Brexit related divisiveness mars school exchange visit

Three Spanish Exchange students have descended on our home this week. Full of fun, responsive and impeccably mannered, it has been a pleasure to have them around. About parts of their experience in England, though, it is impossible to be so complimentary.

Their looks of bemusement have grown ever stronger during the week as the farcical events surrounding Gibraltar have unfolded.

Firstly, they watched in amazement as a former Tory leader – not a rogue backbencher, a former leader – envisaged a situation in which Britain would sent a Task Force, Union Jacks waving and bugles blowing, to defend the future of the island.

Walking round the supermarket, they stumbled across the front page of The Sun with its headline “Up Yours Senors”, although I suppose we should be mildly relieved that the paper fell short of calling for all-out war.

If they go back to the supermarket today, they can check out the Daily Mail with its tale of how a “Tiny Royal Navy patrol vessel chases giant Spanish gunboat out of British waters.”

Two newspapers which have done so much damage to the culture of the nation.

Fortunately, it’s Barcelona v Sevilla tonight in the big football match so we may not have to revisit the Gibraltar conversation, or watch more confused – if resilient – shakes of head at the mood of the country that they have been so excited to visit.

Because don’t play down the fact that the mood of the country since Brexit is sour. Some form of low level bullying is regrettably a fact of life for teenagers, but even that fact does not dilute my dismay that in a supposedly gentle northern market town as a group of Spanish teenagers peacefully left school they were hassled enough for the Head Teacher to emerge to sort out the trouble.

And it does not dilute my embarrassment that an 11-year-old girl – a girl at the school hosting the students – should feel obliged to phone her 15-year-old brother and his mates to come into the town centre to inform them that they should “get out of our country”.

No real harm was done. But the overall impression supports the notion that, day after day, the insidious erosion of a tolerant country is playing out in Britain.

So what can Liberal Democrats do?

Well, for one thing, having seen this week unfold, I am more adamant than ever that Citizenship classes need to become a central part of our education, and from the age of five. Not taught with a lack of resolve by teachers ill equipped for the task – the number of qualified citizenship teachers is falling alarmingly – but lauded as a central part of the curriculum.

I’ve been proud to be a member of the Liberal Democrats as we have campaigned in a bold and principled fashion since Brexit.

Beefed-up citizenship lessons sound an easier political win. It is a commitment that automatically carries an air of discipline about it – and many voters love little more than talk of discipline – but in actuality it can help to nurture the deeper values that are under threat in our society. The sort of values that will ensure a school exchange is seen for what it is – a wonderful opportunity to reassert that what we share is greater than what divides us.

Citizenship, taught with passion, and properly valued, has never been more necessary to restate the values that unite us not the prejudice and ignorance that threatens to rip us asunder.

* David Hopps is a journalist who spent 20 years on The Guardian and is a new Liberal Democrat member in West Yorkshire.

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11 Comments

  • Michael Howard is an arse, and the Sun and Mail headlines were a disgrace. Not much else I can add really………

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Apr '17 - 6:51pm

    I don’t disagree that the mood has become even more sour since Brexit, but we had young German exchange students, and Spanish students attending a local college who were invited to our home who suffered exactly the same abuse many years ago. The German children who were staying with us were also particularly upset by some television programmes that mocked and demeaned Germans.

    I fully endorse the idea of citizenship classes – for the parents, because who do these children who behave so badly get their attitudes and permission to behave in such a way from?

    Once more we have been treated to an unseemly performance by Mr Farage who as a supposed adult, is no role model for the young, let alone an advertisement for an expensive education.

  • Gibraltar an island?

    Since when?

  • David Hopps 5th Apr '17 - 10:03pm

    @crewegwyn Brainfades, eh? Terrible things.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Apr '17 - 10:39am

    @ John Probert,
    I would be very happy to answer your question, but I am not sure what the second part of your question is, other than it relates to my comment about Nigel Farage.

  • Beefed-up citizenship lessons sound an easier political win. It is a commitment that automatically carries an air of discipline about it – and many voters love little more than talk of discipline

    But if we’re being honest won’t actually achieve any meaningful social change. The 11-year-old mentioned by David, reacted the way they did because, in their social circle, it was normal.

    David re: Barcelona v Sevilla tonight in the big football match.
    I suggest you consider taking your exchange students down to a local sports bar and watch the match, and so they see English people cheering on Spanish teams!

  • Sue Sutherland 6th Apr '17 - 3:02pm

    I too think we should beef up citizenship. Lessons in democracy are vital and I’ve often wondered why we don’t celebrate Magna Carta day. It’d be worthwhile learning about power and democracy if you also got a day off school and work!

  • thank goodness they weren’t from outside the EU – the idea of having to host people with the knowledge that we don’t have a political union with them would have made life impossible.

  • David Hopps 6th Apr '17 - 4:38pm

    Teachers in my experience rarely become overly political these days. Complaints from parents and resulting issues with their schools would be the likely outcome. But citizenship can implant moral and behavioural codes that are the bedrock of our society and that no right thinking person could fairly challenge. Yes pupils are influenced by those closest to them, and sometimes negatively, but if education is to be as valuable as possible it is perfectly entitled to create an environment and value structure in which they can flourish.

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