'Where there is no vision, the people perish' Proverbs 29:18
When I introduced my series of posts on the subject of UK poverty I aroused a minor controversy in the comments with the following; 'The one area where there is true poverty, and I'm prepared to believe worse than anything you'll encounter in any other country in the world, is in the moral, spiritual, -philosophical and educational.' Which rather surprisingly led to me being accused of preparing to deliver a David Cameron style lecture to the poor. I concede I haven't read the full text of his recent speech in Glasgow but if what I'm going on to say resembles it in anyway then allow me to extend my apologies to Dave for thinking he was just the openly Tory Tony Blair. At present the comments beneath the post are debating the relative merits of youth fashion. For the record I think fashion has being going through a rather dull, derivative phase for decades now, which I wouldn't mind if I had time to make all my own clothes.
However returning to the whole point of this post I wanted to have a go at the role education played in perpetuating poverty, crime and a general sense of hopelessness. I would argue that far from being 'hell in a handcart bollocks' it is a personal assessment of the the problems we currently face.
Society has always had problems and always will but telling some blighted community mourning the latest stabbing that this type of thing happened in Ancient Rome is like rolling up at a funeral with a bumper book of sports facts. It's the arrogance and chilling lack of feeling that gets me. In my experience it's the residents of the roughest areas that have the greatest understanding of the darker side of human nature. Let's face it -it wasn't the poor that proved a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing by falling for all that Rousseauian state of nature hogwash. I may be doing the slums of pre-revolutionary Paris a great disservice but I doubt most of the rioters were concerned with philosophy when they rampaged. They spotted a toff squabble and saw the opportunity to improve their meagre lot by getting involved.
Anyway to return to the point of my post whilst we in the west at least have enjoyed an almost unprecedented rise in material standards we have also witnessed the decline of organised religion and the rise and fall of socialism and communism. Whilst this has undeniably brought many benefits in particular to individual freedoms, there is also the downside of having nothing much to replace these philosophies with. For all their flaws they did at least provide a code of ethics and something for the unbeliever to scratch their claws against. Consumerism is pretty thin gruel in comparison to the promise of eternal life or a future workers paradise.
Similarly the feminist denigration of the traditional role of women in the home has produced winners and losers. The winners being those who wanted a career, the losers being those that saw motherhood and the running of a home as a career. As an obvious beneficiary of women's liberation I'm not about to start suggesting a ban on women working. I just point out that in rightly seeking to expand the options available to women, feminists of which I regard myself one (even if no one else does) have devalued a very valuable and worthwhile option for women.
Nevertheless the clock can't be turned back, we are where we are and probably none the wiser. The effects of these changes can be clearly seen in middle class women who have taken to believing in Indigo children, faeries, tarot cards and sitting under a pyramid. See folks reading can expose you to some wonderful things! Personally speaking I adore tarot cards, horoscopes and the like. My only beef with the new age is, it's religion without consequences stance. Come on we all want to see the wicked punished. A religion without hell is for babies.
Less amusingly the effect of all this on the less affluent has been appalling. Coupled with the loss of heavy industry, a culture of trade unionism that believed in the right to work has vanished. Given the tough treatment dished out to them over the last thirty years or so every member of the UK poor that works, that tries to keep their area decent represents a huge triumph of the human spirit and is proof that whilst one can't always choose one's circumstances one can choose how one deals with them. If the belief that is going to unite us as a society in the 21st century is pursuit of individual success then we've got to either accept the exclusion of the poorest and take the consequences or embark on a mass redistribution of opportunity and aspiration.
Whilst I still believe in a welfare state, I don't believe the one we have is working any more. It has in the past done a good job, I only need to glance at my own family tree to see that and I may add the benefits of abandoning organised religion. Great, great, great papa Clairwil died at 83 senile and infirm in a poorhouse after literally working till he dropped. Great granny Clairwil had eleven children (nine survived) until getting permission from the local priest to retire her exhausted womb. This is a woman who came into the world only to live with the shame of having 'illegitimate' stamped across her birth certificate, who didn't have the vote and could only look forward to a life of scrimping and scraping. Granny Clairwil was educated in a Catholic school at the cost of 1p per week along with her siblings a few of whom were lucky enough to win scholarships and progress to university. Granny Clairwil despite being a brainy old bird had to leave school at thirteen because she was 'needed in the house' and was promptly sent out to work. I don't have to look too far back to see what a force for good free healthcare, education and state benefits have been. Nor do I have to look to far to see the downside. Our current squandering of them when we consider what went before and the state of poorer parts of the world is obscene.
We cannot choose our inheritance we can only choose what we make of our tarnished treasure and paste jewels. Another thing we cannot choose is who gives birth. Much as it pains me, morons do have children. Unless we accept state control of our breeding which I sincerely hope will never happen, then that's what we're stuck with.
Our main tool for repairing the damage done by idiot parents and governments is mass education. It will not solve every problem, some folk will be bastards whatever you do with them however the gullible, the stupid, the damaged and the easily led are a far bigger constituency than the truly wicked and can with a bit of effort be set on a course more productive than long term benefit dependency. The first and most important thing is that everyone with the sole exception of those with disabilities which prevent it should be able to read, write and articulate themselves to a reasonable standard. As far as reading and writing go I don't think any gimmicks or new ideas are required as far as I can tell repetition and a teacher with the time and patience to correct errors should be sufficient. I would also restrict the use of computers in teaching basic English -just because we can use spellcheck doesn't mean to say we should be unable to get by without it.
For this reason I'd like to see class sizes at their very smallest in the primary school to ensure the basics are in place before progressing on to anything else at secondary school. In addition to this elocution lessons should be added to the curriculum from Primary One onwards. Not to produce children who talk with plums in their mouth or to stamp out regional accents but to prevent children limping through life with the same junkie whine as their moronic parents. The importance of good manners should also be emphasized. Oh and before some total bore starts this isn't about imposing 'middle-class' manners on anyone, it's about ensuring that everyone no matter where they were born can abide by generally accepted standards and are not put at a disadvantage by lack of socialisation. Should they find the straightjacket of manners oppressive in later life they'll be endowed with enough knowledge of the rules to build a coherent case against them. More importantly they'll be able to carry themselves with complete confidence in any social circle in later years thus widening their horizons.
Secondly but as important is numeracy. Again the basics should be in place before leaving primary. It comes in handy down the shops and I'm told mathematics is very useful for engineering and so on. It also teaches folk like me the value of boredom. Until you've learned to cope with being bored to the point of insanity you can't hope to learn anything. With most things you have to start of being hopeless, progress to mediocre and if you have a dash of natural talent or determination progress to excellent. All flippancy aside it is a valuable subject and there are folk that excel at it who should be given every opportunity to develop that talent. It's just that I am so very hopeless at it and in truth uninterested in it I find it almost impossible to make a strong case for dear old maths. I shall leave maths to the experts and move on.
I remember enough from my primary school days not to wish a curriculum of nothing but English and sums on any child, though they should take up the largest part of the day. I would also like to see history, comparative religion and anthropology at a basic introductory level play a strong role. It may be one of my many eccentricities but I genuinely believe that some knowledge of these subjects at a young age would help tackle the moral, philosophical and spiritual problems that blight the poorest amongst us. People with short memories and little knowledge are more inclined towards self-pity than self reliance.
What continually alarms, frightens and upsets me to the point of tears is how small the universe is to some of my clients. Incapable of counting their blessings or seeing that compared to many they're well off they slip into depression, hopelessness, petty feuds over sod all and lives based around immediate gratification because mentally that's all they've got. Their frame of reference is so small that to them they really are the poorest. These are people who think that their street is the centre of the universe. It is unthinkable to them to move even to another part of Glasgow. I have lost count of the number of people who have expressed quite genuine horror that I've 'jumped the river' (moved from the South to the central northeast of Glasgow). This is seriously followed up with enquiries about family feuds. It takes roughly 45-50 minutes to walk to my mothers house from here, 10 minutes by train and about 15 minutes by bus. By the time they realise that that this also means I travel to work they are utterly flabbergasted.
That vast swathes of our population are so lacking in confidence they truly believe moving to another district is a big deal is horrifying. When viewed in this context the gang battles over 'territory' suddenly become comprehensible. The belief that the scheme you live on is surrounded by hostile snobs who hate you for where you live more than anything else keeps people down. Anyone ever harassed by a ned for being a weirdo should realise they are in
fact on the receiving end of someone who truly can't believe that anyone would think, behave or express themselves differently to them. In truth they really are more frightened of you than you are of them.
With no sense of being part of wider society, the inheritor of great traditions and achievements and genuinely privileged in life when viewed in the context of history and internationally, poorly educated and surrounded by ugliness what hope is there for a child born into such squalor? For any government to preside over this then swagger about 'getting tough' is little better than amputating a man's arms and calling him lazy because he won't open a jar for you. People need to be taught that there are other ways to live, that they are part of society, that they are not the centre of the universe and that frankly some of these things are just interesting to know. The notion that everything that doesn't turn a profit is worthless is one of the few things that have trickled down to the poor in recent years, an acknowledgement that there are other laws and values would go some way to countering that. More so certainly than parenting classes, sex education for five year olds and compulsory classroom teeth brushing.
The chronic lack of confidence and low self esteem amongst the children of the poor must also be tackled if we are to end this poverty of aspiration and sense of hopelessness. For those of you bristling at this I am not suggesting hugging children every hour on the hour or telling them they're superb when clearly they're not. Instead I want to give the little blighters a hobby to go along with their education. Some of the following could realistically be part of the main curriculum, some would be better suited to after school care, clubs and the like. I would like to see everyone leave primary school with a talent at best or at worst a bumbling amateurs interest in something be it sport, dance, music, art, crafts, cookery, horticulture or games. There are only so many hours in the day and all these cannot be realistically incorporated into a normal school day at least at any meaningful level. Still they're all ways of broadening ones horizons, trying, failing and succeeding and in that lies the development of real confidence. Some of course will develop exceptional talent and opportunities should exist for nurturing of nascent talent. For the majority most will be good enough but not exceptional. That is still good enough to have a rewarding hobby a small business, a relatively interesting job or at the very least an occupied mind that isn't always dwelling on the next stairheid rammy.
It would also be a wonderful thing if we dropped this obsession with university education. Higher education is a wonderful thing as indeed is further education but it's not for everyone. In any case we have a perfectly fine Open University in this country for anyone regardless of their previous educational achievements who fancies a go at a degree. Oh and before anyone gets snooty I should point out that I am a graduate of the OU, not because I was too thick for 'real university' but because I chose to spend my late teens and early twenties enjoying myself and starting a business. Trades and skills are equally important. When we see a beautiful building we rightly praise the vision of the architect but none of it would have been possible without the skill of the builders who desrve equal praise for bringing the architects vision to life. Similarly entrepreneurs whether social like John Bird or commercial like Duncan Bannatyne aren't just 'trade' they're an important part of our economy and good role models for anyone poor who wishes to prosper. With the obvious exception of PR most jobs are valuable and our education system should acknowledge that. You can't run a theatre without stagehands, lighting technicians or ushers they're all in their roles part of the show. I've always rather admired the Hindu caste system for it's holistic view of everyones role in society but loathed it in equal measure for demanding they stay there. If someone could come up with a better version of it with the aim of ending this notion that everyone without a degree is trash I'd be prepared to do a jig in public.
None of this stands a cat in hells chance of working without a degree of discipline. Face facts corporal punishment fans, the belt has gone and it's not coming back. Oh and before anyone starts about political correctness it was in my opinion the nonces that enjoyed using it that got it banned. No one will convince me that for some middle aged men belting underage girls and boys with canes and belts wasn't for the most part perverted sexual gratification dressed up as a moral duty.
Anyway as I was saying you can't go hitting them these days which for the skilled teacher shouldn't mean mayhem. Instead children who are continually violent or disruptive should be removed from mainstream school to give children who actually want to learn something the opportunity to do so and give all present a reminder that actions do have consequences. It does unruly children no good at all to let them run riot. Bad behaviour left unchallenged just gets worse and worse -a reference to the lives of dictators will confirm that. I would stress that I am not advocating giving up on children because they are disruptive in school, quite the opposite. A firm line and investigation into their behaviour will separate the ill disciplined from the genuinely troubled and mentally disabled. Their education should continue separate from the rest of the school and for the merely badly behaved should incorporate an element of punishment -daily litter duty or something in that vein. Those who perform well should be given the chance to work their way back into the mainstream. Carrots and sticks.
As I've said education will not and cannot solve all our ills. There is other work to be done. However I remain convinced that it is our biggest and best weapon in countering at worst total social collapse and at best harbouring an unseen and igorned underclass.