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Opinion Maturing mindsets matter

A recent survey showed that young people under 25 have little or no consciousness of radical history. That's something we have to change, says CHRIS JURY

THE TOLPUDDLE Radical Film Festival is now in its fifth year and, next month, in association with General Federation Of Trade Unions, we'll be running the children and young people's programme Rebel Girls to mark the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote.

 

That programme at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival next month features strong young female protagonists who are in their own way striving for liberation. It includes films such as She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (pictured), Sisters in Law, La Souriante Madame Beudet, Suffragette, Frida, Ballad for Syria, Real Women Have Curves and Bambule.

 

Some may question what showing films to kids has got to do with radical politics but the answer became apparent while researching for the People’s History Hub, a two-year digital media project to create the “go-to’”online educational resource exploring the history and heritage of the working-class struggle for liberty, democracy and social justice in England and Wales.

 

An online survey testing levels of historical knowledge on figures and events such as Wat Tyler, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Peterloo Massacre and the Jarrow Crusade produced startling results. Of the 150 people between the ages of 14-75 completing the survey, only a tenth of those under 25 could answer any of the questions correctly at all.

 

Over 65, it was the reverse with nine out of 10 scoring the correct answer. Young people under the age of 25, it seems, know virtually nothing at all about this history.

 

This indicates a serious crisis in political education in this country. But perhaps the most amazing fact uncovered by our research was that in 1974 the Blue Peter Annual carried a four-page picture article on the Tolpuddle Martyrs and a full-colour spread praising trade union banners.

 

Both articles were based on items broadcast on the programme the previous year, at a time when Blue Peter was attracting audiences of eight million — practically every child in the country under 18. Almost every one of them could turn on the telly to see the iconic programme of mainstream children’s television in Britain presenting positive stories about the history of the trade union movement. Think about that.

 

This anecdotal fact about a kids TV show in the 1970s illustrates a very important point about political education. Seventy per cent of the responders to the People’s History Hub survey reported that their knowledge of political history came from popular culture or their own private reading.

 

Since 1979, diverse political opinion has been almost completely erased from our public discourse. The education curriculum, our popular culture and our media have become places where it is only possible to affirm and promote neoliberal cultural, economic and political values. So much so that the mildly reformist and neo-Keynesianism of Corbyn is daily portrayed as rabid totalitarian communism.

 

Yet the faulty logic underlying this rigid neoliberal hegemony is being exposed and we have seen dramatic disruptions to political norms across the world. The democratic political world is once more alive with possibility but equally fraught with dangers. In some cases we have seen a flourishing of liberal and democratic ideas but in others a retreat to racist nationalism and isolationism.

 

Never have young people been asking so many questions and needing so many answers. Making the ideas of equality, liberty and social justice accessible and available to children and young people has never been more important. Our schools, popular culture and media aren’t going to do it, so we are going to have to.

 

Chris Jury is a screenwriter and Creative Director of Public Domain Arts and Media. Details of the People's History Hub are available at peopleshistoryhub.org.uk and the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival at tolpuddleradicalfilm.org.uk. The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival runs from July 20-22, details: tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk

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