Monday, August 25, 2008

A paradox: having too much and nothing at all

Ever since Question That flagged up her blog at The Kitchen, I have been reading To Miss With Love; it is the diary and musings of a very-determined and, I suspect, very talented black teacher in an inner-city school.

Today's post is an odd one which draws on the strange dichotomy inherent between the different classes of children—those who are well-off and those who are poor. Miss Snuffleupagus is wandering around a village fete, comparing the home-made cakes and simple games (and even simpler prizes) with the massive and massively expensive entertainments put on in the city; she compares the different price put upon different possessions by the children here and in the city.
I grab three bean bags, made out of stockings and beans and throw them at the homemade posts with coconuts on top. I hit one. It falls to the ground. I leap about happily, because I've won. And what have I won? I've won the coconut. I wonder what my kids would say to that. How boring they would find this place, and how irritated would they be to win a coconut. Their expectations are so different from the children here. One boy, about 10-years-old, excitedly explains to me that he won 2 lollipops from the 'lollipop dip'. My kids would have laughed in his face.

How bizarre it is that these children, who in monetary terms, for the most part, have far more than my children will ever have, yet, in tangible terms, have far less. I'm guessing that in their homes, converted from old barns, they don't have wide-screen televisions in every room. I'm guessing that they don't have the latest PSP games either. If they had, they would not be so keen to throw a coconut and delight in taking home their prize.

What privilege it is to have so little. What advantage these children have, to have been schooled in such a way so that they want to win a lollipop. They'll never meet my kids, not while they are young at least. They might meet my kids when they are older, when they've moved to London to take up their first job as bankers in the city, and they pop into McDonalds and my kid serves them the hamburger. Yes, I suppose one day, they will finally meet. And even then, I'm not sure that either child will know just how crucial the ability to appreciate that coconut was to their futures.

It is an interesting thing, is it not? As I have pointed out before, whilst I had an excellent schooling and good food, my parents strictly rationed my TV time—and, indeed, we had a little 12" black and white TV until I was about 14 or so, when my father got a bonus and went and bought our first colour TV and a video recorder. We never had a computer at all—no, not even a games console of any sort. Instead of designer trainers and the latest football top, I had clothes handed down from my father and my cousin; instead of MacDonalds' (or at least chips) every day, we had—very occasionally and as a special treat—fish and chips from the local shop, two or three times a year. We didn't get computer games and expensive electronics for birthdays or Christmas; our presents from relatives were usually capped at £10, apart from my parents who would spend anything up to about £25.

What we did have were things that encouraged us to think and invent and imagine: Lego was very popular and, of course, we were encouraged to read at every opportunity. My parents had collected an enormous number of books over the years (they were both English Literature students when they met at university) and had quite different tastes, so we were able—nay, encouraged—to read as many as we could.

I guess that the main difference is that we may not have had PSPs and games and TVs and such, but we were never starved of intellectual stimulus: we were never discouraged from thinking, imagining and creating our own worlds and stories and creatures. Our richness came from the encouragement of our intellectual development and not from a surfeit of expensive, designer goods.

And this is just another reason why I despise those currently running our schools, those who would merely have children tick the boxes and pass the exams; intellectual stimulus can be made from the cheapest, most mundane things (as Blue Peter always attempted to show); stimulating imaginations is, ultimately, cheap.

And whilst I am ready to acknowledge that many parents prefer to give their children goods in place of said stimulation, this is where our schools should take up the slack. But they are failing to do so: how are children meant to grow, and learn, and imagine when all that is considered important in education is how many increasingly worthless A*s you can get in a formulaic exam?

Allow children to imagine, and you open up the world to them; open up the world and they can imagine something bigger still—they can create universes of their own. Limit them, shut them down, and all that they have is a small box—trapped in it, they can rail at the world but ultimately never escape.

And that is why this load of fucking horseshit from Polly Toynbee, seen via Iain Dale, is not simply demagogic and unpleasant, but actively evil. [Emphasis mine.]
At one point during the lively discussion about how history should be taught, Douglas Murray said that one of the benefits of learning about great people in history is that it encourages children to think “that could be me” - a sense that individuals matter. Given how much of a Labour lover Toynbee is one would have thought that she might have agreed with this, given that it seems to fit with Brown’s “aspiration agenda.” However, she attacked Murray’s argument and said that to tell children that they could achieve greatness was to fill their heads with fairy tale nonsense. Apparently we live in a society where only the very rich achieve greatness. She went on to say that America’s notion that ‘anyone can make it if they work hard’ is simply a way of “keeping people in their place.” I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, and during the Q&;A session I asked her to clarify her remarks and suggested that there was no better way of “keeping children in their place” than by telling them not to bother aspiring to greatness. I’m pleased to say that my questioning was met with general approval by the audience, but Polly just reiterated her notion that we live in a society where only the rich can make it etc. I then put it to her that not all great figures from history were born wealthy (or indeed achieved wealth), at which point she reverted to some safe ground - America bashing.

As a (relatively young) Conservative it is one of my core beliefs that individuals should aspire to better themselves, and society, through ambition and hard work. A world run by Toynbee would be a world where children are encouraged not to try, as “they’ll never make it in to the history book. That’s just where rich people end up.” Frightening stuff.

Toynbee is not on the side of the poor: never make that mistake. Polly Toynbee is one of those evil little cunts who would keep the poor in poverty, so that they may be rescued by the likes of Toynbee, that she may take her place in history.

Polly Toynbee—along with the rest of her ilk: the disgusting Champagne Socialists and "social reformers"—have destroyed ambition over the successive generations. They see the world as disgusting and full of evil; they deplore the acquisition of wealth but they not only crave it themselves, but are usually already wealthy.

The strange thing is that, whilst she deplores wealth, Polly seems to be obsessed with it; to her, having money is the only thing that matters. For Polly Toynbee, selfish old harridan that she is, nothing is more important than cash.

I still say that imagination is more valuable; I still say that being able to live your life in the way you wish, through making your own choices, is far more satisfying; I still say that money is not the be-all and end-all of life. It is why mothers stay home with their children, though they know that they harm their careers: because money is not the ultimate goal—happiness is.

If one views the Scriptures as moral philosophy rather than simply the ravings of nutters who believe in an imaginary friend, it is easy to see that they are right about some things: after all, the love of money is still the root of all evil. But that is too glib: it is the valuation of money, in and of itself, as the only thing that matters that leads to evil.

People with money may well have more possessions (or, as we have seen, they may not). Ultimately, it is the power to dream that sets us apart, and we should never stifle that in anyone, especially the poor: for anyone can dream, no matter their station or the size of their bank account, and to try to shut that down, as Toynbee would, is to remove all hope and, ultimately, all joy from life.

It is Toynbee and those like her who keep the poor in their place—and it is an evil thing to do. But how could it be otherwise: for Toynbee loves only money and, as we have just reminded ourselves, the love of money is the root of all evil.

What a fucking hideous, embittered little cunt she is. Perhaps she should meet with Miss Snuffleupagus, who finishes her post (so much more insightful than any of Polly's empty, tired drivel) thusly...
Back home, as I position my coconut prize in the middle of my front room's mantlepiece, giving it pride of place, I think about how unfair it is that my children have so much, and as a result, have so little. And I decide I must always keep this coconut, so that I can remember that in life, the simplest things, have the greatest rewards.

Indeed. I can't imagine Polly doing the same: can you? I imagine that the only thing that Polly has that resembles a coconut in anyway is her raddled, badly trimmed, old minge. Although it is probable that her heart is just as hard...


the a&e charge nurse said...

This immediately put me in mind of an observation made by Iggy Pop [of all people] although I suspect he may well have borrowed the idea from some other source ?

The Michigan frontman describes how children [up to a certain age] simply adapt ANY MATERIALS available in their immediate environment for games, so a cardboard box becomes a house, a few blankets become a tent, etc, etc.

Once they begin to covet specific objects, play & imagination become increasingly inhibited.

I have no idea if Mr Osterberg's theorising is related to his own prodigious drug habit, but it certainly makes sense to me.

Tomrat said...

I had been a youth member and eventually youth leader at my church along with my wife all the way from my A-levels to gainful employment.

As my generation grew old and started to get work and stop coming a new generation of kids started to attend, from the same estate and from what you would presume the exact same social status as ourselves; the previous generation of kids and the church made a conscious effort to put more money into the youth group so we moved from playing rounders in the fields nearby to taking our kids to Frankie and Benny's, Flamingo land and Scarborough.

Within 12 months our entire youth group was devastated - the kids who had attended so readily at the beginning began to come so intermittently (on average every few weeks, and then only to check when we were going on a trip) that we moved to having an equal number of youth leaders to youth group (6 leaders to 6 children)!

To add a further dimension we eventually combined our youthgroup with another - the other was run by two individuals dedicated to a group of children from Beeston, Middleton and Bell Isle (some of the roughest areas in Leeds, possibly the most well known for all the wrong reasons) who did not have a church, a youth hall or even any money to fund the rounders we had so readily abandoned.

These children, compared to Bramley (where kids at least can be assured of 3 meals a day, a family holiday and are not subject to unremitting abuse and/or poverty at home), have nothing; there parents have every kind of state funding available to british citizens and yet their children starve in the streets - one advantage of the extra money that has gone into the youth group funding is that we can now provide food for them at meetings, and even packups for those who wont eat properly till the next time we see them. We have even managed to fund one of the original youth leaders for the new lot to work in the community (a truly dedicated and admirable person).

I do worry though - I see this attitude amongst some of these kids who previously had nothing; you dont want to fear their ingratitude or get angry considering everything they've been put through but we've seen it all before.

I firmly believe it is no coincidence between NuLabour's decade in power and these kids attitudes.

Lilith said...

A really useful parenting phrase

"A playstation/xbox/wii etc is something you play with at other people's houses"

lost_nurse said...

My childhood = books + bikes + lego + woods.

All I ever needed.

pagar said...

Children need to acquire the necessary skills and experience that will allow them to adapt to the world as they are going to find it.

Sorry to say, papier mache, Biggles and Mecanno don't really hack it any more.

Miss Snuffleupagus said...

Hello there
I agree with you entirely. Polly Toynbee is indeed my enemy. Thank you for your kind comments.

Devil's Kitchen said...

A pleasure, Miss Snuffleupagus.


Laurence Boyce said...

"We never had a computer at all—no, not even a games console of any sort. Instead of designer trainers and the latest football top, I had clothes handed down from my father and my cousin; instead of MacDonalds' (or at least chips) every day, we had—very occasionally and as a special treat—fish and chips from the local shop, two or three times a year."

And look how you turned out . . .

Mac the Knife said...

'Although it is probable that her heart is just as hard...'

And at least as hollow...

Chris Snowdon said...

"How bizarre it is that these children, who in monetary terms, for the most part, have far more than my children will ever have, yet, in tangible terms, have far less."

But kids, "in monetary terms", have no more than their parents give them. A child can be 'poor' with rich parents and 'rich' with poor parents. But a child's "tangible" wealth depends on how much that child is - let's not mince words - spoilt.

MrAngryman said...

Toynbee is the real enemy of the state, forget terrorism being the greatest danger that this country faces, it is the champagne socialists like her who are the TRUE greatest danger. She and her ilk seek to reduce the ability of the individual to really change their life. By advocating increasing the power of the state, she is determined that individuals should remain powerless. One of the things i admire about the American system is that with hard work you can succeed, they admire the self made man(or woman!) Where as in this country success is met with ridicule and condemnation. (see the outcry about British Athlete's only winning in 'elite' sports!!!) Toynbee and her lot seek to keep the poor in thrall, deny them there own money, keep them dependant on benefits, reduce their ability to remove themselves from poverty, keep their aspirations low so that she and her fellow 'do gooders' can ride in and rescue them.

I despise them with every fibre of my being.

the a&e charge nurse said...

Spot on [chris snowden].

Given that our culture seems hell bent on transforming adults into drone bees, play objects [like Ben 10, x-box, polly pocket, etc] have become nothing less than semi-permanent surrogates for the time, attention, and stimulation that parents [in an ideal world] should be providing.

Lets face it, balancing the demands of home vs work nowadays requires the judgement of Solomon since most ordinary working folk are crushed under the weight of utility bills, transport costs, mortgage repayments, or simply trying to avoid a run in with feral packs of gang bangers.

Dysfunctional society = dysfunctional families, thats what I say, or should that be the other way round ?

Anonymous said...

'The love of power is the root of all evil' might be more accurate. After all, there's no monetary gain in rape, many murders, or street assaults.

windy blow said...

I can recall odd attempts to persuade parents to stop buying their children toy guns. As far as I can remember the kids went and made their own mocked up guns.

Chalcedon said...

Ah, the coconut shy. Sounds just like our church fete in this village. The children love the various games and the cake stall sold out. The inner city teacher makes some good observations, one of which is that the quality of life in the country is significantly different to the towns and cities. My 3 spoilt princesses had pretty much what they wanted, when I said they could have them, but they always enjoyed going to events like the church fete when they were youngsters.

JD said...

Not just Tuscan Toynbee, but all socialists seem to be obsessed with money - other people's money.

bernerlap said...

A remarkably perceptive post. I was brought up in a former pit village.
The kids of my generation had very little. We read a lot, worked hard for our 11 plus and roughly half of us passed it. Of my generation four, including me - and a couple of lads from two of the poorest families, one of whom eventually got a PhD - went on to higher education and got good professional jobs.
Since the demise of the local grammar school and the rise of mass media no one in my home village has managed to get to University.
The demise of local grammar schools are one reason for this. Others include the destruction of the old respectable working class. It is Toynbee and her ilk that committed this crime.
She deserves to be hung drawn and quartered.