Few would argue that the world has changed in a significant manner over the last decade through a combination of geopolitics and communication technology. The rapid rate of change seems to have caught most people off-guard and as a result is struggling to keep pace. Very few analysists have been able to predict the kind or rate of change, least of all those of us in the education sector. After all teachers are the ones charged with the responsibility of preparing children for the future – a future we shape but cannot predict.
The rapid rise of extremism facilitated by the availability of mass communication technologies suddenly became a reality. Those who embraced extreme views in the past can now just as easily share same with millions of people across borders in quick time. Fears and hatred which persons quietly harboured can now be shared with a sense of efficiency, finding resonance in like-minded individuals across the globe. Where not long ago persons were sceptical to share their feelings of racism, xenophobia, fascism, religious intolerance, bigotry and homophobia, now such feelings can be boldly shared with a sense of anonymity.
The result has been the rise to power of world leaders who harbour such extreme views. Such leaders are suddenly espousing views that were not long ago considered antithetical to the creation of a just and good society based on fundamental principles of democracy. Suddenly democratic institutions and rights are under intense pressure and freedoms that were not long ago taken for granted are now being suddenly called into question. Absolute rulers wielding absolute power threatens to regain root in places which rejected such through bloody struggles.
Teachers now find themselves in this quagmire of geopolitics, preparing their charges to survive in a world where critical thinking poses the biggest threat to the propagation of extremism and the survival of absolute leaders. Misinformation is being used as the preferred weapon of choice to ensure that the line between fact and reality cannot be distinguished. Standardized tests, education privatization and demonization of teacher unions come in a close second as subsidiary weapons of democratic subversion.
No longer can we rely on the media and the judiciary to be the vanguards of democracy. Democratic principles of fairness, equity, equality, social justice and respect are being replaced by hate, bigotry, greed, individualism and selfishness because too many of us have taken democracy for granted. We have abdicated our social responsibility to stand proudly and defend democracy and its institutions, allowing minority views to take root through complacency. Classrooms failed to ensure students are equipped with the knowledge, skills and aptitudes needed to stand guard and defend democratic principles of humanity won through centuries of bloody battles.
Our roles have been redefined for us in this new global order. No longer can we be content to deliver academic curriculum. Our task encompasses the promotion and propagation of human rights and democracy as fundamental priorities. In short we are about the creation of good decent human beings and a fair and just society. Our charges must be imbibed with the capacity to think critically, analyse, evaluate and be brave enough to reject notions of far-right extremism. Schools and the education it imparts must assume a broader focus and scope. Its mandate must be located in a new global order that threatens to return modern society to the era of maximum leaders and monarchs, where human capital is perceived as property to be owned and exploited by a few for the expression of absolute power. The gauntlet has been handed to us teachers to stand up and defend democracy like never before.
The philosophies embraced in the classrooms today will be reflected in the governance structures of tomorrow. Our ability to quickly adapt our roles to this new paradigm and our capacity to assume an offensive posture through our union will determine the extent to which we can rescue our society from the onslaught of would-be dictators and demagogues. Our unions must be given the full support needed to carry this battle. The conversation must ensue among ourselves about the growing threats to democracy all around us, recognising that we don’t live in isolation and are a part of a global village.
Involvement and inclusion is no longer an option – it’s an imperative. The monster is already at our doorsteps ready and waiting to impregnate societies that are sometimes content to exist in blissful ignorance, complacency and abdication of civic responsibility. Thankfully EI has been fearlessly leading the offensive on a global scale, wherever unions and democracy are under threat. The collective voice of EI other global affiliates must continue to send the powerful warning that teachers will continue the fight through the weapon of education – a weapon that will never be silenced. In solidarity we must all stand to defend our rights and freedoms.
Note: This blog is based on an article that was first published in the Trinidad & Tobago Newsday. Reprinted with permission.
On 26 January 1993, Education International was founded through the merger of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFFTU) and the World Organisation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a special series of blogs, “#EI25: reflections”, will be published throughout 2018, bringing together voices and thoughts of unionists, education activists, partner organisations and friends, reflecting on past struggles and accomplishments, from which the organisation has drawn strength and inspiration to address current and future challenges facing education and the teaching profession. If you want to contribute to the series, please write to [email protected]