I got back from Paris on Monday. I was deeply moved by the history of the city but heartbroken by its current state. On Saturday I went up Montmartre to see the majestic cathedral at the hilltop, Sacré-Cœur. It is a testament to the potential of human creativity: the beauty that lies dormant in each of us, waiting most of our lives to be expressed.
After venturing inside, I took the funicular railway down the hill and edged my way through narrow streets of shoddy souvenir shops and past a multitude of suspicious selfie-stick salesmen. It was almost as bad as Rome in this regard. At the main road further down, I was waiting to cross when two young men slowly crept over behind two young Parisiennes. I could see it coming from a mile away, but I froze in the moment. The taller of the two men reached beneath one girl’s coat and groped her from behind.
I was totally shaken. My first thought was, “what if that was my daughter?” I wanted to go over and knock them both out, but hesitated and ultimately just stood watching. What was most painful to see was the girls’ instinctual acceptance: the other girl took her friend’s arm and they walked away. It was obviously not the first time they’d experienced this sort of thing. What a vicious contrast to the majesty of the cathedral just behind me.
The whole thing threw me into a state of deep despair. “How can we ever change such a rotten world?”, I thought. In a world where such malevolence is commonplace, how can we ever have hope for a better world? It’s childish naïveté to believe it’s possible. Ultimately I found myself feeling hopeless and gave up inside.
Later on I came to my senses again and considered what a “better world” would look like, and how it could feasibly be built. I recalled a thought I’ve had for some time: governments devote most of their energy and resources to damage limitation, e.g. bolstering security measures, rather than tackling the psychological and ideological problems that fester within individuals and communities. I’m no fan of Tony Blair’s, but the one thing he got right is that the solution is “education, education, education”.
The government puts forth a general curriculum based on which schools are expected to educate their students and according to which each student’s progress is measured. It is no mystery that our education system – in the UK at least – is lacking in many areas. I’d argue that not enough emphasis is made on the way individual students learn. Education is not a one-size-fits-all system: ultimately, it is a personal journey of self-discovery.
Even more important, I’d argue, is the superficiality of our education system. Any effective education system needs a solid foundation of underlying internal values. What values do we teach in the UK? Our education system is predicated on platitudes of diversity, equality and inclusiveness. These are not values in and of themselves, as their definition requires a specified context, i.e. do we seek diversity of thought or of ethnic background?
I do not intend to propose a suitable set of values in this post, as I don’t have the authority to speak on them and I don’t have all the answers. It’s something I’m researching and will discuss in later posts. Instead I’m trying to encourage a focus on our roots, rather than the fruits which our shallow and rotting roots are producing. If you plant an olive tree, you’ll harvest olives; if you plant an apple tree, you’ll harvest apples.