"My problem with my school was this: I wasn't interested in the things that people wanted to teach me."
Poor Jon Snow. A good man who had the misfortune to be brought up as an over-privileged child in a mega-bourgeois family; son of a father who considered him a failure because he couldn't or wouldn't learn Latin and Greek.
I nearly wrote 'geek' just then. Jon's certainly not that. He's not peculiar, or dislikable, or overly intellectual. Not a geek in any way. He's a hands-on journalist, reporter and writer. Right now he's out in Cairo - getting his hands dirty and putting his personal wellbeing on the line.
The man has soul. He would like to play the piano really well; he reads uplifting, inspiring and informative books; he rides a bike every day; he paints watercolours. He was thrown out of university for being a radical ringleader and organiser of a week-long sit-in. His home's in Dorset. He has an affinity with Africa and music by bands such as Orchestre Baobab. He enjoys classical music for all the right reasons. He's not pompous, or a fake, or insecure, or a poser. He's a fully evolved human being.
Whilst at school he decided to start a student newspaper. After university he worked in a day centre for homeless young people. He became a journo because he had a burning curiosity and was always asking questions. And because he wanted to get back to Uganda, where he'd done a year on VSO.
Snow declined an OBE because he believes working journalists should not take honours from those that they report on.
In 1976, Snow rejected an approach by the British intelligence services to spy on his colleagues. At first he was asked to supply information about the Communist Party, but he was then asked to spy on certain "left-wing people" working in television. In return he would have received secret monthly tax-free payments into his bank account, matching his then salary.
He refuses to wear any symbol which may represent his views on air; in the run up to Remembrance Day he condemned what he called 'Poppy Fascism' because "in the end there really must be more important things in life than whether a news presenter wears symbols on his lapels".
I've always hated the way everyone in politics and the media goes around wearing poppies when you know these same people supported the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Bloody hypocrites. Snow's the only media figure who obviously feels the same way. I probably have more reasons than most for supporting Poppy Day, but I refuse to wear one because it's just 'the done thing', and it's done by conformist, image-conscious 'patriots'.
I once phoned Jon Snow at Channel 4 News to offer him some information and clarification on the subject of education. Amazingly he took my call personally, and spoke with me in a respectful, genuine and unhurried manner. The man has quality.
So here's a guy who's been the main man at Channel 4 News since 1989, but suffered from the bad opinion of his teachers and of his own father because he wasn't sufficiently 'academic'. Here's someone who's of outstanding character and intelligence, who never completed a university degree. Here's a bloke who enjoys his chosen profession and has resisted opportunities to climb the greasy corporate pole because he's not interested in wealth or status or honours.
He's not ideallistic, or left-wing or pursuing any personal agenda - he's more Lennonist than Lenninist - he's a believer in truth and peace and love.
Mr Snow's a living example of someone who's done well in life, in the sense of being both personally and professionally successful, without having enjoyed school and without being academically a high achiever. I reckon he has too much sense to get into big debates about schools that are bent on teaching a set academic curriculum, instead of encouraging pupils to pursue their own learning agendas and passions. Those debates go nowhere because the Establishment has closed views on the subject of traditional educational hierarchies.
You can imagine the hours, days and weeks he wasted on trying unsuccessfully to memorise Latin and Greek when he could have been passionately engaged in pursuing his real interests. He was the victim of a pushy father and a public school system that's geared to producing Latin and Greek scholars because that's what's required to get you a place at the Oxbridge college of your choice.
Here's a headline from the front page of today's Guardian:
Universities admit 'soft' A-levels damage chance of top places
Students who 'avoid challenge' of traditional subjects miss out on places at Oxbridge or 'redbrick' institutions
Top universities will today issue guidance which acknowledges officially for the first time that they favour students who study traditional subjects at A-level.
The guide compiled by the Russell Group, a lobbying group for Oxford, Cambridge and 18 other leading universities, confirms rumours that have circulated for years that they favour those subjects over newer ones such as business studies or photography.
It also reveals an overwhelming preference for science and maths subjects – even for seemingly unrelated degrees.
The new handbook, seen by the Guardian, is a sign that universities are having to cave in to ministers and teachers' calls for far more information on how admissions tutors decide who they award places to and why.
By not studying at least two of the following subjects – maths, English, geography, history, any of the three pure sciences or a classical or modern foreign language – "many degrees at competitive universities will not be open to you," the guide, produced in collaboration with the Institute of Career Guidance, states.
It asks students to question why they are not taking traditional subjects: "Are you trying to avoid a challenge?" It states that while there is no "set definition" of a "hard" or "soft" subject, so-called "hard" subjects are like the ones the top universities prefer and are more theoretical. It gives media studies, art and design, photography and business studies as examples of "soft" subjects and states that they are "vocational or have a practical bias".
"If you plan to take more than one perceived 'soft' subject, some caution may be needed," the guidebook warns.
Just over 7.2% of pupils in England attend private schools but make up over a quarter of the intake at the 25 most selective universities, and 46.6% at Oxford. It's thought this may in part be because state school students do not receive proper guidance about what it takes to get into an elite university when they are making their A-level choices.
So here's the Conservative approach to equal opportunities - you let kids know before they embark on A Levels that pursuing their actual interests will probably disqualify them from getting a place at one of the 'top' universities. Job done.
[Last June] David Willetts, the universities minister, told vice-chancellors he had been "pushing for greater transparency from universities for some time". The advice teenagers received on university courses was "of absolute importance … so that [they] don't miss out on a particular course or a place at a particular university through not receiving the right guidance at the right time," he said. Willetts said the handbook was a "welcome step towards levelling the playing field for prospective students".
Thank goodness the government has given our children a more level playing field at last. Truly wonderful news - that kids will now know in advance why they won't get places at the elite universities.
Science and maths A-levels are recommended for degrees in archaeology, anthropology and geography among others, and law degrees do not require law A-level. History may be useful instead, the guidebook states. For history degrees, some universities do not require history, but believe English is useful.
So don't study law at A Level if you want to do a law degree. Don't study history if you want to do a history degree. Study English, Latin and Greek instead.
You couldn't make it up.
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Egypt - Reaping What The West Has Sewn
February 3, 2011 10:47 am 18 Comments
Pray, what was OUR role?
So we have witnessed the Egyptian army with American-supplied hardware and training so far failing to act decisively to protect peaceful protesters. What an end to this soiled ‘Western’ support for Mubarak.
The scales are falling from many eyes one week into this insurrection. Here for assorted mainly non-Egyptian reasons is the sorry tale of a client state. A state where a corrupt autocrat became preferred to the vision he conjured of the extreme alternative that awaited any decision to allow the Egyptian people to decide.
How convenient too, that this favoured autocrat not only sanctioned torture in his own land but was willing to undertake it for Britain and the United States when invited to do so. Some here have told me that domestic torture surged courtesy of the blessing bestowed upon it by Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We reap what we sow.
The Day of Departure
Sorry Gil - the revolution WILL be televised - thanks to al-Jazeera, 24 hour news and citizen journalists using wi-fi and the Internet. Amazing scenes on the streets of Egypt, and elsewhere. The atmosphere is festive and celebratory. Will Mubarak depart today? The new leadership have been forced to say the people have a right to remain in Tahrir Square, Liberation Square. The army appear to be there in order to show solidarity, and to be on standby to prevent anyone smashing the place up. But this is a non-violent movement. The new Prime Minister has apologised for the behaviour of the pro-Mubarak thugs.