Monday, 20 August 2007

Immigration and Multiculturalism

Immigration is always a hot potato so lets make one thing clear. The vast majority of us are immigrants. This island has a history of immigration from the Romans, the Angles, the saxons, the Vikings, the French to more recent history with immigrants from the West Indies and Africa. But we are a small island with a finite set of resources and supplies and a growing indigenous population and a changing demographic towards smaller family units (largely due to the break up of families and the increasing incidence of single parents, but that's a different rant). We should not be afaraid of controlling immigration. It should also be noted that immigrants fall into 3 categories. Illegal immigrants are people who enter or attempt to enter the country without proper authorisation, they have therefore commited a crime and should ideally be deported or failing that imprisoned (though this still means receiving state support). Though this may seem harsh to many if we rigidly applied the rule it would discourage illegal immigrants from trying to enter in the first place. The second group are asylum seekers, those who fear persectution within their own countries. Humanitariansim suggests that these people should be dealt with with kindness and compassion. However, I am baffled by the number of asylum seekers who manage to pass through many other 'equally' humane and democratic country before reaching the UK. Why should we be singled out as a destination for asylum seekers? If it is part of some international quota then this would seem reasonable as long as the quota has been worked out fairly. However, it does also beg the question at what point should the world take action against countries who are driving their own citizens out. The last group are those people who come to this country because we have employment opportunites that are not met by the indigenous population. Though this begs the question "why are there so many unemployed in the UK?" As part of the European Union we should embrace this economic immigration. However, it does seem strange wneh we are training so many health professionals, who then can't find work that we still require immigrants, from many countries around the world to fill healthcare positions. None of this is about racisim, but it is about nationalism. Which brings me to the second point.

Multiculturalism does not describe a nation. Every country has its own culture, which no doubt borrows and absorbs from other cultures, particularly as a result of immigration, but this simply alters the defining culture. The idea of multiculturalism encourages differences to be placed at the fore, the things that make us different become the defining lements and this leads to ghettoism and racism. America is one of the most multicultural countries in the world and is also one of the most racist. Culture is not based on skin colour or ethnic ancestry, it is based on collective beliefs and shared values. The things that make us 'British' should be shared. However, the idea of Britishness is also one I would argue against. The reason for this is if you ask a Scots person what it means to be Scottish I am sure they could define a set of shared values and beliefs. I would expect a similar ease of response from a Welsh person and allowing for any politcal ideology I would expect the same from an Irish person. So what is wrong with talking about being English? Why has the idea of Englishness apparently been so hijacked by the far right that people feel unable to talk about themselves as English without fear of being accused of racism. For me being English isn't about the colour of your skin, it is about a sense of self and yes it may involve some of the idealised imagery that John Major referred to. What's wong with having nostalgia as part of a collective culture - what's so great about society today anyway?

It is important for the country to have a rational, sensible discussion on immigration that does not focus on easy targets and fall back on the rhetoric of The Sun. It si important to have a debate about culture that recognises not diversity but sameness. That isn't to say that people can't be different, that is what makes them interesting, but it is not what makes a culture, and culture helps to establish a fabric for a society

Tuesday, 14 August 2007


A lot has been written about reality TV being cheap TV, dumbing down and encouraging unrealistic expectations. Certainly programmes like Big Brother, which allow non-entities to become famous for being non-entities suggests that life is simply a popularity contest. While programmes such as X-factor and pop-idol bring out a multitude of people who have no talent, but have gone through a system which does not allow for the idea of failure (lack of competitive sport, lowering of standards for testing, over-praise without any suggested improvements) and as a consequence these people believe they should get through just because they want it.

However, to dismiss all reality TV on this basis seems to be missing a number of stark, yet simple lessons that can be learned about the idea of discipline, and most importantly self-discipline. Before giving examples I am happy to acknowledge that all the following are put together as entertainment and not social experiments (except where the process exists outside the TV programme) and that like all such programmes suffer to a greater or lesser extent from clever editing to make a point.

Take Brat Camp (which exists outside the programme). The ethos of this institution is the establishment of boundaries and the development of self-discipline. True the environment allows a harsh reality check to be imposed with little opporunity to turn away, but it does take some of the teens a while to give in and some do return to their bad ways after the programme (though the success rate seems pretty high). For me the most important part is when the teens are able to reflect on their actions and the consequences and there seems to be a genuine realisation that the two are connected. From this point onwards they are much better equiped to deal with the tasks they are set and there is a sense of achievement at the end. For all that this is a TV programme, the success of the camp begs the question why can't we set up similar schemes over here.

Or how about "That'll Teach 'Em". Run over 3 series it took children out of the modern educational environment with its liberal, childrens rights based teaching (no uniforms, calling teachers by their first names, informal teaching etc.) and placed them in a 1950s Grammar, a 1960s secondary modern and lastly a 1950s style school where the focus was on the different learning styles and abilities relative to sex. The 1950s school was particularly good at showing how rules, or boundaries, whilst initially rebelled against came to be welcomed because they provided clear guidance to pupils and enabled them to focus their efforts on more productive activities. The 1960s school helped demonstrate the benefits of a flexible education system that took into account the individual needs and abilities of students, in particular those who were more vocationally gifted, and were able to gain a sense of achievement through lessons such as brick-laying that they had never experienced before. The final programme also illustrated that boys and girls are different and helped reinforce the benefits of single sex education.

All three series made the children work hard, enforced discipline, provided punishment and gave clear boundaries. At the end of each series it was clear that for the vast majority of pupils the experience had been a positive one and that they not only responded well to the discipline but had more respect for the teachers because of it.

Lastly I'd like to mention Lads' Army/Bad Lad's Army/Bad Lads' Army: Officer Class and to focus on the last two in particular. Young men in the early twenties are perhaps the most dangerous group in any society, particularly if they feel there is no future for them or if they have become drawn into a routine of bad behaviour. Okay, so these blokes volunteered, a few bailed out before the end and perhaps some where not quite as 'bad' as they were made out to be. Even so, what came through, allowing for the excess of the military environment, was the way they responded to (harsh) discipline and through tis were able to develop self-discipline and as a consequence by the end of each series were able to address life with a more positive attitude, having overcome adversity and proved to themselves waht they were capable of achieving.

There are other series that contribute to this debate but for the moment I'd like to dwell on just one aspect, the relationship between discipline and self-discpline. For the moment children are born they need clear sets of rules, that are explained and that are applied rigorously with identified punishments. Children also need to be taught to empathise, to understand how other people might feel in a given situation. Of course they also need to be praised to help positively reinforce 'good' behaviours, but this alone is not enough. As Monica Geller once said "Rules help control the fun", without rules there is chaos, or worse, anarchy. We must trust in those we employ to enforce the rules (which initially should be parents) but we also need to give people the tools to be able to do the job. This means proper parenting classes that deal with the moral and social guidance of children; allowing teachers to impose proper discipline; identifying authority figures and giving them the respect that their position deserves.

At the moment we seem to live in a society where many parents do not know how to bring their kids up and by the time they get to school they believe they can get whatever they want just by being bad, they have no respect for authority and do whatever they want. They grow into unruly young people who are selfish and lack self-discipline. They want everything and they don't want to have to put any effort into getting it. As they become young adults they live their lives without thought of others or the consequences of their action. As adults they find it difficult to hold down relationships and spend much of their lives in needless confontation. To do nothing means allowing this situation to become the norm and to have 'fear' as the main motivation in all our actions.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Children Carers

We are often seeing in the press the figures for children playing truant from school. There are two things that arise from this, 1) why do the children stay away? Giving them presents to attend is not the way. The education system has to "educate" the children into giving part of themselves to the school and its activities. They need to invest in their own education.
One of the remarkable and courageous things I have ever seen was a new headmistress asking her school children what they actually wanted to be taught. It was a revelation including subjects like Japanese. Attendance started going up. The main problem is that children have lost a sense of belonging. It is why the gang culture is so predominant. The gang becomes a surrogate family and education.
There is too much emphasis placed on the academic, though the new skills campaign is a good start it is too little too late. The destruction and deregulation of industries which traditionally had apprenticeships has over the years forced the education system into believing that academic qualifications are the only way. On a bleak sink estate its about survival not about the Romantics or algebra, its about trying to get off the estate with most of your soul in tact, and often skills are the only way to do that. But its also about having pride in what you do. School kids will have an enormous confidence boost if they can do something which puts them on a level with their academic contemporaries. Ask yourself could your carpenter create an apprentice piece that was an exam in the past?
and 2) children carers. These are children as young as 8 in some cases who have to look after one or more parent. These children have to take on the role of parent and mean while be a child. It is obvious that any child is going to suffer from stress, exhaustion and eventually they will go truant from school. I recently read an article which stated that one child had not been to school for two years and no one noticed. What we need is support for these children and there are a lot of them, the official figures say 170,000 but the unofficial say nearer a million, plus they need a joined up social services.
All of the departments of the health, education and social sevices should have a single set of rules of which the top one should be the care of the child on the child's terms. If they are taken away for "their own good" the amount of guilt and feelings of failure will only cause problems later on in their teens and early adult years. If we can help now then it will create good citizens for the future.
There is too much reliance on strict procedures. Where is the human being in this paperwork? Sometimes a person with emotions and fears and stresses and pain who needs help gets lost as a section in the procedures manual. Lets start talking about people not statistics. Lets ask what people in need want and what can help them. We complain that children today don't know how to communicate, well it seems neither do governement departments. I mean its really difficult isn't it to pick up the phone, send an e-mail or even a letter?
On the idea of education, should we have individual qualifications? With the passing of Michaelangelo Antoionni one the great artists if not one of a very rare breed of film maker in that he was a poet of the screen, but and this is the point he trained to be an art historian. Eisenstein on whom all the truly great rules of cinema were based trained to be an engineer. Surely one of the ways to get children to invest in their own future is to get them to choose the subjects they want and not follow some archaic pathway. If they create their own curriculum and timetables don't you think this may be the start of them actually having a slice of the resposibility for their own future? It gives them the choice of career they want to take up not one in which it is expected they will go.

Friday, 3 August 2007


At last someone has come to their senses about having men teaching in primary and junior schools.Children of all ages need to have some form of positive male role model. At the moment the nearest things they have are football players who seem to glory in their own thugishness and are paid huge amounts of money. Why should they stay at school and learn and work when they can do nothing, except be a thug. These young children are in a world where fantsy rules. They believe that if you shoot someone or attack then its ok. Why shouldn,t it be after all they do it every day on their computer games or they see it on the films. Any young person of any age, be it as young as five or as old as 19, who commits an act of violence on another should be made to go and spend an evening at A&E, to see what does happen and the consequences of their actions. I don't blame them, because they have been given power without being taught responsibility. To kill someone not only takes away their past but also their future and the part they play in others futures.
The demonisation of men which seemed to last forever has finally proved to be false, though the Chris Langham trial has probably confirmed the fears of many. I remember articles in womens magazines saying that men were no longer needed, the future was all female, but now it seems that is not so. I never believed it anyway, simply because the same magazines were always stating one week that men needed to get in touch with their femine side and then the following week that women need a real man. Education changed so that more girls could achieve more. Fantastic but at the expense of boys. Now finally the experts, are saying that the teaching system is not working for boys, so they are going to have to change it. Brilliant, go to the top of the class. Next year, the experts will say we need to get the playing fields back so that the kids can do an hour a day sport, but haven't they been built on because the schools were so underfunded that they had to sell them? When are the experts going to start living in my world and not rely on a cross sample which has answered a questionnaire that has been devised to get such an ambiguous set of answers that any conclusion can be reached?
Since the idea of the role of men has changed from the breadwinner to more equal partner, which I think is a positive state, though not it seems in the eyes of the judicery where men are always it seems regarded with suspicion where children are concerned.this has been covered by a specific high profile celebrity so I will not dwell any further. We find that women are taking on the male role a little excessively, such as road rage, binge drinking and street violence. If thats what they want to do then great, but lets not throw stones at the men shall we, when we want to do the same thing.
I may have mentioned this before but its still an important message to make; if a person,(male or female) is arrested for causing a disturbance due to drink, then they should be fined, but not just the standard £80 plus costs, but also the wages of however many policemen it took to subdue them, the cost of the van to take them to the station and the hourly rate of the desk seargent. So assuming it takes 5 policemen to subdue a miscreant and put him/her in the van, then assuming it costs £20 per policeman thats £100, plus another forty for the van plus another £30 for the desk seargent plus the £80 pound standard fine plus the court costs, we are looking at a fine just short of £500. A good night has turned into an expensive one. The idea of being arrested as a rite of passage becomes a serious one. It may also if not paid affect their credit rating.
By the way Britain has more people in serious debt than any other place, well is it any suprise? We also have the highest rates of any country. Why do credit cards have to be at a different rate to the banks. I realise they are bleating about the amount of debt they have to cover, but then if they dropped the interest rate they might find that their customers would pay more than the minimum and pay it off quicker.I do get fed up with their bleating about how hard done by they are, yet I've yet to see a credit card compnay go bust or have their offices reposesed. They made the rules now they want to change them because the free market policy they had isn't working.
If we stopped living with an idealised or demonised image of the world then maybe we wouldn't need half the stuff we have, we might spend less and actually have a good quality of life. I find it shocking that someone should murder another human being for their mobile phone while in other parts of the world they are dying for a want of clean drinking water.