Wednesday, 7 April 2010

QT Live Blog 07/04/10

Election 2010

Parliament has been dissolved, babies across the country are readying themselves for their roles as articles of party propaganda, Europe (the band responsible for this: can expect to receive unexpected royalties from endless television montages, and people en masse will actually participate in British democracy...yes actual active participation in our democracy, at least in pretence, through discussion, political thought, and of course finally voting. I must admit i personally felt more than a tinge of excitement today; elections are, potentially at least, the pinnacle of politics and a time for anoraks like me to rejoice in the saturating coverage of it all. I, of course, cannot understand clearly whether this excitement was widespread, but i would feel confident to assert that more people than normal have probably thought seriously about British politics today than would normally be the case, and that many people, from many different backgrounds, are seriously interested in the outcome of the forthcoming election.

However, one can question whether this interest and excitement is generally a good reflection of our democracy, and the principles it stands for. Democracy is defined as government by the people and, for the people to govern, which is in essence what the process of election of representatives is, the people need to have real understanding and discretion of their politics. In addition the political representatives available for the people to choose need to have clear and defined policies, have clear checks upon their progress and enactment of promises when in power, and be a distinguishable choice and representative of a certain political ideology. The interaction between these two elements in many ways demarcates how active a democracy really is, the foundation of democratic governance in ancient Greece, which was participatory, depended upon an impressive and wide-ranging enjoyment, involvement, and understanding of politics on behalf of its people. In a modern political system, it can be assumed, not necessarily but practically, that less faith is given to the political insight of the majority of its participants. This system relies more on the defined and responsible outline of political representatives, who can more simply each outline various political methods and create a more simplistic choice for a population less inclined to understand the minutiae of political ideology. I must emphasise there is no snobbery involved here, in many ways the latter is a better system which enables people with real expertise and understanding of politics to have a greater input into the political system, it is also the only practically possible system of democracy in the modern world.

As such we must look to our political representatives to provide an obvious and informed path, for different ideologies to be reflected by different parties, and for politics to be a broad platform of discussion and debate, possible to follow for those interested enough but also easily defined to those who are more likely to become involved only in these final thirty days. And this, in my opinion, is a worrying conclusion for anyone who has assessed British parliamentary democracy, with its vague party definitions, its unclear or non-existent policies, and its increasingly obvious 'style-over-substance' approach. I would take myself as someone who is interested in politics, who to the best of my ability understands some of the importance distinctions involved, if by no means all, yet i must also admit that my voting in this election will, as it stands, be more based upon history and tradition than current policies or distinctions. Historically, the Conservatives have protected the rich, have been intentionally eponymous in their policies, and have offered, in my opinion, much of the negativity and regression of British political history. In contrast, the Labour party have offered progression, equal opportunity, and have been defined as a party of the lower classes rather than one of the rich. These definitions are of course obtuse and broadly exaggerated, but they do seem to have a foundation in fact and are to some degree helpful. But these two parties are today in an unthinkably mundane battle for the centre ground, have a lack of clear policies, and, in many ways, seem to be two parties with similar plans, battling over differences of personality, and, as i am trying to show, chosen more due to traditional and symbolism than practical nuances. Popular involvement in politics is at face value a brilliant thing, but it must be understood in clarity that without adequate knowledge, or alternatively adequately mature party politics, it can be a potentially dangerous development.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Private Education

"The educated differ from the uneducated, as the living from the dead." - Aristotle

Aristotle was making a simple point about education, those who receive its benefits prosper whereas those who do not suffer. His point is still obvious in today's society, those who advance to higher education are those who dominate all the important and powerful positions of business, state, and media, whereas the underclass of school-leavers, those who have nothing but a handful of substandard GCSE's to their name, are those who inhabit the doll queues and crassly judgemental daytime television programmes where Britain's self-prescribed purveyors of morality dish out their 'learned' prescriptions of what it means to be virtuous. Obviously this is not an ideal situation, and one which governments have repeatedly tried to challenge through programmes aimed at encouraging further education and the improvement of state schooling. However, Aristotle's proclamation is outdated and undeveloped in the context of modern Britain, and perhaps in the context of a modern world. Not only now are the uneducated clearly divided from the uneducated, but the privately educated are demarcated from those who have had a state education. This difference not only comes from a cultural gulf, but a gulf of opportunity in admission to the highest-ranked universities and the highest-paid jobs. 

This is not an original statement, nor is it something which has significantly worsened in recent times, if anything opportunities for those from state-run schools have increased in quality and frequency. It is also not to say that these increased opportunities are not often well-deserved, for they are not being chosen for university places and jobs because they speak in a posh accent and are the son of such-and-such who the admission officer used to go hunting with - this happened in the last century undoubtedly, but it does seem, thankfully, to have disappeared almost entirely. They are given these opportunities because of a vastly superior education, one which has brought out their full-potential and fully developed their abilities, making them the most suitable candidates. This is a consequence of private schools holding a monopoly of the best teaching talent, the best facilities, the best academic and cultural links, and importantly a separation of students from the most disruptive elements of the education system.

In comparison to this state schools, especially those in urban areas, have suffered from a lack of all the qualities attributed to private schools. While undoubtedly many students can prosper in state comprehensives, and as such do find the opportunities mentioned, this is clearly a less common phenomenon. It is most damaging for the middle-group of students, a majority of the student population, who are caught in-between the high achievers and the troublemakers. While such people are often caught-up in the distractions and behaviour problems associated with some students of state schools, it is exactly these students, the majority who are not born as straight-A students and, if exposed to such instances, are liable to imitate the apathy and misbehaviour of the troublemakers present in state schools, who are protected from such distractions, and are given the extra-facilities and higher-standards of teaching in private institutions that they require to prosper.

I would argue that this situation is not only unfair, but also damaging to society at large, and breaches the basic rights of many. It is a fundamental right to be educated in the modern world, something which is a necessary component of every functioning society, with justification of its virtues unnecessary to expound here. Surely this entails, in a society ever-more obsessed with equal opportunities and accessibility, that all children should receive the best standard of education possible, and be given equal chances to prosper from their childhood, something which would enable truly the most talented and deserving to be the highest achievers. But this is not a situation possible with a private education system, something which divides people immediately from their entrance to education not by talent or enthusiasm, but by financial position. Those with the most money can afford to allow their children to attend expensive and exclusive private schools, enabling them to succeed as a result of these financial benefits. This is not fair, and condemns masses of people to under-achievement and unfulfillment of potential purely due to the financial situation of their parents. It may be an extremely unpopular position amongst those who feel they have earned the right to finance their children to a better future, but when has the prosperity of one's parents been a fair justification of having better opportunities - this is just one example of how the justification for private education is completely undermined by any acceptance of social justice. 

An end to the private education system would help to enable the majority of middling students to avoid the damaging distractions of state education, distractions which would through better standards of teaching and greater opportunities surely be significantly lessened, or at least be spread more evenly amongst all schools. It is the concentration of trouble students which, in addition to damaging their own prospects and the prospects of others, allows gangs to form and anti-social behaviour to dominate newspapers and divide communities. This clearly would not end in one swoop to destroy the privatised education system, but surely it would be an important development, and one more profound than anything as yet suggested to tackle this disturbing socio-cultural problem. It may be a socialistic stance, and its actual employment may be very difficult to organise, but the abolition of private education would be of much benefit to the whole of society, a reversion to the basic values of education, and a true move towards equal opportunism in Britain, rather than a continued retention of the financially based hierarchy of education which damages the majority by benefiting the few - Marx would have a heart attack, but then again so should anyone who believes in equal opportunism.