Brexit, used car salesmen and opportunists – an educational view from Europe

I left The UK more than twenty years ago. Not because I didn’t like it there, but because I had a Dutch girlfriend, the Maastricht treaty had just been signed and this interesting opportunity just came along. It wasn’t always easy, certainly dealing with the bureaucracy in the early years was complex and at times, less than a pleasure. But now, all that time later, I have absolutely no regrets. I have, for as much as it matters, dual nationality and I feel integrated into society. If you asked me if I feel more British than Dutch, then I would still say yes, I feel more British. Your formative years as a child, teenager and young adult, are it would seem, just that, very formative.

referendumWorking in education it is a privilege to play your small part in helping steer young people through these influential years and giving them some extra baggage and vision as they step out into the adult world. At the school where I work we make great efforts in broadening the international perspectives of our pupils, helping them see and understand wider contexts.  We organise trips abroad, exchanges with other countries and work experience placements that sometimes take the pupils quite literally to the other side of the world.  This is my Dutch educational context, but there are educational institutions all over Europe working along the same lines. The message is very much, ‘the world is your oyster’. With this as background it is very easy to see why the younger voters in Britain have been so despondent about the result of the referendum.

This week I have been asked so often for my thoughts on the whole Brexit debacle. I have watched from a distance with increasing disbelief. On Thursday night I was genuinely starting to believe that the remain campaign had done just enough. But no, headed by a group of opportunists behaving like secondhand car salesmen throwing their promises around a Pandora’s box has been levered open. What were the voters hoping that they discovered inside, a sort of nostalgic 1950s view of the country that never really existed?

There is clearly a very long way to go in this complex situation, and it does seem apparent that the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove might just be starting to realise just how complex. A poison chalice? Maybe, time will tell.

This week, when I get back to school I will doubtless be asked again for a perspective as one of two token ‘Brits’ on the teaching staff. I will talk about my bafflement at the behaviour of the politicians and my feeling of despair at the outcome. But above all the insular, inward turned message it gives. The world is a complex place, with difficult issues on any numbers of levels. It needs and requires cooperation and understanding, not distancing yourself when the going gets tough.  My teaching I hope reflects this stance. I want my pupils to feel engaged and that they have a place and a constructive relationship in the broader world.  Maybe if you plough through the statistics there are reasons for hope, a more open minded youth vote may seem to suggest it. But departure from the EU restricts perspectives, limits choices and does little to help young people find their place and their voice in a broader world. I don’t want the opportunity that I had, and took, to belong to the past.

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3 thoughts on “Brexit, used car salesmen and opportunists – an educational view from Europe

  1. Hi, Peter!
    I thought about asking you about your thoughts and feelings but you were faster.

    This caught my eye:”what were the voters hoping that they discovered inside, a sort of nostalgic 1950s view of the country that never really existed?”

    I shared this thought with my wife just a day before you posted this. It is hard to understand how so many English people can be so ignorant about the multicultural history of your country (Vikings, French…), the whole period of colonialism and the economical/political connection between Britain and Europe… (UN, EEC, OECD, NATO, EU… for a start). And, in the end it’s not about whether Britain is part of the EU or not – it’s about the ignorant, nationalistic, even racist climate and mindset behind all this.

    I take this a little personally because as you may well know we have this nationalistic, racist, separatist party in our government at the moment, our minister of foreign affairs is their leader (Timo Soini). He is a personal friend of Farage. You can imagine how happy they all are at the moment. Their support has gone down the drain in a year but now they have new wind under their wings – names are collected to support national referendum at the moment. Their view of racially pure, independent Finland is even more fictional – they long for the beginnings of 20th century, the national awakening and independence (Finland turns 100 next year).

    This situtation puts a lot of pressure and responsibility on education also. It must be frustrating to see how your own country is working against the great work you’re doing. For me it is only the educational system with it’s values working against art ed but…

    We are living interesting and uneasy times, I think.

    • I share you opinions absolutely. There are worrying things going on. I take some comfort in the fact that the UK does seem at the moment to be becoming something of an advert as to just how chaotic and messed up things can become if a country chooses this route…..painful though it is for many.

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