Do you remember?

Do you remember when you were young:
When they sold us a future in which everyone
Would have more time for leisure and
Life’s simple pleasures?

I do.

I remember how ‘progress’ was sold as the shift
Toward treasured Modernity’s time-saving gifts.
I remember when ‘free time’ were not dirty words,
But the envy of those who knew it was absurd
To work hard for The Man, at the cost of your Soul;
To neglect your own senses to fit in a mould;
To conform to consensus and stick to the path
Laid out in perpetuity – however daft…

And yet,

Where does the time go and how is it spent,
But by serving The Man just to pay him more rent?
And while faster goes quicker and more becomes less
Of a joy than a measure of burden and stress,
We regress to Draconia’s cold, hostile age
As a new class of servants with masters who wage
On us their aspirations for their perfect nation.

Obnoxious concoctions and new imitations
Of outdated thinking, consigned long ago
To the scrapyard of ignorant, privileged foes.
Resurrected prescribers and makers of woe
Who would keep us distracted and chained by the nose
To a grindstone which cripples and overly loads
On our bodies and minds and the whole of our time
Is spent rushing and pushing and fleeing and fighting
To be the first one to the end of the line.

 

[First posted: March 2013]

‘faith-based prep’ is what I was hearing

I don’t like this Momentum Kids thing. I’m all for extending and incorporating childcare, especially for single parents and for reasons that are not work related. But that is not the bit of this news that has caught my mind.

’The initiative will also aim to increase children’s involvement in Momentum and the labour movement by promoting political activity that is fun, engaging and child-friendly”… Momentum ‘will use the left-wing movement’s network of 150 local groups to help youngsters who want to get involved in politics.’

It’s the partisan political activist education being rolled out bit that makes me go cold. It’s naive, at best. I think organised religion is politics with added conviction and, as I read the piece, ‘faith-based prep’ is what I was hearing.

As you know, dear Reader, I don’t like faith-based schools. I believe organised, religious indoctrination, if it must still exist, is for the designated temple and that in the compulsory years of education, religious study should be facilitated by informed debate and explored under the wider umbrella of Philosophy. So, too, should Politics. Children often need a counterbalance to their parents’ religious/political beliefs. They don’t need them confirmed and cemented by another self-appointed authority.

Children, especially young children, soak up everything. How would this go down if it was a Brexit-teaching crèche? A Scientology-teaching crèche? What about UKIP? Or the TaxPayers’ Alliance?

Is this ethical greyness healthy? I don’t think it is. Nor is it necessary. We have schools already. We have a national curriculum. There is where the pressure for improved learning about civic engagement should be applied. Regardless of the problems we can all cite over the state of our compulsory education system, therein is still the safest objective space for children’s well-rounded, non-partisan education.

Last week, Corbyn was rightly ridiculed for suggesting Labour Organising Academies and people raised justifiable concerns about dogma and ideology in the context of Theresa May’s reinforced support for faith-based schools. Both instances just reaffirmed, for me, why I don’t put much store in Corbyn’s or his team’s judgement and why I am so often offended by May’s.

When there is destabilised society, groups and individuals come to the surface and paint themselves or get painted as saviours and champions of the people. Sometimes, they are. But how many times, throughout history and across the world, has a group or individual become the unlikely romanticized hero, only to distort or corrupt a community by means of brainwashing or bribery?

It feels like the capacity for selective memory and cognitive dissonance is ever-increasing. Left to right, from cynical to starry-eyed, the country seems determined to overlook how easily the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And, of course, most of us want to believe that our intentions are good.

Victorian this; Victorian that

With missionary zeal
Strides hubris armed
Self-righteous alms and platitudes
Top hats and hoops and whale-bone traps
Brings back
The straps of custom-costumed attitude
Strait laced
Straight-faced
Stiff upper
Done up like a kipper
Know your place
And wish
Deserving rests within the gift
Of father’s laundered godliness.

Free Speech

“‘Men,’ said the Devil, ‘are good to their brothers: they don’t want to mend their own ways, but each other’s'” ~ Piet Hein

Freedom of Speech is an inherent extension of Free Will and Freedom of Thought, born of (call it God, biology, both – I care not) an influence, greater than Religion, Government or Society – despite an often relentless effort. It isn’t a Right to be given by some human benevolence; it can only be diminished, lost and taken away, by either our own sloth or by oppression. Free speech is just that. It is only limited by imaginative thresholds. The OED cites it as “the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint”. What follows an act of free speech, however, are its reception and repercussions, either as tolerance or agreement or by punishment under Law (as with hate speech) or by Society’s or peer group condemnation. So, the right to speak freely is obviously not cost-free. Responsibility and consequence are tightly interwoven.

The right and responsibility belongs with the speaker/writer, who must choose whether or not to risk the possible consequences of controversy, retribution or lawful punishment. This does not mean you have no right to react; to be offended – though neither is compulsory. If you take offence it is up to you how you respond and the consequences of your response, justified or not, are your responsibility. There is actually nothing to prevent a person falsely claiming ‘”fire!” in a crowded theatre’ except for the awareness of possible legal reach, AFTER the fact and, obviously, having the common sense and some sense of responsibility we hope is felt toward one’s fellow citizens – whether the oft-used fire! analogy is an act of terrorism, public order or incitement, I haven’t yet discovered. I’ve always felt a bit uneasy about incitement, though. I understand the reasons why we have laws to prohibit it, like keeping public order, concerns about brainwashing, etc and I’m not suggesting repeal. It’s just that the line between the responsibility of the ‘inciter’ and the responsibility of the audience seems obtuse. Doesn’t the adult listener/reader/viewer also bear some responsibility for how s/he receives and responds to information? What does it say about Society and Education if s/he does not..? What happened to ‘and if (…) told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that, too..?’

So, the responsibility of choice – perhaps that is what’s really ‘free’ about free speech.

If I don’t entirely have free speech then it may be for benign reasons: because it has been restricted by, for example, a professional code to which it would be presumed that I’d adhered voluntarily; or for malevolent reasons: from because my expression is being deliberately edited or erased, to having my means of communication actually physically curbed, to imposition by some external force, such as a real fear of brutal, sanctioned punishment.

If I actively choose not to say something then I am self-censoring – I am choosing to exercise restraint. I have the right to withhold my thoughts. This might be because I need/want to be diplomatic; because I am afraid of an angry consequence or of hurting someone’s feelings; because it could be seriously detrimental to my prospects. Societal fashions, the diktats of ‘Authority’, Media and political framing and the responses of my peers might contribute to, even shape my thoughts, values and conscience but, how I perceive such influences and pressures and how I act, according to or against their direction, says as much about the character of my environment as it does about my own character.

When facts become whoever shouts loudest and longest and people cease to think independently and critically; when the world is suffering due to decades of atrocious foreign policies; when State and Society become heavy with the moralising, paranoid and hysterical burdens of invented authority, perceptions about what freedom is, occupy a dangerous, fragile and shifting space, subject to manufactured fashions, propaganda, segregation, disaffection, old sensibilities and populist reactions. Once one becomes affected or infected by this, personality, spirit and free will are increasingly encroached upon and suffocated. Then it’s getting to put up or shut up, fight or flight time. However, when such ‘authority’, whether democratically elected or self-awarded, has to suppress and micro-manage its environment and scrutinise and herd the lives of its fellow citizens, it is already a lost cause whose eventual end is inevitable.

Whilst I worry about and can understand the upset and danger in cheap, nasty, gratuitous provocations, I would be very worried, indeed, if we legislated to punish expression based on someone’s taste or manners. I think there’s a fine line, sometimes, between looking to ridicule, wound or make vulnerable to serve a wilful ignorance or ideology and finding something genuinely significant as to be worthy of comment. It’s a pretty subjective line. I accept that it’s for me to draw a line where I am. I can’t draw yours for you. Nor you, mine. I can only control whether or not I like where you draw yours. And you, mine. Independent thinking, conscience, having boundaries (and trying to respect others’), applying discernment… We all have lessons to learn and motives to check…

“Forgiveness recognises what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred” ~ A Course in Miracles

[Some of this post was transposed from ‘Manifest Thought’ and ‘On No Good Authority’]

The origin of falsely claiming ‘”fire!” in a crowded theatre’ and ‘Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes on the use and abuse of that quote.’ as told to Tim Black

 

‘British Values’?

What would you have us value, then?
What passes for these British traits?
Is it the wilful diminution of democracy
That separates the people from the state?
Or maybe our incessantly insistent view
That what we do is “help” the world for its
Own sake?

No, wait! I think I’ve got it: it’s that fair play
Code we think we own! How righteously
Polite we are! Perhaps we should commission
Us a global honour mission thus we won’t feel
So alone.

So, is it in our famous law and order you’ve
Translated into money talks? Our world
Anointed tolerance that shadow-stalks the
Local masses? Could it be the age-old
Choreography between the economic classes?
Is it in our quaint ability to wait in lines? The
Neoliberal culture of I’ll only pay for mine?

Oh, wait! Don’t tell me! Let me guess: you mean
Like how you cherish our belovèd NHS?

Is it the non-complaining strategy that manifestly
Rhymes with passive-born aggression?
Or perhaps it’s that amazing, self-congratulating
Way we tend to trip out on our history’s lessons?

Oh, hang on!

Could it even be our undeniable capacity to finger
Point with swinging lead and buried heads? Or,
Might it be our deep, rich, grass-root, time-was Cool
Britannia, now, by Cowell’s ilk and cynical palaver,
Handled into operatic lather? Is it in the way we gush
And gift a nobody to unreserved celebrity and rush to
Make pariahs of the stars beyond our knowing? Yes!
It surely has to be the Press with all its freedom to
Impress?

Or is it how we toe the line when Lord America decides
We might be useful hand-tools, after all? Is it our poodle
Disposition or our sniffy exhibition that defines our island
Character?

Do Britain’s expositions make her values truly worthy
Or perfidious and small?

Well?
What the hell and where the heck are all these dandy
‘British values’? Is it in the way you treat the NEETs?
The homeless, sleeping on the streets? The single
Parent? The disabled? Every worker like a serf?

Is it how you’re transfixed by everybody’s patriotic worth?

Perhaps you’d like our babies stamped at birth, like eggs,
With redly roaring lions? Then, once they are schooled and
Duly cloned, be branded with a standard – maybe tractors
Backed by Union Flags to make their British value known?

Putting ‘faith’ in Education

I dislike faith-based schools of any religion. To me, that is what the Temple is for. Anyone who reads me regularly knows I have strong and particular views on matters regarding orthodox religion in the context of ‘god’ and politics but also that I believe in the Universe as being divine and all things therein, as sacred. I take a secularist position when I picture the society I want to live in but I’m not an atheist.

My disapproval is not of any specific religion, religious people, themselves or religious teaching, per se. I also think the current ‘extremism’ angle is rather loaded, politically expedient scaremongering. It does not motivate this post, anyway. What does, is my general disapproval of any ideological segregation and indoctrination, particularly in the education system and especially when it is so rigid as to deny swathes of commonly accepted science, philosophical difference and equality of ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

One of the first things we should ask is who is funding Education, who should be funding it and who has and should have influence over a curriculum and teaching materials. It should not be determined by politically ideological officials, rich and powerful commercial lobbyists and religious organisations. We wouldn’t want any other politically ideological group, like, say, UKip or a commercial interest such as Tesco to run a school, would we? No, because everything would risk being weighted to that group’s group-mind to the point where it would diminish balance and undermine all else.

I know that while we have this ridiculous mix of state, private, academy, free, home and faith schools (did I miss any out?), control over the quality of education is bound to be risky, arbitrary and overly complex. I think Society is best served by a secular education. Personally, I’d phase out public funding of any school that is not within the state system and I’d endeavour to make every local state school so damned good that only a rich or fundamentalist fool would pay extra to send their children elsewhere. But I think the least we could do for now is form/re-establish the (local as well as national) authority and ability to oversee the adherence, in every school, to an agreed educational standard; withdraw taxpayer funding and charitable status immediately from faith (and any other) schools who are intentionally and narrowly selective about admissions, curricula (particularly science and PHSE), teaching materials, etc; put in place a base-line national curriculum that every school would be legally required to teach, irrespective of its status: private/public/ or this bizarre mix of both.

A lot of schooling is obviously about learning fact/evidence-based information but, if education is to do its job properly, a young mind also needs (I’d even say mostly needs) its brain space respected and encouraged as the vital tool it is for creative and critical thought.

Faith and spiritual practice are not evil. It is manipulation and enforced conformity – ideological indoctrination that is wicked. Introduction to systems of belief and open exploration are not. They are, in fact, like all the Arts: contextualising tools for understanding so much about the ‘Human Condition’ and, therefore, the world and the Self.

So, whilst recognising the detrimental effect of segregation on a community, this does not mean that Religion has no place in school, at all. Ignoring a concept that still governs over half the planet’s populace is futile, reckless and perpetuates the very problems that the remainder of the populace recognises and complains about. Understanding the orthodox religions is an important part of cultural awareness and enrichment. Communicating their literature, interpretation, historical, cultural, social and political influences on the world should be part of a good education and can be very well facilitated under the umbrellas of other subjects such as Philosophy. To me, this is Religion’s best home when it comes to the education and stretching of young minds. It can also easily be explored further through the Arts – in literature, drama, history, etc; outings, cooking, even.. Neither is there anything to stop schools incorporating from the myriad range of sacred/festival days, commemorative events and celebrations. Many good schools are already doing this, aren’t they?

If we truly value free speech then we surely must value the ability to feel, think and believe freely? Compulsory education should encourage confidence in the young to do this with teaching that is not inhibited by fear, a sense of superiority and narrowing bias. Children won’t come out the other end with the same personal understandings or opinions – that’s kind of the point – but they should all have the same access to the same platforms and vehicles of information from which their foundational views and experiences are going to be so substantively derived. This is the right of any child in a society that aspires to be open and just and an absolute need for those children who might otherwise be provided with little counter-balance to their lives outside the school gates (and not just in the context of religious belief, either). People tend to want to know that they at least know the same things as their peers and, children, who are just younger people, even more so.

“For a certainty, the man who can see all creatures in himself, himself in all creatures, knows no sorrow.” ~ Isa Upanishad

Education: What if..?

What if we were to agree that all humans have value that lies way beyond their financial capacity and academic intellect? That it is obscene to reduce people to nothing more than a unit of monetary worth? That artistic, sporting and practical abilities be as valid? That the higher intelligences such as empathy, grace and kindness be seen as strengths, not weaknesses? That education is its own reward rather than merely a means to someone else’s ends?

The point of a structured period of compulsory schooling should be to facilitate the awareness and understanding of a complex world to children, not merely the ability to pass tests and march to the beat of the latest diktats of fashionistas, inept governments and corporate drummers.

What if we decided that we didn’t want to have to choose which school to send our children to? What if we didn’t feel the need to? What if we made sure there were enough state schools at every educative level, easily accessible to every child in the country? And what if each and every one of those schools were of such an excellent standard that only fools and radicals would seek to pay extra to send their children elsewhere? What if our state schools were so blooming good that every child received the highest possible standard of education and every parent and employer knew it? What if teachers were trusted and valued as highly as are the expectations placed upon them? Any worth their salt would be clamouring to work in such an amazing public sector.

And why the rush to bring our children to employable maturity if emotional intelligence cannot keep up? (Indeed, why the rush if there are insufficient jobs to even require their labour?) It hasn’t been coined as ‘childhood’ for nothing. We are adults soon enough and it lasts, hopefully, for a very long time so why are we heaping panic upon pressure upon stress on our kids? To compete in the global race to be grateful automatons? It is part of being a child that s/he should be in a hurry to grow up but it is the job of adults to temper that impatience, not to concede and actively demand they do. If we really are all living longer then let’s make it a life worth living by getting right one of the fundamental building blocks of a confident, prosperous people.

Education is supposed to facilitate self-confidence and the ability to learn; to encourage critical thinking, curiosity and a love of learning. Thus, though school cannot teach absolutely everything, if it has done its job properly, it shouldn’t need to. Education is supposed to reveal an individual’s potential. In order for this to be achieved, schooling needs to provide the opportunity, time and space for a child to discover what that might be. Teachers need the freedom and scope to assist and appropriately indulge or signpost that opportunity. The next generation are the future, the continuum of the human race. Our children are our legacy. Not in the sense of property, but as the living arrows of Society’s bow, to paraphrase Gibran. Could there really be any task more worthy or vital?

And what if we were to decide to phase out faith-based schools? What if we said that doctrinal faith should not be prescribed to children with little or no escape or counterbalance? Perhaps our society would lose an excuse for the oft-cited sense of cultural division if the doctrines of cults were retired to their temples. The point of a secularist/pluralist society is to achieve and uphold equality under the law and in a multi-faith and no-faith country like ours, that makes Faith (which is not exclusive to Orthodox Religion) a matter of personal rather than public policy. It does not negate nor deride it but recognises that not everyone has it and that no one faith is superior to another. Religion, like Politics, is a living history, based on theory and belief. In schools, shouldn’t it be reflected, explored and debated as such, under the umbrella subject of Philosophy, rather than passed off as though its teachings were fixed by empirical data or as though it were the sole route to ‘God’ and the only expression of a spiritually and consciously lived life?

In fact, what if we decided that any school, within or outside of the state system that was intentionally selective about its admissions or adherence to a compulsory, base-line national curriculum should not qualify for funds from the Public Purse? I don’t mean barring schools from adding subjects to a mandatory curriculum – I’d have loved the opportunity to learn Latin, or even circus skills, actually – I’m talking about the ridiculous notion that a minimum national curriculum is not necessary; that schools should be able to opt out of any of the recommended subjects, particularly such issues as drugs and sex and relationships. This is not acceptable. Students need to know they share a common level of knowledge and that they are not being cheated of vital information or a major life skill.

Obviously it is not the place of a free society to dictate to individual adults the manner in which they live, so long as it does not harm another. Neither, therefore, what individuals do with their income. It follows, then, that it is unwisely authoritarian to take away the freedom to choose and pay for exclusivity. But I would happily – very happily – see governmental policies that rendered it superfluous.