I benefitted from a liberal academic education, whose main purpose was, I believe to develop the intellect for whatever eventualities should arise. It equipped me to make a good life for myself, but above all it sowed the seeds for an appreciation of the power of knowledge and reasoned thought.
My (teacher) parents supported this with the same values and by ensuring that I had a good foundation in speaking French, which I have subsequently developed to near-fluency and also branched out into DIY German and Italian. Our many continental childhood holidays also pushed back our frontiers, a process I have also continued in my adult life by travelling widely within Europe, forging friendships and familiarising with places such that the continent does not feel in the least alien to me.
The erstwhile tendency of people in this country to go distances to university further cultivated the ability to cope with other places, and to extend one’s horizons; this tendency too seems to be in decline.
Forget exam grades, targets, value added and even employability; the most important job for education is the rolling back of prejudice and ignorance, not by indoctrination but simply by expanding horizons such that the limitations of smaller thinking become obvious. They say travel broadens the mind, and in my experience this is absolutely true, not only by pushing the frontiers back and fostering tolerance and adaptability but also by casting a different light on one’s own roots within the larger scheme of things.
And yet the people of this island have today demonstrated that their collective will is the antithesis of the above. They have once again demonstrated an insularity that is nothing more than fear and defensiveness against a world they do not understand. Nothing in the last four months was ever going to combat the previous forty years of indifference and misinformation, of failure to give the people of the U.K. anything like a citizen’s pride in being part of the European Project.
Some will claim that Britain can return to its glorious past, something I am not entirely sure it ever really had when viewed through any prism other than the national myth. And in any case, the true measure of a people who have come to terms with The Other – the fact that people are both very alike and very different – is the need neither to serve nor rule them, neither to fear nor to dominate.
Personally I am very angry that this decision has robbed me of a significant part of my identity, and indignant that this has been done not on the back of level discussion but of bigotry and fear. I have devoted a significant part of my career to developing informed and reasoned discussion of the European issue, both through the ‘A’ Level subject and my wider teaching. It seems it has been for nothing.
Many of my colleagues expressed distress and dismay at the result – but few are old enough to remember the past thirty years, during which to be outwardly pro-European was to be a voice in the wilderness, even within education circles.
The views of the populace have clearly been formed by many factors, of which formal education is but one – but if the giving of a lead to the less informed by the more is not part of education, then I really am lost for what it is for. ‘Employability skills’ will be as naught if the worst economic consequences of Brexit come to pass – and we have likely blown our supposedly global reputation for tolerance and reason too.
Forget the myopic navel-gazing and petty squabbles of the education world: when it comes to equipping the nation with something as important as the ability for mature civic deliberation, I fear we failed. In the U.K. fear born of ignorance rules and we remain as unable as ever to comprehend the true significance of The Other.