Monday, March 24, 2008

Miscellaneous education nonsense and some random reflections on liberty

This, for example:
"Head teachers should allow imams, rabbis and priests to offer religious instruction to pupils in all state schools, teachers' leaders have said."
Where to begin? I won't bother because you know what I think already. I want to record my irritation at this expression 'teachers' leaders' though. You're only a leader if someone's following you.

Then there's this piece from the Guardian:
"Schools should return to an early 1980s style of liberal education..."
'Teachers' leaders' again. Jamie K responds:
"I remember the "liberal 1980's" well, under the rule of the Great Earth Mother. It was a free lovin' hippy paradise."
But actually in this case the NUT's argument wasn't silly at all - and neither are Jamie's remarks, which are worth reproducing in full:
"Yet the eighties were more liberal in at least one important respect: there may have been violent disagreements about the government’s role in the economy but there was little urge to make the whole of private life the territory of endless management, incentive and punishment initiatives.

Now I feel like I’m on the wrong end of a political Doppler shift. The general assumption I grew up with was that past in general was always more reactionary. The sixties may have seen a struggle towards greater social liberalism, but that just went to prove the point. We now seem to be getting to the stage where the past – at least, the fairly recent past - is always more liberal because there was a general acceptance of much greater personal autonomy."
Quite so. One could stress that one sphere in which 'endless management' intrudes into our lives is in the workplace. Teachers rightly complain about bureaucracy and target-meeting but forget, or are unaware to begin with, that today almost everyone's jobs are places where you have to fill in forms about what you're going to do - then you do it - then you fill in more forms about what you've just done. We can justly blame Thatcher for this - it's just that the logical conclusion of her ideas, and her centralisation of Britain, hadn't filtered through until the next decade.

This got me to thinking - who is more free now than they were twenty years ago? I'm convinced that we are less free - both on the trivial level, and on the big building blocks of our liberty. Trivial: when I was at school, pupils - provided they were over sixteen - could smoke. Today, teachers who smoke are out with the pupils behind the fucking bikesheds having a puff (yes, I failed in my attempt to stop). Building block level: in my lifetime the uncompromised right to silence has gone, jury trial has been limited, restrictions on free speech have increased, as have the rights to protest. Then there's the whole detention without trial thing to consider. And fucking ID cards.

It's not that there hasn't been some advances in liberty. In my lifetime homosexuals have become freer - which is good. The consumers of pornography are freer - which is good. Smokers of cannabis are, for the time-being, freer - which is good.

And not all the restrictions on liberty have been bad. Teachers can no longer use corporal punishment - which is good. Dog-owners feel less free to allow their mutts to shit in public parks - which is excellent. Drivers of big fuck off SUVs are getting the vibe that no-one likes them - which is very good. And I'll concede this to you: previously the rights of non-smokers with regards to the old public places hadn't been very well catered for.

But generally we're less free. I certainly feel less free. And legally we're objectively less free - and that doesn't take into account all this shit going on in the workplace that sparked this rant off in the first place. My son's aunt has to record on a timesheet when she goes for a piss, for christsake. I know Paulie a) likes a challenge b) doesn't really agree with this, so I'll invite him to respond to this 10 mark essay question: "The average person is both experientially and legally less free than he or she was twenty years ago and you don't have to be a 'bloggertarian' to be pissed off about this." Discuss.

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