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Terror in our schools

For the media, reports of bad behaviour, assaults, stabbings, teenage drinking, attacks on the elderly and the like are daily fare.

This was the headline covering the front page story in the Belfast Telegraph on 12 August. The story was under the by-line of Linda McKee but the editor obviously thought it deserved greater exposure because the same story in almost the same words and sensational statistics appeared again on page 7 under the name of Dan McGinn.

We learnt from a screaming sub-heading that 1,000 pupils in Northern Ireland had been suspended from school for attacking staff. The body of the news item reduced the stridency of the headline by telling us that the figure of 1,000 was for a period of three years and that only 14 of the cases concerned merited expulsion. Statistically the article could have said that less than 0.047 per cent of pupils in Northern Ireland were accused of abusive behaviour towards teachers every year and between four and five of the complaints on each of the three years were serious enough to merit expulsion. The truth, however, has less impact than the sensational and it is the sensational that sells newspapers and makes profits for the self-interested moguls whose papers have such an important input into the formation of our opinions.

In this case the front page author was not only skilled in sensationalising but she was able to tell her readers how to resolve the problem. She tells us that the dreadful happenings she depicts happened 'without proper punishments' leading us to the assumption that punishment - by definition an act of violence - is the answer to the problem of violence.

Influenced youth culture

For the media, reports of bad behaviour, assaults, stabbings, teenage drinking, attacks on the elderly and the like are daily fare. Good behaviour is rarely news, perhaps because it is much more common than the stuff the press reports and, indeed, is what the public regard as normal despite frenetic media persuasion to the contrary.

That said, it is true that violence against the aged, alcohol- and drug-induced violence and muggings have become unsavoury aspects of social concern. Now there are burglar alarms where often people were careless about locking their doors at night and a night-time fear of errant behaviour often imposes a curfew on the elderly and the timid in many town and city centres.

We have to examine the causes of these patterns of behaviour against the background of the present way of life and to show that they are part of the myriad problems for which capitalism has no answer and another reason for considering the rational socialist alternative to the way we live.

Capitalism created a need for those employed in the production and distribution of its goods and services to posses a basic knowledge of what became known as the Three R's: reading, writing and arithmetic. Accordingly the capitalist state institutionalised basic education as a legal requirement. But at that stage education beyond the basic was all the system required of working class children. 'Their betters', the scions of the rich, could have their educational horizons widened at universities to enrich their lives and prepare them as 'leaders' of society. Giving the working class the ability to read, however, opened the floodgates of knowledge and speeded the debunking of many of the myths on which religious morality is based.

Demand of the labour market

It is probably true to say that the capitalist political administration in its urgency to provide a more technically efficient labour force now robs the young of an important segment of childhood. Children are forced into the educational process at a younger age and within a few years their educational apprenticeship into the competitive demands of the labour market means that they are working at school and at home for a greater part of each day than those actually at work.

Now the schools have become educational factories, with harassed teachers themselves under compulsion to justify capitalism's investment in what is still quaintly referred to as education and pupils induced to sacrifice their vital formative years in the hope that it will make them more competitive - by definition more aggressive and with fewer social concerns - in the hard world of capitalism.

Because education in capitalism is about creating the most efficient varieties of wage slaves those deemed by early audit to be a poor educational investment are rejected and stigmatised as failures. Further attendance at school in these cases often becomes a form of punishment and it is easy to see how young people, rejected and labelled failures, can build antagonisms towards teachers, schools and towards the society that has branded them.

The effect of New Labour's charges on third-level education - the mountains of debt now facing working class students who earned the right to compete for the more specialised jobs - has not yet worked its way through the system. It is not hard, however to appreciate the disillusion and alienation of a qualified teacher, for example, with a debt of £20,000 who can't get a job and finds him- or herself filling supermarket shelves.

In the wider field, news true and false is now an intensive, heavily-capitalised, industry pumping out all sorts of information twenty-four hours of every day while concealing anything that might reveal the real cause of most of the news that is reported. Without exception, all the major news media, print and electronic, promote the patriotic fervour that is so utterly meaningless and shallow; even commercialised sport, art, culture or any other human activity is used as a conduit to an aggressive xenophobic competitiveness that blights understanding between peoples. Hence, we get things like football hooliganism, so roundly condemned by those who do most to promote it.

Political clout

The search for the news commodity is borderless and inexorable: media lies and hype make politicians celebrities just as media lies and truth can strip them and castigate them when there's kudos in a story or when they threaten some interest of the parasites who own a section of the news media. We hear how the results of a general election can be determined by the owner of a rag like the Sun and how governmental consideration is given to policies that might not find sympathy with some media mogul with more political clout than a million voters.

We are well, if not accurately informed; however disinterested we might be we cannot escape the knowledge that social democracy does not exist and our political democracy is at the level where political parties do not win elections; their opponents simply lose them while millions do not vote because they have abandoned the idea that their votes are of any real value.

Meanwhile, the wars go on somewhere every day; so does the competitive brutality of the marketplace, its money shuffling, and corporate swindling and corruption. The disgusting self-interest of leading politicians and public figures the swingeing poverty of social services and the application of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders to the problem of errant youth, visionless, disillusioned, often intellectually deprived and now, under New Labour, left to the tender mercies of the police.

RICHARD MONTAGUE