To boost activism beyond Red Nose Day, we need political education in schools

What are the roots of British social apathy?

Share
Related Topics

“830 million people are chronically undernourished, 1.1 billion do not have safe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation.” Our lecturer pauses to look up at a silent auditorium.

But the silence is not a stunned one.

The hungover international relations student, staring blankly at an attractive girl four rows above him, just about epitomises the level of interest around the room.

“Roughly one third of all human deaths - around 18 million per year - are due to poverty-related causes,” she continues.

There's a muffled sigh nearby; Facebook miraculously appears on a number of Apple laptop screens; whilst another student deliberates over whether his Jack Wills polo shirt collar really should remain upturned.

The response to these revelations? Most simply don't care.

That might sound like a harsh assessment, considering the substantial and excellent work worldwide, but look around: do ordinary people have any interest in, or solutions to, major global problems?

Comic Relief suggests they do, but the interest is fleeting.

The truth is, through whatever combination of overexposure and apathy, we have become desensitised to the suffering of others: another African crisis or another 50 deaths in Syria is most often met by tuts towards the nation's television screens.

If a room of politically aware students aren’t jolted by such shocking statistics, the wider trend must be truly appalling.

Yet this is not due to the 'moral decline' fairytale the Right might have you believe. For centuries youths have been blamed for degrading standards. Even in 800 BC, a claim attributed to Hesiod stated: “(there is) no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the youth of today.” If this continual slide were anything other than fantasy, we would probably have already witnessed some sort of self-inflicted human extinction about three centuries ago.

Back in a less hyperbolic reality, widespread political engagement has always been relatively limited. The current increase in British apathy has its roots in social factors: the lack of a vehicle for social change, the widely held belief that politicians are “all the same”, and – in fairness – some satisfaction amongst the middle classes with their comfortable living standards.

It is a difficult trend to buck, particularly when the precedent of inactivity has been set. But what could change that is political education. Why is it compulsory to learn about shape theorems, textiles and gymnastics, but not the political system under which we live? Secondary school pupils leave education without formal teaching in such basic things as how the British political system operates, an overview of mainstream ideologies - alongside their (apparently) corresponding UK parties, and the mechanics of different voting systems. If Michael Gove could make another U-turn - on his entire, misguided agenda - and introduce this one simple initiative, he might find that in ten years’ time genuine political interest would have increased.

Currently, the vast majority of people do not think they can change global poverty and they do not believe that voting in a by-election will bring any change to their own lives. This can be seen as apathy, but can also be qualified as rational apathy. Whilst there is vast scope to increase interest, such measurements do not represent the potential for a political response from the public, nor their despair at the state of politics.

As was seen in the student protests of 2010, the anger and desperation currently simmering beneath the surface can morph into more conventional political resistance, if people's lives are directly impacted. Calls for change would become ever louder if only a viable mouthpiece was found; especially when the cuts hit and hit and hit again.

Once such a movement has been created and some progress made, people will realise that even in today's world, change can be exacted from below. Once that truth is realised, perhaps then we will see a real reaction to poverty and global problems on a wider scale. But to have any chance of eradicating it entirely, education, motivation and organisation are first essential.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea