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Sunday 13 October 2013

Scarlet Pimpernels

This week has seen a couple of fascinating news stories.

We can read details of a leaked Government report on social mobility suggesting that, for the first time since the early 20th century, children from above-average incomes will face a worse standard of living than their parents. The political ‘controversy’ will shift attention away from the poorest 10%, onto another group – middle-class children. And in doing so, we will miss the point. The social mobility record is a stuck groove.  Someone is always struggling, because at no point in the last century have we addressed the need to look at the transition into adulthood as a process that requires greater structure and invention.

We can also read with amazement that Michael Gove’s closest advisor has written a thesis in which he suggests that ‘genetics’ was a more likely determent of people’s outcomes than their education.  That old chestnut .  Some people, because of their poverty make up, just won’t have the talent to be shaped.  Of course, if you were responsible for our social failure to identify and develop talent among millions of young people, you would look to their genetics as a suitable excuse.   Is this the consequence of a payment-by-results culture, the creation of justifications and misrepresentations by which we effortlessly avoid our own guilt? The sad thing is, if you add up all the investment of education and power and opportunity given to those at the top, and look at their output in terms of social improvements, you have to ask the question: what is our human flaw, that we end up governed by individuals and systems that are so ill fitted to our potential?  Maybe they are onto something. What is the genetics behind the failure of leadership?  A question that hasn’t been asked loudly enough since the First World War.

Has anyone noticed, that the common factor in each social challenge and economic crisis, is us?

Our political policy is like the search for the Scarlet Pimpernel: we intervene here, we intervene there, but we never find the truth that people aren’t solved or fixed in just one place from one social theory. It’s common sense that is lacking. If you want to ensure a positive transition for adulthood, then you have to look ahead to the horizon that embraces us all, and work with each person on how their experience can reach that point, from a common, universal understanding of what the ingredients are that achieve success .  That way, you are much more likely to keep rebuilding and adjusting the road through transition in a way that reflects our shared humanity.  We act as if we are only prepared to see ahead for certain groups of people; only have the time to learn from and support a minority.

Even worse, we think we actually know what we are doing.  If you consider our policies on the transition to adulthood in terms of a house, all we seem to be doing is adding on a conservatory here, a loft extension there, a few new carpets and repainted walls, refurbishing the fabric according to whatever the latest theory says; but we should be looking into the foundations of the house, thinking about a different type of dwelling, looking perhaps to replace the bundling maintenance team and absent landlord.

So, we can look forward to another round of debates about the purpose of teaching, the investments required for social mobility, the future of the youth of today. Will anyone be asking, who and where are we in the world we keep creating?

Perhaps the truth is that our leaders are in fact Scarlet Pimpernels in reverse:  dim-witted fools hiding under a disguise of authority. 

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