Yesterday saw small protests by far right groups the EDL and BNP and counter demonstrations. The story is not very high up in the mainstream media but it dominated my twitter timeline. A chat about it all last night with @JimmyBHAFC set me thinking.
First let’s state the obvious. The EDL / BNP do not own paying respect to Drummer Rigby or any other fallen soldier for that matter. If you want to do that you can go to a memorial and leave a tribute any time you want. The far right tried to turn a fallen soldier in to a ‘Princess Diana’ issue. Back in the day it seemed you had to publicly outpour your grief for Princess Di (not to mention buy Candle in the Wind) or you were some kind of sick, uncaring bastard who wanted her dead. Now here’s the EDL trying to say that unless you were with them you were against Drummer Rigby. They failed massively and once again were outnumbered by both protesters and the police. Good.
However it also has to be said that while I think that peaceful counter demos are fine the UAF was in danger of scoring an own goal yesterday. They do not own ‘respect’ either. Stand by the side and mock by all means but even fascists have a right to lay wreaths at a memorial in this country. I think it would be a worse place if they didn’t.
So that’s the respect part dealt with but why think about education in all this? Because, for me, politics is starting to polarise as it so often does in times of forced austerity. As the credit crunch hit initially, here in Brighton people veered left, leaving the City with a Green MP and Green led council. (This gave the City an excellent MP and terrible, incompetent joke of a council from the same political party but that’s a whole other post). As further austerity has bitten, as benefit claimants continue to be demonised and as the Tory party obsesses over Europe again a significant portion of the rest of the country has veered right. UKIP support is probably at an all time high, at least in terms of poll ratings. And UKIP (or at least their spokesman) seemed quite happy yesterday to hop on the EDL bandwagon.
So we worried in our chat that this sort of ideology might become more and more attractive to the working classes. How do you stop people from making the two plus two equals five choice that you have to join the right of politics to show respect to those who fight for this country?
Education. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The EDL may stand for English Defence League but spend just a few minutes looking at their communications on Facebook and you will see that English is not their strong point. In fact most of them can barely spell simple words. Some of them seem to think that Brighton Pavillion is a mosque (should they know different? Of course. It used to be a Royal Palace and is therefore as much part of English history and culture as fish and chips or The Sun. Plus they could have Googled it.). In short we are talking about people whose education is appalling, You could call them thick and you’d be right but that’s not a good thing. As a society we’ve failed them.
But it isn’t enough just to teach children to spell and that two plus two equals four if you ask me. Teaching of respect is equally important and something I worry Michael Gove (yes him again) does not understand in his drive for grammar tests, OFSTED inspections and Free Schools a la Toby Young. Teach a child simply to read and write without thinking and they may not know what to do with it. Teach them to think for themselves and the spelling and reading will come because they will darn well want to express themselves.
I remember when Boy came home and told me about the various festivals they had been taught about (Eid, Diwali) and being once again proud of the school he is at. They do a Nativity too though. He has a couple of Muslim children in his class who were, nevertheless, part of the Christmas concert. This is what true multiculturalism means. Not terrorism or creeping Sharia but learning about one’s own culture whilst learning to respect other people’s. I worry how long they will be able to do this.
When I bang on about education it’s because that is one place where we really can start to make a difference. The UAF blocking the Cenotaph yesterday may have lost a few more to the far right who were heading that way anyway but surely the long game is to not have anyone heading that way in the first place. Not through indoctrination or forced political correctness but by giving everyone a fair chance to think for themselves and to discuss problems in a reasonable manner. This goes for Islamic extremism too. Islamic terrorists have been poorly educated. They are vulnerable people easily brainwashed by hate preachers. They need help to extricate themselves from hate just as much as the EDL.
Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of just having plans to subject 7 year olds to high pressure grammar tests (to start SORTING THE FAILURES at 7), Mr Gove also came up with ways to prevent children, particularly from poor backgrounds, being led into worlds of crime, extremism and hopelessness?