A couple of weeks ago I posted about a set of lessons I was planning to deliver based on the debate in the news between Russell Brand and Robert Webb (the post can be found here). In it I said I was interested to see what the outcome of the discussions and writing was. As a class we read the Brand piece, looking and what he said and how he said it. It is a dense piece but the crux of the argument came through to the class (Year 11 Mixed Ability). We then compared it to Robert Webb’s piece. We looked at the counter points and again how he, as a writer, put across his argument. At the end of the second lesson I asked the class who they thought had won. In summary it was clear: Webb wins for content and debate but Brand would win the wider public sphere because of his name and persona.
The next stage was to use the articles as a springboard for comment and their personal writing. We brainstormed ideas on why Russell Brand was wrong, why people should vote. In particular it was the girls who got most passionate about it, drawn hugely from the fact that women have only relatively recently won the vote. However, wider than that the whole class saw reasons why voting was so fundamental to our society. The lesson where we discussed these ideas was one of my most interesting in a long time.
The third stage was to write a letter in response. I asked them to write to Brand to tell him why he was wrong. They had the ideas and went off for homework to do it. Crucially, I said that we would send the letters to him (via “his people”) when they were done. This gave them a real audience.
I have just marked some of the letter and in them, alongside some of the better examples of their writing over the past 18 months are some fantastic ideas that show that young people do have a voice, do care about democracy and are worth caring about.
Let me quote some phrases of some of them:
“Voting is in place to allow everybody to have their own say. If you actually thought about it properly, what effect is your lost vote going to have on the millions of other votes. None. Fundamentally, you couldn’t be more correct about the problem, but your solution is stupendously deluded.”
“Now you are thinking that all you did was convey your opinion on the matter of the government, however, what you may not have taken into account is the fact that most people that like you are in their teens and have yet to make their decisions on politics and the government.”
“Within a week of your interview on Newsnight, the video was showing up on my Facebook and Twitter news feed as well as making it to the Youtube homepage with 9 millions views. Reaching millions of young people, your statement “I will never note and I don’t’ think you should either” could easily influence them”
These are just three of the great passages written. Sometimes I get despondent that my class are not working hard enough or don’t ‘get’ what they need to do. It was clear that they did get this piece and found enough passion to write in such as way. The next step I am going to get them to tidy the letters up before I send them off to Mr Brand. One wonders is I get a response but the whole process is worth it.