Realsociology

For committed sociology, against neoliberalism

8 Reasons Young Britains Don’t Fight Back?

Posted by Realsociology on August 3, 2011

Excellent  recent post from Alternet with the above title – very useful updates on the continued relevance of what the A2 syllabus broadly calls ‘Marxist Theory’ – It basically argues that there are 8 ways in which the system socialises youth into being passive and unconcerned so there is no belief among the young that they can (even if they believe they should, which is rare) change anything… even with the increasingly obvious social injustices in the West - the most obvious being the fact that the rich are getting richer while the poor suffer.

The article has a U.S. focus – below I outline the ’8 reasons why people don’t fight back’ andconsider the extent to which these ’8 ways are true in modern Britain, adding in a few further pieces of evidence, drawn from a few books I’ve read and my experiences of students I’ve taught. So are there eight reasons Young Britains don’t fight back include -

One – Debt – University graduates starting out in life with thousands of pounds of debt are too concerned about losing their jobs to get involved in protest.

Impossible to tell at the moment how this will play out in the future in the UK – the government only recently introduced hefty tuition fees. I’m not convinced that debt will act as a passifying force in the future. To be honest, I’m broadly optimistic about the future of protest in the UK and its possible beneficial effects on our democracy, although, the biggest challenge is to actually translate critque into alternatives – and broader economic alternatives for everyone rather than just focussing on the student debt issue. Something I’ve yet to look into is mass debt-default/ not-paying movement as a possible strategy to bring down the elite - kind of like is occuring in Greece.

Two – Psychopathologising and medicalising non-compliance

This is where any behaviour that is critical of the system is deemed to be a sympton of psychiatric disorder. To be honest I don’t think this is happening in the UK to the extent it is in the US -  I only heard of ‘opposotional defiant disorder’ through this blog for example. What is happening though is increasing police powers have lead to people being arrested for ‘suspected’ anti-social behaviour, and the now near-ubiquitous use of kettling could turn people off protest, although there are some encouraging signs of students at the recent fees protests who witnessed kettling and have been turned against the government and very much onto protest. 

Three – Schools educating for compliance rather than democracy. Drawing on Jonathon Kozol, the author argues that ‘School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.’ (This seems to a timely return to Ivan Illich’s ideas in deschooling society NB- I think blogging etc. could well be quite close to the ’learning webs’ at least as far as humanities are concerned that Ivan suggested as part of his education-altertative)

I’m in basic agreement with this. While the the citizenship agenda widely taught in UK schools offers critically minded teachers the opportunity to teach about direct action etc, more often than not citizenship is a lame excercise in getting students to accept their client-role in UK politics.

I am also frequently dismayed at the gaps in students’ knowledge know when they start A levels at 16 – I remember last year that only about four students out of forty (this was in the A2 year!) had a basic understanding of the process of global warming – I really don’t think it should be my job to teach this stuff!

Four – No child left behind/ Race to the Top – The title here isn’t overly clear – this is a critique of ‘testing culture’ in education. The author says ‘standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority’

This is most definately happening in the UK – a number of my colleagues (I teach 16-19) have complained of students turning up to revision lessons with a ‘revise me’ attitude. As if spending time on revision classes rather than actual teaching wasn’t bad enough, students now expect to be guided through revision step by step – . The deeper cause of this is of course an education system dominated by league tables in which teachers are encouraged to ‘teach the test’ -  Students have learnt that what matters is their exam performance (their relative exam performance even!) rather than the subject matter itself.

I’d also say that schools are increasingly undermining students’ ability to think critically by pandering to short attention spans and pushing what I call ‘edutainment’ (See Frank Furedi’s Wasted) - teaching through popular game activities – which further reinforces the passive-consumer identity –  although I might er be guilty of this myself!

FiveShaming Young People Who Take EducationBut Not Their SchoolingSeriously. This is where the government equates just being at school and completing school with a minimum standard of qualifications as an indicator that you are a ‘valued member of society’ who is ‘heading for success’ – the other side of this equation is to damn and even criminalise those people who are not in school or who do not finish school.

In the UK the gradual expansion of the ‘education life-cycle’ – children now start younger and within three years will have to stay in some kind of education or training until 18 – suggests a similar trend towards the state pushing the value of education, as does the state’s right to imprison parents of truanting children.

AS to demonising those who fail – the term NEETS – 16-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training has also appeared in the last decade – the term being pretty much synomous with the roughly million strong young underlcass who have failed everything in school. These are seen as such a threat to society that government task forces have been commissioned to figure out what to do with them. (On this note there is a book I’m looking forward to reading that covers the demonisation of the working class more generally – ) 

Six – The Normalisation of Surveillance – Once again – yes yes yes – one of the most obvious trends in the UK – the most surveilled society on earth – just in college we have the crystal registration system, then a seperate attendance monitoring system, 4 interim reports, and parents evenings. These processes are all found in primary and secondary schools as well of course, all required for effective monitoring of progress. There is also a system in place which alerts authorities to ‘potential problem students’ before they start school so that they can be put into special measures when they start.

This excellent podcast looks at what students think of surveillance – it includes some pretty grim material of the inreasing use of cameras in toilets.

Seven – Television - well at least we don’t have Fox News! Not that it would matter because students aren’t interested in news. Here the author notes the pacifying effects of TV on students – well intuitively I agree that TV has a negative effect, very difficult to prove this of course, this reminds me of some nice research from 2006 - apparantly 1 in 6 young people think they have a realistic chance of becoming famous like someone off Big Brother – suggesting TV does matter.

I’m also convinced that, and Darren Brown had better watch out, that I can pick which students’ parents read the Daily Mail Comic after a month of listing to their views.

Finally, it is worrying how much students love watching videos in class – OK there are a lot of good documentaries for Sociology thanks mainly to C4, the Beeb and especially indepednents, but sometimes I think I could stick on any old nonsense and the students’s be happy. Getting them to disuss even the most basic points from a 20 minute vid is, however, much more difficult.

Eight – Fundamentalist Consumerism – the arguement here is that consumer culture undermines the ability of people to form solidaristic movements

Are students affected by consumerism? Well many of them are – interested in Fashion and expressing their identities through the stuff that they buy – but a number are also more than just consumers – I’m not so pessimistic about this – perhaps things are genuninly worse in the US?

Overall I’d say similar trends are occuring in the UK, but I’m not convinced that UK youth are as passive and consumerist as Americans – I think there’s hope for the future – especially when our elites are making such arses of themselves and such a bloody mess of our society.

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