Hearing from the Silent Majority

It’s supposed to be the silly season for newspapers, but last week’s Guardian had a couple of disturbing pieces of reportage. Both beg the question of whether we’re at that point when extreme ideologies need to be loudly challenged.

First, there are the on-going, and increasingly vitriolic, attacks on President Obama’s Healthcare reforms in the US. Aside from the disgusting photoshopping of Obama-as-Hitler images now openly proliferating, the NHS is being traduced in order to scare ‘middle America’. From where I sit (a campsite in Italy, since you ask) it seems astonishing that barefaced lies can be peddled about our health service, and neither the British government, nor the Embassy, offers nothing by way of correction, instead preferring to defer to the usual ‘internal issues’ argument. It’s not a US-specific issue when forums become full of rubbish about 70 year-olds being left to die. I’ve been visiting a few forums, offering some personal perspectives, and I know many other UK citizens are doing the same – but it would help if Gordon Brown would publicly denounce what’s going on. And here’s the second mystery: if there are 46 million US residents without health insurance, why the hell haven’t we heard from them?

The second came in a piece by Conservative Shadow education Minister, Michael Gove. Mr Gove continues to wage war on the ‘progressives’ among us (see this recent speech for the main thrust of his arguments). The occasion this time was a personal attack on Ed Balls, maintaining that ‘Ed has preffered to side with a complacent bureaucracy rather than concerned parents’ . The root cause of this concern seems to be that curriculum changes are dumbing-down the ‘aspirational in British society’. Unnamed academics (since when did they become respectable again?) have branded the new science curriculum a “catastrophe” and ‘the numbers pursuing other truly demanding subjects – especially modern languages – are in terribly decline’. And then there’s the usual stuff about the ‘gold standard’ of A-levels being trashed again.

Yada-yada, I guess. But isn’t it time that this stuff was countered by the only people Gove and colleagues might listen to – the parents? There seems to be an automatic assumption that if you’re an aspirational parent, you want your child to have an academic understanding of science, rather than doing science. The reality might be that all parents might have an aspiration that their child might become fascinated by, and curious about, science (and modern languages for that matter) . The changes came about because the previous curriculum had made science a ‘purely academic’ pursuit – that is, kids couldn’t see the point. So, we need as many parents as possible (and not just the ones who see university life as an essential requirement for their kids) to become vocal over their real aspirations, which aren’t just limited to achievement. It’s to be hoped that the Open Source Alliance can help provide the vehicle for the silent majority.

The current health and education debates show that, if we’re not careful, liberal progressives on both sides of the Atlantic will be outflanked by the ill-founded bombast of the right, who claim to ‘speak for’ the majority.

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