Brexit: People and Perspectives

Like so many other issues, Brexit was essentially a matter of identity; who do the British people want to be?

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What can we learn form the Brexit fiasco?

The Leave side was seen as taking the higher ground by appealing to the identity of the British as proud and independent.  The Remain side forgot it’s own story, and ended up appearing to quibble about numbers, laws and details. As we know, the narrative about identity prevailed.  It usually does, and the result was a staggering and perhaps historic result.

Writing as a staunchly Remain British citizen, I feel pretty glum about the whole affair.  Not (just!) because I was on the losing side, and not (just!) because of the total lack of respect on both sides for reason and facts; but more because I realize how little effort we have put over recent years into the ‘United’ bit of United Kingdom.   That, of course, is why there was so much surprise from markets, media and politicians who did not look outside the London bubble.  So while it was impossible for me to imagine ourselves as anything but increasingly integrated with our neighbours, that really reflects more about my own identity and perspective than it does about anything else.  Others felt exactly the opposite for similar reasons of identity.   Regardless of whether Article 50 is ever triggered or not, both sides probably still do not really understand each other’s attitudes and feelings.

Understanding is, of course, the business of education, and there are important reminders here for teachers and parents, regardless of nationality (the same issues play out in many, many countries –  most obviously the USA at the moment).  Not just that the content of what we teach our students has to be relevant, but also that to have a lasting and profound effect the learning has to be more than academic learning; it has to resonate with our students’ values and identities.   Having an explicit and consistent focus on school Missions helps; so does talking to students (in an open, not didactic way) about who they want to be and what they see as important in life and how we need to better understand people with different views to work together.  If we get it right, they will be able to engage in important issues in an informed, positive way that seeks to connect constructively with others.  The many commentaries that insult the Leave voters’ intelligence or motivation reflect a failure of imagination in some parts of the Remain camp.  We must avoid this polarisation, and schools have to play their part.

About Nicholas Alchin

Nicholas Alchin (@nicholas_alchin) is Deputy Head and High School Principal at the United World College of SE Asia, East Campus. A sino-celtic Brit who drifted into working on building sites, drifted into the actuarial world, then chose education, he has lived and taught in values-based schools in UK, Switzerland, Kenya and Singapore. He has also held a number of roles with the IB and writes and speaks widely on educational matters. He enjoys travelling with wife Ellie, and kids Tom (11), Millie (14) and Ruth (17); also running, reading, writing, and baking bread.
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2 Responses to Brexit: People and Perspectives

  1. David says:

    Well Nicholas you’re the only commentator I’ve read who says “The Leave side took the higher ground…” Both sides lied and dissembled, but I can’t find any supposed neutral who doesn’t believe that Farage and Johnson et al occupied the lowest possible ground.
    The problem was always going to be that the Remain side had by far the more difficult argument. Essentially, all they could say was “Okay things are crap now but they’re going to be a whole lot worse if you vote leave.” The other side pointed to a beckoning land of milk and honey (and wealth and opportunity), which, however mythical, proved to be a compelling argument in a land of misery.
    And though I would have voted Remain, it would have been on the most reluctant terms. Sadly, I am old enough to have voted in the first referendum, and everyone remotely on the left back then was sure that the Common Market (as was) was no more than a club designed to enrich politicians, businessman and bureaucrats. Nearly 40 years on, I still think that is largely true. So why Remain? Because I agree with their argument: awful as the EU is (and in so many ways it is shockingly corrupt), the alternative could be even worse.
    If yours were a TOK essay, I think your teacher would take issue with the concluding paragraph.

    • thanks David for the comment. Yes, agreed, when I wrote “The Leave side took the higher ground…” That was a poor choice of words so I have gone back and amended. But what I meant was that I believe that the Leave side appealed to moral principles; in the sense that they appealed to people’s sense of identity and values (not that they were morally correct). I don’t believe that the Remain side did, or appeared to do that. Unlike many commentators I think most of the Leave side were probably not racist or xenophobic (though of course a proportion were); and many of them could probably have been won over by a Remain side that managed to appeal to lofty ideals and identity as well. And that’s what I meant by failure of imagination on the side of Remain; that perhaps they had not really been able to imagine a positive intent from those whose views differed from theirs.

      You are right, if this were a TOK essay it would score very badly indeed… and not just on the concluding paragraph :-)! I suspect it would fare no better as an English written assignment either, and worse still as a piece of Maths IA.

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