Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Oh no!   Kids these day's don't know they're born!  Why, the shiftless little swines can't even hold down a job!

So it goes and always has, when it comes to The Youth Of Today.  We might well note that youth unemployment far outstrips demand for youths in the actual workplace, and that the geniuses responsible for that scenario didn't fritter away their adolescences guzzling Sunny Delight and melting their brains with The Only Way Is Essex.

Hell, the whip-smart intellectuals that brought us The Only Way Is Essex and Sunny D itself didn't grow up on that.

Out in the real world of work, the situation looks rather less black and white.  So broad a population can't be soundbitten, and the education system doesn't always produce the expected results, not even when it functions precisely as it's intended to.

Imagine you're four years old and on your way to school for the first time.  You're not a particularly bright kid, but you're quick on the uptake and you've been blessed with loving parents who take a keen interest in your education.  There's been academic success in the family, but it's mainly builders, mechanics and so on - practical people, good with useful, practical skills.

When you develop an aptitude for reading, Mum and Dad are delighted to shower you with books.  See Spot Run!   Stick in, behave, play nice.  Fantastic Mr Fox makes a daring getaway from mean Mr Bean's cider cellar.  Always believe in yourself.

Teachers are quick to notice.  You're a feather in their caps!  Even at that age, you know you're not that clever, but you've struck it lucky - the grown-ups love your little hobby.  They give you presents and gold stars and gush to each other - Such a bright little boy, so advanced. So... intense.

This isn't a sob story, by the way.  This is a tale of qualified success and moderate achievement.  The sad part is about the kids who banged their heads against Mr & Mrs Twit in silent frustration, trying fruitlessly to make sense of the jumble of letters, but this isn't about them.

School is fine.  You play football and collect conkers like everyone else.  Fingerpainting through rainy lunchtimes, milk at half-past ten.

Then something strange starts to happen - when you hit about nine or ten, your friends stop responding to your jokes and stories with laughs and daft insults.  They start saying things like That's weird and What does that mean? and eventually, the dreaded You think you're pretty fuckin clever, don't you? 

You wrack your brains trying to work out what changed, little knowing that every time you open your mouth, you might as well be speaking fluent Homosexualese.  Put down the Tolkien and eat a Pop Tart, Socrates.

High school.  Teachers hand you punishment exercises with weary regularity - I will not talk back in class, a hundred times, please.  Beloved aunties and uncles are warier - they think you're taking the piss.  Sometimes you are!  Most of the time, you don't have a clue what everyone's so damn touchy about.  People don't act like this in Grange Hill.

Caesar marches across Gaul and beseiges Alesia.  Decide for yourself, kid - don't let anyone tell you how to think.   The Culture destroys an Orbital to prevent it falling into Idiran hands.  Napoleon drives Snowball off the farm and has Boxer sent to the glue factory.  Be all you can be.

Later, in pubs and cafes, people are more receptive - they know what you're talking about, some of the time.  Those that don't are more polite - playful punch, You've got the strangest sense of humour. 

Yes, we're all individuals!  Marlowe's cigarette breaks the long darkness, for a moment.  Tell it like it is, call a spade a spade.  Saleem's grandfather busts his nose on his prayer mat.  You only get what you give.

You spend a few years away from home with various oddballs from all over the world and return to find that the people you knew are even harder to understand now than they were when you left.  You wonder if you've changed so much when really, you've just forgotten how to make small talk.  Films, football, girls - you know your stuff like the back of your hand, but it feels forced, and sounds it.

This isn't a tale of woe, you know.  The real crying shame is for all those kids who left school years before.  The lucky ones are still in the first job they managed to get - the unlucky ones aren't in any job at all.  In quite a few cases, they're in the ground.

Work - hard, menial work at that.  Lugging kegs and tables, keeping customers fed and watered.  You excel, because all that's required is basic savvy and enthusiasm, and you've got plenty of both.  Your paycheque gets a little thicker, year on year. 

Finally, the big pay-off comes - the career, the big one where you make your fortune.  Suddenly,  you find yourself surrounded by people who know exactly what you're talking about - hell, they've been talking the talk for years.  They've been raised in it, taken it for granted, middle-class kids from fee-paying schools.

All that crap that you thought was so damn special, that made you stand out and be different and kept you from running with the pack - that's the bedrock of these people's education.  That's the stuff they did for fun, before they started on their real studies.  They speak all the languages you do, dead and extant, from MeTooButBetterese to YeahAndWhoCaresish. 

But now, your problem is a lack of eloquence.  Where once you came off like Little Lord Fauntleroy, now you're more reminiscent of Rab C.  Ug, thwack, Mary Doll! 

Your witty, working class bluntness hits their cultured ears like the fat end of a baseball bat.  You've got the moves Kohai, but you still keep poking yourself in the eyeball, and I don't see no Sensei around here to iron out your errors.

And sure, there are plenty of folk from similar backgrounds to you - people who stuck in too, especially at the basics like staying focused, fitting in and shutting the hell up every now and then.  People who heard all that stuff about Being all you can be and Not letting anyone tell you how to think and realised it was a sales job, rather than a vocation.

And so there you are, after all that sticking in and working hard - too old to learn different, stranded without a fucking clue.  Too much of a posh, polysyllabic prick to go back, too thuggish and ill-disciplined to advance.  No direction home. 

Nobody wants a middle manager who can't talk through the personnel assessment plan without telegraphing his contempt for it.  Nobody wants to risk an important client on the wiseass kid who dresses like a dick and might go all tourettes any second.

This isn't a sob story.  This is a tale of striving and modest achievement, remember.  The national average wage is a feast of plenty, by world historical standards.  It's a feast of plenty by three-streets-over standards, if we're thinking of it like that.  We should be glad. 

Was there a point here?  Oh yes, education - Kids these days, and how The System Is Failing To Provide Business With Talent.  My. Heart. Bleeds.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, you can train a pony all you like.  You can put ribbons in its hair and teach it to prance and even to carry a rider, and it'll do its damnedest to please...   But it isn't going to turn into a horse.  If it started out as a pony, it'll probably stay a pony, no matter how many Equine exams it sits.

You know what I'm saying?


McGazz said...

Yeah, I know what you're saying.

Anonymous said...

you could set that to a tune y'know - oh, wait someone already has

Anonymous said...

Someone else did too:

flyingrodent said...

And here was me expecting those would turn out to be "Remember, You're a Womble"...

Tom said...

F***** brilliant, this may sound arrogant but I can relate to this in so many ways (although I'm painfully middle-class).

And reading the last paragraph I couldn't help but think of 'The Road To Wigan Pier'.

skidmarx said...

Kids must be taught to obey and think for themselves.Piece of piss.
It is possible for those whose families don't fit the Marxist definition to speak fluent middle-class, but it does help if you grew up in the Home Counties.

'As I've dug it up:
From the mid-1970s, with the end of the boom, progress towards more equality in education was checked. As one senior civil servant explained in private, "There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which increasingly society cannot match... When young people cannot find work at all... or work which meets their abilities or expectations... then we are only creating frustration with perhaps disturbing social consequences... people must be educated once more to know their place" (quoted by Benn and Chitty).'

Devil's Kitchen said...

"Oh yes, education - Kids these days, and how The System Is Failing To Provide Business With Talent. My. Heart. Bleeds."

Agreed. Anyone who thinks that the value of education is in providing businesses with employees is a pusillanimous moron with shit for brains.