Current Affairs: The Oppidan Way
As a child, I would often fancifully picture my adult self reading the morning newspaper and drinking a strong black coffee. There can be little doubt that a cup of coffee is an essentially adult image; regrettably, the same is largely true of the newspaper.
It’s all too easy to communicate to children that politics belongs only to the adult world. Accordingly, a child will often accept from a very early age that their place in political discussion is that of a privileged outsider. As a mentor, I notice repeatedly that children are intimidated by political discussion, and I believe that this is largely a result of an unnecessary adult-ising of politics.
We’ve decided to launch a series of current affairs workshops to combat this problem.
Engagement with current affairs is becoming increasingly important within education. As the school entrance process at 11+ and 13+ is slowly revolutionised and leading schools move away from traditional exam-driven modes of examination, Oppidan’s emphasis on the roundedness of a child’s education grows more and more relevant by the year. Political stories are often used as a launch pad for discussion in interviews, but for many children this serves to reinforce the adult-child interview dynamic and makes them hesitant to think and speak freely.
We all perform at our best in interviews when we feel respected as an equal, but the problems outlined above often make this much less likely for a child who is confronted with a political topic in a school interview. As the school years tumble into the Sixth Form, a wider awareness of political issues is overtly rewarded in many humanities subjects – and the increasing emphasis on independent study, as enshrined in the mission statements of the increasingly popular Pre-U and the Extended Project Qualification, has cemented this more deeply. In short, children who can engage with current affairs and political issues with humble curiosity and confidence are rewarded in abundance.
There is compelling evidence that increased understanding of current affairs correlates with increased academic performance across the full range of subjects. That is, even when allowing for similarities in educational and socio-economic background, there seems to be an indirect relationship between engagement with current affairs and broader academic performance that sees increased performance even in seemingly unrelated subjects such as maths!
The fundamental aim of a parent, so goes the adage, is to make themselves redundant. I try to order my mentoring according to the same maxim, and a core part of the joy of working with Oppidan has been getting the chance to talk at length with Henry, Walter, and the team about the values and skills we should strive to leave our mentees with. ‘Humble curiosity, confidence, and adaptability’ can sometimes become something of a tag-line, but in the day-to-day work of a mentor it acts as a yardstick against which progress and value can be measured.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing several children grow in their understanding of political events and relationships over a number of years. At each turn, this engenders a level of humility and confidence that empowers them throughout their daily lives; and, as they grow older and their lives become increasingly complex, a social and intellectual adaptability shines through. These are nebulous terms, of course, but in practice they allow a child to take their learning beyond the classroom, to experience themselves as a member of the community, and to nourish themselves as life-long learners. After all, in the trenches of the adult world, the newspaper often represents our great daily opportunity to learn.
Our workshops are structured to help children engage with the pressing importance of politics and to develop their analytical skills. We believe that through group engagement and the interactive nature of the workshops, we are taking a vital first step towards providing a platform for children to engage with political discussion as equals.
By Michael Slade, Oppidan Mentor & Speaker
Our first current affairs workshop will be on Tuesday January 16th at 5:30pm and arrives in time for a busy few weeks of school 11+ and 13+ interviews in the latter half of January. Accordingly, it is pitched at an appropriate standard for these age groups. The bedrock of the workshop’s content will be the week’s three central stories. We will be unpacking the importance and relevance of each story, and throughout we will be considering how different media coverage can alter our view of each story. Using a variety of media, the workshop will act variously as a lecture, a political discussion group, and political theatre.
To book your ticket for the event at Second Home, Holland Park, please email email@example.com