Em's place

Writing, anxiety-wrangling, tea.

The question I cannot stop asking myself

By Emma on May 26, 2014

It took a long time for me to get to sleep last night. That’s not unusual. I have a fizzy brain that gets particularly loud when the lights go off. But instead of churning over personal worries or the plot of my current work in progress, I was lying awake worrying about the fact that a man has the power to dictate which books are studied – and more importantly NOT studied – by children in UK schools.

I don’t need to say that one of the texts he is removing from the syllabus is one of the most important books of the 20th century about racism and bigotry told from a child’s perspective, do I? Because it’s so fucking obvious, given the state of things, that a government run by wealthy, privileged white men would want to stop kids reading a book like that.

But I’m getting angry again. Back to last night.

I lay there wondering how it could be that one over-privileged man belonging to a political party that the vast majority of the people in this country did not vote for (either by not voting at all or voting for another party) could dictate what should and shouldn’t be read in schools.

Then I wondered if he really does have that power. The media certainly portrays it that way but is there in fact a committee that makes this kind of policy and he is the sap that stands up and takes the abuse/credit for it? Is this the work of lobbyists – or considering this government, one of their rich mates – saying “Hey, Govey boy, I own the company that owns the rights to these British works. If you change the syllabus, we make more money.”

Then I realised the only thing I could be sure of in all of this is: I don’t know. And that worried me.

This morning I woke up to an overwhelmingly disappointing set of European election results. A feature on BBC news that I tuned in to watch was bumped last minute. The item bumped: Matt Haig talking about how idiotic Gove’s new curriculum is. What it was replaced by: A “journalist” walking around a car boot sale in Worksop asking members of the public about the European election results. That is not news. It is not journalism. And it is certainly not higher priority than a hugely successful writer challenging Government education policy.

But I digress. I felt more than depressed by the successes of the far right, I felt frightened. Surely this sort of bullshit couldn’t happen in 2014? Did no-one remember anything from recent history?

But of course, it’s not that simple. And whilst the temptation is to launch into a tirade against the media, I won’t. Because one woman writing about that on a little blog is not going to achieve anything.

I didn’t want to face a day in a country where right-wing idiots receive the lion’s share of coverage by the BBC. I don’t want to live in a country where rich people have managed to tap into the ignorance and fears of a public unwilling to question the shit being fed to them on the media spoon. I don’t want to consume a broader narrative focused on irrelevancies such as the size of some celebrity’s arse instead of the underlying causes of the mess we’re in.

But I also didn’t feel comfortable with switching it all off and spending the day with my family with bursts of writing in between. It felt wrong to run off to a fantastical world of my making.

I realised I was at a crossroads. I could either ignore this for my own emotional wellbeing or I could do something.

It’s been a long, long time since I believed I could have any impact by voting. Actually, I don’t think I ever really have. But I have voted every single time because women fought so hard for that right. Who am I to squander the rights they earned for me?

Then it occurred to me that I live in country with a political system that feels so totally borked and corrupt and distant from my everyday life but which is also a country where nothing is stopping me from participating. I can join a political party. I have the right to do that. And the only things stopping me from being active in that party (assuming I find one I feel I can support) are my energy levels, my priorities and my need to earn money. People have died – are dying – right now, fighting for that very right to participate and I was there, reading Twitter, feeling upset.

I made a commitment today to research the two parties I think align with my personal political opinions. I’m going to join one of them. Being anxiety prone, conflict averse and very stressed about money, I’m uncertain how far I will be able to participate. But I’m going to do all I can. If only to answer the question I can’t stop asking myself:

What if all the people who feel as disillusioned with politics and mass media as I do actually stepped up and entered the system to change it?

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{ 7 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. celticbigmoose says:

    The thing I’ve never understood is why anyone has the right to dictate what is and what is not a worthwhile book. For a long time I was put off reading because I didn’t fancy any approved texts. Then I realised I was in fact a person and allowed to read what I damn well pleased and make up my own mind what was a good book. So I read some Babylon 5 books and fell in love with reading and low and behold now I find myself reading all sorts I never fancied. Apologies for my long and ill expressed although I believe valid opinion.

  2. Action Kate says:

    This is a lot of the same things we’ve been feeling on the left side of the pond for several years now. Obama’s election helped for a while, but the right went even nuttier in response.

    It still fascinates me, in a car-crash sort of way, how the right can consistently say they want Government Regulation out of our lives (meaning whatever rich old white straight Christian landowning businessmen use to make money) but they work as hard as possible putting Government Regulations into every aspect of our lives (dictating what schools can teach, what medical procedures you’re allowed to have, what medical insurance will pay for, what books you’re allowed to read, what prayers you will listen to, what prayers you’re allowed to listen to, who you’re allowed to marry, how much money you can make, the entire political process, how you can become a citizen, your decisions about parenthood, etc.).

    Because they genuinely believe that only the things which benefit rich old white straight Christian landowning businessmen are morally correct, and everything else is Bad and Wrong and Must Be Stopped.

  3. Gunter says:

    I think one of the issues is that people that think of themselves as well-educated seriously believe that the have to tell schools, their teachers their pupils what would be acceptable books to read. As far as I am concerned the whole thing should be about helping children to start reading! Every step that narrows down possible choices is a step in the wrong direction.
    Books carry ideas, books carry visions. We don’t have to like each and every one of them, but it is basically a good thing to have the possibility to learn about different ideas, different points of views. Of course, some ideas can lead to unexpected results. But are there good ideas or bad ideas? Are there even dangerous ideas? Well, maybe.
    But I believe that there is a reason why we have brains and we we have learned to talk. Because that way, we have the means to think about what someone else has written and to discuss those ideas with other people. That way we get new ideas, new points of view. But first of all, the brain needs some kind of spark. And that is what books are for.
    No-one should mess around with what children have to read, should or should not read. Just get those children to read books, talk about them (at school, at home, everywhere) and let them develop their own taste, their own ideas – their own personality!
    … Well, I can see why some people are afraid of some books.

  4. Martin says:

    Whatever you do, however much you do, you’ll make the world better. Go for it!

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  5. What about the idea of giving the book away for free? It’s something that’s been done with a certain amount of success in the US. Not as good as having it in the curriculum, but it gives the book a certain appeal to be both banned and freely available in limited quantities.

  6. Icy Sedgwick says:

    In some ways, I don’t think the two events (Gove being a prick and the rise of UKIP) are not necessarily unconnected. Indeed, I wasn’t sure if it was a prediction on their part or simply coincidence but Watch showed V for Vendetta two days on the trot. And indeed, should the UK swing towards the far right simply because they’re better at scaring people into voting for them than the left is at arguing convincingly, what will be the first thing to go? Knowledge. Education. After all, UKIP even complained that they’d done badly in the London local elections because they couldn’t appeal to the educated.

    I suspect Gove wants to focus on British texts because he’s had a leaning towards entrenching an idea of ‘Britishness’ in the curriculum for some time (one need only look at his plans for the history syllabus) and naturally UKIP would probably agree with that, and while on the one hand there is nothing wrong with teaching youngsters of their nation’s history or literature, on the other hand it should not be at the expense of everything beyond our borders.

    My contribution will be to continue within education, and continue encouraging my students to seek answers and think for themselves.

  7. I understand you grief and your fear. I think I will be in the same situation come November. I’m worried the Republicans are going to take control of the Senate, and god only knows what mischief they will get up to.

    That said — good for you for fighting. Voting does matter. I look at 2000 and what a difference 600 votes might have made. I also know people have endured beatings and murder for the right to vote so I feel an obligation to their ghosts if nothing else.

    I don’t know how it is in Britain, but in the U.S. if our side comes out and votes — we win. Because we outnumber the conservatives by a wide margin. So I focus on voter registration, and get out the vote efforts. I give money when I can. It sometimes feels like we’re trying to sweep back the tide, but they count on us becoming disillusioned and giving up. I’m not going to give them the satisfaction.

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