I’ve just been reading an excellent post on Jim Webster’s blog about education. If you haven’t tried Jim’s blog you really should, all his posts are thought provoking, interesting and grounded common sense. Jim is smart.
He talks about education: what we should teach our children, what he’d like to see them taught, how we should teach our children and whether, actually, everyone needs to go to university. He makes the good point that because so many of our political leaders have been university educated, they tend to think that what worked for them will work for everyone – ergo that everyone should be able to go to university. And Jim makes the point that we’ve sort of dropped the ‘be able’ from that sentence, so now it’s considered essential that you go to uni if you want to make anything of yourself. But it doesn’t always work like that.
And it got me thinking about Education, and politics and also thinking, ‘Yep.’ And before I knew where I was, up popped a parallel rant. My American friends will not like this, because I do imply, at one point, that America doesn’t always look like an idyll to me and I have learned this doesn’t always go down well.
OK so, first up, I should fess up that I am university educated. I went to university because I hadn’t a smecking clue what I was going to do with my life and uni meant three more years to think. You didn’t have pay nearly as much for it in those days, of course, so you could do that – they introduced crippling fee loans the year after I left.
To me education is a tool, and it’s a tool for life. So, to me children need to come out of it with life skills. They need to be able to run a budget, fix stuff and also be furnished with the knowledge to be able to think independently. The more facts you have at your fingertips, the more information you are exposed to, the greater your capacity for understanding, and rationalising, what goes on around you. But you do have to be taught how to use them. Once you are, the better you are at that rationalisation process, the less likely you will be to follow a political party, or extreme religion, blindly, like a brainwashed sheep, without any thought to the veracity, ethics or long term effects – let alone truth – of what they tell you you ought to believe.
What university did for me was show me that there is never any cut and dried, there are always shades of grey. And I wonder if maybe one of the problems the US is facing, now, is the culmination of years and years of every single issue being pitched to them as binary: Right or Wrong, black or white, a cartoon of life as it never has been nor ever will be; simplified into extremes without middle ground. I suppose if you bludgeon people into believing like that then, after enough time, they become polarised – look at any republican and democrat ‘debating’ something on Facebook and you will see what I mean. Each side sees the other as Morally Wrong, possibly even evil and there’s a trend to suggest that the tactic on both sides is ‘he who shouts loudest and acts nastiest wins’. In many instances, it’s a simple slanging match and no actual debate is ever entered into. If it is there tends to be a suggestion that whatever each protagonist’s party says is right because the party said it. Like the party leaders did the thinking so no-one else has to.
So the first thing I’d teach kids is the difference between old-fashioned, proper right and wrong – you know as in not being a complete and utter bastard to everyone you meet or behaving like a shit – as opposed to the pseudo spun political party ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that some folks put into the void in their soul where the original sentiment should be. And then I would teach them to judge everything against that knowledge of good and bad.
These days, I find it impossible to look at anything without seeing the grey. Lots and lots of grey. Which is how I find myself in the odd position of having voted for all the major political parties here in the UK despite being, pretty much, a socialist – yes I genuinely believe we should re-nationalise our assets. BUT in a radically different way than was done before. I suppose that’s the point, I believe in socialism, but not necessarily in the Labour Party.
Then, perhaps our Government could do something radical too – it could set an example. At every level it fails to do this. From letting Google off masses of tax because it’s too busy chasing the 0.08% or whatever it is who are supposed to be defrauding social services. The logic of that is like turning your back on a suitcase full of easy money and, instead, concentrating on chiselling off a 50 pence piece that someone’s glued to the pavement for a laugh. Here’s another one, stating that you’re not going to condemn torture, because you want to strike a deal with the saviour of the American Way – or alternatively the Nylon-haired hate-carrot – from across the water who thinks torture is a Good Idea.
Here’s another example at grass roots level. My granny was a school governor. She said that the school she was a governor of needed new portacabin classrooms for the cost of their budget for the whole year. They asked for funding from Government/Council and were refused. So then they worked out that if they were really thrifty they could save enough money out of their budget for the classrooms over five years. They put this to local government and were told that any unspent cash at the end of the year is evidence of over-provision and it would be cut from the next year’s budget. If that’s how bureaucracy rewards long term planning how is anyone going to learn about saving up versus instant gratification? How will it help people whose ambition is ‘to be famous’ accept that unfortunately, their entire class cannot all be the next Katie Price.
So somehow I think we also need to find a way to educate kids that there is more to life than digital options: more than black or white, success or failure. There is the middle ground of contentment. At the least we ought to define ‘success’ slightly differently – as happiness, perhaps? It seems to me that we have a nation of people who aspire to degrees and business and money. Yet again and again, the successful people I meet who are happy are the artisans, engineers … people who MADE stuff. Then again, I suspect, that because the successful people I meet are inventors, the underlying trait in them all is actual brain power rather than education level. Interestingly, most cite things like family, or job satisfaction as s source of happiness, rather than what they earn doing it.
Also, while the world is never fair, I wonder if it would be good, at school, to ask kids this:
Imagine you live in a country where there is a civil war. Imagine what it would be like trying to earn a living, buy food, get an education for your kids, get health care, dental care. As well as that, imagine that in this war torn place, you live in the equivalent of a garden shed, with no heat, no electricity, no running water and you cook on a fire. You walk everywhere because you can’t even afford to buy a bicycle. There’s not much food so you have to grow most of what you eat. You don’t eat meat. A constant supply of eggs is far more valuable than chicken stew for a night. Yet, imagine that among all this, you still have a mobile phone, that you can see the internet, and you see pictures of people in a country where there is no war and even the poorest people earn more in a year than you can imagine earning in a lifetime. They have heat, light, bicycles, cars and free healthcare. They have public transport and free education. And they are complaining that they have nothing and saying they will not work for this unimaginably huge salary they are earning.
What are you going to do when you see that? Well, I don’t know but I imagine you look at that and you think that yes, you could go there, because you have never had a lot of the stuff they take for granted, and you wouldn’t need it. You could live as you are now, but there, saving yourself the cost of the luxuries they assume as their right and happily do those jobs they won’t or can’t do for a profit. I’d guess you’d think, ‘I’ll be minting it!’ Your children would be educated – something you could only dream of where you are. They will learn English, maths and science. They will be able to become something instead of dying in this hut or being drafted into the army and shot in battle before they are twelve.
Now I know life is never fair, but McOther grew up in North America: the US first, for a couple of years, and then Canada. Originally he came from Scotland. In Scotland, McOther’s dad played in a band every night, worked a day job and repaired other people’s washing machines at the weekend while McOther’s mum looked after the kids. Even so, money was still tight. Then, when McOther was ten, someone in a park asked him if he was Catholic or Protestant. He gave the wrong answer and the person smashed a bottle over his head. His parents decided they would move to a place where their kids would get a good education, everyone could afford a car, the standard of living was higher and no-one did that moronic, brainwashed, dickwad sectarian shit.
Does that make them bad people? Wanting a better, safer future for their kids?
I’d say not. They left their home, their family and everything they knew and made a new start. For their kids.
These immigrants aren’t ‘taking our jobs’. They’re doing stuff we refused to do or just weren’t doing – for whatever reason. Maybe, the reason all those Polish plumbers came to Britain was because, after years of Blair, our young people had been taught that they were above going into a trade, so there weren’t enough plumbers in the UK. Back in the late 90s, I lived in East Anglia and if you wanted anything more than small job done, every plumber had a waiting list months long.
People from third world countries can live a lot more frugally than we do, even here, because the stuff we see as our basic right is untold luxury to many of them. Should we blame them that they are able and prepared to work for less, or should we be blaming the businesses who were happy to employ them for those wages? Or should we be blaming ourselves, for insisting on rock bottom prices, for shopping in supermarkets who pay their suppliers less for the goods than they cost to produce. Or a system which thinks that leaving over 70,000 perfectly edible cauliflowers that are too bumpy, too small, or the wrong colour for the supermarkets in a field to rot is a ‘good’ result because a few extra thousand were sold in the ‘knobbly’ range. Perhaps those 70,000 cauliflowers in that one field, multiplied to the power of however many fields of cauliflowers there are, is the difference between the farmer using cheap imported labour and being able to source labour locally, or employ casual labourers. A friend’s son has autism, he finds it very hard to hold down a conventional job but he loved doing casual farm work. He was good at it too. But now there are no jobs for him, the work is contracted out to gangers who provide itinerant labourers from abroad.
So yes, by all means put some limits on immigration but show our kids the value of the freedoms we have, that we take for granted, that these people can only dream of.
Edited to add: Also, right now, there are refugees. We are talking about a situation we haven’t seen since the 1930s. At the moment, if you read up on how we treated Jews, fleeing Nazi persecution and how we are currently treating refugees, our forefathers look a lot more generous of spirit and kindly than we do.
Lastly, shouldn’t be be teaching kids what the world is actually like, and how much stuff actually costs rather than that it’s their oyster?
Should we be teaching our kids that they can’t have it all now? Should we be teaching kids to save up, and ourselves to pay what things actually cost so British workers in the few industries we have left can earn a living wage? And shouldn’t our government be going after the big money: making companies like Google actually pay their tax? And telling people who endorse torture that the British nation does not.
I guess what I’m saying is that maybe education should be a bit less about the facts kids know, and more about what they learn, which, over and above the facts and figures, should be, basically, how to be this bloke.
Picture scrounged from Oldroadapples