I went to Boy #1's school assembly this week. As his parent I have a standing invitation to attend, so I try and go when I can. It's powerful stuff, watching all those bright and open faces paying attention to their headmaster (or not, as the case might be), singing the school song, fidgeting when it goes on too long, pinching each other, listening to the band or the choir or whatever is 'on show' that week.
Boy #1's is not a church or even slightly religious school - with 52 different nationalities it would be hard-pushed to find one religion in the ascendant over the others - but it is most definitely a British school, in the traditional sense. In fact, not a British school, since I have no experience of Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish schools, but an English school, if I'm honest. And they sing English hymns, one of which - 'Jerusalem' - appears every week.
'Jerusalem' is a Marmite hymn, I think. You either love it or hate it, and I love it. Well, I can take or leave the first verse, but the second makes me fill up every time. Don't know the words? Here they are...
'Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!
I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land'
Why do I love that? Because it's symbolic. It's about a state of mind rather than a state per se. For 'England' read 'your home', which could be anywhere. It's about taking where you are and trying to make it better, it's about constantly striving to to make a difference, at least to me. Like so much poetry - which, by the way, is what 'Jerusalem' was originally - it's all about the individual's interpretation. And also because it is not representative - to me, at least - of only one Jerusalem (or Mecca, or Delhi, or Beijing or New York). It can be about anyone's Jerusalem.
Now, I am not going to get all patriotic and jingo-istic here. But I would like to point out that in the past, a lot of different interpretations of 'Jerusalem' have been given house-room in the UK. People moved here from all over the world because they were allowed - almost more than anywhere else - to live as they chose within the framework of society. Of course you could say, well that's no freedom at all, 'within the framework of society', but I beg to disagree. Not for nothing has the phrase 'An Englishman's home is his castle' been in common use since before 1628, and enshrined in law since around the same time.
Which makes the increasing levels of control and censorship (think; cctv cameras - 4.2 million in the UK at last count - think; id cards; think; biometrics on your passport) that we all blindly accept seem even worse to me. Cut to the chase, PM. What's the point of all this wittering, I hear you ask? Well, I've been checking in on Grit's blog recently. She has been documenting the current government push to control us, by persuading people that home education is intrinsicially wrong. Never mind that there might not be much other choice for a child. Never mind that they may have been bullied at their local school and that the educational establishment has run out of alternatives. Never mind, in fact, that it's a parent's right to decide what is the best educational choice for their child.
"What? Those home-ed people? She's fighting their corner?" I hear you mutter. Well, yes, actually. In the interests of full disclosure, I don't home educate, because I don't feel I have to. But I fully sympathise with those who feel it's their only choice, and this is the type of treatment home educators are currently facing:
'Basically, they require home educators to request to home educate, register, and apply annually for a 'licence'. Home educators have no power to prevent access to the home, must submit to monitoring, and are required to give up their child to interview alone (police and social workers don't have that power). The government is in effect outlawing autonomous education - which can be a play-based education - while making home ed appear too disreputable or threatening for parents to choose.'
There isn't space here to go into all the implications of what Graham Badman's select committee are trying to push through, and I don't pretend - as an outsider to this debate - to understand each and every back and forward. I suggest you visit Grit's blog to take a closer look, and if you are inspired to take any action go sign the petition here to reject the report currently under consideration. What I do know is that this just doesn't seem fair; children who have been failed by school based education in the UK, are being forced back into it because it doesn't fit with the government's plans that their parents have made alternative arrangements.
I can't help but wonder where this madness is going to end. Soviet-style schooling, where all individual choice and preference is removed from the equation? Because let's be frank, whilst it might seem a wonderful dream to imagine a country with equal education opportunities for all, it is well-documented that there was a pecking order even in the glory days of communism; all schools were equal but some - invariably the ones attended by the children of Party luminaries - were more equal than others.
Surely, even if you don't agree with the choice to educate children at home or in establishments not funded by the government (i.e. privately), you are open to the fact that in an ostensibly free and democratic society, there should be a choice in the first place?