Don’t Blame Each Other

I have been thinking a lot about education recently.

So much so that I just sent an impromptu email to my old high school with the hope of thanking my English teacher for putting up with the amount of crap me and my teenage group of friends caused her, and for getting us to actually learn something.

I wanted to thank her for encouraging me to stick with English (which I really enjoyed, but wasn’t a ‘cool’ interest to have at the time) something that, among other things resulted in me going to university and led me to pursue a career in writing.

And it wasn’t an easy job I’ll bet.

The school I attended was a pretty good one for the county. And I remember clearly kicking up hell when my parents suggested I attend.

I was leaving all my friends, who were going to the comprehensive in the village.

However, I thank them greatly for it now – despite feeling at the time out of place in a ‘posh’ girl’s grammar.

The thing is, there were plenty of those friends I left whose parents did not suggest they do anything out of the norm. And I’m not saying they necessarily should have, simply that the educational standard provided should be good for everyone, no matter what school they attend.

I know that sounds idealistic, but I believe it is an attainable goal.

But only if people really want that to be the case.

I genuinely believe that it is that desire to give kids from all backgrounds an equal chance that is severely lacking. In the government, and consequently in many members of society who have bought into the blame culture both the government and the media foster.

After reading SecEd’s article, The Postcode Lottery Laid Bare, which confirmed many of the views I have held for a long time concerning education (some of which I have written about on this blog) I started thinking about my own education, which is what led me to try and get in touch with my old teacher, and to write this post. (If you’re reading this Mrs Perry – drop me an email!)

Despite growing up in a small village in the North East (which I’m sure falls into the lower average bracket concerning educational attainment), I did get good A-Levels and go to university. And I now, after many years doing menial and terribly paid jobs, have a job I enjoy.

But it was bloody hard work, and no doubt some of it was luck.

Firstly, I managed to get into a decent school without having to pay to do so as good old-fashioned Lincolnshire still had the 11+ system in place when I was 10 years old.

This was a system which meant that being the youngest in my year, I got good enough grades to get in, despite some of the older students who got the same grade failing to meet the required level.

This in itself made no sense to me, even as a child. However, similar tests are the basis for entry to many ‘higher class schools’ to this day. And I know many parents who pay for extra tutoring so their children will do well in these tests.

Not only do the parents who enter their kids for this kind of obligatory and meaningless testing believe in it, they often by default raise kids who continue the believe those who fail at this early stage are below them intellectually.

Even at ten years old I was confused by this. We had all been taught the same curriculum, so what on earth did a few months difference in age make?

Secondly, as I said, I had parents who really (and immovably) encouraged me attend.

Also, I did go to university, but it was really was difficult, and that was before the government in their infinite classist wisdom decided to raise tuition fees to a level that only the best off could afford.

I worked throughout my degree in pub and service industry jobs. I also worked for free for breakfast radio shows, newspapers and local magazines to gain experience.  And I think it was that experience that allowed me to be considered for the kind of work I wanted, not the degree.

Despite the wonderful job prospects the university promised me when I was thinking about enrolling, and signing myself up for the following debt plagued years.

I’m sure I would have got a better grade if I hadn’t had to do some much work outside my course. If the work experience roles paid even a little. If I had parents who could afford to pay my rent.

I realise it’s much easier to say this is a resentment issue than admit there is a fundamental inequality in opportunity here.

But it’s not.

If I had the money, I would most likely pay my children’s way if it meant better opportunities and prospects for them, despite my moral objection to situation. But not everyone does have the money. And it is no way fair to penalise those poorer kids who have aspiration for their parent’s economic failings. It’s not fair to blame those parents either.

Poor kids aren’t stupid. They are no less deserving of a good education. They are no less hard working. In fact, in all likelihood  many are more so, despite the current government trying its damndest to convince the better off that the poor have brought it on themselves.

Where would this government be if they hadn’t happened to have had parents with money?

People often state that we shouldn’t resent them for having a great education – after all, you want someone with a great education to be in charge of the country, it makes sense.

But what is to say these privileged politicians are right for the job? There could be many people, far smarter and more capable given the chance.

Maybe that is what scares them.

If everyone had a genuinely equal chance to gain access to educational attainment – to the level they had so easily bestowed upon them – I’d bet my student debt that they would come up short.

So go ahead students.

March. Protest.

Why the hell should a rational, intelligent person fork out nine thousand a year that they don’t have, without even the guarantee of a job at the end of it?

I finished university in 2008, and only this year found a job that I enjoy or has anything to do with my degree.

And again, this involved an element of luck.

I started in my current position as a part time administrator on minimum wage.

I worked my ass off to incorporate some of my writing skills into the role, and I am now working as a full time copywriter.

But it was not simply my skill or hard work that got me there. I have been lucky enough to find a company that dares to employ non-graduates, and people with proven, not paid for, skill.

They also encourage and train their staff, and give opportunity and promotion where it is due.

But I was lucky to get them to take me on in the first place. Having spoken to my boss since, he admitted that he was genuinely surprised and a little depressed by the number of graduate applicants applying for such a menial and lowly paid role.

I am still hugely in debt, not just from the fees, but because in addition, despite having worked as much as I could during study, I had to take out student credit cards and student overdrafts to get through.

And with no guarantee of a job afterwards, that’s a heavy burden – even more so now.

I would like to make clear I am not putting people off gaining a degree.

That is what the government is doing, and very well I might add. Anyone with an ounce of sense would think it is a good thing to have an educated nation.

But not if you are scared of a real democracy, not if you are protecting your own privileged position. And, as is the case with the current government, certainly not if your only strength lies in having PR skills barely able to hide your lack of strength in leadership.

Making education unobtainable to the majority simply demonstrates that the small elite are sacred they will be shown up for the ignorant, selfish charlatans they are if they were to award everyone equally that privilege.

And this (as ever) is only my opinion, but these aren’t the sort of people I would trust to run a country, or represent the requirements of the majority.

Michael Chessum wrote in the Guardian about the student protests this week;

“It is becoming increasingly clear that this situation is fundamentally about class. The system being designed by the coalition – which rewards prestige, high tuition fees and research concentration – will strip funding away from universities that are disproportionately populated by working class students, forcing them to close and cut student numbers”.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Students can’t let the government continue to crush the ambition and prospects of the less well-off and unfairly reward privilege.

Surely they are too intelligent to believe that, after having been denied the opportunity to gain a degree, and consequently failing to find work that they deserve to be branded as lazy, or scroungers when they have to claim benefits as a result.

No matter how little or how much money we have, and despite what the government and media tell us to believe, we can’t blame each other.

We must blame them, and hold them accountable.

Otherwise the potential talent that could change the situation will remain in the gutter, and the pool we have to fish in for the next leader will be a shallow one indeed.

Natalie

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