The 2011 riots from a student's perspective

I am sure by now that everyone is aware of the violence and chaos that engulfed the streets of England in the form of mass rioting throughout the past few weeks. However, I am not sure that we all agree with the various explanations and reasons regarding why the events took place.

When trying to establish where I myself stand on this issue, it became apparent almost immediately that there is certainly no clear cut answer. The riots could be a result of excessive violence in the media, but what about a means of voicing disgust at the government's new policies? Or maybe this is simply a facade for those opportunists to get that plasma TV they've always wanted, spurred on by our consumerist culture? The aforementioned reasons all have credibility; however my instinctive guess is that there is no definitive right answer, rather an amalgamation of factors that must be considered before reaching an opinion (stooped in subjectivity).

I can certainly see how it is plausible for one to assume that cuts in benefits, rising unemployment and further controversial decisions imposed by the Government could result in such behaviour. People are angry, and are perhaps displacing this anger towards police and other such authority figures when they feel that the degree of anonymity created by the masses of rioters will mean there are no serious repercussions, if any. This may provide us with a prima facie explanation for the riots, but when we look at this problem logically, it appears we have missed one crucial element within the above reasoning - an adequate explanation of why people are in fact so angry. So maybe people are angry at various authorities for modifying health related benefits or reducing EMA etc… isn't this answer sufficient? Not if we wish to unearth the root of the riots. To do this it seems essential that we ask where this anger comes from.

When conducting background information on the riots and reading various other accounts, one quote in particular seemed to necessitate that eureka moment which, for me, underpinned every explanation - "too many schools where it's not cool to learn (Tony Parsons, Daily Mirror 13/08/2011)." On first consideration it may feel as if this has no relation to consumerism, anger at government policies or excess violence in the media yet from the perspective of a student who has been brought up to value education (in the microcosm of Cambridge) and its long term benefits, the link is inseparable.

I believe that the majority of students are immersed in a society where education is seen as extremely 'uncool' and elitist. This majority is far more preoccupied with instant gratification and hedonistic behaviour such as constantly buying the latest clothes, drinking and playing Xbox or PS3 (a lot of these games are in fact filled with violent imagery and inferences). Although there is nothing wrong with this in essence, it does unquestionably result in a crash landing beyond a certain age where education is no longer provided and working is a requirement. These individuals are then categorised as low skilled members of the labour force and with the current excess supply of this type of labour, unemployment can sometimes become an inevitability. It is not surprising then, that when benefits are cut and designer clothes are no longer affordable, people get angry. So why not just riot like they do in the video games?

Although it is easy to appropriate blame to these individuals I think there is a more important message to be learnt here - this anger is a result of a poor ethos within communities and families with regard to education. I feel that it is subsequently down to the actions of alternative figures of guidance, namely teachers and parents, to ensure that everyone is truly aware of the importance behind fundamental notions such as working hard, attaining good grades and having ambition.

To conclude, this infinite regression of anger coupled with frustration seems unavoidable unless people begin to understand the value in education. Doing well academically equates to higher skills, increased employability and also a comprehensive understanding of moral values i.e. violence and chaos are not always the right means of action. I think that teachers could help make a huge difference in our society by simply explaining such issues to children and young adults during their school life, by using opportunities such as 'personal development days' to convey these messages in a way that is accessible to and inclusive of everyone. In brief, education is an instrumental good which enables us to achieve more opportunities and increased prosperity in future life - it is in their long term interest! So I would argue that teachers should contribute to rebuilding society's collapsed framework by using their position to work effectively with communities, families and individuals to scrap this notion that it's not cool to learn and instil the notion that it's not cool to allow blind apathy resulting in a cycle of future anger.

Submitted by Elliot Cohen-Gold on Mon, 01/08/2011 - 00:00