I have said my piece in my contribution to the In Defence of Youth Work website. As it is I will be making a flying visit to attend the celebration and hope to meet up with folk, old and new.
Further to my self-centred announcement of my 75th birthday, the following seeks to offer an insight into the tribulations plus a number of images of the celebratory event held at our house. I’m hoping that doing so might kick-start me into renewing the momentum of this blog. We will see. Perhaps predictably I’ve found myself in the past few days, as befits my three scores and fifteen, dwelling upon the question of what I’ve been up to in my life. Living in the birthplace of Western philosophy demands such reflection. For now, though this musing remains hazy in keeping with me being dazy for the past week or so.
My dazed condition dates back to an alarming moment when, on a longish journey home, the brakes on our stalwart Suzuki car failed. One tortuous way and another we limped to the garage where the dear girl, 22 years old was declared beyond repair. With the birthday bash only two days away, without transport, our predilection to be anxious reared its nagging head. Fortunately, neighbours and friends came to our aid as we remembered, yet again, something else we had forgotten, notably, παγάκιa, the essential ice cubes. The temperature was forecast to be 32 degrees.
Not a single eddy disturbed the tranquil opening to Sunday itself. Not a wisp of a breeze could be discerned. Only the animated birdsong and a cock crowing pierced the silence. It was going to be bloody hot. The start of the evening’s delights would have to be delayed. Nevertheless, the first task if we were to be ahead of ourselves was arranging the seating. Over 40 chairs had been begged and borrowed. Being diverse and inclusive by nature rather than being in thrall to some Johnny-come-lately Human Relations influencers, we refused none on the grounds of shape, size or colour. Thus, when completed, the eclectic composition of kαρέκλες fitted perfectly the natural amphitheatre provided by our back garden. We were pleased with ourselves which was to be our undoing.
Despite the resplendent garden defying our horticultural ignorance, Marilyn ventured that a couple more bursts of colour wouldn’t come amiss. All the more so as our neighbourhood pine marten seemed to take great pleasure in digging up and destroying the prettiest of our flowers. Despite it being the day of repose Mark and I volunteered to go in search. Intuitively perhaps we knew. The charming little florist in the next village, Vamos, was indeed closed. However, opposite was situated the seductive sight of the Mosaico cafe. It seemed irreverent on a hot Holy Day not to seek refreshment. Two pale ales and toast later we realised we best return at speed except we were empty-handed. In a last throw of the dice, we dashed to nearby Kalives where alas the florist was also closed. Yet two rows of plants had been left outside on the narrow pavement and this was Crete. Thus I chose two colourful offerings, nipped into the next-door craft shop where I left the money owed in the helpful hands of the unphased, artistic owner. Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ.
Mutterings aside and acknowledging the flowers in hand, Marilyn and Sara forgave our boyish antics but nonetheless, the preparations had been concertinaed. Before we knew where we were, folk were arriving, not least Maria Manousaki and the band, Hot Club de Grece. In fact, these brilliant musicians were no trouble, escaping into the shade to practise together.
As for ourselves, our brains fled to the mountains. We forgot all sorts – the aforesaid ice, the bread, the prosecco, the beers and much more. If we’d ordered pies, them too, for sure. Meanwhile Francesca, in charge of the canapes, was serenity itself. Whilst Linda, Lizzie and Marie recognising our plight mucked in on plying guests with drinks and nibbles.
As for Marilyn and I being by default master and mistress of ceremonies we sought to pull ourselves together, to stop being mard-arsed. Marilyn floated amongst our guests, exuding welcoming warmth. I ventured to the front of proceedings with an eye on a retreating, still blazing sun, ready to capture the audience’s attention. In doing so I set aside half a century of experience. It was my wont never to speak publicly without rehearsing, indeed almost memorising the script I had written in long hand. Thus armed, I scarcely ever looked down at my scribbling. I strutted the lecture and conference hall with confidence.
Yet there I was without a note in my hand. The rest is an embarrassing blur. I said something about being fortunate to grow up at a time when, under proletarian pressure, Capitalism had made a number of profound concessions to the working class, notably free education from cradle to grave. I muttered something about education being to do with the creation of questioning, active citizens, not the indoctrination of obedient, passive consumers. I declared that we were at a crossroads in a clash between the struggle for authentic democracy and the imposition of technocratic authoritarianism. All of which needed much explanation. It was neither the time nor place but whenever is? Time for a ditty though?
Thus I sang ‘Ol’ Man River’, a song of age, conformity and resistance with a falter before intoning Paul Robeson’s rewriting of the closing lines – ‘I’ll keep laughin’ instead of cryin’, I must keep fightin’ till I’m dyin’. At the end of which I departed dizzily stage left without even introducing Maria, Yiannis, Antonis and Georgos, the Hot Club. Fortunately, there was no need for such niceties. From the first strum, la pompe, the voices of violin, guitars and double-bass intertwined seemingly effortlessly in a tour de force of jazz manouche. We swung and were captivated.
At the break Marilyn and I had decided, given our advancing years, to allow ourselves a nostalgic glance back to growing up in Lancashire, sitting in front of the telly watching the comic films of Gracie Fields and George Formby.
Hence I began by singing our Gracie’s signature tune, ‘Sally in our Alley’. It is now claimed there wasn’t a dry eye in the garden. Tears of emotion or laughter, we shall never know.
After which I was joined by the Backyard Boys, Phil on ukulele, John banjo and Ian washboard to deliver George’s greatest giggle of a hit, ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’. Their consummate backing was much admired. As was Phil’s account of a touching poem penned by Linda Manousaki.
Maria and the Hot Club opened the second set by generously accompanying my effort to do justice to a popular Greek number, ‘Τι είναι αυτό που λένε αγάπη;’ translated as ‘What is this thing called love?’. I will take solace in the fact that Anastasia was impressed with my performance. Once I was out of the way Maria and the Hot Club returned us to the joys of their musicianship.
It was at this point that Marilyn and I cast off our cloak of anxiety, tried to stop stressing and sought to bask in the atmosphere of shared pleasure created in our idyllic back garden. To add to our delight the band played her special request, ‘Misty’. At the end, rapturous applause rang down our lane and folk went their separate ways.
At a pivotal moment when the ruling class would like to divide us and consign us to a virtual world of their making, a collective experience created by improvisatory live music cocks a snook at the powerful. It belongs to us and no one else. Our gratitude is due to everyone for being involved in all manner of supportive and helpful ways. On the Sunday itself, we vowed ‘never again’ but with each passing day our affection for the occasion grows. Whatever transpires in the future as the old song goes, ‘Thanks for the memories’. The struggle ever continues but between whom?
Many thanks to Xavier Rouchaud, Sara Gilding and Rod Waters for the atmospheric photos.
Our bucket collection raised 325 Euros towards Medical Aid for Palestinians. Much appreciated.
Thanks to Rod or not as the case might be – Leaning on a Lamp-post live from Gavalohori with the Backyard Boys! Eat your heart out, George.
“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?
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 collaboratively – Ruth Richardson
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
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.
“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
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.”
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.
At a historical moment when an orchestrated unethical campaign of fear and authoritarian repression threatens hard-fought for civil liberties and undermines, however flawed its practices, representative democracy, it is sobering and necessary to remember and honour the struggles of the past.
LEVELLERS DAY – Burford, Oxfordshire.
Radical history inspires today. Learning the lessons of history from the pioneers of 1649 to the challenges of today
On 17 May 1649, three soldiers were executed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders in Burford churchyard, Oxfordshire. They belonged to a movement popularly known as the Levellers, with beliefs in civil rights and religious tolerance.
During the Civil War, the Levellers fought on Parliament’s side, they had at first seen Cromwell as a liberator, but now saw him as a dictator. They were prepared to fight against him for their ideals and he was determined to crush them. Over 300 of them were captured by Cromwell’s troops and locked up in Burford church. Three were led out into the churchyard to be shot as ringleaders.
In 1975, members of the WEA Oxford Industrial Branch went to Burford to reclaim a piece of history that seemed to be missing from the school books. They held a meeting in remembrance of the Leveller soldiers. The following year, Tony Benn came and read in the church and in each succeeding year, people have come to Burford on the Saturday nearest to 17 May, debated, held a procession, listened to music and remembered the Levellers and the importance of holding on to ideals of justice and democracy.
Want to read more…
SERTUC has published The Levellers Movement, an account of perhaps the first political movement to represent the ordinary people. You can download it free here The Levellers Movement. Hard copies have sold out!
Thanks to the Levellers Association, the Oxford WEA and the Oxford Trades Council for the material and images.
Following upon the momentum created by Gus John’s account of his clash with the BBC, Sanitising Racism, Past and Present it is all the more challenging to post his passionate rejection of the almost taken-for-granted and ‘hideous’ acronym, BAME – Black, Asia and Minority Ethnic. More than a few questions herein for the youth work world I have inhabited across the decades….and society at large.
DON’T BAME ME
Just before the lockdown, my granddaughter came home from school one day very upset and confused. That afternoon, a classmate sitting at her table suddenly announced that from now on we will all call Anna (not her real name) ‘nigger’. They are both 10 and British white and African respectively. Anna remonstrated with him and one of her mates, white, insisted that she should tell the teacher. In a discussion that ensued later, questions were asked about what the school was doing about race and one adult added ‘especially as there are so few Bame students in the school’. Anna had no clue as to what Bame meant and when she was told, she asked why it mattered that there were few students like her in the school, given the fact that it was the white boy who had used the racial slur. When on reaching home she called to tell me about it, I found it considerably less problematic to explain to her the origins and usage of ‘the n-word’ than that of BAME.
So, here is a British born child, confident in her own skin, unapologetic about her blackness and totally comfortable with her white classmates having sleep overs at her home and vice versa, being made to feel that she was a problem; a problem that required the school to deal with the issue of race; being made to feel that if she had not been there, the white boy would not have had cause to call anybody ‘nigger’ and the school would have had no need to concern itself with race.
But, that school had long demonstrated to her that it saw no need to concern itself with race, not least by virtue of the fact that nothing in its library or displayed on its walls sent out to students, teachers or parents that there were people in Britain, let alone the world, other than white people like themselves.
So, why was it was more difficult to explain the origin and use of the word ‘nigger’ than that of the hideous and equally demeaning acronym BAME?
How does a parent tell a 10 year old that by virtue of the colour of her skin, by virtue of the fact that she is melanin rich, she is rendered ‘other’ and racialised as ‘black’ and as ‘nigger’ as the worst and most contemptible embodiment and existential manifestation of black? How does a parent equip that child with the mental energy, the self esteem, the self confidence and the determination to defend her essential humanity and make sure that no one takes liberties with her and denigrate her on account of her blackness?
And, while her parents are building with and within her those essential tools for resistance and survival, what are the parents of her white classmates doing to ensure that they are not being socialised within the putrid culture of racism in Britain to become racist oppressors, whether by commission or omission?
So, what is the context of this conversation about the terminology we use to denote racial identity and to denote ethnicity?
The context I suggest is the racialisation of difference and of different populations across the globe; racialisation of people, their ethnicity, their history, their culture and cultural products. Such racialisation has been the historical function of imperialism and colonialism and with it has evolved a language that serves the purpose of underpinning racial hierarchies and trapping those at or near the bottom of the hierarchy in mindsets and ways of being and of self-perception that correspond to those hierarchies.
We ignore the relationship between language, power and identity at our peril. Words matter. They convey deep meanings and they help to frame identities. They are the medium through which we give expression to our existential reality and through which others seek to deny, denigrate and negate our existential reality.
Before I arrived in Britain in 1964 aged 19, I had not heard the word ‘coloured’ used to describe African people except in the specific context of apartheid in South Africa. As a teenager, I was deeply affected by reading Alan Paton’s, ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’. So, when I heard white people and even Caribbean people calling other Caribbean people like myself ‘coloured’, I was quite alarmed. And then I read Stokeley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s ‘Black Power’ and I learnt about the Negritude Movement and I read James Baldwin, Claude Mackay, Ralph Ellison and saw images of Black Panther and civil rights marches and of Jim Crow barbarism as African Americans struggled against state racism in the USA.
I found it interesting that the bestial British who for centuries had treated African people worse than they did animals had suddenly converted to humanity, such that they were insisting that it was not just impolite but downright offensive to call us ‘black’. We were being condemned for using our supplementary schools to teach ‘Black Power’. Black was considered to be associated with violence, armed resistance against the state and its apparatuses and generally with a radical and revolutionary mindset. ‘Coloured’ was more consensual and conformist and in any event, it made white folk feel better, except of course when they were ready to cuss us. I’ve never heard the racial slur ‘you coloured bastard’. No, we got the full monty, including and especially from the police: ‘You black bastard’.
And then, the contorted language of race relations brought us ethnic minorities and black and ethnic minorities. This gave rise to a protracted debate about whether we were ethnic minority or minority ethnic. That debate completely missed the point, i.e., a) that whether ‘ethnic minority’ or ‘minority ethnic’, we were consenting to being minoritized and ‘othered’ for all time and that we were considered and treated as ‘minority’, not just in relation to our ‘per capita’ representation in the population as part of the African and the Asian Diaspora, but minority in intelligence, in capabilities, in moral values, in our contribution to human evolution, etc. The society which automatically valued and validated white folk, began to demand that we prove ourselves and demonstrate that we had the capacity to hold certain positions before we could be accepted as eligible for appointment to a wide spectrum of posts; b) that as far as ethnicity was concerned, we were not just ethnic minorities, we were ethnic outcasts, vying with other ethnic minorities like ourselves and scrambling for crumbs and handouts from those in power, who were always facing a potential backlash from the white majority who saw us as undeserving and as taking what should have been given to them.
No one ever spoke or wrote about the ethnic majority in the society and how they engaged with their racial and ethnic identity. People and things were only ethnic when they were, or were related to, people and cultures that were not white. It is as if we had come into a land of ethnic neutrality and cultural homogeneity and were clumps of trees in vast forests of melanin starved corn; in other words, a population of people without colour (PWC) in more ways than one.
In time, those halcyon days when black denoted struggle of the sort that African people had waged for centuries against enslavement, colonisation and neo-colonialism and therefore was thought to encompass liberation struggles, broadly speaking, of oppressed and dispossessed peoples everywhere, including against the caste system in the Indian subcontinent, against Israeli occupation of Palestine and against the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australasia, those halcyon days gave way to a far narrower definition of black as signifying African – as in Africa and its Diaspora -, with most diasporan Africans seeing themselves as having either a hyphenated identity, – African-American, African-Caribbean, French-African – and many emphatically rejecting their African heritage altogether. Among the latter are significant numbers of Caribbean people of all ages, who while being comfortable with being called Black would never call themselves and resent being called African. In other words, they have no time whatsoever for Peter Tosh’s famous declaration:
‘Don’t care where you come from
As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African’
Asians in Britain determined that they were not Black and they were no ‘ethnic minority’ either. In time, BME morphed into Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME).
BAME is a hideous acronym and it is one that does no justice to any of the sections of the British population encompassed by that ill-defined term. Black is an umbrella classification for whom exactly? Black African? Black British of African and of Caribbean parentage? Black British of African, or Caribbean and white European parentage? How about the large Indo-Caribbean population of Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, almost as numerous as the African-Caribbean population? In Britain, are they and their offspring Black Caribbean, or are they Asian as in BAME?
And what do we understand by Asian? What does that umbrella classification encompass? People from the Indian subcontinent only, as in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh? People from the Indian Ocean? People from countries that form the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN): Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore,
Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Phillipines, Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos? People from China? People from Taiwan?
And if ‘Asians’ as in BAME signify people from the Asian continent and its Diaspora, why are people from the African continent and its Diaspora represented as ‘Black’ in BAME? I would suggest that ‘Black’ in that context has less connotations of Black as in “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ than as black representing historical enslavement, reserve pools of labour, endless struggle for fundamental rights and entitlements and from the bondage of endemic racism.
As for ethnic minority/minority ethnic, we have to lead the way in abandoning this terminology.
The population of Europe’s ethnic majority, ie, white Europeans, is roughly 748 million. The population of the Indian subcontinent alone is approximately 1 billion, 765 million. 25% of the world’s population live in South Asia. Whites make up 60% of the population of the USA. The UK has a population of 68 million, of whom 9 million are non-white.
There is no evidence that I have seen of people from the Asian or African Diaspora regarding themselves as ethnic minorities in Britain. On the contrary, migrant and settler communities from those continents project anything but a minority consciousness. Yet, we readily adopt and persist with a language of hierarchy and of oppression, both here and in the USA. Among the bewildering array of terms that are in increasingly regular usage in Britain are: People of Colour; Black and Non-Black People of Colour and more recently Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC).
Who determined that Black or Indigenous people are ethnic minorities? Even numerically, why are we minoritizing ourselves who constitute 85% at least of the world’s population? Nigeria has a population of over 200 million. Britain has a population of 68 million. Why should Nigerians see themselves as an ethnic minority in Britain or anywhere else in Europe? And as for ‘People of Colour’ or ‘Visible Minorities’, why are we defining ourselves against globalised whiteness as some assumed norm and minoritizing ourselves as if we don’t fully belong, especially given Europe’s historical exploits around the globe?
There are little and large enclaves of white folk all over the world and on each continent. They never define themselves, nor do we ever define them, as ‘ethnic minorities’. We call them and they refer to themselves as ‘expats’, expatriates from their homeland who happen to be in some other country (typically seen as inferior to theirs). In other words, people are only ‘ethnic’ and ‘minority’ when they are not white. And yet, we fail to see how we ourselves are privileging whiteness as the ‘norm’ when we call ourselves ‘people of colour’, ‘ethnic minorities’ and the rest.
BAME is bad enough, but BIPOC for heaven’s sake…. So, we tacitly and implicitly accept that ‘white’ is a unified concept, all embracing, all encompassing. No diversity, ethnic minorities or multiculturalism in the white majority. It’s one undifferentiated, melanin starved mass. When it comes to us, however, we are BAME, POC, BIPOC, non-White ……and Backward.
If African people are People of Colour, why deny white Europeans the privilege of being called People without Colour, in other words, not having to carry the burden of blackness with all its historical baggage of unacceptability and undesirability?
The critical question in all this is: When is it going to end? It is estimated that in less than 50 years, the non-white population of Britain will outnumber the melanin starved, the WIPONC (White and Indigenous People of No Colour). Do we have to wait until then before we Africans and Asians develop and project a majority consciousness and stop minoritizing ourselves? Meanwhile, what does BAME tell us about the way the diverse populations we group as Black and Asian and Minority Ethnic experience the society and its endemic racisms? Do Indians, Bangladeshis, Chinese and Malaysians experience the society and its institutions in identical ways? Do they have equal access and equal opportunity? Similarly, those of us Africans who are lumped together as ‘Black’?
Convenient though policymakers no less than academics and journalists find it to use BAME and POC, I believe that we have a duty to disrupt the hegemony of that language and its power to racialise, marginalise and exclude. For one thing, young Black British people such as my children and grandchildren need a home. They need to see themselves as being the continuum of an Ancestral line, as having an African ancestry. Britain is where they live, but it can never be their ‘home’. Their ‘Mother country’ is Africa. While we believe in people’s right to self-identify and that therefore, Caribbean people have a right to declare that they are not African or Asian, or British for that matter, we would all consider it rather bizarre if they all started calling themselves Innuits.
I have no idea, any more than you do, how long it would take before we abandon the language of BAME and POC and BIPOC. But, we can all start by taking responsibility to avoid using it in our speech and in our writing. Although many regard it as being equally problematic, I increasingly use terms such as Global Majority, or African and Global Majority, instead of BAME. I never ever use ‘People of Colour’, for as far as I am concerned there is no difference between being called a person of colour, or a ‘woman of colour’ and a ‘coloured woman’.
Problematic it may be, but psychologically it nurtures my sense of wellbeing in this racist society to define myself and my offspring as African and Global Majority, rather than endorsing the label of BAME and POC.
I rest my case.
International Consultant & Executive Coach Visiting Professor – Coventry University
Honorary Fellow and Associate Professor The UCL Institute of Education – University of London
I’m not sure if this piece, which appeared in the ninth issue of the Inner London Education Authority’s Schooling and Culture forty years ago, is of much interest today. Certainly, across the decades, it resonates for me, if for no one else, particularly so as its final paragraph mirrors the concluding call I make in the recent post, Resistance in a Climate of Anxiety and Precarity.
Compare the two:
1981 We are putting energy into building our local union branch to act as a focus for our political action. Crucial to this development is the building of links with other Community and Youth Service Association (CYSA) branches in the country and with other oppositional groups. But we do not want to be seen to be trotting out empty slogans about collectivity and solidarity. For instance we are struggling to make any contact at all with our local labour movement. Our own cohesion itself is very fragile, but we have made a start at the coalface. That is with our own feelings to one another. We will feel stronger in this struggle if we hear from other people across the country. Such a network of support is vital if we are to create a movement in opposition to the resurgence of repression and reaction that is upon us.
2021 Gazing outwards I wonder whether this is a moment when IDYW should explore directly with its supporters the reasons for our reluctance to organise collectively. Am I being old-fashioned in believing that, when push comes to shove, if resistance is to strike fear into the powerful it will spring from acting together on the basis of the classic slogan, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’? Am I living in a dream to believe that a passionate and organised IDYW democratic alliance of workers, volunteers and young people could be part of the absolutely necessary social and political resistance to the dystopian prospect offered by the global elite and the World Economic Forum?
Of course, one the one hand, the similarity might well reveal the weariness of my thinking, that I am trapped in romantic nostalgia. On the other it might well illustrate that the will and commitment to self-organise, to come together under our own steam, remains fundamental. More than ever in these self-centred neoliberal times, it marks a break from the cul-de-sac of individualistic virtue. It is a choice we can make. It is a difficult choice, made ever easier the more we choose to do it together.
It’s more than interesting that the 1981 piece is a defence of liberal education as expressed in a process-led youth work faced by conservative resistance on the ground. In 2020 we strive to oppose a holistic liberal education to behavioural neo-liberal education and its technocratic imposition of prescribed outcomes.
STUTTERING STEPS IN POLITICAL EDUCATION
TONY TAYLOR AND ROY RATCLIFFE – at the time of writing I was the Wigan Youth Service’s Training Officer and Roy, an Area Youth Worker.
[Schooling and Culture, Issue 9, London, ILEA Cockpit Arts Workshop, Spring 1981
The issue, Youth, Community: Crisis, included a number of relevant articles. See in particular, Mica Nava, ‘Girls aren’t really a problem…’, Tony Taylor and Roy Ratcliffe, ‘Stuttering steps in political education’, and Bernard Davies, ‘Social Education and Political Education: In Search of Integration’.]
Within the present political and economic climate the Youth Service is once again in depression. The future is clouded. However, crises are a recurrent feature of youth work’s recent history and the response thus far suggests that the field is sceptical of this latest Armageddon. “Wolf’s been cried once too often!”—it is merely a time to keep one’s head down until the situation passes over. We would hope that this latest trough is not the slough of a very desperate despond. It is not just the Youth Service that faces calamity, but the whole of liberal education. Strategies of resistance are urgently needed. Here we wish to share our experiences about the attempted development of a Social Education Programme for a local authority statutory Youth Service and so participate in producing a positive collective response to the conservative onslaught.
Back in 1974 local government reorganisation offered the possibility of reviewing the state of the Youth Service. In Wigan a working party dominated by conservative elements within the voluntary sector produced a pale pamphlet which proposed (as objectives for youth leaders) tired and trusted tenets such as ‘the moral and spiritual development of young people.’ An increased youth work staff inherited this static apology as a blueprint for its practice. The dominant modes of operating available as examples to field workers were rooted in either ‘garden fete’ paternalism or activity oriented authoritarianism. Ideas of person-centred counselling and group work, the staple diet of training courses, floated on the margins of debates about the future. The underlying tension caused by this marginalisation and differing levels of perception was heightened by the influx of some workers more committed to a liberal perspective. Increasingly the long-standing traditional leadership base of youth work imposed an uneasy truce on the non-directive structures promulgated by training agencies following the post-Albermarle resurrection of Youth Service and the community emphasis of Milson/Fairbairn.
Over the first two years after reorganisation this lack of ‘compatibility’ between rival theories and practices caused frequent problems. As a response to this turmoil a group of full and part-time workers produced a document entitled The Programme of Action, which insisted that the Service’s objectives were the heightening of young people’s awareness (personal, social and political) and greater member participation. Quoting Brecht in “assisting the little fishes”, the introduction argued the Youth Service’s priority role in supporting the disadvantaged young person. Faced by such a clear statement of the liberal position’s concern for the individually deprived, the Youth Service hierarchy endorsed the submission and rushed it through Council to become the official Youth Service line. There was no attempt to familiarise the councillors and other advisory bodies with the content of the Programme. It was normal practice to treat them contemptuously as mere ‘rubber stamps’. Our acceptance of this manipulation and failure to discuss the issue seriously with the local politicians was to have severe repercussions in later years. However on the surface there was now the prospect of encouraging liberal youth work within the framework of the Programme of Action as a secure and agreed basis for the Youth Service staff. On paper we were now officially ‘Social Educators’.
In the following period the gulf between the rhetoric of the Programme of Action and the day to day reality caused further confrontations over such issues as policing the building; supporting the young homeless; swearing and moral decency. Reactionary positions continued to win the day and eventually several staff fled the scene. Crucial to the weakness of the ‘liberal’ position in this period was the poor relationship between full-time and many part-time staff. The latter’s overall support for status quo was often decisive. Linked to this failure the full-time staff itself became further fragmented. It was then a relatively simple task for the hierarchy ‘to divide and rule’.
Early in 1978 when the last remaining radical (and highest qualified) of the staff was ironically promoted to a training position, divisions within the staff grew worse. Bloodied and isolated the new Training Officer pursued a purist policy that created radical initiatives, which received only token support from the majority of the staff, who often used the argument that training occupied an ‘ivory tower’. Contradictorily the hierarchy tended to support this radical thrust, realising perhaps that it was unlikely to impinge problematically on practice, having themselves only a ‘wishy—washy’ pragmatism to put in its place. Crisis management was the order of the day and intervention only came after ‘things had blown up’.
The same year also saw the recruitment of further full-time staff new to the borough and it was against this background that training constructed a new strategy early in 1979. This was the setting up of a Training and Development Unit. Our argument was that this venture would provide a fresh angle on the problem of building a bridge between theory and practice. The view we took was that the liberal theories as they appeared in the Programme of Action, whilst containing the possibility of many alternative interpretations, also presented a sufficient brief to support a struggle against many elements of oppression in our society particularly as they affected young people. We considered that these liberal ideas and sentiments supported verbally by the hierarchy were evidence that these notions had general support from the majority of staff. We accepted the criticism that training was often cut-off from the day to day practice of youth work and needed to be brought closer to reality. We were aware that many part-time staff, some in the past and some recently, had tried and were trying against overwhelming odds to implement sections of the Programme of Action. The odds we all struggled against comprised of an ineffective, unimaginative, one year trained group of advisers for whom the status quo offered a peaceful if uneventful life; a general apathy and cynicism; and a lack of materials and resources with which to work. In developing the idea of a Training and Development Unit along with other innovations, we hoped to support current efforts; to develop good practice; to reinvigorate the demoralised; to convert the cynical; and call the bluff of the reactionaries. Some of the suggested initiatives were judged impractical for that year and so were shelved but the whole staff team welcomed the setting up of the Training and Development Unit.
Although the authority insisted on line management relationships, the endeavour was organised collectively. Internally within the unit there was no hierarchy, but the Youth Service structure accepted only one person, the Training Officer, as being responsible. Nevertheless it was hoped that many practical barriers would be removed by the provision of resources and the means to deliver them to the clubs. Principally the creation of a resource centre with a library, group work room, printing facilities, audio and video equipment and filming capability was to be the material factor that would overcome liberal Youth Work’s traditional inadequacies in the areas of planning, preparation and delivery. The centre would not, however, wait passively to be utilised but would be an active component brought to life by the Development Team. Exciting stimuli could be created at the centre on topics of social education and then taken into the world of table tennis and discos. The Development Team of one full-time worker and six part—time workers would be able to respond to requests, and prompt responses. Its main, if not sole brief was to lubricate the path of liberal theory to the seat of practice and then to return it for examination. Training was to move from ‘one-off’ exhortations and short courses to a view that sought to unite training, youth workers and young people in an educational dialogue.
Over the last two years the Training Centre, the Development Team and individual workers have indeed made moves towards these objectives. Yet the effect of theory on practice continues to be muted. The gap and therefore the contradiction between a liberal theory and a conservative practice remains. However, the efforts have served to sharpen our awareness of the depth of the blockages to the implementation of a social education praxis. In particular it has highlighted the rigidity of hierarchical structures; the flaccid response of many youth workers to authority; the insidious grip of ‘common-sense’ empiricism; the low self-image of the Service as a whole; and our own specific failure to build a solid base of support within and without the Service. Instead of now being in a position to examine how liberal theory enlightened practice, we are in the unfortunate position of being confronted by the mass of conservative practice which negated liberal theory. A number of ‘problems’ occurred, some of which we outline below. In each case we suggest that the practice was not checked against the supposed objectives of the Service, but that a summary arbitration was imposed on the basis of the lowest ‘common-sense’ denominator.
Case 1: THE ALL NIGHT PARTY
The Programme of Action underlines involvement as a major objective; it speaks of young people’s active involvement in the organisation of youth centres. Under a heading Strategies it recommends ‘identifying their own needs’; ‘involvement in decision-making’; ‘collecting subscriptions’; ‘keys to the centre’. In line with this authority policy, one club, apparently backed by its management committee, extended democracy and eventually achieved a locally unprecedented level of attendance and participation. Then an incident occurred in which young people trusted with keys were judged to have ‘gone too far’. They had held an all night party at the club on what later evidence proved to be a very orderly and tame basis. The young people concerned sought and obtained parental consent and displayed a host of other ‘responsible’ actions before embarking upon the venture. None of these actions were checked out and instead rumours of sexual license and permissiveness abounded. They were hastily considered to have gone ‘over the top’ and their access to keys was immediately withdrawn from them. There was no consultation with these young adults (the majority were over 18, and the party was for the 21st birthday of one of the members). Our position as a Service in the face of an orchestrated attack on our philosophy was to desert the young people in question, and the full-time staff members who supported them, and capitulate before dark threats about club closures and the forthcoming education cuts.
Case 2: THE MEMBERS’ COUNCIL
Embodied in the Programme of Action is a commitment to political awareness. We read under Objectives: ‘Development of questioning attitudes within young people’, and under Strategies: ‘Members’ Councils with power, e.g. finances.’ In line with this policy a group of youth club members from different clubs overcame considerable organisational difficulties and formed an embryo Members’ Council. After visiting a ‘Youth Charter—Towards 2000’ Conference called ‘Making Ourselves Heard’, they produced a bulletin of their impressions which they hoped would become the basis of a local youth council magazine. The bulletin contained a small number of Anglo-Saxon swear words which expressed the anger and frustrations which many of them felt. Response to the publication was swift and decisive. All support and facilities were removed from the young people and they, once more isolated, soon disbanded. As a Service we washed our hands of the affair and disciplined the full-time members of staff who had supported the Members’ Council. No evaluation was made of the situation. Members’ Councils ceased to be on the agenda of priorities.
Case 3: MEMBERS ONLY MAGAZINE
Bearing the Programme of Action’s statements about political awareness and participation in mind, about 60 copies of an NAYC publication, Members Only, were ordered. The magazine contained articles on writing and producing club newspapers. However on its front cover was a picture of a group of punks dressed in their ‘gear’ with one young male giving a V-sign to the camera. Distribution of the magazine was banned. Our response as a Service was to bow our heads and meekly comply with the censorship. What had happened to developing questioning attitudes?
Case 4: SEXISM
In this case a practical ‘problem’ has not yet arisen. We include it merely as a pointer to the future.A section of the training programme proposed a policy of positive discrimination in favour of young women. It suggested the setting up of a working party to investigate the male orientation of the Service; the organisation of a Workers Against Sexism Group; the publication of a Guidelines Against Sexism booklet; and the planning of ‘Boys Rule Not OK’ weekends. At the committee meetings to approve the programme, objections were made to the Training Section’s ‘obsession’ with sex and its trendy sociological approach. Fears were expressed about the direction of this type of youth work. As a Service our response was ‘to box clever’ and to rewrite the offending passage, but seeds of doubt had already been liberally (!) sown. The ’response’ in this case has occurred at the level of theory and we can perhaps anticipate how a practical implementation will be greeted.
[ December 2020 – Indeed tackling sexism within the Service did create all manner of tensions. However the emergence of a self-organised Women Workers Group, the power and sophistication of its strategy and tactics, was to prove crucial to Work With Girls and Young Women moving to the centre of the Service’s practice.]
In all of these cases, it is seductive to define the problem as being one of ‘mistakes’ made by theparticipants: “If only they had handled things differently and in a more sensible way.” This simplistic analysis allows critics of the situation to claim that they are still in favour of social education but not of incompetence – witness their fashionable exasperation with the Tyndale teachers, whose actions they allege have made it so difficult to be progressive. It amounts to the view that anything less than a perfect initiative is too risky to try—an obvious recipe for the status quo. The charade though of support for experiment so long as it’s bland, keeps ajar the refuge that radical practice is possible provided we are familiar with and take heed of the constraints of ‘common-sense’.
But it is important to look more closely at part of the opposition to attempts to implement such liberal documents as Wigan’s Programme of Action. As a group of responses they are not the irrational or erratic whims of individuals, but flow in a complex way from the movement of wider forces in society. As a tool to look at this situation we concur with the concept of “moral panic”, first mooted by Stan Cohen in Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1973), and subtly developed by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in their Policing the Crisis (1978). At a certain moment in each of our examples a response of ‘moral panic or outrage’ can be identified. In Case 1 the focus was alleged sexual promiscuity; in Case 2 the vulgar words signalled the approach of anarchy and the subversion of moral standards; in Case 3 the punks, folk-devils of the late seventies, exuded a provocative contempt for authority; in Case 4 the contentious mixture was defined as being obsessed with sex and women’s lib, wishy-washy, yet manipulative and deviously subversive. Much of the outrage appeared genuine, although the sexual obsession resided with the critics rather than with those on the stage. However, what is significant is the way in which the narrow moral/sexual concern was expanded into an increasingly broader context in which the future of society was held to be at stake. Thus a particular form and style of educational approach was deemed to be responsible for the demise of traditional values and standards. This is demonstrated by the fact that the response does not limit itself to the specific issue alone, but is extended so as to prevent all further development i.e. not a restriction on swear words but a complete restriction of Members’ Council’s activities, etc. Thus what at first sight appears to be an outbreak of situation-specific moral indignation later grows into a more general authoritarian reaction to the whole of progressive youth work and more! The form is moral outrage but the content is political reaction.
We are not arguing that such developments are peculiar to youth work. Clearly all those involved ineducation and wishing to pursue in practice strategies in opposition to oppression and exploitation run the risk of being attacked in this way. Education authorities do not as a rule smile benevolently on school/student unions, pupils representation and the like, especially if there is any suggestion of autonomous decision-making. As far as the Youth Service is concerned we would venture that the problems and responses noted above are a normal feature of its existence. This is to suggest that workers involved in social education initiatives are likely to be caught in a depressing circle of frustration. It is still sometimes fondly thought that youth workers are less hamperedby authoritarian structural constraints than their colleagues in schools. Whilst it will come as no surprise to learn that they are fettered rather than free, it may be a shock to realise how little roomthey have for manoeuvre; how quickly reaction can come; and how little needs to be done to provoke the wrath of authority. Alongside the grandiloquent rhetoric about sexual awareness; political awareness; and member participation, we must note the outrage that will accompany almost immediately, mention of masturbation and the clitoris; talk of Marxism; and discussion about political demonstration. Stuttering steps towards opening up political issues precipitate ‘moral panic’ and the bureaucratic guillotine.
And where are the mass of youth workers in the face of this opposition to the very life blood of their supposedly unique educational organism? We fear that many are hiding their heads in the sand and we would accept some responsibility for their ostrich-like state, but as A J Jeffs comments,
“Analysis of current practice inevitably invokes self-criticism and is likely to threaten thefragile consensus that service to bind the disparate wings of the Youth Service together,therefore it tends to be avoided.”
So too the ‘liberalism’ that underpins much of the youth work ethos is assessed by Hall et al to be ill-equipped to resist the ‘direct impact or pragmatic immediacy of the traditionalist world view.’
In the light of these reflections we would put a question mark alongside all current liberal initiatives in support of young people. Serious struggles against, for instance, sexism and racism aimed at changing the basis of human relationships are obviously a threat to those who wish to preserve their privilege by controlling the existing conditions of inequality. However the chosen axis of response by authority to such efforts is unlikely to be one of a frontal assault upon ‘equality’, given this liberal notion’s deep rooted position in our culture. The forces of resistance to change are more likely to utilise the dynamic that is expressed firstly as outrage at a particular characteristic of a situation e.g. ‘vulgar language’, ‘nudity’,’sexual excess’, but which is then able to escalate these phenomena into the tell-tale signs of a general threat to the very fabric of our society. In this way the needs of authority and power are presented as the mutual concern of ‘all good men and true’ and ‘anybody with any common-sense’. So too the promotion of even liberal ideas in education is by slides and elisions identified as extremist and violent.
Thus the question mark, when placed alongside these efforts to motivate liberal youth work practice, reveals a conspicuous lack of success. But the tale is not to end here in circular depression. At one level our Programme of Action and developments such as the National Youth Bureau’s ‘Enfranchisement’ initiative are in dire straits. In 1980-81 liberal efforts to advance the status of young people, of the unemployed, of women, of blacks, are swimming against the tide of cuts, closures and the drift to a law and order society. But while it is idealistic and naive to talk of individual freedom and the whole liberal baggage without recognising the present economic base and political structure, it is pessimistic and undialectical to view the present situation as static and without contradiction; the state as monolithic and people as unchangeable. Thus we are now trying to apply an understanding of our failure to our present practice. We ourselves noted in an article in Youth in Society (October 1980) that a global analysis needs to be sensitised by the understanding on a personal level that comes from counselling and group work. So at the top of our list of priorities now is the exhausting task of coming together with our fellow workers to talk about ‘where we’re at’; to discuss why we alienate one another; to begin to find common ground. It is about examining our real rather than our imaginary differences in order ‘to hold hands with each other’, both actually and metaphorically; it is about creating a climate of relative, but real trust and honesty. In short it entails utilising those group work skills, which are our supposed youth work inheritance.
Alongside this we are putting energy into building our local union branch to act as a focus for our political action. Crucial to this development is the building of links with other Community and Youth Service Association (CYSA) branches in the country and with other oppositional groups. But we do not want to be seen to be trotting out empty slogans about collectivity and solidarity. For instance we are struggling to make any contact at all with our local labour movement. Our own cohesion itself is very fragile, but we have made a start at the coalface. That is with our own feelings to one another. We will feel stronger in this struggle if we hear from other people across the country. Such a network of support is vital if we are to create a movement in opposition to the resurgence of repression and reaction that is upon us.
S Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Paladin, 1973.
S Hall et al, Policing the Crisis, Macmillan, 1978.
A J Jeffs, Young People and the Youth Service, RKP, 1979.
In a week within which it is revealed that that Alexandra Ankrah, the most senior black Home Office employee in the team responsible for the Windrush compensation scheme resigned earlier this year, describing it as systemically racist and unfit for purpose; in which it is revealed in the words of a senior case worker that “The Home Office are not empathetic towards claimants. It’s just a name on a piece of paper – it’s not people” it is timely and vital to post this link to Gus John’s withering critique of the limitations at the heart of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review.
In enclosing his paper to promote wider discussion Gus comments:
I’m amazed at how little public debate there appears to have been on this report, especially as in spite of what she found Williams failed to come to some bold and pretty obvious conclusions. It’s an indication that she herself has no concept of the racialisation of immigration and of successive governments over the last six decades wilfully manipulating the British population on the issue of immigration/race, as if those of us who made Britain our home in the last 100 years are still unwanted newcomers who had no previous connection with this nation.
He opens his critique by taking us back nearly 20 years to the time when post-Macpherson the Home Office commissioned training, which was to transform the insensitive and prejudiced occupational culture within the police force.
In 2003, my organisation was commissioned by the Home Office to evaluate that training and its impact upon forces’ operational practices and relationships with black communities. Part of my methodology was actually observing how that training was delivered and how it was received. That turned out to be one of the most awful experiences of my entire professional career. The organised and vicious resistance to the training; the targeting of trainers personally and making them account for the conduct, criminal and political, of black people in communities; the venomous accusations of ‘black people wanting to be treated differently’… ‘why do you lot always feel you’re being picked upon’, etc.; the heckling; the disengagement (with certain attendees opting to read a book or do paperwork of some sort during the training); anecdotes from senior police officers telling of warnings they received from senior command to the effect that: ‘police/community relations is a career graveyard, so, get out of it and soon as you can if you want to progress in this force’. Women trainers had to endure unadulterated sexism in addition, and all trainers had to provide metrics to indicate that they had met their training targets, even in the face of such organised resistance. Needless to say, few ‘hearts and minds’ were won and my assessment was that the training left many police officers more resentful and openly racist at the end of the training than they were at the beginning. Disturbingly, however, it left many trainers totally traumatised and needing professional help to cope with what they had been subjected to by those police officers. They complained to me that at the end of such training days, there was no one assigned to them to whom they could go and offload/debrief and get help to put themselves together again. Instead, they were often left losing sleep at the prospect of having to face yet another day of the same, with the existing or a new cohort of police officers.
In summary, the most damning part of my evaluation to the Home Office is that the nationwide training was little more than a hugely expensive and damaging exercise in ‘dipping sheep’ and proof, if ever it was needed, that training could never be a panacea for systemic ills and institutional and cultural practices that are pickled in racism. That training programme sacrificed the messenger – the black trainers – in the process of attempting to deliver the message: how to be a police service that acknowledged and understood racism and its impact on citizens’ rights, on delivering justice and keeping the peace and one that took responsibility for eliminating institutional, cultural and personal manifestations of racism.
With this sobering experience as a backcloth Gus continues:
So, let us examine those two recommendations by Wendy Williams on which the Home Office, almost two decades later, is seeking to deracialise its staff, this time in relation to immigration rather than to policing.
Recommendation 6 – a) The Home Office should devise, implement and review a comprehensive learning and development programme which makes sure all its existing and new staff learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons. This programme should be developed in partnership with academic experts in historical migration and should include the findings of this review, and its ethnographic research, to understand the impact of the department’s decisions; b) publish an annual return confirming how many staff, managers and senior civil servants have completed the programme.
Recommendation 11 – The department should re-educate itself fully about the current reach and effect of immigration and nationality law, and take steps to maintain its institutional memory. It should do this by making sure its staff understand the history of immigration legislation and build expertise in the department, and by carrying out historical research when considering new legislation.
I would urge you to investigate both Gus John’s response to these recommendations and his unfolding historical and contemporary analysis of ” a string of human rights and equality act violations, which need to be addressed”. See the full piece below.
Wendy Williams’ report paints a picture of a government department where the political and electoral agenda of the party in government drive the formulation of immigration policy and the implementation of immigration legislation. It is a government department displaying fault lines on a massive scale, including managerial incompetence, an opaqueness if not complete absence of organisational values and a culture which undergirds the ideology of racism upon which immigration law making is constructed.
At the base of all that is systemic racism in the society and successive governments’ failure to put racism and the urgency of engaging with the legacy of empire high up on its political agenda
In the light of her findings, the evidence of the suffering that has resulted from the hostile environment and the continuing implications of the impact of implementing immigration policies upon the black/global majority, the government must be pressured to do three more things in addition to William’s 30 recommendations:
- pronounce an immediate amnesty be pronounced, thus allowing all those of the Windrush generation who were in the country before 2014 to stay and be given the necessary documentation
- set up a body to examine the genesis and provisions of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts in the light of the Williams’ findings and make proposals for annulling or amending them
- take immediate steps to kick start consultations on state reparations for the enslavement, genocide, dehumanisation and exploitation of African people and the continuing underdevelopment of the former colonies in which their descendants were abandoned by Britain, especially after it became a key player in the European Union.
Professor Gus John is a lifelong campaigner for children’s education rights, a visiting professor at Coventry University and associate professor at the UCL Institute of Education. In 1999, he co-founded the Communities Empowerment Network (now INCLUDE, which he currently chairs), a charity that provides advocacy and representation for excluded students and their families. He was the first black director of education in the UK (1989-1996) as director of education and leisure services in the London Borough of Hackney.
Following on from my last post, ‘Is anti-capitalist youth work next?‘ Gus John’s complementary, challenging perspective focuses in particular on the authoritarian threat to Black Lives Matter, whilst also questioning sharply what he describes as ‘the alternative provision industry’.
In this wide-ranging interview on the Institute of Race Relations web site, veteran educational campaigner Gus John draws connections between initiatives currently pursued by three government departments (education; children and families; culture, media and sport), and lays out what the government has in store for anti-racism, particularly Black Lives Matter.
Gus John: In summary then, this is the increasingly authoritarian state trying to tell BLM ‘we’re coming for you’. They are letting black campaigners know, we want to put you on the Prevent list and treat you as enemies of the state and of wider law-abiding society.
This, I fear, is the thin end of the wedge as far as the drift into totalitarianism is concerned. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but it would not surprise me in the least if at least 50 percent of the strictures that have been introduced as a consequence of COVID are not written into law to hem us in for all time, thus curtailing many of our hard-won freedoms, while civil society feels it has to be similarly authoritarian, snooping and snitching on neighbours and seeking to criminalise every single non-conformist behaviour.
So, we must never fail to be vigilant and to see the connection between these seemingly consensual things. Above all, we need to take collective action and demonstrate to Boris Johnson and his government that we will not stand by and let them harass and curtail the freedoms of Black Lives Matter.
Professor Gus John is a lifelong campaigner for children’s education rights, a visiting professor at Coventry University and associate professor at the UCL Institute of Education. In 1999, he co-founded the Communities Empowerment Network (now INCLUDE, which he currently chairs), a charity that provides advocacy and representation for excluded students and their families. He was the first black director of education in the UK (1989-1996) as director of education and leisure services in the London Borough of Hackney.