It has been a long time since my last piece of writing, since this time we have had a whole array of controversies, from SOPA and ACTA threatening the safety and openness of internet content, through to the economic devastations of Greece, Portugal and Italy, through to the mass release of secret government information from the likes of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, to the ever increasing cuts to public expenditure by the Coalition Government of the UK including cuts to policing budgets and cuts to local government budgets which in turn have led to almost the complete centralisation of funding for local arts and community projects. We also seem to have forgotten, like so many of the campaigns that came before it, including Make Poverty History and FairTrade, the fight against Joseph Kony, and the fight against Robert Mugabi and the fight against other tyrannical regimes, as if our own financial issues somehow give us the right to forgo our principles on the international stage in regards to the UN Convention on Human Rights. The campaign against Guantánamo Bay, fought so vigilantly by Senator and President-elect Barack Obama, seems to have been forgotten by the now elected second term President of the USA. That we have repeatedly shared the G8 and now G20 platform with countries such as China and Saudi Arabia without any remorse or sign of repulsion for the totalitarian regimes that these countries inflict on their civilians though it were only a few years prior that our liberal minority, which is now part of the UK Government, was calling for those in power to speak out against such regimes. They are now those in power. Where is their voice? Where was the no vote on the replacement of Trident? The no vote on increasing Student Fees? Where was the compassion and fairness when the Church of England was legally forbidden to marry same sex couples though other denominations and other religions are given this freedom?
We seem to live in a world of undulating and cyclical focus whereby we, as an electorate, are so often distracted by fabricated fears and controversies that, when we begin to unravel them, we find are nothing more than superficial exaggerations designed to distract us from some government policy change or some previous, equally hyped up, superficiality. We have been accepting, for far too long, "steps in the right direction" that repeatedly seem to miss their destination. We want to find renewable energy sources and yet we are now debating fracking natural gas from rocks. We want fiscal security and yet we are STILL borrowing money that we cannot afford to pay back. We want a safer, less nuclear world, and yet we are talking about renewing our nuclear program. When, at what point, will we give up this nonsensical approach of doing the wrong thing and yet expecting the right result?
Lets just take a look at Education to highlight this point. Recent changes to the UK Education system have attempted to align it more closely with the Grammar School Model whereby gaining knowledge of large amounts of raw data and remembering vast amounts of this data is deemed the primary purpose of schooling rather than the knowledge of how to interpret/re-encode data or formulate your own data, which is considered the primary purpose of the newer comprehensive model. On the surface this may appear simply to be a difference in approach, two different schools of thought that achieve the same objective, however they are not. One is a draconian system which has already been tried and is opposed not just by those teachers who are new to the profession, but by those teachers who had to follow this prescribed methodology for years and by its previous students who are now the parents of the children for whom this arcane system has once again been prescribed. This system was originally operationalised in 1946 and has since had very little revision. The other method is one of comprehension, whereby focus is put on the understanding of data rather than its retention. This method follows in conjuncture with most modern child psychological theories on learning and behaviour as well as is compatible with other creative learning and phenomenological learning strategies such as the phonetic method of literacy education championed by Montessori and the holistic contemporary methods being developed by Steiner Schools. Sir Ken Robinson has repeatedly spoken about the importance of creativity and innovation in formal educational settings, that in the Grammar model success in examinations relied not on the child's talents and skills but on their regurgitation of trivia. Patrick Awuah goes further to say that creativity and Arts Education in critical to forming the true leaders of tomorrows world, in terms specifically of creative arts and not just the arts history so often excused as art classes under the aforementioned model. Yet is the UK increasing its use and acceptance of the recommended comprehensive model which is advocated by nearly all educators including our own Universities? No. Instead we are blindly following the moronic method condemned by so many because it has been chosen by our own infallible Michael Gove. A man who is not an educator, not a lecturer, not a person for whom any of his decisions affect except maybe the light irritation of the occasional protester. But we must not fret, for whilst he maybe winding the clock back on most mainstream educational institutions to a time of tyrannical cane wielding and the endless recitation of mildly useless information , he is also a great supporter of "free schools" which are schools run by Educators free from the influence of Local government and the National Curriculum, provided they meet the educational standards set by Ofsted. These schools are also advocated by almost all educators provided they are correctly audited and inspected and it is here that we find that over-used cliché "its a step in the right direction"! Really?! Well if you feel that a group of 24 schools, three of whom Ofsted regard as "require improvement" and one of which has been deemed "inadequate", are the saving grace by which the rest of the poorly made educational policies can be counter weighted against it might be worth remembering that there are 3,268 mainstream secondary school institutions in the UK educating 7.2 million students each year that are being plunged back into the dark ages of church-mentality teaching. A "Step in the right direction" is a far cry from arriving at the correct destination and "a miss is as good as a mile".
I now turn my attention to the legal case of Bradley Manning. It is very clearly written in the UN Third Geneva convention that prisoners still have certain rights including the right to adequate food and water, the right to humane treatment including the prohibition of humiliation, public curiosity and intimidation towards them. All of these rights were broken by the US when several members of the Senate, including the speaker of the house, publicly announced Manning as a traitor who should be on trial for treason and killed. By saying "and killed" they had already assumed guilt which people in such legal positions as Senators and House Representatives have no right to do. Furthermore, there are reports from friends with visitation rights to Manning that he was getting thinner and was looking unhealthy. In light of the aforementioned Guantánamo Bay and other prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base Prison and Shebarghan Prison it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that Mr Manning may have been subject to some loose form of starvation. If any of these claims are proven to be true (which in the case of public curiosity I hold to be self evidently true) any admissions or confessions are thus null and void because, according to the UN Third Geneva Convention which The US has signed in agreement with, they were coerced from Manning. This is a very clear case, this is not speculative theorising, this is universally recognised law which, if this were in any other country, would have Amnesty International crawling all over it. However, instead, Amnesty is supporting free speech not by defending someone who has used this right in one of its most important and intended forms (whistle-blowing) but is instead supporting "Pussy Riot's" right to stage a punk prayer. Whilst it would be counter-productive for me to condemn Pussy Riot to the pit that Vladimir Putin has destined for them, I do think that Amnesty should prioritise Bradley Manning's case as his current sentence could be as much as 136 years imprisonment, which is quintessentially a death penalty. BUT don't worry, at least he hasn't been actually given THE death penalty... and as such once more that ugly phrase rears its semantic face "its a step in the right direction"...