Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Friendship - a Cure for Poverty

The problem of poverty is not just a lack of money. Indeed, the vast majority of people in Britain have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies (even though a worrying number rely on food banks to put it there). More serious is the fact that poor people are more likely to smoke, to take drugs, to eat unhealthily, so that a man born in the lowest socio-economic group will live on average almost six years fewer than a man born in the highest.

Our response to this problem is to tell people to act differently: 'Say No to Drugs', 'Smoking Kills', 'Eat your Five a Day' etc. This solution suffers from a serious drawback; it doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work is that human beings do not take advice from strangers, much less strangers speaking through impersonal bureaucracies. We take advice only from people we trust, our friends.

The vision of Comprehensive Education, a vision in which I have faith, was that it would take people born into different circumstances and bring them together, building a more harmonious society. The reality is different; children from different backgrounds are taught in the same schools, but their coming together is far from harmonious.

Imagine you were raised on a farm, whose master told you were useless, good for nothing except mucking out the barn. Would you be friends with your brother who was praised to the skies, and destined to keep the accounts and run the estate? No, you would be jealous and no friendship could grow with your brother because the two of you could not meet on equal terms.

If there was a place in the curriculum where children of all academic abilities could work together on an equal footing (see below) then friendships between them could flourish. And through those friendships, in a spirit of love and compassion, decisions that blight people's lives could be reversed.

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