I absolutely hated school; not just a little, I despised it to the very depth of my being.
When you are a child or a young adult, the tendency is to think that your feelings are not shared by anybody else – you become wrapped up in what you consider to be your own uniqueness; I have since met many others who felt the same way about school. The problem is that some of us never recover from the unpleasant experiences we had and it puts us off education for life.
In many ways, despite my feelings about that institution, I was lucky. The reason is that my parents were both voracious readers, obsessed with knowledge of all kinds. Neither had been to university, but this didn’t stop them wanting to learn and perhaps this thirst for knowledge was passed down to me. Although I went on to take A-levels, I didn’t go to university, since I had more pressing issues on my mind, that is, wanting to be a famous musician (I was encouraged to pursue this by my father). My father, being very working-class, did not trust universities and actually discouraged me from going, “They’ll try to brainwash you,” he opined. I have since attended university though, and haven’t been brainwashed (although if I have I might not necessarily be aware of the fact).
Most working-class people are not given any choice, and are let down by the educational establishment. All this talk about ‘failing schools’ in the state sector doesn’t help either; it is interesting to note that the politicians and civil servants who shout the loudest about this have never had any direct experience of state schools. For example, old Etonian David Cameron did this during The Leaders’ Debates and I doubt that he will be sending his children to the local comprehensive, anymore than Tony Blair did (who attended the Scots equivalent of Eton, Fettes). The constant negativity towards state education is defeatist and destructive, and I believe that it is borne out of the snobbery politicians feel towards it. Let’s be honest, if more cabinet members had attended state school, or sent their children to them, there is a strong chance that comprehensive education would be better.
I work in community education, and the organisation I work for has a history of educating working-class people who are let down by mainstream education. In many ways it can act as both a safety-net and a stepping-stone to Further and Higher Education. Community Education has been let-down by Government policy and it is now facing many problems as a result. This is as a consequence of the Government’s Leichian ‘world-class skills’ agenda, which places far too much emphasis on the whims of potential employers, whom Leitch decided were best placed to identify the kind of education the British public ought to have. Please note here, that those receiving private education are not affected by the skills-agenda, they will still be learning paid-for academic subjects like History, English Literature, Latin and Geography, thus it is the working-classes (including most of the lower-paid middle-classes) who are prey to the demands of private industry. My own personal view is that education ought to place an emphasis on knowledge for the sake of knowledge; many skills attained during any form of education are transferable, but the Leitch agenda ignores this essential truism. Instead, it concentrates on the short-term; attempting to manufacture a work-force at the expense of’ personal choice.
Private interests have no right to interfere with a human right like education, anymore than they have a right to encroach on issues of health and well-being. The fact that this is being aided by the Government actually scares me. If there is a genuine lack of skills in the UK, than I think it has more to do with the destruction of our manufacturing-base and the resultant high unemployment in the 1980s, so let’s blame the real culprit for that, Thatcher’s Conservative administration (and Cameron would be no better). In many communities in the UK, unemployment has been so high that many teenagers grow up with parents who have never worked, and grandparents who they can’t remember ever working. Is it any wonder that they do not see the point of education?
Education in the community addresses this issue, as it is accessible and does not require removing people from their comfort zone; they can learn among the people they know and within their own community. It offers the first rung on the ladder, and it can help people find their own voice and become accustomed to establishing their own learning experience.
If studying working-class history taught me one thing it is the fact that we have a lot to be proud of. The establishment do not want us to know our own history, because it scares them. They know how we struggled against unimaginable odds, the courage we’ve had, the sheer creative skill and energy, the ability to fight back and control our own destiny. We all need to re-engage with that.