Young is wasted on the Youth

As a mild-mannered individual, there’s really very little that winds me up. There’s a whole raft of little niggles; people who describe sportsmen/sporting acts as ‘world class’ and people who look at the desserts first on a menu are just two, but I can live with that, and apart from the involuntary curl of the top lip, these gripes tend to pass me by.

I watched a little of the ‘Toby Young sets up a Free School’ programme last week, and despite the fact that I was only half watching, the man and his ideals really grated with me. The premise was that Toby (restaurant critic and occasional columnist/minor reality TV channel 5-based celebrity) had suddenly become impassioned with the need to challenge the British education system, and felt that the Free Schools programme was the way to do this. In case you weren’t aware, the idea behind Free Schools is that anyone can set up a School, so long as they make their bid to the Government, have a building, a curriculum and some teachers. They are supposed to be ‘all-ability, state-funded Schools set up as a result of parental demand’. This is a classic example of the ‘idea that sounds good when sold to the man on the street’, but is in fact so flawed as to be laughable. It’s a bit like the Labour ideal of 50% of people going to university, which sounds good until you realise that there aren’t any more good jobs out there than before, except now people are required to get into heavy debt gaining meaningless degrees from the university of Luton before they are able to get out into the work place and get the same job/earn the same amount of money as they would have done before their 3 year life hiatus.

Anyway, Toby’s point was that education has lost its way. Fair enough; in many ways it has. We could attack grade inflation, oversized classrooms, untrained teachers, the irrelevance of parts of the National Curriculum. Unfortunately, in the most myopic way possible, he decided that the reason it had lost its way could essentially be summed up by his own experience, which involved being un-motivated by teachers (no word of his own or his parents’ responsibility), and achieving no real grades at all. Now most people would have said at this point that if the teachers were not motivating, we should look to either swap the teachers we have (not realistic) or invest money in making the teachers we have better (realistic, relatively cheap and eminently sensible). Incidentally, Toby, this is where the real problem lies, in the lack of quality in some areas of the teaching profession, and the lack of structure in the homes of many young people.

This may not have made such good TV however, so Toby’s point was that we needed to re-structure the curriculum so that there was more rigour, and this included harking back to what he called a ‘classical education’. Not sure if he knew what he meant by this, but it enabled him to sound knowledgable from behind his specs. This also sounded suspiciously like the curriculum that a middle-aged man who had ballsed up his School career would like to go back to School to study, but this may be due to the fact that Toby has no experience of Schools, teaching, the education process, motivation of young minds or any research into what actually makes pupils want to learn.

No-one would ever allow the public to set up their own defence academies, or their own hospitals, thinking that having a passion and a misguided sense of what was wrong with the MOD or NHS would be a sensible idea, though with education it seems fair game. It’s the equivalent of that bloke in the pub who spends all his time criticising the England team, claiming to anyone who will listen that all we need are ‘real Englishmen with passion’. His pub team?

I did think that I might have been a bit harsh on Toby, so I went to his Free School website, which has a 7 minute clip of him on the homepage. This was his chance to change my mind, to prove to me that it was the education of the nation that he really cared about, rather than keeping his TV career away from Channel 5. ‘Motivation…classical curriculum…soundbite…soundbite…3 minute story about arriving in the wrong Welsh village…end’. Toby, drop me an email, and I’ll speak to you about education. It’s something I know about. You can then tell me all about celebrity come dine with me, which is something you know about. Let’s not move too far outside our respective spheres of expertise.

The Great Divide

Monday 6th September. 8pm. There’s a decent battle occurring on BBC2 as Hertford College Oxford take on UCL in university challenge. The UCL captain looks like an unwashed Simon Amstell, and he’s sitting next to a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall clone (if Hugh decided to morph into Bill Bryson, and got stuck half way). This is the normal Monday night staple, but channel 4 seems to have unearthed something truly disgusting to rival UC. Some desperate x-list ex-big brother contestants are each attmpting to prolong their 5 minutes in the sun by appearing on a themed ‘Come Dine With Me’. As low-brow TV goes, it’s up there with anything Russ Meyer produced, and I suspect even Paul Ross would hang his head in shame at this tripe. Have there ever been two more polar-opposite TV programmes put up against each other? Has the nation ever been so divided into the haves and have-nots (brain cells, that it) by these two televisual ends of the spectrum?

Digression: I went to watch UC being filmed a couple of years ago in Manchester, and found out that the Jeremy Kyle show is actually filmed in the studio next door. Two queues had formed outside: imagine one to be made up only of twittering middle-class families, and the other to be make up of blue wkd-swilling overweight chavs, and you’d be pretty much there.

Back to my original point: these two programmes must have divded the nation neatly. We can therefore classify all people as type 1 (UC) or type 2 (BBCDWM), and ne’er the twain shall meet. The diagram produced would resemble two perfect non-overlapping circles; not exactly a Venn diagram for the purists. I wonder whether there are other such ways of dividing people so neatly, and I’m not talking about the obvious ones such as Lennon/McCartney, milk in first or not or marmite/not marmite.

1. Petrol. Not sure if there might be a little bit of overlap here, but people generally fall into the fillers (stop when the petrol handle flicks back) or neat totallers (stop when the price reads £30.00). It’s always worth stopping early, as if you overfill, you get another chance to stop at £40.00, and so on. This of course all gets ruined when you buy a grab-bag of quavers and a can of low-sugar red bull.

2. Jumpers. People who take them off from the neck, and people who take them off from the waist. Definitely no overlap here.

3. Menus. Those who turn to the dessert list first, and normal people. The sign of a bad meal is that the dessert was the highlight. Nothing with fruit and/or chocolate can ever be that bad.

4. Blogs. People who write blogs when they have something to say, and people who write one simply because they haven’t for a while, and are convinced their already-tiny readership will dwindle to nothing. Guess which camp I’m in?

I almost forgot, if you can’t remember what a Venn diagram looks like, here’s an easy one to refresh your memory: