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Teaching schoolchildren in east London to discover their political voice

Two history teachers took their 12-year-old school students through a journey of discovering the history of Britain’s voting rights, and what theirs look like today.

Florence Pennant Rosie Goodhart
27 February 2017
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One of the dangers of the modern world is that people become too fixated on the now, and on their own stories, condemned to live in the present and not understanding what their current social reality has emerged from. With this in mind, at our school in east London where we teach history, we began to explore the development of democracy from the Great Reform Act of 1832 to the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, with our Year 8 (12-year-old) students.

Keen to skirt away from oversimplification or history as anecdote – the Chartists were a group of men who in the end failed to achieve anything, the Suffragettes were violent and Emily Davison threw herself under a horse – keener still to ensure students saw that all important link between the past and present, we settled on an overarching enquiry question:

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Our students spent a month looking in-depth at either the Chartists or the Suffrage movement. They wrote narrative accounts of individuals or events from 1832 to 1928 that helped to shape our voting rights, and divided them into two structures: the ‘story then’ and then the ‘story now.’

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Alongside this, they prepared for a protest march to Newham Town Hall. Equipped with their leaflets, they talked to the people of Newham about why the voices of those who helped shape our democracy are still relevant today.

Here are a few of our students’ slogans and thoughts, produced along the way:

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Did the ‘story now’ help to make the link? Do they better understand what it means to have a political voice? We hope so. Though who knows whether it will stay with them.

openDemocracy is partnering with the World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy. Read more here.

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