Alex Massie

Malcolm X and Michael Gove: Big Society Brothers?

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A splendid spot by Dave Osler at Liberal Conspiracy: Malcolm X's ideas about education in Harlem and Brooklyn aren't so very different from those Michael Gove has in mind for Haringey or Toxteth. As Malcolm X wrote:

The Board of Education in this city [New York] has said … there are 10 percent of schools in Harlem and the Bedford-Stuyvesant community in Brooklyn that they canot improve. So what are we to do?

‘This means that the Organization of Afro-American Unity must make the Afro-American community a more potent force for educational self-improvement.

‘A first step in the program to end the existing system of racist education is to demand that the 10 percent of the schools that the Board of Education will not include in its plan be turned over to and run by the Afro-American community itself.

‘Since they say that they can’t improve these schools, why should you and I who live in the community let these fools continue to run and produce this low standard of education? No, let them turn those schools over to us.

‘Since they say they can’t handle them, nor can they correct them, let us take a whack at it.’

The situation is different but the fundamental analysis is comparable. In terms of the English debate on education, Labour finds itself in the curious position of defending monopoly provision in the name of some kind of so-called progress or equality when, alas, it's exactly the lack of progress or equality of opportunity that Gove's "radical" reforms are intended to address. This doesn't mean they'll succeed  - not every charter school in the United States is a great school - but, fundamentally and at least in this instance, Malcolm X was right: let us take a whack at it.

Still, when Labour argue that Gove's plans are "too radical" the Coalition should embrace the charge. Radical? When the status quo fails too many  - despite the best efforts of so many - who can honestly be in favour of protecting it from any experimentation?

Jonathan Blanks has more on Malcolm X and capitalism here.