Improve the migration debate, engage young minds

Michael Rosen recently emphasized the importance of introducing the immigration debate to young people as a way to combat racism in society, with particular focus on the rise in racist incidents after the EU referendum. He suggested that we should urge schools to start conversations about the benefits of migration and the historical context to current migration attitudes. (Dear Nicky Morgan: this is how to deal with post-Brexit racism, The Guardian)

We entirely agree. This is why actREAL works with schools to engage young people with complex social and political issues, focusing to date mainly on migration. Using theatre and other art forms allows discussion within schools about migration, exploring the topic from different angles (such as the migration crisis, or the experiences of undocumented migrant children), to open up an honest, personal and reflective debate around how migration plays a part in the every day lives of students and their communities.

Migration is always topical because it is constant, and a spotlight has (again) been shone on it throughout the EU referendum campaigns and their aftermath. Throughout the referendum campaigns migration was a recurrent theme. “Less immigration”, “stopping people from coming”, “controlling numbers” were (and still are) common phrases. Concerns were raised about the EU and world immigration, and often the two were conflated. There also seemed to be a lack of in-depth, genuine understanding of the realities of migration to Britain and its consequences.

Migration has simultaneously shaped British society and been the cause for social tensions. It is therefore important that the immigration debate does not exist in a vacuum, as this inevitably leads to confusion and unhelpful generalizations. It should be a topic for discussion, one that can lead to empathy and understanding of personal stories and real life perspectives. What it should not be is a political game piece leading to manipulation and misunderstanding by interested parties.

Schools are obliged by Ofsted to find opportunities to promote British Values. This is defined in part as “mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”. Schools are therefore well placed to engage constructively in this debate. They are also required to adhere to the PREVENT strategy, to combat radicalization. The latter has been criticized for closing down free speech and debate within schools.

Today’s students will play an important and influential role in the shaping of our future society. They need to understand and relate to differences and conflicting needs and demands by different players within the debate. This can best be done through a complete, comprehensive and holistic engagement with the topic, and in a way that satisfies the many requirements and pressures that schools already face.

actREAL strives to generate empathy with, and understanding of, the various lived realities of migration in young people. In the process we develop life skills that help young people to better navigate and critically assess this multi-faceted debate as they encounter it in their everyday. Working towards finding our similarities, sharing experiences with our neighbours, and understanding the myriad of different perspectives goes a long way to combating hatred, blame and misunderstanding.

Below is an example of a poem written by a 15 year old student who recently worked with actREAL. It demonstrates the sophistication, creativity and insight young people are capable of when difficult subjects are introduced to them in a stimulating and engaging fashion. We should encourage them.

I’m just another migration statistic (reprinted with permission).

I’m just another migration statistic,
One of the thousands, a number, no characteristic,
Just one of that huge number, another benefit scrounger,
Just laying in a flat, like a lazy lounger,
It’s not like I’m in desperate need,
I guess it’d damage your economy, too many to feed,
You think we come and drain your economy,
It’s as if unfair is your policy,
Leaving to cross the border, leave a country that is war torn,
Making opportunity broader, in the boat just a wrapped up new born,
We don’t come to steal your wealth and property,
We just have nothing and are in desperate poverty,
We have come for a safe life, we are in danger back home,
We’d give you our best work , nothing we can give that we own,
I’m just another migration statistic,
One of the thousands, a number, no characteristic,
You haven’t lived in the places we’ve been
gone through the devastation we’ve grieved and seen
Traumatised, broken, it’s all devastation,
Risking their life for a safer nation,
Seeking only safety and happiness,
Wanting to leave behind the home stress,
They’re worked up, mind is a mess,
All they want is safety, why do they deserve less?
But the border isn’t just a physical country definition,
Citizens’ xenophobia is a built in mental position,
Yeah the country is full,
But their stomachs aren’t full,
And our heads are full of the propaganda its awful,
Getting indoctrinated by the ill educated system
Dig deeper and learn into the story
Forget yourself, your pride and glory
I’m just another migration statistic,
One of the thousands, a number, no characteristic
– Kyle Eldridge

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Improve the migration debate, engage young minds