We Can Learn Something from the Fascists…

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In light of recent events in the UK Government this week, particularly Theresa May’s speech and the issue of fracking in Lancashire, there are two groups of people I feel the most sorry for.

First, my grandparents’ generation because they sacrificed so much in fighting fascists in Europe now only to find themselves in a country that is showing early signs of following the very policies that created totalitarian states in the early 20th Century. Secondly, I feel sorry for my children’s generation who have inherited a world not of their making. A world created by the narrow mindedness, bigotry and lack of intelligence shown by my generation.
If you don’t believe me or think I am overreacting, consider this. Nazism flourished through a process of demonizing outsiders through propaganda, restricting their rights within Germany,  then forcing them to be identified as something different. Nazism was made more powerful by shutting down local governments and moving to a more centralised model so it could control all policies. It changed its school curriculum to reflect it’s own values. It shut down workers who wanted better pay and conditions.
Have I mentioned anything here that the current Tory Government are NOT doing right now?
The most alarming part of this is the fact that the Nazi government took power because a large bunch of people supported them,  but an equally large bunch of people did nothing to stop them.
That’s how dictatorships evolve. Not through evil people taking control of a country by force, but through a slow erosion of the principles we used to hold up as valuable while people stand by and watch and just say “Oh, well, that’s just the way it is.”
If we can learn anything from the Nazis it is this… IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT IS.

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Dear Mr. Gove…

Dear Mr. Gove,

Please accept this letter as a heartfelt plea to withdraw from the Conservative Party leadership race, suppress any further ideas of becoming Prime Minister, and seek immediate help for your narcissistic delusions. I understand why you clearly think that you are the right person for this job. However, my understanding of his is based not on your ability nor your track record of perceived success, but your worrying history of delusional self-righteousness when you have been given positions of responsibility. There seems to have been an emerging pattern in your behaviour where you are absolutely unable to accept that there are people in this world who actually know more than you and on the basis of that knowledge, disagree with much of what you have attempted to do.  I would like to help with your recovery by highlighting only a small number of these instances.

In 2006 you published Celsius 7/7 to extremely mixed reviews. However, one of the main criticisms of this book was your attempt to dilute the issue of Islamic extremism and terrorism into an emotive package that was really just a reflection of pre-existing prejudices held by many. The worst part of this is that you wrote this book with the absolute belief that you were somehow an expert on Islamic extremism and terrorism, and in that process you tried to argue against the real expertise of scholars such as William Dalrimple and policy advisers such as Marc Sageman. As a result, much of Tory policy towards combating extremism was based on your flawed ideas.

This, however, seems incomparable to the work you did while you were the at the helm of the Education system. Your track record speaks for itself as you single-handedly dismantled the entire system and left it in an extremely poor state of health. You also lied about your thought towards professionals here. While you claimed to value the work of professional teachers, you increased the numbers of untrained teachers which had a very damaging impact upon education on the whole. Even Professor Sir Richard Evans said, “Gove presided over the disintegration of our school system; he opened up teaching to untrained people in state schools, because he had contempt for professional educationalists.” See the pattern emerging here, Mr. Gove?

Even when you brought yourself to consult with experts, you then ignored all of their suggestions. The History curriculum is a good case in point. After consultation with some of the top history educators in the country, you ditched their ideas and came up with your own ridiculous patriotic version of events to ram down the throats of our next generation with little regard for the skills they should learn in the subject. Furthermore, against all advice, you changed the GCSE system in 2012 making it much harder for students to compete with those who had sat the same level of exam in previous years. Then when results dropped that year, you blamed the very people who you ignored – the education professionals.

There has been an abundance of research about behaviour in schools, and engagement, and student well-being…. but you disregarded the lot in a bid to recreate your own school experience because, of course, all children in schools are just like you were, and if it worked for you, then it will work for every child in the land. Well, guess what, Mr. Gove, it didn’t work for you at all. You might have little pieces of paper with some qualifications written on them, but you have a long way to go in understanding people. For example, in a bid to improve discipline in schools, you pushed for getting more ex-soldiers into teaching roles. Is this what kids really needed? A sergeant-major figure shouting at them to get them to learn more? Clearly your ideas about school discipline are contrary to much of the current research, especially when we take into account your views about writing lines as a form of punishment. During this whole process you have presented yourself as an expert in learning and behaviour management despite the advice from those who have worked in this field for longer than you have been an adult.

Finally, the only time you have actually referred to any type of model to underpin your ideas was when you suggested that schools should be open 51 weeks of the year and until 6pm in the evening. Here, you cited school systems in the Far East as being models to which we should aspire to, with absolutely no regard for the cultural differences between British and Far Eastern students and the fact that the “Far East” covers a very diverse cultural region within itself. You failed to include the fact that the rote learning that often takes place in Chinese schools has rendered many Chinese students unable to deal with creative and critical thinking required at the highest level of education. But then maybe that is exactly what you would like to achieve because we all know how dangerous critical thinkers can be, don’t we? After all, you have spent most of your career trying to undermine them.

I sincerely hope you will consider withdrawing from this leadership contest. Your track record of such a high disregard of those who really know what they are talking about is disturbing to say the least. Are you threatened by people who you are more equipped with knowledge than you? I don’t know.

What I do know is this. I am no expert in politics or education. I am not as experienced as you in government affairs. Whilst I do have more qualifications than you, please don’t feel intimidated by this because they were gained long before your reforms took hold and in your eyes are probably meaningless. I do know that I left the teaching profession and the UK in part as a result of your reforms, and I was a half-decent teacher, despite the ridiculous restrictions you were placing on my practice. But given that I am not a recognised expert in the field, and with your clear history of rejecting the views of experts, maybe this time you will listen to someone who is far beneath you in your perceived pecking order and you will do the right thing and retire with your destructive legacy intact.

Yours Hopefully,

A former UK Teacher.

 

Independence Day: a pointless celebration?

Tomorrow millions of Americans will be letting off fireworks, attending parades, eating good food and not going to work as they celebrate their national holiday of Independence Day. July 4 is always a day to be remembered. I will remember my first July 4 in the USA… a failed firework display at Mount Rushmore in 1998 which sent most Americans home in tears after the whole event was cancelled due to thick fog. The Brit inside me felt the mild ironic amusement of the fact that of all things NOT taken into account when planning the display was the weather – something the British would have surely done if we were still in charge of our former colonies, given our obsession with weather. I was, however, sympathetic to the thousands of Americans that had traveled from afar to witness a cloud of fog; feeling particularly sorry for those Californians who could have simply gone to LA to see something similar!

But this cancelled event made me think… why do Americans celebrate their independence on this day? This is not a glib question. So let’s consider why.

First of all, the Declaration of Independence was suggested on July 1 and kind of agreed with the next day. Then hours and hours of work ensued until by the July 4th, a final draft of the letter was agreed upon by the Continental Congress. But not by everyone!! New York didn’t agree to accept this until July 9th, and that saw riots in their city which was occupied by a serious British contingent at the time!!

Next, no one really signed the letter for almost a month. Most of the signatures appeared on August 2nd, and the last person to sign it did so on November 9th!!

Next, let’s just put into perspective what this letter actually was: it was a letter to King George III saying “We don’t want to be in your club any more because you’re basically horrible to us and we could do a better job than you anyway.” That’s it really. A letter.

Did this grant American independence? Not a chance!! King George didn’t just reply, “Okay then, I’ll pull all of my troops out of MY colonies and hand them over to you.” In fact, in response to this, he escalated troop numbers. By 1776, when this letter was written, it could be argued that the Continental Army was actually losing the War of Independence, so I hardly think a letter would turn the tide and give the Americans what they wanted! It certainly didn’t work for me when I wrote to the British government refusing to pay my tax fine of £100 because it was their error, etc, etc, etc… We can pretty much say that the British government have a track record of rejecting letters, especially when it comes to taxes.

So basically, Independence Day is a celebration of writing a letter to a person who then rejected that letter completely and the outcome of that letter was that nothing changed really, in fact it just got a bit worse!! Is that really worth a celebration? Maybe not.

So when could America postpone its celebrations of July 4th and pick a more appropriate date for the purpose of pandering to my over-pedantic sense of historical well-being? Well, there is a debate over the first country to formally recognise America as an independent nation. Some say it was Morocco in December 1777 when a Royal Moroccan ship saluted an American vessel. But most say it was France when they officially allied themselves against Britain in the War of Independence in February 1778. This is more convincing to me because there was a formal thingy signed. But this was still in the context of fighting a war for sovereignty over Britain, so just because France said, “We’ll help…”didn’t really make America an independent nation.

So what did? Well, even after the decisive American victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781, there was a lot of box-ticking to do, largely because King George refused to accept the war was over. This wasn’t finalised until the Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3rd, 1783, where Britain, the former rulers of the American colonies, agreed to give up its claims on the region, thus accepting that Americans were in fact capable of choosing their own leader and governing themselves – an acceptance that is now under serious review given the current situation involving Donald Trump as a Presidential Candidate!

So, Independence Day? Probably not July 4th. Possibly August 2nd. Maybe November 9th or even February 6th. Most likely September 3rd. I would suggest that Americans should be more savvy about these dates and petition the government for them ALL to be celebrated in the spirit of Independence as public holidays! That way, there can be no argument!

So, my last message to my American friends is: enjoy your pointless celebrations on July 4th – signed – the Brit that can’t let go!!!

Lose this subject at your peril!

Recently, in secondary education, it seems that there has been a shift away from some subjects in favour of others. This trend had been a global issue where certain subjects such as the arts, music, drama and languages have taken a hit in favour of the more “functional” subjects such as maths and the sciences.

Now, I am not suggesting for an instant that one subject is more important than the other. Surely, in a good, balanced curriculum, there is room for everything. The maths and sciences are hugely important in training our next generation of explorers, engineers and inventors as we hopefully move towards a more technologically advanced era.

However, without certain subjects being kept alive and at the forefront of learning in our schools, we might not even get there! This is because we are living in an age where we are now making the same mistakes over and over again. Even more worrying – many of us cannot even see it!

What I am referring to here is the subject of History and our tendency towards allowing it to repeat itself. In particular, the fuel for this article came from a disgraceful cartoon recently published by the Daily Mail which depicts immigrants as rats.

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There have been several bloggers who have made comments on this and it has been pushed around the social media network avidly over the past 24 hours. Many people might agree with it’s rhetoric. But whatever your views on immigration, there is no escaping the fact that this cartoon bears a horrific resemblance to those found in Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s and those aimed at the Japanese by the Americans in WW2.

As disgraceful as this approach might be (and as ashamed as the Daily Mail should be for publishing such an image), I cannot help think that this rhetoric and imagery comes to us in our mainstream media at a time when subjects such as History are on the decline.

Surely, this serves as an argument to actually increase subjects such as history, religious education and the social sciences in an attempt to educate our young people today about how certain views are disseminated within our society and the damage they have done in the past. Moreover, history can teach us what these views can lead to. What starts off as casual racism towards a group of people turns into widespread persecution and genocide. The dehumanising of any group of people is a by-product of these views. We can look at countless case studies in history to demonstrate this.

I will save the argument about how we teach and what we teach for another day… but one thing is for sure – getting rid of subjects which help our young people recognise these types of approaches is a dangerous game and one which we play at our peril!