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Primary Education News
News Put the teaching of protest on the national curriculum | Patrick Strudwick
No wonder those who uphold power object to lessons in protest – they'd rather children didn't know how the status quo changes
The first time I protested I caused criminal damage. There was a poster on the wall of my school, advertising an after-school football club for boys, and so, aged 11, I took a thick, brown marker pen and scrawled "SEXIST" across it. Did this somewhat puerile act of vandalism immediately lead to girls being granted access to the sport? Of course not. It was thousands of kids in thousands of schools saying: "This is unfair, girls deserve equal opportunities". Twenty-five years later, female pupils can kick as many plastic spheres through as many posts as they wish. That's what I call a goal. That is the beautiful history of protest. And this, knowing the long, non-linear path dissent takes, is why every child should be taught it.
The Daily Mail is today vibrating in a paroxysm of indignation over the Unite campaign to encourage schools to give lessons in protest. To the Mail, showing kids videos about how to make placards and make the slogans more powerful, is giving lessons in "how to carry out militant protests". In fact it is more like, "how to challenge the powerful", "how to use your voice" and, very often, simply, "how to make life fairer".
The Sun is also outraged: it has discovered that a "leader" in the fracking protests, journalist Jamie Kelsey-Fry, has written GCSE textbooks on citizenship. The horror! An activist writing words read by secondary school pupils! What nobler art than protest could be imparted to our children? What better example is there of citizenship? Few things are as fertile as knowing the change unleashed through determined righteousness, of realising how rarely power yields after a solitary demonstration, but how often it yields to a movement.
No wonder those who uphold power start frothing at the mouth. They would rather no one was aware that protest's history is a tale of a million tortoises, bumbling along, messing up, sometimes giving up, before finally overtaking the hare. They would rather you listen to the chorus of status quo-enabling naysayers. Every time someone bleats that going on that march, or boycotting a firm "won't do anything", I yearn for children to study Martin Luther King, or the Pankhursts or Tiananmen Square's "tank man", and imbibe the higgledy-piggledy truth about protest.
Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, this week blamed young people who are neither in work nor education for their predicament, citing not the dire economy, nor the £9,000-per-year university fees, but instead the lack of "grit" and "self-control" in our youth. If there is any truth to his smears, I have a suggestion for him: put protest on the national curriculum. What greater emblem of grit and self-control is there than Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai? A 16-year-old, shot in the head and neck by the Taliban for demanding girls be educated, and carrying on, refusing to be bowed?
We never know the ripples that splay out from any form of demonstration. Rosa Parks had no idea what she would trigger. Neither did those marching against the poll tax, nor the sewing machinists in Dagenham in 1968 demanding equal pay.
It's never straightforward but every demonstration ricochets somewhere. The achievements in gay equality can be attributed less to every Pride march than to the stunning rebellion of individuals coming out and changing the attitudes of those around them. The feminist movement has used every tool available to hack away at the patriarchy. But more effective than the sole suicide of Emily Davison, is the millions who say every day in every action, "women deserve equality". All are protest. All methods should be relayed to enrich and inform our children.
If we really care about today's youth, we must equip them to know that protest isn't simply a march, a petition, a boycott, or a placard. It is the very essence of empathy and humanity: to demand power listens to the powerless. And they must know, too, that in the end it always does. Just ask Casey Stoney, captain of the England women's football team.