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Should We Be Teaching Our Future Leaders to Rationalise Violence?

28/05/2013 14:54 BST | Updated 24/07/2013 10:12 BST
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It's no secret that Westminster is chalk-full of privately-educated career politicians - in fact, around 34% of our MPs got the best education money could possibly buy. Yet it's worth noting that one institution in particular appears to churn out more movers and shakers than all the rest combined: Eton. Indeed, 20 current MPs - including Prime Minister David Cameron - all attended the prestigious Eton College together, where seeds of greatness are no doubt sewn, and boys are trained in the art of world domination; however, the way that Eton preps our future politicians to make vital decisions may be worth reconsidering.

It emerged today that in one contest to win a scholarship, Eton administrators asked 12 and 13 year old boys to write an essay in which they had to pretend to be the Prime Minister and draft a speech justifying the army shooting dead 25 protesters as a "necessary and moral" decision. Is that even possible?

The question, which was posed to students in the same year that riots engulfed most of greater London, told the children that: "The government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but 25 protesters have been killed by the Army. You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral." Wow...okay.

First of all, even the most liberal of pacifists could understand approximately where the author of this test was coming from. Similar to the Kobayashi Maru before it (only the sci-fi geeks will get that one), providing mature teens with these types of prompts is absolutely vital in order to ensure that students are able to fully develop a set of critical thinking skills concerning the potential outcomes of an unpleasant - but very realistic - no-win situation. Or at least that would be the case if Eton had asked its students to write an essay discussing why these hypothetical killings were allowed to happen, or even whether they could be rationalised - but that wasn't what this particular exercise asked.

At the end of the day, this essay question poses a cruel but effective lesson in public relations - that is to say, the prompt didn't test a 13 year old boy's ability to write a heart-felt apology to the nation for killing two dozen protesters, but instead requested them to plot a self-indulgent political maneuver that would rescue their own career from the consequences ordinarily associated with making a regrettably violent decision (even if it was necessary).

Eton of all schools should know better. After all, by providing this question to teens who - more than likely - will be running Britain in 30 years' time, educators are only planting a seed in each student's head that suggests it's somehow okay to shoot dead protesters in order to coil unrest. Should politicians not first try to understand the motives behind protests before employing violence to see them ended? David Cameron - the Eton alum who's currently running your daily life - didn't have to shoot dead scores of violent protesters in the riots that enveloped London a couple years ago; so, how much worse do professors at Eton think things will get?

There's nothing wrong with classroom discussions charting the development and ethical dilemmas surrounding these sorts of real-life disasters; however, there's definitely something wrong with teaching children that nothing is more important than knowing how to save your own skin after authorizing the killing of 25 protesters. Sure, our future leaders need to be able to make quick and effective decisions in dangerous situations; however, from day one they should be trained to do so based upon what's best for Britain, rather than what's best for their own political careers - and then be prepared to face the consequences after the fact. At the end of the day, perhaps the insights of Eton's professors concerning crowd control and PR campaigns would have been useful to the fabulously wealthy and well-educated dictators who were toppled in the Arab Spring - but that's definitely not what they should be teaching kids here.