Thursday, 11 January 2007

Branch Meeting: Education

I was so tired at tonight's branch. Too much swimming and early mornings obviously. I hope then you'll appreciate my struggle to bring a flavour of Stoke Socialist Party's weekly meet to life for your perusal.

It didn't begin well. Comrade H sent her apologies, leaving us lead-off less. Oh no! Thankfully SP comrades possess a commodity rare on the revolutionary left - an ability to think independently and critically without reference to a holy screed.

Yours truly had scribbled down a few notes beforehand and was the first to plunge in. I began by asking what education is for. Mainstream parties would answer education should be concerned with providing the qualifications and skills that can be traded in for jobs. The more grades and certificates one accumulates the better the job is at the end. Socialists have an altogether different idea. For us capitalist education is stunted. Compulsory education furnishes the basic skill set required by employers, but that's as far as it goes. A socialist education is about developing the whole person. Education should be empowering and enabling, we are for an education that encourages a flowering of humanity's creative powers. The vision of schools, colleges and universities as assembly lines churning out unthinking drones is anathema to socialists.

I then moved onto the history of educational provision, noting until recent times it was almost the exclusive property of the ruling class. Historically education served to cohere this class as a class, and by-and-large the same applies today. Who can deny the top institutions bind the privileged together by inculcating a common culture and outlook befitting a class born to rule? The unspoken assumptions of this culture informs education policy in the state sector too. If one submits to the rules of the educational game then the road is open to social advancement - the accumulation of grades can be likened to an accumulation of (cultural) capital, which can be exchanged for economic capital (rates of exchange vary between types, or sub-species of cultural capital - an accountancy degree holder has different prospects to a sociologist, for instance). On the other hand if you refuse to abide by the rules of the educational game you won't get the qualifications and chances are a future of low waged, low status jobs await. The system thereby haphazardly meets the requirements of capital, albeit in a manner that is chaotic and riven with conflict.

N chipped in recalling his partner's job in Further Education and the strains she faces because of the government's mania to privatise everything in sight. G and M came in on the decisions about courses students have to make. The drive toward the vocationalisation of Higher Education means large numbers of students do not choose courses they're genuinely interested in. Instead their decision is informed by career prospects. Add ludicrous amounts of tuition debt to the mix then the pressure is on degree courses who do not deliver any appreciable vocational goods.

A spoke about his FE workplace. There the once lively college community had crumbled away since the administration suspended 'recreational' courses, that is programmes without 'progression' into a job-related outcome. This effectively amounts to an attack on working class people's right to creative self-expression. In addition, by accident or design the emptying out of class rooms erodes the cohesiveness of the communities that use them by robbing them of places where they can come and meet.

L, a former union official, pointed out his previous employers managed to secure European money to assist the retraining/reskilling of redundant workers. Though such efforts should not be sniffed at entirely, he argued it lets the union bureaucracy off the hook. They hold their hands up and cry 'globalisation!'. "There's nothing we can do to prevent overseas jobs outsourcing", they winge. The union is left to forlornly mop up the social devastation capital leaves in its wake, never once thinking it ought have fought 'globalising' moves in the first place. He also asked why don't the bosses have a responsibility to the workforces they abandon? If capital requires new skills then shouldn't it be the employers that pay for retraining, rather than the taxpayer? Instead the union is reduced to an agency recruiting workers to these courses, having abandoned its role as an organisation of working class self-defence.

Coming back on some of what had been said, A suggested education can raise expectations that cannot be met within the confines of capitalism. See for example the student revolts of the late 60s and early 70s in the West, coinciding with the expansion of higher educational provision. He also pointed out that not only is education presently limited, it can barely meet the requirements of capital, never mind what is really needed. It is impossible to adequately plan the types of skills needed at any one time because of the blind anarchy of market competition. Only under a democratic socialist plan of production can this mismatching of resources and attendant waste be overcome.

Finally M drew the discussion to a close by reminding everyone about the NUS's upcoming day of action over fees. That means we'll be sitting in the middle of Stoke Road again ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A beautiful summary Phil.

After an excruciating week at the frontline, the branch is exactly what I needed to give me the lift back to the struggle, and tonight was frankly exceptional.