Sunday, 28 November 2010

6th Form Protest, whatever you think, they will protest.

Another comment piece from one of the occupier, in a personal capacity.

Students are apathetic.
Students are lazy.
Students only want to get drunk.

Three stereotypes, each one as preposterous as the last.

Tonight I sat in a lecture theatre, on a Sunday, in the middle of record November snowfall and for two hours debated the rights and wrongs of 6th Form pupils protesting.

One thing was clear; their voice deserves to be heard. They have the most to lose from the Education cuts.

Most of the current University students will have left before the funding changes take place. All current University students will not be forced to pay the higher tuition fees. The students are here because they believe that education is about so much more than a cost benefit analysis.  

In a cost benefit analysis X benefit is weighed against Y cost. Yet how can you quantify the benefit gained from three years in a place of learning that encourages freedom of expression, allows interaction with the widest scope of people and encourages growth. Tell me the sum of the benefit of a Nurse, who goes on to help other individuals, or a Sociologist who tries to make sense of the way we behave, or the psychologist who looks at how we think?

Education is not a zero sum game. It does not fit into such an equation, what people learn from university enriches them far beyond the amount of money that they earn in a life time, and it enriches our society as a by-product.

So the University students protest because the world that they have been able to experience at University is to be taken away from those that come after; the 6th Form students because those that benefited from Free Education do not feel that they deserve it. They feel like the promise of a future has been ripped from their grasp, and given to a banker, to ensure his bonus. They are angry, they should be, so they deserve the right to protest.

Their schools have denied them this right, threatening detention, exclusion, locking the school gates and placing the fear of expulsion into the minds of the pupils trying to organise a fight back.

So we as occupying students have given them a space to organise, plan and ask questions. They have blossomed in the freedom, and have come out with some brilliant ideas and Tuesday’s demonstrations in Newcastle are going to be the most well organised, biggest, boldest 6th Form led protest in the history of Newcastle, if not the United Kingdom.

Yet tonight in our general meeting, debate raged. The reasoning was simple, from the outset we said we would not lead the 6th Form pupils, they must be autonomous, we could not be seen to be coercing them into action that they would not do themselves. Instead we nearly made the opposite mistake, embolden by their youthful exuberance and their belief that after Wednesday they could do anything, we nearly made a fatal mistake, and didn’t use our own judgement to guide them, so scared were we of being seen to lead them.

It would be letting them down it was said, if we didn’t follow through with what they had said that they wanted to happen. It could be done, they would be free to make the decision to join in, they would make the choice it would be what they want. We would be providing what we set out to achieve when we met with 6th Form students, giving them the tools to do what they want.

But then that was never really the point, because this is an occupation not about money but about education, and while caught up in the youthful exuberance we had forgotten our own experiences. These 6th Form pupils had been on one successful peaceful protest, many in the room have been on protests that have not ended so well.

So debate raged on, and the point was found, lost, then found again more times than I care to recount. What came through at the end was our education, our experience of doing this before. So a compromise decision was found with in the group, one that actually suits all parties the best, and most importantly is completely safe.

Left to their own, they 6th Form pupils might well have come up with some great plans, but the most likely scenario would have been another widespread walk out, with no real direction, and when a large angry disaffected group gets together with no clear purpose the end is usually inevitable.

These young adults are vibrant, energetic and insatiable. They would be protesting on Tuesday even if we were not here, but we are trying to give them a way to do that properly, by advising them, engaging with them and letting them come to the right conclusion on their actions. Maybe this kind of response from our Secondary School and Further Education systems might result in a more energetic form of education.

For now I am just happy to be changing stereotypes.

We are not apathetic.
We are not lazy.
And this occupation is dry…. but after tonight we could all do with a drink.

A comment piece by Peter Campbell

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