s for this reason that lots of people in the UKIP say and do racist things, whereas young children only become bigoted if taught by their environment that that is a legitimate way to view the world. Unfortunately it seems to be easier to teach intolerance than it does tolerance. However, just because the brainwashing conspiracy is just that, a conspiracy, it does not mean that there is not a serious problem in our schools. The lack of political education in the UK is tragic, and worrying.
The European Union is a huge entity. In terms of its economy and its population it is bigger than the United States. Its ability and potential to affect not just member states like the UK, but powers like the US and Russia, and nearby regions like North Africa and the Middle East, is huge. And, the more we Europeans work together as a bloc, the more powerful a force this union is becoming. Even if you are against the European project, you have to know to some extent how the EU works, because like it or not it affects you, and will continue to do so. This will still be the case even if the eurosceptics somehow pluck an “OUT” vote at the end of this referendum campaign. Perhaps more importantly, the UK is a member of the European Union. It has votes in the European parliament, 73 out of 751. It has one representative in the European Commission (as do all member states). Ours is Jonathan Hill, Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. Representatives of our government in Westminster meet with the other heads of government in this European context too. We have seats in this world superpower and if you are in favour of the project, you need to understand it in order to improve it and make it work in your best interest. If you are against it, you need to understand it in order to how to make it more palatable to you, or how best to challenge it on rational grounds rather than screaming conspiracy.
Yet, if you speak to young people, the amount of education they have had about politics, at any level is miserably poor. I, for example, had none. Zero. Nada. Not once have I had a class about local councils, MPs, MEPs, my rights and responsibilities as a British and European citizen. Even those who do have had very little. There are no references to it in the National Curriculum as far as I can tell, and where people do learn it, the quality of teaching is highly inconsistent and often of a shoddy quality. Where there was a small mention of it, in geography (in the context of regional cooperation), Michael Gove had it removed (wrongly in my opinion). Moving on to further and higher education, there’s a few scattered opportunities to learn about the EU. Again, it can appear in human geography, it could appear in Politics (though people overwhelmingly study the American system rather than the European one), or in Economics. However, I managed to learn the history of Europe in the 20th century and the Cold War with absolutely no mention of the European project. And don’t expect it to appear in the Sciences, Maths, Literature, or even Modern Foreign Languages. Having learned French since the age of 11, not one lesson has mentioned the European Union. At degree level, the opportunities are even more limited. Scientists leave with no knowledge of the EU until it comes to applying for research funding (a great benefit of our EU membership). Social scientists are a mixed bag depending on which branch they study, but again the EU can receive very short shrift in the teaching. And finally for me as a history student, I took pains to study postwar European integration, and I did get a chance to read the literature surrounding the European project, but how many of my peers at Cambridge had a clue how the EU came together? Whatever number you’re thinking, it’s much lower I promise!
So then this article goes on to criticise the James Madison Trust and the European Movement for doing some pro-bono pedagogical work to compensate for this government failure. The specific leaflet they screenshot is years’ old and pretty patronising looking. No glamorous colouring books, maps etc here unfortunately. And this is a reflection on the fact that both organisations are, unfortunately, really quite small. James Madison Trust has a small board of trustees and funds projects based on federalism, to spread understanding of what it is all about. As the overwhelming majority of people in the UK (including some of the keenest pro-Europeans) jump to the idea of an American superstate when they hear the word, there is definitely a need to to correct this. (For people’s information, European federalism is based on the principle of subsidiarity and powers are located at the lowest appropriate level, the debates are over what is the appropriate level and the idea is you elect politicians to challenge and move these powers around accordingly.) The European Movement too, is hardly a goliath to UKIP’s David. The Eurosceptics are well funded from many sources, and they have the support (to differing extents) of almost all the media in the UK (think your Daily Mail, Daily Express, Telegraph, Times, Sun). The European Movement isn’t even on the official ‘IN’ campaign, it was sidelined along with British Influence and Business for New Europe in favour of a different grouping of individuals. If these two organisations are a well-oiled propaganda machine, and I as someone who works with both organisations can’t see it, then it’s absolutely certain that dear Raheem can’t see it either.
That well-oiled propaganda machine with its nefarious smiling stars…
We need to have information on our governments, at every level from local to European. Instead of complaining about the few keen activists trying to bring some light to bear on what the hell the EU does, maybe these haters should do their bit to work on bringing forth political education on the UK and local governments. If they did, they may even debunk some of their own Euromyths in the process.
P.S. If you’re a YEM member, we also have a Europe @ School programme. The aim is to encourage debate about Europe and issues around it. If you’re interested, get in touch!