Saturday 8 March 2008
Richard Ingrams' Week: Scorn is the price people pay for having an education
When education minister Andy Burnham was talking last month about plans to introduce schoolchildren to culture, I pointed out that nowadays what we older folk think of as culture is regarded by many people in authority as elitist. I am grateful to Burnham's fellow minister, Mrs Margaret Hodge, for spelling this out very clearly in a speech this week to the Institute for Public Policy Research.
"The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events – I'm thinking in particular of the Proms but it is true of many others – is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this." Mrs Hodge was promptly jumped on by all manner of critics including a Downing Street spokesman who defended the Proms as "a wonderfully democratic and quintessentially British institution".
It was all very well for those people to work themselves up. The fact remains, however, that Mrs Hodge in her typically semi-literate comments, represents the views of a great many important people in government and the teaching profession. Whereas in the past it was generally accepted that great art, literature and music could and should be enjoyed by everybody regardless of class or background, they are now regarded as the private preserve of a privileged, well-educated, white middle-class minority and therefore to be regarded with suspicion. So if Mrs Hodge had her way, the organisers of the Proms might be encouraged to introduce rap music to make "people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this".
There is nothing very satirical about such ideas which are already being put into practice. Mrs Hodge may not be able to express herself very clearly, but her opinions are far from being controversial as Gordon Brown might like us to think. Mrs Hodge is mainstream.
Never declare your love in an email
Why do so many people continue to entrust their most intimate, most potentially embarrassing thoughts to emails when it is so obviously a perilous thing to do? The latest to be brought down by a seemingly insane venture into cyberspace is Red Ken Livingstone's aide Mr Lee Jasper, director for equalities and policing for the Greater London Authority.
Already under fire over financial irregularities, Jasper was forced to quit this week when extracts from his emails to Ms Karen Chouhan, the company secretary of one of his beneficiaries, Black Londoners Forum, were published and described in the popular press as "steamy". "Darling," he wrote in one of them, "I want to wisk (sic) you away to a deserted beach, honey glaze you, let you cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace." Many men may have felt that way in their time, but few were foolish enough to commit their fantasies to a computer.
The same sort of thing happened not so long ago when a judge was revealed to have sent an email to his Brazilian cleaning lady, whom he later accused of blackmail. His message was equally steamy if not quite so poetically worded: "You are a lovely shag. Missing you already." Embarrassment is not the only risk you run. During Tony Blair's recent honours scandal, his so-called gatekeeper, Ruth Turner, was arrested for allegedly concealing emails from the police. Released without charge, she denied any wrongdoing. The moral is that when it comes to steamy or malicious thoughts there is no substitute for old-fashioned pen and paper.
* Lamenting the sharp decline in the number of male head teachers, the owlish shadow Education minister Michael Gove said: "It's crucial we get effective role models for the next generation." Whatever role models schoolboys may have nowadays they are more likely to be footballers or pop singers. Certainly not headmasters. Nor does any man want to become a headmaster in order to be just a role model.
The reason I suspect that fewer men apply for the job is that it no longer gives them the opportunity to exercise almost unlimited power over their pupils and staff. Men, more so than women, suffer from the power urge which is why the majority of politicians will always be male, in spite of all the efforts of the feminists to change the status quo.
The headmasters we remember were remote and quite frightening figures, exercising power with the help of corporal punishment when necessary. Sometimes they were benevolent, sometimes sadistic. But there was no denying their absolute authority. Even parents approached them with trepidation. But that is no longer the case. Today's heads, male and female, must be at the beck and call of parents, encouraging them to play a part in the life of the school, making themselves available to listen to the smallest, most trivial complaint.
Then there is the constant interference from the Government, almost every week proposing new tests, regulations and guidelines. So whatever perks the job may offer, exercising supreme power is no longer one of them. Any man wanting that would be better off applying for a job as a traffic warden.
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