Monday, 9 June 2008

Suffer the children

Today, a report to the United Nations on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) condemns the UK for treating children badly. This may come as a surprise to some but not to me. Since the age of about eleven I've been acutely aware of how badly this country treats young people. Since I've become an adult, and traveled more widely, I've noticed how other societies show more respect and love for their children. This is obvious to anybody who has spent time in France, for example.

We like to think we value children, and most modern parents certainly spend vast amounts (relative to their income) on them. But that is not the same as loving children and treating them with respect. The key issues identified in the report were: -

· A punitive juvenile justice system;

· Public attitudes that demonise teenagers;

· Lack of protection against physical punishment in the home;

· One of the highest levels of child poverty in Europe.

This is a very serious indictment of the society we live in. So what can be done about it? Well, we can start with our appalling education system, and I say this as someone who has worked as a teacher in secondary education. Its appalling because it is based on an elitist 19th century academic model which favours the rich and the middle class. All children suffer from this, including those who are educated privately, but the real losers are the working class and the poor. It is a system obsessed with testing and failing school students and one which pays no regard to vocational achievement. Look at countries like France and Germany - they have got it right - no wonder they are more successful economically and produce better adjusted individuals. They have kindergartens where young children learn to co-operate and socialise before they start to learn about other things. Then they have technical education where students can learn practical skills which are really valued.

Here, education is dominated by the malign, class-based influence, of the independent schools and right-wing pundits - the so-called experts. These people want us to return to the 19th century, where the children of gentlemen are sent to public schools and the rest are factory (or should I say free-market) fodder. That is their ambition for our children. It will be their children who are attending the public schools. Its just not possible to see how education in the country can ever be what our children deserve while it remains a political football dominated by reactionary views.

The overwhelming majority of kids and teenagers in this country are decent people. They are not delinquents. Those who are delinquents are overwhelmingly kids who have suffered deprivation. Young people care about the society they live in. Its about time we started to care about them.

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