A Return of sorts

It has been a long while since I metaphorically put pen to paper on this blog. I started it when I began my degree, now done and dusted, and it seemed a great way to help me coral and express my thoughts and philosophies that were emerging as I studied. As I came to the end of my degree, and the pressures that entailed, and I took up teacher training, the time to reflect and write seemed to disappear like money in my account.

As it was, I have had a bit of a learning experience over the past 15 months or so and I am not sure if I have even begun the journey of understanding what has happened, how it has impacted on myself and my friends and family, and what impact it will have in the future. I do know that I have been both surprised and not so surprised at those who have watched me during this experience – and have not run away or turned a shoulder. I am not the easiest of people to befriend or get to know but I try to be as helpful and supportive as I can but it appears for some, if not all, that I have met over the past 15 months this has not been enough to ask about how I have been doing. So be it, I am an uncommunicative bastard at the best of times, so fewer people to feel guilty about not talking to is a bonus. To those who have stuck around during what have been, and still are, dark times for me, I can only offer pathetic thanks and the faint joke of having only yourselves to blame for hanging around.

 

As a part of the process of trying to get back to the centre of myself I have started writing again. This will be a semi-irregular rant or head dump to try and make sense of a world I am becoming increasing alienated from. Generally I will philosophise, or talk bollocks as some of my friends might say, but occasionally it might be something completely different. In addiiton I am writing short stories. Nothing serious but I am hoping that some creative success might kick start the ability to look forward and think outside of this angry little box I am in.

 

So far this has just been a post of “I’m kind of messed up and I am going to frown at you about it.” but curiously I can feel the beginnings of a sort of release. I will try and get a bit more light hearted, hopefully not too much at the expense of the kids I help, but I hope you will forgive me if sometimes the grumpy old bastard comes through.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A New Political Future?

6 months. Its been 6 months since I last published some thoughts on here. Too long. That’s not to say my brain froze up, or my passion died. Rather life decided I needed to focus my attention elsewhere.

Now I can write again.

As many of you will know it could be said we live in interesting times. For the UK our economy is all over the place, with many hunkered down and hoping to ride out the storm. We have one military action, Libya, taking over from another, Afghanistan, in some sort of perverse global conflict relay. Now we have the News of the World (NotW) and News International (NI) crisis. No link needed, this is everywhere.

To be honest I am dancing a jig over this one. I am really hoping the Americans get involved as I have little confidence in our judiciary and political stamina to do what is right here. While I know that there will be many innocent casualties in this episode, not least some of the NotW staff who recently lost their jobs, for me I am hoping for a political and corporate blood bath over this.

For too long the press in the UK, and especially the tabloids but not exclusively, have stopped informing the British public and have sought to do its thinking and make its decisions. Here is a real chance for the British public and especially its electorate to wake up and take control again of our political future. There is a real danger though that short-term political points scoring and blind ideological thinking will prevent this. I sometimes post on the Guardian”Comment is Free” pages and for me it can reflect the sorry state in which our political debating has gotten into. I know there will be fanatics on each side, but I am sure the Daily Mail is the same, if not worse. NI needs to become a symbol of how the British public can think and act for itself. And our MPs need to know this as well.

Now I am not a political person. Ask anyone who has worked with me. When it comes to understanding politics I am as delicate as a bull in a china shop, wearing a blindfold, clown boots and listening to Pantera on an Ipod. While 20 years in various lower levelled retail management can give you a stoney capitalist carapace, deep down I lean slightly to the left I suppose. Yet I haven’t voted yet, other than to spoil papers. Simple reason is I haven’t seen any benefit in any political manifesto since I was 18. And I firmly believe once the buggers get into power they are all as mad as the last lot. The British political system has lost its love/fear relationship with the British electorate it seems to me. I think it needs it back. So I wrote a letter to David Cameron. I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. Got a nice card though. This is what I suggested.

The first thing was to make voting compulsory. There was a caveat whereby there should be an option for a “No Vote” and the incoming government would be legally obliged to have an independent enquiry into why if the “No Vote” option reached a certain level. They then should be legally obliged to take steps to ensure those issues are resolved. As you can see from this graph, the numbers voting have been dropping steadily and as such we can have a coalition government where the dominant party is on around 35% of the electorate voting. No problems with this if everyone had voted but they hadn’t. That cannot be democratic.

The second was that every MP should have a job description, as should the roles they have within government. These should be freely available on an easy to access website. In addition this needs to be taught at schools in Citizenship lessons; who is your MP, what he does, how you contact him and how you know if he is doing his job and why that is important. There is a rise in “career politicians”, professional politicians, people who have done little else and are looking for staying in it for a long time, or for the big corporate pay out at the end. I haven’t got a problem with that. I haven’t got a problem with the new political class getting professional about it. I  just think that, as their employers, we should know what they do and how they are doing. At least some of that job description needs to be defined by the political party, but it shouldn’t be the majority of it.

Finally the Right of Recall and the Right of Performance Evaluation. We, the electorate, should have a system in place where we can recall our MP if we feel they are not representing our interests, fulfilling their job description or anything else related to their job. We are their employers after all. So we need a mechanism where an MP can be forced to resit a bye election. In addition, there needs to be a mechanism where an MP can be called to task by the electorate without forcing a bye election. Performance Management and Disciplinary Procedures for those managers of you out there. You couldn’t recall Michael Gove for being a crap Secretary of State for Education, but you could for not holding constituency clinics. Imagine if something like 10-25% of an MPs pay or their pay rise was awarded on a yearly evaluation of their work via a constituency committee formed similar to a jury? Why not, Governors have to do similar for Schools.

There are of course some loopholes here, but I am not a professional. I would expect legal types to sow this up tighter than Scrooge’s wallet on the 23rd December. The hope is to not only re-engage the British public in the system, and therefore encourage them to pay attention to their politics, but to hold our MPs to account and make us their first priority. Maybe then we would have serious debates in the House of Commons and not just the stupid school ground shouting, ping-pong politics we now get.

I am all for democracy. I have a friend, Mik Parkin, who would probably organise the storming of Tory Party HQ if he could get a decent backing song list for it on his Ipod. I want a spread of opinion. I want there to be Left, Right and Centre. But I want the buggers coming after me and my vote, not just saying “This is what Mr Murdoch wants, pick the version you hate least”. I want to be enthralled and attentive at election time. And I want to see my MP full stop. I want to see him addressing the issues and concerns of his electorate. I want him working for me. And you.

I leave you with this song. Don’t know the band or anything important like that, but this track has been putting a smile on my face for the past couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy it.

Posted in Politics | 5 Comments

Is your child getting educated, or are they learning?

Something dawned on me today in a seminar on play. We were discussing why play was important and it became clear to me that there is a big difference between learning, something we all want for our children, and education, or should I say Education, the structure supposed to support learning. In this case nothing was proved about whether structured play is more of less beneficial to the child than natural play. What is apparent that even without this key piece of evidence, structured play does support the teacher and the school. The more we spoke around the subject of education, the more it became suggested that actually education is just a structure to place learning within and to make it more.. effective(?) and easier to judge that effectiveness, but like any structure, its strength is also its weakness.

As an aside, one of the younger students decided that there was nothing to learn from playing computer games, because “you can’t learn anything from shooting zombies” and Panorama had said gaming was bad. While I will agree that excessive gaming is a bad thing, and computer gaming is something that can easily be of harm to obsessive types, I couldn’t get her to see that this was a social issue, one of balance, and that to blame computer games is as about as effective as blaming the knife when it cuts you. There is education in computer games, far more than is apparent, realising it is for the individual and their community.

So, another aspect of education we discussed recently is S.E.A.L.. Derived from an American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, the original research was based on Goleman’s observations of US managers at work, comparing successful leaders with unsuccessful ones. This then became the basis for countless Leadership programmes in corporate training. Developed into S.E.A.L. this correctly identifies that children are more open to learning if the are socially and emotionally competent. Yet there is a disconnect between this and the work done by Goleman. Adults, especially in places of management, can often become changed by the systems they work with, the pressures of continual success and work/life balance. Why do children need this? Surely they should be mostly screened from this kind of pressure and behaviour modification?

Not necessarily. When you look at S.E.A.L. and ask questions you realise two things. The first is shocking but our own fault. Modern Britain is said to be a place of social and work mobility. Families and individuals are encouraged to feel confident about moving for that promotion or job opportunity, safe in the knowledge that the family are only a car or train journey away.  Yet this has led to a splintering of local communities and family networks, and children now spend more time with a non-familial person in care than ever before. When you look at the details about what makes an emotionally and socially competent child, these things are learnt by children as a matter of course in their normal everyday interactions with their peers and family members. Take or reduce the number of peers and family members, reduce the amount of time they spend together, increase the stress and time pressure on the adults and maybe we can begin to see why such education could be necessary. In essence, we are not sending our children to school ready to learn.

The second aspect that worries me is I believe that emotions and social skills are two of the most powerful things that makes us human, along with imagination. The social skills and strategies we have evolved over time have allowed us to thrive and survive. Our emotions are the raw energy which propel us through our own individual evolutionary paths. What is essential is that we learn to harness these two for our own needs – we will not always be successful and if you are like me, that lack of success can affect you for life; but we do adapt to cope with such things. Now we have brought these aspects out of “learning” and into education, giving them a structure, goals and evaluations. In essence we have given someone else the ability to control the development of our own emotions and social skills. Is that right? I know many teachers who would argue vehemently that they are not “programming” children’s development, but they do already in other ways, so why would S.E.A.L. be any different? Sadly though, as a society, we need this as we are not sending our kids to school ready to learn. As such have we just given away to the state another aspect of our individuality to be assessed, redefined and controlled?

There are so many examples of how education in this country can be seen as a social engineering exercise, producing the next generations already prepared for their place in society, and with little or no ability to move on, just down. Funnily enough, I am a kind of traditionalist at heart with education, but what I am beginning to see more and more is we are using education to prop up society, so that society can be pushed and shoved any which way the politicians feel we need to be pushed.  For me it’s not up to society to demand from education that it creates a steady flow of pre-formed ideal members, but the relationship between education and society is one where society funds education because of the benefits it brings and it promotes these benefits to the children; education helps children learn about themselves, their environment, their society and how to be both critical and inspired of the society they are about to join as adults. How much better would this country be if every child left school knowing who they were and how they could best use those talents?

To summarise, there are many aspects of our children’s education which has now been studied, categorised, structured, assessed, put into a training session and turned into a professional performance grade. So many of these aspects do not need this, but do need society to let families act like families, communities to be communities and, most importantly, just need children the freedom and space to be children. That is when they learn best.

So when you are getting ready to drop your child off, or pick then up, or if you don’t have kids but might work with them today; ask yourself were you a part of their learning today, have they learnt anything today about themselves and their world and was it useful? Or did they just get told something to memorise and regurgitate in a happy smiley way, fact or feeling, liked a faithful, trained animal? The difference could be profound and life changing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why the Students Got It Wrong

I am a student. I am also a mature student living off site. This puts me into a small and unrepresented minority at my university. As such no one asked me about my opinion on yesterday’s protest. Even if they did I don’t think they would have liked the answer.

I don’t condone violence and yesterday the NUS, and the teachers and lecturers who supported them, got the march wrong.  There has been a growing tendency for protest marches, which have lost their impact and purpose these days, to become cover for groups of people who wish to create a violent and destructive atmosphere. The NUS should have known it would be used as a cover for more aggressive, radical and reactionary groups and taken steps to present a way of dissociating themselves from the vandalism. A simple statement from Aaron Porter will not be enough to give some credibility back to the thousands of students with genuine worries. I would question Mr Porter’s naivety here.

There is another reason why students got it wrong. There is so much wrong with the concept of education in this country that a bunch of kids, who on the whole will leave university and command better salaries than their contemporaries without them, complaining that they have to pay for a privilege and a leg up in the world that far more people go without, smacks of immaturity and whining.

Education was established along exploitative lines and in many regards it still is. Education is a political football, with the policies designed to appeal and target voters and not the chief stakeholders, the kids. Education accounts for 12% of our total state expenditure, but it is something that we have still not got right, and we still fail to give some of the children in this country the education we claim they are entitled to. The concept of free education is not one that is universal in this country, so why should people who could be earning, and will go on to earn more than the national average, get a benefit, an inequality at the expense of others? Wouldn’t that money be better of spent on social housing, more hospitals?

But the real reason the students got it wrong is because they do not have an answer. There hasn’t been an ideal solution proposed by anyone and as such, to complain about an issue but to be unwilling to even begin to solve it is not only immature, but it is socially irresponsible.

It’s an embarrassing and thoughtful day to be a student, because by will and by intellect we have become a part of the welfare culture and we have chosen to react by allowing ourselves to be painted as unreasoning animals. We live in age when there is a real opportunity to create change over time, using the tools that have stopped us in the past against those who have been resisting; PR, legal, communications, advertising, viral campaigns. If a huge number of UK citizens can be conned into thinking that X Factor is entertainment then I have every hope that they can be encouraged to see that there are better ways of doing things; and as supposedly some of the brightest, enthusiastic  and progressive parts of our society this is where students should lead the way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

EDl vs UAF vs …?

Today the EDL visited Leicester to be met by the police and the UAF. This has been quite a tense arrival for this date, as the article and it’s links have shown, yet out of the other side initial arrests and injuries are surprisingly and thankfully low.

This has really intrigued me and it has certainly left me with a resolution to go on a march, although not an extremist one (left or right). Still if I choose to run for public office it should give the security services a wry smile. Anyway, from a layman’s external point of view these seems to be protests about extremist groups and their impacts on British society. In essence you have the EDL reacting against recent activities and protests by what you might call radical/extremist/fundamental Islamic groups and you have protests by the UAF, amongst others, against racism and fascism. Yet as far as the casual eye can tell, neither group is initially promoting anything that the other is protesting about.

Now all radical, action orientated groups will get infiltrated by extremist parties who will try to use the group as a cover for acts of violence, sabotage, vandalism and anti-establishment activities. I think it is the nature of these groups that no matter how carefully they vet their members and supporters, as they act towards the more fringe and minority areas of societal causes, any support is cautiously welcome. If we enforce these groups then to police themselves over this, should we not then insist on the same scrutiny and punishment for more mainstream political groups? Because after all these are political protests and political statements being made here.

Another thing to consider is both groups of course have the right to protest and demonstrate their views; this is a freedom we should all defend, the freedom to thought and expression no matter how that opposes and challenges our own. In addition the right to counter protest has to be enshrined – a protest after all is not a dialogue or a seeking of consensus, it is an energy filled, impacting demonstration of passion, belief and commitment. Whether protests these days have the same impact that they did from the Peasants Revolt to the 1980’s is debatable. Certainly its questionable about the G20 and Countryside Alliance marches – while they raised public awareness and demonstrated a depth of passion, in this country there tends to be more apathy and derogatory comments at such activities.

In this instance, if I was the UAF, would I not want to be placed in the good light? Would I not want to be seen as the very opposite of the EDL (not politically), the soul of public order, community support and spirit? Would you not avoid the EDL like the plague and, while simultaneously holding support activities in areas after EDL marches and racial tensions, raise funds to legally pursue the more extremist EDL supporters? You can’t be seen as the champions of racial harmony and community spirit if you are getting arrested for Breach of the Peace for lobbing a brick. Likewise the EDL, if extremists are threatening the community you live in, then there are far, far more effective ways of bringing this to everyone’s attention than deliberately misusing some genuinely frightened people to get your message across. Using extremist actions to raise awareness about extremists is self-defeating.

The question asked is if you counter protest, are you making yourself a part of the problem of the day (public order, safety, protection of property)? If so, isn’t the message getting lost as the lines are blurred between protestor and extremist?

This is where I question the value of the Protest March. It is a sight to be seen, no doubt, and can stir the emotions, uncomfortably so. Yet do they still have the impacts that are required from such demonstrations? Is the message getting across the right way or, especially in the UK, is it meeting a wall apathy? The UK is a wealthy, industrialised nation with a good level of education. History teaches us that such a demographic is likely to be more open the nationalist tendencies, dominated as it is by the middle class, and that those nationalist tendencies once invoked are easy to provoke and manipulate. Protests on streets aren’t likely to win over the middle class decision makers.

In the end it seems to me that there are so many better ways to drive a message into the public domain. We live in an age of instant media access, where soundbites and eyebites can be delivered precisely and have more impact than hour long documentaries. We have a legal system that is loopholed and easily outflanked. Also there is so little community co-operation, support and love that a simple act of kindness, offering to clear up the mess the previous protest march had left, could win more hearts, minds and votes than best supported protest ever could.

To finish off I have a feeling that at least one colleague from University was there today. I hope he is safe and has had a good day. Here’s to that cup of coffee mate.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Why History works.

I worked for thirteen years for a company that dominated its field. It wasn’t a huge company but in the thirteen years it grew and became, for the industry, a behemoth a true monster. Since leaving that business I have gone through the usual emotional rollercoaster that comes with having to deal with leaving an institution that you have been a resident at for so long.  Those feelings have a way of colouring your perspective on things and when those feelings have sprung from other emotions almost brain washed into you, that perspective is almost as strong as reality.

I have taken to observing my former employers fortunes and actions for a variety of reasons; partly because deep down I still have that attachment and its counter, an almost violent revulsion; partly because I have such knowledge of the business as it relates to its customer base that there is a challenge of marrying the big picture to its customers observations and expectations; partly as a form of keeping in touch with something I am passionate about; and partly to as another way of keeping the old noggin ticking over.

Just recently I have been applying a historians eye to this business and its customers perceptions and two things are apparent. The first is the utter lack of reliable data on the market, let alone the businesses that have inhabited it over the decades. This makes an accurate reflection of the historical impacts of products, sales drives, promotions, decisions etc extremely difficult. The most basic of comparisons between companies become almost immediately mired in local environmental perceptions, emotional attachments and bias.

The second problem this lack of data and analysis presents is that there is little or nothing to challenge the perceptions of the customers within the market. This creates some very worrying conditions within the group mindset of the customer base particularly amongst the more vocal. This can be seen especially in internet forums where unsubstantiated rumour and/or opinion which happens to appeal to the zeitgeist of the community on that day or week.

When you then try to introduce a small amount of gentle historical analysis into the discussions (I use this in the very broadest of senses; internet forums bear little resemblance to actual discussions) you find that you are either ignored or challenged and that is in itself fine and probably the reaction by most people to historical analysis. What is interesting is when you are challenged, the facts used as the basis of the challenge are derived from the opinions and zeitgeist of the internet community, or local events presented as a worldwide and generalised facts; and because these events and opinions capture the general empathy of the community rather than accurately reflect historical reality they are embraced and held to be true.

So aside from a little confessional, what has all this to do with History? Over the past few years I have experienced a history being created that in many areas differs substantially from the reality. This history has been created by online demagogues, a localised anger driven form of hysteria, rumour and a little sprinkling of facts. This has given me a small insight into what our world could be like if professional Historians were not challenging world opinions with factually lead historical analysis; how our world might seem if history was decided by whoever was in charge or he who shouted loudest or funniest; if local mass hysterical opinion was recorded as historical fact; or if local, national or global history was recorded after a discussion on what people in a village hall perceived it as. History prevents this and allows us to truly understand where we have come from and what makes us now, even if that means confronting distasteful and uncomfortable facts, challenging common widely held opinions or going against fashion or public demand.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is this really shocking? Is it news?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/sep/21/schools-gcse-results-league-tables

If you are passionate about education or development this is an article that might shock you if you have not come across the phenomenon before. The Guardian has posted an article claiming that some secondary schools are manipulating various aspects of the GCSE process to maximise the volumes of children who achieve the standard target of 5 GCSEs at Grade C and above. The paper claims this goes to the extent of emphasising resources on special “target intervention groups” or TIGs which consist of borderline C/D students at the detriment of other, more or less academically achieving students. In addition by choosing a potentially soft option Btec award for some students (counting as 2 GCSEs in the final analysis) and its accompanying low level of  external scrutiny on the 100% assessed coursework, some schools are clearly trying to present a more successful educational picture than actually exists.

Or are they?

If you are a business minded person all this makes sense. By opening schools up to more market influences, running them like small businesses, their success depends on how well those exam scores come up. In which case the MD/CEO (See head teacher) has every right to seek every competitive edge to maximise on income and success even at the cost to local competitors. In short the short-long term survival of the school has become the focus of the schools output and not the quality of the education of the pupils within.

To me this suggests that our schools are coming closer to the capitalist ideal – it’s now up to the pupil and the parent to get the best out of the school and the education system, not for the system to provide the best opportunities. You can see this reflected in many companies’ approach to staff development – you get the basics but if you want to go any further, then that is entirely down to you. The function of the school is to be attractive to consumers (Parents and the Government in this case) in order to ensure its continuing profitability (which for a school can be measured in a variety of ways). In essence as a western liberal capitalist democracy we have little to complain about here.

I know I bang on about it a considerable amount, but this adds fuel to the argument of getting Education away from politicians and to redefine its connection with society because here is a perfect example of how society and political ideology have a negative impact on our children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment