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The hyperbole of ‘brainwashing’ accusation

who you travel with
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My four-year studies of education included the meaning of indoctrination in schools. In my career it has cropped up time-to-time not least in the context of funding for curriculm development and learning resources. From classroom experience, one sometimes thinks that having the certainty of influence on the thinking of young people is a wish never to be granted.

I have not seen the Hopscotch Consulting learning resources on HS1 routes so this is not a comment on them specifically. It does say they are STEM-based, playing the skills-shortages card, which is fine but incomplete. Real scenarios of this magnitude always include locational aspects so they should include the geography curriculum. And that is not taking a view on HS2, either.

It seems by this Guardian article that once you have taken a view on an event or proposal, in this case HS2, any discussion of it with an educational purpose should take only your stance.  The accusation of brainwashing, and reference to “Orwellian propaganda”, is both lazy and insulting to pupils and teachers alike.

I suggest these three tenets:

  1. It is important for children to learn about changes that impact on their lives.
  2. Change should be viewed as open-ended, possibles as well as probables, and not fixed.
  3. Decision-making learning activities require a background of detailed information from alternative and reliable sources.

It is also reasonable for HS2 Ltd to recognise their own corporate social responsibility to explain what they are doing, and why, to a young audience, and not just adults. This should involve local schools. Companies don’t always manage this well but working with educationalists usually makes for a better start.

The time when protestors generate heat on their particular subject, to my mind, merely emphasises the importance of our educational role for shedding light on the matter. And that means different perspectives.

The article makes this very important point:

“Whether individual schools choose to use the education materials provided, and how teachers use them, is entirely up to the school.”

Teachers are in charge in their classrooms. Please trust them to use source material.

And neither do I believe in bogus neutrality. It’s political. Discuss it. Where there is heat, shine a light.

“HS2 accused of ‘brainwashing’ schoolchildren on high-speed rail route”, The Guardian, 12 December 2016, by Frances Perraudin, North of England reporter, @fperraudin

The HS2 Ltd Information Paper on the Education Programme [PDF]
The Stop HS2 release on the education programme
The HS2 ‘for teachers’ page on Plotr (I have not scrutinised these ‘packs’ for this post.)

See an earlier post called “Making Better Protestors” concerning corporate social responsibility and inappropriate maketing.

By Angus Willson

Angus Willson is editor of this site and author of this blogpost.

One reply on “The hyperbole of ‘brainwashing’ accusation”

From The Guardian Letters, 15 DEcember 2016. Can’t help but agree with this point.

• The apparent “brainwashing” of children in schools along the HS2 route, supposedly encouraging them to support the scheme (HS2 rail firm stands accused of ‘Orwellian’ bias in schools’, 13 December), carried a whiff of deja vu. In the heady and distant days of plans to have Eurostar trains coming directly from France to Manchester via Crewe, Cheshire schoolchildren took part in art competitions, producing wonderful colourful paintings, based on French artists’ styles, extolling the virtues of getting on a train in Crewe and getting off at some exotic place like the south of France. Many of these were even displayed on the stations, and on an immense sign at Longsight locomotive depot in Manchester, where the Eurostar trains were going to be based, bearing the caption, in a great visual fanfare, “Eurostar est ici…”

Sadly, the art, the sign, and the promise gradually began to fade, peel and fall off. The trains never arrived, never departed, and aspiration and enthusiasm were crushed. So I’m not holding my breath about HS2, nor do I believe I have enough breaths left in me ever to see it happen. The criminality here is – and was then – to build up young hopes, and then knock them away again.
Jeff Teasdale
(Former art and design advisory teacher) Macclesfield, Cheshire

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