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Home > Politics

Back To School With Tony and Mike

10 September 2004

School days are the happiest days of your life, so they say. Although Ian, from this contributor's class, may have disagreed on the day of his BCG injection when he was punched repeatedly on the arm by classmates until his pustule exploded in a torrent of blood, pus and tears.

For most of us, school involved varying amounts of boredom, intimidation, cross-country running, watery cheese-and-tomato flan (how did they make that? How did they get it so watery?) and terminal moraine. As if that wasn't bad enough, it seems politicians are planning to make school even more of an ordeal for future generations. Both Labour and the Tories have their own idiosyncratic ideas about education, and see no problem in projecting their own daft fantasies onto a system that, fundamentally, is about learning enough stuff to avoid becoming a council roadsweeper.

Most recently Michael Howard promised to 'free' children from political correctness, as though they're being kept in Pol Pot-style re-education camps where they're not allowed to sharpen their pencils lest they become intimidating phallo-centric symbols. This is bollocks, of course, and what Howard has in mind
is wholly unclear.

Will teachers now encourage children to refer to each other using racist epithets? Or disabled children as cripples or Joeys? We can only assume that Michael Howard will be happy to be referred to in all future Conservative party literature as a 'Jewboy'. (And probably already is, on some of the weirder fringes of
Conservatism.)

Unsurprisingly, Howard is also big on bringing back competitive sports. We're not sure they'd gone away, except in the parallel universe of the Daily Mail, where Bosnian asylum seekers are pimping your cat while they're waiting for the DSS to deliver their latest BMW 9 Series.

But what are the actual benefits of sport? It keeps you healthy, so, yes, it does make sense to play sports at school. But cast your mind back to actually being at school. Sport wasn't necessarily character-building: it could be a ritual humiliation if you weren't any good at it. Dennis Nielsen, Stalin, Vlad the Impaler - has anyone ever checked if they were always last to be picked for the football team?

Howard even floated the idea that more competitive sport in schools would improve our future performance in the Olympics. Well, quite possibly, but it's not exactly the most pressing issue facing modern Britain. And is taking sport too seriously a healthy or realistic thing, especially when you're dealing with children? At this contributor's school, sport was frequently taken way too seriously, with the result that football stopped being fun for average-to-crap players, while good players were tacitly encouraged to nurse unrealistic dreams of becoming professional footballers.

Unfortunately, New Labour isn't much better when it comes to politically motivated dabbling in the education system. The list of curious ideas is endless, and probably began with testing.

Labour's obsession with testing started out with the entirely reasonable goal of measuring how well different schools were performing. But it rapidly got out of hand, and we can only imagine that as the new term starts children will immediately sit tests to determine what level of testing they will be tested at in the new term. To improve exam results, the crap ones will then be weeded out and set to work making dove-tail joints or learning how to use a forge, both highly marketable skills if you happen to live in Medieval times.

Testing is also surely linked to the unproven New Labour philosophy that public services will magically improve if they compete with each other. This management strategy has been tried before, by one Adolf Hitler, when he disastrously got different branches of the military to compete. Hitler ended up killing himself and having his corpse doused in petrol and burned, which should raise questions about the effectiveness of this policy.

Then there's this curious flirtation with faith schools and traditional uniforms, designed to make it easier for local yobs to identify potential victims. Parents (and paedophiles) may like charming little St Trinian's uniforms, but they're not particularly bothered about God: what they're really hoping is that a traditional or faith school will have better discipline and smaller classes than their local comprehensive. They'd send their kids to a Hamas school if they thought it would help them get into a good university.

And just recently one prominent head teacher said that coursework should be scrapped because pupils can simply look up stuff online, copy it out and promptly forget it. It pains us to mention it again, but one of Tony Blair's great ideas from years back was 'a computer for every pupil'. Why? It's as though New Labour still buys into the dotcom revolution bollocks years after everyone else realised that former boo.com employees were reduced to selling 5 blow-jobs round the back of King's Cross Station.

Education is too serious to be left in the hands of politicians. Quite apart from the need to pass exams that can have a huge impact on your future, school also takes up a massive chunk of your life. It's surely not hopelessly nave to suggest that school should engage pupils, rather than being a results factory, and maybe - dare we even mention it - be fun?

No. School should be about ludicrous technological fantasies that seem to owe more to Johnny Mnemonic than reality, and extremely competitive (preferably brutal, for extra character-building value) sport.

'Please sir, I've forgotten my kit. Can I be excused from Rollerball this week?'

'No, you can play in your underpants. Now go and kick little Johnny to death.'



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