London Riots

What is happening in London??
The Globe and Mail’s front page article about the London riots states that one of one only unifying factors among the rioters is that they are almost entirely under 20 years of age! It also points out that the violence is being committed in the rioters’ own neighbourhoods. There is a problem here. The article goes on to state that 600 000 people 25 yrs and younger have never had a job. 25 and under!

I can’t help but think that this is not a “youth” problem but a community-wide problem. I sincerely hope that those in charge, or those with influential voices will take a moment and reflect on the many, many decisions which have led to this event.
I wasn’t following the education “reforms” that took place in England under Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, as I was a young child at the time, but I have read a little of them. (I have also noted that the spirit or ‘flavour’ of much of the more recent attention paid to education in the United States and parts of Canada echoes steps taken in the UK, which worries me.)
I have read about how Margaret Thatcher (who was Minister of Education before she became Prime Minister) and her Education Ministers strove to make education a marketplace. I have read about the devaluing of teachers and other education professionals by actively excluding them from decision making regarding curriculum and school community organization (presumably because their views were not compatible with treating education as a market). And I have read about the streamlining of a centrally-run market-based education system that serves only those who are deemed “worthy,” or profitable.

I believe that when we dehumanize the curriculum by overloading content and emphasizing a one-size-fits-all mode of delivery students will respond by becoming numb – their senses of community, agency and self-worth will atrophy. I believe teachers will have a similar response.

There were major reforms (Education Acts) almost every year throughout the 1980s. Students in school during this decade, while unfortunate, at least had the impression that things were getting worse: they had a collective memory of better times. Children born in the 1990s and who entered and attended school in the UK in that decade and beyond – this would be almost every single rioter in London this last week – has only ever experienced a system which has, one could argue, never really recovered from the three consecutive terms Margaret Thatcher served.

This event may be the ultimate litmus test for an education system run on market principles.

These individuals are human beings. They have sensibilities like you and me and as we ask ourselves “what on earth could make someone act like this?” We only have to look at their life experiences thus far: would you act any differently?

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