Monday, 24 September 2012 00:00
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has inspired changes in the way English students will be taught and examined. The general certificate of secondary education has been scrapped and a new qualification, the English Baccalaureate introduced to ensure only the best get to university. The aim is to produce a generation of whiz kids like Zuckerberg trained to outgun their counterparts in the global market.
Education secretary Michael Gove believes the knowledge economy is the future. “When Zuckerberg applied to college he was asked what languages he could speak and write – as well as English – he listed, French, Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek. He also studied maths and science at school. He would have done very well in our English baccalaureate. And the breakthroughs his rigorously academic education helped create are now providing new opportunities for billions.”
New Labour in opposition has accused the government of reintroducing the elitist grammar school system of the 1950s by the backdoor, discarding the 50 percent of students who don’t go on to university. This is rich. Labour in power created hybrid academies and subsidized “free schools” as part of a strategy to privatise and fragment education, devalue teachers and kill the idea of a comprehensive school for children of all backgrounds and abilities. The coalition now in charge has enthusiastically taken up the baton. The skirmishing is pure theatre – nobody in government wants a generally educated populace that is harder to fool. Malleable professionals, obedient technocrats and spare parts for the party machinery are needed.
Mr Gove claims he wants to develop reasoning skills facilitated by the study of subjects like history yet quite incongruously continues to promote faith schools – originally Tony Blair’s obsession. Although 90 percent of Britons oppose faith schools there is a fast-growing independent faith sector with hundreds of Muslim, evangelical Christian and Jewish schools. The government ignores the evidence that faith schools hinder integration and foster religious division. More pertinently all young people need the “reasoning skills” Mr Gove admires, to make sense of the matrix they once thought was a film.
By way of illustration, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist says an anti-Islam video on YouTube “does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats”. Muslims should look in the mirror at how their own media insults other religions. Friedman offers a sample of quotes from “hate-filled” videos provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute started by former Israeli intelligence officer, Yigal Carmon.
In April last year it seems a certain Sheik Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi issued a fatwa claiming, “It is permissible to spill the blood of the Iraqi Christians – and a duty to wage jihad against them.” I have not been able to trace a living version of the sheik but respected scholar Professor Norman Finkelstein cautions against reliance on Memri translations. Brian Whittaker in an investigative piece for the Guardian found that Memri highlighted articles that suited its agenda. “The danger is that many of the senators, congressmen and ‘opinion formers’ who don’t read Arabic but receive Memri’s emails may get the idea that these extreme examples are not only truly representative but also reflect the policies of Arab governments.”
Friedman’s assertion that the attack on the US embassy in Libya was prompted by the “Innocence of Muslims” video is the Obama administration line. NATO blames foreign extremists, CNN pins it on Al Qaeda, Turkey reckons it was sponsored by Syria, Israel’s choice is Hezbollah, the Sunni monarchs of the Gulf Co-operation Council point to Iran and Wikileaks says it was all about Julian. Journalists Mark Robertson and Finian Cunningham argue that Gadaffi loyalists in Libya’s ‘Green Resistance’ movement were responsible.
In February this year notorious Islamaphobe Pamela Geller appealed on her “Atlas Shrugged” blog for funds to help make “A movie about Mohammed: An Idea whose Time has Come”. The plan was to liberate those enslaved by the most radical and extreme ideology on earth. This week her provocative advertisement continuing the theme will be splashed across New York’s subway system. It reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The “advert” has already been travelling on San Francisco buses.
Much of this is just white noise. Far more dangerous is the manipulation and deployment by the West of fundamentalists including Al Qaeda to destabilise societies in North Africa and the Middle East, a strategy now extending to Russia and China. It follows a pattern of deadly hostility to secular Muslim governments. According to geo-political analyst William Engdahl “the most bizarre and alarming feature of the US-financed regime changes set into motion in 2010 is the pattern of emerging power grabs by representatives of the murky Salafist Muslim Brotherhood” essentially incubated by the West and brought to power in Egypt.
James Petras professor of sociology at Binghamton University, New York says the summer of Muslim discontent is hardly about an amateur film. “Islamophobia is not simply an attitude of a minority of marginal extremists, it is part and parcel of policies engaging in large scale on-going wars against a dozen Muslim nations, in policing millions of US Muslims and in arming a Jewish state engaged in uprooting Palestinians and threatening to bomb 75 million Iranian Muslims.”
This is clearly at variance with the official narrative shared by all three UK parliamentary parties. Their view is still rooted in the completely discredited clash of civilisations doctrine, which commits the West to a perpetual war on terror, the export of democracy and the protection of citizens in other countries from genocide. For all the emphasis on reasoning skills and historical understanding, the idea of a populace enabled to think for itself terrifies those in power precisely because of their education. The answer is to co-opt the brightest while reassuring the rest that saying anything about something is the equivalent of opinion.
Meanwhile we’re told one in five adults in the UK – some 8 million people – are functionally illiterate and that reading standards have not improved in primary schools since 2005. Team Britain is now third from the bottom in Europe.