I have read recently with horror, that the Westminster Government are going to sanction military style "free" schools. Hopefully with our Scottish Education system being a separate entity, the stupidity and in fact the anti-democratic nature of these types of schools will not cross the border.
Some people reading this may disagree, as they feel today's young people need military drill and to be taught how to follow, unquestioning, orders from above. Nothing, I feel is further from the truth. Young people need nurturing and need real resources and a feeling of power - not the further powerlessness these schools will impose on the majority of our society. Powerlesness breeds discontent. Inequality breeds crime and health inequalities. I feel, as a teacher and a member of the working class, the announcement of these schools is a further disastrous and vicious aspect of the rolling back of the post war concessions fought for and won by our grandfathers and fathers after World War Two.
Don't just take my word for it. Even people like the working class tory supporter and broadcaster, Andrew Neil have been lamenting the disappearance of the intelligent working class view from our social discourse. His view is that this attack on working class voices came with the destruction of the grammar school system -a system that, supported with proper financial incentive, led to a small, unrepresentative percentage of working class people climbing the social ladder. I disagree that grammar schools lead to a representative democracy - and I would cite the fact that the Scottish Parliament is packed full of educated working class voices - a huge proportion of them coming from a comprehensive system reasonably well supported by our Scottish education system and government. But Neil at least is lamenting the passing of the time when working class people could rise to the top of UK institutions and power bases. With our democratic institutions being dominated by Westminster and the South East of England, the Etonisation of UK society is creating a system in which social mobility and the gap between the rich and poor is amongst the worst in the Western world.
The rise and fall of working class voices can easily be tracked in our UK national media. Back in the seventies and eighties, they had broken through the posh South East BBC accents we had become used to as the voice of Britain. Parkinson, Melvyn Bragg, Jools Holland, political programming, the kid's programmes I was brought up on like Magpie and Tiswas - all featured working class accents and they were all people who understood what it was like to be poor and struggling - all people who rose through a well supported education system. This meant that decisions made in our centres of democracy and in our media took poverty, deprivation, inequality and what working class people wanted to see and know, into consideration. This partial, but real participation of clever representatives from across the class system has given way to the Etonianisation of political and media discourse and output. TV nowadays patronises the working classes as the actors and drivers of media are increasingly from backgrounds that can support them through the expensive education system and through the needed working experience of internships. Our chat shows have come a long way from the proper, enquiring Parkinsons and Russell Harty's of the past. Jonathon Ross, the working class 80's enfant terrible, has become a celebrity fawning cartoon and Graham Norton thrives on naughty school boy Carry-On style innuendo. The political enquiry that led to, for example, the infamous working class clash of Jimmy Reid and Kenneth Williams chaired by the working class Michael Parkinson has long since left prime-time UK television.
Our news and analysis programming has come a long way from the devastating questioning of Margaret Thatcher by a grandmother concerned about the Prime Minister's order to sink the Belgrano. Can you imagine a situation in which the present Prime Minister would be on prime time TV and asked about the deaths of ordinary Pakistanis and Afghanis by the use of Drones operated on UK soil? Can you imagine someone allowed the time to interrogate a politician in that way?
Nowadays we are left with news and entertainment filtered through the lenses of rich people who rarely watch television themselves; patronised by people who think they know what will placate the oiks; politicians protected by layers of the media who grew up and were educated alongside them in their halls of privilege.
Post World War Two, social mobility was much more fluid through education and through flatter pay scales AND through the fact that the ruling classes understood quite clearly that they had to give up some of their power for real stability. For some, however, the real power relationships changed in the seventies when the UCS shipyard workers showed clearly that manufacturing could be successful without the capitalist overlords; people could be mobilised in their hundreds of thousands against injustice (for example, 500,000 marched to secure the release of the union shop stewards the Pentonville Five in 1972); social mobility was becoming easier and the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed, creating a British society that was more equal in power and economically than any time before - or since.
The educated, powerful and well organised working class frightened the ruling class. An educated populace questions and if needed, culls a selfish political class. Culture and politics and the upper-class carved and polished Oxbridge iconography of the corridors of power were being sullied by questioning voices from below; from the explosion of the colourful working class punk Clashed and Stiff Littled Fingered movements through to the imminent seizure of the means of production by eloquent people like Jimmy Reid and shipyard workers.
Thatcher, whose main raison d'etre was to raise lot of the grammar school boys and the upper middle classes, was courted by the ruling classes, and her dogma was used to make access to power and education increasingly difficult for those from poor backgrounds to the point in which we have political parties dominated by the types of "families" that would have ruled at the turn of the 19th century. We have come from an era when working class children would receive an education, fully financially supported and therefore given independence and mobility by progressively tax supported grants and social security, to a point were working class people are becoming less and less represented in our corridors of learning and power. Huge fees, living expenses and learning expenses have ensured that clever working class people cannot afford to think beyond the daily struggle through uncertain, low paid jobs and short-term contracts. Society is regressing.
If you doubt what I say in this blogpiece, a rudimentary scan of the guests (and the host) on the political programme, BBC Questiontime should give some proof. Weekly we are treated to posh accents from posh families - of late the only working class accents seem to come from the "light relief" of the unreasonable comedian tacked on to the end of the polished table. Few, if any of these people dragged on to comment on the policies of the Etonian educated chums from across the three main political parties, represent me or the people I work with or grew up with. If you doubt what I am writing, do one thing. Do a rudimentary search online for the backgrounds of those names that drive the media.
State education since 1979, is slowly being reduced to the uncritical absorption of "facts." Degree courses that encouraged critical analysis of the world around us have been attacked and pulled out of the reach of the young people who would benefit from them. Young people have been priced out of democracy through attacks on how they are taught.
A real education supports children in a way that values their questions and their differences. What will these military style schools impose on our young people and our future society?