This was a private post (got cold feet, though I might be being bad on teachers) but since Angela Tilby’s Thought for the Day and John Gaunt in the Sun – ‘Fire the Creeps Who Hate Our Boys – respond with a shared point (an isolated good point in John Gaunt’s case) about the good qualities found in soldiers, many of which are upheld by the government’s soft skills (‘life skills’, non- or less-examined skills like negotiation, trustworthiness, self-discipline, teamwork, unselfishness etc) agenda, and since I read the well-reasoned piece by a puckish David T on Harry’s Place on ‘Should Members of Totalitarian Parties Be Banned from Teaching in Universities?‘, I thought why not me. So here it is.
The army, navy and airforce came to my school’s careers fair. They were unsensational. At the time I thought of them as little better than murderers and relieved my fury by glowering in the direction of their stalls from a pointedly far-off distance. That was before it had dawned on me that my pacifism involved turning my precious moral back on any potential victim who doesn’t want to sit around idly waiting to be struck down by their violent aggressors.
Today the NUT voted for at least part of their messy Motion 55, titled simply ‘War’, and chose to support members who wanted to keep the army out of schools. It’s one thing to want to protect young people at an impressionable age from exposure to advertising for a particularly life-threatening career. But this NUT advocate of Motion 55 (and Socialist Worker Party member) put a different slant on it:
Paul McGarr, a delegate from East London, told the conference: “Personally I find it difficult to imagine any recruitment material that is not misleading. Let’s just try and imagine what that recruitment material would have to say were it not to be misleading.
“We would have material from the MoD saying ‘Join the army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people’s countries. Join the Army and we will send you to bomb, shoot and possibly torture fellow human beings in other countries’.
“Until then, I think that all recruitment material is misleading and should be opposed,” he said.*
To me the terms ‘imperialist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’, formerly the preserve of adherents of Communism, are these days tainted with the unreflective loathing of the United States and its allies – none more than Israel – and a promiscuous tendency to support any faction which stands in the way of their interests, no matter how reactionary and repressive. Hamas, Hesbollah, Al Quaeda, Ahmedinejad’s regime in Iran have all found favour with self-styled anti-imperialists. As Brett points out on Harry’s Place this week, anti-imperialist politics (as interpreted by StWC) regularly clash with other socialist politics, leading to a ‘totem pole’ approach to rights with, in the case Brett refers to, women’s and LBGT rights at the bottom. Moreover Hamas etc haven’t to my knowledge rejected imperialism – they’re not socialist and are probably aspiring monopoly capitalists and colonisers themselves (to my knowledge that is the definition of imperialism).
So when somebody uses the word “imperialist” in this way they reveal their anti-capitalist politics, but they don’t reveal anything about what they want for human beings, or how they feel about peace. Doesn’t need saying that everybody is wholly entitled to their political views – but the opportunity to push them on school pupils is removed from teachers by the 1996 Education Act (Section 5, Paragraphs 406-7):
406 Political indoctrination
(1) The local education authority, governing body and head teacher shall forbid-
(a) the pursuit of partisan political activities by any of those registered pupils at a maintained school who are junior pupils, and
(b) the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school.
(2) In the case of activities which take place otherwise than on the school premises, subsection (1)(a) applies only where arrangements for junior pupils to take part in the activities are made by-
(a) any member of the school’s staff (in his capacity as such), or
(b) anyone acting on behalf of the school or of a member of the school’s staff (in his capacity as such).
(3) In this section “maintained school” includes a maintained special school established in a hospital.
407 Duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues
(1) The local education authority, governing body and head teacher shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils while they are-
(a) in attendance at a maintained school, or
(b) taking part in extra-curricular activities which are provided or organised for registered pupils at the school by or on behalf of the school,
they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.
(2) In this section “maintained school” includes a maintained special school established in a hospital.
This is precisely the part of the 1996 Education Act invoked in Motion 55 to keep the MoD out of schools. So when Motion 55 gets support, with the blurted out word “imperialist”, from SWP members (and I could be wrong but it has all the hallmarks of an SWP motion), it suddenly takes on a tit-for-tat hue.
A little more about Motion 55. It is part of the crop of silly, time-wasting motions (such as UCU’s Motion 30 which explicitly legitimised antisemitism) which have the finger prints of the Socialist Workers Party all over them. 55 is a complete sprawling mess. It calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq (contra to the wishes of most Iraqis – see q22 of this February 08 poll), and blames the lack of resolution for 750,000 Palestinian refugees for ‘entrenching opponents of the world’s most militarised states in a conviction that real peace, democracy and equality are not what those powers aspire to in these more recent conflicts’. Well, for a start, there are not very many of the 750,000 refugees still alive It also objects to what it terms partisan Key Stage 4 materials produced by the MoD, claiming that they fall outside the law, but not campaigning to have them pulled but instead resolving to do the equal and opposite with StWC materials ‘mindful of the existing legal guidelines’. Nice sidestep, but signals muddled values. 55 also proposes that the NUT circulate some of the dreadful propaganda produced by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign amongst themselves – good luck to them.
The NUT resolutions aren’t available yet. I wonder whether the motion was passed in full. If so it would be interesting to see, given the clauses above, if StWC are capable of producing educational materials which would be allowed within a mile of a school curriculum. It’s strange that, given a lengthy objection to Key Stage if the MoD are outside the law, and they object to it on that basis, then why not campaign for the MoD stuff to be pulled…?