The times we live in appear to be feeding trends which represent a serious threat to democracy.
On the one hand, the appetite for learning appears to be suffering from the lure of the social media and all the attendant distractions. The attraction is to know about the now, the sensational and the ephemeral rather than about the past, the basic and the established. On the other hand, the appetite for learning seems also to being dulled by a feeling of exclusion, a feeling that no amount of education can overcome the barriers to social mobility, of class and of inherited advantage.
The times have also fed the ubiquitous process of scapegoating that accompanies economic hardship, a hardship that is likely to continue permanently in some quarters. Newspapers and news channels discharge an endless stream of poisonous misinformation to suit the avarice and ambitions of their owners. No surprise then when a You Gov poll reveals that the population believes that 25% of all benefits are claimed fraudulently when the actual figure is less than 1%. The poll also revealed that people believe that immigrants make up 31% of the whole population rather than the true figure of 13% and that 24% of the population are Muslims when the actual figure is 5%. People believe that 15% of all under16 year olds are pregnant when the true figure is 0.6%. Perhaps most worryingly is the pedalled myth that nobody bothers to vote, such that people think only 43% bothered at the last election rather than the 65% who actually did.
Perhaps the most critical purpose of education is to encourage young people to question and to use the internet wisely in order to establish fact, to expose lies and to bear witness to their findings. We are also surely bound to explain to them the calamities that can follow if we do not demand the truth.
It is some time since I took industrial action – in the 1980’s disputes when we were again trying to restore recommended pay levels. Things are a little more complex this time and yet the case is stronger – this isn’t just about a bigger salary and broken promises, this is surely about an expression of frustration and anger about a host of things.
Top of my list for supporting the action on the 30th November is connected to the ‘we are all in this together’ promise made by the Coalition. We clearly are not, and haven’t been since the 1980’s. How is it that the boss of a supermarket company or investment banker can really be paid over £1 million p.a.? Are they worth over 20 teachers or nurses? It can’t be a question of qualifications – teachers, nurses and doctors surely match anybody’s requirements. It can’t be a question of stress or workload. It can’t be a question of responsibility or contribution to society. The usual reason given is that the big money is needed in order to attract the highest calibre people. It’s the market place stupid.
This is the nub and the logic of this is that business people and bankers will only work for the money. Others who are prepared to work in the public service are having to pay the price. This is happening as the value of pensions is being eroded. (What an argument! – public service pension provision is far better than in the private sector so we need to reduce everbody to the poorest level). What was needed was an all party look at occupational pensions and a fair and national scheme devised for everybody. Whilst they were doing this they could have done the same for the care of the elderly.
I suspect that allowing this type of inequality and the continued exploitation of good will is one of the main causes of our current economic and social plight (as well as the politicians who got us here by buying votes with money they did not have, and now can’t get us out because the necessary measures will ensure their demise at the polls).
The problem has been around for some time, but it was for the Coalition government to see that the key was to enlist public support and to act accordingly. Instead, they are making the situation infinitely worse, for the continued alienation and scapegoating* of public servants in this way will undermine all our futures. In the education world, all of this is being compounded by gallery playing ministers, who think that all the education system needs is more competition from the subsidised ‘free’ and elite schools, some ‘traditional’ history lessons and a copy of the King James Bible each (go read it in the library as we are marginalising RE lessons where you might have been taught about scapegoating*).