Speech to Derbyshire Education Conference 1996
The invitation has given me two opportunities I do not usually have: 1. to write a speech down on paper and therefore reflect and 2. speak for 25 minutes, which is about five times the length I am permitted during the whole four days of my own Union’s National Conference ! Actually I’ve welcomed this opportunity to clear my head particularly as I have spent considerable time in Blackpool since September with the two main pre election Conferences TUC and Labour Party, and I felt for a while afterwards a bit like the drunk who went to Blackpool in order to see the hallucinations ! In fact, I was delighted when I read on the leaflet for this conference that there was a speaker with an "inspiring vision", I thought I could pinch some ideas at last, but I went into perspiring double vision when I discovered that I was allegedly the person to provide this. I’m better really with television or Pana Vision. Incidentally I’ve sent the phrase beneath my name on the leaflet to my National Executive as part of my pay claim. I remember people used to start speeches with quotes, I thought I’d resurrect this visionary tradition...
Dis is di age af decishan...so mek wi leggo divishan
Dis is di age af science an’ teknalagy,... so mek we leggo mytalagy.
Linton Kwesi Johnson, Reality Poem.
Forgive my bad Caribbean accent, but it doesn’t sound so good in English-English - ’This is the age of decision, so put a stop to divisions, this is the age of science and technology, so let go of mythology’. It’s a quote from a twenty year old poem called Reality Poem by Linton Kwesi Johnson, in my view the greatest living British poet. A twenty year old poem, but still relevant. The pre Thatcher flames have not been snuffed out.
The growth of irrational, non scientific thought, the return to antiquity for superstition, symbols and signs, Celtic, Cabbalistic, Alchemical, the pre feudal tribalism of growing racism, the supplanting of theories of natural selection and evolution by wide eyed creationism, various forms of biological determinism whether feminism, or what I call equal opportunism - all these represent the extent of the retreat from an impulse given by the Enlightenment at the beginning of the Industrial period. That impulse said: rational, educated, informed thought enables us to change the world in the interests of humanity and our environment. People practice, they theorise, they practice again. As Horizon showed this week even the most minute and unexpected protein can be a lethal prion carrying BSE between species into humans but its genesis can be objectively charted given time. What mysteries there are in the world can always be fathomed by the human intellect.
The present retreat from this Enlightenment legacy of scientific thought has been fuelled by the notion that the invisible hand of market forces can control our destinies for us without us having to think. God becomes earthbound as the god of the marketplace. Descarte’s famous humanistic phrase I think therefore I am, has become the reactionary I am therefore I am right. Under rampant individualism, rights not responsibilities, individuals, not collectives have been asserted. There is, after all, ’no such thing as society’. There are just trees, no woods. Don’t hug me stranger that’s abuse. Youth workers dare not console a distressed youngster with a comforting arm around the shoulder for fear of allegation. Take not make has been the order of the day with education ruined as the industrial base has been deliberately destroyed to quel the organised workers who create it.
By accident of birth, the illogic goes, I have this particular genetic characteristic - therefore I am politically correct. By claiming my right to be what I am I assert that the political system is creating the greatest happiness for all. I am happy because society respects me, therefore society is happy. I am alright Jack; me, me, me. The Leviathan is a friend. Society becomes how an individual feels about themselves. If you fell OK, society is OK.
Instead, of the early Christian or trade union notion of brother and sister, we have had perverse zoological definitions of each other come into prominence - white male - black female and so on. Ironically, though laboratory sounding, these wors are in fact deeply unscientific in their use. We’ve become to accustomed to categorising each other in a racist way according to irrelevant physical traits and this too helps us to avoid thinking and communicating with each other. Yet in reality only a handful of chromosomes are responsible for the great physical diversity of human beings.
And where those genes and chromosomes go wrong sometimes, still human resilience and genius can shine through. Consider Evelyn Glenney the world’s greatest percussionist who like the greatest painters can make sounds and colours you never dreamed of - she is deaf and cannot hear through her ears like her audience. Or take one of the world’s foremost physicists Stephen Hawkin - physically he is barely on the planet so severe is his mot neurone disease, he cannot speak yet has given voice to study of the origins of the universe. What is striking to me also is the way in which skilled educationalists can penetrate the most difficult situations. Take those colleagues who work with young children who are deaf, dumb, blind and suffering other physical and mental disorders - evntually they find forms of contact and communication with these children.
What matters most, however, is the grey matter inside, and to stop debate at what is outside, refusing to challenge and explore intellectually is the root of reaction. Being defined as wat you are biologically is the flip side of defining people by what they own, it is the market researchers paradise on earth.
This results also in a dangerous respect for diverse cultures that through the weird excesses of multi culturalism becomes the best way of suppressing forced migrant labour in its adopted land. It helps create the ghetto, the museum of anachronistic cultures, creeds and prejudices - the idiocy of rural life becomes fossilised in the inner city. No need to learn, just have faith. It becomes a kind of colonialism within the heart of dead Empire. Why don’e we say: Education for all for integration and a common national purpose ? Isn’t that actually an internationalist thing to say ? What country elsewhere would benefit if Britain’s education system continued to crumble ? Can we pontificate to poorer nations if our own nation is letting things slip so ? What have we to offer others if we fail to improve education evenly for all of our people ?
The grey matter inside our heads is the most sophisticated product of the physical world. It’s so good it enables us to fathom the origins of the physical world itself and its laws of motion; it is the precious thing. Its most important characteristic is its ability to make decisions - the world is made up of those - what does the advert say ? 12,567 thoughts a day every individual has we all have - we think : ’I shall cut this loaf of bread, or I shall invent the Internet or I shall find a way of landing a spacecraft on Mars.’ These are complex human thoughts.The world is the conscious world of human decision making. Education is therefore synonymous with human life, it is not merely a political priority, nor the jurisdiction of any political party. Nor is education anything much to do with equal opportunities as an objective, nor can it do much about the root of inequality and exploitation. No one is taught to revolt, or share or make profit. Education achieves more achieves more profound things. Ultimately it is bound up with production. It transmits the entirety of progressive human thought frome one generation to another from country or continent to another. But we cannot escape the root of all thought as being bound in the intellectual and manual labour needed to produce.
As you might tell, I have not written a standard tub thumper or emprical commentary on the pressing issues we face daily - I have welcomed this opportunity to reflect and share some reflections. It is refreshing for me as a General Secretary of a trade union not to have to talk about the latest cut or management misdemeanour, or even to have to analyse the broken promises and dreams of the past.
I believe in fact, we are at a liberating moment of our history. All we must do now is look forward. we have an opportunity here to look forward through the every day to a new future. And the key to this is seeing ourselves as the professionals in education as the sole source of that future not any politicians. We must take responsibility.
Thatcher has been defeated. She was shown to be an ipsy whipsy spider up the spout, albeit a Tarantula. The Tories are on the way out. Education education education is first on the nation’s agenda. Despite being a Holy Trinity conjured up in a recent sermon.We have a breathing space to go back to some first principles, dust ourselves down and prepare to rebuild in a new way. There is new hope.
It has to be said that the education unions, divided organisationally, but very much intact have made a very large contribution in creating this moment - we’ve hardly paused for breath since 1979, yet we are still kicking. Kicking should now though become creative planning, taking responsibility ourselves for building new education system led by the professionals within it and democratically accountable bodies grounded on Local Education Authorities. It should be an integrated system with everything from pre school to postdoctorate held in parity of esteem. One thing that is in our gift and our grasp that would transform education in Britain beyond all recognition is the formation of a Single Education Union and a General Teaching Council.
The destruction of education has been a cause and effect of Britain’s decline. This why education has attracted such attention and assault from the Government - no productive economy means no Shakespear, or chemistry. Trade unions for educationalists have faced the fragmentation of the state system, the incursions of market forces, the development of ’training’ and the attacks on fundamental terms and conditions and Trade Union rights. These matters have occupied and overstretched all of the education trade unions. They have led to overwhelming financial and organisational problem which have in turn and varying degrees, forced the unions to look inwards, separately. The effect has been to reduce the ability of these unions to focus on educational subjects and maintain a sense of projecting the social value of education as a whole. There has been significant submersion in crisis management.
The coming together of education unions would in itself bring to the forefront the strategic, creative, social purpose of education as a major force for progressive political change and reonstruction within Britain.
Snobbery is attached to the perceived hierarchies within the education system in which the University don appears’superior’ to the nursery teacher. One Union would help to break down these divisive, elitist barriers that prevent an assertion of the importance of the whole.
The different methods of transmitting skill and knowledge and fostering critical thought ingeneral and specific awareness of different subjects need to be understood and projected together. The informal developmental techniques of the community worker, or adult tutor are as valuable as the more didactic methods of the University faculty professor. A deeper comprehension of the whole education process is central to the task of rebuilding britain after the decades of destruction.
CYWU is committed to such a development and recognises that the first step must be professional unity among teachers. The bolder step beyond this would for once cause trade unionists to focus on the inclusion of young people rather than exclusion. There is no child or young person in Britain that should be excluded from education.
In youth and community work we have seen the benefits of unity with a recent document Agenda for a Generation being the product of organisational unity across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The document sets down what we as professionals and users of these important services want for the future.
So number one in the vision of the future - organisational unity.
Number two which I will not go into in depth now but I would urge you to read CYWU’s publication on the matter - a complete rejection of the notion that we can replace education and training with competence assessment through the NVQ system. No educationalist should gain qualification through this mechanistic route with its origins in American private enterprise. It is a common, irrelevant right wing behaviourist model of competence.
Number three in our vision of the future a recommitment to the recognition that knowledge is priceless, collective and ananymous. Who made a profit from inventing the words I am using now ? Is the concept of individual genius of any use ? Surely Mozart relied on the inventors and makers of violins. No one can put a patent on skill. This means that we need to engulf debate once again in the truth that education is social and should not be paid for - no to nursery vouchers and yes actually a restoration of the student grant system for even at the higher end of skill training, perhaps more so, the literal freedom of education and access is vital. we must also rid our country of any institutioin selling learning to the privileged.
Now, I was told in the course of an Industrial Tribunal last week by a barrister that I kept advancing ’utopian circumstances’. I am though aware of grave dangers that now face us all in Britain and particularly the public sector and especially in education. we face the danger of Europe and the Single Currency. I am delighted there is a commitment to a referendum on the issue and I believe we must ensure that all educationalists vote no. let me spell out some of the financial reasons why.
In 1994/5 Britain paid just under £2.5 billion (net) to the European Union and the forecast contribution for 1995/96 is just under £3.5 billion (net). Britain contributes about 12% of the EU’s resources and receives about 8% of EU expenditure. In 1993 our contributions to the EU were calculated as amounting to £42 for every man woman and child per annum.Moreover the EU’s budget has been increasing rapidly beyond inflation - about 11.7% a year and so it has drawn proportionatley more out of national exchequers at the time when they have been spending less on their own people. By 1999 the EU has agreed to draw on about 1.27% of EU Gross National Product. The European Parliament alone cost £502.8 million to run in 1995.The best estimates show that to date since joining the EU we have paid in £30 billion net. The EU’s own Court of Auditors has estimated "conservatively" that 10% of the EU’s budget each year, about £5-6 billion, is lost to fraud.
In 1970 we had a £385 million surplus in trade with EU countries, by 1990 it had become a£8,500 million deficit. In the first four years after joining the EU we lost about 6% of real national income. During our whole period of membershihp the UK’s visible cumulative trade deficit with other EU states has reached a staggering £87 billion, equivalent in fact to £145 billion at today’s prices. Between 1960 and 1972 imports from the EU increased our domestic unemployment by approximately 22,734 per year. After we joined this rose to an average annual increase figure of 200,000 per year. Bearing in mind the figures given on unemployment below, if we calculate the cost to the exchequer for each unemployed person as being in excess of £9,000 then EU inspired unemployment has cost the British taxpayer £306 billion in today’s prices.
Britian joined the ERM for two years between October 1990 and September 1992. As a result our economy fell into a deep deep recession. In fact it shrunk by an incredible 3.86%, unemployment rose by 1.2 million up to 2.85 million on the G vernment’s own laundered figures and by 1.3 million if we use the methods of calcualtion used in 1979. This steep rise in unemployment at the time cost the Treasury £10.8 billion, or 1.8% of UK GDP. Immediately prior and immediately after our membership of the ERM UK economic growth was averaging 2%, during membership it declined for 6 of the 8 quarters. The 3.9% fall in GDP during our membership of ERM amounted to £23.1 billion in 1992 money. Consequently the ERM’s impact on the UK is £33.9 billion, reducing its GDP by 5.7%.
This does not account however, for all of the damage done in that short space of time. We should have expected growth, with national income for that period being around £30.3 billion higher than it was. Add to this the amount the Chancellor had to dish out to bolster sterling (up to £15 billion) and the total cost of ERM membership was actually between £68 and £79 billion. The spurious argument pedaled by some that the City financiers will have their wings clipped by a Single Currency was also well and truly demolished by our experience of ERM membership when speculators earned millions in seconds.
Had we retained these moneys ourselves they could have cleared our budget deficits between 1994 and 1996 making a raise of taxes and cut in public expenditure unnecessary. In fact, income tax could have been completely abolished for the year 1993-4 and VAT on fuel would not have been needed. Looked at another way NHS spending could have been doubled. As three of the most accurate economists of this period and EU membership generally say: "ERM membership as therefore a calamity for the UK economy and society, the price of which is still being paid."
This was for a two year period. Remember a similar ERM entry period to harmonise currencies must be undertaken again to introduce the Single Currency. Such a move looks certain to bring us only permanent deflation and unemployment on a massive scale.
But costs are only part of the story. With Economic and Monetary Union goes the sovereignty of Britain, and sovereignty is essential if we are determine change. if we want to retain the ability to have authority over improving circumstances in Britain we as educationalists as a number one priority must campaign against the Single Currency int he refendum. If we do not we will not be able to blame anyone except ourselves for school closures and teacher redundancies.
- A Better Deal for Youth
- Community Work Matters
- E.P.Thompson Memorial Lecture 2000
- Forty Years of Progress for JNC
- Informal education the sleeping giant wakes
- Pay up - or lose youth and community as public services
- Speech to LGA Conference
- TES Article - The Youth Service
- The Mismeasurement of Education
- The reality of youth alienation and disaffection
- Youth Work and the Youth Service in Britain, an overview of professional formation
- Youth Work`s Importance