It has become a custom. Since they are barred by age from taking part in democracy I appoint them as my proxy. Then they can play some physical part in the process, whether it’s marking the ‘X’ or putting the ballot in the box they get to feel they have voted, that they aren’t just the passive victims of grown-ups’ decisions.
It might be a silly thing for me to do: the consequence of some naïve faith in democracy, a belief that it is intrinsically important. Whatever the reason I make sure we do it at every election.
So we joined the short queue and I answered their questions while we waited. What was the election for? Could we get rid of Theresa May? Would we stop Brexit? My answers disappointed them and I feared they didn’t help my aim of engaging them in the democratic process.
It’s hard not to feel pessimistic. Losing a rational debate is one thing. Losing to an irrational, right-wing populist argument is another thing entirely.
My children continued asking questions and made me realise that perhaps there are reasons to be more optimistic. Future generations are naturally far more global than their predecessors. As long as we can stave off a complete retreat into populism this will just be seen as a spasm. Brexit may or may not be inevitable. Remain may or may not win this particular battle. But what we’re really deciding is not about the bridges we burn, it’s about how many bridges the next generation have to rebuild when they inevitably take us back into Europe and the world.
I increasingly see things not in the light of a battle about the 2016 referendum result but instead about how we rectify the mess that vote created. In that light putting a cross in a pro-Remain box is an incredibly empowering act.
The French promotion of their language is, obviously, a diplomatic tool. And a very good one. Listening to the ambassador during the presentation I realised that, despite Brexit1 and my execrable French, I felt a vicarious membership of a wider community. It also highlighted to me that, aside from the technical and economic difficulties that will leave us poorer after Brexit, we will also be culturally impoverished by cutting ourselves off from global interchange. Theresa May seems determined that whatever the cost of Brexit we will stop those foreign types from coming here and making our country better.
That is a shame. The international perspective is a big part of the school (it also got its International School Award accreditation from the British Council recently) it offers a unique curriculum mix. The school uses the international primary curriculum to encourage children to not just learn facts, but to make connections and really think about the world. It also offers the enterprise approach which teaches them the ‘soft skills’ they will carry with them for their life. One bit of research showed that children given just a few years training in those skills at a young age were still outperforming their peers on pretty much every measure when they were forty2.
But if the curriculum is teaching them to think about their world and the enterprise approach is teaching how they can change their world then French is the gateway that enlarges their world. I know from taking my own children abroad how much it has improved their confidence and there’s something rather nice knowing that even at a young age they don’t see arbitrary borders or different languages as barriers.
There’s also something intrinsically hopeful in it. I think the Brexit vote was the result of the EU getting the blame for long-term failings of English (and I think primarily English) national and local government and I am not sure we will find any way out but by paying the consequences of that vote. But if we can create a skilled, thoughtful and outward-looking generation perhaps in the future we will rectify both those failings and our current insular trajectory.
The ambassador expressed some frustration about the whole process in comments he addressed to Marsha de Cordova, although I fear she is Corbyn before country on this one. ↩
Heckman et al, The American Economic Review vol. 103(6), pp. 2052-2086 ↩