A post of uncritical, chattering indulgence – Bravo, Logan Astley

I was born into the working class world of Rugby League – the Lancashire side of the Pennines. During my teenage years, I lived in a classic two-up, two-down terraced house, only a drop kick away from Hilton Park, the rickety home of Leigh RLFC. My dad, like many a miner, tried his hand, playing a couple of games as hooker for the ‘A’ team. And, in 1957, I played for Newton West Park against the Twelve Apostles in the Leigh Primary Schools final on the hallowed ground of the town’s professional team. The muddy pitch was so big it was a wonder either team got near the opposition’s try line. It ended 3 points all in a dour draw. I ended up with a bloody nose, which was sorted by my father, running on with the ‘magic sponge’ and the instruction, ‘ger on wi’it’.

Hilton Park. Leigh

Like many a young lad, I dreamed of playing for Leigh. My hero was the rampaging Mick Martyn. However I was neither tough nor quick enough to emulate his exploits. Never mind that I went to grammar school, where class pretension meant rugby union was the name of a game, where writhing about on the ground was a necessity. kicking obligatory and passing almost unheard of. I became a race walker, where the only necessary contact was with the ground rather than with hurtling bodies – in retrospect far safer.

In 1989 I found myself living in a ‘posher’ house close to the middle of Wigan, this time only a spiralling pass from Central Park, the atmospheric home of Wigan RLFC, Leigh’s fiercest rivals. My love for the game was reignited. To the dismay, I’m sure of loyal ‘Leythers’, with my wife being a ‘Wigginer’, I rationalised following both the Leigh and Wigan teams, the latter in its pomp. Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards and Andy Farrell were amongst our heroes. It was an exhilarating period of dramatic matches, of incredible skills and courage, interspersed on our part with many a pint of Pendle Witch or Timothy Taylor’s Landlord consumed in characterful pubs across the North-West of England. During a couple of summers, I even found myself playing touch rugby for my local, the Tudor House, the oldest, slowest, but perhaps fittest in the team. On a couple of occasions my daughter’s soon-to-be husband, Bob Astley contributed to our efforts, startling us with his blistering pace.

Central Park, Wigan

Bob’s fast-twitch fibres were to be of more than passing importance. Having emigrated to Crete. Marilyn and I were not present at Logan’s birth so we can’t confirm the rumour that he was born with a rugby ball between his thighs. We can though vouch for the fact that from an early age he went to bed with ball in hand. Indeed when we visited we found the living room had been transformed into a rugby pitch with two couches set at a right angle, comprising the grandstands. From thence on the ruffled carpet was host to passes, short and long, delicate grubber kicks and crunching tackles with Sonny, Logan’s younger brother in the heat of affairs. It’s a wonder the room remains roughly in one piece. Recently Tubby, the family dog has found himself buffetted in the thick of things and, apprenticeship served, is able now to bark with authority, ‘Grr ’em onside’.

A magical try from Logan in his younger days!

Outside of the Astley’s private training ground, Logan has made his way successfully through the competitive age groups of the local amateur rugby scene, often in the colours of the Wigan St Patrick’s club, earning consistent praise for his talents. Possessed of an exhilarating turn of speed, inherited from his dad and perchance a willingness to do the hard miles reminiscent of my athletic dedication he has stood out from the pack. He’s been on the books of Wigan Warriors [ don’t get me started on the daft, unnecessary brand name!] for the past few years and has made his first team debut. Where it goes from here is not anyone’s guess. He is gifted and committed, telling his mum, ‘how lucky he is to be paid for doing something he loves’ but the sport is cruel. Many an exciting prospect falls by the wayside, sometimes through career-threatening injury, sometimes by losing the plot. In his favour is a laid-back and unpretentious disposition. He’s certainly not too big for his own boots. For now, a proud grandad I’ll wallow in the moment described below and leave tomorrow for another day.

Astley leads the way as Warriors take title
WIGAN WARRIORS 40 WAKEFIELD TRINITY 12

DAVID KUZIO

Robin Park, Sunday, September 18, 2022

BEN O’KEEFE grabbed a hat-trick of tries and kicked four goals as Wigan claimed the second-string crown with a comfortable victory.

The winger completed his treble in the first half as the hosts led 18-6 at the break after bossing the bulk of the action.

The Warriors raced into a 14-0 lead with O’Keefe scoring twice on either side of a Kieran Tyrer try (O’Keefe improved that effort).

But Robbie Butterworth got Wakefield on the board with a try out of nothing, to which he added the two, as the visitors started to grow into the contest.

However, O’Keefe’s score on the hooter settled the home side, who were slowly allowing Trinity to get into the game.

A 51st-minute score from Josh Phillips, also converted by O’Keefe, gave Wakefield fresh hope as the deficit was cut to six points.

But a brace of tries from Sam Halsall and scores by Alex Sutton and Logan Astley, plus three O’Keefe goals, saw Wigan home.

It was not a great start from them as Umlya Hanley put the ball out on the full from the kick-off, and they then conceded a drop-out as Wakefield looked to gain an early advantage.

But Tyrer turned the tide as he found touch from the drop-out and it was Wigan now on the front foot.

They made that count as Astley took the ball left and found Halsall in space to send O’Keefe in at the corner.

Wigan extended their lead in the 15th minute when Tyrer collected a short ball, threw a dummy and went in under the posts unopposed.

Jack Bibby and Tyrer went close before Astley and Halsall combined once again to send O’Keefe in for his second try – and a 14-0 lead.

Great defence from Robbie Mann and Rob Butler prevented Wigan from scoring their fourth try.

The Yorkshire side took heart from that, went up the other end, and scored their first.

A towering kick was collected by Hanley, but he was met with a monster hit and spilled possession, leaving Butterworth to pick up and touch down. Wigan were reduced to twelve men with James McDonnell sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, and Wakefield started to cause problems.

Jay Haywood-Scriven came close to grabbing a second, but he was held just short.

Wigan managed to soak up a lot of pressure and O’Keefe crossed for his hat-trick just before the interval following another neat pass from Astley.

Wakefield enjoyed a lot of possession at the start of the second half as they camped on Wigan’s line, and they got their reward with Phillips forcing his way over from close range.

Wigan were now struggling to create chances as Wakefield were taking the game to them, but a poor pass was intercepted by Halsall, who raced 80 metres to help put Wigan twelve points in front with 23 minutes to go.

Halsall then put the game out of Wakefield’s reach with another long range effort. Junior Nsemba – who was brilliant all afternoon – combined with Astley and O’Keefe, with the latter turning it inside for the scorer to race away.

Wigan’s seventh try came from Sutton as he was on the end on another passing move started by Astley, who then capped a marvellous performance with a try of his own.

GAMESTAR: Ben O’Keefe, Sam Halsall and Junior Nsemba were brilliant, but scrum-half Logan Astley was the one pulling the strings.

GAMEBREAKER: Sam Halsall’s 57th-minute interception try pushed Wigan ahead by twelve points and they were never in danger of losing the game after that.

School Children Resist in 1911: A Historical Precedent?

On the 5th of September 1911, a UK-wide strike wave of schoolchildren was sparked when pupils in Llanelli, Wales walked out in sympathy with a boy who was disciplined by a deputy headmaster. From this one school, walkouts spread across the country to at least 62 towns and cities, with pupils demanding an end to corporal punishment and shorter hours. The schoolchildren’s strikes followed a summer of workers’ industrial disputes.

Schoolchildren on strike, Shoreditch 1911

In the present climate of growing unrest with the consequences of the authoritarian assault on children’s, young people’s, parents’ and workers’ rights, indeed upon society as a whole is inspiration to be found in this history.

School children in Hull on strike in 1911 “for shorter hours and no stick”


There is a wonderful pamphlet about the walkouts, written by Dave Marston, a docker and Ruskin student in 1973.

https://libcom.org/history/childrens-strikes-1911

Editorial Note

The children’s strikes of 1911, as Dave Marson shows in this pamphlet, were part of the huge upheaval of labour in the long, hot summer of 1911. The industrial unrest has often been written about: the school strikes are Dave Marson’s own discovery. He came upon them by accident when researching the history of his own people, the Hull dockers. He has followed the strike movement all over the country and has set them in both a school and a community context. The school situation which he describes has by no means disappeared: nor have the difficulties of organising resistance. The writer is a working docker, who was a student at Ruskin in 1970-2.

He begins his marvellous piece.

I came upon the children’s strikes of 1911 by accident. I was researching into the Hull Dock Strike of 1911, and reading through the Hull newspapers of that year when I noticed a small paragraph relating to a strike of Hull school children which took place in September 1911. It seemed no more than a curiosity, an illustration of the extent of the industrial unrest taking place at that time. What struck me first was the story about a policeman having to mount his bicycle and charging at the youthful strikers who had formed a picket line outside their school. The mere sight of a blue uniform was enough to frighten me and my school friends.

What set me looking further into things was one line in the report which said that the Hull boys were following the example of children in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Then looking through another Hull newspaper I discovered a front page splash – with photographs and a story about the strike. The newspaper listed all the different classes of workers who had been out on strike in Hull during that hot summer – cement workers – factory girls – seamen and dockers, and connected the children’s strike to them. It was a photograph that really affected me – it was a picture of the children picketting the gates of Courtney Street Primary School, the same school I had been to myself. I identified myself with those strikers – some of them might have been the parents of the children I went to school with.

When I looked at the Times I found that children’s strikes were taking place not only in Yorkshire but all over the country. At first I couldn’t believe it – how could it have taken place so quickly and all over the country – I’d always believed that strikes were something which had to be organised. I felt that these children were trying to say something. I did not realise how many places were affected until I started reading through the local newspapers at Colindale. These showed that there were many more than the Times had reported.

Dave ends after cataloguing an amazing variety of children’s responses across the country.

Away from their classrooms the jubilant children began to express themselves in various ways. To some it would be a ‘street theatre’ and to others the sheer feeling of freedom would exhilarate them enough to address the crowds of boys in the manner of the factory-gate or street-corner agitator. To the newspaper columnists they were ‘Dunces’; ‘The Truant Class’; ‘Children from the Poorer Areas’. This attitude shows how the respectable classes regarded them. Throughout the country children began to show originality and independence.

The strikes were not all violent. In Hartlepool the boys walked along the sands and picnicked, taking advantage of the splendid late Summer weather. In other places they went swimming or simply sat around discussing general topics; they played at being soldiers and paraded; some sang patriotic songs.

In Northampton strikers went blackberrying. But more important they entertained themselves with their own music making up the words to songs. These children, despite their stifling schooling showed their minds had not been overwhelmed by the gray monotonies of the class-room. They still retained imagination with ideas like the colours in a paint-box.

Are youth workers chatting critically about their compliance with or resistance to the closing down of young people’s lives?

Back in January, I published a post, What about Children and Young People? Are they no more than collateral damage? The opening sentence declared, ‘from the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people.’

I was perplexed from the outset at what seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?

Towards the end of the piece I commented:

Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.

I’m still waiting but prodded by an Opinion article in the Guardian, ‘Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened‘ by Martha Gill, I’ll return to the issue by way of a recent criticism of lockdown.

Written by Dr Zenobia Storah, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, it is entitled, ‘Reflections of a Child Psychologist on the Pandemic Response, 2 years on.’ It deserves to be read in full, particularly perhaps by professionals in the fields of welfare and education. At one point she muses.

Something unexpected happened in Spring and Summer of 2020. I found myself standing apart from my colleagues. I could understand that in the initial stages of the pandemic, due to the particular threat that Covid posed to the elderly, the government’s decision had been to focus on the protection of older members of the population. But as the weeks wore on and I imagined the harm being done to children across the country, informed both by my training and my professional experience, it was clear to me that too much weight was being focussed on the protection of adults at the enormous expense of the less obvious (but more long-term) damage to the future and well-being of children and young people. And yet those who I would expect to be my natural allies due to shared knowledge and experience remained silent. There was no national, grown-up discussion anywhere about how we might balance the need to protect the most vulnerable from Covid with the interests of the young, and how we could remain faithful to our national commitment to children’s best interests being paramount. Any attempt to introduce such discussion was met with derision and accusations of moral decrepitude. To my astonishment, this was also the case on professional online forums, where it became increasingly difficult to raise concerns. It seemed to me that psychologists, who describe themselves as ‘scientist-practitioners’, should be asking serious questions about society-wide decisions to impose restrictions and mandates that would inevitably harm children and young people (and other vulnerable groups). At the very least, they should all be calling for a broader discussion, which they would be uniquely placed to inform, and at best, an extremely high bar (in terms of cost-benefit analysis) for the introduction of such measures. Yet the general view amongst those working with children and young people – and the official view of most professional bodies including my own – was that the moral responsibility of child professionals was to support government policy (at whatever cost to society and whilst asking no questions – or so it seemed to me) and then to work to mitigate the impact on mental or physical health. The alternative view – that policies that kept children out of schools, cut them off from families and friends, kept them from participating in outdoor sports, normal play, activity and socialising and prevented them from accessing healthcare and other support services should not be in place at all – was anathema. This was disturbing and confusing. I could not understand how, given the values and knowledge we had all shared before March 2020, this had come about.

She concludes.

We always knew what circumstances and experiences children needed in order to thrive, to be physically well and to be mentally healthy, and we knew that the unprecedented social experiment that took place from March 2020 deprived them of many of these things and would put many at risk of serious harm. The collateral damage outlined in all these studies and reports could have been foreseen and warned against by many more child professionals than ever spoke out. In moving into the post-pandemic era, it is essential that we continue to speak of these harms, to measure and describe them and to share these findings with our colleagues and the general public. We need to welcome into the discussion the concerns of many people who, at the time, were persuaded that reduced transmission of Covid trumped everything else, including the safety and mental and physical health of children and young people. It would be good to reach a point where there is full acknowledgement of the harms caused and the catastrophic errors made that led to them. Perhaps the Covid Inquiry will lead society to ask itself how we ever got to a point where children and young people were routinely subjected to harmful and unevidenced interventions and restrictions. As we support recovery, all those working with children and those in government must re-commit to the principles of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. And we must ensure that we never subject a generation of children to such experiences ever again.

Speaking purely of youth workers, managers and lecturers, fond of proclaiming themselves to be critical practitioners par excellence, to what extent at a local, regional and national level are they coming together to consider what has been going on over the pandemic years? To what extent are they encouraging young people to discuss the rights and wrongs of the authoritarian clampdown on their lives? Or is the profession pretending the last two years never happened? Such collective myopia bodes ill for a future, within which an emboldened ruling class is confident that its diktat will be fearfully obeyed and that amongst its messengers of anxiety will be indeed youth workers, managers and lecturers.

Remembering Steve Waterhouse – A youth worker’s youth worker

I can’t believe it’s six years since my dear friend and comrade, Steve Waterhouse died so tragically. By chance, a week or so ago, sifting through old boxes, I came across this photo of Steve and I demonstrating in Chesterfield against the privatisation of the NHS. Taken in the late 1980s we were marching particularly in support of the striking Scarsdale Hospital cleaners. Ironically, the government of the time was not calling on us to save the NHS, its policies being to the contrary.

Then I realised that although this blog is dedicated to Steve, along with Malcolm Ball, the obituary I penned at the time for IDYW has never appeared here. Hence I’m taking this opportunity to put the record straight. I think the piece still resonates.

RIP Steve Waterhouse : A youth worker’s youth worker

Steve W

I first met Steve Waterhouse in late 1984, drawn together by both youth work and the Miners’ Strike.  He was a part-time youth worker in Shirebrook, a pit village at the heart of community resistance to Thatcherite violence. I was the newly appointed District Community Education Officer, ostensibly his boss. Steve was a young, fresh-faced, passionate anarchist with a marvellous gift for relating to people, already a significant figure in the local music scene and co-founder in 1983 of a jobless youngsters’ Open Shop. I was a more wrinkled, yet passionate socialist, not keen on management’s right to manage. We hit it off right away. Indeed we got closer on our train journey to the Department of Education and Science, where I had to convince a panel that Steve was a diamond, despite having a trivial conviction for cannabis possession. They were suitably impressed, which thankfully meant that later Steve could pursue a full-time qualification.

We became fellow Bolsover Bucket Bangers, the name our diverse Community Education team adopted in the face of criticism that we took the progressive policies of the Derbyshire County Council too seriously. Steve was not interested in pretence. He was committed to what in those days we called a radical youth work praxis, opposed to exploitation and oppression in all its forms.

Crucially, though, and this is reflected across his whole career, he never sought to convert a young person to his way of seeing the world. He wanted simply, but not so simply, to be in a questioning, always respectful conversation with young people, which was lightened at every turn by his quick-witted sense of humour. That this was so is reflected in the outpouring of grief and love from hundreds of those he touched across thirty years of work with young people. Time and time again we read messages on Facebook that say, “Steve and I hardly ever agreed with one another, but he meant so much to me”.

SteveDawn
Steve and Dawn 1987 supporting Silentnight workers

He was deeply involved in the Community and Youth Workers Union and in our Socialist Caucus through the late ’80s, into the ’90s. I remember us arguing the toss about the nature of the capitalist state in the back garden of the Exeter Community Centre. Reluctantly I confessed to him that I thought he was much closer to the truth than my dogmatic assertions allowed. He didn’t hold it against me. As I left Derbyshire under a cloud, pursued by leading figures of the Council, he was my supportive case-worker as Audit sought to find transgressions within my travel claims. His faith in my integrity saw me through.

His move to Liverpool saw him become the key youth worker at what was to become the highly regarded Interchill Project. A comment from one of the original members says a great deal.

A guy walks into the interview room at Interchill and sits down confidently although slightly nervous. His name was Steve Waterhouse. Being Interviewed by a group of teenagers wasn’t what he was expecting. But we wanted to pick the right person ourselves to manage our youth facility. Needless to say, regardless of his dodgy socks 😂 Steve was our man. And the service and inspiration he went on to provide for the young people of Speke & Garston over the years will never be forgotten. It is with great sadness and disbelief to hear of his recent passing. A true peoples person and a father figure and advisor to so many. Steve you will be sadly missed.

Steve canoe
Steve canoeing. Ta to Tracey Ramsey

With Interchill falling foul of cuts, he moved over into the Liverpool Youth Service, where his outstanding endeavours were rewarded with an award for his dedication. As you might expect Steve was embarrassed by the attention.

In the early days of the In Defence of Youth Work campaign, Steve and I were reunited in the struggle to defend a young person-centred, process-led youth work. In retrospect, though it’s clear that the assault on open youth work, on his beliefs and values, was taking its toll on this remarkable bloke. It’s easy to say, but I don’t think he realised how much he had influenced young people’s lives.

Listen to just a few of the moving comments made:

I can’t believe this news. He was an important person to me. He changed how I felt about so much. Inspirational is just a word, but he changed my life and so many people around him. He loved people and wanted the best for them. The world has lost a fantastic human and I will miss him so much. Xx

I remember first meeting him at Interchill when I was 16 and being amazed at the set up. How he inspired young people to take control of their own services and supported them while maintaining excellent relationships. He was always warm, engaging and funny and such an integral part of my early youth work experience.

A few years ago Steve stayed with me on holiday and we had a surreal discussion on the terrace at the back of our house. In the teeth of all his own practice, Steve was arguing that youth work was just a job.  Hardly able to believe my ears I responded that he didn’t really believe this, that the youth work, we believed in, was closer to something we might dub a calling.  Given our atheism, this was not a calling from a deity, but a calling from all those past and present, who have sought in concert control over their own lives. It seemed to me that Steve’s denial that night of his own commitment was an expression of the mental and physical exhaustion that can accompany always giving of yourself, expecting little back in return.

To return to Facebook with all its contradictions this is where young and old have returned their love and gratitude, however belatedly, to a very special bloke. And, I don’t think Steve would think me opportunistic in saying to politicians and management alike, ‘if you want to grasp the significance of youth work, bin your manufactured outcomes and read the reactions of people to Steve’s passing. Take a breath and have the vision to see beyond tomorrow’s soulless data’.

Let me finish by saying that Steve’s way of being with young people was rooted in his anarchism, in his rejection of imposed authority and his belief in the creativity of those written off by the system. If Steve had faith, dented though it might have been, it was in our ability to create a more just and equal world. Together we could never accept that the present state of play is the best that humanity can come up with. I can but shed a tear at realising that we will never chat critically again; that we will never link arms again in the struggle against injustice; that we will never again laugh together at our pretensions. He was a dear friend and comrade or as one message defined him, ‘a youth worker’s youth worker’. Like so many others I loved him and I regret not conveying this enough in recent years.

Our best tribute to Steve’s memory is to continue defending the tradition of improvisatory and empathetic youth work he symbolised – a way of being with young people that is ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’. But a way of being, as many have testified, that brings enormous rewards; that truly has an authentic impact on young people’s lives.

I’ll sign off, Steve, in our time-honoured way.

In love and struggle,

Tony

What about Children and Young People? Are they no more than collateral damage?

“We are engaged in a war against the virus”- Boris Johnson

” In this fake war children are set to be vaccine fodder” – A concerned parent

From the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people. Perhaps this was a knee-jerk response. After all, I have spent the last 50 years conversing with and about them – as a teacher, youth worker, lecturer and, latterly, a commentator-cum-spectator on the sidelines. Indeed in late 2008, I penned an Open Letter, arguing that youth work should side with young people and not the State; that it should not assume it knows what’s best for young people; that it should be in a critical conversation with them about how together we see the world; and that it should aspire to be ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’.In short it ought, first and foremost, to be a democratic practice. On the back of this missive, a campaign, In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW], emerged.

Against this history, given these commitments, I was perplexed from the outset at what has seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?

Thanks to medicalnewstoday.com

I find it difficult to imagine that, as a youth worker I would have caved in without protest as the youth centre was boarded up or that on the streets I would insist the young people be masked or else. I find it difficult, as a former primary school teacher, to believe I could cope with imposing upon children, I knew well with all their idiosyncrasies, the general requirement to don face coverings and keep their distance from each other and me. I find it difficult to accept that as a lecturer teaching upon a course committed to vibrant argument I would have meekly capitulated to the assault on critical thought, the depiction of the campus as a theatre of contagion and the arrival of on-line learning. As far back as Spring 2019, a modicum of independent research would have shown that masking was about obedience rather than transmission and that children/young people were in little danger from COVID and little danger to anyone else.

Of course, I’m probably deluding myself, thinking I would have swum against the conformist tide. The calculated campaign of fear disseminated without demur by the mainstream media has known no moral or ethical bounds. Management and trade unions in the public sector, along with the caring professions, armed with the ideology of ‘safetyism’, which in a trice provides both explanation and justification, have all embraced the dominant narrative with at times a nauseating pomposity. If you want to follow the unfolding of this smug self-righteousness delve into the archives of the Guardian.

Hence, where would I have found support in desiring to resist – certainly not in the trade union. little chance in the staff team and, to my chagrin, not through In Defence of Youth Work? In this context, speaking up might well have meant losing my job. However, deep in my decaying bones, I want to believe that there has been guerilla activity, which by its nature is underground. In my pretentiousness, I want to believe that with others I would have sought somehow to bring these guerillas together in some supportive form of solidarity – see the history of the Socialist Caucus and Critically Chatting Collective. You might well say, ‘dream on,Tony, dream on’.

Insofar as there has been debate in the world of youth work IDYW did organise a Zoom seminar on the theme of Resistance in November 2020, which spawned the following pieces.

Resistance, rebellion, revolution!Sue Atkins

Our fears and resistance to working collaborativelyRuth Richardson

Youth workers’ every day marvels… when does persistence become resistance?Janet Batsleer

In particular, Janet’s eloquent, positive portrayal of youth workers amidst the turmoil via the Citizen Enquiry in times of COVID is the counter to my perhaps ignorant negativity.

Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.

As a stimulus to reflection, I’m reposting this moving and stimulating article by a Canadian teacher, which appeared on Common Sense, one of many alternative news sites that have sprung up during the pandemic. This outlet seeks to situate its politics as rejecting both the hard Left and the hard Right. Classically it seeks to find the middle ground with all the contradictions therein. To my mind, the very categories of Left, Centre and Right are in such a state of meltdown that the vital thing is to be aware of one’s own prejudices and history, to explore expansively, be open to critical dialogue and committed at every turn to the democratic process in the struggle against authoritarianism.

I’m a Public School Teacher. The Kids Aren’t Alright.

By Stacey Lance 

I am proud to be a teacher. I’ve worked in the Canadian public school system for the past 15 years, mostly at the high school level, teaching morals and ethics.

I don’t claim to be a doctor or an expert in virology. There is a lot I don’t know. But I spend my days with our youth and they tell me a lot about their lives. And I want to tell you what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently.

The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.

When we finally got back into the classroom in September 2020, I was optimistic, even as we would go remote for weeks, sometimes months, whenever case numbers would rise. But things never returned to normal.

When we were physically in school, it felt like there was no longer life in the building. Maybe it was the masks that made it so no one wanted to engage in lessons, or even talk about how they spent their weekend. But it felt cold and soulless. My students weren’t allowed to gather in the halls or chat between classes. They still aren’t. Sporting events, clubs and graduation were all cancelled. These may sound like small things, but these losses were a huge deal to the students. These are rites of passages that can’t be made up.

In my classroom, the learning loss is noticeable. My students can’t concentrate and they aren’t doing the work that I assign to them. They have way less motivation compared to before the pandemic began. Some of my students chose not to come back at all, either because of fear of the virus, or because they are debilitated by social anxiety. And now they have the option to do virtual schooling from home.

One of my favorite projects that I assign each year is to my 10th grade students, who do in-depth research on any culture of their choosing. It culminates in a day of presentations. I encourage them to bring in music, props, food—whatever they need to immerse their classmates in their specific culture. A lot of my students give presentations on their own heritage. A few years back, a student of mine, a Syrian refugee, told her story about how she ended up in Canada. She brought in traditional Syrian foods, delicacies that her dad had stayed up all night cooking. It was one of the best days that I can remember. She was proud to share her story—she had struggled with homesickness—and her classmates got a lesson in empathy. Now, my students simply prepare a slideshow and email it to me individually.

My older students (grades 11 and 12) aren’t even allowed a lunch break, and are expected to come to school, go to class for five and a half hours and then go home. Children in 9th and 10th grades have to face the front of the classroom while they eat lunch during their second period class. My students used to be able to eat in the halls or the cafeteria; now that’s forbidden. Younger children are expected to follow the “mask off, voices off” rule, and are made to wear their masks outside, where they can only play with other kids in their class. Of course, outside of school, kids are going to restaurants with their families and to each other’s houses, making the rules at school feel punitive and nonsensical.

They are anxious and depressed. Previously outgoing students are now terrified at the prospect of being singled out to stand in front of the class and speak. And many of my students seem to have found comfort behind their masks. They feel exposed when their peers can see their whole face.

Around this time of year, we start planning for the prom, which is held in June. Usually, my students would already be chatting constantly about who’s asking who, what they’re planning on wearing, and how excited they are. This year, they’ve barely discussed it at all. When they do, they tell me that they don’t want to get their hopes up, since they’re assuming it will get cancelled like it has for the past couple of years.

It’s the same deal with universities. My students say, “If university is going to be just like this then what’s the point?” I have my own children, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, who have spent almost a third of their lives in lockdown. They’ve become so used to cancellations that they don’t even feel disappointed anymore.

I think all of my students are angry to some degree, but I hear it most from the kids who are athletes. They were told that if they got the vaccine, everything would go back to normal, and they could go back to the rink or the court. Some sports were back for a while but, as of Christmas, because of the recent wave of Covid-19 cases, club and varsity sports are all cancelled once again. A lot of the athletes are missing chances to get seen by coaches and get scholarships.

I try to take time at the beginning of class to ask my kids how they’re doing. Recently, one of my 11th grade students raised his hand and said that he wasn’t doing well, that he doesn’t want to keep living like this, but that he knows that no one is coming to save them. The other kids all nodded in agreement. They feel lied to—and I can’t blame them.

What’s most worrisome to me is that they feel deep worry and shame over the prospect of breaking the rules.

Teenage girls are notoriously empathetic. I see that many of my students, but especially the female ones, feel a heavy burden of responsibility. Right before Christmas, one of my brightest 12th graders confided in me that she was terrified of taking her mask off. She told me that she didn’t want to get anyone sick or kill anybody. She was worried she would be held responsible for someone dying.

What am I supposed to say? That 23 children have died from Covid in Canada during the whole of the pandemic and she is much more likely to kill someone driving a car? That kids in Scandinavia, Sweden, and the Netherlands largely haven’t had to wear masks at school and haven’t seen outbreaks because of it? That masks are not a magic shield against the virus, and that even if she were to pass it along to a classmate, the risk of them getting seriously sick is minuscule?

I want to tell her that she can remove her mask, and socialize with her friends without being worried.

But I am expected to enforce the rules.

At the beginning of the pandemic, adults shamed kids for wanting to play at the park or hang out with their friends. We kept hearing, “They’ll be fine. They’re resilient.” It’s true that humans, by nature, are very resilient. But they also break. And my students are breaking. Some have already broken.

When we look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of history, I believe it will be clear that we betrayed our children. The risks of this pandemic were never to them, but they were forced to carry the burden of it. It’s enough. It’s time for a return to normal life and put an end to the bureaucratic policies that aren’t making society safer, but are sacrificing our children’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

Our children need life on the highest volume. And they need it now.

———————————————————————————————–

When will the Masquerade come to a close?

Thanks to evolve-entertainment.co.uk

Anyone who has followed my scribblings knows that I approach behavioural psychology with extreme caution. This concern predates COVID by decades – see Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes for something written in the last decade. In previous posts, I have voiced my concern at the explicit and conscious stoking of fear fuelled by the SAGE Behavioural Group in the UK. At the heart of its cynical propaganda has been the mask. A month or so ago I ended a section on masks as follows:

In essence, the mask seeks to muzzle us into obedience. It confirms that we are in dire danger. It demands that we police one another into compliance. It is the visible expression of the desire to divide us from one another, to undermine our humanity. It is about social and political control. It serves no other purpose.

The Mitsotakis government in Greece is determined to keep us in our place – at least until the tourist season starts. Thus, as I write, we are under mandatory manners to wear face coverings inside [preferably duplex] and in the great outdoors. There are heavy fines to pay if we are disobedient. Pragmatic contempt is to be seen. No masks in the villages, masks worn or in readiness in the big towns. And, as for out in the olive groves, foothills and mountains we are at one with nature and humanity, looking each other in the eye.

Thanks to etsy.

Nevertheless, I was thinking of rehearsing the arguments once more but I’ve been saved the trouble by a challenging piece, composed by Gary Sidley, a retired NHS consultant clinical psychologist and a founder member of the Smile Free campaign to remove all mask mandates. It poses disturbing questions for the trade unions, the bureaucrats and the members, together with educators on the ground, be they, lecturers, teachers or youth workers.

Let’s face it -Governments use masking to force compliance, not fight viruses

Searching for Understanding in the face of Power and Propaganda – Part Two : ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

In looking at the pandemic from an economic and political perspective I will proceed from what might be seen as the ABC of a critical analysis.

  • It is necessary to ground what we are looking at in the specific circumstances of the time.
  • In doing so we should be mindful also of the historical context if this seems pertinent and we might allow ourselves a speculation about the future if appropriate.
  • Additionally we must situate the phenomenon being scrutinised in the power relations of society. Cui bono? Whose interests are served by the way in which the object of our concern is characterized; by the way in which governments respond; by the way in which the people respond and so on?

My starting point is both simple and profound. The COVID-19 pandemic expresses first and foremost a crisis of capitalism’s health, much less so a crisis of our individual and collective physical health.  I shall seek to give substance to this assertion which if true has enormous consequences both for our day-to-day existence and the ongoing struggle to create an autonomous and democratic society.

As for weighing up what’s going on in 2021, I’ll go back no further historically than the Second World War. I acknowledge the following sketch is rough and ready but it’s no more than a starter for a critical exchange of views.I wonder if such a proposal to be argumentative makes any sense in these dualist and censorious times.

The Social-Democratic Consensus

Aneurin Bevan – a chief architect of the NHS

As the war came to an end the capitalist class was afeard. Talk of radical and revolutionary change hung in the acrid air. To retain their overall control they conceded the following:

  • An acceptance of the mixed economy, public and private cooperation, the nationalisation of basic utilities – water, electricity and so on.
  • An agreement that the leaders of the working class should have a seat at the table,
  • A recognition of the value of universal free education, social and health care.
  • However grudging, an allowance that the individual, the social and the political are inextricably intertwined.

The Neoliberal Fightback

Margaret Thatcher – the enemy within

Thirty years later influential sections of the ruling class were increasingly unhappy about the post-war social contract. Certainly, they were concerned to restore their share of the profits but were also deeply troubled by the growing pressure exerted by working-class militancy and the rise of the social movements demanding equality and justice. To retain their control they set in motion a counter-offensive. Its cornerstones were:

  • A rejection of the mixed economy and an explicit commitment to the primacy of the ‘free’ market as being the ultimate expression of what is good for everyone, rich or poor.
  • The utter necessity to undermine the autonomous organisation of the working class and the social movements, exemplified by the 1984/85  violent assault on the National Union of Mineworkers and the softer seduction of leaders and activists from the women’s, black and gay movements into managerial roles serving the neoliberal project.
  • The launch of an extraordinarily ambitious social engineering project designed to alter our very personalities; to privatise our existence, turning us in on ourselves as individuals and away from collective understandings of our situations; to see ourselves as passive consumers rather than active citizens.

Neoliberalism in crisis

The 2008 banking collapse served notice that the neoliberal economic model was broken. An opportunity of resistance beckoned. In the marginal world of youth work, I argued that we should reassert youth work as open, volatile and voluntary in opposition to the increasingly taken-for-granted closed, imposed, scripted version – youth work as intuition rather than youth work by numbers.

On the broader front, significant protest raged across the world but it was fragmented and largely contained. Nevertheless, the ruling class was shaken and stirred. Across the next decade, it was forced to act pragmatically, bailing out the banks with a massive infusion of ‘public’ money, whilst trying to work out a longer-term strategy that served its interests and maintained its power. The sticking plaster of quantitative easing hid the reality of unsustainable debt, the austerity-imposed immiseration of millions and the obscenity of the rich getting ever richer.

The United Nations poverty adviser, Philp Alston compared contemporary Tory policy to that which had created the workhouses of the nineteenth century. Research undertaken at the University of Bristol led by David Gordon illustrated that in the UK [population 69 million] 18 million people could not afford adequate housing; 12 million were too poor to engage in many forms of social activity; whilst 4 million children and adults were not fed properly. However, austerity was not too austere for the richest 1,000 in the UK, who increased their wealth by 60 billion pounds in a single year, 2017/18.

My guess is that from a ruling class perspective these themes have dominated their many extravagant meetings in snowy Swiss or sunny Mediterranean resorts.

Why Davos?
  • A compelling shift to believing that some form of global governance had to be achieved. The vision would require ‘scientific’ regulation, a central role for experts and the obedience of the senior management representing compliant states.
  • Hindering such a sweeping move would be nation-states with notions of autonomy and democracy itself, even in its limited representative guise, along with dissident collectives and dangerous maverick individuals.
  • How might an alienated population, exhausted from work, deprived of work, retired from work be persuaded to go along with a major restructuring of social relations in favour of the powerful at the expense of the powerless?

Towards a global-led technocratic and surveillance capitalism

The reference group for grasping the strategic thinking of the powerful in a period of profound social, political and economic crisis is the World Economic Forum [WEF], which in its own words is “the global platform for public-private cooperation, of partnerships between businessmen, politicians, intellectuals and other leaders of society to define, discuss and advance key issues on the global agenda.” On board amongst many are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Chase, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations – all powerhouses on the international scene – not to mention the World Health Organisation and International Monetary Fund.

Our experts and leaders

Somewhat in passing I find it intriguing that to comment on the intimate social connections between these corporations is often now dismissed as a sign of that neurotic condition, ‘conspiritatis’. Similarly it is seen almost as a cheap trick to pursue the money, to scrutinise the financial chicanery of these shakers and movers. When, to my mind, these avenues of inquiry are the basis of investigative journalism and social research, of speaking truth to power, if you will forgive such a hackneyed phrase.

To return to the question of the elite’s thinking, sections within its ranks have long felt that some sort of global overview of the social, political and economic order was necessary. To take but one example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, later Jimmy Carter’s Security Advisor, in his 1970 book ‘Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era’. wrote:

The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

“The nation-state as a fundamental unit of man’s organized life has ceased to be the principal creative force: International banks and multinational corporations are acting and planning in terms that are far in advance of the political concepts of the nation-state”


This globalising technology-led tendency has gathered pace in the last decade with the WEF at the forefront of proceedings. The following are but a few quotes from Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum contained in his 2016 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab

“Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are truly disruptive—they upend existing ways of sensing, calculating, organizing, acting and delivering. They represent entirely new ways of creating value for organizations and citizens”.

“Sooner than most anticipate, the work of professions as different as lawyers, financial analysts, doctors, journalists, accountants, insurance underwriters or librarians may be partly or completely automated…”

“Drones represent a new type of cost-cutting employee working among us and performing jobs that once involved real people” 

“Already, advances in neurotechnologies and biotechnologies are forcing us to question what it means to be human”

We are at the threshold of a radical systemic change that requires human beings to adapt continuously. As a result, we may witness an increasing degree of polarization in the world, marked by those who embrace change versus those who resist it.

Enter the Pandemic

Whether the consequence of zoonotic transfer or laboratory leak, the COVID-19 virus has failed to live up to the catastrophic expectations of half a million deaths in the UK based on Neil Ferguson’s discredited computer modelling. It was never the 21st century version of the Black Death. Indeed WEF’s Kurt Schwab and Thierry Malleret in a book, The Great Reset, published in July 2020, allow that COVID-19 is “one of the least deadly pandemics the world has experienced over the last 2000 years”, adding that “the consequences of COVID-19 in terms of health and mortality will be mild compared to previous pandemics”. 

Nevertheless they cannot contain their delight at the opportunities opened up by its emergence.

“It is our defining moment”, “Many things will change forever”. “A new world will emerge”. “The societal upheaval unleashed by COVID-19 will last for years, and possibly generations”. “Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: never”.

“The pandemic is clearly exacerbating and accelerating geopolitical trends that were already apparent before the crisis erupted”.

Amongst the themes running dizzily through their excitement are:

  • The crucial need for the financial sector, together with the corporate, technological and pharmaceutical giants, to be the enlightened leadership of the way forward in tackling the world’s problems. “The combined market value of the leading tech companies hit record after record during the lockdowns, even rising back above levels before the outbreak started… this phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon, quite the opposite”.
  • The necessity of digitally transforming our private and public existence, whether through shopping, via a shift to on-line banking; on-line education, tele-medicine or even e-sport “Online banking interactions have risen to 90 percent during the crisis, from 10 percent, with no drop-off in quality and an increase in compliance.”;“In the summer of 2020, the direction of the trend seems clear: the world of education, like for so many other industries, will become partly virtual”; “The necessity to address the pandemic with any means available (plus, during the outbreak, the need to protect health workers by allowing them to work remotely) removed some of the regulatory and legislative impediments related to the adoption of telemedicine”;“For a while, social distancing may constrain the practice of certain sports, which will in turn benefit the ever-more powerful expansion of e-sports. Tech and digital are never far away!”
  • The requirement that our physical and psychological presence on earth is subject to the policing and surveillance of what we do and what we think – see also Shoshanna Zuboff’s ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’. In the wake of the lockdowns, vaccine passports, physical muzzling and ideological censorship, I’ll visit the biosecurity state and freedom of thought and movement in Part Three.
  • The demand that we speed up becoming identifiable, immunised, traceable, card-carrying, cash-less consumers.“The current imperative to propel, no matter what, the ‘contactless economy’ and the subsequent willingness of regulators to speed it up means that there are no holds barred

These developments are revealing but leave unanswered a nagging question, why would the ruling class, hardly noted for its humanity, close down society in the name of our common good? Back in the twentieth century Castoriadis warned against the illusion of ‘perpetual production and ceaseless consumption’, which as it is shattered will invite the rise of authoritarianism. More immediately, in the midst of the pandemic itself, Fabio Vighi ponders “why the usually unscrupulous ruling elites decide to freeze the global profit-making machine in the face of a pathogen that targets almost exclusively the unproductive, the over 80s?”

Age Infection Survival Rate of COVID [STANFORD STUDY ON COVID INFECTION MORTALITY RATES – A study by Cathrine Axfors and John P.A. Ioannidis from the Departments of Medicine, of Epidemiology and Population Health, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics, Stanford University, July 2021

0-19 99.9973%

20-29 99.986%

30-39 99.969%

40-49 99.918%

50-59 99.73%

60-69 99.41%

70+ 97.6% (non-inst.)

70+ 94.5% (all)

Given there is precious little evidence that lockdowns have been the compelling riposte to the virus, it is intriguing to follow Vighi’s line of thought.

  • Above all lockdowns were imposed because the financial markets were yet again collapsing. In order to rescue the markets with another massive injection of cash the real economy had to be halted, everyday business transactions and the need for credit postponed. In this way capitalism buys time as it seeks to revive itself. Such a holding tactic is likely to be played again – see the constant references to new variants, unexpected emergencies. In this stuttering scenario one winner is without doubt Big Pharma. The sickly pharmaceutical giants, whose profits were waning, have been given a new lease of life via the oxygen of public funds provided to develop and then purchase the vaccines.
  • Reinventing itself is an utter necessity for capitalism as the old certainties disappear. Workers are thrown out of the workforce as automation takes over and increasingly they cannot find a way back into the fold of employment. In general the mass of the population will slide into relative debt and poverty. A chilling question surfaces, to what extent is a significant part of the working and middle classes surplus to requirements?

When push comes to shove the measures taken to counter the pandemic are part of necessary paradigm shift if capitalism is to survive. The taken-for-granted model of endless production and consumption, of inexorable economic progress is heading for compulsory redundancy. Vighi comments that as of now, “ capitalism is increasingly dependent on public debt, low wages, centralisation of wealth and power, a permanent state of emergency and financial acrobatics.”

George Orwell

As for the future it smells dystopian. The WEF’s  economic and political programme, the nightmare of stakeholder capitalism or more aptly technocratic neo-feudal capitalism, is a regime of rule by experts. It disdains democracy. It spurns the active, critical citizen. It prefers we settle for being contemporary serfs, obedient and grateful. If you think I exaggerate, look around at the compliance of so many, not least amongst the professional classes, during a manufactured pandemic.

In part Three I will visit the State of Fear created by a toxic mix of company-bound scientists and stenographers disguised as journalists – ‘the’ Science and the supine mass media.

A crucial moment in the struggle to save Sheikh Jarrah

A message with determination from Suhad Babaa of Just Vision

Increasing the power and reach of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and build a future of equality for all.


I’m coming up for air after a long week to provide an update on the campaign to save Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Last fall, Israeli courts ruled to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a continuation of a devastating and violent takeover by Israeli settlers — backed by the Israeli police and judicial system — that we documented in our 2012 short, My Neighbourhood. Early this week, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed their ruling on the evictions until May 6, asking the residents to “come to an agreement” with the settlers who are trying to take over their homes. The suggested “agreement” – based on Palestinians forfeiting ownership of their homes to the settlers – was, of course, refused by the families who have lived in Sheikh Jarrah for decades. Yesterday, the courts postponed the hearing once again until May 10.
 
As Mohammed El Kurd, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah, youth organizer and protagonist of My Neighbourhood often reflects, while there are lengthy “legal processes” playing out, what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is political and systemic. Moreover, the “pattern of elongating the legal process is a common practice to dull popular resistance” to Israel’s expansionist policies. 

But the resistance of the community has not been dulled. Sheikh Jarrah’s youth have been holding nightly vigils to demonstrate against the evictions, raise awareness of their struggle and save the neighborhood. The community’s nonviolent protests have been met by brute force, with Israeli police violently storming Palestinian homes, spraying skunk (putrid liquid) at demonstrators, attacking residents and protestors with batons and mounted horses and arresting youth. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers continue to be backed by police and government officials, including a lawmaker from the far-right Kahanist party who temporarily set up a makeshift office in the neighborhood and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem who goaded violence against Palestinians
May 3: Three Palestinian youth arrested, including Mohammed El Kurd’s brother, Mahmoud, and Omar Al-Khatib, pictured above.
May 7: Israeli police block activists from entering Sheikh Jarrah to demonstrate alongside residents. Thanks to Oren Ziv for the photos
The coming days in Sheikh Jarrah are crucial. The community’s campaign has gained momentum with press coverage starting to pick up steam and numerous US political leaders speaking out in support including: Rep. Cori BushRep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Chuy Garcia, Rep. Debbie DingleRep. Marie NewmanRep Ilhan OmarRep. Mark Pocan and more. Representatives Newman and Pocan are also leading an effort to urge the Biden Administration to oppose the evictions and a grassroots petition has also been widely circulated. Still, the majority of international press outlets have remained silent, and there has yet to be substantive action taken by the US, which could help pressure Israeli authorities to stop the forced displacement of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.
We hope you will share this note far and wide. If you know journalists or decision-makers who can bring attention to what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah, please reach out to them. And to get the latest updates, follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram, along with #SaveSheikhJarrah.

Even the Guardian is forced to cover the situation, athough the coverage itself is a cut and paste Reuters piece.

Israeli police clash with protesters over Palestinian evictions

Up to 178 Palestinians and six officers injured in skirmishes at al-Aqsa mosque and around east Jerusalem

Is Lifelong Learning dead? Doug Nicholls wonders

Across my working life I spent a significant amount of time being responsible for youth, adult and community work, even if the latter was more often honoured in the breach than the observance. Whilst Wigan’s Youth and Community Officer in the 1990s I struggled vainly to resist the undermining of Adult Education by the Further Education Funding Council, whose instrumental ideology demanded that classes and courses should be vocational or else. In this context it is sobering and revealing to read Doug Nicholl’s overview of the neoliberal assault on the rich and radical tradition of life-long learning as a whole.

Thanks to freeportnewsnetwork

Lifelong learning – dead.

Only publicly funded places of learning, communities of exploration, can instil the excitement to think critically and assimilate knowledge and provide the personal support needed to develop.

Virtual search engines are no substitute for the real investment in real people in real institutions engaging together in a community of learning from birth to old age. Useful knowledge may be gained from a random google or Wikipedia search, but the discovery of truth and real understanding are skills accrued and nurtured with others.

It is an organised presence of educators at every stage of life from pre-school to retirement years that can make lifelong learning a lived reality.

The building of lifelong learning resources and methods has a wonderful history in Britain. Practitioners and academics, local councils and voluntary organisations, trade unions and community groups, sometimes separately, sometimes together, always on very meagre budgets, created in most areas, the architecture of cradle to the grave learning provision.

Sure start and other early years provision sowed seeds. Play work nurtured the growing mind in beautiful ways. Youth work, also a British pioneering methodology, engaged and promoted young people in an empowering and much underestimated way. Community development work involved and educated often the most beleaguered and brought social coherence and social justice, hope and joy. 

Adult education, arising originally from a long tradition of democratic practice in dissenting churches, brought us the opportunity not just to have second chances to learn, but to transform our lives and thereby our world. In the workplace, intense exploitation and discrimination and brutal working conditions would be more prevalent today were it not for generations of trade unionists learning negotiating moves, but importantly too, history, politics, economics and philosophy.

In terms of funding these strands of lifelong learning were always seen as Cinderella services. In reality their widespread popularity and effectiveness in developing confidence and capability put them at the forefront of advanced pedagogies. 

I am using the past tense. The lifelong learning house has been pulled down. Only isolated pockets of excellent practice, largely unsupported by the state, and funded on something far more precarious than a shoe string, now seek to keep alive what were once internationally pioneering services and educational interventions throughout life.

Coleg Harlech closed and sold off

A requiem for Coleg Harlech was produced as a documentary last year. This was a dynamic place that brought so much education to those who had had too little, the premises were sold off. Unfortunately there will be more property developers looking at the remaining English adult residential colleges. A new unfair government funding regime has already seen the iconic Ruskin College end its residential offer to students. This is representative of a new, deep assault on the best of adult learning opportunities and the Labour and community movement links behind them.

Most people do not go to university and relative to our life span and the number of hours in the day, we spend little time at school. Lifelong learning services have been the main provider of education for our people for generations. It’s where most of the learning linked to enlightenment, collective action and social purpose has taken place, and where some of our greatest educators have worked and the environment where some of our keenest intellects have been created. Not to mention some very important community and political leaders.

Lifelong learning opportunities have disappeared and now two relatively small yet extremely impactful and important components of the national offer are up for the chop. The government has proposed to end its funding of trade union learning despite its demonstrable success in delivering the upskilling agenda. 

But I want to draw attention here to the imminent, potential complete demise, of adult residential education.

University is not for everyone so for over a hundred years trade unions, co-operative organisations, the Labour Party, faith groups, community organisations and educational associations have found ways of creating residential learning opportunities for adults. This has provided a range of options from essential skills development, preparation for university, specialist higher education courses, short residential programmes, community leadership training and so on.

Just as some have their public schools and elite universities, so we, the majority, have had our special places of useful and inspiring learning. The founders of Ruskin deliberately built this in Oxford, not just to give students access to the Bodleian library, but to ensure women and men from the UK and all around the world exercised their rights to access the best learning environment.

Unions, community networks and churches would pay for members to go to colleges like Ruskin, Hillcroft, Northern, and Fircroft. Miners, steel workers, shop workers, railway workers, you name it, they would get an education because of their union giving them grants to spend two or three years growing through learning.  

My own organisation funded particularly women to go to Ruskin as long ago as the 1940s. And many went from there to University, including the dreaming spires, and most came back to serve trade unions, community organisations, governments, political parties or caring professions like social work. I can think easily of many leading academics today who came through this route too.

As the quality of education was so good tens of thousands of students from overseas came to Ruskin and returned home in some cases to lead their countries. At least one British Prime Minister, Clem Attlee, was a Ruskin tutor.

Residential provision not only gave time and space to learn how to learn for those who had left school at the youngest age and been rejected by formal learning, it gave a welcoming environment with colleagues from all over the world to broaden horizons and enjoy cultural and academic variety to stimulate the imagination.

Special debates and initiatives could be held in the safe exploratory spaces of these colleges and many examples can be given, but at Ruskin we celebrated recently the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Womens’ Liberation Movement there. We also celebrated last year our 120th anniversary and many moving stories of personal transformation from over the years were shared. 

Pedagogically the adult residential experience was exceptional as many detailed studies have revealed, most recently by Professors Sharon Clancy and John Holford in their report. Economically, like all its relatives in the other strands of lifelong learning, adult residential education represented champagne at lemonade prices as all cost benefit research reports have shown as John Schifferes showed.

The adult residential financial settlements, previously agreed by Ministers of all stripes, who appreciated the vital role the Specialist Designated Institutions, as they are referred to in the Further and Higher Education Act, were never generous, but adequate. The formulae that underpinned them, agreed at the time by Ministers, seems to have been forgotten by the notoriously forgetful Department for Education, and new rules have been introduced which, for the main provider at least, have led to the closure of residential provision altogether. 

Not only that, the current government is seeking to claw back spending from previous years in such a way as to prevent any future growth or sustainability. They are trying it feels to force complete closure and the remodelling of specialist designated institutions into merged FE providers. Punishment is being meted out for providing education (the quality of which Ofsted have consistently applauded) to students who would have had no other chance.

Such manoeuvres fly in the face of the most significant report on adult education for a hundred years published last year under the stewardship of Dame Helen Ghosh, The Centenary Report into Adult Education.  They ignore too the report by Dame Mary Ney reviewing college financial oversight where she says the ESFA and FEC should take a more nurturing and developmental, supportive approach.

Adult education, as even the 1919 national Adult Education Committee report said, is a permanent national necessity. Moves afoot now are closing its vital residential component just at the time when all those residential providers are at the front line of supporting some of the most significant initiatives to retrain redundant workers, and reskill others keen to be at the heart of building back better.

The pattern is clear: destroy education and institutions designed to create new generations of Labour Movement leaders.

Doug Nicholls is General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions

Malcolm Ball [1959-2021]: the improvisational activist supreme

Fittingly this commemorative post appears on the 150th Anniversary of the Paris Commune. Malcolm would have been honoured.

Malcolm Ball [1959-2021], dearest friend and comrade: Rest in Power

“ It seems to me” [Malcolm Ball]

“ We do not have any Book to recommend whose reading would exempt one from having  to seek the truth for oneself” [Cornelius Castoriadis]

“To do nothing and grumble and not to act – that is throwing one’s life away” [William Morris]

Our journey together began one evening on the Scraptoft campus of the Leicester Polytechnic sometime in 1983. Since that chance moment, our odyssey has been inextricably intertwined. Malcolm was a fresh-faced student on the Youth and Community course. I had been invited to speak to an article I had written, ‘Anti-sexist youth work with young men’, a fumbling effort to respond to the vital issues raised by increasingly confident feminist youth workers.  At the end, Malcolm approached me, inquisitive and challenging in exploring what I’d been trying to say. Above all, he stressed his admiration and support for the provisional nature of my thoughts. He ventured that my self-effacing claim, ‘this is my best understanding for now’ was, as he put it, ‘blindin’.  Within a few weeks as our friendship blossomed I realised that Malcolm’s version of my cautionary caveat was the succinct preface, ‘it seems to me’. This turn of phrase delivered in his soft, sometimes hardly audible Deptford accent echoes across the four decades of our comradeship.

Malcolm with Bernard Davies

In the ensuing years, we spent a lot of time together on trains, in cars and on foot. Our conversations were dominated by our political allegiance, a desire to play a part albeit small in changing the world. Interestingly we never applied political labels to one another, even though, my Marxism saw me in and out of political parties and sects for quite some time. Malcolm was a freer spirit, resisting the safety afforded by signing up to an ideology.  Ironically his agnosticism meant that on demonstrations he was warmly welcomed by friends from across the political spectrum. This said, sometimes enough was enough. I remember a NALGO Broad Left meeting in the early 1990s where its Socialist Worker Party leadership argued we were on the brink of insurrection. In welcoming such a historical moment Malcolm asked cheekily, ‘in that case where are the Kalishnakovs?’ In support, I ventured that my village cricket team’s committee was infinitely better run than the Broad Left itself. Lacking both firearms and organisation we expressed our fear that we might well mess up the opportunity to overthrow the State.  We were ignored by the stern-faced platform but congratulated by those in the hall with a sense of humour and a grip on reality.

Central to Malcolm’s politics was a faith in the power of collective activity from below. His story is one of creative involvement in a succession of diverse social and political groupings. To give you a taste in roughly chronological order.

  • In Leicester in the 80s we formed  a  Community Education Workers support group with the embarrassing acronym, SYRUP, together with the mandatory membership of the ‘Dirty Thirty’ Miners Support Group. As Malcolm would reflect later the year 1984/85 was one of a vibrant popular education, of which we were privileged to be a part.
  • Within the Community Youth Workers Union, he became a key member of the Socialist Caucus, which became a thorn in the side of the National Committee, calling the body to account for the slightest deviation from conference policy. Not surprisingly, a dear friend, Sue Atkins, then President, dubbed us ‘a bunch of shites in whining armour’. She had a point! In the 90s following our defection to NALGO  to join the ranks of other local government workers, a move advocated by Malcolm, we continued as a socialist caucus, meeting regularly in places as far apart as Wigan, London and Exeter. These weekends combined animated debate and much frolicking, oiled by real ale and retsina, serviced by Malcolm knocking up fried egg butties and me ironing everybody’s Saturday Night’s Live outfits. In short a classic youth work residential.
  • In the same decade Malcolm contributed to the emergence of the short-lived, heretical and thought-provoking initiative, the Revolutionary Social Network, which sought to bring together anarchists, Marxists and socialists in open discussion and allied activity.
  • As the new century dawned the remnants of the Socialist Caucus with Malcolm to the fore formed the Critically Chatting Collective: Youth, Community and Beyond, which again organised events around the country. One topic, close to his heart, was how to refuse management’s right to manage.
  • By 2008 the Collective’s low key success led Malcolm and me to wonder in the light of the neoliberal banking crisis whether a broader call to defend young person-centred practice would be heard. The result was the Open Letter, which catalysed the creation of In Defence of Youth Work, which lives on today. Malcolm has been a prominent Steering Group member since its inception, even as his illness bore down upon him.
Malcolm and Tony chatting critically in a Greek garden

Leave aside the radical but brief episode in CYWU’s history, wherein caucusing was defined as the lifeblood of a democratic union, all of the collectives described here treasured their independence from the formal institutions. As Malcolm insisted, we met in our own time, on our terms without permission from above, taking our inspiration from the women’s, black and gay liberation movements. He was anxious too that all of these groups were inclusive, not exclusive. Hence they were pluralist in character, desiring sharp exchanges of views yet seeking, if possible, common ground. Thinking of Malcolm in this context is to evoke an ironic smile. In his early CYWU days he gained the reputation of being a headbanger, a working-class lad not to be crossed.  To our shame we went along sometimes with the caricature, laughing about his ‘Donkey-jacket’ moments and confessing to shifting seats away from him when he rose to speak. He enjoyed making us all squirm. Yet in reality, he was the exact opposite of the stereotype. He was a mediator and conciliator, looking always to forge a shared sense of purpose, warning against blaming ‘the Other’, whoever that might be.

The pen portrait of the youth worker to be found in the Open Letter might well have been inspired by Malcolm. Perchance it was.

The essential significance of the youth worker, whose outlook, integrity and autonomy are at the heart of fashioning a serious yet humorous, improvisatory yet rehearsed educational practice with young people.

He was the very embodiment of a thoughtful yet spontaneous youth work offered with a twinkle in the eye. In his later endeavours within the Young Mayor’s Project and its European offshoots what stands out is his refusal to countenance training the young people to adopt the behaviours expected by the establishment. Young representatives entering the political stage were not offered scripts or role models. Rather they were encouraged to be themselves, to trust their intuition and to speak their truth to power. By all accounts, for much of the time the impact of such openness was something to behold.

Whilst fancying myself as something of an improviser in my relationships with young people I don’t think I was ever as brave as Malcolm in flying by the seat of my pants. And when it came to operating in the world of formal education his laid-back approach drove me to distraction. When preparing a speech or workshop, say, for a conference I was diligence itself, arriving with sheaves of handwritten notes for security. To my credit I never once used PowerPoint! On the other hand, Malcolm budged not one inch from his confidence that ‘all would be alright on the night’. On one occasion we were down to do a double act. Dutifully I sent in advance my profuse notes with detailed instructions on how we could dovetail seamlessly our contributions. Cometh the day he ignored utterly my manicured proposal and went off on one, as we used to say. The audience was wooed and our session closed to generous applause. He winked at me as if to say, ‘you worry too much’. I was lost for words.

I was more at ease with an alternative version of our doubles pairing. In this performance I offered the meticulously prepared input from the stage whilst Malcolm waited in the wings, ready to reveal his take on the question in hand. In fact he took to hovering on his feet at the back of the room, awaiting the perfect moment to intervene. The only snag from my point of view was that sometimes he was so carried away with the sharpness of his insight he began to revisit its acuity unnecessarily, prompting me to wave as if asking for the bill in a taverna but rather calling on him to wind up. Let me tell you he was not well pleased.

Malcolm in February 2020 illustrating his love of Greece and Europe

In recent years both of us have criticised the consolidation of a form of neoliberal behavioural youth work, which ducks explicitly purpose and politics. At a European conference in Plymouth we asked:

Do we wish to manufacture the emotionally resilient young person, who will put up with the slings and arrows of antagonistic social policies, accept their precarious lot and do the best for themselves – utterly individualised and responsibilised?

Or

Do we wish to play a part, however fragile and uncertain, in the emergence of a young critical citizen, committed to challenging their lot in concert with one another and indeed ourselves, struggling to forge a more just and equal society, believing that ‘another world is possible’?

On a less grand level, Malcolm argued that our task is to support young people becoming who they want to be. Isn’t this risky, you might ask? What if they turn out differently than we hope? In responding he would invoke the IDYW definition of youth work – volatile and voluntar,y, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees. Going on, though, he would stress his faith in the unlimited potential of convivial conversation, of chatting critically about our lived circumstances, knowing that issues of oppression and exploitation would emerge ‘naturally’. The notion of imposing enlightenment via behaviourism was anathema to him, a contradiction in terms.

Last year in October Malcolm made an enormous effort to come to Crete, determined to tell of his terminal illness face-to-face. It was fitting that our last physical meeting took place on Greek soil. We, together with close friends and partners, had become unashamed Graecophiles. Being on the island allowed us to revisit memories, of many a cheeky retsina imbibed, of much-loved tavernas, of stunning beaches and dramatic mountain walks. Tears flowed with the wine and the Mythos beer Malcolm craved.

As you might expect the week allowed us to take a deep breath together about the past, present and future. There were elements of despondency in our discourse.

  • We shared our frustration at the continuing ‘formalisation of the informal’, symbolised on the IDYW Facebook page by the requests for what were in all but name, lesson plans. So too, we touched upon IDYW’s failure to become a living network of worker and academic activists, blaming obviously the neoliberal undermining of the instinct of solidarity as well as pondering to what extent professionalisation had sapped our independent spirit.
  • Linked to this question of self-organisation we revisited the perennial dilemma of agency. If change is to take place, who will make it happen? Or as Castoriadis puts it, “to what extent does the contemporary situation give birth in people the desire and capacity to create a free and just society?” When faced with our aspiration to change what’s going on, Malcolm had always asked what social force supports our desire? Without which we are pissing in the wind.
  • Inexorably this did lead us to our analysis of the contemporary situation. We shared our anxiety about a society sleep-walking into authoritarianism. We marked the shift to a technocratic capitalism, the rule of unelected and unaccountable experts. We expressed our distaste and disdain, often visible, for behavioural psychologists.

At this point, I was sinking into a trough of despond, but Malcolm wouldn’t have it. Facing imminent death himself he wasn’t for being miserabilist. He affirmed that we had a moral and political obligation to those, who had gone before us to continue the fight for a better world, to defend their hard-won gains. Brushing aside my frustration that he had rarely set pen to paper except in text, smiling at my charge that if he’d spent less time on the phone he might have, he extolled me to keep on, keep on writing. As we bad each other a tearful farewell he mooted that faced with Dystopia we must revive our belief in Utopia; that technocracy must be defeated by democracy.

In the aftermath of his visit I found myself, wondering how well we knew one another. This was sparked by a question about how much we knew about each other’s personal lives. The implication was that we steered clear of sharing our emotions, being typically male. The cliched generalisation didn’t fit. We loved another and said so publicly, hugged and kissed. We were passionate politically about the future of humanity. That is enough for me.

In the shadow of his death I am determined to do his bidding. I won’t retreat into an idiotic, private life. Sadly a hope that I could interview him about his Youth Work Journey fell foul of the encroaching cancer. What I do recognise now, more than ever, is that, as I wrote, Malcolm was often holding the pen with me; that my scribbling was always influenced by our eclectic conversations, even if sometimes we seemed to be talking in riddles. In this sense I will continue a commentary on youth work and beyond, knowing that Malcolm is beside me, whispering into my ear, ‘it seems to me’…….

La Lutta Continua

Ο αγώνας συνεχίζεται

The struggle continues

“It is not what is, but what could be and should be, that has need of us.” [Cornelius Castoriadis}

Postscript

There are many gaps in this reminiscence. I have consciously left out names. I didn’t know where to begin and end in terms of introducing people into my recollection. It is my hope that the missing people will offer their own reminiscences and thus write themselves into the story, contributing to a fuller account of Malcolm’s memorable life. If you feel so moved, send your memories to tonymtaylor@gmail.com My reminiscence will also be appearing appropriately on the In Defence of Youth Work web site.