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This is a question Kids

Either you love 'em or you hate 'em. Or in the case of Fred West - both. Tell us your ankle-biter stories.

(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 15:10)
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A Bit of a Rant
I was in the waiting room at Stoke station not so long ago; also there was a group of three chavettes. As is the way with these situations, I inevitably overheard, and listened into, their conversation. The topic that concerned them was whether they should get pregnant before or after doing their GCSEs.

The thing is, though, that they were asking themselves exactly the right question. Not because having a kid at 15 is a good idea in itself, but because, in fairness, it was possibly their best opportunity for a house and a tolerable income. (OK – welfare isn’t theirs: it’s paid to the mother on behalf of the child, but that doesn’t bother me for the moment.)

Here’s the deal: a working class kid at a bog standard comprehensive can make something of him or herself, but the chances are stacked against that happening. Instead, poverty, poverty of education and poverty of aspiration mean that, if you’re unlucky in birth, the chances are that you aren’t going to change your position any time soon. Why should the chav or chavette stay in school, when it won’t make the blindest bit of difference to their long-term prospects? Better to get a council flat and an income as soon as possible: you’re going to end up in a council flat with a welfare income either way, so why go to the effort of staying in school? And if that means having a kid, then so be it. It’d be dumb to do anything else.

That’s why the girls were asking the right question. But the fact that they were asking it indicates that they were bright: they were exactly the people who could make something of themselves, given the chance and a sufficiently broad horizon. Such a horizon is lacking in an education system that’s given up, though – that, at most, aims at training, which isn’t the same by a long shot. Useful is a virtue in Black and Decker tools. It’s not a virtue in people.

I spend a significant part of my time trying to convince working class kids to go to university – specifically, to do so to study things like philosophy, maths, physics, French, classics or whatever not because it’ll help get a job, but because it’ll make them better people. Sometimes it works. But there’s a devil on my shoulder that points out my bad faith: they’re not from wealthy backgrounds; there’s no grant; they’ll end up worse off, financially, unless they’re extraordinarily lucky or staggeringly determined. I’m lying to these kids. I’m widening their horizons in the knowledge that they’ll likely as not be unable to capitalise on that, because three decades of governments have given up on the idea of education and replaced it with gradgrindian utility calculi. In doing so, they’ve fucked the brightest and the best of the working class – like those girls at the station - and ceded their entitlement to the dumbest of the middle-class.

The kids are all right. Talk to them. They’re clever. They’re interested in the world. They want to be treated like mature human beings, they respond if that’s how you treat them, and they’re capable of amazing insight and engagement. Of course they break into your car and spray-paint your wall. Of course they’re twitchy and dope-jittery. What the hell else is there? Fuck it. They might as well be. I would. We’ve screwed them royally – they owe us nothing except contempt in equal measure to the contempt that we’ve shown them.

Apologies for lack of funny. I’m drunk, y’see.
(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 21:32, 26 replies)
Amazing insight.
Drunk insight, but insight nonetheless

(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 21:45, closed)
Drunk Enzyme - Far to eloquent
Good point about the going to university thing.

It's all well and good that the government want more and more people to go through a university course, but there's so many issues with that.

As you pointed out, going through university can be financially crippling; I'm lucky that my family can support me through it ok, and that my brother didn't steal all the money before me. If they couldn't I would be royally screwed over, and have huge debts, and that's even with my tuition fees being paid.

Then also, if all these extra people graduate from courses, then the graduate:job ratio will be appalling, and all those students with huge debts will have no way to pay them back as there shan't be enough jobs.

So getting pregnant and getting a job early? Well I can't do the first, but if there's no chance of the degree leading to anything, I would probably have tried to do the second.
(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 21:48, closed)
It's truth.
I've known a good many very intelligent people caught in the poverty trap, and even more well-off twats who don't deserve their smug little existences. It does make one mad enough to bite holes in steel.

The most frustrating? When I see one of these really bright people and I tell them how they could get out of that trap- when I point out how they can get an education and get a job making decent money- they take the attitude of what's-the-use and don't even want to look into it, because they've been told all their lives that they'll never amount to a damn thing. So it becomes self-fulfilling...

(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 22:01, closed)
Stoke station
ahh yes, I live near there. conversation sounds about right. I heard some girls on a bus having a very similar conversation.

In answer to your uni conundrum, my husband is from a council estate with no money in the family. At school he was told he might as well sign up to the dole now because he would never get anywhere, except maybe a factory job (thats how they help less privileged kids) .
Instead he took the 'staggeringly determined' option and went through uni, and is finishing his final year soon, moving on to do a masters. So it is possible to do.

Although it is annoying when you only have a fiver for the weeks shopping and someone says to you "why don't you ask your daddy for the money?". No, because our dads don't have any fucking money (well mine does, but it seems rude to ask).

Most disturbingly people at uni often look surprise when you tell them this....
(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 22:07, closed)
A friend, upon hearing that I wasn't doing something due to lack of funding, replied with:

"If I ever need money, I just ask daddy. He buys me shoes all the time."

(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 22:12, closed)
Very well ranted, Enzyme
I quite agree. I was lucky to have gone to university when grants were still available. My parents would not have been able to afford it otherwise. I was also fortunate enough to be able to do band work to supplement my grant so actually never went into debt as a student.

But now, the situation is as you describe. If you've no money and exist in a social stratum where it is perceived that university is for 'posh people', then you have no chance, regardless of your intelligence.
(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 22:22, closed)
Financially worse off?
I myself am a university student. I'm just gonna say that i'm lucky as hell, and leave it at that. However, I don't quite get the whole debt thing *waits for abuse*. The SLC has given me a loan. Under certain circumstances it would have given me a grant as well, and a higher loan. I am going to leave uni with 24 grand of debt (four year course), which *I* will pay back when I begin to earn a reasonable amount. If I never earn that amount, i'll never pay it back.

Net, with degree level employment, I expect to end off better financially, and if not at least i'll have had a pretty good time.

And there are people here who get the full loan amount, are not supported by their parents and who temp full time in the holidays to top up their living expenses - and I have yet to meet anyone without at least a part time holiday job. (Well apart from about three of the 'my dad owns your dad' types.)

Apart from that, great post.

And damn, im jealous of your drunken logic.
(, Thu 17 Apr 2008, 22:41, closed)
don't get me started
i passed a 16+ exam with flying colours when i was 9. i had the highest scores in english that my junior school had ever seen. this led to me being offered a scholarship place in a local private school, a place where i would undoubtedly have met the "right" people and may even have snagged myself a rich husband.
however, there was another girl up for the same scholarship. she didn't need it, her parents were rich. mine were practically penniless. her parents were members of the school board. my parents felt self-conscious walking through the gates.
we were given tests to determine who would be awarded the scholarship and, despite the fact that i was 2 years younger than the other girl, i scored higher than her.
then we had an interview with the headmistress.
as a result of this interview, she was given the scholarship and i was kicked back into the obscurity of an overcrowded local high school.
due to severe illness, i had to be home-schooled between the ages of 14 and 16, losing out on a lot of my education. this doesn't make me feel any better about missing out on the biggest chance of my life.
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 0:37, closed)
Uhuh, yes, fine, but
is it permissible for me to get pregnant to get out of my hideous, horrible academic job?

(Also drunk. But winning at SingStar. I'm an amazing Nick Cave at "Where the Wild Roses Grow".)

(Edit: and in case anyone thinks I'm being flippant, I'm not, I'm the first person in my working class family - extended family - to go to university. Did I spend my childhood spraypainting graffiti on our crumbling walls? Did I fuck. I also had common sense. I wish it were more common.)

p.p.s. "gradgrindian utility calculi"? Your verbosity is illimitable. :)

More sober edit: I agree.
*goes back to vomiting*
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 1:03, closed)
I disagree entirely.
I went to a school where the fact that my parents owned their house probably put me in the richest 20% of the students. It was in a small town in a rural area and the local industry (printing) was in decline.

I was fortunate - a good memory for facts and figures, a sharp mind and a tendency not to fall apart in exams so I had it fairly easy.

A lot of my friends didn't. They worked hard, got D's and C's, some stayed on for A-levels, some did GNVQs or went to the local college, others went off to do apprenticeships. Only a handful of us went to uni.

I'm sometimes jealous of the ones who went to work after college - they own their own houses now, can afford cars, have less debt and have had a few more years to settle down. They're IT support people, Web designers, policemen, primary school teachers, cleaners, shop managers.

They're justifiably proud of who they are and what they do.

The ones who didn't bother with school could hardly string a sentence together, they're the ones who had kids at 15, who dropped out and did nothing except sponge of the dole, who didn't have to worry because 'I'm gonna be a prin'er like me dad' even when most of the local factories were closing.

The smart ones wised up after a year or two and went to college or trained up on the job - I met one of them a few years ago who is doing pretty well as a Sous-chef at a local restaurant.

The lucky ones got factory labourer jobs.

As for the rest, I have very little sympathy for them.
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 10:46, closed)
I live in a former mining town
And have a friend who’s a retired teacher. He went to school in the same town, where the teacher’s mantra was “You’re here until you go down the pit or get married and have babies. So sit quietly, behave, do as we say, and you’ll be alright”.

Is it any bloody wonder the North East is lagging behind? Granted this was 50 years ago, but still. That kind of damage takes a long time to heal.
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 11:11, closed)
For sure - there's plenty of ways for people to lead admirable lives without a university background. A friend's dad left school at 15, became a brickie, and through sheer determination built up a successful business. Great.
The point is, though, that many kids are brought up with nary a thought that it's worth making that kind of effort, and, what with the absence of a decent student grant, it probably isn't. Drop-out rates from university are astronomical - largely attribuatable to debt. So many kids'll end up after a year with a wasted 12 months and thousands of pounds in the red. And that's not counting the intelligent kids from bog-standard comps who're never given the intellectual impetus even to think about university in the first place.

I'm sober now, but just as angry as I was last night...
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 11:15, closed)
absolutely right chennoble...
I know far too many people that have wasted their University Opportunities or found themselves on the bottom rung with masses of debt and delusions of grandeur...
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 16:53, closed)
Sweary junior is a bright kid
But unfortunately suffers from a lack of application at school and has a 'I've done the work set for me so it'll do' attitude to his work. Which is fair enough; it's his future. I very much doubt he will stay on beyond his 16th birthday.

However, as the time comes closer, he will understand that the choices he makes are his, and he can do what he likes with his education and future adulthood. But... doing nothing is not an option if he continues to live under the same roof. Get training, get a job, go back into education failing that - but do nothing?

Uh-uh. No way.
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 17:10, closed)
@Enzyme: But the fact that most kids don't go to uni is hardly a new situation
plenty more people go to uni these days, the problem is that they tend to study courses that, intellectually stimulating as they may be, have little to no employment prospects.

Now I agree that university should be about education, not training, but you can't spend three years doing philosophy and then act surprised when you are completely unemployable at the other end.

In the old days, when universities taught young men (and the occasional woman, should she prove unusually strong-minded) to broaden their minds and bask in knowledge on it's own merits they were pretty much exclusively teaching the sons of the aristocracy who already had careers laid out for them by Daddy or could use their influence to walk into a government job.

I'm quite glad this is no longer the case, though I share your wistful longing for a world where education is about bettering yourself not getting a foot in the door at KPMG.
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 17:44, closed)
I shouldn't be taking the time for this, but...
The best point I've ever heard made on this discussion was by Jerry Pournelle (Google for him if you don't know him- very interesting guy). He said, rightly so, that the problem is that we want all kids to go to university and make lots of money, which simply cannot happen- if we do, we end up with the plight I find now, where having a four year degree today means what having a high school degree meant fifty years ago. Simply put, this is not Lake Wobegone where all children are above average- the bell curve exists whether we like it or not, and not all kids are smart enough to attend university. But without a university degree they're stuck with dead-end jobs in fast food and the like.

The solution to this is to bring back the old trade schools, where the kids of average to middling intelligence could learn to become carpenters, plumbers, masons and all the other skilled trades that would guarantee them a living when they got out of school. Keep the universities strict in their admissions- no one with grades below a given average- and have funds available for poorer students who qualify academically.

But it's not politically correct to imply that not all kids are created equal in intelligence, or even that intelligence matters- Shaniqua deserves all the same chances that the brighter kids get, and No Child Left Behind shall be our motto.

(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 18:45, closed)
Hmmm. If we want people to go into Higher Education but be employable, why don't we teach vocational subjects and applied education for work? Oh yes, we did - in polytechnics. Then the government in their infinite lack of wisdom declared all HE institutions were equal, though some are more equal than others.

I join you - and probably everyone - in dreaming that things could be different.

Huh, thinking about this is doing little to reduce my stress.
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 19:51, closed)
As a prospective solution
- and I'm also drunk, so bear with me - but could we, like, stop paying people to have children?

How about we charge people, say, £10,000 for each child they have?

Wouldn't that give these girls a better outlook on life than just "get knocked up now or later?"
(, Fri 18 Apr 2008, 23:08, closed)
Universities are far too easy to get into these days and a lot of what they teach is pure bollox.

Girl I knew back in England was accepted for a degree in CHILD MINDING!!! And, the thing is, she's thick as a castle wall.

Other's I know who have been accepted onto degree courses are little better.

I was having an argument in the pub with a mate about education these days and I was saying that standards now are so low that an O Level in Maths when I was in School was about equivalent to an A level theses days.

Tourist butted in:

"You're right.."

"How do you know?" said mate

"I'm a maths teacher....."

That said, I've interviewed many IT graduates over the years and been amazed at how totally *useless* they were. And they were expecting 25K as an entry level salary. In their fucking dreams......

Nah. A Uni degree these days isn't worth wiping my arse on. Dumbed down, puffed up and a mockery compared to the degrees of old.

Bring back apprenticeships. Bring back decent technical colleges. Make university hard to get into so only the brightest and best can apply and then then ramp up the standards. Uni should be hard to get into and hard to complete.

And bring back full grants, abolish tuition fees. If we cut back the number of students by %50 then we can afford to give grants again.

While I'm on reforming the educations system, abolish Mickey Mouse degrees as well. Out with media-studies and sociology and in with more science and engineering. And, if I had my way, most of the Arts subjects would be tossed in the bin as well. We need scientists and engineers. We need another media studies graduate or a fine arts graduate like we need cancer.

Oh - and abolish all marketing degrees and shoot the lectures and graduates.

(, Sat 19 Apr 2008, 6:46, closed)
Yay for more scientists and engineers!

One of the most infuriating parts of talking to people that are in the middle of doing a large number of degrees is if the subject of what they want to do with their degree once they are finished comes up:

- "Yeah, I'll have a history degree, so I'll probably become a history lecturer."

- "I'll probably become a lecturer."

- etc.

I mean it's fair enough if one or two want to become teachers or lecturers, but I tested this by going round and asking most of a class once, and all but three or four planned to do that. We really don't need that many history teachers.

'Mon the engineers I say!
(, Sat 19 Apr 2008, 8:19, closed)
I'm with you almost all the way. Universities should have fewer students but draw from a wider well. Facilitating the first would facilitate the second. I disagree with your point about arts subjects, though. Sciences and engineering are good for the economy in a practical way, but arts subjects, taught well, teach skills that are just as important - a judge who knows exactly what the statues are but doesn't think in a wider context, for example, would be a poor judge. An economist who doesn't aim at making people happy would be a poor economist - and that requires some picture of human fluorishing.

That's the difference, though, between an arts subject and a lot of the crap that passes for an arts subject. Important difference.
(, Sat 19 Apr 2008, 11:25, closed)
I see your point but I disagree.

I see most Arts degrees as hobbies and not something that should be funded by the taxpayers.

Take me for instance. I've a deep and abiding love for history and read everything I can get my hands on in the areas I'm most interested (Napoleonic Wars and European history of that era....). If I ever get rich enough to retire I'd love to go back to uni and do a History degree - but I'd expect to pay for it. History, like English Literature and Fine Arts, are hobbies and the general public shouldn't be expected to stump up or subsidise these courses.

I agree that people need to more rounded though but that should be through their own interests rather than a uni degree.

I better add that I was one of the lucky ones. Council house upbringing and poor school record meant that, for someone like me, University was far off dream. It was only by chance that I ended up winning a scholarship to do an HND in Computing (at a decent technical college) that I ended up going to uni. And, again, I was lucky enough to get a full grant and, as there were no tuition fees back then, it meant I left uni pretty much debt free. If I had the same choice these days I doubt I'd dare saddle myself with 30k of debt just for a degree.

Bring back the old days of free education. It benefits the entire country when we produce high class graduates. Too many bright people are dropping out due to overwhelming debt.

And tax breaks for apprenticeships. We need decent sparkies, chippies, brickies and mechanics just as much as we need graduates.

(, Sat 19 Apr 2008, 11:46, closed)
^ This last point is something I agree with wholeheartedly.
Everyone (or nearly everyone) has something that they can contribute to society / the economy. Having a high intelligence is not the be all and end all. It does help, obviously, but I've met some really clever people who are as thick as pig shit in terms of general life skills. And similarly met people who aren't blessed 'upstairs' but know the right end of a hammer and chisel.

Offer apprenticeships to those who aren't academically gifted, rather than forcing them to feel as if they have to go to uni. Give them something that they might actually be good and can make a decent living at. But as I said earlier, reinforce the point that 'doing nothing' is not an option, and if you do nothing, then you get fuck all for doing nothing.
(, Sat 19 Apr 2008, 12:00, closed)
in defence of the Arts
Society has many facets and while a world run on engineering terms with a belief system based on science would be wonderfully efficient, it would also be incredibly tedious. I don't think we can relegate the Arts and Humanities to being hobbies; culture needs... well... culture. Also, there's a lot of interesting cross-fertilisation between the Arts and the Sciences that is ripe for exploration, although I draw the line at anything using the words "performativity" or "installation".

I see the argument that Arts/Humanities subjects are less "useful", but that only applies if you regard those subjects as having less of a contribution to society in general. I think society needs them, though we could probably cull a few Art Historians.

I'm fortunate/cursed to have spent my academic career moving back and forwards between Arts Faculties and Engineering Faculties (which, of course, makes this post incredibly biased in favour of interdiscplinarity). Sure, I've met people in the Arts and Humanities who haven't a clue about logic or rigourous thinking. I've also met scientists who don't have the first notion about theory or reasoning or any kind of abstraction. I'm seen as either "the geek who makes computers work" or "the person who does fluffeh stuff, not real computer science". Our day will come though... er, please may I have a new job?
(, Sat 19 Apr 2008, 15:17, closed)
With Alexi Sayle on this subject.

"Anyone, who isn't involved in light engineering, and uses the word WORKSHOP, is a twat....

(, Sun 20 Apr 2008, 0:44, closed)
Inclusive education is a big bucket of iguana scrotum
Try teaching a class of 30+ children of "mixed ability". Not a celluloid rat's chance in hell of succeeding. The only option is to "pitch to the middle". Thus the lower end still don't understand while the brighter kids aren't being stimulated.

Worst of all is throwing S.E.N. kids in the mix. As they "progress" the gap between their own ability and that of their peers becomes a chasm. This reinforces the difference instead of the intended PC idea of equality, ultimately resulting in the whitling of the special child's confidence. I find that the most soul destroying element of the current system.

Bring back the grammar / secondary school system! (But not the birch.)
Bring back special schools!
And the 11+ exam!
Kick cocking SATs into touch!
(, Sun 20 Apr 2008, 15:19, closed)

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