Three end of year thoughts (loosely held together by a tightrope walk)
December is odd. The London world whips itself into a frenetic state during the Christmas build up, falls into a lull on December 26th and then limps and sways before trying to launch itself anew in January. Talk is of healthy new beginnings and becoming something you are not. I find the situation illogical. We know instinctively that things works better if they have momentum behind them yet by speeding up then ramming the brakes we lose consistency and January is in fact a creeping, cloying, chewing gum on the sole kind of month.
Equally odd is that this pressure is self or rather socially, induced. There is no need for it.
Some years ago, the whole country would close down and people were obliged to spend long periods together. They had journeyed far and were able, if not in continuous harmony, to spend a prolonged time with near and distant family. But now,there is no longer, especially within our growing city culture, reason to be shacked up and hemmed in by rarely seen and faintly loved non-nuclear relatives.
Shops and entertainments are open all but one day and not even the weather forces us to stay inside (notwithstanding the poor folk who’ve been flooded).
We seem to embrace a stressful break that we don’t really like for traditional rather than practical reasons.
One of my final acts of work during 2015 was attending a planners’meeting for a new educational programme. One of the topics debated was whether students that fail, or get a low grade, should have the opportunity to be re-assessed.
The main argument against was that it would be unfair to candidates who did well first time. After all, shouldn’t they be rewarded for hard work and application?
In favour of re-sitting was the point that if a learner can improve over time, they too deserve another chance. Then there were sub-arguments that maybe re-takers could pay, or have their maximum grade restricted (in order, I suppose to stop people from literally buying qualifications).
My jury remains out on this rather complex situation, but I was struck that even after many years and many tried and tested models of education it is still likely that when organising people get together they have a need to rewrite the blueprints. Plus ca change…
Yesterday my family and I ate in Wahaca, a Mexican style eatery on London’s Southbank. It’s a bit like a students’ union both staffed and frequented by the young and sparsely dotted with babies and parents. The food is ok, the service not. When our initial server was replaced by a more competent one, we asked him about his background and what he does when he’s not working. He explained he was a graduate in English Literature and was working in a restaurant as he couldn’t get other work. He added that if he’d had his time again he’d have choosen a degree with more transferable skills. My heart sank. I always thought that being able to discuss, evaluate criticise and summarize (Literature students’ forte) were among the most valuable skills. It seems that is no longer the case and that employers are not so keen on creative thinking (potentially argumentative and individual?) people and prefer young minds that have been pre-moulded to fit the work ethic before taking them on and breaking them in/down.
This however does not explain why two young scientists I know are leaving their laboratories and switching to careers in law and accountancy. If these changes are for the money, then it’s a real shame that science does not offer them a proper income. It makes me uneasy to think that bright young minds are turning away from making the planet better and unless they’re idealists appear to be just following (albeit sorely needed) cash. It reminds me of the Dire Straits’ song Telegraph Road: ’ Then came the churches then came the schools, then came the lawyers then came the rules’…