Focus On Principles And Values

Issue 78

Some young people are highly engaged with current affairs while others rarely follow the news. However, few by now can be unaware of what is going on in Ukraine.

The images of human suffering are deeply disturbing and the potential for escalation is highly concerning. While there has been conflict in Europe in living memory, not least in former Yugoslavia, the scale of this situation means people are understandably making comparisons with more significant events in history such as the annexation of Czechoslovakia.

By the time this blog is published, the situation will have evolved substantially even if, as seems possible, it develops into a protracted and messy conflict. Even those not following the news will feel the economic impact of the war as economies are destabilised, supply chains are disrupted and inflation causes prices to rise. So how should we explain to young people what is going on in the Ukraine? Even though this situation is in a different league, there are clear parallels with how one thinks about the actions of a playground bully and the starting point is to focus on principles and values. In a democratic world the use of force is an unacceptable negotiating strategy but some regimes will use violence to further their aims and appearing weak can encourage further violence. While there are better ways to deal with a playground bully than fighting them, countries can and should maintain defence forces for the protection of themselves and their allies. This was why the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction evolved during the Cold War. This was why the UK committed force to liberating the Falkland Islands and to freeing Kuwait in the first Gulf War. For similar reasons, British Forces have been involved in peace keeping missions in many areas of conflict around the world.

At this stage, there is not yet a parallel with the invasion of Poland and NATO countries are refusing to be drawn into the Ukrainian conflict so we have to admire the continuing resolve of the Ukrainians to defend their country. It is difficult to predict what the final outcome will be but the sanctions being applied on Russia by the UK and many other countries are already having significant impact to the detriment of ordinary people. In all of this, we must stress the importance of upholding and promoting the British values of tolerance, democracy and the rule of law both in working towards the resolution of this conflict and in setting a precedent for the future situations requiring international diplomacy.

Many students will quite rightly want to debate the issues that arise in the coming weeks and months, whether it be the historical significance in a History lesson, the economic consequences in an Economics class, the geopolitical implications in a Geography or Politics discussion and there are clearly ethical dimensions to consider in Philosophy too. Sometimes the joy of working in education is being able to take the opportunity to step away from the confines of the curriculum and the prescriptiveness of a scheme of work in order to facilitate these discussions. As with so many areas of education teachers will be able to challenge pupils to discern fact from fake news, to consider both sides of a question, to support arguments with evidence and to draw evaluative conclusions from weighing up the strength of the arguments in their analysis.

However, pupils must understand that the situation in Ukraine is no mere debating exercise about a hypothetical situation in some far removed country. The events unfolding have very real human consequences and there will be members of our community who have direct connections both in the Ukraine and in Russia. Perhaps the most important message we should communicate to our young people is that they can take meaningful action and, collectively, their individual efforts will make a significant difference. In spite of all the horrors of war, we can teach children about their social responsibility by engaging them in the humanitarian effort to support refugees and show them that they can have a positive impact in the world.

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