Holocaust Memorial Day and Political Education
My name is Joe Booth. I’m a 16-year-old left-wing Labour Party activist from the London Borough of Hackney. I’m currently in my final year at secondary school at an academy in Hackney Downs part of the Mossbourne Federation.
My school is a pressurizing experience: Students are given at least 2 pieces of long homework a day, Christmas was only for 13 days, the examination structure is 100% just exams, students get long detentions for simply standing up without permission, school starts at 8.17am every day and so it continues. But in this article I want to address another issue in studying, which is how school students should be entitled to political education, and specifically that issue is – as it’s an issue for this month (January) – is Holocaust Memorial Day and the need for political education over it.
Holocaust Memorial Day
At an assembly at my school, a teacher gave a lecture on Holocaust Memorial Day, and why it is important to never repeat those horrors of the Nazis: the Nazi ideal to kill millions of people just for their characteristic shall never be repeated!, we need to be wary and have open eyes on hatred and prejudice occurring today, it still occurs today with the situation of Donald Trump and his racism, sexism and homophobia. That’s all correct.
But don’t forget the more structural ways hatred and prejudice occurs in the modern world: black people are still murdered by the American police for the institutionally racist idea that they’re dangerous, migrants in the UK are still scapegoated and attacked by neo-fascists and our Tory government, our British government still sells weapons to Saudi Arabia which allows them to behead gays and women who don’t abide by patriarchy, a lot of Britons are indifferent to the catastrophes and casualties in the Syrian Civil War, and so it continues. So is prejudice and hatred still occurring?! Yes!!
It is, but we need to remember how structural it can be. What was the result of the 1993 racist murder of black student, Stephen Lawrence? The Metropolitan Police covered it up, and institutionally excused the killers, dismissing the voices of Stephen’s parents and their lawyer. Nevertheless, Stephen’s parents never stopped fighting and since then, led a campaign which bread the 1999 MacPherson Report that led to the sackings of the corrupt police who covered it up, and in 2013 Stephen’s mother, Doreen became a Labour Party Member of the House of Lords. You see, that gives us a much better understanding of how structural prejudice can be and how it still continues today, even in the most subtle means.
So, while the authorities rightly tell us to not be racist or otherwise discriminatory, but in our society, as we have just found, the authorities themselves advocate racism and discrimination. So, we need to learn to question and debate the authorities, which means that not only should we have political education at school but that it should be education in how to think critically rather than education as being told what to think.
So, on Holocaust Memorial Day, I will agree with the message we’re told by teachers that the Holocaust should not repeat but I am also going to think about why it happens and how to stop it from happening again, and not just on Holocaust Memorial Day but throughout the year.
Political Education and Stress in Studying
Now, I and some others have launched a campaign in September 2017 called Take The Stress Out Of Studying (TSOS) demanding to reduce distress, improve mental health and improve education. Here’s a link to the website: tsos.blog. Starting from Christmas, I set up a chat group of students at my school involved heavily in TSOS.
One of the group’s and other TSOS supporters’ demands was for political education and debating to be held in schools, without students having to submit to arbitrary school authoritarianism. What we need is political education and debating rather than just regularly-organised and rigid lectures from teachers about the issue where nobody gets to argue back or have a simple debate. In this case, we need more democratically-structured political education over the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust and why neither of the two should be repeated, and just as importantly, how we can recognise racism and discrimination today – and how structural the two can be.
Likewise, on December 9, 2017, I went to a Hackney Young Labour launch and we discussed ways to support the youth in Hackney within the education system: some of us argued for politics to be a compulsory school subject, and some others argued for more campaigns to be launched amongst the youth, like TSOS, and for more democratically-structured debating clubs to be held. Funny enough, I’m already in the process amongst Hackney Young Labours to establish a Young Labour group in Hackney, and if that works, a debating club will tentatively be opened – which I’ve already discussed with comrades – and there’ll be a bigger integration into politics.
So, while it is important that we learn properly about how to fight the existing prejudices in society, but under our school system, as we have just found, students are not learning to critique racism in such ways that we can think independently. So, we need to learn more political education within schools more regularly, which means that it should be education in how to think critically rather than education as being told what to think.
So, when we begin demanding for more political debating in the school system and specifically, to understand racism and discrimination in the modern world, we will demand, amongst the TSOS campaign, for more democratically-structured debating sessions and the chances to think more critically.
In solidarity, Joe Booth