Amongst the catalogue of reports with which we seem to have been bombarded for weeks now – of hypocrisy and rule-breaking by those in power, there is something particularly irksome about the image of a child’s broken swing. It is symbolic of the worst kind of betrayal; of an entitlement to say one thing but do another; of assumed privilege over those who deserve better; of stated values treated with contempt. This apparent abandonment of common values and shared responsibility is perhaps the most dangerous element of the whole dismal spectacle.
As a teacher, I often wonder how the daily diet of news stories really affects the world view and outlook of our children and young people. Resilient though they are, and often preoccupied with more immediate interests, we know that their wellbeing is affected by what they know is going on around them and the degree to which they feel able to be hopeful about the future.
The current decade has thus far provided plenty to give them cause for concern – and on a truly grand scale. If the experience of lurching through the spasms of 2 years of a global pandemic isn’t enough to dampen their enthusiasm for the future, apocalyptic visions of the unfolding climate catastrophe must surely do so? Closer to home, growing inequality crowds in on our communities and the number of families struggling to deal with the spiralling cost of living is rapidly growing.
Although the resourcefulness and sense of purpose of the young do somehow survive the worst excesses of the adult world, it seems important at this moment in our national life that we can restore trust in our institutions to do better.
As we look to a post-pandemic future across all walks of life and to the ways in which it has necessarily changed the nature of the workplace, it is surely vital that we seize on the changes it has accelerated actively to consider what we can do better from now on. For example, will the trial of the four-day working week show productivity and wellbeing benefits? (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2022/jan/30/three-uk-firms-sign-up-to-six-month-four-day-working-week-trial ). Will low levels of unemployment lead to higher pay?
One thing to learn above all, though, might be that we really should only expect our youngsters, our employees and each other to adopt practices and make changes which we ourselves are also prepared to make.
Alison Shaw – Professor of Practice for Student Success and Progression at Newcastle University and Director NIBE