Classroom Warriors – Uncritical citizens examines government plans to send in the troops to Britain’s troubled classrooms.

The plan here is to encourage ex service men to retrain as teachers. The premise of the plan is that there are too many schools in which disruptive troublemakers are driving teachers to breaking point while other students miss out on a decent education as the ethos of those schools is ruined. The main question asked is whether troops can help restore discipline, leadership and respect in schools.

The programme seemed to spend most of its time focussing on the pros of getting ex military personnel into schools to instil a sense of ‘black and white’ military discipline.

The show starts off by looking at one inner city school where a handful of ex military turned teachers have managed to turn things around, and also makes a big deal out of the success in the USA where around 15 thousand ex-military personnel have become teachers and done their bit in some of America’s toughest inner-city schools. Apparently ex military stay on in tough schools for twice as long as regular teachers and get their students better maths and English qualifications.

To my mind this is yet another example of the BBC engaging in uncritical, right leaning journalism – the show was probably put together by ex public school boys who no doubt had fond memories of the cadet core at their fee paying independent schools.

Michael Gove - Who needs spitting image!
Michael Gove - Who needs spitting image!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to criticise ex military for doing a better than average job for pupils in poor areas – no doubt there is a better chance of them developing rapport with these children because, unlike your typical middle class teacher, they will share a similar background. Also I’m all for self discipline – I really am! I think it is crucial for students to learn this and, honestly, I think the self- discipline the military teaches is great for individuals, but there are a whole load of potential problems with Weasel Gove’s plans to get troops into schools.

The first problem is that the style of discipline you get with the military is a ”do as I say without questioning’ kind of discipline.  Now I’m less cynical than Leo Strauss – I don’t believe that 80% of the population are an unthinking heard who need to be controlled – but this policy smells of this idea – these kids, from the government’s point of view, don’t need to be able to think critically – they need to be taught obedience – great for social control and bad for those individuals.

Secondly, this programme does nothing whatsoever to address the underlying problems that cause discipline problems in schools in the first place – ie inequality, poverty, relative deprivation, social exclusion. While doing military drills may give disadvantaged children a sense of pride and identity in the short term – and improve their results – what are they actually going to do with their slightly better yet still way below average GCSEs – the government’s tax cuts are driving down the economy.

Thirdly, it will encourage more children to sign up for the military – at the end of the day anyone who joins the armed forces is basically signing up to engage in state legitimated violence – violence which has traditionally been conducted to serve British business interests (Oil in Iraq for example).

Fourthly – and this really concerns me – the government is clearly running this country in the interests of the top 5% – yet this seems to be a ploy to generate a sense of national pride amongst the bottom 5% – who could be put to use t control members  middle 90% who end up rioting against the government in years to come.

Fifthly, this is just a cynical attempt by the government to save money and save face – cut spending to the military – and pay for them to do cheapo degrees in 2 years or create new roles for them in schools as ‘mentors’.

Weasel Gove sees this idea as being a shining example of the spirit of the Big Society. For the reasons outlined above I see it as another example of an ex public school boy totally out of touch with reality.

The UK government thinks profit for the arms industry is more important than the spread of democracy

You could hardly have missed the wave of revolutionary protests against despotic regimes currently sweeping through North Africa and parts of the Middle East. Hopefully, you’ve been avoiding myopic mainstream news coverage which has increasingly focussed on the evacuation of British citizens ‘stranded’ in Libya – and instead been following via the much more credible radio 4 – or even via social networking sites The latest tweets can be found on this interactive map - although some of them have nothing to do with the protests!

The common theme in these protests is one of ordinary people collectively organizing to overthrow decades old dictatorships or monarchies that have used military force, threatened, actual, or both, to keep themselves in power.  What the people want, at long last, is an end to terror, what they hope for is freedom and democracy.

The most violent confrontations have been witnessed in Libya — and after days of struggle, Gaddafi’s days now seem numbered, and pretty much everyone except for the man himself and his cronies, seems to think this is a good thing. However, over the past 4 years the UK government has played a role in propping him up.

Two power crazed liars that couldn't give a shit about democracy

I’m sure you’ve all seen the video reruns of Tony Bliare pawing Gaddafers back in 2007. What you may not realise is just how much UK companies have profited since 2007 through supplying arms to Gaddafi.

According to the Daily Mail official figures show the UK Government approved at least 75 arms export licences to Libya since 2008, the year after Bliare hugged Gaddafers, licenses worth between £75million and £100million.

According to The Guardian – Between July and September last year alone the UK government granted or amended licences worth up to £182m to sell products to Libya, including “crowd control ammunition”, “teargas/irritant ammunition” and training in teargas/irritant ammunition. Since the election, British firms have sold crowd sniper rifles, tear gas and ammunition to Gaddafi regime.

Another thing you probably don’t know, British citizens, is that your own government, you know, the one you probably didn’t vote for, is extremely active in supporting the business interests of the arms trade in the Middle East.

David Cameron’s recent tour of the region, incorporating Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, highlights this close relationship between the government and British arms companies. The formal purpose of Cameron’s Middle East tour was to boost British business, strengthen security ties and promote political reform, but the fact that Cameron took eight representatives of the arms industry with him  – including reps from the companies  Rolls-Royce and BAe Systems, clearly shows that he supports the rights of British companies to make a profit over the democratic rights of the protectors fighting for their lives in Libya.

This is no surprise, given the importance the Tories place on economic growth and given the importance of the arms industry to the British economy.

ADS, the body that represents UK arms companies, estimates that UK defence exports are worth £7.2bn a year, half of which are sold to the Middle East. 


IDEX 2011 - British companies are well represented
IDEX 2011 - British companies are well represented

But British complicity in Oppression in the Middle East goes far deeper…

Cameron’s Middle East tour coincided with ‘Idex 2011′, the Middle East’s biggest arms fair in Abu Dhabi.  Cameron didn’t attend this in person, instead the British defence minister Gerald Howarth  lead the British delegation

The show of arms was choreographed for the benefit of thousands of arms dealers in dark suits and sunglasses, who marvelled at how it was all synchronised to a booming hip-hop soundtrack. Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets from the British company BAe Systems is the largest deal to be made.

Selling arms to the largely undemocratic Middle East is huge business – altogether, the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait — along with Jordan are set to spend US$68 billion (49.6 billion euros) on defense in 2011, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan. Their spending is expected to reach nearly US$80 billion in 2015.

According to Schnews, the UK government is really gung- ho about getting behind the arms industry –

‘”The Government’s arms promotion unit, UK Trade & Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) will be exhibiting at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), The UK arms industry body Aerospace|Defence|Security (A|D|S) claims that 10% of exhibitors will be from the UK and says “our sizable presence at IDEX 2011 shows that we mean business.

One obvious question that springs to mind is this – should our elected representatives be so vocal in supporting the arms industry when there is such an obvious link between the arms industry and political repression?

The answer is just obviously – a resounding NO! These recent events clearly demonstrate where the Torie’s real interests lie –they are clearly not interested in peace or social justice – they are interested in helping big business make even huger profits – even if this means trampling on democratic progress.

What makes me really angry about all of this is the layers of hypocrisy David Cameron is demonstrating – he claims to support the protests in Libya and yet his government has agreed millions of pounds worth of arms sales to Libya, and he claims that government should be reduced in size –  and then invests time and our tax money in supporting the arms trade.

An excellent site for more info on the extent of the British Arms Trade is CAAT – or Campaign Against the Arms Trade. You can sign their petition stating that you think it is not OK for British companies to sell tear gas etc. to despotic regimes.

To end with – a quick list of comments against the arms trade from the CATT website – all of which I agree with –

“Why should we put up with losing jobs, money and educational opportunity when you are still propping up our arms export industry?”

“What really saddens me is siphoning off so much of our best scientific brainpower into the overblown activity of the arms industry.”

“Selling arms to dubious regimes is not just immoral; it’s idiotic. Actions that destabilise any region make the world a more dangerous place for us all and undo any progress made through our humanitarian efforts.”

“The barbaric practice of producing and trading ever more lethal weapons makes a mockery of this country’s claim to being a humane advanced society

Sarah Waldron Campaigns Coordinator at CAAT said:

“It is astounding that the government is still insisting it has a responsible arms export policy while, in the same breath, admitting that it was happy to supply authoritarian regimes with the means to crush dissent. Far from seeking to restrain arms sales, the UK government actively promotes them . While this policy stands there is no prospect of meaningful arms control

These Tories really are the worst kind of scum.

Video resources for Global Development

Bruce Parry’s Tribe is just great for illustrating ‘traditional cultures’ -(the Hamar episode is especially good for how ‘cultural barriers’ may prevent ‘western style development’) –  the web site has a wonderful overview of the two dozen tribes Parry’s stayed with over the three series, including a nice map that zooms in on the specific area. Annoyingly enough I’ve presently mislaid by DVD box set, especially annoying as, being a law abiding citizen, I can’t download the entire first and second series for free from here.

Unreported World is just terrific for illustrating ‘problems of development’ – it selects the the most awefully harrowing case studies  from around the developing world –  I subject my tutees to these once a week – so far this term we’ve covered child rape in Liberia and Child gang Killers in El Salavador. Next week we look at Child Labour in India and Toxic pollution in the Amazon. Perfect for depressing the crap out of 18 year olds. Just be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that these case studies are in anyway representative!

Some of the episodes have unfortunately gone missing from 4OD – once again it’s a shame I can’t use this link to download the entire 21 GB back catologue for free

Aid Dependency and Neo-Liberalism

Totally unobjective!
Totally unobjective!

A quote from Dambisa Moyo’s highly selective and poorly referenced populist book on aid-dependency could equally be a critique of the neo-liberal culture she perpetuates …The quote…

‘Unfortunately, unfettered money (the prospect of sizeable ill- gotton gains) is exceptionally corrosive, and misallocates talent. In an aid-dependent environment, the talented – the better education and more principled, who should be builing the foundations of economic prosperity – become unprincipled and are drawn from productive work towards nefarious activities than undermine the country’s growth prospects. Those who remain principled are driven away, either to the private sector or abroad’

With a quick rewrite it becomes a critique of neo-liberalism 

‘Unfortunately, unfettered money (the prospect of sizeable ill- gotton gains) is exceptionally corrosive, and misallocates talent. In an unregulated, neo-liberal economy, the talented – the better educated and more principled, who should be builing the foundations of economic prosperity – become unprincipled and are drawn from productive work towards nefarious activities than undermine the country’s growth prospects. Those who remain principled are driven away’

As to the book’s reviews on Amazon – clearly lots of idiotic right wingers have been using it to stoke their biases, hence it scrapes over 3 starts, but I’m with this review –

“I felt that Moyo used the most insidious form of manipulation by presenting only the facts which support her theory, conveniently omitting or playing down information inconsistent with her argument (e.g. Botswana). As a scientist, I want to see all the facts laid out on the table and hear a well informed thesis; this is not the case with Dead Aid.”

What is The Human Development Index?

Australia has the highest HDI in the world - that alone should make you suspicious its validity
Australia has the highest HDI in the world - that alone should make you suspicious of its validity

I’ve developed a new appreciation for how crazy the HDI is as a measurement of a country’s development. Thank the lord they don’t apply the same sliding scale criteria to educational achievement in this country – oh, hang on, they do! Anyway – here’s some info on the HDI….

The Human Development Index is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.

Human Development is now measured using four indicators

  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Mean years of adult education adults over 25 have received
  • The number of expected years of education children attending school can expect
  • Gross National Income per capita (PPP)

The UN (who monitor Human Development) give each country a rank from between 0 and 1 based on how well it scores in relation to ‘constructed minimum’ and ‘observed maximum scores for each of these criteria. The minimum and maximum scores for each criteria are as below

  Minimum scores* Perceived maximums
Life expectancy at birth 20 83.2
Mean years of adult education adults over 25 have received 0 13.2
The number of expected years of education children attending school can expect 0 20.6
Gross National Income per capita (PPP) 163 108, 211

(*This is the level below which the UN believes there is no prospect for human development!)

How does the HDI work out a country’s score? – it’s quite easy – if a country has a life expectancy of 83.2, and all the other maximums, it would score one, if it had a life expectancy of 20, and all the other minimums it would score zero. If it was half way between the minimum and maximum – it would score 0.5 – NB by the UK’s standards, this would be a pretty low level of human development!

So what do the scores mean?

Well a country scores 1-0.788 it’s has ‘high human development’ and is classified as a ‘developed country’ – as are 42 countries – most of the European countries come into this category.

All the rest are classified as ‘devloping countries (the figures are rough!)

  • A score of 0.785 -0.675 means a country has ‘high human development – eg Mexico and Brazil
  • 0.670 – 0.480 – Medium human development – eg China and Botswana
  • 0.48 and lower – Low human development – eg Ethiopia.


This site is great for doing the comparisons! – the UN data site – you can mash the data up and do loads of stuff –

You get a feeling for how HDI is changing over time….


Or you can break up the data and compare two or more countries… (click on it – it’ll enlarge!)

btsw china

It’s worth noting that there have been some changes to the HDI this year – !

‘Access to knowledge’ used to be measured by the adult literacy rate and combined gross enrolment in education – but because many of the world’s developed nations have reached 100% in both of these – this meant there would be less room for discriminating between the most and least developed nations (NB – This is one of the biggest problems with the HDI – because it is a relative scale – they just go on moving the goal posts – thus some countries will always appear underdeveloped… one could argue that having 100% literacy and enrolment is enough of a development goal in education – rather than the idea of spending a longer time in education as being desirable?)

Standard of living used to be measured by GDP per capita – but is now measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in PPP US$. While GDP is a measure of economic output, it does not reflect a country’s disposable income—some profits may be repatriated abroad, some residents 2  receive remittances from abroad, and in some cases inbound aid flows may be sizeable. GNI adjusts the GDP for these factors and is therefore a better measure of a country’s level of income.

Also, the United Nations is now going to report on an even greater range of indicators of development than ever before – this post from the Global Sociology Blog has more… talking about the new focus on inequalities within developing nations – which is something that Hans Rosling also talks about in this video – great for visual graphics showing development!!!