"Work without hope draws nector in a sieve, and hope without an objective cannot live." Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Like most parents I worry about what the world will be like for my son when he is older and I am gone. I was reminded of an essay in foreign affairs by Jack A Goldstone about decoding demography, when I listened to the interview Today program earlier this week with Professor Sarah Harper of the Oxford Centre for Population Ageing.
Although demography is a hotly contested field there are some certainties, that fertility is decreasing everywhere apart from Africa. That if Africa continues (very unlikely) at the current rate of four children per women, that continent alone will have a population of 15 billion by the end of the century.
The obverse is true for Europe where we are in a low fertility trap. Less and less working age population and a burgeoning aging population. Put simply Goldstone argued that the middle class of the world in 2050 would be in what has been known as the third world and the west would be full of old age pensioners not earning.
If the demographers are right the working age population in Britain and Europe could work all the house under the sun and still not contribute enough to cover the cost of the non working population. So they need to be smarter. For that they need to be invested in and that means education.
The key to all our destinies, but specifically in Europe and Africa, is education. As Sarah Harper said, the single most effective way of changing fertility, in other words population growth, is educating women. The only way we are going to be able to support an aging population in Europe with a shrinking working age population is though ensuring they are the best educated in the world.
Given the long impact of recession this is an even bigger challenge for us in Britain. However it is a challenge we have to meet. We need to become the engine of ideas, inovation and invention just like we were in the last century. When we excel it has always acted as a beacon giving others hope and ambition. We need to show again the value we place on education for all.
Parents worry that our kids will not find jobs and that they will become young adults without hope. To me, I can't think of anything worse.
Here is my pitch, I think we need a national objective, as Coleridge says hope is nothing without an objective. Something that brings us all together across the political and class devide. An objective fit for a Golden Jubilee year .
Although this has to be lead by government, the nation as a whole should dedicate our selves to the ambition of having the best education system in the world. No child should be left behind.
I believe that this ambition is so import that both government and the opposition should work together on it. Indeed, I think it is impossible to achieve if we don't all work together. It would give people hope but hope with an objective. I certainly think Michael Gove and Stephen Twigg are up for it and that's a start, but we shouldn't underestimate the size of the task and the cultural change it entails.
I still can not quite believe that 20 % of school leavers can't read and write properly. You wonder why the prison population has such high numbers of illiteracy or people with learning problems.
What is sinful, is that over 20 year ago Ann Powers of LSE published Estates on the Edge which pointed out that it would save us money and alter society more beneficially if we stopped failing the bottom 20%.
Elie Weisel said "Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings".
The way we can do our bit to alter the world for all our children is by concentrating on what we do and excel.
There is a wonderful ancient Japanese tale about The Samurai Warrior and the Tea Maker. So proud was his master that the tea maker was honoured and given the rank of a Samurai and required to ware the robes. One day he came to a narrow passing, there was a Samurai warrior coming the other way. So out of respect the tea maker moved aside to let him pass. The Warrior was perplexed, what sort of Samurai was this that willing stood in the gutter. So he asked. The Tea maker told him he was no worrier but a tea maker. In outrage the warrior challenged the tea maker to a duel "He who wears the robes of a Samurai must fight like a Samurai". He gave the tea maker one day.
In a panic the tea maker sought out his lead's master of fencing and asked him to learn how to die with honor as he thought he would face certain death. The master of fencing was a wise man and he had great respect for the tea maker so he said " I will teach you all you require, but first, I ask that you perform the way of the Tea for one last time". So the tea maker performed the ceremony, all the trace of fear seemed to leave his face. He was serenely concentrating on the simple but beautiful cups and pots, and the delicate aroma of the leaves. Their was no room in his mind for anxiety.
When the ceremony was complete, the fencing master slapped his thigh and exclaimed with pleasure: "There you have it. No need to learn anything of the way of death. Your state of mind when you perform the tea ceremony is all that is required. When you see your challenger tomorrow, imagine that you are about to serve tea to him. Salute him courteously, express regret that you could not meet him sooner, take your coat and fold iras you did just now. Wrap your head in a silken scarf and do it with the same serenity as you dress for the tea ritual. Draw your sword and hold it high above your head. Then close your eyes and ready your self for combat."
So this is what the tea maker did. The warrior saw a different man altogether and he thought he must have fallen victim to some kind of trick and he was the one then to fear for his life. The warrior bowed and asked to be excused for his ruder behaviour.
If you can gain mastery over your mind and then your spirits - you can over come almost anything.
Lets give our children a true gift and in turn a gift to the world.