Saturday, 30 October 2010

Students learn French

I always find discussing politics with students inspiring, and recently I have been lucky enough to speak with three different age groups.

Last Saturday I addressed university students at the fantastic Progressive Student conference in London.

Big ideas were prevalent, from tackling climate change to building international solidarity with struggles from Palestine to Venezuela.

There was real concern about the impact on students of the coalition government’s austerity drive, and a real determination to resist it.

My advice to the students was, 'learn French'! The militancy, confidence and sense of solidarity of French students are an inspiration to all, young and old, for the battles ahead.
Another inspiring experience was the UK Youth Parliament event in the Council House on Tuesday. Around 100 young people aged 15 and 16 attended a specially convened question and answer session on the topic of anti-racism. I was on a panel that included Benjamin Zephaniah, Cllr Karen Hamilton, Love Music Hate Racism and Hope Not Hate.

The panelists are always the least interesting part of these events and the young people were the stars of the show.

A number of the students expressed concern about the way anti-racism is not embedded in their curriculum and called for better training for teachers.

There was a strong call black history to be taught at school all year round, and not just during Black History Month.

One participant claimed there were over 1100 incidents of racism in just one third of our schools in Birmingham over the last year.

I found the discussion on whether single race or faith schools were a good idea very interesting. When put to a show of hands the vast majority of the overwhelmingly back and Asian audience voted that they preferred mixed schools.

All in all it was a really positive event and well done to Nick Anderson for helping to organize and inviting me to speak.

Finally, Balsall Heath Forum invited me to address some students from Queensbridge School who were taking part in a day’s activity at the Forum.

These students were mixed between Muslim and non-Muslim, and aged 14 and under. Interestingly, after I did an intro which largely focused on the local  work I do as councillor, most of the discussion was taken up with questions and comments about Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
We had a really interesting and open exchange. What struck me was that this was a generation too young to have experienced the anti-war movement at its height. The great student walk-outs in the city would have passed them by and for many it was the first time they were hearing the case of the Stop the War Coalition.
It was obvious too that some of the Muslim students, upset at the pain their brothers and sisters abroad had suffered at the hands of Western governments, were prey to an argument that this proved Western democracy and Islam were incompatible.

It is critical that space is provided for our young people to express themselves, free of the fear they will be negatively judged or criticized for doing so. And more effort needs to go into providing this space in the schools.
Well done to Balsall Heath Forum and especially to Pat Wing for organizing the day.