Philobiblon: Reasons to be grumpy

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Reasons to be grumpy

I can almost never remember my dreams, which I consider to be a very good thing, but for some reason I woke up remembering a stupid, annoying one this morning - "got out of the wrong side of the bed" is the traditional phrase - so if I'm a bit grumpy today, forgive me.

But my day wasn't improved by reading about the latest shooting atrocity in America: a 15-year-old boy gunned down with a shotgun - shot by his neighbour then "finished off" at close range. His crime? Running on the lawn. The context?

A child is killed by a gun every three hours in America. According to the latest statistics, nearly 1,000 children under 19 are shot dead every year. Another 800 use guns to commit suicide, and more than 160 die in firearm accidents.
Forty per cent of American households own guns, but those guns are 22 times more likely to be involved in an accidental shooting, or 11 times more likely to be used in a suicide, than in self-defence. On average, more than 80 Americans are killed by gunfire every day.

But, as the story makes clear, gun control has entirely disappeared from the American agenda - indeed controls are being relaxed. So this killer, who his neighbours knew to be unbalanced, was allowed to have a lethal weapon that could be casually unleashed on a child.

Then in Britain, the number of 16-year-olds not in any form of training has risen, from 9.4 to 12.6 per cent. This is the "underclass", and they'll stay that way unless they can somehow be lured back into education.

The figures come in the wake of a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which showed that the UK was 27th out of 29 industrialised nations in terms of the percentage of youngsters staying on after 16. Those figures were described as a "scandal" by David Miliband, who was Schools minister at the time - but today's report shows the percentage who go straight from school either on to the streets or unskilled employment is growing.

Now just about everyone I know is saying, "next weekend, next weekend" life will feel better. It is almost a mantra. That's because we'll suddenly get another hour of daylight when the clocks go forward. Why we are deprived of it all winter in Britain is one of those great little mysteries. But there is a Bill (albeit a private members' bill with almost no hope of passing) now in the Lords to give us that extra daylight.

Either way, I promise to get some more cheerful stories soon....


Blogger clanger said...

Staying on (in education) only has any point to it if there is something worth staying on for.

Instead of maintaining a decent tradition of academic higher and further education, and matching it with 'higher and further training', that might actually stretch back into schools and allow kids who aren't essay-fans the chance to do something that interests them and which they can stick on a CV, what do they do?

They fail to develop an adequate vocational education path from early-teens to higher/further, and then devalue the degree system with degrees in hairdressing and surf studies just to push up the numbers. [Thats the surf(board) thing, not the surf(net) thing.]

Dear Sec. of State for Education. You have kids in the system who will never write a great essay but could have a career as a great engineer, so get them started young. Watch C4's 'Scrapheap Challenge' and then turn it into something they can do in school.

Its shocking that if you want to be a good tech. engineer, computer programmer, chef, or mechanical engineer, you will probably develop your talent more out of school than in it.

3/22/2006 03:55:00 pm  
Anonymous david ware said...

Clanger says at the end of the post that it's shocking but it's not really--just dismal and disappointing reality. The traditional path to mastery of technical professions was through apprenticeship (either virtual slavery or mentoring, depending on your preferred gloss) Structured secondary, then higher education has to a large degree taken the place of this approach--and the results are mixed.
I have had enough field experience with graduates of engineering programs to conclude that four or five years of classroom work, even when combined with practicums and internships, are poor substitutes for learning from a professional mentor who knows his or her onions.
Technical school students are often really studying so that they'll have an entree to the workplace in which they will hopefully find some mentorship. Or not--in which case they'll either sort out things for themselves or commit engineering gaffes, ill-built houses, buggy software and wretched, overpriced restaurant food. Sigh.

3/22/2006 08:00:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I suppose I'm a utopian when it comes to education. I once, many years ago, heard an inspirational educational expert (yes those aren't two commonly combined adjectives) say that anyone who doesn't actually have a learning disability can learn anything - including "rocket science". It is just that for some people it will take 20 years, others 30.

Well we don't all need rocket science, but we do need plumbers, engineers etc with more "book learning" than in the past, because the stuff they are working with is a lot more technical, and they have to understand complex tax systems to run their business etc.

I'd abolish all classes, and all progression by age, and allow kids to learn by modules at their own pace, in whatever subjects interest them at the time, with lots of work to make the stuff people don't naturally gravitate to, like maths, attractive.

Then you wouldn't beat the natural desire to learn out of most kids, as we do now.

3/22/2006 11:34:00 pm  

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