Friday, 10 October 2014

#The45Plus: Do Politicians Deliver Value? Discuss...

The Scottish Parliament building. Picture: Ian Georgeson
I got involved with all this Independence Referendum and #The45Plus stuff because I thought that there was some true leadership running the shop, while I still feel this is the case with one or two individuals within the SNP, I am finding that I am reverting back to my more usual perspective of asking myself:

Do Politicians Deliver Value?

While the nation continues it's love affair with the SNP and Yes Alliance I find myself being reminded of the self centered nature of "The Political Class". I don't mean to be controversial with this post, I am simply asking a question and then go on to provide evidence to support my perspective and argument.

Don't politicians and activists enjoy a good debate? So this post is simply a debate, and I would welcome a reply from any politician or activist from any party at all. Surely the post-indyref politicised public is entitled to explore such issues, after all I hear comments all the time in the media from MPs & MSPs;

"I represent 'The People" 
"We've listened to 'The People" and my own personal faviourite
"We've helped '"XYZ group of people' with our ABC policy"

So I am simply questioning these statements. Indeed, something I would love to see is a website called "How my MP helped me" although, with the exception of the party faithful, this might be a pretty sparse website. While the SNP is on a high and enjoy a new found love affair with "The People" it's useful to remember that;
Are you being served?
Or have you had your chips?
  • We still have issues like expenses as MSP Expenses Hit £12.5 million, which reminds us that
  • MSPs like Bill Walker are among those who "Serve the People"
  • "The people" are so sick of the status quo that they will vote for parties with extreme views like UKIP as opposed to the usual suspects.
I think that's as good a time as any to ask: Do Politicians Deliver Value?

What do politicians do? Who do they "serve"? Whose lives do they improve? Do they listen? Do they consider the facts? Do they even care?

Political Input: Nice but Certainly Not Necessary
There is a very practical reason for asking this too. As I have banged on all month, the conditions the referendum have created are unique and I 100% believe that this could facilitate for something truly special to achieved ie The "just society" that the Yes Alliance said they would provide if we voted "Yes"

Is this society still possible? If it is, do we even need politicians involvement? It would be welcome for sure, but is it necessary? In my forthcoming posts I will argue that it is possible - with or without politicians - although it would require a massive amount of collaboration. Even though the benefits would include some real win-win situations for just about every stakeholder, the level of collaboration may be too big "an ask"

My personal and professional experience dealing with politicians has been poor, so I don't have a great deal of time for the political class. But do I have enough evidence to win this blog debate: Do Politicians Deliver Value?

I would like focus on 3 inter-related examples: Digital and physical space, Education and the scrapping of "old style apprenticeships.

Digital and Physical Space
Before the politicians messed it all up, #The45plus was trending...  it was also a chaotic mess of hundreds of people randomly interacting and chatting. But it was starting to become self organised.

#The45Plus shows how easy it is to reach large number of people, and the Yes Alliance used this to good effect... when they wanted something, votes. How do MPs use social media the rest of the time? As a broadcast media channel or they only engage with people they know and agree with. I've had very little evidence to suggest any MP has "Listened" to my Tweets or posts let alone engaged with me.

But perhaps this is just as well because when policy makers and MPs engaged with #The45Plus, it all went to pot. We also see this with the built environment. When people were moved from the squalid conditions in tenements like the Gorbals to the new high rise flats or to the new schemes of Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel etc.they complained of feeling more disconnected

What a success this policy turned out to be! According to some academics we are entering the 4th generation in some areas where some people DO NOT KNOW ANYONE WHO HAS EVER HAD A JOB! These are stats that I find very hard to believe but I am assured it is the case.

There was order in the chaos of the squalid conditions, just as there is new types of chaos in the new ordering of the city. Schemes which housed only the poor and marginalised in areas with housing but no industry had some serious consequences.

There is a lot of resistance by educators today about things like for profit corporations involvement with education. However, at the same time, there is also criticism from teachers about a lack of support from other stakeholders like parents and their current employers: politicians.

My view is that job titles is something of "an elephant in the room" and the key to reform is: competency and trust. This should apply to all stakeholders regardless of whether people are policy makers, private companies, parents or teachers

If you are competent at what you do and are capable of establishing a culture of clear communication and trust, you should be allowed a seat at the Education table. In the past education used to be a bit of a mixed bag and seemed to evolve better than it is under the current conditions;

“Until the 19th Century, the small scale enterprises which provided the bulk of formal education were, typically, private concerns. The early universities were also independent; while in some societies there was a mixture of religious and charitable concerns. With the rise of the Nation State, and the development of the industrial society, all this changed. Education came to be viewed as a core responsibility of the state, and came more and more under tight state control… [as part of the] increasing tendency for government to actively involve itself in every area of social life.”  Alison Wolf  Does Education Matter

If competency and trust was the core requirement this might mean that education was more like the 19th Century with a lot less state control or political involvement. As Andrew Mawson highlights;

"The real tragedy is that, broadly speaking, the areas of deprivation in the UK have not shifted a great deal since Dickens Day, and any talk of a new approach of the kind I fervently believe would work has led to nothing but lots of strategizing, meetings, papers, conferences, seminars, websites...and when the money runs out, there is nothing left to show, no tangible results and so, of course, the show moves on." Andrew Mawson, The Social Entrepreneur 

I don't think that this is highlighted any better than with things like adult illiteracy rates... How can people sit in a class for 10 years and not be able to read. How can the problem whether the cause is undiagnosed dyslexia or some issue with poverty, parents, behvaiour or simply a lack of motivation to learn.

All we need to do is compare politicians record in education with (some) Charter Schools in the US and private education in the UK. From what I can see the differentiating factor between the two are;

1) Difficult to quantify: Competency
2) Issues stakeholders don't value: Culture (especially communications & trust)
3) Things Education can be nothing about: Family Income

SAT Scores and Income Inequality: How Wealthier Kids Rank Higher

Staying with the issue of competency and culture we also need to consider educators themselves, as they can be part of the problem, as films like Waiting for Superman highlights.

Equally, I'm not sure too many teachers would agree with some of the findings and reform ideas that Alison Wolf, Malcolm Gladwell, Sugata Mitra come up with.

This is again a criticism of policy makers regarding the culture of box ticking and fear, as opposed to any criticism of educators being unwilling to innovate.

Hey! Government! Leave them Kids Alone
It might be argued that education was better able to evolve with the needs of both the individual and employers before it was under the Nation States control

"We have almost forgotten that education had any purpose other that to promote [economic] growth. To read government documents of even 50 years ago, let along commentaries of the 19th Century, gives one a shock. Of course, their authors recognised that education had relevance to people's livelihoods and to the nation's prosperity. But their concern was as much, if not more, related to values, citizenship, the nature of good society & the intrinsic benefits of learning" Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Picks up on this by highlighting that "Ideally the end of extrinsically applied education should be the start of an education that is motivated intrinsically. At that point the goal of studying is no longer to make the grade, earn a diploma, and find a good job. Rather, it is to understand what is happening around you, to develop a personally meaningful sense of one’s experience. 

I could give quite a few examples of how badly the current system is letting people down but for brevity will provide two examples here;

1) Growing Gap Between What Business Needs and Education Provides
2) What Most Schools Don't Teach

Now go and compare youth unemployment figures with the number of unfilled coding jobs in the UK and see if you can spot any similarities. 

I reiterate that I 100% do not blame educators for any of these shortcomings, but the box ticking, fear, cuts and criticism and the general culture that politicians have managed to create. For more info see my Culture in Education report

So if the politicians actions have let people down with the "Order" they have created in the city, an order where the norm is that no-one in the scheme works, which has also created the "Big Sort," which then impacts on education so that the issues are not around class, race, religion etc but one of place "Is My Neighbourhood School Really that Bad" what could be done to resolve these issues?

Put them in work placements with role models? Put wayward boys who don't have any male role models at home in touch with people via a comprehensive work experience program? Maybe in Glasgow's world famous ship yards? Great idea! Fantastic! Exactly what Stephen Biddulph recommends! 

Oh wait? What's that? Shipyards have all but gone? They're under the control of foreign big business who don't care about anything except for cost cutting? These kind of apprenticeships were scrapped in the 1980s? WHAT politicians replaced them for YTS schemes? Oh, but they are back again now? Modern apprenticeships you say...

In Freakonimics the authors argue that the reason a serious crime wave in the 1990's started to decline was less to do with politicians initiatives and more to do with the 1970s Roe Vs Wade court case that legalised abortion, as this will have led to less kids living in deprived areas in single parent families.

Let's consider this with the abolishment of "Old Style" apprenticeships where you got life skills as well as trade skills over a 4 year period during the formative teenage years. Any 15 year old boys in 1987 who lacked any male role models in their life would be 42 today. If they had a child at 20 and their kids had children at 20 as well and live in a poor neighbourhood, with poor performing schools, no strong male role models in their life and a poor economy... it kind of makes you wonder. 

"From 14 to adult boys need input from male mentors if he is to complete the journey into being fully grown up. Mum and dad step back a little, but they must organise some good mentors in their son's life or he will have to rely on an ill-equipped peer group for his sense of self. The aim is to learn skills, responsibility and self-respect by joining more and more with the adult community.

We need to bring in extra help from the community when our sons are in their mid-teens - the role that used to be taken by family members (Uncles and grandfathers) or the tradesmen-apprenticeship relationship. Too often, teenagers move outwards into the big world but no-one is there to catch them, and they spend their teens and early adulthood in a dangerous half-way stage. Some just never grow up.

It's a fair bet that many problems - especially with boys' behaviour, poor school motivation, and with young men getting into strife with the law (drink-driving, fighting etc) - are because we haven't known about these stages and haven't provided the right human ingredients at the right times". 
Steve Biddulph, Raising Boys (Page 7)

Most of these conditions are the result of some politician and their clever think tanks in their role as "Crowd pleaser" and their popularity contest and the never ending search for soundbites and looking good in the short term.

Do Politicians Deliver Value? I don't think that what they have done with urban planning, education, or catering to business needs in a way that facilitates growth is an entirely glowing record. Maybe they could do with a hand. 

Finnish Lessons
Everyone admires the Finnish Education system but I was impressed by what the Finnish Prime Minister said on HardTalk last night when he admitted that;

"Politicians don't create growth, entrepreneurs do... All that politicians can do is try to facilitate the conditions for this growth"

Man! A great education system, angry birds and an enlightened politician! 

Not just an enlightened politician but one who is an optimist. Speaking of the demise of Nokia - A demise, I hasten to add, that would have happened a heck of a lot sooner if the Nokia Founder had not had the foresight to move from paper mills to technology - the employees will go off and start their own companies and come up with new innovations. 

Take me to Finland! Or maybe I can see the same things happening in Dundee, or at Finnieston & Newlands in Glasgow.

I rest my argument that, left to their own devices, a lot of policy decisions simply creates havoc. But is anything less to be expected? 

"He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions" The Richest Man in Babylon

I will be picking up on this theme by highlighting the role that business plays, directly and indirectly, with education in my next post: Visionaries + Space + Edu = Ideal Economic Conditions

I will then go on to highlight that the issues I'm discussing are societies problems, so are all our problems... not just the politicians. 

Even if this were not the case would we really want to leave such important issues in the hands of politicians? I will suggest some ideas for how the new political activists can spend their time besides waving flags and cheering on the politicians who make as much in expenses as some of "the people they serve" earn as their entire wage!

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