I saw another example today of why I fear, under our current political system, I am doomed to remain disenfranchised. Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg has written a piece in Progress Online (‘News and Debate from the Progressive Community’) about how wicked Grammar Schools are/were, and how ‘the selection of children and damaging division they bring, are once again the Conservative answer to improving education’. As it happens, that’s complete balderdash from end to end, and completely inaccurate: Grammar schooling isn’t Tory policy (if only it was), selective approaches to educating children are best for everyone if done properly, and selection didn’t bring damaging division in the 1950s other than to those self-pitying types who chose to see it that way.
My brother, for one, didn’t. He failed the 11-Plus, progressed to Technical school, and then took a degree in Chemistry. He proceeded to produce two beautiful children and make more money than I ever will without treading on anyone’s face to do it. Is Mr Twigg suggesting that my brother and I are thus divided? I admire my brother and although we loathed each other until I was about 30, male siblings tend to be like that. Today I would tear anyone who criticised him limb from limb: he is an admirable citizen in every way.
The ‘damage’ Labour sees in educational selection is and always has been a myth, and just one more sacred cow that dogs a Party whose class raison d’etre died forty years ago at least. Labour simply hasn’t moved on to being the Party of the small and vulnerable regardless of demographics, because its robotic class ideologues still stand, like so many rotted and fallen trees, in the way of being truly progressive. At the heart of Labour is a cast-iron belief that just saying ‘progressive’ and ‘correct’ is enough. Well it isn’t. And cast-iron hearts do not a caring Party make.
The net truth here is that both our ‘major’ (aka duopolistic) Parties are living in a past that is dangerously unrelated to a new future. Specifically – both in the UK and elsewhere in the West – the mainstream of their philosophies has been overtaken by social experience and neuro-scientific progress.
For example: if I may, I will now alienate even more people – including almost the entire population of the US – by pointing out that the American Declaration of Independence starts with an assertion that is complete bollocks:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’
First of all heeyah white bo’, what ’bout de womenfolk? And secondly, “Oh no they aren’t”. All human beings are created uniquely unequal. Their genetic inheritance, chemical brain DNA, IQ, genius dimensions, disabilities, and evolutionary progress dictate this. To be fair, the US’s founding fathers (who were to a man right-wing élitist Puritans with a detestation of the common people) wrote their way out of this fluffy drivel quite quickly by adding that ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ should be available to all – although in the contemporary United States that fine ideal has been perverted beyond the worst nightmares of George Washington. The missing phrase in the good ol’ DoI is “before the Law”.
We are not all equal: we are all different. For me, the role of a great teacher is to inspire….and to enable that gift, the teacher must spot where the talent lies in every type of student. He/she is going to find that process ten times more difficult in a mixed-ability class: the great radiators will manage the feat, the less gifted won’t. It therefore behoves the system to find ways of streaming without condemning, to separate without behaving like the Nationalist Party in post war South Africa.
Society needs a varietal skill-base. Scientists, artists, administrators, performers, sporting competitors, plumbers, doctors, woodworkers, metallurgists, quantum physicists, nurses, mathematicians….on and on the list of requirements goes – made ever longer by the advance of technology. Our ideas need to evolve in line with this.
But ideas do not evolve in the Western political class. They stop, stunted by the disease of wealth-worship and power-mania. They fall victim to idiot soundbites like “settled science”, “there is no alternative”, “the leg up”, and “selection is divisive”. Both the Labour and Conservative Parties in 2013 are obsessed by two things: not upsettting their Stone Age wing, and not alienating their sponsors. These two handicaps rule everything, but leave the developing citizen in last place every time.
Thus in education, Labour’s answer to the Tories going back to a neolithic form of selection is…..going back to comprehensives. The only thing they did comprehensively was fail our kids. Similarly, Labour’s answer to the Tories privatising the NHS is……going back to the 1970s NHS stuffed with bureaucrats and screwed by Unions. And Labour’s answer to the invasion of cowboy privatisers is…..going back to bloated State industries.
Hold it up to the light, not a new idea in sight. How easy it is being a member of the Labour Opposition. How mindless is this ‘Coalition’ Tory government. How hard and intractable are the problems we face.