Season of discounts and discontent

The time is back with us when people scratch their heads and wonder why the not very great and not very good are on the Queen’s Honours list. Given my republican tendencies (well, leanings that have tipped me over into a horizontal defiance) it always surprises me when people conflate the need for royalty with these devalued awards. Their semi-mystical logic is that royalty transcends mundane, common life. That a head of state should have an ineffable quality to which an ordinary Joe or Josie could never aspire. And to receive an honour from such, imbues the recipient with self-esteem laced with awe.

My view is that an elected President would confer on behalf of all of us, the state gratification for an individual’s contribution to its security, culture or economy in a way which might be transparent and based on agreed criteria; because a President would be truly one of us, the people, not a curious offspring of a line of blood that has resulted from historical accident and murky acts. We could then rid ourselves of cash for honours, bowing and scraping, awards that are based on class, privilege or brownness (see earlier blog!) in the civil service. We might also begin a process of restructuring our society so that the establishment no longer grasps the social tiller with its self-aggrandising hand.

Last night I watched The History Boys on the tele and marvelled again at dear Alan Bennett’s flair for words and drama. In this consummate piece of writing he says more about the parlous state of the education of the young than a thousand academic reports. Today, time-serving technocrats rule the curriculum, teacher training, resourcing, measurement and the so-called development of the next generation. As a result we have fewer university entrants from those in relative poverty, schools as factories and a social experiment that has eroded our cultural creativity. Education policy resonates in its mechanistic aspirations with the dimming of the light of free speech, new draconian laws, ID cards and talking CCTV cameras. In The History Boys, Hector, a camp but harmless gay school teacher, professes to have no other purpose in professional life than explore the history of ideas. How his students use the experience and to what ends, is their business and responsibility, not his or the state’s. He is pitted against a moderniser, a smart teacher, a man who knows how to train students to appeal to exam boards and interview panels. Culture is seen by the latter to be a basis for expedience, a means to gain status and privilege, a book of useful facts to brighten one’s dinner party charisma, a dumbing down of what we might offer our society. Smart but never profound.

The anarchy of people, their cultural aspirations, their refusal to be dragooned for economic and political ends should be central to education. We might then see a critical revolt against the specious nature of monarchy, class and vested interests and a line of Governments whose limited intelligence and vision constrains and stultifies the vital energies of our society.

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