Might and Right: Thinking Through Thucydides
How do we help young people make sense of an ever more complex, rapidly changing world, and combat the problem of low voter turnout and decreased political engagement, with its corrosive consequences for political culture? It is widely recognised that people do want to contribute to discussions, but feel marginalised, uncertain and intimidated. Part of the answer is to improve political literacy through citizenship education in schools, but the teaching of citizenship is itself often marginalised, dependent on non-specialist teachers and with limited resources; the result is that often such classes are focused solely on delivering factual information about the British political system, rather than either engaging with broader issues and debates or inspiring and empowering students.
This project, led by Lynette Mitchell and Neville Morley, addresses this problem by turning to ancient Greek political thought; not as an end in itself – the project assumes no prior knowledge of ancient history, and provides students just with the basic information they need for the activities – but as a means for opening up the issues. Inspired by the Melian Dialogue in Thucydides, which has long been the go-to examples for discussions of power and justice between two unequal sides, we have created a series of games and other interactive activities, which engage students through the pleasure of participation and competition before leading them to reflect on the issues they raise. This includes a version of the Melian Dialogue as an interactive choose-your-own-adventure text, the full version of which you can play online at http://philome.la/NevilleMorley/the-melian-dilemma. Thucydides does not provide simple answers to difficult situations; rather, he guides us to think through the problem, and to recognize the different claims and rhetoric of those involved. His work invites readers to compare the events described with their own times; the Melian Dialogue can shed light not only on issues in global politics, but on conflicts between citizen and state, policeman and civilian, parents and children and even bullies and bullied.
We are working with The Politics Project, an NGO dedicated to enhancing political literacy in schools through workshops and digital surgeries, to co-create a set of three one-hour workshops, which they will then be testing with schools in Manchester, London and Brighton while we work with local partners. We have also, drawing on their advice, developed a range of supporting material for teachers, including a video of a special adaptation of the Melian Dialogue, a short video lecture, and a set of historical briefing documents.
If you have any queries – including if you represent a school or college in the south-west and would be interested in trying out these activities – then please contact Lynette Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Neville Morley (email@example.com).