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Monday, 27 June 2016

What We Don't Learn

What do you remember from school that you don't really use today?

A lot of you will reach for mathematics. Trigonometry, pi to a certain value, so on. Some people will talk about language, verbs and nouns. Some will claim science as the burden. A bit of this, a bit of that.

What about the things in school that you weren't taught?

I vaguely touched upon this last May in this blog right here, but I think that - in the wake of the referendum that has rocked the country - it deserves revisiting.

Let us ponder, for a moment, some wisdom from the late great George Carlin:

"You might have noticed that I never complain about politicians. I leave that to others. And there's no shortage of volunteers; everyone complains about politicians. Everyone says they suck. But where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky; they don't pass through a membrane from a separate reality. They come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, and American businesses. And they're elected by American voters. This is what our system produces, folks. This is the best we can do. Let's face it, we have very little to work with. Garbage in, garbage out."

Let's think about that for a moment.

Democracy is built on the people of a nation being involved in the decision-making process of that nation. It does not require, by definition, those decisions to be informed - but let's consider that for a moment.

Stepping out of the standpoints of various political parties - it is literally better, for the entire nation (if not the entire world), if those decisions ARE informed. A country's effectiveness and capacity to do right by its citizens depends on its capacity to make good decisions. Thus, it's in the interest of a nation to ensure those citizens can make those decisions well.

How to do that? Well, in order to make decisions, people need to understand the consequences of those decisions. A basic understanding of government, of society, of economics. Expertise is not necessary - but then the same can be said for mathematics, and very few people leave school without an expected basic level of knowledge.

Yeah, you hated learning trigonometry, but you know how many £2 loaves of bread you can get for a tenner.

How many of us left school in the knowledge of what national debt is, how taxes are collected and spent, or what the difference is between left-wing and right-wing? How many people do you know that don't really understand communism, socialism, capitalism, neoliberalism (and how different it is to liberalism), fascism?

BoyInABand did a song about this:

Trigonometry is, admittedly, more important to me than most people - I like maths - but if I had to choose between learning trig and learning LITERALLY how this country is run, I am going to pick the latter.

Kids aren't allowed to vote. Why? Because they don't understand the enormity of what they are doing, they don't understand what is going on, they don't know how the world works yet. They don't know how to make good decisions about the future of this country.

But...what about if you're an adult and you have no clue?

Picture this - two individuals. A seventeen year old that has been reading about politics and economics since they were twelve, who has taken an interest in it at a local level as well as a global one, who has demonstrated his knowledge in talks and debates - and a forty year old who has literally only ever seen one room in their entire lives, who knows nothing of the outside world and doesn't care to.

If the forty year old can convince people that he's sane - hell, who is to say he ISN'T sane? - then he gets a vote. He knows literally nothing but he gets a vote based purely on how long he's been on this earth.

The seventeen year old doesn't get shit.

To look at what happened in the Referendum of 23rd June, a great many people expressed significant confusion or lack of knowledge on the run-up to the vote. Some expressed the same on the same day. Many continued to express confusion and lack of knowledge AFTER they had already cast their vote, not having realised quite what they had voted for or what any of it meant, so they went with their gut instinct.

Nobody needs to be told what propaganda can do. It has turned entire nations into charicatures, legitimised slaughter without precedent, started wars and pogroms - the list goes on.

Propaganda isn't always posters on walls that tell you to hate. Sometimes it is more subtle. It comes in the form of agendas being described as truths. It comes in the form of identifying pre-existing prejudices and inflaming them, earning sympathy. See, we hate the same thing. We are on the same side.

I daresay that one reason that there's no education of politics and civics in schools is because, when the party that forms the government suggests such a thing, the other shoots it down - because they are afraid that Party A will sway the education toward their agendas. And when Party B come into power, the same happens. I think this is one limiting factor, perhaps the main one.

Of course there is also George Carlin's perennial thought that the government wants to keep us dumb. That the entire process is an exercise designed to give us enough hands on reins to make us think we know where the horse is going, without any capability of guiding it, no knowledge of how to feed or shoe it, and not even necessarily knowing it is a horse.

I don't subscribe to this particular theory. Mostly because I don't believe in conspiracy theories. There's easier ways to keep people dumb than generally bumbling around in a bureaucracy. Besides, it isn't as if the information isn't out there. It really is. You just need to actually go looking for it, and that's hard to do if you don't vaguely know what to go looking for in the first place.

So if we accept that an enlightened society is a better society - as I previously asserted - then we have to accept that not teaching people about politics is strictly a choice dictated by partisan division. If WE can't teach them OUR lesson, then THEY can't teach them THEIR lesson.

The answer is, in this country at least, an independent entity. This entity would set the template and curriculum for political education. It would be run past the Education Secretary for approval. It would be run past the Shadow Education Secretary for approval. In the end - once a balance is struck between the two, and with the input of others (I suggest perhaps some highly regarded political and economic scholars) - the curriculum is rolled out.

It is depressing that it would take that much effort, just to allow political and civic education for our children. To think that the only way that an education in the way the world works can occur requires pandering and hand-wringing to the extant powers that be - truth be told, it makes me feel a little ill. If that is the only way? It is the only way.

We can't afford to have the democratic future of this country in the hands of people that don't understand the consequences of their votes. Who admittedly, after the fact, hold up their hands and say they didn't know. Knowing who is in who's pocket is a difficult thing and requires some study - but knowing who makes the decisions, and who stands to gain from each of them, can begin that process.

Knowing where we are taxed and how much - knowing where that tax money is spent - knowing how an economy works, and how an economy can get into debt - all of these things are things I somewhat take for granted, now. They are things that I set out to learn because not knowing was infuriating, and now the infuration takes root in knowing that I still have just as much sway over the democratic process as the theoretical man in the room.

It is my opinion, and has been my opinion for many years, that we need to be taught these lessons in schools. I value the other lessons - mathematics, sciences, english - but a knowledge of how the world works is important, too.

And if we are going to stop children from voting because they don't know - if we are going to stop those without sound mind voting because they literally cannot make an informed decision - then we need to start making sure that everyone that ISN'T one of those things IS capable of making an informed decision.

Or we're going to end up with a pound in the shitter and an economy steadily flatlining.


1 comment:

  1. Political science and political philosophy are taught at uk universities thank God. We can use literature to teach children the concept of democracy as we understand it. A classical education serves as a basis for many who understand and respect various political concepts. Perhaps some voters regretted their decision post referendum but that is usual in any election. The remainstream media has ensured we view the decision in a negative light. Well, it is my view that voters knew exactly what they were voting for. They listened to the dire warnings and instead chose democracy over elite, wholly unaccountable rule. And why wouldn't they? Can we put a price on democratic freedom? Post Brexit, the EU are ramping up their plans for an (essentially German) superstate. The financial markets may be upset but again, what price democracy? Voters knew exactly what they were voting for. A recent poll found that top 3 reasons for voting leave were: EU superstate fears 2) EU army fears 3)pressure on public services due to free movement. The scare tactics by both sides largely fell on deaf ears. Interestingly, the EU education prog does not include political philosophy and therefore intentionally excludes democratic concepts. Deliberate? I think so. Money isn't everything but freedom is.