I spent a couple of weeks of August in Marbella. This is not a good place for someone who has been reading ‘Mammon’s Kingdom’ by David Marquand. The book is affecting me deeply from any number of angles, but its general theme of how acquisitiveness and unfettered capitalism have worn away our ‘public realm’ is especially resonant in glitzy ‘Marbs’.
My wife came to Marbella as a girl with her mother and sister from the 1970s onwards. Then it was a place for Spanish families and a smattering of rich Arabs, Brits, Swedes and French attracted to the emerging ‘Monaco-chic’, golf and micro-climate. As a child, one of my wife’s memories is seeing an inebriated George Best in the ‘chiringuito’ each day, passing time away unmolested by tourists or paparazzi. Imagine the equivalent now, David Beckham in the ‘Ocean Club’, for example. He’d be ambushed with selfie requests as people greedily sought to improve their Facebook status.
Along the ‘paseo maritimo’ that I tried to run/walk most mornings, I caught brief snapshots of conversations; words, phrases or whole sentences. What hit me was how many appear to be centred on acquisition, usually property. Of course, I can only pick up the English and Spanish conversations so it could be that the Russians, Scandinavians and Arabs are all talking about their night at La Scala, the latest Coen brothers’ film, or Ben Stokes’ on-drive. Doubt it though.
In Marbella’s defence, I suspect it is not alone in its relentless focus on ‘economic well-being’ as the British (and, no doubt, Spanish) government euphemistically put it. People are conditioned now to see their lives as a series of acquisitions – car, house, bigger house, talented children, bucket list, – and they’ll talk about that in Marloes, Montpelier and Margate, not simply Marbella.
Bit sad though I reckon.
So why is our education system designed to give youngsters the impression that the only value in learning is as a vehicle to becoming economically successful? We can’t all be. Growth (like examination results) cannot continue in a linear direction upwards; the crash in 2008 surely taught us this (this is debatable – personal debt appears to have risen substantially in the years that have followed).
A culture of acquisition demeans learning and, by association, the educational establishments where it takes place. Headteachers are possibly the only group of people who can moderate it. This is impossible in Spain where the school ‘director’ barely has the autonomy to order more pencils. But in England, headteachers have unparalleled levels of power, and in fighting against the marketisation of education, they can try and change the nature of discourse too.