Friday, 18 July 2014

Education, Education, Education

I love education, but I hated school*.

Kind of the opposite of Michael Gove…

So, Michael Gove, one of the most controversial and despised Education Secretaries ever, is gone, and – in an apparent demotion – has been moved to a job where his main function will be to convince MPs to toe the party line.  Which should be easy enough, since most do little else, and Gove has a reputation as a bully.

No one believes this move has been made in the interests of children, teachers, parents or education in general.  The PM might be passionately committed to these, I don’t know.  I can’t speak about his or Mr Gove’s motivations or intentions.  But like all politicians, the PM is concerned with popularity, and Gove has become increasingly unpopular among those with whom he is supposed to work.

Gove was vocal in his belief in British superiority and the necessity to teach children about British history without any troubling facts, or the fact that the British military he venerates carried out atrocities all over the world, in the name of dominating native populations, or any of that human rights nonsense.
He’s also well known for his commitment to private education, and he wants every school to be like Eton: a privately-funded “charity” (ie, tax exempt) that churns out privileged, blinkered youngsters ready for senior positions in the Tory party.  Although he’s presumably aware of the difficulty, he is ambitious – you try telling him we can’t all be Boris Johnson, he’s just such an idealist, he sincerely believes we all can. 
He’s also well known for his staunch opposition to the elected representatives of teachers, but ironically never mentioned that he has never been elected by anyone to take such a senior role in education policy.  (He was elected to the rather more limited role of representing the constituents of Surrey Heath)
He’s also well known for looking like a music hall ventriloquist’s dummy.

Like everyone else, I’m impressed by the commitment of Malalai Yousoufzai – and anyone else that would take a bullet for the right to education.  That willingness to stand up to the very worst kind of intimidation is inspiring, as is her work to help others similarly barred from education.
As a selfish child learning my place in the world, however, I didn’t think that way. 
I hated being told that I was lucky to be in school, or that they were the best days of my life** or whatever.

I thought I was a captive, a prisoner, constantly seeking a balance between “getting on” (ie, doing what I was told) and being myself (ie, doing what I wanted)***. 
In every sense this was the perfect preparation for adult life: we are (technically) free to do whatever we want, but the consequences of doing so on any regular basis are enough to make most of us do what we’re told.

The conversation goes something like this:
- You can do whatever you want – DON’T DO THAT OR I’LL BATTER YOU.
- Right, so I can’t do whatever I want.
- No, you need to do what you’re told.
- OK, so I’m scared of you and I don’t like you and if you push me too far I’ll react and then we’ll have a war on our hands…
- No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong, why are you so angry?  We’re here for your benefit.  And it’s your life, you can do whatever you want!  But you need to understand the consequences.
- So, you’ll batter me if I don’t do what you tell me to? 
- Well, let’s not let it come to that…
- OK, so you’re a bully and an egomaniac, and you want me to love and fear you in equal measure because that suits your story of yourself…
- Oh dear, that's a bit dramatic, don;t you think – let’s just all get along, shall we?
- Fuck you.
- Case closed.

I like to think that even at the time, I understood that we all went through this type of bullshit and that adults are mostly a lot less clued up about it than children.
This strikes at the central dichotomy of education (and child-rearing):
Do we prepare children for the world we have created for them?  Or do we protect them from it?

Michael Gove seems to have been treating teachers in this fashion, and my 13 year-old self may well be experiencing some schadenfreude at the irony.  (Not me though.  I am twenty years older and wiser.  And I have friends who are teachers.  And, as is common knowledge, if one has friends, one can’t possibly be prejudiced.)
Gove will now be concentrating on terrorising Tory MPs into voting for whatever hare-brained scheme for flogging poor and/or disabled people (or "vote-winner" in political jargon), instead of annoying teachers into industrial action.

Either way, most education doesn't happen in a classroom: the tiny little bit I know about Greek philosophers comes from that Monty Python sketch where Germany play Greece.  I've heard of the Plymouth Brethren, but I read about them because of the film Son Of Rambow.  I learned about American history and politics from Bob Dylan, Chuck D and Spike Lee. And I know because of KRS One...
And I know because of parents, siblings, friends, music, books, films, TV, church, independent thought, critical faculties, football, theatre, horrible mistakes, and joyful, painful experience, etc.

Now that I‘m older and understand the value of education a bit better, I suppose I am just like everyone who told me I was lucky to be in school.

*I don’t mean the school I went to, particularly, which was alright, I suppose (it’s the only one I went to so I can’t really make a comparative judgement).  I hated the idea of school, the coercion, the petty, arbitrary rules, the fact that intelligence, coupled with an inquisitive mind was a complete liability.  This would presumably have been the same in any school I could have attended.  For the record, I made life-long friends and had some good times and some bad at the school.  The school doesn’t exist anymore, which makes me….umm, indifferent, mostly.
**they definitely weren’t.
***Very occasionally, these two coincided which was more often a source of anguish than pleasure.

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