I caught up with Tom Sherrington’s post Preventing-radicalisation-lets-not-clutch-at-straws in the same week that I had held an assembly with the school to reflect upon the issue. We thought about the students and staff at Bethnal Green who were coping with the spotlight being upon them, but I then tried my best to find a way through the complexity of the situation and have a just and considered response to the situation.
The assembly focused upon what is my favourite theme and the one to which nearly all my assemblies return – the importance of recognising our place in the world and our duty to our world.
Schools always find themselves reflecting on the moral decisions made by students – I have raised this issue before in More than Grades and yet there remain some who believe that schools do not have that place. It was the subject of an entertaining discussion on twitter in January.
My views are affected by my experiences in the 1980s of having developed a celebration to the surviving members and their fallen comrades from the International Brigades who left their homes in the 1930s and travelled to Spain to fight fascism. It was an honour to devise a piece of drama, involving songs and poetry, to commemorate their sacrifice. I met veterans such as Syd Booth as well as the champions of the working class movement library – Eddie and Ruth Frow. It has been their commitment and belief in the need to fight this evil that continues to inspire me today and yet it was also a situation where British people left home to travel to what seemed the other side of the world to take part in a conflict that many here saw as none of their business.
My assembly did not then focus upon the view of the present conflict as “alien” or separate from our own lives, nor did it attack the willingness of people to travel independently to the other side of the world in order to intervene, but instead upon the importance of ensuring that our decisions are based upon a clarity of moral vision (my own contribution to what others may call “British values” but what I call common decency without the royal jubilee mugs). To recognise our place in the world which creates good and empowers us, rather than fall into a trap of seeking self-justification through conformity to a message of evil is the rightful role of education. People whose minds have been locked into destructive thought processes are not limited to the type of situation that has engulfed those girls. Pressures like that create current gang members, criminals and fascists, whatever their creed or colour.
It still leaves the delicate situation of how exactly the current government would have dealt with the veterans of the International Brigades, and whether they would have been criminalised by a less than sophisticated response to the current rise of fundamentalism.