Saturday, August 21, 2010

Layer 342 . . . Cambridge, the Ebb Tide, the Great Wave, Art, Education, Suicide, Apprenticeships and Arsenal

And so to Cambridge. Such a strange town. So historic and academic, and yet so twee. So busy, and yet so boring.

The worst thing about Cambridge is the lack of pubs. Almost a complete lack of pubs. Why?

If you persevere in tramping around the whole of the town centre you might eventually come across a fine looking pub with a sign outside it advertising the fact that the local newspaper reckons it's the best pub in Cambridge. When you go inside, however, you notice a good range of real ales BUT ALSO very poor ventilation, a lingering stink of cooking, and horrible loud music. At which point, if you have any sense, you walk out. The Mitre truly sucks. Pity poor Cambridge if that's the best of its pubs.

Fortunately there's an excellent tapas bar nearby, with a decent, spacious interior and excellent welcoming staff. The food is good too, and they served the best draught Peroni I've ever tasted, which means it's very good indeed.

Apparently La Tasca is a nationwide chain. I really must get out more.


The Fitzwilliam Museum's not really my kind of place, but it had one exhibition in just one smallish room that was totally wonderful - "Gifts of the Ebb Tide: Japan and the Sea in Ukiyo-e Prints."

The only print on show which was on loan from elsewhere was the famous Great Wave by Hokusai, which belongs to the British Museum. It's an image that draws you back to it constantly.

The rest of the prints in the exhibition were owned by the Fitzwilliam museum - the majority of them being prints by Hiroshige. Pretty amazing they are too.

It's interesting that Monet, reckoned by many to be France's greatest-ever artist, chose to fill his house in Giverney with Japanese prints, and literally nothing else in the way of art. Can't have a much higher recommendation than that.


It's 'A' level results time and university clearing time, and almost back to school time.

I'm starting to think that there are two kinds of  people in this country. Those who give a damn about real education and its benefits, and those who don't. Those who realise that our education system isn't fit for purpose, and those who don't.

Then there's a sub category of people who realise that our education system sucks but haven't much of a clue what to do about it. There's a further sub category of people who think they have a clue or two, but haven't really.

This means that the number of people who a) care about education, and b) truly understand what needs to happen to it in order to improve it and make the system fit for the 21st Century, amounts to less than 0.001% of the population, at most.

Sadly none of them are politicians or journalists - the people who are elected to make decisions on behalf of we, the people, and those who are paid to write opinions which are then broadcast through the media in order to influence 'public opinion'. No wonder we're a nation of over-examined and under-educated fuckwits.

In the Guardian recently we find Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches postcolonial studies at Cambridge University, apparently, who says,

University mustn't again be the rich's hereditary domain

Corralling the young into vocational factory farms or apprenticeships splits further the educated elite from those who service it
"Restricting access to higher education, in conjunction with vicious attacks on the support base of schools, wages and housing, only accelerates the drive towards absolute economic segregation.

A mature democracy thrives by widening access to higher education. Corralling young people into vocational factory farms does not equal progress. Life is not a television show where gruff millionaires airily dismiss formal education and magically transform eager young things into corporate high-flyers. What is masquerading as the good old-fashioned common sense of apprenticeships and skills over higher education is really the politics of dismissing the intelligence and abilities of ordinary people. We must fight hard to retain common ownership of education and have a real discussion about the role we want it to play in our lives and society."

Common ownership? What kind of a fantasy land is she living in? Our education system is directed by, managed by and constrained by a small number of politicians, bureaucrats and professionals who are UTTERLY CONVINCED that our education system, (which is mainly geared up to creating elites through examinations, and a system through which those so-called elites did very well themselves) is still for the best in the best of all worlds.

To imagine that regular people have any stake in our education system, let alone 'ownership', is pure fantasy. Nobody, but nobody, does well out of an education system that is 99% geared up for so-called 'academic' excellence and ignores the development of other intelligences as well as the need for critical thinking, creativity and use of the imagination. I may have said this somewhere before.

The system doesn't even help young people learn how to become autonomous learners - they need to find that out for themselves. As for developing a love of learning for its own sake . . .

"We must fight hard to . . . have a real discussion about the role we want [education] to play in our lives and society."

Who's involved in that fight then? It seems we have to fight hard to even have a discussion about real education. As for actually doing anything about it . . .

The Cambridge Review of Primary education has been and gone, and how many people even noticed its publication? It's pathetic. Practically nobody cares about the real learning needs of children and young people, or has any idea what they might be, or any idea about how schools (academies!), colleges and universities should go about meeting those needs.

We don't need education to "play a role" in 'our' lives and 'our' society. Whose society would that be, then?

 We need education to meet the real learning needs of people of all ages, actually, and to help with the development of all of our intelligences - not just the academic and the intellectual. We need education to help our people to find out who they really are, and to discover a personal pathway towards greater enlightenment and a proper way to live their lives. Naturally this would involve changing a great many things in our society - things that conservatives, including New Labour, including the majority of the bourgeoisie for that matter, are desperate to 'conserve'.

A few comments from CIF:


The problem is class based. Because the Universities in the UK were associated as much with class privilige as with academic excellence, people without degrees were looked down on and not accorded the respect that they should have been.

That is an ongoing problem. But the answer is not to make everyone do dumbed down degrees. The answer is to raise the status and respect we have for people who achieve things outside of university and academia.


Countries such as Germany and South Korera manage to run thriving apprenticeship systems without tying themselves into paroxysms of progressive angst about the 'fairness' of university education vs vocational education.

They don't stuff 3rd rate educational establishments to the gills with gullible teenagers on debt-funded media studies and golf course management courses. They put people on proper vocational courses that lead to decent, well paid jobs in proper trades.

But it's ok 'cos our economy is so much more successful than theirs isnt it? Oh, hang on....


The whole of the system needs changing, starting at the primary level and with a curriculum that meets the needs of a 21st century society. Sadly, I do not see a vision of modern, viable education in the current government, but they sure will feel the affects of their delusions in ten, twenty years time when a great deal of the population is uneducated and unskilled and unable to find employment anywhere on the planet.

More from Tybo

I did mostly arts oriented things (very mixed at Keele) but what shocked me was that whilst my [non-university] squatting mates in Norwich were avidly reading Kerouac and Ken Keysey, Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Braughtigen, when I did an American Studies class nobody else had read any American writers at all. Not a single fellow student.

The tutor treated me like I was Christ reborn - it was such a shock to him to find a student studying American literature who was actually interested in it.

95% of the students had not read a book since whatever they had been set for their A level English. They were there because going there was what you did to get a better job. Not because they had a scintilla of interest in what they were studying.

I hate to think what it must be like now.


As a number of posters have already noted, the fundamental problem is silly middle-class left-wing snobs like the author. The upper ranks of the Labour Party, and newspapers like this, seem to be stuffed with them.

Unwilling to countenance the idea that their own precious ones might not get a 'proper professional career', they then have to assuage their left-wing guilt by making sure that all the poor 'working-class' people have the same 'opportunity'. So you end up with an army of people with little or no academic inclination earning honours degrees in Sociology of Batwoman and Lesbotic Yoga from the University of Bootle, and if they're lucky and they know the right people ending up as Transgender Awareness Seminar Facilitators for the local council, or if they're not lucky end up on the dole with a mountain of debt, while proper useful jobs like sparks and plumbing get done by immigrants.


An article by Julia Margo had the title "Learning New Ropes" in the newspaper, but on the website appeared as:

A way out of the mancession

A-levels and university are no guarantee of a job. Particularly for men, an apprenticeship is better

Some time ago a friend who had lost his City job confessed he had considered killing himself. I was appalled but not surprised: while men are being hit harder by the recession than women they are also seem to be showing less resilience in dealing with unemployment and economic insecurity.

[How the hell do we expect people to be personally & emotionally resilient when they've never had much of an opportunity to find out who they are, or develop much in the way of personal, emotional and spiritual intelligence?]

Academic qualifications appear to offer them little protection against unemployment . . .

Research by Mind has shown that up to one in seven men who become unemployed will develop a depressive illness within six months; two-thirds of men under 35 were out of work when they killed themselves.

This trend alone is enough for some to claim that a "crisis of masculinity" is on the horizon. But suggestions of a deeper, potentially seismic shift in our society should make politicians sit up and listen.

The emerging knowledge economy demands a new, softer skill set – empathy, sociability, confidence, resourcefulness. Women are perceived as being better at soft skills, and now they count for more. In the course of just over a decade, Demos research found, these skills became central to life chances: for those who turned 30 in 2000, such character capabilities had become 33 times more important in determining earnings.

[Softer?!! For 'character capabilities' read personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligences.]

But character can't be taught in the classroom.

[No it can't - which is to say that you cannot learn "character" in the way you can be didactically taught maths and science - not that those things are best taught didactically anyway. However, classrooms ARE the best places for developing "character" - those other intelligences - providing teachers know what to do and how to organise learning so as to facilitate those sorts of essential development.]

If this issue in the classroom isn't addressed, boys, with a skill set that seems to become less valued by the day, will continue on the path to asbos rather than A-levels.

So what can be done? Interestingly there may be a genuine solution. Demos research shows that boys and young men can substantially boost employability, income and wellbeing by doing apprenticeships from age 16 instead of, or as well as, A-levels.

[So that's alright then - we can start work on 'developing character' from the age of 16, or as soon as young people move beyond GCSE.]

Boys who took apprenticeships were more confident, happy and skilled by the time they were 30 than their non-apprentice contemporaries.

Society needs to get over this obsession with A-levels as the gold standard if we want to give boys the chance to succeed in this new job environment. Rigging A-levels won't help. They need training to help them operate in the workplace, not qualifications that prepare them to fail.

[She calls it 'training'. Like you do with dogs. Especially dogs who "operate in the workplace", presumably.]

So here's someone who sees at least part of the problem, but in spite of her very privileged position as acting director of Demos - the leading so-called left wing so-called think tank - and presumably the 'beneficiary' of an 'elite' education herself - has very little clue about how to frame the problem adequately, let alone any real idea about how to transform our attitude and our approach to education from the Nursery onwards in order to make it fit for purpose.

Just another example of how far we have to go in order to promote any real change in how we do things on this island.

Julia - you're fired!


Football Matters

Interesting news this week that Arsenal have decided to work with their supporters to encourage fans to buy part-shares and so gradually move the club towards becoming a supporter-owned community club, similar to Barcelona and Real Madrid, and most of the German clubs.

Arsenal step back from era of rich owners and offer fans a voice

• Club's approach is enlightened compared with debt-laden rivals
• What is the social value of the beautiful game?

Arsenal  supporters will be invited today to buy shares in their club in affordable slices of the £10,250, which is the current prohibitive price of just one. The Arsenal Supporters Trust hopes that its scheme, Arsenal Fanshare, five years in the planning, will enable supporters to slowly build a meaningful stake and voice, and help preserve Arsenal as the only major Premier League club not owned by a single rich individual.

"Custodianship" is the trust's cherished theme; the principle that a football club exists for its supporters, not for speculators to exploit by buying up shares. Arsenal Fanshare allows ordinary supporters to make monthly contributions, from a minimum of £10 to a maximum £1,000, which will be pooled towards buying shares when they become available.

Remarkably, Arsenal Fanshare is enthusiastically backed by the club itself, as a means of encouraging fans to be participate and be "engaged", which is emerging as a core principle at Arsenal and the more enlightened professional clubs. The contrast with the open warfare between fans and absolute owners at debt-laden Manchester United and Liverpool could hardly be more marked.

"In the club's relationship with supporters, the important thing is that fans are valued and nurtured, not exploited," Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive, says. "That's not only good for the club's soul; it is also ultimately good for the club overall, because engagement with our fans helps us to be healthier, more vibrant and successful."

"The aim is to increase supporter ownership and influence," Tim Payton, the spokesman for the trust, says. "The vast majority of our members and, we believe, most Arsenal fans, favour supporter involvement in the club and have no appetite for private ownership by a single individual, and certainly not for excessive debt. This is an opportunity for supporters to gain a voice, for a relatively modest contribution, and it should be a model for other clubs too."

Had the idea of mutual, democratic ownership been conceived, and the iconic examples of supporter-owned Barcelona and the Bundesliga clubs been understood 30 years ago, before the Premier League's pay-TV and commercial revolution, fans clubbing together might have had a chance of buying their clubs outright, even one as distinguished as Arsenal.

Arsenal offer 'fanshares' to dampen fears of takeover

The sports minister, Hugh Robertson, told the Guardian yesterday: "This proposal at Arsenal is enlightened and forward-looking. Clearly it is for individual clubs to decide, but this is a model I'd like to see other teams explore."

Arsenal hail new model of top-flight club ownership

• Campaign for democratic involvement led by Supporters Direct

Previous comments about Arsenal here:


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