Sunday 30 November 2014

The truth about white vans.

White van man-gate has made me chuckle. Labour now seem to approach the issue of class as if they were tip-toeing their way through a minefield. Much as the liberal left used to (and often still do) when it comes to the issue of race. In both cases it is symptomatic of a profound detachment from the group they are trying to speak about. So regardless of whether it is  well-intentioned patronising or blatant snobbery, there is an in-built self-destructive impulse for Labour politicians to make  complete twats of themselves.

Miliband said that Emily Thornberry's recent tweet taking the piss out of a white van and St George's flag in Rochester made him 'absolutely furious'. Much more so apparently than the constant onslaught on ordinary people from the ConDem's austerity programme or UKIP's vicious xenophobia aimed  to split the working class vote.

In an uncharacteristically passionate speech, Miliband says in defence of the St George's flag that whenever he sees it he thinks immediately of Shakespeare and Henry V. Really Ed? I think you protest too much. 

These days there is no denying when most ordinary people see it, they think at best of English football -  and at worst they think of the EDL.

And of course there's ambiguity in all of this. 

It turns out that Thornberry herself grew up in a council house - unlike Ed who was a card carrying member of the chattering classes from birth. Then in a PR salvage exercise it was revealed that her brother is actually a builder - and there's a photo of him having a cuppa in the cafe wearing his hi-viz waistcoat. But hang on, it turns out that the brother is also an award-winning photojournalist. 

And as for all that talk about Islington-ites - only someone who has never actually been to Islington could talk that way. Come to the Hillside estate just up the road from my school - or look at the statistic that half of the children in the borough live in poverty. Despite building the spiritual homeland of New Labour, Islington is still, like much of 'gentrified' London, fundamentally a working class area.

The truth is that class is complicated: Working class 'culture' is complicated: Some of it is positive, that sense of solidarity and community - and sense of humour - that the poe-faced middle class will never get. But other aspects of it - such as ignorance and bigotry - are frankly just shit and depressing. And it's OK to say that.

Saturday 29 November 2014

School trip to Auschwitz

I know the history. I've read the books. I've watched the documenatries. These days I even teach the history. 

But none of that prepared me for walking under the 'Arbeit Mach Frei' gate at Auschwitz. Or arriving at the railway siding in Birkenau in the   pitch dark and driving rain.

To describe what can be seen at the camp would reduce the experience to something far too ordinary. In fact it is the brief glimpses of the ordinary amongst the horror that are the most shocking. The single recognisable plait of hair in a room full of human hair. The odd pair of impractical high heels in a room filled with  battered utiliarian shoes. Or amongst the corridors of grim prison photos of the murdered - the occasional cheeky child, glamorous woman, or defiant and cocky  tough-guy. 

But most of all I have never been anywhere were the sense of place is so  overwhelming. Just the   un-remarkable brick buildings themselves ooze something that eats into you. 

Throughout the tour of Auschwitz we were fitted out with headphones and a receiver through which our guide delivered her commentary. For about an hour and a half I found myself complete absorbed in the place and my own thoughts and unaware of anyone else.  And when I did look around me, I could see that the fifty 17 and 18 year old too-cool-for-school, savvy London kids we had taken on the trip were equally absorbed. So much so that by the time we had made the short trip to the Birkenau site we didn't even need the headphones to achieve the same effect.  And then the next day the same thing happened when we went round the former Cracow ghetto , visited the Schindler factory, and met a survivor.

When you're fiddling the key stage three data input in order to demonstrate progress over time, or sitting through a CPD session listening to the latest SLT pedagogical initiative whilst everyone is ignoring the fact that it is an 180 degree turnaround from the initiative we committed to last term - it is easy to forget:  Sometimes,  just sometimes, being a History teacher is the best job in the world.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Strike !

This is the third day of me being on strike. One day last week - and now two days this week. 

Not national strikes with a day-out in central London and a few pints in the afternoon - but a proper local dispute against the school management and the local authority, complete  and some vicious national and local press coverage. And with all the fall-out and personalised bitterness that comes with it.

Not striking for pay or pensions or 'standing up for education' but over a really fundamental principle that employers do not get to chose who they negotiate with. Even bloody Boris accepted that he had to deal with Bob Crow. And what employer or manager  would not  like to negotiate with a representatitive who wasn't 'confrontational'?

Anyway - if you want the details of the case, it is well covered over here.

You'd think that after all these years I'd be immune to the lies of the press and the fuck-wittery that it produces in some people. Even so it still makes my blood boil to read some of the crap over at the Mail Online. Apparently it has come as complete revelation that such a thing as paid union facility even exists - or worse still - that unions sometimes pay strike pay. 

Saturday 1 November 2014

That time of year - again

The problem with blogging for a number of years is - just as it is in the real world - of repeating your rants. The same shit riles me repeatedly  - and often at the same time of year. So look back over the years and most Novembers you will find a post about Remembrance.

The centenary of the Great War this year - and the cynical might also add - the on-going military involvement of the Western powers, has given a boast to the increasingly flag-waving and misappropriation of history that now passes for Remembrance. And filling the moat at the Tower of London with individual ceramic poppies to commemorate each British and Commonwealth soldier killed in WW1 is possibly the most spectacular expression of this. 

A misappropriation of history with a multiculturalism that may suit the militarist liberalism that is Blair's legacy but which is deeply flawed: In 1914-18 there was no 'Commonwealth' - only an Empire; the same British Empire that was still to approach its zenith in the 1930s. 

I doubt  many members of the Chinese Labour Corps - not trusted to carry weapons but used for heavy manual labour - were motivated by a sense of fellowship with a community of nations defending democracy from Teutonic autocracy. 

In Ireland and India where men volunteered in droves - many did so on the basis that supporting the Mother country was a prerequisite for being granting nationhood. Their optimistic trust was to be betrayed by the British at Croke Park and Amritsar.

Even in Canada, Australia and New Zealand where their status as white settler states had secured the privilege of being Dominions rather than colonies, men volunteered in their droves to prove a point and secure nationhood. At the price of the slaughter at Vimy Ridge and Gallipoli.

It is no accident that this rewriting of History is happening at a time when the West is again trying to build a consensus - if not an actual coalition - in defence of 'civilised values'.  The Great War was many things but it was not a voluntary crusade - it was a war of conscripted masses and subject nations - whose sacrifice was nothing more than a tragic waste. 

Stick that on your memorials - and maybe then I will wear a poppy.