Classroom Warriors – Uncritical citizens

size0-army.mil-93640-2010-12-03-021226Panorama 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.

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