I am always slightly reluctant to make political comments, even in the run-up to one of the most hotly contested UK general elections in memory, but it was at the very least worrying (and probably far, far more frightening than that) to hear a child telling a politician last week that he would vote UKIP (The UK Independence Party) “to get all of the foreigners out”. This xenophobic attitude – which has prompted a great riposte in the form of (very well-received) national posters explaining that immigrants have actually added a huge amount to the UK in recent decades – is of deep concern. How is it that despite the globalising effect of communications technology, in which they are so often so deeply immersed, some members of our younger generation do not have a global mindset – a sense of belonging to a greater whole and to a wider humanity? How is it that they have not been able to rise above divisions of nationality and connect more sympathetically with fellow human beings from other nations?
It is asking a lot, of course, particularly when so many adults – across the world, it must be noted – bear the emotional and historical scars of division, and when the media is so full of stories of hatred and discord, emanating from disputes and differences of ethnic, religious and cultural background. But when we delve into the question of immigration, it is hard to escape the conclusion that we are all immigrants of some kind, no matter how long we or our ancestors have occupied a certain land. Even that ancient fish, creeping up out of the primordial slime to begin its long evolutionary journey towards intelligent life, was technically emigrating.
Perhaps the failure to recognise this lies in our teaching of history in schools, for not making this point. Perhaps the failure lies in our teaching of geography, for not exploring in more detail the migratory patterns of humans through the ages. Perhaps the failure lies in our teaching of languages, where – as numbers of linguists fall at school and at university – we have clearly failed to engage young people in seeing the relevance of speaking another tongue. Perhaps the failure lies in our teaching of citizenship, cultural studies and religion. Perhaps it lies even in the teaching of Maths, the drive of which over the past decades has been to become more and more locally relevant rather than set in a global context.
Wherever the failure lies, something – somewhere – has gone dreadfully wrong. The effects of a lack of a global mindset in our young people are manifested in ignorance, xenophobia, lack of empathy with others, and a deep suspicion of the unknown … all of which ring alarm bells as presages of future conflict. We cannot afford this. Moreover, when we embrace fully the notion of a global mindset, the world opens up. Education becomes universal, mobility becomes the norm, and responsiveness to the needs of the world becomes possible for all. Our potential blossoms.
We do not want our young people to grow up any longer and think that others do not belong in the same place that they belong. We want them to believe in the universality of humanity, and to live this life. It may not always be easy working out how truly to develop this global mindset in our youth, but the first step is to believe that we must.