The Real Democracy Movement education working group has had three meetings so far. We have agreed that our next step should be a series of workshops that take up the key challenges for building a movement for real democracy. This is a summary of our discussions so far.
The education system does not produce citizens who know how to use democracy, or even know what it is. Civic education teaches the “authorised version” – that the system of democracy we already have is an unchangeable given and the best we can achieve.
Our role in politics is presented as a single action – the right to vote. Everything else is classified as “protest” or “campaigning”. In this way people’s power is limited, even non-existent.
This narrow view is passed down in schools, universities and teacher training. At the same time the state has imposed a monoculture of exams on pupils and teachers, which demands a way of thinking which is almost entirely uncritical.
Young people were outraged at the impact of the class-based algorithm that undermined their exam results. But the underlying issue is why do we have a class-based education system and why are exams – deeply limiting versions of education – the be all and end all?
A generation of young people is now thinking seriously about class society, inequality, racism and the destruction of the environment. And they have shown themselves ready to take to the streets to challenge these evils. But as far as the next step, the creation of a transformational movement that can take us beyond the class-based system – that is a tougher challenge and it will need a generation of critically thinking activists.
Schools in a straitjacket
Schools are as they are because of an active political decision on the part of the ruling class to repress democratic education, as part of the neoliberal project, and the marketisation of public goods.
Thatcher attacked the comprehensive system, reintroduced grammar schools and abolished large education authorities. Next, the creation of Academies effectively privatised secondary education in England. Blair and Brown extended academies enthusiastically.
Now 72% of secondary schools in England are academies, and 27% of primary schools. They are run like businesses, with hierarchical boards, “leadership teams” transmitting instructions to teachers, parents, governors and pupils, who have no real say.
And they are also failing businesses, loaded with debt and continuously forced to make cuts. A recent book by Professor Pat Thomson of Nottingham University highlights corruption, nepotism and financial mismanagement. (NB Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland have rejected the Academy model)
Schools and children are defined as “successful” or “excellent” or “failing” or “in need of improvement” and the real motto of the education system should be “resistance is futile”.
The brutal demands of exams
Pedagogy – the art and science of teaching – has made real progress in recent decades, in terms of how teachers teach and more profound understanding of how children learn. But fresh approaches remain underfunded and are continually under attack. The increasingly prescriptive curriculum is a straitjacket.
Progressive learning – you could call it learning to think or democratic learning – has been largely rejected by the Department of Education. The status of the exam, so beloved of the public schools, has been raised to the point where as education secretary Michael Gove made the exam worth 70% of the overall result.
Teachers are forced to become expert at gaming the system, for example telling pupils that a certain question is likely to be on the paper because it hasn’t appeared for some years. For those students who are not going to improve the school’s standing in league tables, there is the horrible experience of being undervalued, ignored, and often excluded.
Teachers are handcuffed to the exam culture, but freed from it they could exercise their knowledge and skills and be pivotal in transforming schools.
Where is our democracy going?
Every public service is on the point of collapse in our society after years of neglect and extracting money to hand over to the private sector. Education and health, local government and care services, are teetering on the brink; something very small could push any one of them over the edge.
It is hard to see how education can recover from the exam debacle. What on earth can politicians say to young people, that they will believe? How can the health system recover from the impact of the pandemic? Economic collapse and mass unemployment is months away.
Algorithms produced by right-wing think tanks are running large parts of our lives – technology is used to dominate people – and even in the face of the collapse of the economy it is a struggle to know what we can do about it.
But as things are falling round their ears, people are struggling to think of a way forward. The limitation of democracy to the single act of voting is so patently useless in bringing about any change that there has been a falling away in voter numbers.
The Real Democracy Movement (RDM) education working group has been meeting to talk about this challenge. We have decided to develop a programme of learning that revisits what democracy means, challenges the authorised version, and includes the need for democracy in schools and universities too.
We will investigate the history of democracy and the development of the state. We will show how the present is not inevitable and how change can come about. We will explore different methods of thinking and acting critically.
We are not education experts, but we believe it is urgent to create a programme of civic learning that arms people against right-wing ideas, conspiracy theories, anti-democratic algorithms, racism and the demonisation of groups of people. Only in this way can we prevent an descent into fascist-type rule.
We want to develop critical thinking about the world we live in. We will challenge both the authorised version and the fake news and conspiracy theories which are, in reality, just another side of ruling class ideology.
If you would like to be involved in this project, please get in touch.
Why you should become a Supporter of the RDM
You want system change because you:
– see how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the way neoliberal capitalism puts profit before public health
– want racial and social justice in place of state-sponsored attacks on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, refugees and migrants
– know how urgent it is to protect the earth’s ecosystems from further destruction and fight climate change.
– believe that the political and electoral system is broken and is driven by corporate and financial power.
We are heading rapidly towards authoritarian rule. The consumer-driven, debt-based capitalist economy is sliding into the worst slump ever.
We should remake democracy so that economic and political power rests with the people, who actively participate in the work of governing the country.
The RDM is working with others to build a Charter Campaign and develop a training programme. We are reaching out to co-create a framework to carry through the strategy of a democratic revolution. Be part of this project by becoming a Supporter today!