This Is a Low

The unanticipated acceleration of global-warming; the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on Europe’s internal borders, not to mention our perception of strangers; a £30 cut in disability allowance that delivers savings equivalent to a planned cut to income tax for the wealthy; the simple fact of Donald Trump, and the planned forced-academization of all English schools: this is a low.

Sat here in a heat haze of barking dogs and motorcycle fumes, over 6,000 miles away, it is only the scorch of El Niño that I can claim to write about with anything approaching authority and authenticity. When it comes to my comments on academization, I’m not much more than a vaguely benign troll: wringing my hands and pleading that we think of the children.

I’ve found Laura McInerney’s excellent reporting on academies and her summary of their perceived pros and cons enormously helpful in building a picture of what might be in store for UK education: both the good and the terribly, terribly bad. Autonomy is promised, along with enhanced, direct accountability to parents. Choice will broaden and standards will rise.

It seems that local authorities have already lost much control of the schools under their auspices. We are assured that the usual checks and balances will prevent trusts from unreasonably profiting from the education of your children, and yet academies are strangely permitted to profit from the procurement of intracompany services. We also are reminded that the pay of trust CEOs must be commensurate with what such powerhouses would attract from other industries. That old yarn has the same stupefying power as a pretty firework or the contemplation of a friend’s rising property value: you look at it and say ‘oooh’. Heaven forbid we should pick apart the implications of such things (including the pretty firework).

So why, from so far away and with such little personal impact, am I sooo low? What right have I to despondency on behalf of those for whom the impact of these measures is all too real and desperate?

The Earth is getting hotter; we are growing more wary of our foreign friends; we feel the need to light a fire under our most needy; we seem to want our schools to be accountable to their own reflections; and the simple fact of Donald Trump needs no elaboration. The common denominator is a complete collapse in faith: we are caught up in the worst of modernist functionalism and post-modernist nihilism. All we have is our work and our struggle – and it is not a shared struggle: it is a Walking Dead bunfight to the bottom of humanity and no amount of hair product or tanning product is going to prettify us against degradation.

This is a low and a tunnel without natural light: only a strip-lit promise of choice, accountability, rising standards and rising temperatures. As tempted as I am to strike a Munchian vogue, scream, then run to the Andes – I won’t.

To grasp at optimism’s shadow, I’ll say this:

Hold faith with external reality; know that you are indeed in a cave and there is light without. The struggle can again be a common one. Rightly and joyfully, no self-correcting system will rescue us from the need to live actively and with sensitivity to others.

Your mother loved you with an irrational zeal: there is nothing to hold you back from doing likewise. Pour your benefits onto a lame horse and laugh in the face of the lost race. In loving, you play with the infinite. In hate, you condense into a mass of nothing.

Democratically, we have chosen this path and, yes, it is a low road.

But how would you know dark from light, if you’d never known the dark? This is our Night of the Soul and our darkling plain: Dover Beach is breached and we are wreathed in black.

Yes, I’m low. But I’m also now wondering, guessing at the shape of an anticipated light.

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