To celebrate the start of #iwillweek, in which schools, colleges, and wider cross-sector organisations will be celebrating youth social action across the UK, #iwill campaign Education Youth Adviser, George Fielding, blogs about why he thinks social action should be embedded in what every school offers.
“One voice can change a room, a city, a country, the world” – Barack Obama
“The taboo is broken; we do not live in the best possible world” – Slavoj Žižek.
I’m happy to be charged with naïve optimism. Defined as practical action in the service of others to create positive change, social action exists to communicate and work towards the best possible world. “#iwill…”, however one chooses to finish their statement, resembles a commitment to act and contribute. Your pledge, whatever it is, enables you to do three things. One: take pride in your passion. Two: to articulate how you intend to apply yourself in pursuit of the change you want to see. Three: to actually bring about this change. Standing still only results in you going backwards in the end. We need to constantly move, act together, and communicate with one another if we are to continue to provide the best life chances for young people, whatever their background or circumstances.
Engaging in social action is one very good means through which we can adjust and stay attuned to the many challenges our society faces. Really there are just three things a young person needs in order to get started on their social action journey. One: an interest or passion. Two: a desire to make a change. Three: a willing facilitator of the activity.
I know that everybody believes in something enough to want to change it or make the situation better. It’s the third point that is, therefore, my area of focus
It only takes one encounter with the right person to change somebody’s fortunes overnight. An example: yesterday I heard the uplifting story of a volunteer for Poet in the City who desperately wanted to edit and present a podcast. Like many organisations Poet in the City have a wonderfully skilled but small team of three people so are always looking for new ways to promote their work. The podcast was set up. As a result, the volunteer now plays the important role of communicating the value of the arts to an ever-expanding audience and consequently can now be seen working for the BBC! A great career in prospect. Job done. Tick. The moral of the story to me, though, is that the initial conversation that sparked the mutual development of the volunteer and Poet in the City could have taken place anywhere: in a school, hospital, local youth club.
We must never cease in our attempts to connect in education: subject to subject, person to person, business to business, business to school and so on. We learn from each other and develop together. Decisions made today will affect all of our tomorrows.
Social action needs facilitators who are willing to lead and give young people the space and time to devote to their cause. And this is where those in education can make all the difference. In fact, this is where the education sector is crucial.
Why? Because 74% of young people said they got involved in social action through their school. A large proportion of those engaged in social action started at or before the age of eleven (48%). That’s a large number of people that must be both encouraged to continue this activity and held up as role model to their peers that are yet to have engaged. Always looking to do good and lend a hand is not a bad habit to get into.
Besides the numbers we must not forget that human beings teach through their actions, words and body language. A case in point: my two favourite teachers at secondary school, Mr Rosser and Mr Thompson, did not teach me in the conventional sense. There were no classrooms involved. Every day I saw them in the corridors and canteen, however. Both seemed to thrive in the scrum after the bell sounded, which marked the end of class. They were found in the crowd, always in conservation with students, not lost behind their desks. They smiled. They evidently loved their jobs. From day one it was clear to me they wanted to be teachers and encouraged their students to be whoever they wanted to be - including me. I remember that and the fact they loved West Ham United and Preston North End respectively. How cool that is, I thought! I know something about their lives beyond the school gates! They live lives that are, in some small way at least, relatable to mine! And for that lesson #iwill forever be grateful.
For if I managed to relate to Mr Rosser and Mr Thompson, how hard can it be to find a similarity I share with each person I meet? Work uniforms, job titles, offices. These apparent symbols of status (among others) need not be intimidating. Behind everything, there is a person who has something to say and share. Collectively it is our duty to listen. That's how we learn - through the ultimate collaborative act of conversation.
I've two points here. One: yes, schools, colleges and universities are the primary educational establishments but an education can take place anywhere. We should not seek to confine the practice to the four walls of the classroom! Two: remember quid pro quo. However much teachers input, student can, with encouragement and confidence in their ability to contribute, give it back in return.
By being a wheelchair user I count myself lucky. For reasons out of my control I often find that I am a source of intrigue and bafflement. Besides being the thing that my cats love to sleep in at night, my wheelchair never fails to break the ice. Love it or hate it, I'm different and always will be. Where my wheelchair doesn't fit (like, literally, on many occasions, in a classroom), I don't either. I've had to take control of my life because half of the time, and this is nobody's fault, I am the only one that understands my experience and circumstances. Yet what right do I have to say I understand other people's lives?
I believe that an education which incorporates youth social action is more likely to be fair. Youth social action, in and of itself, is a fair form of education. I’m not alone in saying that without an assistant, I can’t write much beyond my own name with a pen. However slow or uninterested they were, I was tied to my amanuensis’s hand. When working independently, I could either ferociously ask questions or gaze out of the window in an attempt to formulate what to Google when I got home.
Mind you I never truly went straight home but to youth parliament meetings, concerts, theatre productions, debates, leisure centres. Watching, listening, speaking, learning.
It may have been borne out of necessity but my education (confidence, wellbeing, connections) are the result of youth social action.
#iwill always see it as my duty to point this out to people and offer youth social action opportunities to others, will you? Do so this week and every week. I grant you that you’ll see evidence of the “double benefit” #iwill campaign partners rightly talk about within seconds.
Join over 600 organisations from across different sectors of society and make your #iwill pledge today to help EVERY young people get involved in social action. Visit http://www.iwill.org.uk/ and make your pledge today!