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Monday, February 23, 2015

When will we learn not to trust politicians on education?

The ban on parents taking their kids out of school for holidays during term time is a classic Tory divide and rule tactic. It is wrong, unfair, and a risible example of the sort of collective punishment we seem to lap up in the UK for reasons that defeat me.

As we, the 'plebs', argue about the rights and wrongs of the issue (and quickly start throwing accusations about poor parenting at each other), the Tory toffs remain immune to their own divisive dog-whistle politicking.

Taking kids on holiday abroad - or indeed in the UK - is a costly business at any time of year. But outside of term time prices leap up thanks to our wonderful 'free' market system that allows companies to profiteer whenever the inelasticity of demand increases.

These rocketing costs hammer the least well off but have zero effect on the rich. If you earn a six-figure salary and have a heathy sum in the bank, a few hundred quid extra means nothing to you. You can afford to go on holiday whatever the bill, wherever the destination. But if, like most people, you're on a regular wage, the difference can determine whether you actually take a holiday or not.

Supporters of the ban point out that going abroad is not a human right and education is more important. But since when did travel not represent education? Are we really saying a week in a foreign country has no educational benefits to a young mind? Really? Is it better to learn about, say, Spain from a book - or to go there?

And since when did our state system get so good that missing a week or two made a massive difference anyway? Be honest: would a fortnight out really be impossible to catch up on for an averagely bright kid? I really doubt it.  

But here's the other key point. This ban is a blunt instrument that hits all parents when in reality the problem of repeated pupil absences is down to a minority of problem families. Most responsible parents want their kids to go to school and don't want them to miss classes unnecessarily.

However it's true that in life there are, sometimes, competing needs, pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages (you get the drift). A short vacation that expands a child's horizons might only be affordable in term time and financially unreachable during the official school holidays. In such a scenario, is it really in the kid's interests to force them to remain at school doing their times tables instead?

The bottom line is this: if the politicians want to ban parents taking their kids out of school during term times, fine. But make it fair. Regulate to ensure holiday companies can't hike their prices to exploit the situation. Or, better still, invest sufficient money into state schools so they have the same resources and garner similar results as the exclusive private sector educational establishments that most of the Cabinet attended. 

They won't do that though because the last thing they want is for the oiks like us to have what they have: power, money, and real freedom. And the cash to pay for such an investment isn't available in the Treasury in any case - it's in the bank accounts of the multi-national corporations that refuse to pay taxes on the vast profits they make in Britain.

If people were really concerned about the education of their kids they would demand real change and an end to the obscenity of rich politicians sending their kids to private schools (thereby entrenching nepotistic power structures) while the rest of us have to move house to get our kids into schools that Ofsted optimistically deems not to be complete shite.

In the end it comes down to who you think knows what's best for your children. Our deceitful, hypocritical, well-off politicians - or you. You don't need to have gone to school to work that one out - it's a no-brainer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Piers Morgan is 'with the science'. So why aren't you?

Piers Morgan has declared he is “with the science” on the issue of climate change.

The journalist and broadcaster’s response to a question posed by this blog on Twitter seemed unambiguous.

But it wasn’t long before some people opted to interpret his answer to match their own skewed views.

It seems that while Piers is able to accept the science, many others would rather trust their own bizarre prejudices, or the propaganda of the organisations that make vast profits and wield huge power through the control and sale of fossil fuels.   

Despite human-caused global warming being “the ruling paradigm of climate science” (see here for more on this), there are still countless bar-room experts, contrarians and conspiracy theorists who refuse to accept that it is happening.

Many of these individuals base their denial on the belief that a so-called 'green blob' has some sort of sinister agenda and therefore must be making the whole thing up for their own mysterious ends.

What these ends could possibly be isn’t clear. What is glaringly obvious though is that any accusations about the propagation of agenda-driven pseudo-science should surely be leveled at those who are really pedaling misinformation about climate change.

As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out on an edition of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher last November (2014): “The truth of the matter is that the oil companies and the coal companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on a disinformation campaign.”

And the top climate scientist James Hansen told the BBC: “The deniers want the public to be confused.”

Watch #GreenCrap NOW!

Why is it that so many people believe that reasonable, rational guys like these are wrong at best – or liars at worst – when they should be aiming their scepticism at the obvious target: the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel industry that has so much to lose from a major switchover to clean, renewable energy sources.

This issue is really a no-brainer. Even if you disregard the science, it surely stands to reason that we should be looking towards a future that minimises waste and pollution; a future in which we develop and use clean energy and fuels that don’t have damaging by-products.

There is another well-worn point to raise here. If those who are campaigning for drastic action to halt climate change prove somehow to be wrong in the future, what exactly will we have lost by switching to renewable energy sources and creating new green industries? Nothing. We’ll have built a sustainable future for our children, created new jobs, protected biodiversity, and emasculated regimes whose appalling human rights records are wilfully ignored by Western nations desperate for their oil supplies.

On the other hand, if the deniers are wrong and climate change accelerates, as predicted by James Hansen and many others, where will we be then? We’ll be living on a planet that becomes increasingly uninhabitable. Ocean levels will rise, severe weather will become the norm, flooding and famines will devastate vulnerable communities, governments and economies will buckle under the strain.

Why would any sensible person take a gamble on those outcomes? They wouldn’t. So, like Piers Morgan, I’m with the science. 

You should be too.