If you nosed around my school asking people why exactly they had turned up that morning, chances are most students would offer something in a range from ‘because it’s compulsory, innit’ to ‘what else am I going to talk about on MySpace tonight?’. Once you get to the Sixth Form, however, you start to (finally!) acquire a group of individuals who actually, genuinely, honest-to-god want to be there. It matters to them, because most of all they want to pass exams.
But why exactly? I was reminded today of the very clear idealogical divide that exists between two competing groups of students and teachers. On the one hand, you have the rationale that thinks it’s bloody obviously why you should want to pass exams – university, duh! And that’s going to be great because you’ll end up with a degree, and everyone knows degrees are great for getting you jobs, and hey, everyone wants jobs. Jobs = money. Money = stuff. Stuff = a really fast car painted to make it shinier, or, for the tenderer souls, a chance to buy a boat and sail off to a desert island for a while to escape that awful consumerist world back home. (Urgh. It makes you so angry that, like, the media is forcing you to buy things and you’re so glad you’re not going to conform like all those other idiots in your sociology class.)
Those are the optimists, by the way. The pessimist variant is that you better damn well make sure you succeed, because it’s a ‘highly competitive world out there’ and if you don’t get that A in English Literature Unit 2 (with coursework, naturally) someone is going to fuck you over in a job interview 20 years hence and you’ll die poor and sad and lonely in a box on the corner of the street opposite where your rich, clever friends live.
This is basically what I heard today from one teacher, who began to scrutinise a friend’s AS choices to check she wasn’t about to waste her life. Naturally, I jumped in (with a friend) to object.
“No! Don’t be silly, you don’t need to choose a career now. Do what you want to do, have fun, drink some alcohol (religious tolerances permitting) and don’t worry about it.”
Well, sides were taken and backs got up. Apparently, you might be amused to hear, I’m actually wasting your hard earned taxpayer’s money on courses that aren’t hard-wired into a super-duper career plan! Sorry about that, folks. Unintentional.
I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Education for education’s sake – probably summed up in a neat Latin phrase – open your minds to the fountain of human knowledge without being corrupted by the nasty capitalists with no heart or soul etc etc. Well, I’m not. The ‘education for education’s sake’ mantra has always sat uneasily with me, partly because the people who chant it usually:
– do happen to have reasonably well-paid jobs (whoops)
– sneer at the new-fangled ‘vocational’ courses because only stupid people learn ‘skills’ unless that skill is conjugating verbs, because in that case it’s not a skill – it’s a sacred art passed down through the generations
– are quite happy to be treated in hospitals by staff who decided at a very early age that they were going to work hard to follow a promising career path
I have no objection to people mapping out their future if that’s what they choose to do. Good luck to them, I’m sure there’s a personality type which can describe you quite nicely. But I do resent the idea that it’s suitable for everyone, or that I’m not honestly allowed to find out what linear regression anymore just for the hell of it. (I’ll be honest: I didn’t find out what linear regression is just for the hell of it, I found out what linear regression is because I’ll be in trouble tomorrow if I didn’t. But that point still stands.)
This is why, incidentally, so many of the motivational talks and hard-hitting assemblies we get fall flat on their face for a significant section of the student population. We really couldn’t care less on how we can ‘secure our futures’ because we know that, in reality, no one really knows what’s going to happen anyway. We could all be blown up tomorrow. No, I’m not being alarmist, I live in London. We could all be blown up tomorrow.
Naturally, the obvious question after all of that is to wonder whether teaching was really the dream of those bright teenagers so many years ago, who pulled themselves along through the daunting challenges of life to reach the dream goal of… well, whatever makes them feel warm and happy and contented now, I guess. And if they really wanted to be an astronaut but ended up in front of an interactive whiteboard by an unhappy accident? Then your philosophy failed. Don’t take it out on me.