Posts Tagged ‘State Schools’

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

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The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.

Reichwing Watch: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America

November 16, 2016

This is another excellent video from Reichwing Watch. Entitled Peasants for Plutocracy: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America, it’s about how wealthy industrialists, like the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, created modern Libertarianism and a stream of fake grassroots ‘astroturf’ organisations, in order to attack and roll back Roosevelt’s New Deal and the limited welfare state it introduced. And one of the many fake populist organisations the Koch brothers have set up is the Tea Party movement, despite the Kochs publicly distancing themselves from it.

The documentary begins with footage from an old black and white American Cold War propaganda movie, showing earnest young people from the middle decades of the last century discussing the nature of capitalism. It then moves on to Noam Chomsky’s own, very different perspective on an economy founded on private enterprise. Chomsky states that there has never been a purely capitalist economy. Were one to be established, it would very soon collapse, and so what we have now is state capitalism, with the state playing a very large role in keeping capitalism viable. He states that the alternative to this system is the one believed in by 19th century workers, in that the people, who worked in the mills should own the mills. He also states that they also believed that wage labour was little different from slavery, except in that it was temporary. This belief was so widespread that it was even accepted by the Republican party. The alternative to capitalism is genuinely democratic self-management. This conflicts with the existing power structure, which therefore does everything it can to make it seem unthinkable.

Libertarianism was founded in America in 1946/7 by an executive from the Chamber of Commerce in the form of the Foundation for Economic Education. This was basically a gigantic business lobby, financed by the heads of Fortune 500 companies, who also sat on its board. It’s goal was to destroy Roosevelt’s New Deal. Vice-President Wallace in an op-ed column in the New York Times stated that while its members posed as super-patriots, they wanted to roll back freedom and capture both state and economic power. The video also quotes Milton Friedman, the great advocate of Monetarism and free market economics, on capitalism as the system which offers the worst service at the highest possible profit. To be a good businessman, you have to be as mean and rotten as you can. And this view of capitalism goes back to Adam Smith. There is a clip of Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, answering a question on why the media is so incurious about the true origins of Libertarianism. He states that they aren’t curious for the same reason the American media didn’t inquire into the true nature of the non-existent WMDs. It shows just how much propaganda and corruption there is in the American media.

The documentary then moves on to the Tea Party, the radical anti-tax movement, whose members deliberately hark back to the Boston Tea Party to the point of dressing up in 18th century costume. This section begins with clips of Fox News praising the Tea Party. This is then followed by Noam Chomsky on how people dread filling out their annual tax returns because they’ve been taught to see taxation as the state stealing their money. This is true in dictatorships. But in true democracy, it should be viewed differently, as the people at last being able to put into practice the plan in which everyone was involved in formulating. However, this frightens big business more than social security as it involves a functioning democracy. As a result, there is a concerted, and very successful campaign, to get people to fear big government.

The idea of the Tea Party was first aired by the CNBC reporter Rick Santilli in an on-air rant. Most of the Party’s members are normal, middle class Americans with little personal involvement in political campaigning. It is also officially a bi-partisan movement against government waste. But the real nature of the Tea Party was shown in the 2010 Tea Party Declaration of Independence, which stated that the Party’s aims were small government and a free market economy. In fact, the movement was effectively founded by the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch. Back in the 1980s, David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice-president. The Libertarian Party’s 1980 platform stated that they intended to abolish just about every regulatory body and the welfare system. They intended to abolish the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Authority, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Labor Relations Board, the FBI, CIA, Federal Reserve, Social Security, Welfare, the public (state) schools, and taxation. They abandoned this tactic, however, after pouring $2 million of their money into it, only to get one per cent of the vote. So in 1984 they founded the first of their wretched astroturf organisation, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The name was meant to make it appear to be a grassroots movement. However, their 1998 financial statement shows that it was funded entirely by wealthy businessmen like the Kochs. In 2004 the CSE split into two – Freedom Works, and Americans for Prosperity. The AFP holds an annual convention in Arlington, Virginia, attended by some of its 800,000 members. It was the AFP and the Kochs who were the real organising force behind the Tea Party. Within hours of Santilli’s rant, he had been given a list of 1/2 million names by the Kochs. Although the Koch’s have publicly distanced themselves from the Tea Party, the clip for this section of the documentary shows numerous delegates at the convention standing up to declare how they had organised Tea Parties in their states. But it isn’t only the AFP that does this. Freedom Works, which has nothing to do with the Kochs, also funds and organises the Tea Parties.

Mark Crispin Miller, an expert on propaganda, analysing these astroturf organisations makes the point that for propaganda to be effective, it must not seem like propaganda. It must seem to come either from a respected, neutral source, or from the people themselves. Hence the creation of these fake astroturf organisations.

After its foundation in the late 1940s, modern Libertarianism was forged in the late 1960s and ’70s by Charles Koch and Murray Rothbard. Libertarianism had previously been the ideology of the John Birch Society, a group harking back to the 19th century. Koch and Rothbard married this economic extreme liberalism, with the political liberalism of the hippy counterculture. They realised that the hippies hated the state, objecting to the police, drug laws, CIA and the Vietnam war. Ayn Rand, who is now credited as one of the great founders of Libertarianism for her extreme capitalist beliefs, despised them. The film has a photo of her, next to a long quote in which she describes Libertarianism as a mixture of capitalism and anarchism ‘worse than anything the New Left has proposed. It’s a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two different bandwagons… I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect.’

The documentary also goes on to show the very selective attitude towards drugs and democracy held by the two best-known American Libertarian politicos, Ron and Rand Paul. Despite the Libertarians’ supposedly pro-marijuana stance, the Pauls aren’t actually in favour of legalising it or any other drugs. They’re just in favour of devolving the authority to ban it to the individual states. If the federal government sends you to prison for weed, that, to them, is despotism. If its the individual state, it’s liberty.

And there’s a very telling place piece of footage where Ron Paul talks calmly about what a threat democracy is. He states clearly that democracy is dangerous, because it means mob rule, and privileges the majority over the minority. At this point the video breaks the conversation to show a caption pointing out that the Constitution was framed by a small group of wealthy plutocrats, not ‘we the people’. This is then followed by an American government film showing a sliding scale for societies showing their positions between the poles of democracy to despotism, which is equated with minority rule. The video shows another political scientist explaining that government and elites have always feared democracy, because when the people make their voices heard, they make the wrong decisions. Hence they are keen to create what Walter Lipmann in the 1920s called ‘manufacturing consent’. Real decisions are made by the elites. The people themselves are only allowed to participate as consumers. They are granted methods, which allow them to ratify the decisions of their masters, but denied the ability to inform themselves, organise and act for themselves.

While Libertarianism is far more popular in America than it is over here, this is another video that’s very relevant to British politics. There are Libertarians over here, who’ve adopted the extreme free-market views of von Hayek and his fellows. One of the Torygraph columnists was particularly vocal in his support for their doctrines. Modern Tory ideology has also taken over much from them. Margaret Thatcher was chiefly backed by the Libertarians in the Tory party, such as the National Association For Freedom, which understandably changed its name to the Freedom Foundation. The illegal rave culture of the late 1980s and 1990s, for example, operated out of part of Tory Central Office, just as Maggie Thatcher and John Major were trying to ban it and criminalise ‘music with a repetitive beat’. Virginian Bottomley appeared in the Mail on Sunday back in the early 1990s raving about how wonderful it would be to replace the police force with private security firms, hired by neighbourhoods themselves. That’s another Libertarian policy. It comes straight from Murray Rothbard. Rothbard also wanted to privatise the courts, arguing that justice would still operate, as communities would voluntarily submit to the fairest court as an impartial and non-coercive way of maintain the peace and keeping down crime. The speaker in this part of the video describes Koch and Rothbard as ‘cretins’. Of course, it’s a colossally stupid idea, which not even the Tory party wanted to back. Mind you, that’s probably because they’re all in favour of authoritarianism and state power when its wielded by the elite.

I’ve no doubt most of the Libertarians in this country also believe that they’re participating in some kind of grassroots, countercultural movement, unaware that this is all about the corporate elite trying to seize more power for themselves, undermine genuine democracy, and keep the masses poor, denied welfare support, state education, and, in Britain, destroying the NHS, the system of state healthcare that has kept this country healthy for nearly 70 years.

Libertarians do see themselves as anarchists, though anarcho-individualists, rather than collectivists like the anarcho-syndicalists or Communists. They aren’t. This is purely about expanding corporate power at the expense of the state and the ordinary citizens it protects and who it is supposed to represent and legislate for. And it in practice it is just as brutal as the authoritarianism it claims to oppose. In the 1980s the Freedom Association became notorious on the left because of its support for the death squads in Central America, also supported by that other Libertarian hero, Ronald Reagan.

Libertarianism is a brutal lie. It represents freedom only for the rich. For the rest of us, it means precisely the opposite.

Grammar Schools Show May Has No Idea About Education

September 10, 2016

I saw Theresa May announce on the news yesterday that all schools were going to have the opportunity to become grammar schools, along with the headlines proclaiming it in the Torygraph and the Daily Heil. I’ve no doubt both those papers were working themselves up into a frenzy about how wonderful and exciting this policy is going to be, how it’s going to smash years of ‘loony left’ progressive education forced on our children, which has resulted in them being poorly educated illiterates and prone to violence. They’ll also probably try telling us that it was all introduced in the terrible 1960s with the deliberate intention of destroying quality education and Britain’s wonderful class structure, along with teaching kids to be gay. There’ll also be some kind of insinuation coming, no doubt, that it’s all about destroying traditional ‘Britishness’ and so making us welcome foreigners, meaning Blacks, Asians – and particularly Muslims – as well as eastern Europeans.

Yes, the comprehensive schools were introduced with the intention of destroying the British class structure in education, which condemned kids from the working and lower middle classes to manual trades, and gave the wealthy access to the elite education for a clerical or managerial career. No, this class structure was not beneficial, whatever John Betjeman said about it in his poem, ‘Westminster Abbey’. But it’s been said many times that the British are locked in nostalgia for a glorious past that never was. One pop band, Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space, even said in one of their lyrics that ‘Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease’. And they’re right. And one of the major sources of the infection is the Daily Heil, for whom everything right and good ended with the Labour victory in 1945.

Apart from the sheer reactionary nature of the policy itself, it also seems to me to shout loudly that Theresa May hasn’t a clue about education. David Cameron’s education secretary was Thicky Nicky Morgan, now sacked from her post, who also didn’t have a clue either. This was the only thing that shone out of her vacant eyes, as she persistently failed to answer any questions on the failure of the government’s support of Academies at the expense of state education. Alan Coren once joked that Conservative candidates were all so similar, it was like they were all clones. There was a vast laboratory of them round the back of Conservative central office, from which they were taken and defrosted ready for elections. With Thicky Nicky you go the impression that she was programmed with her answers like a robot, along with the strict instruction not to deviate from them if she couldn’t answer the question. Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that Thicky Nicky has just attacked May’s policy. She claimed that the concentration on selection would undermine six years of progressive education reform. Mike points out that her opposition to it is problematic, given how terrible she was at the job of education secretary. Is she opposed to it, because it’s even worse than her idea, is Mike’s entirely appropriate question here.

Thicky Nicky attacks May’s grammar school plans – for doing more harm than she managed?

In fact, this whole affair screams to me that May actually has no carefully thought out education policy. She wanted to have all schools transformed into academies, until that was shot down in flames. Now she wants them transformed into grammar schools. Or rather, they can apply to become grammar schools. Clearly, in line with Tory elitism, only a few will actually be allowed to become them, because you’ve got to have somewhere that’ll educate those not intelligent enough to get into the grammar schools. So something like ‘secondary moderns’ will come back, although they’ll be called ‘failing state schools’. Which they are at the moment. As for selection by ability, that was always on the cards with the Academies, as the author of one book against them I blogged about here revealed, The Great City Academy Fraud.

May doesn’t really have any policy for education, beyond the destruction of the state system. She just wants it handed over to private enterprise, just as much of it was before the introduction of comprehensives. The academies were the best guise for doing this, as they could be sold off to academy chains, while still remaining in theory state schools. And despite being elitist and selective, they weren’t as elitist and selective as grammar schools.

Now that’s gone, it looks like she just start fumbling around for any policy that would do the job, no matter how antiquated. And the first one to hand was the nostalgia of the British middle classes for grammar schools. She needed to announce a police quickly that would grab the public’s attention and make it sound like she was firm, determined and with a clear policy. Except that it shows that she doesn’t have one, except to grope back to the class-ridden past, because the class-ridden snobs that read the Torygraph and the Fail demand it. It’s another policy with no substance, except stupid, reactionary nostalgia. Which basically describes just about every policy and stance announced by Thatcher and her followers for the last thirty-odd years.

IEA Book on Privatising the Education System

June 28, 2016

Privatising Education Book

The Profit Motive in Education: Continuing the Revolution, James B. Stanfield, ed. (London: The Institute of Economic Affairs 2012).

I’ve been meaning to some research and reading on the government’s privatisation of the education service, as shown in Thicky Nicky Morgan’s policy of converting all state schools into academies. I found the above book, published by the IEA, a right-wing think tank, in one of the charity secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. This book is a whole-hearted endorsement of the promotion of private, for-profit education, both in Britain, Sweden and the US. The blurb states

The UK government – in common with the governments of many Western countries – is in the midst of implementing policies to reform education. However, the government has, as a matter of principle, decided that profit-making schools cannot provide state-funded education even if they would lead to substantial improvements in quality.

This monograph makes the case for widespread acceptance of the profit motive in education. It does so not by presenting statistics that demonstrate that profit-making organisations could drive up quality – there is already a substantial literature on this. Instead, the authors show how profit-making organisations could create an entirely new dynamic of entrepreneurship and innovation. As well as improving quality and reducing costs within existing models, such an approach could lead to the development of completely new ways of providing education.

The authors of this monograph have a range of international experience. Many of them have run profit-making schools in countries more accepting of the profit motive than the UK, such as Sweden. Others have struggled against the odds to participate in education reform programmes in the UK. Overall, this collection makes and important contribution to the international debate about education reform.

Basically, this is a book to encourage the privatisation of the education system, as shown in the contents and various chapters.

Chapter 1, the introduction, by James B. Stanfield, has the section, ‘Questioning the Anti-Profit Mentality’; 2, by Steven Horvitz, is entitled ‘Profit is about learning, not just motivation’; Toby Young’s chapter, 3, is about ‘Setting up a free school’, and so on, from contributors in America and Sweden. The final chapter, by Tom Vander Ark, is entitled ‘Private capital, for-profit enterprises and public education’. This has individual sections on ‘New openings for private capital’, ‘The for-profit advantage’, and ‘Combining philanthropy and profit-seeking investment’.

This is by and for the people, who want to privatise our schools and charge us all money for sending our children there. One of the chapters speaks glowing about the voucher scheme, to allow parents to opt-out of state education, and spend the money that would have been spent by the state on private education for their sprogs instead.

I don’t take any of their guff about the supposed advantages of for-profit private education seriously. Buddyhell, over at Guy Debord’s Cat, did an excellent article on how the introduction of Neoliberalism, including Milton Friedman’s wretched vouchers, had trashed the Chilean educational system, leading to massive inequalities and demonstrations by students. See: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/the-chilean-equality-protests/
He has also served up more article taking down Toby Young, one of the more visible and offensive of the Tories, who keep on turning up in the media. Mike over at Vox Political has also put up very many articles, showing that free schools and privately run academies perform worse than schools run by the LEA. One of the chapters in this book is on budget fee-paying schools in the US. They would have to be. A friend of mine told me that in the heyday of British private education just before the War, but private schools were on very tight budgets just a few steps away from bankruptcy. If they took on more than a handful of non-fee paying pupils, they’d go under.

Or is this just Eton’s excuse for only taking one, non-paying pupil, in order to qualify as a charity and so get public money?

The book’s only value is as a guide to the people, who want to privatise the British educational system, and why they believe in it. And the Institute of Economic Affairs unfortunately not only influences the Tory right, but also the nominal Left. I’ve got a feeling the Blairites were in contact with them and had them as their advisors.

This is the ideology and the people behind it, who want to sell of Britain’s schools. And if we really do value education in this country, for the benefits it brings in itself, and not as income stream for public-schooled self-styled entrepreneurs – they have to be stopped.

C.A.R. Crosland on the Anti-Democratic Nature of the British Public School System

June 28, 2016

I found this description of the profoundly anti-democratic nature of the British public school system, and its pernicious effect in creating class inequality and blocking genuine modernisation and social, political and technological improvements in British society in C.A.R. Crosland’s The Conservative Enemy: A Programme of Radical Reform for the 1960s (London: Jonathan Cape 1962). Despite the fact that this was written well over fifty years ago, it’s still, unfortunately, very true and is amply demonstrated by the current Tory government, headed as it is by the old Etonian limpet, David Cameron.

The public schools offend not only against the ‘weak’, let alone the ‘strong’, ideal of equal opportunity; they offend even more against any ideal of social cohesion or democracy. This privileged stratum of education, the exclusive preserve of the wealthier classes, socially and physically segregated from the state educational system, is the greatest single cause of stratification and class-consciousness in Britain.

It is not, of course, the only cause. The effect of being for so long a great imperial power, and the psychology of discipline, hierarchy, and master-subject relationships which this induced; the persistence (and indeed continual reinforcement ) of an hereditary aristocracy; the absurd flummery surrounding the Monarchy; the obsessive snobbery (even amongst a section of the intelligentsia) about birth and titles; the deep-seated differences in accent; the national propensity to kowtow and manoeuvre for precedence – these would produce strong feelings of social deference and superiority whatever the educational system.

But the school system is the greatest divisive influence. It is no accident that Britain, the only advanced country with a national private elite system of education, should also be the most class-ridden country. The Scandinavian countries, the least class-ridden, have no significant private sector; such few private schools as exist are mainly for backward children. In France, while many private primary schools exist, middle-class children normally go tot he public lycee at the secondary stage. In Germany there are half a dozen would-be-English public schools. But only an insignificant minority even of wealthier children attend them, and the carry no national prestige; an Old Salem boy may care as passionately about his alma mater as an Old Etonian, but his prospective employer or bank manager, let along the rest of the population, could not care less. In the United States, it is true, there are not only a large number of non-exclusive private Catholic schools, but a growing number of ‘smart’ upper-class private schools which, being often academically superior to the state schools, confer an advantage in getting into the best universities. But disturbing as this trend is, these schools still do not constitute a nation-wide elite system with the divisive social influence of the English public schools; nor, given the anti-elitist psychology of the American people, are they ever likely to.

No historically-minded champion of the public schools could possibly deny that schools can have either an integrative or divisive social influence. For it was indeed the historic function of the public schools in the nineteenth century to assimilate the sons of the new and self-made middle class into the ranks of the hereditary ruling class; and even today they fulfil an integrative role for the sons of self-made men. Similarly the American high school, whatever else may be said about it, has brilliantly fulfilled the function of assimilating ethnically diverse groups into a common national culture. (As a matter of fact, most of what else is said about it by English critics is false. They always assume that its lower educational standards are due to the fact of its being ‘comprehensive’, whereas in reality they are due, as the quite different Swedish experience demonstrates, to certain specifically American factors – the attachment to ‘life-adjustment’ education, the automatic ‘social promotion by age groups and the lack of grading by ability, the preference for vocational courses, the acute shortage of teachers, the low quality of many of the teachers, and so on.) A school system can either increase or diminish social disparities; and the British public schools manifestly increase them.

And they do not even, today, provide efficient leadership. It is again no coincidence that Britain, the only country with a national elite system of private boarding schools, from which its leadership is still disproportionately drawn, should be falling so badly behind other democratic countries in the achievement of widely-accepted national goals – behind western Europe in economic performance, Scandinavia in social welfare and urban planning, the United States in technology and innovation. In the nineteenth century the public schools, disagreeable as they may have been, did at least train a leadership perfectly fitted to the needs of a growing empire. For this training, their characteristic features – the boarding, the hierarchical discipline, the emphasis on games, the carefully-nurtured sense of innate superiority – were precisely apt. They are not, however, (although now considerably modified), equally apt for a mid-twentieth-century world full of computers, Communism, trade unions and African nationalism. This is hardly surprising. The quality of leadership is not, after all, an absolute and unvarying quality. It is specific to particular situations; and what makes for good leadership in one situation may make for bad leadership in another. The public schools today, although providing ‘a good education’ in a rather narrow sense, do not generate the right type of leadership for a democratic, scientific, welfare world.

Almost every emphasis which they inculcate – on manners and ‘character’, on the all-rounder and the amateur, on the insular, the orthodox and the traditional – is wrong from the point of view of contemporary goals. it is this which partly explains those national characteristics which are at long last becoming the subject of widespread hostile comment: the reluctance to innovate, the refusal to grapple with problems, the lack of pride in maximum professional achievement, and the cult of the gifted amateur, of the smooth and rounded Wykehamist who can turn his hand to anything with a natural, effortless superiority, and with no need to stoop to the humourless professionalism of Huns or Yanks. Fundamentally this reflects a failure of English elite education to achieve the highest of all education ideals: that of fostering inquiry, dissent, and critical intellectuality. A country in which the most damning insult which Lord Salisbury could fling at Mr Iain Macleod was that he is ‘too clever by half’ is not a good prospect in the modern world. Some of our upper classes are as anti-intellectual as the Know-Nothings.

But this attitude might be attributable to aristocracy, not to the schools themselves. Unfortunately, parallel faults can found in those fields which traditional represent the culmination of the British elite system of education: the Civil Service, and Oxford and Cambridge. Beautifully adapted to its pristine task of administering a going concern without excessive interference, the British Civil Service remains notable for its honesty, industry and administrative competence. But it has failed to adapt to a world which requires the long rather than the short view, active planning rather than passive administration, novel rather than traditional ideas. Thus the Treasury has been astonishingly behind France, Holland and Sweden in adopting long-term economic planning. The Foreign Office was ponderously slow to wake up to the existence of new and revolutionary post-war situations in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Ministries of Health and National Insurance have introduced new social policies without even a research unit to investigate their probably effects. The Ministry of Education takes decisions for or against different types of school without conducting any research into their different consequences, and has little idea of how many teachers we need to carry out its own policies. The typical Whitehall attitude of mind-thorough and precise, but pedantic and unadventurous – is in part a reflection of the Oxford and Cambridge background from which most Civil Servants come. But are Oxford and Cambridge really as good as Harvard and the Sorbonne! Their farcical performance over the introduction of sociology – a lamentable compound of hidebound traditionalism and facetious superciliousness – makes one doubt it….

The need is not for more public-school-type education for the top few per cent of the population. Indeed, the whole notion of an elite-type education is inappropriate in Britain today. For both our greatest need and our largest untapped resource now lie below the level of the cleverest few per cent – although disastrously many even of these are still slipping through the net. From the viewpoint of efficiency as well as equality, we need less concentration on an educational elite and more on the average standard of attainment.

The case against the public schools, then, has grown stronger even in the last few years. First, the type of leadership which they provide is seen to be less and less appropriate to the national goals of the 1960s. Secondly, as we grasp the fact that intelligence is partly an acquired characteristic, we see even more clearly that the whole notion of an exclusive and privileged education is inconsistent with equality of opportunity. Thirdly, despite the gradual process of democratic reform in other directions, the socially divisive influence which these schools exert show disturbingly little sign of abating. (pp.174-8).

This is clearly a dated piece, as Britain was, until we left the EU, something like the fifth largest economy in the world, and England has led the world in the number of patents that come out of our universities, quite apart from the more obvious points such as the collapse of Communism. But as this government’s policies amply demonstrate, the wealth is increasingly concentrate in a very narrow circle of the extremely rich, at the expense of everyone else. And while Britain may be scientifically immensely innovative, those innovations have tended to be developed elsewhere. Maglev transport is a case in point. The idea of trains powered by magnetic levitation was the idea of the British scientist, Laithwaite. There were serious experiments in its application by British Rail, until this was axed during the cost-cutting of the early 1970s. Research was then taken over by the Germans. Which partly explains why Volkswagen’s slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik – something like ‘Advance through Technology’, isn’t translated into English.

In short, the main function of the British public schools is to lock the upper classes in power, and the rest of the country in a quasi-feudal class servility. And one of its products, Boris Johnson, looks like he’s going to be the next PM.

Oh, couldn’t we have at last at least one leader, who went to a comprehensive!

Vox Political: Study Shows Council-Run Schools Better than Academies

April 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece on a report in today’s Guardian, showing that schools run by local authorities perform better than academies and free schools. The study by the Local Government Association found that 86% of state-run schools were classed as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, compared with 82% of academies and 79% of free schools. Furthermore, local government-run schools were better at improving. 98% of local government schools had done so by the time of their first Ofsted inspection, after being rate ‘inadequate’. The figure for academies was ten per cent lower 88 per cent.

The same article in the Guardian reported that Thicky Nicky would not be drawn on questions about negotiations with Tory councils to allow them to run some of the academies, in order to avoid a backbench revolt.

Mike makes the point that this shows that the Tories’ desire to privatise the education system is driven by ideology, not fact, and that Thicky Nicky is flagrantly incompetent. He has recommended that she be returned to the back benches.

The article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/26/local-authority-schools-outperform-academies-proving-thicky-nicky-wants-the-worst-for-your-children/

I agree that Thicky Nicky should go back to where she came from, but ultimately, she isn’t to blame. The rot started long, long before, when Maggie Thatcher started ball rolling about taking schools out of local government control. It was then picked up by Tony Blair, who launched the academy system. Now it’s being massively extended by David Cameron, who, as a public-school toff, probably believes that privatising these schools will magically turn them into the prole equivalent of Eton, Harrow and the rest. I’m not exaggerating. Years ago Private Eye reviewed Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which quoted one old Etonian as saying that schools would improve if their pupils were given the same confidence that Eton gives its pupils. The Eye’s reviewer attacked the vacuity of this statement by sarcastically stating that it was so profound, it was worthy of the SDP in its prime. This to my mind seems a bit harsh on the SDP.

What the study does is disprove thirty years of Thatcherite propaganda: that private management is always superior to that of the state, and that the privatisation of a concern or enterprise will automatically solve its problems as if by some weird economic magic. It clearly doesn’t. But this won’t stop Cameron and the rest of them, who are ideologically wedded to the idea. They also have a powerful vested interest themselves in education’s privatisation. They’re the children of the haute bourgeoisie, and have a class interest in extending private ownership. They are also funded very handsomely by big business, and often have personal links to the companies lining up to buy up the remains of the state sector, and so have personal reasons for wanting education privatised. After all, we wouldn’t want to disappoint Rupert Murdoch and his aspirations to run an education chain.

Thicky Nicky’s role in all this is actually quite minor. She’s just the latest face shoved in front of the public to sell the policy. She replaced Michael Gove, who was also less than competent, and will probably be replaced by someone else in the next cabinet reshuffle. The ultimate responsibility is David Cameron’s. He’s the one who really should be overthrown, and have to trudge back to the back benches.

Vox Political on Nick Gibb Address to Teacher’s Conference

April 6, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political ran this story from the Groan, which reported the kind and courteous welcome Nick Gibb got when he spoke to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers at their conference in Liverpool. Of course, I’m being ironic when I say that it was ‘kind and courteous’. In fact that they jeered him. And I don’t blame them. What Gibb said was pure rubbish.

The Tories are, of course, determined to turn 17,000 primary schools in England into academies. Gibb made the usual attempt to try to justify this massive privatisation to the Tory party’s corporate backers by saying that it would lead to an improvement in quality. He told his audience of educational professionals that if they spoke to the headmasters, who had become heads of the academy chains, they would hear that academy schools were flourishing. Because they’re professionally led.

This is, of course, complete twaddle. The same could also be said of the state schools under LEA control. They’re also managed by professionals, in the sense that the Local Education Authority is staffed by people, who earn their living from managing schools. Just as the actual teaching and administrative staff in the schools themselves, the teachers, teaching assistants, school secretaries, dinner ladies and caretakers are also educational professionals. After all, the work in education.

Mike has already pointed out, along with very many other bloggers, time and again, that standards in academies and free schools are actually worse than state schools. In the comments to the article, he reproduces the following graphic, which shows how the number of academies which are rated ‘inadequate’ far outstrip LEA schools.

leaVacademyschools

In fact, 25 academies last year had to be handed back to state administration because their standards were so bad. Charlie Stayt made a valiant attempt to get Thicky Nicky Morgan to admit this, but the minister with the mad staring eyes just carried on chuntering about how terrible it was that schools were being left under the control of local authorities, which continued to inflict their low educational standards on their impressionable young charges.

The opposite is true. Of course, the government likes the idea of privatising, are part-privatising the education system, because it hands over a very lucrative state enterprise to their corporate backers. They, and their big business paymasters also like it, because it means that private industry can set the terms of pay and conditions much lower than in the state sector. For example, it was the case that to teach in a state school, you should have a teaching qualification. You either did a teaching degree, or you completed a normal degree, and then took a PGCE. I don’t know if the situation’s changed now, but a few years ago you didn’t need a teaching qualification to teach in a private school. This is, I should repeat, private schools rather than academies. But my point remains. Pay and conditions for the teaching staff are lower, and the staff themselves may not be as well qualified as their counterparts in the state sector.

So where does the money spent on academy schools actually go? The obvious answer is the pockets of the senior managers and shareholders, who are obviously looking forward to doing very well out of it, thank you very much. And this also gives the lie to the claim that private enterprise is somehow more efficient and less bureaucratic. Clearly it isn’t, as there’s a whole bureaucracy in the academy chains themselves, as well as the extra expense of giving lucrative dividends to the shareholders.

No doubt as the teaching unions continue to voice their opposition to the privatisation of England’s schools, the Tories will start to bang their usually drum about how ‘loony-lefty’ teachers are threatening their pupils’ future with their doctrinaire opposition to the government’s wonderful new policy. And here again, the truth is the precise opposite. Teachers teach because they enjoy imparting knowledge. Not always successfully, and very often not to receptive pupils. But they do it because they find it rewarding. And, in general, they are very concerned to make sure that their pupils perform to the best of their ability, and get the best available opportunities for their education. It was the teaching unions in the 1930s who kept up the pressure for compulsory state secondary education. But you are very definitely not going to hear that from the likes of Nick Gibb or Thicky Nicky Morgan.

Forget the government’s hype. The conversion of the primary schools into academies in England will lead to worse standards. It’s the teachers opposing the government’s reforms, who are really trying to maintain and improve them.

Mike’s article is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/04/teachers-heckle-schools-minister-over-academy-plans/#comments. Go and see what he says.

Pitt’s Speech Demanding the Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the French Revolution

March 2, 2016

Also going through the book, Your MP, by the pseudonymous ‘Gracchus’, I found Pitt’s speech of the 16th May 1794, asking parliament to pass a bill suspending Habeas Corpus in order to allow the government to round up subversives during the French Revolutionary War.

Now I’ve written a number of pieces on this blog about the origins of democracy in certain strands of theology that stressed the need for representative assemblies and which permitted Christians to overthrow a tyrant. One of the criticisms of this type of history, however, is that it misrepresents how difficult and arduous the process by which democracy emerged in the West actually was. Instead of a being a smooth development in which democracy finally flowered from long, historic constitutional roots, at each stage of the process valuable constitutional freedoms had to be fought for, and were only painfully won. And historians have pointed out that for much of its history, Britain was an authoritarian state, which was all too ready to dispense with its citizens’ ancient freedoms when it suited the governing classes. The classic example of this was the 18th century, when fear of the Revolution across le Manche spreading over here moved the British government to suspend Habeas Corpus and pass range of legislation severely limiting free speech and banning a variety of ‘seditious combinations’, including the nascent trade unions.

Here’s Pitt’s speech:

The monstrous modern doctrine of the Rights of Man … threatens to overturn the government, law, property, security, religion, order and everything valuable in this country, as it has already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe …

That great moving principle of Jacobinism, the love of plunder, devastation and robbery, which now bears the usurped name of liberty … the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush all; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all; a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society …

With some qualifications because of its florid 18th century, this has a peculiar contemporary ring about it. The attack on the ‘Rights of Man’ for example. If you replace that with the European convention on Human Rights, which is based on the French Revolutionary tradition of les droits du l’homme, (excuse my French), then the sense is more or less the same. As is the rant about the ‘arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich.’ With a few alterations, you could put this in the pages of the Daily Mail today and no-one would notice. Really. A few years ago the Mail took it into its tiny collective skull to publish a rant against the French education system. It particularly attacked the elite state schools, which educated the French technocratic and governmental elite. They were nasty, horrendous, undemocratic, and excluded the French hoi polloi. Which is probably true, I dare say. It then started to compare them negatively with the British public schools, which were supposed to be better, and the mark of a freer society. Some of us would argue that it actually shows the alternative.

In fact before the introduction of democracy over here in the form of the acts finally extending the franchise to women and the rest of the working class, the doctrine of universal human rights really wasn’t widely adopted over here. The ruling classes thought it was too abstract, and too French. Instead, they linked political rights to property qualifications and the ability to pay certain levels of tax and rates. And you can see that today. It’s carefully hidden, but there is definitely an attitude that if you’re rich, you should have more rights than the rest of us. Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s said that business owners ought to have two votes, as they were responsible not just for themselves, but for their employees. One of the High Tories about twenty years ago wrote a book arguing that we should ditch all the horrendous reforms of the 1960s, and get back to a more stable age before gender equality, the legalisation of homosexuality, when there was better respect for property. He wanted the property qualification restored for jury service, so that people with a responsible attitude to the protection of property would fill the court rooms, passing guilty sentences on those caught infringing the country’s property rights.

So it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of suspicion by the ruling classes against any doctrine of equality and universal rights, that Theresa May now wants to extend the powers of the surveillance state. Or even that in the last parliament the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation providing for secret courts and massively extending the length of time a suspect could be held for trial during their investigation.

Britain considers itself one of, if not the great founding nation of political liberty. Pitt’s speech, and the ominous rise of the surveillance state under Major, Bliar and Cameron, makes you wonder how true this really is.

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Thom Hartmann and Randi Weingarten of RT Discuss US Charter Schools

February 1, 2016

This is really interesting. It’s a report on the campaign to privatise education in America by Thom Hartmann, the anchor of the news show Screwed on the RT network. He and his guest, Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, discuss the way the public (state) school system in the US is being run down, and replaced by privately-run charter schools under the school voucher system that allows state funding to go to the private sector. Weingarten states that in areas where the state schools have been replaced by these private schools, the education is not better. Weingarten also makes the excellent point that in areas where the public schools were shut down, because they were failing, so were the private charter schools. but these escaped being axed. Nor are these schools less expensive, and in fact there have been numerous cost overruns. One area the scheme was supposed to cost only $9 million, but this ballooned to $40 million.

These closures have been pushed through by unelected school boards against the wishes of parents and teachers. There have been campaigns against these closures by the local communities, whose members have even included local clergy. These have been brushed aside.

Moreover, there is concern about the textbooks used in the new private schools. These include material provided by the libertarian John Stossel organisation, which teach Creationism, Hippies were dirty and that celebrate the KKK. Weingarten admits that these schools had some advantages – they were safer, and had more interaction between students and staff, but these advantages could and should be introduced into the public schools without those schools closing.

I’m reblogging this as this is exactly what is going in Britain with the expansion of the academies. And just as the Americans would like to privatise the schools and hand them over to John Stossel and Bill Gates, so the Tories in Britain would like to hand them over to the private academy chains and media moguls like Rupert Murdoch. And just as the charter schools in America don’t perform any better than state schools, so many of the academies over here don’t perform any better, and some actually much worse, than state schools. But you won’t hear that from the Tories’ Thicky Nikki Morgan, who didn’t even want to tell the BBC’s anchor, Charlie Stayt, how many academies were taken back into state management last year. She just ploughed on with her prepared speech about how dreadful state schools were, and the need for efficient private management.

There is a determined campaign to wreck state education on both sides of the Atlantic, conducted by some of the same people. This must be stopped, and proper state education and high standards restored.