Cassandra: education

Bolgs and Comments
Our prophet becomes a parish pariah for daring to challenge the orthodoxy of the educational system

The newspapers in late October were full of the story of a 14-year-old boy sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for the murder of a younger boy. Never mind asking what sort of man he will be at 26 years, when free again – we have to ask, what prompted his actions?

Over two years ago, a group of concerned American counsellors and child welfare people held a conference to discuss The Crisis of American Youth – a crisis of rising rates of aggression, truancy, classroom disruption, drugs, depression, bullying, alienation, violence, teenage pregnancies, family breakdown and suicide.

Their report reached a unanimous conclusion that one main cause of the crisis was that American schools were too large. It is a conclusion that flies in the face of several decades of UK government educational policy, as promoted by all three of our mass-membership parties. Whatever their label, they all want bigger schools.
The school attended by the jailed Michael Hamer has a roll of over a thousand pupils. How can any head possibly ‘know’ such a huge number of charges? How else can a lad be so murderously sick that no one is aware of his problems until it is too late?
My local village school also has all the problems that alerted the American youth workers. Daily, more than 20 busloads of teenagers from neighbouring communities are shipped in and out. The school has a lively drug culture. And in the previous year, in line with rising rates of teenage suicide across the developed world, two of the pupils took their own lives.

Yet, in secrecy, the school’s governors projected a scheme to make the school even larger. They did not find it necessary to even inform the elected Parish Council of their plans, far less ask its permission (question: Why is the school not governed by the Parish Council?), and only when a village environmental committee added its voice to the objections was an official enquiry held.

Well, I had taken the trouble to research the American report (it is accessible on html) and to alert my neighbours and the school authorities to its conclusions, including the need to make schools smaller. So when the man from the ministry of education reached his ‘independent’ decision to approve the enlargement proposal, I wrote a furious article in the village magazine, explaining how differently I would have acted if I had been the school head.

 It was noticeable, meanwhile, that once the announcement in favour of enlargement had been made, neither the local Parish Council nor the village environmental group made any sort of protest at this flagrant violation of democratic ethics; rather, it was regarded as a normal state of affairs, as indeed it is. Church life today seems to be dominated by a determination to adhere to political correctness at all costs: never must anyone give the least offence to anyone, albeit that its founder never seems to have done anything but the contrary.

I was judged by some vocal elements to be guilty of making ‘a personal attack’, although I had named no names. Ever since, I have been labelled an ill-mannered troublemaker and presented with shoulders somewhat below normal temperatures. A storm in a local teacup perhaps, but one indicating grim levels of political realism and concern that are only too general.

The saddest aspect of this tussle was the failure of any official voice to be raised to question the effects of the enlargement on the pupils themselves. Hundreds of pupils are bussed away from their communities, while their parents are encouraged to ignore their civic responsibilities to ensure good standards in their own local schools. For what? To pursue a mirage of better exam result percentages they believe prevail elsewhere, an emphasis that ignores the majority need for vocational rather than strictly academic educational focus.

When the pupils arrive, the first lesson they learn (as they are apt to find 100 or more teachers’ cars parked in the school grounds) is that global warming is happening on another planet, and that the question of moral leadership in order to combat it and make the future safe for themselves is nobody’s business.

They perceive indeed all too clearly, however little they may articulate it, that they are not part of some great creative adventure in which each of their lives holds the promise of achievement and fulfilment in ways that will enrich those who come after them. Instead, they are trapped in a squalid exercise of social engineering where economic activity, instead of being a mundane means to great ends, is an end in itself – regardless of any cost to human dignity, sensitivity or prospect of nobility.

In his 85 years Cassandra has been an orphan, runaway, communist, cook, beggar, editor, presidential advisor, prisoner and priest. In a former life she was a Greek prophetess whose unerring prophecies of impending disaster were cursed to go unheeded.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2006

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