Staying above the line

In one of the units of our Sixth Form Ivy House Award, we introduce students to the concept of ‘staying above the line’. They are asked to reflect on situations where they have reacted in a defensive, impulsive or aggressive manner during a discussion at home or in school, without listening properly to their interlocutor and merely wanting to get across their (right!) point of view. Such a reaction could be described as ‘below the line’ whereas those who remain ‘above the line’ listen carefully and control their response, thus securing a more positive outcome.

There seem to be a lot of arguments at the moment in society: there always has to be someone to blame (no such thing as an accident), peaceful protests risk being infiltrated by violent demonstrators, strikes galore are frustrating and annoying members of the public attempting to go about their daily business, and even our elected representatives need at times to be reminded to observe the rules of the House!

Our Year 12 Politics Group, led by Dr Yeomans, gave a whole-school assembly on the role of Parliament on Monday, outlining its principal functions: as a representative democracy and a debating chamber, legitimising new laws and checking up on the work of government. Pupils were then left with topical issues which they could debate in form time, according to age group:

‘Maths should be compulsory learning for everyone up to the age of 18’ or ‘Services, including health, fire and rescue, education, transport and border security, should be forced to provide minimum levels of service during strike action days’.

We are very fortunate in our country to enjoy freedom of speech, and it is important that we bring our children up not to abuse that right. They are sadly exposed to too many examples of vitriolic, offensive and unthinking soundbites via social media, and they need to learn that it is fine to disagree, but (unless the opposing argument is outrageous or unacceptable) to do so graciously. Debating is a great skill which relies on active listening, respect for others’ viewpoints and considered rather than bombastic responses.

I hope you enjoy some healthy debates around the dinner-table this weekend!

Best wishes,

John Watson