The Brexit vote has suddenly transformed by unruly Year Nine (Eighth Grade) class into ardent (and furious) politicos (main topic: how come they let people over sixty vote when it’s not going to be their problem cause they’re going to die soon?). Trying to ride the moment, and survive bottom set Year Nine last lesson on a warm Friday, I put on the live news so they could watch it while they, er, worked (read: doodled on their worksheets). They were rapt, and kept asking me to explain who the various MPs and experts were. It went a bit like this:
“Miss, who’s that guy who looks like a paedo?” goes Barney.
“He’s a very respected BBC journalist and he is most certainly not a–“
“Well, he works for the BBC and he looks well weird, so he probably is.”
“He looks awful because he’s been up all night reporting on this and he’s probably very tired. Did you know you could have woken up at any time last night and switched the news on and seen the latest results?”
That idea fascinated them all for a few minutes. Then Iain Duncan Smith appeared on screen and made the mistake of talking.
“Miss,” said Theo, usually one of the calmer and more reflective students in the room, “look how old he is. He probably doesn’t care that we’re not going to get jobs, because he’ll be retired by the time we finish school.”
“Or dead,” goes a hopeful voice from the corner (not mine, I hasten to add). “Unless he’s a vampire.”
“Or a zombie,” goes Bloodthirsty Jack from the corner, suddenly engaging in the lesson. “He looks like he could be a zombie.”
“And when he’s retired,” Theo continued, loftily ignoring the interruptions, “he’ll be all excited about going to Spain on his holidays, and then he’ll get there and everything will be massively more expensive and he’ll suddenly think, oh, no, this is my fault. I shouldn’t have voted against Spain.”
“Hah, serves him right,” puts in Ryan, my resident Artful Dodger. “It’s all bloody old people. I’m well pissed off with my nan–“
“Language and respect, Ryan!”
“Sorry, Miss, I’m well annoyed with my nan cause she said she was voting leave for me but she never bloody asked me if I wanted to leave, did she?”
The whole class let out a sigh of heartfelt sympathy, got bored with IDS, and scribbled on their worksheets (and each other) for a while. Barney, who is normally Mr Too Cool to School, attached himself to my desk and started grilling me on how referendums work and when we could have another one (mass outrage when I explained there wouldn’t be one about getting back into the EU for them to vote in), and why couldn’t sixteen year olds vote when it was their future, and how come Nigel Farage was showing off when it was almost a tie, and what would happen if everyone who voted Remain just went on strike and refused to work until the government changed their minds. I tried to answer all of those, whilst keeping an eye on the rest of them as they began to lose interest in everything and start to wind each other up by stabbing each other with felt tips (Friday afternoons with Year Nine are always fun).
Then I realised that Ryan was staring at the screen, his eyes wide and an expression of incredulity stamped across his face.
“Miss,” he eventually breathed. “Who’s that posh twat?”
“Language, Ryan. That’s Boris Johnson.”
“Fucking hell. He needs a smack in the gob, doesn’t he? And a bloody haircut. Who does he think he is?”
Up pipes Theo. “He wants to be Prime Minster.”
“Well, that obviously ain’t going to happen, is it?”
Ryan stopped to draw breath and I seized the opportunity to do my speech on the next general election and why voting matters especially if you were going to turn eighteen before May 2020. Ryan listened to me with an increasingly sceptical expression. He waited patiently until I was done and then said, very kindly, “All due respect, Miss, but that voting thing probably won’t work. I’d rather smack him in the head.”
And from the back of the room, Bloodthirsty Jack lifted his head from the desk where he had been napping, opened his eyes, and said blearily, “With a referendum!”
Sadly the bell went then, so I had no chance to correct their misconceptions about democracy (next week).
Boris Johnson, ladies and gents: smack him in the head with a referendum.
Although Year Nine were the most vocal, all of the students I’ve seen today have been upset and frightened about their future. The school’s own mock referendum came in at 75% Remain, absolutely in line with young voters in the UK. Even the weakest and most confused SEN student I teach came rushing up to explain to me in broken sentences that Nigel Farage had lied about the NHS. The kids are okay. They just got outvoted.