Beyond Britain's riots
The riots in London and Liverpool are grim reminders of unsolved problems not only in Britain but in other industrial democracies. Long-range solutions to such problems must not be lost sight of in pursuit of the immediate measures necessary to control the violence.
As British Home Secretary William Whitelaw said, the violence cannot be excused, whatever may have caused it, and the police must be effectively prepared to handle such episodes. But neither can the warnings about the inflammatory role of high youth unemployment be ignored as they come forth from political figures on all sides -- Michael Foot of the Labour Party, Shirley Williams of the new Social Democrats and former Prime Minister Edward heath of the Conservatives, to name a few.
This unemployment challenge is not peculiar to Britain in the 1980s. Nor are the ways to reduce it for tomorrow's generations impossible to adapt for differing nation's needs.
Not every country has the increasing racial mixture of Britain or the United States, with the potentially for friction and discrimination heigthened by economic pressure. But the youth unemployment problem is widespread. Indeed, the estimates for Britain and the US this year are somewhat less than the 17.5 percent for France, 30 percent for Italy, and 35 percent for Spain.Still these overall percentages conceal the figures of 40 to 60 percent often applying to unqualified young people and to areas like the one in Liverpool where blacks and whites reportedly were not battling each other so much as the "establishment" represented by the police.
The governmental and business efforts to provide morem jobs need to be accompanied by similar cooperation in preparing young people for the jobs that do exists. Here is where encouragement and challenge can be gained from small and large efforts already taking place. Note the local boys' club program on California's Mexican border that enlisted business in job preparation for young people from families where some had never had the model of a working parent. Note the Second World Conference on Cooperative Education in Boston where Britain's Mrs. Williams warned last April that severe figures of youth unemployment "suggest the possibility of a breakdown of social trust and social order, which we have got to take more seriously than simply by building up our police forces in order to cope with the inevitable consequences."
In Britain Mrs. Williams would go so far as to bring the nation's diversity of schools under one to-fee state system in order to reduce the reinforcement of the class system by the present combination of free schools and elite schools available for a fee. But in Boston she spoke rather of the success of systems combining vocational education and on-the-job experience in West Germany, Austria, and Switzerland -- methods of transition giving young people specific training for the jobs, they will later have. She spoke of Denmark's "continuation schools" in which children get the experience of sustaining their livelihood in a field like furniture-making, farming, or fishing, while training for it. She spoke of the need to go beyond training boys and girls for single professions or skills in today's changing employment scene and give them a foundation for returning to needed education time and again.
The proper preparation for employability cannot come from the schools alone, of course, though they can sometimes help make up for lack of the home environment conducive to learning and working achievement. Such matters are being looked into in Britain after a report on disparities of school achievement among racial groups. There is also the question of subtle discouragement of children by teachers who underestimate their abilities because of their race -- and by feelings of racial prejudice in the larger society which limit hopes of finding use for learning.
The recent, riots, so unusual in Britain, can serve as a spur not only to riot control but to the conquest of obstacles to the realization of young people's co nstructive potentialities wherever they may live.