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On the face of it, there is not one thing in the Green Paper (THE LEARNING AGE - A RENAISSANCE FOR A NEW BRITAIN) with which most responsible citizens could be expected to have major disagreements. For this responsible citizen, however, far too many taken-for-granted assumptions are made, too many questions begged and there is a fundamental flaw in the approach the Green Paper takes.
We are given a vision of the Britain and the Europe the Government wishes to build towards the first decade of the new millennium. A number of key policy initiatives are indicated and partnership arrangements adumbrated as a means to realising that vision. However, apart from highlighting some major deficits that affect if not determine the quality of Britain's economic performance and its position in the world economic league, deficits which are also barriers to employability and competitiveness, threats to social order and that reflect the inability of a large sector of the population to exploit 'the market', the Green Paper appears to presuppose that our starting point is a society that is largely homogenous.
Acknowledgment is given to the social, and even the racial disadvantages experienced by sections of the society, especially with regard to access to learning opportunities and low attainment at the end of formal schooling. But despite all the taken-for-granted statements about active citizenship, not one reference is made to racism, to racial discrimination, to xenophobia, to homophobia, to ageism.
Unless we own the society we have now, in all its ugliness, and examine the implications of its present state for the vision, the very laudable vision the Government has - unless we do that with courage, with humility, and in the interest of truth - the future we face will not be the future we want, irrespective of the vast potential of lifelong learning.
Rights for the Marginalised
Promoting Active Citizenship and Social Inclusion in Civil Society and Work, therefore, requires a definition of the rights as well as the responsibilities of those groups who, typically, constitute the marginalised and disadvantaged within the society; it also requires a realistic view of their position within the economy. Those groups include: the functionally illiterate (an illiteracy invariably compounded by computer illiteracy), the unwaged, the long term unemployed, school students in the country's worst schools, mentally ill people in communities, young offenders, women on benefit and looking after children or other dependents at home, workers repeatedly displaced from the job market despite several programmes of re-training, black people facing discrimination in various areas of social and institutional life.
Active Citizenship and a truly participatory democracy that involves the nation and not just the few, must be predicated upon the affirmation and the safeguarding of rights and entitlements, and not just exhortations about civic responsibility. Only thus does one create a culture in which all citizens could reasonably be expected to entertain a notion of the common good and of their responsibility to work in support and furtherance of it.
The problem with learning, when it becomes uncoupled from that increasingly esoteric activity called education, is that it reinforces the notion of individualised pursuits for individual gain. And the more learning is facilitated by arrangements such as learning accounts and individual bank accounts, the greater is the tendency to regard the end purpose of it all as having to do with individual advancement and achievement, relative to the rest.
If we have a particular focus upon those who do not just 'grow up on the margins' but who permanently exist on the margins, then, surely, we must take account of the group identities they project, the sense of group oppression they convey as their reality, and not reconstruct that into their existence as individuals with assumed deficits located deep within them.
I set out my view of education that has informed my practice over many decades, in Gus John(1990):
"Education is for the whole community and should be accessible to the community from the cradle to the grave."
"Education functions as much to provide the individual achievement of academic and technical competence as it does to provide a collective basis for change in communities and in society. As such, individual achievement of academic excellence is not an end in itself but must be tempered with a sense of social responsibility and social interdependence."
"Education is for skilling people for the workplace no more than it is for developing in people the social skills and competence to take control of their own lives and to function as responsible social citizens, demanding and safeguarding their own rights, and having due regard to and respect for the rights of others."
"Unequal opportunities, based on unequal resources and unequal chances, constrain individuals and communities no less than neighbourhoods or boroughs."
"In a liberal democratic society, the concept of interdependence, the acknowledgment of the fact that wealth and material resources are unequally distributed, and the notion of collective responsibility for the sick, weak, the poor, the unemployed and the homeless should all go hand in hand."
"Among other things, education and schooling should be about assisting students, and adults more generally, in understanding the roots and the persistence of racial and social injustice in society, and providing them with the individual and collective tools with which to combat both."
I would like to think that Tony Blair, David Blunkett and Tessa Blackstone once signed on to a similar education agenda. I have absolutely no reason to believe that they no longer subscribe to it, except that I do not hear too many references to rights, and certainly not to the notion of learning as providing people with the collective tools with which to combat social and racial injustice.
This is certainly not meant to be a cheap jibe. I affirm that those leaders of the nation once subscribed to my model because of the history of the Labour Movement in this country and its illustrious and historical contribution to the struggle for education rights and for the expansion of education among working class people and among women in the society.
I want to devote the rest of this talk to the challenges and opportunities that are implicit in the promotion of active citizenship, democracy, and social inclusion. But before I do that, let us be clear what it is we are up against. In an important essay in the reader, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Hardiman and Jackson observe as follows:
'Oppression is not simply an ideology or set of beliefs that assert one group has superiority over another, nor is it random violence, harassment or discrimination toward members of the target groups. A condition of oppression exists when the following key elements are in place:
The agent group has the power to define and name reality and determine what is normal, real or correct.
Harassment, discrimination, exploitation, marginalisation, and other forms of differential and unequal treatment are institutionalised and systematic. Theses acts often do not require the conscious thought or effort of individual members of the agent group but are rather part of business as usual that become embedded in social structures over time.
Psychological colonisation of the target group occurs through socialising the oppressed to internalise their oppressed condition and collude with the oppressor's ideology and social system. This is what Freire refers to as the oppressed playing host to the oppressor .
The target group's culture, language, and history is misrepresented, discounted, or eradicated and the dominant group's cultures imposed.'
Rita Hardiman & Bailey Jackson (1997)
Clearly lifelong learning by itself cannot promote active citizenship and social inclusion in Britain and across Europe. It would help the process, however, if we provide answers to the following questions:
Who are 'we the British', 'we the French', 'we the Belgians', 'we the Germans'?
How do I promote social inclusion in a Britain where Britishness is stubbornly equated with whiteness?
How do I deal with my schizophrenia when I wave my Union Flag to greet the monarch as she opens a new civic building in my city in the morning and then have to literally run for my life as I am chased by white racists wearing the Union Flag in the night?
How does Learning for Life assist me in promoting active citizenship and social inclusion when my children at school are subjected to a curriculum which panders to monoculturalism and fails to project pluralism let alone antiracism?
In our vision of a Europe of Knowledge, who decides which brands of knowledge are legitimate and which are not? Can we seriously duck this epistemological question in the light of the glaring evidence of structured marginalisation of the products of black people's cultural creativity, of non-Christian faiths, of black literature and history, of the 35 years of the black education movement in this country?
Would the European Social Fund (ESF) contemplate the use of its 1.3 billion pounds Objective 3 programme funding to promote the sharing of skills between, for example, the Stephen Lawrence Family Support Group and families from the Maghreb mobilising around the racist murders of their children in Lille and Lyon, or Turkish families in Brussels and Antwerp? If not, why not?
Given the fact that the struggles among black communities in this country over the last 50 years have resulted in some significant shifts in the society's attitude to discharging its responsibility to black people, albeit not as visibly as it has in relation to the Women's Movement, why should ESF programmes not link us in Britain with communities like us in continental Europe so that we could engage in some education for liberation in the style of Paulo Freire?
Would that not be a wonderful way to share knowledge and skills, genuinely build a Europe of Knowledge and democratise democracy?
I stress this because it is my firm belief that whatever else lifelong learning gives them, marginalised communities would require those collective skills more and more as we move into the next millennium.
I do not believe we can dismiss out of hand the prognostications of Jeremy Rifkin and see his End of Work scenario only as a spectre of gloom and defeatism. I believe that it is a mistake to lead this nation, or the rest of Europe for that matter, to believe that the good times are there to be had if only we could grasp the learning opportunities and pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Apart from the fact that some of us ain't got no boots to start with, the market is forever setting more and more stringent criteria for employability, and it is therefore safe to assume that many of those in the lifelong learning target group will not catch up in their own lifetime.
It seems to me that we need to face up to the inevitability of the reorganisation of working life and of our attitudes to work and leisure in the next millennium; a reorganisation that would usher in a shorter working day, shorter working week, shorter working life, and more time for learning, more time for collective action for change in communities, and at work; and more time for rest, recreation and cultural creativity.
I have no difficulty constructing a Learning for Life agenda within that scenario, redefining leisure and establishing a functional link between learning, leisure, cultural creativity and cultural expression.
Let me make two final points.
First it is generally agreed that 3 principal agents of socialisation and of social control operate in society: the family, the school and work; and indeed the lifelong learning agenda is directed at each. - I want to suggest that we include a fourth, prison or custodial/penal institutions generally.
In paragraph 3.26 of the Green Paper, a somewhat tentative, reference is made to 'adult offenders', the only such reference I could find:
Education and Training will form a fuller part of the new constructive regimes in prison, to which the Government attaches great importance
I well recall that as Head of Community Education in the Inner London Education Authority, with responsibility for the 5 inner London prisons, we provided a comprehensive education and training programme through the respective Adult Education Institutes. Changes in prison regimes and in the allocation of budgets have led to a steady reduction in education, provision in many custodial institutions.
Given the stigma attached to being in prison and the unattractiveness of ex-offenders to employers, the Government should make a commitment to funding an expanded education programme in prisons and youth custody institutions, ringfencing that funding, and encouraging at the same time the development at community level of transition projects that could support ex-offenders to pursue personal development plans and m seeking employment or work placements.
In view of the massive over-representation of black people (male and female) in the prison population, especially those aged between 18 and 30, and in view of the double discrimination they face after parole, on grounds of race and because of their status as ex-offenders, the risk of recidivism and of continuing social exclusion among that sector of the population must give increasing cause for concern.
My second and final point is basically to re-emphasise the link between social inclusion and social justice. I will let the following quotes make the point for me:
'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'.
'A nation that presides over or condones the denial of basic rights and entitlements to any individual or any section of itself, puts at risk its own fundamental rights and entitlements'.
'They are happy who are at peace with themselves.
To comprehend oneself, but not to be preoccupied with oneself.
If we genuinely wish to build a Europe of Knowledge in the new millennium, a competitive Europe with an employable and informed workforce, we need to comprehend a few things.
The egalitarian principles presupposed by a societal concern about social exclusion do not rest well with the notion of a Europe full of knowledge and of skilled people, all jostling in the market and trying to gain a competitive advantage over everyone else.
The structural bases of the marginalization and social exclusion of the range of groups I listed above cannot be eradicated simply by building a learning society and boosting the individual's competence, confidence and self esteem. However much information and learning enable individuals to gain an understanding of the dynamics and roots of sexism, ageism, racism, homophobia, and the rest, the disadvantages suffered by people experiencing these forms of oppression are not caused solely or primarily by the actions of the individual learner.
The heterogeneity of Britain and of Europe as a whole is no evidence of genuinely plural societies. Black British settlers of more than 50 years standing are still classified as ethnic minorities. The ethnic majority of Europe, whom the likes of the National Front, the Vlaams Bloc, Column 88, and similar neo-fascist organisations purport to represent are being told very loudly that they should not even have to compete with that alien presence.
The discourse around competitiveness would appear to postulate that it is possible to appeal to all of Britain or all of Europe to 'make us more competitive' in the global economy by each individual taking responsibility for their own skills preparation, while, at home, opportunities just to be themselves let alone to compete are being denied to large sections of the population.
Economic globalisation is not just about the reorganisation of capital and the restructuring of markets on a world scale, in response to or facilitated by the new technology. It is also about the relocation of people on a global scale and the reorganisation .of societies. It is about the emergence of new national identities, a process so inevitable that it cannot be neutralised by Europe's xenophobic preoccupations with itself.
That relocation of the peoples of the world means that the multi-ethnic population of Europe cannot have a view of European competitiveness vis à vis the rest of the world as something which they have a patriotic duty to generate, on the grounds that 'we are all Europeans now.' A huge proportion of Europe's black and other minority ethnic population continue to carry financial and other responsibilities for their dependents in the rest of the world. Where, for example, should European citizens who once were citizens of the Windward Islands of the Caribbean stand on the question of European competitiveness when it comes to Tariffs and Trade agreements with respect to the banana industry? Would we be called upon to pass the 'banana test' in much the same way that the former British parliamentarian, Norman Tebbit, required us to pass the 'cricket test' and declare our loyalty as proof of our Britishness?
In order to combat functional illiteracy and promote active citizenship and democratic participation a number of countries in the so-called developing world have instituted a Campaign for Popular Education (CPE). The underlying assumptions in most if not all of those programmes (Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Jamaica, Grenada, Guinea Bissau) have been that:
all people in the society operate their lives with a certain level of social and technical competence;
all people engage in learning and in teaching at some point each day of their lives;
small village communities as well as large urban slums manage to maintain a level of social cohesion despite the high rates of functional illiteracy in the local population;
given the range of skills people employed in managing their lives and their communities, especially in very straitened and chaotic circumstances, and the repository of knowledge that they could all be expected to have, learners could also be teachers, and vice versa.
Consequently, it is not unusual to find such campaigns employing the slogan 'Each one, teach one'.
I have no doubt that the delegates at the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (in Hamburg, July 1997) had those basic principles very much in mind when they drew up the Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning. The Declaration is pretty silent on racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, preferring to deal with cultural diversity. Significantly, 'promoting justice and equality for minorities and indigenous peoples' is placed in parenthesis, as a function of 'recognising cultural diversion'. That said, the Hamburg Conference nevertheless committed itself to:
Linking literacy to the social, cultural and economic development aspirations of learners:
by emphasising the importance of literacy for human rights, participatory citizenship, social political and economic equity, and cultural identity;
by encouraging the creative uses of literacy;
by replacing the narrow vision of literacy by learning that meets social economic and political needs and gives expression to a new form of citizenship;
by integrating literacy and other forms of learning and basic skills into all appropriate development projects, particularly those related to health and the environment, and by encouraging grassroots organisations and social movements to promote their own learning and development initiatives;
by launching the Paulo Freire African Decade on Literacy for All beginning in 1998 in order to create literate societies responsive to the different cultural traditions. To that end, special funds should be created by both public and private sources'.
Unlike the Declaration, the Green Paper curiously avoids any reference to human rights, to political and economic equity, to grassroots organisations and to social movements, issues which were central to the concerns and the agenda of the British Labour Movement as it took its course on the wings of a workers' education and adult learning campaign.
Let us hope that while we welcome the Government's ambitious agenda for ushering in the Learning Age, all those individuals, organisations and social movements that were empowered by, or facilitated others in their self-empowerment through adult education, community education and all the varied forms of non-formal and informal education, would assist the Government in anchoring the Learning Age on much firmer foundations by helping it draw upon the rich history of adult learning in these islands.