“Honduras! Where’s that, sir?” That was the reaction I got when one of my tutees pulled out the Central Americans in our form’s World Cup sweepstake on the eve of the World Cup last week. My initial thought was to decry the National Curriculum’s insistence on teaching the intricacies of soil erosion and not basic geographical knowledge but being a professional educator, I kept my lip buttoned and rationally pointed out where it could be found on the map. Needless to say, all I received for this bout of spontaneous educating was a shrug of adolescent shoulders and a curt yet knowing dismissal of “Well, what’s the point in supporting them? They’re never going to win!”. Teenaged boys, they’re all about the winning.
I wasn’t holding out much hope for the students at my school showing any particular sense of fraternal leanings towards their fellow citizens of this planet. I teach at a boy’s comprehensive in leafy suburbia and through no particular fault of their own, the boys don’t necessarily have the contact with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds as some children might, in more urban and urbane locations such as London and Manchester. By and large they’re white, working class and like all children, prone to soaking up the opinions of their elders and articulating these thoughts and beliefs as their own. The General Election merely brought the issue of colour and stereotyping to the fore. As a form, we took a multiple-choice survey which asked you to pick the policies you most agree with without knowing which political party proposed them. I was left equally worried/horrified and quietly hopeful that the form was split down the middle between the political agendas of the British National Party and the Green Party; the worry/horror was for the former to be clear. The outcome of similar polls conducted by my colleagues garnered similar responses which led to a series of assemblies on the subjects of race and distinguishing fact from opinion which will culminate in a week dedicated to community cohesion in the last week of term. Despite our best efforts as a staff, I was getting the impression that we were teaching young boys who were already disillusioned, disaffected and susceptible to the distorted views of those pushing an agenda of fear and ignorance. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s televised point-scoring did little to assuage these concerns. “What’s it got to do with us?” the boys responded to the debates. “Nothing ever changes”.
Nothing ever changes. How awful those words are to hear emanating from boys who have a lifetime to get used to the setbacks and hardships that life will throw their way. But not now. Not at the age of fifteen. And then the World Cup started…
“Oh my god, did you see North Korea last night. sir? They were brilliant! I soooo wanted them to win,” exclaimed Robert this morning as he entered my classroom. Nothing too revelatory there, I know. Robert had pulled out North Korea in the sweepstake and pulled another one of those screwed up teenaged faces as is his wont, cursing his luck. But then, The Moment. “Sir, do you think they’ll see the game in North Korea? They don’t have the same freedom over there right, cos they’re Communists.” And then followed the class discussing the political philosophy which dominates North Korean society and whether or not they thought it was fair. And the conversation about how the media can influence what you think followed swiftly by the chitter chatter of who was playing who today. Not Spain versus Switzerland. But Ashley versus Ollie. All this from boys who had proudly stated to me last Friday that they couldn’t be bothered watching the games if England weren’t involved. All of a sudden, their cocoons of insularity had been shattered and metamorphosing before my eyes were young man becoming conscious of the complexions and variety which the wider world has to offer them.
This hasn’t been an isolated incident. I’ve asked boys to write down all 32 competing nations without help and consequently point them out on a map of the world; and by and large they’ve completed the tasks with aplomb – “I’ve got geography next. This is well helpful”. Knowing that I’m fervently supporting my country of origin, the boys have been consciously looking out for Greece’s progress in the competition and took great delight in good-naturedly jeering me as I walked into class on Monday after the team’s abysmal display against South Korea on Saturday. And as each day of the World Cup passes, they continue to show that education does not necessarily have to come from the textbook and the whiteboard. What is happening is that these boys are being introduced to the world through images of twenty-two men chasing a ball in a country thousands of miles away. And they’re swatting away my pessimism in the process.
They’ve ended the school year early in Algeria in order for schoolchildren to be able to watch every game. Our political masters in Whitehall should seriously consider doing the same.
As for my tutee, who so flagrantly disregarded his random allegiance to Honduras… as he left the class today for break, he turned round to me and said, “We’re playing today, sir”. The World Cup – reaching those places where politicians fail to reach.
Wednesday 16th June:
Group H: Honduras 0 – Chile 1
Spain 0 – Switzerland 1
Group A: South Africa 0 – Uruguay 3