Leadership is a vital component in our global struggle for a more progressive future. However, in recent years, liberal politics globally have been notably devoid of effective leadership. This has allowed a swing towards antiliberal regressive governments led by strong personalities.
By JORI HAMILTON
To overcome the cult of personality which is sweeping the globe, liberal politicians must be able to capture the imagination of their followers, and should advocate for universal institutions like the UN that privilege emancipatory politics and cooperation over nationalistic policies that are rooted in mistrust and disparagement of “the other”.
To achieve this shift back towards liberal politics, leaders should advocate for education systems that support all learners and should seek to authentically engage with community leaders who actually understand the challenges that progressive, emancipatory efforts face.
Change Education Standards
We’ve long understood the need for better education in progressive issues, and we know that the ideals and ideas that are taught in schools will form the outline of our social and political futures. However, the education system we have inherited is rooted in colonialism and has a long history of injustice. To overcome the burden of this history, we must advocate for culturally aware classrooms and decolonized syllabi.
Create Culturally Aware Classrooms
Cultural awareness is built on an ethos of respect, wherein teachers realize that their position in the classroom is not simply to fill students with knowledge. Instead, teachers must be empowered to see that their role is to help students navigate the learning journey and overcome inequities they may face.
To create a culturally aware classroom, policymakers must help teachers confront their own implicit biases — those ideas which lay beneath the surface of our conscious thought but still impact the way we think about people from a different race, gender, sexuality, and others. Questioning these biases allows educators to open up their classroom, as cultural differences can be worked through with conscious care and mutual respect.
However, simply recognizing bias is not enough for teachers. Instead, meaningful changes must be made in the classroom settings at the curriculum level. This will ensure that students can focus on learning and engaging with material rather than having to overcome inequitable syllabi or feelings of unease or discomfort. To achieve this, we must collectively advocate for the global decolonization of our syllabi.
Decolonize the Syllabus
The education system we have inherited is formed on the standards set by colonizing powers. Perhaps no colonizer put this more directly than Thomas Macaulay who, when discussing the purpose of education in colonized nations, stated that an education system should create “a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. Here, the colonized was India and the colonizer Britain, but the legacy of colonization lives on in classrooms around the globe.
However, decolonizing the syllabus isn’t about canceling authors or cutting essential readings. Instead, educators should focus on changing the way we read and think. So, for example, a literature class would still include readings by Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, but students would think about how colonization shaped the stories, in addition to themes of feminism and class.
This approach goes beyond tokenized inclusion and gives the leaders of the future the tools they need to think and learn within an education system that is both practically useful and also self-aware of its social value within decolonial struggles.
To do this, decolonial resources must be provided to teachers, and clear advice on decolonizing curriculums must be made widely available.
Engage with Community Leaders
Community leaders have been doing vital, progressive work for decades. So, while well-meaning folks might have a genuine desire to help, we must be careful not to harm the very causes that we are trying to support. This is particularly important in recent years, where activism has been co-opted in certain communities.
An authentic engagement with community leaders — particularly leaders who are, themselves, minorities — is necessary to ensure that progressive acts remain authentically committed to their original purpose.
Additionally, those who consider themselves to be emerging leaders or allies should understand how community leadership is changing and should ensure they are changing with it. As the pandemic continues to affect our lives, leaders should be more technologically savvy than ever before and should constantly find new ways to lead in a digital age.
Authenticity in Liberal Leadership
Raising education standards and foregrounding community leadership should make it easier for liberal-minded leaders to make headway in difficult conversations around global politics. However, leaders must still find ways to capture the imagination of their audiences while clearly explaining the value of liberal politics and policies.
There is no “magic formula” that leaders can follow to achieve this goal, but one ingredient is essential: authenticity. In an age where information can be found and shared quicker than ever, liberal leaders must become hostile to the neo-imperialism which has embedded itself in nations like the US. Otherwise, leaders who champion global liberal causes will find their message undermined, and voting populations will continue to distrust left-wing politicians who hypocritically appropriate progressive causes.
Leadership makes a difference at the local, national, and global levels. Without leadership, progressive causes are left stranded without a clear message for voting populations. However, simply electing any leader won’t do: the leaders of the future must understand the history of global politics, and should be able to navigate difficult conversations about global politics with grace, intellect, and rhetorical savvy.