New funding for Cadet units

Sea Cadets by mrgarethm. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a CCbySA2 licence.

Brian Belton, Senior Lecturer and published writer discusses a new report on funding of Cadets and a recent newspaper report looking at Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon’s, view on the impact of military type training for young people.


In this piece I am going to focus on a new report on funding of Cadets and a recent newspaper report also looking at Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon’s view on the impact of military type training for young people (please see above)

– The report mixes child development aims with defence aims (savings, recruitment, PR)

– Supporting and investing in cadets while cutting other areas of youth provision, biases social mobility opportunities towards militarist activities.

– The publication of the interim report needs to be seen in the context of the perceived recruitment crisis, calls to raise recruitment age and scandals around both cadet abuse and abuse of juvenile soldiers

– Justifying the cadet expansion agenda in terms of solving social and educational problems is short-sighted given the huge strains placed on education system and youth services. It’s unfair and hypocritical to herald the cadet forces as a social mobility and education fix, when it’s being uniquely invested in.

As you can see, there’s an awful lot to criticize in the report, and in Fallon’s recent ramblings (echoed in the newspaper report) in the light of the same (that are so transparently ideological as to be laughable). If you can take anything Fallon comes out with seriously, usually the most cursory analysis dissolves it as the basis for policy. For example, he had it

“Cadets help instill values of discipline and loyalty.”

This may or may (or may not) be true, but discipline to do what, loyalty to whom or what? Why is straightforward loyalty a good thing generally?  ISIS fighters often seem intensely (unquestioningly/stupidly) loyal. Where is the evidence for a statement like this?  How might one measure loyalty and distinguish it for plain blind devotion? What is too much discipline, like when does it become a sort of unhealthy self-restraint (or restraint on others)?  Isn’t this really about people being taught to do what they are told regardless?

Who is Fallon to prescribe discipline anyway? This is the man who was banned from driving for 18 months in 1983 for driving while drunk!

It was The Daily Telegraph that reported that Fallon, whilst holding the post of Deputy Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, claimed for mortgage repayments on his Westminster flat in their entirety. Between 2002 and 2004, as a matter of course he claimed £1,255 per month in capital repayments and interest, rather than the £700-£800 for the interest component alone. He put this down to error, which might be fair enough, but this doesn’t provide much in terms of faith about his judgements about the development of ‘discipline’ (certainly not in the financial sense)

He went on to claim that the Cadets

“…develop leadership skills and confidence.”

But how much confidence?  How is this being measured?  At what point does confidence become foolish arrogance? As for leadership skills, gang leaders and drug barons have those in spades, I’d hazard a guess not too many of this cadre developed the same in the cadets. The simplistic claim that something advances leadership skills means little if anything.  Lead who towards what, for what and why?  Leaders are persuasive, but almost always skilled manipulators.  Unlike managers, who transform logic into action (on a good day) leaders often appeal to irrational responses and motivations (like blind loyalty, embedded by disciplinary regimes and processes). Leaders are reliant on (indeed they are defined by) followers, and if everyone is a leader likely very little gets done.  This suggests we need some people to be cadets but not the majority, which opens a whole different can of Tory worms.

However for me, the aspect that is most irksome is that young people should be encouraged to spend their spare time in situations that are primarily underpinned by conformity and uniformity (like literally).

There are basically two seminal moments in the development of youth work. The Scouting movement was the first mass, nationally focused and organized movement looking to harness and develop young people, primarily for the benefit of the maintenance of the state (then the empire). This has been a constant project that continues up to today; one ‘invests’ in youth and this means there is an expected dividend (this is essentially a capitalist model, with colonial undertones). The latter has of late been framed as potential and actual social mobility, but this is a metaphor (perhaps an euphemism) for the creation of a relatively flexible, relative skilled, relatively cheap workforce.

Labelled as ‘informal education’ (education that is applied without those being educated knowing about it) over the last 20 or 30 years and latterly ‘social pedagogy’ (an ‘Anglo-concoction’ of continental paradigms) what we might know as ‘youth work’ has been devoted to this very cause.  It’s funding (or lack of funding) from central sources (directly or indirectly) has reflected the extent to which these chiefly control oriented, economic aims have been achieved.

However, the vision for post-war youth work in the mid-1940s was almost the diametrical opposite of this.  The work Mass Observation included a number of appraisals of the ‘Rainbow Corner clubs’, facilities put in place for GIs on their way to, on leave or returning from the battle fields of Europe.  These places that simply allowed young people to be together, with a few distractions (snooker tables, pin-ball machines, dances, milk-bars) were seen to be venues not only where young people could relax and socialize, but created environments, situations and experiences that were edifying and even healing; what has been called ‘the third place’ (see Oldenburg, Ray (1989). The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day. New York: Paragon House, (1991). The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company and (2000). Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Communities. New York: Marlowe & Company).  Soon British young people were doing all they could to gain entry to the Rainbow Corner clubs and Mass observation concluded that they were a model for what a British youth service might be post-war.  Indeed the Albemarle Report (1960) reflected much of this ambition.

The ethos of the Rainbow Corner clubs and Albemarle was an understanding that emerged (significantly) in a time of post-colonialism. As was the case in terms of former colonized ‘natives’, it was understood that young people did not need to be directed or shaped (unlike the basic foundation of Scouting); they had the capacity within themselves to be creative and auto-didactic in terms of learning about themselves and the world.

We have, as a nation, over the last few decades, lost sight of this type of understanding.  Via a mass obsession with outcome related practice, the huge NCS project and now this report we have pinned our hopes on a sort of monstrous inflation of the most crude  aspects of some of the primordial ideas associated with Scouting (the British Scouting movement was admired by the 1930s National Socialists in Germany who adapted the approach to create the Hitler Youth – they also introduced social pedagogy into the Nazi state nexus as mean exuding ‘education’ into every facet of life – education and learning are not always forces for good or even equivalent to truth).  There are parts of this I am grateful for. State ambitions are now obvious, they are streaking – the project of informal education (covert indoctrination) was merely ‘flashing’.

Now I am not condemning the Scouts or the Cadet forces out of hand.  The former is changed much since the beady eyes Baden Powell stalked the earth (I myself earnt my woggle as a Scout leader just after the Conquest).  The Cadet forces have much to offer some young people, most of whom do not advance to military service; many are motivated to move into emergency and uniformed services, as well as outdoor education.  But to sell the same as a sort of general social panacea for youth is the equivalent to flogging snake oil.  No, Fallon is pushing the same sort of empty rhetoric that lay behind the ragged and industrial schools of a more cruel and brutal era.  This is the same sort of ranting that promoted thrashings and harsh words (then also seen as ‘discipline’) as somehow good for children, who should be seen and not heard.

Youth work, from Albermarle and still in a lot of places today, has sung quite a different song; children need to be heard and clearly.  They have rights and these include not to be hounded and hassled by adult demands to be loyal to this or that, but to choose for themselves what they back or don’t back and change that when and if they see fit; yes, to know when to be disloyal or not to be loyal to those who would exert their discipline on others.  And as Foucault enunciated well, discipline is the horse that pulls the cart of punishment.

All this aside, the modern world does not require conformity, it demands innovation.  Uniformity is not the stuff on this century, we need creativity and diverse thinking.  While I understand that the cadet forces offer more than a chance for everyone to dress up the same and hold a gun, social mobility does not rely on either of the latter.  If we are looking for a dividend from youth robust enough to make the future we are going to need to make an ‘investment’ in youth that is something more nuanced that militaristic line dancing.

Picture: Sea Cadets by mrgarethm. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a CCbySA2 licence.