Who are ‘The Grahams?’ Talking to My Sons About Brexit

S&C regular, local writer and PhD researcher Maddie Wallace speaks to her sons – aged 11 and 12 years – about Brexit to discover what young people know – and don’t know – about the news.

I’ve recently started the preliminary work on a project with Star and Crescent to go into Portsmouth colleges and schools to get young people writing about the issues that concern them. So, when I saw The Telegraph asking people on Twitter to get their kids to write about Brexit, I decided to sit down and do this exercise with my sons. I realised that in the two and a half years since the vote, I’ve never asked them what they think, what they know and what they would like to happen. And it’s them who are going to be affected in the long term.

They were so excited when I asked them to write everything they know about Britain leaving the EU. Yes, that is a lie, but it’s Brexit we’re talking about here so that’s par for the course, right? You should be used to it by now.

The soon-to-be 13 year old refused to engage with the subject at all unless he could dictate his thoughts while I scribed them. The 11 year old, who always relishes the chance to improve his handwriting and show off his extensive knowledge, demanded his own pad of paper and pen and immediately got to work. Here are the combined results, straight out of the mouths (and pens) of babes:

Brexit means Britain exits the EU

There’s been a lot of talk about it

England wants to leave the EU

We’re leaving and won’t be part of the United Thing Of Countries anymore

It was a vote that happened, and the percentage was about 50%

I don’t have a clue why everyone didn’t want to be part of the United Nations. People are STUPID!!

It’s been going on ever since 2016 when David Cameron was not priminister (sic)

I hate David Cameron! Joking David Cameron, sorry

I didn’t watch the whole TV show thingie, but David Cameron didn’t want to be president anymore. I don’t like him. No one does. There was something off about him

When I first heard of Britain leaving the EU I thought we were making a massive, massive boat and just sailing away

It became apparent, with both their answers and the questions they asked of me, that they don’t know much about British politics and really don’t care. I tried to explain how government works, but how do you interpret a complicated system like First Past The Post for children? Most voting adults struggle with it. It’s convoluted, dull and a relic of the past. I asked them some basic questions to get an idea of their knowledge of overall politics in the UK:

Who is the Prime Minister?

Theresa May

How do we decide who is in charge of the country?

People vote on a thing, they elect someone, the country does what they say

Who are the main political parties?

Labour with that Jeremy Cordyn (sic) guy — is he rich by the way? — the Democrats, Cancer Research and the Grahams (we appear to now be entering an alternate reality)

Have you heard of the Conservative Party?

Oh yeah, them. Not the Grahams

It’s clear that school is not teaching them much about politics, and neither am I. I’ve held back from this subject because I don’t want to instil my opinions in them, and it’s hard for me to talk about politics without spitting nails about tax dodging and offshore accounts. That needs to change, so I will be talking to them about what is going on more in the future. Because they ARE the future. Why isn’t politics part of the curriculum in our schools? How on earth can we expect children to grow up into adults and have a clue who to vote for if we don’t teach them about what it all means? There is finally now a GCSE in Government and Politics, but it’s generally not until A level that students have the opportunity to engage with the subject in their studies, and by then most of them have already decided it’s boring without knowing anything about how politics impacts their daily lives.

“It’s important that children are aware that their voice does have a space in deciding how their country — and their world — is run.”

When Gove reformed the curriculum during his tenure as Minister for Education, he was far more concerned with bringing back the glory days (in his mind) of 1950s style O’levels, featuring the mind numbingly boring (for children) works of Shakespeare and Dickens, and the lineage of all the UK’s reigning monarchs, than he was in children learning about the world they inhabit now. I mean, why would children need to understand politics? If they don’t care, they can’t develop into free thinking adults with the capacity to upset the apple cart and ask difficult questions about why they can’t afford to buy a house, or even dinner for their own kids. Instead, they can be easily manipulated by a nepotistic media whose billionaire owners pour funds into party coffers. Who wants the general public to actually understand what’s going on when it’s worked so well to keep them in the dark and sensationalise them with fear-inducing, hand-wringing headlines of the end of days if the status quo is rocked?

In lieu of a fair and representative political system, and a meaningful and relevant curriculum for our children, it’s down to parents to fill the gaps in their knowledge. This would be fine if so many people didn’t read the Sun and the Daily Mail. This is why I’m proud to be working on this project with Star and Crescent to try and provide a space for young people to air their views on the subjects that matter to them. They might not care about Brexit, and that’s fine. We won’t be force-feeding them ideas or corralling them into declaring allegiance to one political party over another. We will be teaching them how to research and structure critical pieces, if that’s what they want to write, or how to develop creative responses to the issues they care about if that’s what floats their boat. Hopefully the young people who engage with this project will learn the skills to independently research their ideas outside of the information offered by the mainstream media, and find sources that help develop their thinking in a more constructive way than breaking the arms of refugees.

Today’s politicians are hugely out of touch with what matters to the voting public, and completely in the dark when it comes to the disenfranchised who can’t even be bothered to engage anymore. The courageous 16 year old Greta Thunberg demonstrated in Davos last week, when she addressed a room full of business billionaires and chastised them for their deliberate destruction of the planet, that it is the next generation who might just be able to effect real change. It’s important that children are aware that their voice does have a space in deciding how their country — and their world — is run, but for them to have the confidence to do that our education system needs to step up to the plate and introduce proper political discussion in all schools, and not just in the private school system reserved for what it considers to be the country’s elite. Otherwise, we might as well all get on a massive boat, sail away, and leave the country to the Grahams.


This article was originally published on Medium.