Tuesday 1 November 2016


As I share an office at The Institute with two women who a) work in Science b) have teenage children, I know rather a lot about the trials and tribs of teenagers today in school and at home. It's not so long ago that I was the proud 'owner' of two teenage daughters myself and have a certain empathy with these younger mothers. At least, with all the hormonal turmoil and self-discovery, Dau.I and Dau.II weren't subjected to the additional stress of school: peer-pressure, school dinners, weird dress-codes [ties, white shirts,tartan skirts], rigid time-tables, heads getting flushed in the toilet for not paying 'protection'. Being home educated, the girls could and did pursue projects that they cared about without caring whether they would do well on the exams or whether such a project would look good on the CV or help them get a better job. For main-stream kids in school, they have to game the system a little because they are given to believe that they need to go to college: 12 years of education is no longer, apparently, enough to get a job or find a useful place in society!  It's a bit different now from the 1930s when my father and Pat the Salt each left home at 14 to follow a life at sea.

One of the three PhD students in which I have had a part-share went to a perfectly reasonable school in Co Galway which, because of time-table, room and teacher constraints, allowed students to take Chemistry or Biology at Leaving Certificate. That would have put the kibosh on, or at least made it difficult to do, science at University. Therefore he and a pal registered for Biology classes and knocked off the Chemistry curriculum by themselves outside of school-time. I think he got an A in both subjects which says a) that he had smarts and application b) it was a long way from Science that the Chemistry curriculum was devised (if you can get top-gun grades by memorising the text-book).

What about if you're not into science? Hard as it might be, as a young person in Ireland, to find a job in STEM, it is waaaay more difficult to earn a living from the Arts. But we need to allow all our citizens to live as close as possible to their true selves: it is the best way to build social capital. We are really losing sight of this in the Western World as $ € £ capital is increasingly seen as the only currency in the asylum. Since ever, we have had on the books a Leaving Certificate LC subject called Art.  Actually let's use this as an opportunity to display the bounds [N=34] of Irish Secondary education:
  • Languages group
    • English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Classical Studies, Hebrew Studies
  • Science group
    • Applied Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, (Physics and Chemistry)
  • Business studies group
    • Accounting, Business, Economics
  • Applied science group
    • Agricultural Science, Construction Studies, Engineering, (Home Economics), (Physics and Chemistry), Design and Communication Graphics
  • Social studies group
    • Art, Geography, History, (Home Economics), Music, Politics and Society
I've highlighted Art because that is of which we treat and note they they can't make up their minds which bin Phys&Chem and HomeEc must be put. You just can't get into science college unless you have passed maths [we insist on a D in Pass Maths at The Institute which is the minimum grade above Fail] and appropriate sciency subjects.  But for Art School, a LC in Art is effectively irrelevant because you are required to submit a portfolio!  Begolly that's a great idea, I'd insist on that too: you can't do science in college unless you show:
  • your insect collection
    • or better, records from the family honey-bee hives
    • if twitcher, your county-wide check-list
  • your sheep or chicken breeding records
    • mice or gerbils acceptable for city-kids
  • your investigations of breaking strain in fishing line
    • bonus for seasonal fishing records
    • optional extra: tasty recipes for cooking the catch
  • your meteor shower counts
    • rainfall records acceptable
  • your young scientist prize or 
  • some evidence that you have formed a hypothesis about the real world and tested it in the laboratory or the field
The ATAI the Art Teachers' Association of Ireland (Cumann Múinteoirí Ealaíne na hÉireann in The West) have been working to the same curriculum since 1972! And they've had enough, they want substantive change in the Art curriculum to bring the subject, and those subjected to it, closer to the mainstream of how modern society sees itself. They want you and me to petition the Minister of Education Richard Bruton to make real changes lest Art becomes wholly irrelevant and marginalised in our community. The latest relevant circular from DeptEduc has this soul-deadening instruction "The Imaginative Composition or Still Life component and the Craft or Design component will be executed as coursework in schools over an extended period of time; (a period of approximately six weeks, which involves about 15 hours of class time, is envisaged.)" which I've reduced to the smallness of the mind the conceived it. Would that, could that, does that . . . result in, encourage, or engender Great Art?  Neil Gaiman's advice: "Make Good Art".  The Full Monty of his Address.

Nicely ATAI have conceived the idea of sending a picture postcard [aarragh Jaysus, no, not that sort of postcard] to the Minister to lighten his day and tell him to get on with The Future even as he struggles with teacher's strikes in the present. When the recession started to bite, I got it completely wrong about whether we should support the Arts when things got tough. Now that the recession is dissipating, we need to think and talk about Art in Society: more money won't make us happier but Art just might. My colleagues daughter [see first paragraph] is of the artistic persuasion and has sent her postcard to the minister.
Footnote: if you, like me, misread stateoftheart as state-something-heart you'll like other unintentionally unfortunate web-names like powergenitalia [prev].

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