Notepad on Life

September 9, 2017

Schools’ Big Lie – a letter to my niece

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 10:13 am
Tags: , ,

Dear ……….,

I was delighted to learn of your successful GCSE results and I wanted to congratulate you and wish you all the best as you enter Sixth Form and the next phase of your education.

At the same time, though, I wanted to offer you some advice, because some of the things your mother told me about the way schools work these days and the pressure they place on young people, concerned me greatly.

Some pressure is always good, of course. It drives us on to succeed and so brings out the best in us. Too much pressure, however, is no good at all, and I found it very depressing to hear that no sooner have schools stopped pressuring their students over GCSEs than they start pressuring you over A-levels and university places.

It is important that we take time to stop briefly and savour our achievements in life, and the school summer holiday used to be the perfect opportunity for that. You would, hopefully, do well at your end-of-year exams and then have a clear six-week break in which to enjoy that achievement and rest, ahead of the next year’s challenges.

I understand from [my son] that things are different now. He tells me that in every summer holiday during his time at secondary school, he had homework to do in readiness for the following year. You will have heard of the expression ‘the rat race’ – it used to be something only adults had to worry about, but it seems that children are now expected to join in as well.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to this for you these next two years, but if it does, I want to offer a little advice to help keep your head above water.

Schools lie to us, I’m afraid. They mean well, but they do lie.

They will try and tell you that the next two years will shape your entire life, for example. This is not true – they may be influential but in the end, your destiny lies in your own hands. Read biographies of successful men and women and you may be amazed at how many of them left school with nothing, yet went on to do great things. You are already ahead of them.

Schools talk about guiding you into ‘good jobs’, but beware. Those ‘good jobs’ might come with fancy cars and big houses but they also often come with stress, 16-hour days and misery. Don’t drift into one of those ‘good jobs’ like I did; make it your mission these next two years to identify what you’re good at and what you’re interested in and see if you can spot a career where those two things meet. Like me, you may be in your thirties before you get there but the sooner you start figuring out where ‘there’ is, the better. And whatever your careers teacher might tell you, there are only two definitions of a good job – it pays your bills and you look forward to going to work in the morning. You find a job like that and it doesn’t matter what car you drive; you’re still one-up on 95 per cent of the British workforce.

Oh, and the idea that you must go to university to amount to anything – this may be their biggest lie yet. It’s an option, not a ‘must’.

Schools also act like the pressure they put you under is all for your benefit. This is only partly true. The better you do, the better they look and the safer their jobs are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t respect them but don’t buy into all their hype. Remember, you will shape your destiny; they will play only a small part in that.

None of this means you should just amble through the next two years, of course. Education remains a wonderful opportunity and it is one you should take with both hands. It isn’t failure that makes old people bitter; it’s the chances that they never took; opportunities that are gone forever. You don’t want to be that person when you’re old and grey, so work hard now. But work reasonably hard: preserve your leisure time and your health, for both are equally valid elements of a good life.

For all the talk of projected grades these next two years, I believe you have just one objective between now and the summer of 2019 – that you walk out of your final A-level examination knowing that you have given it and those before it your very best shot. If you can honestly say that, then you will cope with whatever the results may be.

In some respects, a good school does its job long before its students sit GCSEs or A-levels. It fires their imaginations, gets them engaged with the world around them and makes them unafraid of hard work. If you take those qualities into the outside world and keep hammering at Life’s door then it won’t really matter how many certificates you have in your pocket. Somewhere, that door will open.

With my love and very best wishes,


August 28, 2017

The university route is not a universal truth

Filed under: Education,Kids — - @ 12:11 pm
Tags: ,

34846001785_0b81bea157_zNice piece by Toby Young in CapXFree schools are working – just look at their GCSE results – but I was irked by the un-challenged assertion that channelling every pupil into university should be a de rigeur objective of schools everywhere.

No. Their objective should be switched-on youngsters, engaged with the world, its problems and opportunities alike, and fully accepting that nothing it offers will come to them by right, but must be worked for. Making them excited about the next phase of their lives once the blazer’s retired, that should be a teacher’s primary goal, for life’s doors rarely remain closed to someone who’s committed to hammering at them until they open.

Once you’ve got them pumped up for life’s journey, however, you do them a grave disservice if you imbue them with the notion that it follows only one road. Some people just don’t want more academia by the time they are 16 or 18: they want to be out in the world getting their hands dirty, not mulling over abstract concepts in a seminar room.

By all means, let them know that university can be theirs if they want it (money permitting, but that’s a whole new debate) and show them what it could mean for them, but don’t fall into the polarised mindset that university is the summit, with every other route into the workforce falling short of it. I have a son who sensed a certain detachment from his teachers once it became apparent that he wasn’t Oxbridge material. It could have been someone else’s son, though, and I doubt this deplorable attitude would have dismayed me any the less.

Letters after your name are just one strain of success, to be celebrated no more loudly than the kid who walked away at 16 and is now driving his/her own Merc at 22, while employing 30 people, or who makes furniture or works of art for whom customers routinely pay four figures.

If this distorted university-for-all mindset really has taken root in our schools, I would suggest that educators who are paid to broaden minds might like to take a look at their own.

[Pic courtesy of School of Media and Public Affairs at GWU]

January 23, 2017

Child poverty not just a money thing

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 9:26 am

Cropped from a pic by Steve Rhode

She works with disadvantaged children. The type so damaged by broken homes or dysfunctional parents that conventional education can’t cope with them; they need one-to-one lessons in handling life before they can even think about handling school.

She’s making inroads already with her latest charge. So immersed did he become in one of their recent days out together that he briefly forgot himself, as he pointed to something that had caught his eye.

“Look mummy…” he shouted.

The ultimate professional compliment, wrapped around a cry for help so searing, she said it cut her in two.

You can’t throw money at that kind of deprivation.

December 21, 2016

Cop this plea – there’s no degree in ‘streetwise’

Filed under: crime,Education,Law and order — - @ 5:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Pic courtesy of Police-Mad-Liam

It’s hard to pick highlights in Peter Hitchens’ latest excellent Mail on Sunday column, but vested family interest leads me to the last item, on the misguided plan to make university degrees mandatory for would-be police officers.

“Graduates spend the first ten years in any job discovering that they don’t, in fact, know everything, while the non-graduates roll their eyes in despair,” writes Hitchens. 

“What police officers need is not a certificate, but the common sense that comes from years of friendly contact with the people they serve.”

I shudder to think how many potentially excellent policemen and women will now never materialise because of the fashionable yet flawed belief that only higher education can unlock a young person’s potential. What a slap in the face for those myriad ‘failures’  who left school with nothing, only to become rip-roaring successes once they were set free to engage a world beyond Academia.

It’s just not everyone’s bag, the life of dissertations and doctorates. There are people whose talents lie in their hands, in hand-eye co-ordination, or in tackling real problems instead of the more abstract variety. If that means three years in the University of Life then they should be allowed to get on with it, not erroneously pigeon-holed just to keep the quota brigade happy.

We don’t need spectacular double-firsts from our police. We need street-savvy, impeccable people skills and an air of mild intimidation that can, when warranted, be fully backed up by the judicious use of brawn. And you don’t learn those qualities over cappuccino in some junior common room.

As for how the whole thing might yet backfire on those who dreamt it up, meanwhile, just Google ‘university’ and ‘snowflakes’, and brace yourself for the day when our boys in blue ask if they can sit this particular riot out because they’ve been ‘triggered’.


May 29, 2016

Life-on-a-plate mindset hard to swallow

Filed under: Education — - @ 11:50 pm
Tags: , , ,

One thought always reins me in whenever I feel a rant at the young coming on.

I was young once.

Just as these supposed ‘end times’ will one day be ‘the good old days’ for our children, so I am now the rantee turned ranter, an ex-young fool now despairing of young fools, who in turn will one day despair of those who follow them.

Humbling as this reflection may be, I suspect it has an equally recurrent flipside. As the wheel turns, each generation it flings into middle age will, I fancy, think its situation to be unique, insisting that “We were never this bad at their age…”

If so, then it’s now my turn, but no matter how timeless a trap I may be falling into, it is impossible to remain silent in the face of goings-on at America’s Oberlin College. (Which I comment upon here because, if it starts in America, chances are it’s headed Britain’s way.)

Hell, we might have grumbled about homework, exams, job interviews and the other steps up life’s ladder 40 years ago, but we could grudgingly see the point to them. Those who actively sought to dismantle the ladder were isolated oddballs. Today, they have become mainstream.

Today, if they have Oberlin College as part of their address, they want it to be social activism first, education second. Abolish all grades below C and replace examinations with chats with a professor, they demand, to take account of how this whole ‘learning’ thing is really beginning to mess with their change-the-world objectives.

“The students say that between their activism work and their heavy course load, finding success within the usual grading parameters is increasingly difficult. ‘A lot of us worked alongside community members in Cleveland who were protesting,’ Megan Bautista, a co-liaison in Oberlin’s student government, said, referring to the protests surrounding the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer in 2014. ‘But we needed to organize on campus as well — it wasn’t sustainable to keep driving 40 minutes away. A lot of us started suffering academically.'”

Certain truisms to which even their radical predecessors would at least nod, now seem to completely pass people by. The idea that you’re at college first and foremost to learn, for example (and see how America holds you to that, kids, should Bernie Sanders’ dream of free education for all ever come to pass). Or that part of that learning process involves focus and prioritising, waking up to the fact that our actions have consequences and that no-one can have or do it all.

If you’re not meeting the demands of your college, it calls for re-appraisal by you, not for some convenient sleight of hand in the college’s grading process. And if you don’t know it well enough to write it down, don’t kid yourself that you’ll express it any better with the eyes of some professor unamused by such indulgence burning holes in your forehead.

The world will still need saving when you graduate. You may be surprised how much more you can achieve in that regard when you’re based in an office or laboratory instead of behind a fast-food counter.

Of course, if that generational cycle continues to do its thing, the snowflakes of Oberlin College will one day seem paragons of diligence and realism compared to those who follow them. But they must excuse me if I’m finding that a little hard to visualise right now.

January 11, 2016

Universities and now sport the symptoms of a society gone soft

pexels-photo-270288.jpegThere may be something in the theory that the opponent most demonised by his critics is the one they’re most afraid of.

I’d heard a lot about Rush Limbaugh before I started listening to him, all of it from those whose politics are at variance to his, and whose withering dismissal of the American radio talk show host had me braced for some ranting demagogue who would display only the most fleeting relationship with Planet Earth.

And then I listened to the man himself, courtesy of his weekly highlight show broadcast via TuneIn. The reality was one of the more evenly spoken of all the conservative radio voices, which for the great majority of his airtime seemed to articulate little other than eminent common sense. Presumably, we are both insane together.

See what you think, once you read this transcript of a segment in which he considers how the Pollyanna mindset of so many millennials, to whom happiness is an entitlement that must not be tarnished in the slightest degree for even one second, is now seeping into both supposed seats of learning and professional sport.

The opening five paragraphs are largely preamble. It’s when Limbaugh turns his attention to ex-New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin that he really starts warming to his task.

The money quotes…

“I shouldn’t have to be upset, which seems to be the rallying cry of Millennials. Don’t upset me! I don’t have to be upset. I don’t want to be upset. Don’t microaggress me.”

“It’s what all this college campus rot is all about. They don’t want to hear things that upset them, be it anything they disagree with or anything that might slightly offend. They don’t want to hear it. They shut people up…It’s childish, spoiled rotten childish. But it’s not just the kids…we have adults now who have been raised with that culture, who have now assumed positions of responsibility and authority where you would expect some wisdom and the ability to offer guidance to some of these people and push them to man up, advance their maturity or whatever.

But…there are fewer and fewer people capable of this.”

June 26, 2014

Will England and USA even qualify for World Cup 2026?

Filed under: Education,foreign,Kids,Sport — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,
School children playing jump-rope in between c...

Jump-rope in between classes at a Cuban elementary school. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Nice though it is to know it’s not just us, Elementary Politics‘ lament for the idea of games without competition in American schools is nevertheless depressing reading:

“But these bans speak to a larger problem with the schools nowadays. People are so terrified of children possibly feeling anything less than successful that they remove all obstacles. Might fail? Let’s get rid of tests. Actually failing? Let’s punish the students who actually did their work. Can’t play a sport? That’s okay, precious snowflake, go jump rope for an hour. It’s insulating an already coddled generation of children in a bubble full of fake success, a bubble that will quickly burst once they get to the real world. Schools do children a disservice when they remove competition and the situations to learn how to cope with failure.”

September 1, 2013

Gove’s their villain but knee-jerk political hacks can’t see it

Filed under: Education,Journalism,politics — - @ 10:52 pm
Tags: ,

Two central players in last week’s Parliamentary debate on Syria.

1) Prime Minister David Cameron wants to take the military option but does what he should and puts the proposal to Parliament, which happens to reject it. A number of his own MPs, who presumably see what Mr Cameron chooses not to when they ponder the fruits of our ‘involvement’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, vote with their conscience.

2) Education Minister Michael Gove, upon learning of their stance, it is claimed, regresses into childhood and would appear to demonstrate that democracy and conscience count as nothing in his eyes against blind loyalty to the Conservative Party. If such claims are true, it is with this glorified lout that we entrust our children’s schooling:

“Michael Gove was so furious with Tory MPs for voting down intervention he had to be restrained by colleagues, it was claimed last night.

The Education Secretary, a staunch backer of military action in Syria, shouted ‘you’re a disgrace’ at those MPs who opposed the Government in the tense vote last night.

Scottish National MP Angus Robertson said Mr Gove carried on yelling ‘disgrace, disgrace, disgrace’ at Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels in stunning scenes in the House of Commons around 11pm last night.” – Daily Mail

Which of the two does the Press focus upon? The Prime Minister. Out are wheeled the tired old clichés about ‘humiliation’, by the same tired old hacks who would have doubtless hammered him for snubbing democratic process, had he decided to avoid debate and simply committed British military support to the USA.

Yet again, I am reminded of the late Robin Cook’s laser accuracy in naming the media as being just as responsible for the lamentable shallowness of modern British politics as the politicians themselves.

Someone was indeed humiliated in the House last week. While I am no fan of our Prime Minister, it most certainly wasn’t him.


And a special mention, while on the subject of Politicians Making Fools of Themselves, of the USA’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, whom just a day after Britain refused to do the ‘special relationship’ waltz with its would-be American masters, pointedly described France as the United States’ “oldest ally”.

Many Brits may have wondered if this snub was just childish petulance. Those who have overheard what the average American actually thinks of the French will know it for a fact.

March 27, 2013

“And how far up our own rear ends do you see us being in 10 years’ time…?”

Filed under: business,Education,school — - @ 9:00 am

A friend is ecstatic and rightly so.

Bucking the trend of graduate unemployment with some style, her daughter has secured a position that is hers the moment she graduates this summer.

Amid the congratulations, however, there is one slightly jarring note. She was apparently interviewed by a group of no fewer than five people.

For a teaching job at a primary school.

Interview panel or ego trip?

You decide…

February 27, 2013

‘Bad school’ fears expose some not-so-great parents

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 6:41 am

I’m not oblivious to the fact that it tells us something very damning about our education system but I wonder if, amid all the lying and cheating that parents are now doing to get their kids into good schools, the irony of their position ever occurs to them.

“Data obtained using freedom of information requests showed they were being caught using false addresses, pretending to be Roman Catholic, lying about siblings and even impersonating family members in an attempt to secure places.”

So there you are, pulling any stunt going to secure the best possible education for your children and in doing so, you teach them a lesson that is as bad for them as it is for the Society in which they will grow up – that rules are for other people. Or should they ever ask how they ended up at that particular school, do you just lie to them as well?

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