8 Replies to “Twenty years of schooling and …

  1. I’m sorry if this goes on a bit but you got me thinking and I’ve come up with the following memories/reflections:

    The world of education and the world of work have very little to do with each other. I went to University and got a degree in computer science with further qualifications in engineering and teaching. I now work with adults with learning difficulties in a post where none of my qualifications has any relevance. Admittedly this has a lot to do with personal failings and problems. My oldest friend has a degree in …oh geography I think. He went on to get further qualifications in marketing. For the last few decades he has worked in a bar where his educational life is irrelevant.

    Whilst in education I couldn’t help noticing that the applications forms had minimal space for qualifications and maximum space for work experience. The application for teaching was the absolute opposite – thus again emphasising that education and work have nothing to do with each other.

    I recall one interview where the interviewer told me he only cared about my qualifications because they indicated I had a brain. Should I get the job I would be told “the right way to do things”.

    When I cast my mind back to school, I remember dutifully visiting the “careers library” to glance at a few books before thinking, “That’s enough of that” and heading back out to the playground.

    When studying to be a teacher I was told that the kids nowadays must be told WHY they should learn e.g. quadratic equations. That was when I realised I had no idea why and, whilst at school as a pupil myself, I never even thought to ask. I just went along with it, thinking, “You have to know this for the exam”. But here’s the really sobering thing: on finding out what these equations were for, I soon forgot again!

    We truly live in a fractured world!

    • I was crap at maths and didn’t see the point. One teacher, in my second year of high school, said it was “to make you think”. I still didn’t get it but appreciated that he’d made the effort to sell it to me. Few teachers did. The second intervention came in my O level year when a textbook mentioned as an aside that the entry level calculus we were doing – maxima and minima – was used by the manufacturers of perfume and the like to have the bottle look as large as possible while containing small volumes of the precious contents. That was an early intro to capitalism – and glosses over the fact it is not usually the customer but the worker who is exploited – but, again, at least someone had tried to say why this stuff might be useful. I was intrigued enough to study up, and a few months later upset all the predictions by getting a middling to high pass when I’d been slated to fail.

      When Dylan wrote Subterranean Homesick Blues back in ’65, he’d no idea how many PhD toting dishwashers, coffee baristas and Amazon forklift truck drivers there’d be, half a century on!

      • Since we are moaning, please indulge me once more.

        In second year at secondary, we were interviewed one at a time to see what we wanted to be. I said “An author”. The teacher interviewing turned round with the dumbest comment I ever heard: “Oh you’ve got to be famous to do that”.

        “What can this mean?” I wondered. Do you have to be a famous writer before you can write? Or are you supposed to get famous some other way first?

        And I reckon that being a writer is exactly the kind of intellectual activity they would be trying to encourage. Surely it beats vandalising bus shelters? And it doesn’t exactly cost a lot. The least this teacher could have done was get in touch with the English dept and tell them.

        Finally, think of this teacher’s expectations i.e. that there was no way I – or presumably any other pupil – was ever going to be famous anyway. We were all marked as factory fodder.

        All of which puts me in mind of the finest opening line form a song – Paul Simon’s Kodachrome: “When I think back on all the crap I learned in High School”.

  2. I’ve spent too many years working in book publishing (the technical end of it, from copy editing to design and most everything in between).
    The remark that “you got to be famous” has to be understood in context: Not to be a famous writer but be well known or famous in another field. The theory is that the fame generates free PR and sales, which is why idiots will have notorious advances on a book contract but not necessarily have any writing skills.

    • I understand that nowadays – more than ever before – no publisher or recording executive or whatever is willing to take risks and it all comes down to “the fast buck”. Indeed, I have never been so aware of how money decides everything and we seem to have a more intense application of the policy whereby celebrity generates money than at any time in the past. You only have to peruse the dreary litany of celeb biographies on the Tesco shelves to realise this.

      When I was young I naively thought that one you had made it into print you were “immortal”. But having lived a few decades and having seen fashions hit the publishing industry as in other industries, it is depressing how little books seem to matter. It’s sobering to think of the “big names” that seemed to be immortal at one time and which are now totally forgotten: Dennis Wheatley, Alister Maclean etc. I realise that most of those names deservedly hit the bargain bins but the effect on a young and wide-eyed youth is considerable.

      Re: my school interview, I just thought that I may have gotten a bit of encouragement to pursue a writing career – which may have led to other things too. I reckon that teacher was probably an embittered guy who only went along with this interviewing of 14 year olds because it was something he had to do. And his whole approach certainly speaks volumes for his basic presuppositions. But then again, as one approaching 60 I can even sympathise with him now!

      • To be fair, Wheatley and Maclean were very good at what they did. An avid reader in my teens, I’d wag school and go into town. There I’d lie low in the central library with the reactionary and snobbish but masterly story-telling of Dennis Wheatley. By the end of the day I’d have read whatever book – Gregory Sallust or Roger Brook – I’d happened on. Next day I might have a Steinbeck, Sholokhov or Gunter Grasse in my hands. It was all grist to the mill. I devoured books good, bad and indifferent.

        Chet is right of course about the famous for being famous syndrome. Every Xmas I see piles of books in the wndows of the few bookshops still standing. They’ll be the memoirs of a thirty-something soap character I never heard of, and by Easter what hasn’t been sold will be pulped.

        • The great thing about children is that they are not (yet) snobs. I freely admit that it was Enid Blyton who made me into a reader. Though I can’t recall a single plot from the thirty or so of her books I read. (I went on to the now totally forgotten – if he was even noticed in the first place – E W Hildick, a headmaster who wrote about urban kids like myself. His plots I CAN recall!)

          And literary trends are curious things. I got hooked on that weird writer Lovecraft from an early age back in the 70s when he was considered one of the old pulp writers. He is now published under Penguin Classics and seems to have inspired an entire industry now.

          As for the celeb bio, well there is even an art to that too. While my son dithered around the toy section in Tesco’s, I would peruse first lines. One from Geri Halliwell (remember her?) was a masterpiece of compression: “I didn’t really fancy the boy I was supposed to snog.” You’ve got everything there: cutesy childhood story, a hint of sex (of a juvenile sort), the common touch with the word “snog” and that little veneer of rebellion with the “supposed to”. Yes – there’s a formula for everything!

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