Ahhh, summer, the warm hazy nights segue into yellow weather warnings, coastal collapse and wide spread flooding. What could be more gloriously British than appalling weather throughout the summer period barring the few days set aside every year where it’s hot enough for the Sun newspaper to run the headline, ‘Phwoar, what a scorcher!’? This is not however about bemoaning the base wit of the nation’s most populist paper or even a treatise on climate change, the effects of which are so luridly apparent that it beggars belief that people still stroll around in t-shirts pronouncing that ‘if a few sunny days is the impact of climate change then bring it on’. No, no, this is an article that whilst ostensibly pretends to be about education is in fact a thinly veiled sideswipe about how terrible things and stuff are.
So, I’ve just got back from holidays, Gran Canaria, very hot, very volcanic, blue seas yadda yadda yadda. It was a lovely holiday marred only by my constant and now long running preoccupation with the British and our place in the world. This is not a rant about Brits abroad, not really – although suffice to say there was one family who went out of their way to slip under the already titanically low bar that has been set for them. Their every calculated move an attempt to showcase their vocal stylings, capacity for day drinking and dive bombing the children’s pool. Our Scandi neighbours looking at them with disgust and at us with pity, the kind of special pity reserved for when an elderly cat befouls itself, slips in it and then paddles its effluence around a cream carpet. A look that suggests sadness that it should have come to this.
As riven as the country is by Brexit and regular readers will know (spoiler alert) I’m not a fan, this is not really what this article is about – rather it is about the different attitudes held within our country than elsewhere. The hotel you see catered for a largely Scandinavian clientele, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish primarily, notably these countries are not within the EU but rather than double down on that potentially isolating fact they are open, progressive liberal societies, pioneering bold initiatives in education, public spending (480 days of maternity leave anybody?), sustainability and in the addressing of climate change. All of which is the direct opposite of what is happening in Britain at the moment and it all comes down to the same thing – education.
Education is the bedrock from which modern society hews itself, without clear minded articulation of the perils we face where are the next Greta Thunberg’s coming from or the scientists dreaming up new and different ways of addressing the concerns that the next generation will encounter? When science can be disregarded as opinion, when facts are subjective and experts derided (BoJo I’m looking at you) what possible chance do we as a nation have of retaining relevance in the world let alone our standing? Our past glories shackle us to a melting iceberg with people refusing to admit the water level is rising because 350 years ago we were quite the thing. Education is the bulwark upon which stupidity should dash its brains out and despite the extra several billion that mop headed charlatan had inexplicably found down the back of the sofa the chances of his education spending promises being realised are slim.
Everyone around the pool, and I mean everyone, spoke flawless English (other than the Brits) because from the earliest moment they’ve been taught that independence is meaningless without co-operation, they face the world open armed and open eyed, they recognise the challenges ahead and for them to be part of the solution they need the lingua franca of the Western world. I’m not suggesting we all become fluent in Suomi but the holiday confirmed my already long held belief that we have something quite marvellous to learn from our Viking cousins, namely progressive internationalism. They showed a flair for it in the 800s and whilst they pivoted away from pillaging towards modular furniture they have embraced the world market and close co-operation. We however seem to be retreating from the world with increasing rapidity, we talk about trade deals but refuse to learn the language of what may become our largest trading partners. We teach French in schools not Chinese or Russian, Spanish is often an afterthought and German redundant as they speak English in order to deal with everyone else.
We are falling off the pace in so many regards and, as I may have resigned myself to, the inevitability of Brexit looms we are horribly underprepared, not just from a practical standpoint but from an ideological one. We don’t invest in education enough, not just in the teaching of languages which should be paramount but in the actual ‘education’ of the students that would give them the tools to challenge their parents when they not just dive bomb a child’s pool but also to question their judgement when it comes to important referenda. Languages not withstanding what the Scandis have right is their understanding that isolationism never works and pulling up the drawbridge leads to North Korea not Shangri La, a fact their English speaking children innately understand in a way that too many of our adults do not.