In recent years, progressives have sadly been caught on the back-side as popular support for many of their proposals and candidates have faced surprising losses. We are forced to confront the reasons behind our lack of support far too late for any solution to be effective. I must make it very clear that identify strongly with the progressive movement and its aims, unlike “Intellectual conservatives” such as David Brooks I’m not taking on the guise of a progressive in an attempt to force the movement to conservativism in the name of moderation. I call for a change of tactics to confront a new threat that some well-intentioned efforts to promote our ideals have created, not for the ideals themselves to be changed.
The new threat originates in the Education system, specifically International Schools which are often called “Liberal” but more accurately should be called “Cosmopolitan” , Though some conservatives have attempted to conflate the two important differences exist. Education as a field globally leans left not due to any active conspiracy or discrimination against conservatives as has been insinuated by some but rather just the demographic realities of the recruitment pool which is composed in most western countries of well-educated union members. In such an environment, Diversity is celebrated(as it should be) but the method through which it’s celebrated often feels shallow and slightly hypocritical. Constant assemblies, events and class discussions create the illusion that the progressivism is the norm. In such an environment, the counter-culture traditionally a strong-hold of left-wing views takes on a distinctly right-wing style.
Don’t confuse this as saying that generation Z or whatever lazy neologism the media will coin to describe us, will be the saviour of conservatives. Of those who are politically active, the vast majority leans to the left. A reactionary under-current remains and does not need to be a majority to be dangerous. The fact that a vast majority of the student body is politically inactive is what makes this conservative under-current dangerous, as conservative propaganda can be normalised as a joke. Conservative ideas seem like refreshing criticism to the school orthodoxy, why they point out the tinge of hypocrisy that underlies certain events and assemblies. The danger is that extremist sentiment is packaged into this criticism, drawing on internet culture to pose as a joke, which has been shockingly successful in creating a strong Anti-PC streak in school culture. Already I have had people asking me, “What I thought of that retard?” in reference to Greta Thunberg or “Joking” about serving the nation during National Service by “Killing feminists”. I doubt that the people reapting these comments geniuley hold these views but in a safe and welcoming environment such as our school, they are considered funny and people are faced with strong pressure to laugh along and conform lest they are labelled a killjoy.
A recent incident at the School’s MUN conference underlies the results of such an environment. Three students from our school including one Muslim during a long and probably exhausting general assembly gave a public speech that reaped several Islamaphobic statements as a joke. Muslims students who had to visit from the united kingdom where such sentiment is real and a fact of life understandably took offence, and while that situation was resolved by dialogue the underlying problem is still not solved. I don’t doubt that the students involved have intended statements such as “Muslims don’t deserve rights” and “Discrimination against muslism are good” as jokes, but the fact that they felt comfortable using it as a joke hints at something darker going on in school culture.
The vast majority of school staff and leadership almost certainly oppose such a thing and some may be aware that this is an ongoing problem, but here is where the problem of the school’s status as “Cosmopolitan” prevents direct solutions to the problem. It must be perceived as open to all mainstream political ideologies no matter how tinged with racism, and that no intervention may be taken except on an ad-hoc basis to deal with singular cases. The solution starts with accepting the existence of the problem here at school, without counting with references to distant conditions and political figures. The problem is here at UWCSEA with students both popular and unpopular, not there in Washington DC with Trump.
The counter-culture must be reclaimed away from the right by the left, this is something that we as students must do as any administration linked effort will be a laughable flop. Left-Wing critiques of the inherent hypocrisies of bourgeoisie education will always hold more strength that conservative jabs which will always be limited by their contradictions in an international school. It’s attempted to lean to the left will always be limited by the demands that capital places on it, the cancellation of the planned Climate Strikes on the grounds of being “Too Disruptive” is case in point.
The last thing that must be done is the creation of perhaps the most difficult, create space for authentic student dialogue and rhetoric. At the same MUN conference, The most powerful speech was given by former Alumni who had gone on to become a teacher to Rohingyan refugees. For three minutes, the auditorium stood captivated listening to a speech expressing sentiment and ideals that without its authenticity be mocked and ignored. I am sure that the rhetoric regarding diversity and acceptance by the school’s administration and teachers is sincere, but it lacks connection and just doesn’t feel authentic. If genuine progressive authenticity is fostered in our community, the threat that this conservative backlash gives will almost surely fade.