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activism Corbyn economics Election Labour NHS Politics Privatisation

You know schools, right?

Sorry for the bar room tone of the title, but it seems to me to match the level of thinking we have been getting from our government.

I have huge sympathy with the people who have been agitating all along to keep/get the schools open.

I have huge sympathy with the people who want the schools shut until we’re sure we’re safe.

I have huge sympathy with the people who think the whole idea of schools should be torn up and re-invented.

Here’s why…

What we have found out

Open the schools, fund the schools

Many communities, especially those that have become pits of social and financial deprivation due to the degradation of local authorities and funding, were depending on schools to keep children fed, healthy and safe. There are horrendous reports now coming out of the dangers and disasters that are befalling children in these areas during lock-down. If we are going to go on like this, we need to provide schools with the funds and the specialist staff to deal with all the community problems that have fallen into their laps because no-one else is dealing with them.

Keep the schools closed, fund everything else

It’s obvious that we need to close schools, and as many other institutions as possible, until the experts in *that* field have worked out how to deal with the virus and related problems so, having learned what our kids are going through, a responsible government would be urgently and actively re-funding and re-staffing the NHS, social services, community police, housing officers and all the other departments (not private contractors please, they have proved to be useless and expensive) – government or local authority departments that would, if they had the resources, be dealing with the problems those children are facing and – obviously – we need legislation to assure that wages and working conditions are functioning in a way that allows young adults to set up home, and find the time and resources necessary to bring up their children properly.

Ian Lavery MP points out why many people are not coping.

But it would appear that the only thing concerning the government is how they handle a cohort of kids who are all in different places on their national education data sheets, kids who are not in the habit of functioning in a group and following orders. Faced with a situation that doesn’t fit on their spread sheets, government ministers flip-flop between micro-management and hand-waving laissez faire in a way tailored to guarantee rage in teachers and parents alike.

Catch up with what?

Or – why school culture is bad for your kids

Closing schools made precious little difference to home-educating families. Those who aren’t familiar with the idea probably formed their notions of what home-schooling is long before it became something desperate parents resorted to when schools could not provide for their children. No longer middle class ‘hippy’ types, most home-schooling parents hauled their lives into a new shape with great difficulty because their children have special needs and their schools were poorly resourced to respond. Many of those who home-school now, whether by choice or because of special needs say the term itself is somewhat outdated. ‘Community education’ would be a more appropriate description. They band together, join local gyms, libraries and arts and science projects, and endeavour to teach their children what they are capable of learning in a way they are capable of learning it.

The biggest problem I see with such education is that it’s often impossible for people who don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, or who have to work long hours, to take part.

When the schools closed, the children in those families who were engaged in non-school education carried on their education pretty much as before, except that their group work had to move onto zoom. The problems they do have went right on as before – the difficulty of getting officials who contacted them to understand what education was, the difficulty of securing places and facilities for the kids to sit exams and the complete irrelevance to them of government guidance and directives – but overall, home-schooling proved itself during lockdown to be far, far better adapted to the modern world than most schools were.

Guardian headline about free broadband being needed for schooling, with caption "leave it Jez. They're not worth it."

For one thing, it’s a large part of why the government we weren’t allowed to have had free broadband for all as a headline policy, and it’s another area in which I really wish we had a government with the ability to look and learn.

What ‘home-school’ kids are suffering though, is the same thing all kids are currently suffering. They urgently need the time and the opportunity to rediscover and rebuild their social networks. I seriously hope the government doesn’t pursue that recently mooted idea of extending school hours so kids can ‘catch up’ – what, catch up with an imposed GCSE regime that has little to do with their actual lives? – they, just as much as their home-schooling friends, need time to catch up with their friends, their lives.

Through the portal

If only – If only we had had the government the majority of us did our best to bring in in 2017 (yes, majority – go find out, if you don’t know) we could take away the fines and the social pressures (poverty, overwork, inadequate housing etc) that force parents to send kids to school, and we could completely make over our schools, so that they were our hubs of community education: so that they provided shelter and routine every day to kids who needed those things, but also provided exam resources and sittings, labs, dance and recording studios, IT centres, libraries, orchestra, choir and team sports opportunities and above all, professional teachers, to everyone in the community who needed them (free at the point of use, naturally – because we believe in free education for all, don’t we?) Such schools would of course be staffed by experts on education, child development and safeguarding, but they would not have to be experts in health, social care, housing, social control and all the rest of it because we would have proper local authority departments assessing and doing the necessary in those specialities.

Teachers have been flooding into the NEU and other community-action organisations, seeking help, support and directions forward. In January, the NEU held what proved to be the biggest ever Trades Union meeting and made more sense in a couple of hours than the government has in months.

The biggest lesson

Above all, I think the lesson all of us – parents, teachers, kids, politicians, the voting public – need to take from this is that we won’t get given what we want, we won’t get told the whole truth – unless we take action, take responsibility, and start making the world we want to pass on to our children.

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activism Corbyn economics Housing media Politics Uncategorized women

Extreme blog post

What we’re all gradually realising…

We’ve been warned and warned about extremism … meanwhile, whilst asking teachers and nurses to do the downright impossible, and the rest of us to panic over the day’s headlines – maybe Mr Cummings, or the arrival of a few desperate asylum seekers, the government has had a free reign to take our attempt at a constitution to bits, set up any kind of Brexit it likes, and sell off anything we still own, all the while blaguing their way into one of the worst covid-19 scenarios in the world.

Newspaper headline: 'Cummings draws condemnation from across UK society
Cummings draws condemnation away from the rest of the govt

Now, we’re angry. Now, we know who the real extremists are, and we’re all running in circles (without leaving home) trying to work out what to do about it. As a popular cartoon yesterday asked, is Laura K covering for Cummings, is Cummings covering for the govt? Is the govt covering for Murdoch? … is there another layer, called ‘the deep state’?

Did Cummings go travelling to further this or that scurrilous political or business plan? Yes, quite likely he did but how many years will it take us to work all that out? I’ve wasted a whole week’s thinking on it and now I’m bored with it.

Boris Johnson attempts an apology

Extremism

Was supporting Jeremy Corbyn extremism? Is supporting Boris Johnson extremism? What about supporting XR? Or Julian Assange? Or sex-based rights? What about losing Domestic extremist tea towelpatience with lockdown, or saying there’s no point in sending your kids to school? Is Piers Morgan an extremist? Who cares! What the Cummings story did is push a lot of people over into ‘who cares’ but – would it be extremism to include in that mood not caring about what the media wants us to think?

Maybe real extremism is blaming whoever we’re encouraged to blame, or refusing to work with someone as soon as you find they take a different line to you on party politics, or Brexit, or religion, or one of the other things we’re so good at falling apart over, or maybe it’s spreading the propaganda we read in the less tabloidy papers, or just being noisy and angry because it makes us feel better. Maybe we’d better give all that up right now.

There is another option

If you haven’t already, take some time out to listen to Laura Pidcock and Noam Chomsky.

 

 

Or if you prefer a book, get hold of a copy of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. It explains that the government wants a never-ending crisis-scandal-disaster. It wants us running in circles getting angry with people at random. It takes our minds off the real enemy. Come election time, we’ll be back to battling over whether we like the blue cardboard hero or the red cardboard hero, or whether to ignore both if the green one’s in with a chance.

Activists with 'broken heart' placards commemorating those killed by DWP austerityOne  conclusion from watching the Pidcock/Chomsky interview is that we ought to give ourselves a break from arguing the toss over establishment figures and ballot boxes. Let’s think about our own, local resources. Many towns did remarkably well setting up local covid-19 help schemes. Generally, they are the same people who’ve been running foodbanks and all the rest of it – they did it no thanks to the govt, or what was said on telly.

Local ACORN team 'taking what's ours'
Properly socially distanced activism

We ought to do this all the time. Local networks coming together, doing their own thinking, doing local activism on issues that matter to them and choosing their own political education – and then doing more thinking, activism and education. And then more – it’s fun and it’s necessary. And let’s make sure the education we choose shows us the big picture, because we’re not just patiently doing the government’s job for them, but building our own way forward (we can still go and vote too, come the time but we don’t have to work ourselves to death over some party or candidate who wouldn’t walk half a mile for our sake).

Healthy extremes

The people’s extremes are about dodging the establishment ‘mainstream’, about focusing on localism and internationalism, instead of the Westminster-generated, big name ‘news’ in its blinding spotlight.

Localism and internationalism – there are real human stories to be found at those two extremes. With real humans in mind, we can leap-frog over what the government, the television and the newspapers think we should be worrying about.

Does it work?

Let’s consider the contrast between Pragna Patel’s speech here, where she cheers on a global rising and the gradual coming together of women’s movements…

 

 

…and Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein here, where Roy concludes that people just don’t rise up.

 

 

 

Which one do you believe?

Yellow jackets being extreme in FranceMaybe the point is that a massive rising of the people is not necessarily a crowd running down a street. Maybe it’s a tidal wave of new thinking and co-operation that we’re aiming for.

It only takes a few people an hour or so to set up a local action, it only takes a few minutes to set up a pol-ed watch-party – but each time you do it, you’re adding power to the movement – and every time you set one up, ask each of the people who take part to set up another one of their own. And if you remember to take photos, and film speeches, you can get on social media and make each action grow and spread and inspire more people…

Local action

The point Roy missed is – The Tipping Point. People don’t rise up, right up until they do. And what brings us to that point is persistent local activism and political education.

Corbyn addresses a crowd of thousands

Remember the energy and the numbers at the peak of the Corbyn movement? We were nearly there – and although the Corbyn project failed, its gains in the population are not lost. It wasn’t a waste, all that activism and pol ed. We now have many, many more people with experience in taking the initiative and working together – keep going. Keep going until we have enough people, ready enough, willing enough, that the initiative is all ours.

And at the other extreme

Pragna PatelOne of the things Pidcock and Chomsky mention is a plan for a new international. Pragna Patel wasn’t imagining things when she said women’s action is going global. Lockdown does not change what millions of women have learned in the last few years. Keep your eye on the women and also, keep your eye on Sanders, Varoufakis and others. I hope that conference Chomsky mentions (The Progressive International Conference, in Iceland in September) isn’t really in Iceland – no more jet-set politics please! I hope that really, it’s going to be hosted in Iceland and held online, where it can be seen globally – but whatever.

Localism and internationalism are the healthy extremes, they are the people reaching out, and together, we have the widest reach. Have plenty of international stories in your local activism and pol ed. Find out what the people’s movements are doing in South America, in France, in India, communicate with them, learn from them and then act local – let’s learn planet-sized politics because after all, we have a whole planetful of people who need saving from the real extremists.

Dominic Cummings pictured inside a Nato summit he wasn't supposed to be at
Extremely annoying and distracting

 

Some good sources for pol ed until we can get back to real world films and face to face discussions…

The Spirit of '45 by Ken Loach
Well worth a watch

Stories from home and abroad

Socialist pol ed from the Labour Left Alliance

Blogs and podcasts by and about women at FiLiA

… but the choices are endless – just get Googling.

 

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activism economics Hastings Housing Labour media NHS Politics Privatisation Uncategorized

My post-lockdown manifesto

(It’s a work in progress – I want to hear about yours, too.) What do we change, what do we scrap – what can we do?

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activism Corbyn economics Election Labour media Politics Uncategorized

“Told you so” is not the way to success

Lexit is (was) the idea of withdrawing from the neoliberalist strait-jacket of the EU without selling ourselves to the USA.

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activism Election media Politics Uncategorized

The day we almost saw what Eton Boys really think of us (amended post)

On 29th November, The Daily Mirror carried a front page that told us what Johnson thinks of us but…