Wednesday 7 June 2017

Woe to thee, O land

. . . when thy king is a child. That's the King James Version of Ecclesiastes ch.10 v.16. You can declaim that, if you were so minded; but you can't get off on more modern versions of the sentiment. Check out the various attempts to render the word of god at biblehub:
What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant
New Living translation
How horrible it will be for any country where the king used to be a servant
God's Word®
The land sorry will be when Vader is Skywalker
Yoda yodels
I made the last one up, but it's not dafter than the other two.  That chapter of Ecclesiastes is an attempt to pass on some timeless political advice and the rudiments of wisdom in daily life. 

Ireland is a country locked in childish things rather more than some other places in the Western World. When I was a student, I got several mentions in The Irish Times - the newspaper of [protestant] record for the country - because I had a speaking part in that month's contribution to timeless art by the TCD amateur dramatic society. Every week, even today, the I.T. will report the results and give some column inches of commentary on school's rugby matches. Neither of the under 16s rugger nor my appearance as the Second Student in Woyzech could be considered news-worthy by a mature society.  Not surprisingly the bible has that idea captured in 1 Cor 13v11: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." It's about time The Times moved on to address grown-up matters like homelessness; the cost of health; the corruption of money; freedom of expression; and cheap oil.

Today, all over Ireland, it is the start of written exams for the Leaving Certificate, the passport to college and your label for life. Almost everyone will be taking English Paper I at 0930; fewer will be doing Home Economics in the afternoon; and it will all be over bar the weeping with Applied Maths on 23rd June.  Yesterday, The Irish Times did their annual piece A survival guide for Junior and Leaving Cert students (and parents) in case there are school-leavers out there (and their parents) who don't know enough to eat breakfast, sharpen pencils and put shoes on [the correct feet] for Der Tag. On the wireless the whole population was being advised to print out the timetable and put it up on the fridge door - so that Mammy knows when she has to drive her spotty youth to the examination centre . . . and cook breakfast . . . and sharpen the pencils in case Petal has forgotten, My colleagues at work are fully engaged with the project of getting their offspring through the ordeal. Which means that articulate, middle-class parents who were good at written exams will tilt the process to favour their dynasty while effective, clever, creative, critical thinkers who don't do well at that peculiar task are closed out from opportunities.

In the evening, a 15-minutes-of-fame Leaving Cert candidate was articulating why he felt the LC was 'unfair' because it privileged a retentive memory and uncritical recall of rather mundane analysis of great literature. Picture yourself at a party in Dublin; you meet an attractive 30-something person and want to now if s/he is younger or older than you. You know how old you are. Quote two lines of King Lear, Macbeth or Hamlet; if your oppo picks up the Hamlet tag they are are 33 or 36 or 39; Macbeth makes 'em 31 or 34 or 37. The Leaving Cert went on a 3 year cycle back at the turn of the century: you nailed One of the great Shakespearian tragedies: the rest of the Bard's works remained a closed book  Pity really: trying to 'nail' Hamlet's, errr, Hamlet's, no Hamlet's soliloquy knocked the stuffing out of any residual love of literature . . . any literature. That's the real danger of a monolithic national education system - every shagger has the same script, so it will be much harder to come up with novel solutions to the problems that are hurtling down tracks towards us.

But the young wannabee pundit blew it for me when he asserted that the flaws in the Leaving Cert were dangerous because they wouldn't - couldn't - equip people for the modern workplace. Bollix! If that's rhe purpose of education, then I'm delighted that Dau.I and Dau.II never bought into school. Through their teenage years they sat on the sofa learning more about what was driving them that week. Dau.I, the poet, read (with care and attention) all the major plays of Shakespeare as part of the maelstrom of printed matter that she hoovered up between learning to read at 6 and leaving home at 18. Their education fitted the girls for life - starting with a recognition that there was more to life than sleep, eat and work. They had a childhood and they grew through it and passed into the wider world without ever sitting an examination. They weren't passing through those precious and creative years as preparation for Work. I never had to help them with home-work - what would be the point? how could I help them in the struggle to understand what mattered. Without the Certificate part of the Leaving Cert there is no straight-forward path to college. After she enrolled in U. Life, Dau.II found out that every adult person - genius or dunce - had a degree. Her response was predictably a quip:
"No degree is the new degree"

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