Public Libraries in a fascistic country

The first Library at UWA. I also sat exams in the Undercroft - bottom floor.

The first Library at UWA. I also sat exams in the Undercroft – bottom floor.

One of the things that distinguishes an educated, well read and intelligent country is its reverence for and preservation of learning in science, literature, research and creativity. The repository of collections of the recordings, writings and other media relating to these lies in Public Libraries, University Libraries, Archives and Museums.

On a national level, all countries have central collections of archives; publications are held and stored; thanks to people like Dewey we have systematic ordering of all our publications held in central libraries; universities have many libraries devoted to the writings and other recordings of different disciplines within their purview. This is good and a comprehensive record of human achievement. It sounds grand, maybe grandiose on this level.
When we come to the humble local public library, many of which serve communities within our countries, there is a lesser sense of grandeur and more a sense of how much do these small repositories of literature and research materials cost to maintain.

Well … to my mind, it matters not how much the monetary cost of maintaining public libraries. It matters that these public libraries are maintained and developed for the benefit of the populace. It is one of those educational and social repositories that all communities need.

So it is with dreadful distress that I have had to read this:

One of the best places to spend constructive time.

One of the best places to spend constructive time.

Quote: ‘ Nearly 350 libraries have closed in Britain over the past six years, causing the loss of almost 8,000 jobs, according to new analysis.’
In a country that prides itself on its supremacy in education, erudition, science and research, it is dreadful, to me, that the UK can elect to spend £167 billion on renewing a nuclear weapons facility and warheads in an age of ‘austerity’ while allowing our cache of public libraries to be halved. And, of course, that is not all to be decimated, halved, privatised or otherwise fucked.

Now we all know that we will never be consulted on whether or not Trident should be renewed and that is because the Westminster Government is beholden to the US and the US dictate what we will do in Defence spending in the UK.
But it is of absolute concern to me and many others that the education system (or should I say systems) is in utter disarray. We have so-called ‘faith schools’ burgeoning out of every city, ‘academies’ – otherwise known as the privatisation of schools – being snapped up by private groups and companies eager to get their grubby fingers on the largesse of funds being offered by our cash strapped government.
Besides, the control on the standard of education is slipping away like a greasy rope in the hands of those who no longer seem to care. Not that you would know it if you were to listen to the bleatings of the ultra right wing press that operates in the UK.

No – everything is fine so long as we agree to Westminster’s selective austerity programmes and tighten our already anorexic  belts and suck it all up.
Back to public libraries: my wee library is in Glenwood.

The Kid's Corner of a great wee Library

The Kid’s Corner of a great wee Library

A friendly place with good staff and a warm (I mean under floor heating) environment for us to access, use computers, wifi, borrow books, order books for borrowing and/or just sit and read the daily papers. It is what is called a community hub for the local catchment and the old folk who enjoy a blether, a good read and some comfort. There is a cat – a fixture and the whole atmosphere is one of welcome. The kids use the computers, the oldies read the papers, the not-so-oldies borrow books, DVDs and audios. In short it is a good place. I use it a lot. I often sit in the comfy armchairs and just read my current book.
This library is scheduled for closure and demolition. Apparently it is one of 16 public library closures in the next three years in the Kingdom of Fife. Fife Council is charged with making some £813,000 savings – partly because there is a reduction in the funds our non-independent Scotland receives from the Westminster Government.

So public libraries – to be fair, savings are being made across the local government board (even employees are being ‘retired’ – some 2,000 of them in Fife. It does make me wonder how often local government recruiting is used as a sliding indicator for national employment figures. God I am so cynical!) – and there are other areas in which ‘savings’ are being made. And, this is not the first time Fife has closed public libraries but I wasn’t living here then and didn’t know.

To target libraries is one of the most counter-productive actions I can think of. It is not just dear Glenwood suffering – new Council housing is in the offing in the Glenwood area  and that means more young families. Fife Council has closed two public schools – thus over loading the poor school charged with taking the educationally orphaned students – it is across the Kingdom that these 16 library closures are happening.

Scotland has been a country of villages since its habitation by humans. It is so linguistically insular that you can tell the difference in speech within a few miles and a different village. The libraries that operate in these villages are far more than an operational budget item. They are the hub of small villages. They are the meeting place for the local people.

In the early 2000s, there was a directive in international standards that required a triple bottom line in accounting.  Called the 3BL, it is an accounting framework that incorporates social, environmental (or ecological) and financial bottom line figures.  It behooves companies to adopt this framework but it would appear that many haven’t bothered. I surrendered a directorship in an agricultural co-operative because the rest of the Board wouldn’t address these criteria.

What is happening now seems to me to be a refusal to understand the social, environmental impact of financial decision making. If it is recognised at all, it is ignored. We have a burgeoning global population and a seemingly fascistic central government called Westminster. At the very  least, Westminster under Tory rule is aping US republican libertarianism. I have said before that the Tories eat Ayn Rand for breakfast every day.

Mind you, my friend in Australia is very sympathetic and also very pissed off – he sees the same thing happening in Australia and so I think – what on earth happened to the socialist left wing politics that put people before profit? That developed welfare safety nets, state funded secular education and a health system for all? We all seemed to gravitate to that in the 1970s and (sort of 1980s) when we were aware of our fellow man. What happened to all that? I do know the answer, of course. Globalisation happened and we knew it was on the door step in the 1970s. But it doesn’t stop me asking the question – what happened to our humanity? It seems to be dying as so many species are dying weekly, slowly etching out our own demise. What has it all been for? Our smarts have been our downfall and ultimate extinction. What a fucking waste!



Mediocre Failures

I read this blog article with sadness and total agreement. Gove in the UK and Pyne in Australia are disasters in Government and are totally hopeless in dealing with their portfolios,

‘So, Gove, Morgan, and any other cloistered, uncomprehending Central Office SPADs who had a hand in producing this execrable policy, and that quote in particular, let me tell you what failure is. Failure is an adult who, through ignorance, stupidity, laziness or a simple callous lack of empathy, happily labels the most vulnerable, disadvantaged children in the country as “mediocre failures” simply because you haven’t the wit or humanity to care about the impact on them of a policy which will make their educational experience narrower, less useful, more soul-destroying. And for what ? A cheap headline in a propaganda rag.’

Indeed. I couldn’t say it better myself.

Disappointed Idealist

My children are adopted. They were adopted at the ages of three, four and six. As with nearly all children adopted in this country over the last couple of decades, this means that their early life experiences were pretty terrible. As each was born, their collective experience of life became more damaging, as their circumstances worsened. So the eldest is least affected as her first years were perhaps less difficult experiences, while the youngest is most affected, as her entire first two years of life were appalling. I’m not going to go into detail here about their specific early life experiences, but if you want to read up on the sort of effects which can result from serious neglect or abuse, then you could read this .

Why am I writing this ? Especially now after midnight in the middle of the Easter holidays ? It’s because I’m so angry I…

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Grayling Hall & other private Education Establishments

Well, the brouhaha about private colleges either for-profit or not-for-profit seems to have calmed down as the media find new snippets to beef up.

For the week or ten days that the New College of Humanities was on the front pages and in the blogosphere, there seemed to be a totally polarised set of irreconcilable views. I should know; I live in a household that is polarised over this issue.

So let’s look at what the issues are.

Education should be free – at least at the point of use. Well, yes. What a great thing and we all agree. Of course, ‘free’ means the society pays the taxes and capital investment to construct buildings and laboratories, to run, maintain and pay salaries and fund research and development and issue scholarships; monies all coming from the public purse.

There are private bequests and other private funding in that monetary mix. We still have some philanthropists. As we are often told, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And tuition scholarships impose an obligation, often not understood by the public, on the recipient of the scholarship largesse.

I grew up in an era where secondary school and tertiary education was free. There were private faith-run schools/colleges and there were excellent state-funded and state run schools which the majority of students attended and matriculated from. At that time there was only one university in my state. Good university, good reputation; free tuition.

My father was one of the first science graduates from that university in the 1920s and neither he nor his family could have afforded fees. He was a scholarship boy from the Goldfields who was very bright. However, he fulfilled the promise and did end up as Dean of Science before he retired and he was part of the Medical School that inaugurated in 1958 at his home university. Quite a roll call I thought (and still think so).

I am not sure what proportion of secondary school students made it through entrance screening criteria in the mid 1920s. I have found that less than 2% of 18 years olds attended university prior to the Second World War

By the time I went to University, the figure had risen (so had the global population) to about or less than 10%.

Currently the figure is in the region of 38% to 43% (and global population has leapt forward exponentially) and I believe that this is, in part, due to that sleaze Tony Blair postulating that at least 50% of school leavers should undertake Higher Education.

In order to make all this sound mighty fine, entrance criteria and examination standards had no choice but to change and it was a downwards slippery slope. Tertiary institutions were encouraged to upgrade themselves and wear the mantle of ‘university’ to bring them into line with the society’s desire to become ‘educated’ at proper institutions.

The then current idea was that globalisation was a good idea; that globalisation would lift the poorer countries up the income and GDP ladder and that the high end of rich countries needed to educate their youth to take advantage of higher technology and education per se, ie to become smarter. So, all would benefit. And there is no doubt that that benefit is demonstrable in improved living standards and GDP growth in poorer countries.

There was and is no problem with what Blair was saying and I remember that the same thing happened in Australia and the pundits who drew up education curricula and syllabi had the weasel words to go with the push to fool students into thinking that there would be enough high paying jobs for University graduates. Well, to be fair, maybe they thought the jobs would be there. And that external fee-paying students would shorten the funding gap by paying hefty fees.

Of course, as technology advances through industry and less human power is needed to produce at least the same as before, the jobs were supposed to come from the upper end of the private and public sectors.

Well, those jobs appear to have not happened in the numbers predicted and most certainly not in the areas that need them most. Teachers are still undersupplied as are nurses, but lawyers and accountants are in oversupply. And immigration has helped to supply employment fodder for the jobs that the wealthy countries’ population no longer feel they should have to undertake. There is a bit of hubris here.

None of this has stemmed the flow of secondary students into tertiary education. So it sits at about 40%. And it is beginning to show the funding disparity and there is now a requirement that students pay at least something towards their education. The Americans have done this for years but, of course, the Americans don’t have the same societal safety nets that other western democratic countries consider part of normal advanced societies.

The difference between the old 10% and the current 40% means that there are less people working and paying the taxes that fund the tertiary institutions in those critical educational years, despite immigration

How does a society pay for about 40% of its youth to stay within educational facilities until the age of 23 or 24? With an ageing population on NHS. And the lowest infant death rate ever. And the best longevity rate ever. With a universal pension scheme. With a universal financial safety net for its citizens.

All these things are the hallmark of a fully functioning society, but it costs money. We do, after all, live in a capitalist society in concert with other capitalist societies. And although I think it will inevitably fall apart, it won’t yet. Not while I am writing and you are reading.

All this blog post was supposed to address was the private and public mix of tertiary education. I hope it has addressed some of the issues. The same is happening within the secondary education system and, of course, the faith schools in the primary education sector have always been apparent.

In all of this upheaval in education and its delivery to the populace, I really want secularity in education. My wish is that religious belief systems stay within their religious houses and stop trying to infiltrate educational establishments and that governments stop allowing themselves to be held to ransom by religion and its perceived influence

It is a delusion after all and the sooner we divest ourselves of our pandering to the religious numbers game, the sooner we will grow up. Then we may develop societies of which we could be justly proud. And we may survive our current misuse of our environment. Ah, well. Maybe, just maybe.

Burqa or Chadri Anyone??

These are called Chadri in Afghanistan

This burqa thing is taking on a life of its own and is coming under fire because its use is quietly spreading through other Arab countries. Why it is resurging has to do with political power, religious and cultural identity in both and non-Muslim countries.

This thing about the burqa is it’s only really a visible sign of male control and female oppression and fear. There is so much more in the way of disgusting and disfiguring practices that occur in countries that are not held to some sort of international (read developed) standards. These gross and revolting practices also occur clandestinely in developed countries. We often only hear about such atrocities via the underground press. Iran is trying to clamp down on newspaper reports coming out of that country. We know about a woman reprieved from stoning to death but we don’t know whether she will live.

It appears that the wearing of the burqa has been around at least since 200AD when Tertullian praised the modesty of the ‘pagan women of Arabia’ who cover not only their head but their whole face. Strabo, who wrote in the first century AD also refers to this practice of some Persian women.

The above is paraphrased from the Wiki article and I can’t see any reason to delve further into this arcane and antiquated practice by citing other articles. Wikipedia will suffice for this purpose.

It is enough for me to understand that, like many quasi-religious practices and observances, the wearing of the burqa pre-dates the beginnings of the religion it purports to follow.

Now I can sort of understand being part of a desert community that travels far and wide exchanging goods, pack animals and other livestock and bartering goods and services with other tribes and different customs, that there could be potential problems for parents with pubescent children. And, of course, these communities were fiercely patriarchal. And still pretend to be; but they are up against the rest of the world now and it is harder for them to  behave like petulant tyrants. They keep trying though and succeeding a lot of the time.

I can imagine that sex bartering could become a bit of a problem for the young, nubile and attractive women walking the highways and the byways with their families and with men who start getting horny. Masturbation is usually frowned upon by these archaic religions as well. And, of course, who needs to go blind in a desert:-).

There is always something about sex and its specific prohibition and/or constraint in these old desert-generated religions. It is always to do with sexual denial and secrecy. It’s a perfect recipe for heightened emphasis on sexual desire and satiation with sexual repression thrown into the already volatile mix.

Now that’s better!

Just walking behind a gorgeous young woman could get a horny bloke to thinking about sex. I can see that. Really, I can; young men as well as adults, otherwise known as grown men. Tut tut. Now it is just a matter of appropriate control exerted on one’s wants. Or duck behind a date palm.

So I can also sort of see the development of coverings like the burqa to keep the young women from being raped or otherwise bartered by unscrupulous men. Tut tut! The chadri as the Afghan version is called is also known as the ‘shuttlecock burqa’ because of the net mesh covering the top part of the face. The ascendancy of the Taliban made it a requirement for women to wear the chadri in public. It is not required officially and in Kabul its use is declining. Let’s hope this continues.

But come on! This is the 21st century. We still may not have grown up into our cortex yet and may still be ruled by our baser instincts in the old brain stem, BUT we do know enough to know that most modern societies will not accept out and out rape and some modern societies consider rape within marriage as a criminal offense.

Millions of men live, work and walk about in societies that allow women the same rights of living, working and walking around in clothing that doesn’t look like a post box. Statistically, few rapes occur. You don’t find men at every turn ripping clothing off women who attract them and raping them on the spot. It’s a bloody ridiculous assertion and not to be used as an excuse to keep women under wraps.

Looks better; still hard to see!! Haha.

So what is wrong with these blokes who insist on pulling some archaic ethical category out of the past and applying it to current society? Oh, and of course, using religion to give the concept authoritative validity. What a novel approach!

Has anyone got an answer to this question? They are just men after all; maybe not very well educated and not as exposed to other cultures as they could be but really! Surely they don’t anticipate getting their rocks off every minute of every day with any woman who shows a bit of skin or has a pretty face. Really? Are they that mindlessly driven? Really?

Education and Home Schooling

Educational standards have been slipping since I left school in 1960. In the 1960s, ‘educationalists’ introduced soft maths with cuisinere rods. It was to do with the new idea of eradicating rote learning and sounded good. It was also supposed to usher in a new time of teaching students to think for themselves and sounded good. There were other ‘soft’ educational measures that were adopted in the 60s. I was so glad I had been educated prior to these new methods.

I started teaching in 1972 and found that curricula had been dumbed down from the curricula under which I had been instructed. English language skills had deteriorated and letting the kiddies express themselves regardless of language skills took precedence. Discipline started to nose dive and continued to do so. Teachers were hamstrung and became stressed enough that their shelf life was less than 7 years before a nervous breakdown. Suicide among the teaching profession hit Number 1 in the suicide stakes (above that of psychiatrists) and teachers’ divorce rates skyrocketed.

It seems to me that this trend has continued. Home schooling became part of this trend. A lot of home schooling – the US has the highest home schooling statistics in the world – has to do with fundamental Christianity. Of course, the evolution segment in science classes then becomes embroiled in a religious divide. Fundamentalists and creationists have a faith-based set of beliefs that are just not acceptable in the wider community and within standardised curricula. This, of course, is why the US courts have always come down in favour of teaching science and not creationism (which is not science). The US needs to at least try to keep its educational standards as high as possible. It is slipping internationally and can’t afford much more of a slide.

The reason that state school curricula were set in place was to ensure a standard of education that allowed entrance to higher education institutions based on standard minimum educational requirements. Industry knew what to expect from graduates and trades people and were able to hire employees on that basis.

The trouble as I see it with home schooling is that the standard requirements as tested by the examination and grading systems of the state are not being maintained. Now, I can understand (given that standards have been slipping for 50 years) that some parents want more for their children. If such parents can demonstrate a superior level of education and an ability to impart information and learning skills to their children, then they could apply to educational standard authorities to home school their children using the curriculum laid down for a standard education. Their children would undergo state school grading examinations to ensure the educational standards of the wider community were being met within the home schooling system.

But, and it is a big but, these home schooled children are not required to sit state set examinations. In some countries they are, but my understanding is that in the US they aren’t. So, imagine a home schooled student applying for entrance to a university to study for a Bachelor’s degree.

“Show me your school leaving grades and certificate of completion, son.”

“Sorry sir, I am home schooled and I haven’t got that sort of paperwork.”

“Sorry, son. This institution can’t accept undergraduates unless they have attained the standard on which we rely to enable your understanding of the material presented to you here. That means grades and the completion of a state education. We have an entrance exam that you can apply to sit and will have to pass before we can consider accepting you here.”

I don’t know how many times such a scenario would be played out. What a way to hamper your child in his/her pursuits. One thing that home schooling can’t supply is the daily contact between peers. Socialisation is not adequately served in such a situation. The end product is not socialised within normal parameters. All societies allow peer socialisation until adulthood/initiation.

Even in outlying areas where education is conducted via radio, a standard curriculum is taught and, depending on the country, term or annual residential schools are held for students to meet their instructors on campus and they mingle with their peers.

I have also noticed a tendency for people to impress on children just how ‘special’ each child is. This incessant ‘unique specialness’ that is drummed into the individual child without the levelling process of normal peer socialisation supplied in the school play yard cannot help but produce some adolescents who are ill-equipped to deal with the real world.

Countries that disallow home schooling include Germany, Spain, Brazil, Greece, Netherlands and China. I think we will see the poor results on the society as a whole as a result of the fractured methods of schooling that are appearing in the US. The country is ranked on the science scale at 22 out of 35 OECD countries and 18 out of 36 on general secondary education standards. This was in 2008.

However, the Wiki article on Homeschooling cites the educational achievement of home schooling parents as higher than within the normal population. In a 2001 study, Dr. Clive Belfield states that the average homeschooling parent is a woman with a college degree. I wonder what happened between that 2001 study and the fundamentalists that appear to populate the home schooling front now. The Wiki article just isn’t current enough to encompass the growth in the number of fundamentalists insisting on creationism and, of course, the greatly enhanced public face of atheism in the community.