Taking the news badly
In the course of a recent conversation if had with a group of students while visiting another town (which I won’t name), I suddenly became aware of the fact that none of them knew anything about a story that had been dominating the news headlines for about two days: the French military intervention in Mali. Some of the students knew it had happened but were rather vague on the context, and the others knew nothing about it at all. Indeed two couldn’t place Mali in the correct continent.
I guess we all see our own youth through our current lenses, and so my strong belief that I was constantly politically informed and engaged as a student may be what I want to remember rather than how it was in reality. But I still think I would have known something about Mali or its then equivalent. Perhaps it is more surprising that today’s young people are less tuned in to the news given that there is so much of it. Back then we had newspapers and radio (not much television for me as a student). Now the news are all over everything, from the broadcast media to the internet. In fact my car even tells me today’s news headlines on a screen when I switch on the engine. Nor is it just peripheral stuff. At the click of a mouse I can get detailed and intelligent and varied political analysis.
Does this matter? In fact, would you judge my recent encounter differently if I were to say that all my student interlocutors were studying science? Personally, I don’t think that matters. I believe that educating students means not just supporting them in building up expert knowledge, but encouraging them to see the context in which that knowledge has value. If nothing else, our increasing (and rightful) focus on ethics requires such an understanding. It may be time for universities to look at ways in which a knowledge of current affairs can be part of everyone’s curriculum. Online resources such as The Student Room in the UK provide very useful discussion forums that many students take part in, but they probably do not touch the majority, and maybe in particular those that need them most.
The again, maybe that’s just a patronising comment, and we should leave young people (and older ones) to find out for themselves what matters. And when they find out, they may discover that I know absolutely nothing about it. To my shame.