Wednesday 15 December 2004

Teach them well and let them lead the way

For once I think I'm going to be positive about something.

I've just had a hugely encouraging day. I am now genuinely hopeful that the future of this country is in good hands. And before you ask, no. I'm not talking about any government or any politicians. Not yet anyway.

I've mentioned here before that I am part of a mentoring scheme that my work runs and act as the mentor to a kid from a local school. Today we went down to our offices in London with the kids to have a couple of talks, meet the UK managing director and to take the kids out on the London Eye (the idea is to encourage the kids and to fire their enthusiasm, as well as to get some feedback from the teachers and the mentors).

That was all very nice (and the London Eye is great. It's the first time I've seen the gherkin, and it looks fantastic). The real bonus of the trip for me though was getting to spend some time with a bunch of bright 14 year olds. As we were on the way back to the train station in the taxi, we were chatting with the cabbie about the usual stuff: how he had had that David Dickinson in his cab the other day, how Johnny Vegas was just like he is on the telly (i.e. drunk) and of how he was really interested in the First World War and has been researching the history of one of the regiments (his grandfather had been in the Irish Guards and had been shelled, shot and gassed during the war - but even that wasn't enough to stop him and he lasted well into the 1950s). This led us into a conversation with Michael (my mentee) about the first world war poets. They have been studying Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and have been comparing the optimism and patriotism of a poem like "The Soldier" with something like "Dulce et Decorum Est". I did something similar when I was at school, and I was pretty impressed.

This led me to ask what other books the kids were reading in English, and Michael told me that they had been reading a book on terrorism by a Polish author, and a post 9/11 book on terrorism by an American author, and had been discussing the importance of perspective (one man's terrorist being another's freedom fighter) and how a single event could dramatically shift that perspective.

Again, very impressive.

As the school they attend is a faith-based Church of England school, I asked if they had spent any time studying other religions like Islam. Apparently not, but this was because they were spending their RE classes looking at ethics at the moment, and were looking at the issues and controversy around abortion.

We live in a world where Darwin's theories of evolution are not taught in some places because they are deemed somehow threatening to our christian certainties about the world. We live in a world where in some places we are taught to believe that Islam is a threat to our democracies. We live in a world where people are murdered for their belief in the right of a mother to terminate a pregnancy. The list goes on and on. We seem to be making such a mess of the world, don't we?

I was so, so encouraged that the kids in this school are looking at some really big issues and are not being taught the answers, but are being taught to think for themselves.

As Snow Patrol say: mums and dads of the world be patient with your children...

Without wanting to be all corny about it, they are our future and all that.

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