Last February, Professor Gus John delivered a keynote address at the “Mending Broken Britain? Education’s Response” Conference, which was organised by Curriculum Enrichment for the Common Era (CE4CE) and sponsored by Birmingham City University.
Against the background of the riots that spread across Britain in August 2011, this national conference aimed to unpick something of the complex causes of the unrest and analyse the crucial role of education in addressing these profound issues. The output of the conference has now been turned into a report that you can read here.
This report chronicles the processes, content and outcomes of this remarkable conference that brought together a wide range of teachers and other professionals who believed that education services must articulate a clear role in building a cohesive society.
As a keynote speaker, Professor Gus John delivered a heartfelt and emotional presentation: A Generation Betrayed. Beginning with the issues related to Stop and Search and Section 60 powers and the killing of Mark Duggan he provided a deep historical analysis as to what had happened to members of the black community over a forty year span.
Citing John Lambert’s research in 1970 he demanded to know what had happened to a community that arrived with such high aspirations and low incidence of criminality to the present when ‘the recorded age of those involved in gun and knife enabled crime is getting lower and lower and consequently there is a growing number of school aged children killing one another, often while in school uniform‘.
Gus John’s causal analysis ranged from ‘the corrosive effect of racism on our psyche and on our collective consciousness as people,’ through the negative impact of a materialistic and selfish culture, to the development of a fear of children who were brought up with no sense of boundaries or respect for others and who were adversely influenced by the ‘grotesque influence of the culture of the street’ that so often displaced the values and the culture of the parents.
Gus John also argued that respect for self and for others was fundamental and that it ‘grows by giving it practical expression in all aspects of daily living.’ How’ he asked, ‘have we failed to guide and assist our children in standing for something and in letting that something reflect the basic human values of : Respect, Fairness, Justice, Interdependence, Compassion and Integrity.’
For Gus John, the solution was as multifaceted as the problem, and was dependent on family, community, school, society and young people themselves coming together to help raise aspiration and attainment predicated upon a number of building blocks for developing what he called, The Holistic Self.
Though Gus John’s presentation covered issues related to the black community he argued that so much of it applied to other disadvantaged groups. He, like all main speakers and workshops, emphasised the fact that there were many more people who were not involved in this level of violence.