Jack, the Beanstalk and A Level Results
You are eighteen
years old and you are waiting for the post to thud menacingly on the
mat. You tried to study hard but you had to go out with friends sometimes
just to relieve the stress of it all and anyway you couldnt afford
to go out that much. When you did go out you felt guilty about it, you
could have done some extra work.
Now you wish you had been a recluse for the last two years. Then you
could just sit back and be cool about your results. The worst part is
that the whole family is waiting for your results and will be on the
phone all day. Whatever your results, Uncle Chris will say that its
not worth a toss anyway because anyone can pass exams these days and
Auntie Julie will light up, offer you one in front of your mum to embarrass
you and tell you she didnt need A levels so why worry.
Everyone offers you advice that you dont really want because they
end up telling you their life story about how it was years ago. Youve
already done history at school and dont need a repeat. You are
eighteen years old and just want to fast forward to twenty-five. You
would have your life sorted by then. Wouldnt you? The A level
results are better than ever (again) for the nineteenth consecutive
year. Surprise, surprise, the sceptics, the academics and the usual
sad establishment rebels are out in force each preaching their own truths
about higher education. Chris Woodhead tells the Daily Telegraph this
Universities are now so desperate to pack student
bums on to vacant academic seats that examination grades have become
and embarrassing irrelevance.
You want to study golf, or curry making, or knitting? Fine, there is
a course for you and the odds are that, if you can read a sentence or
two and sign your own name, you will be welcomed with open arms.
Scathing criticism indeed from graduate of the past to potential graduates
of the future. And how did you guide your students Chris when you were
teaching? With a combination of hands-on guidance and pastoral care
Such pronouncements will not encourage students or teachers and do absolutely
nothing for educators who do not have the power that such media opportunities
can wield. Such opportunities carry with it the responsibility, particularly
of an ex-educator, that could be put to more constructive use. In the
last nineteen years many aspects of our daily lives have improved without
the furore that surrounds our education system. It seems that for teachers
and pupils its a case of damned if you do, damned if you dont.
Speaking of which, please, please someone do something about that Julie
Birchill. In her recent Guardian article she doles out advice to worried
18 year olds with the charm and wisdom of an ageing rebel, claiming
the moral highground by virtue of being The bright child of two
factory workers. She recommends, throw your books into the
nearest lake and, if your parents object, tell them to go take a running
jump too. Then chuck a few things a thong, a song, a few magic
beans into a spotted hanky and run away to seek fame and fortune
or even good plain fun, pronto. For in my experience, those who can,
do; those who cant go to college.
That advice is really just an update on in my day
and I got on alright without A levels/university/qualifications
and so on. The kind of advice that young people get all the time from
people who tell of their own experiences which worked for them. The
kind of advice that Ms Birchill accused her teachers of giving, the
mantra of further education which was invoked by teachers
might be allowed to go to university and escape my horrible working-class
life!. The world has changed in the last two decades and the pressures
on young people to achieve have never been greater and opportunities
fewer. Students who learn what they are taught and pass what they are
set do not need criticism of good grades. Students who have not achieved
such success do not need criticism it is too late and of no value
at this stage.
This is the time when young people need support, encouragement, not
blame and recriminations. Nor do they need to be told that it doesnt
matter and to run away from life and seek fame and fortune. Life is
not a fairytale, Jack and the Beanstalk is. What young people need is
support and encouragement to find their own way in life and make their
own, sometimes difficult choices even if that means pursuing a goal
by other means, be it higher education or not or even changing the goals.
Those who can do; those who cant were probably told that they
couldnt or shouldnt bother.
© Sue Noonan 2001
email: Suenoonan123@aol.com (Sue's first piece for Hacks)
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