Pride is commonly referred to as a sin. A deadly one at that. But much like any other emotion, it’s part of our character and won’t be going away. Some forms of pride are more acceptable than others. Pride in a job well done, in the accomplishments of one’s offspring or in the achievements of your team. National pride tends to exist in a slightly murky world, where the triumphs of heroes and heroines share an uncomfortable space with nationalists who seem to focus more on the perceived inferiority of others than anything ‘their gang’ might have actually done.
I’m proud of being British, but it’s sometimes hard to define why. Our history contains stories of gallant exploration and social building, but is stained with genocide and ethnic cleansing. The victories over Napoleon and Hitler go hand in hand with the historical account of our destruction and slavery of African tribes and the murder of countless Indians. If we have pride in the former, should we not bear shame for the latter? No, we cherry pick. Which is another very human characteristic.
But if a Briton wants to be proud of our history, our present and our future, then the world of science is as good a place to point to. For centuries, British scientists, inventors and thinkers have lead the way. Newton, Faraday, Bell, Baird, Crick, Fleming, Eccles, Turing, Babbage, Lovelace, Hooke and Whittle changed the world as much as any general or admiral. The likes of Berners Lee, Dyson, Crick and Higgs continue to fly the flag as high as any Squadron Leader or Field Marshall. There’s a caveat to this, of course. Science and the military walk hand in hand. They rather sustain each other, rather than existing in spite of each other. Let’s over look that though.
As things stand today, this little island sitting in the North Atlantic contains just a single percentage of the worlds population. We contribute, financially, just three per cent of the funds made available for scientific development. Yet we still produce more than fifteen per cent of all significant scientific papers. That’s mightily impressive, by any standard. It’s a little factoid that caught my attention during Brian Cox’ latest television series, Science Britannica. It’s a fascinating three part series. Well worth your time, no matter your nationality.
This gushing editorial on British pride is leading somewhere though. Pride in the past is all well and good, but how well equipped are we for the future? Alas, all is not well. This piece by Robert Peston is one of many articles you could (cherry?) pick from to demonstrate the failings of our educational system. It’s a damning indictment on the investments made by previous governments, on our cultural standards in general and also a warning to what will come. Whilst Westminster argues over tabloid initiated point-scoring issues, education gets cut further, privatized more and pushed further to the sidelines.
Education is one of the very few departments where taxpayers money is genuinely an investment and not an expense. It’s also the very foundation of a fair, balanced society that provides equal opportunity. And it is what will determine the success, or not, of Great Britain as we head deeper into the unknowns of the 21st century. I won’t go into a full blown personal blueprint for the future of education in the UK. Suffice it to say that work does need to be done to fix what is a flawed system. As a given, the very poorest children should have the same opportunities to learn and develop their skills as do the richest. Failure to make that happen doesn’t just mean we write off a chunk of the more needy of our population, but also a good chunk of our future prosperity. And that would not be something to be proud of.