Anarchy in the UK

I was rather too young (one, in fact) to remember the Sex Pistols singing Anarchy in the UK, and even if I could remember it, I ‘m pretty sure that I was a placid baby and therefore wouldn’t have been stirred to acts of wonton destruction in the name of Anarchy. Even now, the song strikes me as very School band-ish, and the most subversive and daring thing about it is the attempt to rhyme Antichrist with anarchist (or anarch-iste, as John Lydon strains to put it). The fact that he’s lately been seen advertising butter, and appearing on itv flagship reality TV goes to show that it’s tricky to remain an anarch-iste all your life, and maybe we’ve all got to grow up sooner or later.

Incidentally, an anarchist is defined as follows:

a person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation

The reason I’ve waffled on about this is as a result of the riots in Piccadilly at the weekend. This was nominally a protest march about government cuts, though it seems to have been split into two parts, with the Milliband-approved quiet protest (and if there’s ever a voice more soporific to calm a protest, I’d like to hear it) and the subsequent more radical anarchistic protest.

Let’s look at them in a little more detail:

Protest 1: peaceful, clear purpose, organised, involved people exercising their democratic right.

Protest 2: violent, not quite sure what the point was, chaotic, criminal damage, fighting with police.

The first protest involved people intent on making their feelings known to the coalition government. There’s a certain amount of courage required for this, and a desire to stand up for one’s beliefs. These people wanted to be seen, they were happy to show their faces and for their point to be made, forcibly and fairly.

The second protest involved people intent on smashing things up. This involved smashing banks, and taking over the roof of Fortnum and Mason. This second act was particularly bizarre, bearing in mind that you only have to walk through the front door and there’s pretty much a free lunch to be had at their food hall, given the number of tasty morsels on display. What’s on the roof to eat? Bird shit? How very anarchistic.

The fact that these people refused to show their faces meant that they were clearly intent on criminal activity from the outset. Just what point is being made by throwing paint at the police? What point is being made by smashing the window of a bank? Surely the point is that you like smashing things, hence you are anti-social, poorly brought up and with worrying issues of anger. You are also of course a massive coward, since you would presumably not do this sort of thing without the cover of a large mob behind you. It really is amazing how some of the meekest people develop a brave/stupid/violent mentality with the protection of a crowd. The daubing of the anarchist symbol was surely more about the fact that it looks quite cool than any actual political statement. It’s hard to see how a ‘social system based on voluntary co-operation’ can be achieved by sticking a table leg through the front window of Millett’s.

Part of the problem with protesting is that it seems to be becoming a social day out, and less about the reason behind the protest than the sheer joy of protesting itself. I remeber being invited to protest in Hyde park for the first Iraq war, and was told to come along because it would be fun, and ‘after all, it’s such a nice day for a walk’. A walk!? So that’s how we get more people to protest. Make sure it’s a sunny day, thrown in a park and a stroll past a cheeky deli, and you’ll have the great and the good of Hampstead screaming for the abolition of speed humps in no time.

Perhaps I’m becoming old and miserable, and maybe I’ve always been somewhat institutionalised (public School, university, public School isn’t the greatest sight of the real world), but it does seem as though there’s none more misguided than the anarchistes these days. Bob Dylan would be turning in his grave (have you not seen my dead pool, Bob?)

All about the parents?

I’m afraid it’s Jamie’s dream School again this week, so for those who are bored of my rantings about this particular piece of water-cooler TV, there’s no need to read on any further. The programme has turned out pretty much as expected, and I’m not surprised that the star of the show is David Starkey, a man who looks and acts more like his ‘dead ringers’ cariacature every time he appears. Watching him, kid gloves and all, handling the Staffordshire hoard like a newborn child was to observe someone totally in love with his subject; he then looks expectantly up at the class of brats in front of him, only to note the look of total disgust on their faces. This was sad, though hardly unexpected. He’d have been better off unveiling a bottle of 20/20, which would at least have gotten their attention.

But I’ve already said enough about the failings of the programme. I’m more interested in the enormous elephant in the classroom that seems to be continually ignored by Jamie, and all involved with dream School. We are told that these pupils have been failed by ‘the system’. We’re never quite told what ‘the system’ is, only that it has failed these children. The reasoning goes thus:

1. The pupils all have no GCSE qualifications.

2. The pupils are clearly quite clever.

3. Therefore, the teaching they received was not good enough. They weren’t engaged, enthused or educated.

Conclusion: the pupils have been failed by their Schools, and by their teachers within those Schools.

I’m sure there’s some truth in this, but here’s an inescapable truth: there are good teachers in every School and there are bad teachers in every School. It’s true that teacher effects dwaf whole School effects, such that you are far better off having the best teacher in a lousy School than having a feeble teacher in a superb establishment. But clearly these pupils haven’t just had the bad teachers. The main problem with them is that they are unteachable. They are feral. They have never been taught how to behave. The general rules of life do not apply to these pupils. And whose fault is this? I’d absolve the pupils from blame, just as one absolves a non-housetrained dog from peeing on the carpet; it simply doesn’t know any better. Surely the majority of fault lies with the parents?

Malcolm Gladwell notes that pupils at high-achieving Schools don’t actually outstrip pupils at low achieving Schools by that much during term time i.e. the time that they actually spend at School. Instead, their education develops far more during the holidays, and this is where they move ahead of the low achieving pupils. During this time they are encouraged to read by their parents, to take an interest in sport, music, film, theatre, to debate, discuss and to challenge the world around them. They are not allowed to spend long days on the xbox and eating junk food. This is a generalisation of course, but it’s the general point I wish to make.

On this week’s episode, we were told that one of the pupils had grown up without a dad, had been kicked out by his mother and was living in a council flat on his own. The only time we were treated to a look inside, he was getting hammered with his mates on what looked like cheap schnapps. Failed by the system? Only if the system gave birth to him.

We can talk all we like about what needs to change with education, from curriculum reform and studying Latin (Toby Young) to discipline in the classroom (Katharine Birbalsingh), but why do we never talk about good parents and bad parents, and the effects of parents, rather than the effects of School and teachers. Young people need to be aspirational; they need to feel as though they can make a success of things, and they need the love, nurture and time investment from fantastic parents. How about Jamie’s dream parent School – get the parents of these youngsters with potential and teach them how to do a good job?

Just a thought, channel 4?

The social pariah

It’s generally accepted that men and women are good at different things. Their skill sets are different. Maybe it’s easier to say that certain skills are emphatically more masculine and others more feminine, bearing in mind that we all have a degree of each. Men claim spatial awareness as their own, and I think they’re probably right. It’s certainly easier to drive a car with the A to Z open on your knees than it is to get a woman to try to navigate. They’ll spend much of the time rotating the page as they try to decide which is left and which is right, before you find out that the blue wavy line wasn’t the motorway, but a nearby river. When the roles are reversed, things usually progress more smoothly, though never assume that a woman will be able to understand a satnav. The instruction to ‘turn right in 400 yards’ will be met with ‘how am I supposed to know what 400 yards is?’ before the inevitable turn of the wheel about 25 yards from where the instruction was mentioned. Multi-tasking is almost exclusively the domain of women. They can generally manage to cook, feed a baby, push around a hoover, tune the radio, order ocado online and read a book at the same time, whereas men will accomplish only one of those tasks, usually with the tongue hanging out of one side of the mouth, and with a furrowed brow that lets everyone know just how tricky the task is.

There’s a whole host of other things one could go into, but they’re all pretty lazy stereotypes, and are almost bound to offend someone. However, one thing that I find women far better at is conversation. If one ends up talking to a woman at a social gathering, you generally have no idea what topic the conversation will turn to. Whether it’s an old friend, a semi-known partner of a friend or someone you’ve just met, you’ll be chatting through books, food, Art, travel, films etc, with scarcely an pause for breath. With men it’s all so very different, although I should put a disclaimer in here that I have a small number of excellent male friends, most of whom I’ve known for a long time that do not fall into this category. The category I’m talking about is the men that you know, but not all that well. Maybe they are ‘work friends’ rather than real friends, or boyfriends of good friends that you spend little time talking to unless you have to.

I get a sensation that approaches dread when I end up stuck at a party (not that I go to many) talking to a male that I don’t know all that well. I consider myself to be a reasonable conversationalist, but somehow I know that the chat we are about to have is going to be the most awkward thing that’s ever happened to either of us. Why should this be the case? It’s not like I’m trying to pull. Maybe I’m subconsciously worried that he’s about to jump me? This would certainly explain the opening line I tend to use to dampen any homosexual advances: ‘so how did you get here tonight?’. Why do I care? Why does anyone care? The options generally tend to be via public transport, or via some form of owned vehicle. Either way, it’s not much of a conversation starter. And yet I always feel the need to kick things off with this gem. This will generally be followed up with a ‘what do you do?’. I don’t care what he does either, and until the day someone says astronaut or premiership footballer, neither will I care. This is bad enough, but it always provokes him to ask me the same question. I always say ‘teacher’, though by now some kind of latent, desperate alpha-male switch has been flicked, and I’ll somehow try and crowbar in that I teach at a very successful School, and I’m part of SMT. What a tool I must sound like. He doesn’t care, and I don’t even know why I’ve mentioned it. Maybe I should just challenge him to down a pint, compare size of car engines, or just flip it out there and then. I genuinely have no idea why I behave this way, other than some kind of inner desire to appear a person of quality to a total stranger.

The worst is yet to come. As if I haven’t appeared enough of a conversational dunce, I’ll then always turn around the chat to football, with a jolly ‘so who’s your team then?’. I hate myself for doing this. I have so much more to talk about, and yet I can’t go 5 minutes with a stranger without mentioning football. If the chap likes football, it’s then turn in to a kind of fencing stat-off, and if he doesn’t, what then? Rugby? The conversation always tends to improve after a while, but it’ll still be one of those conversations that both of us are just waiting for a chance to move away from. And when Victoria comes back with the G+Ts, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Maybe I just need to try harder. Maybe my brain just takes over, and I click onto a sort of crap chat autopilot. I think this must be it; I had a really good idea about time and perception to write about when I sat down, and now I’ve wasted 15 minutes on this drivel.