Why we Ignore the Warnings?

Australian beaches packed with sunbathers, English parks crowded with walkers taking in the fine March weather, packed tube trains and Sunday markets brimming with bargain seekers, supermarket shelves stripped of merchandise…

On the face of it, the populace seem intent upon ignoring the dire warnings of government:  the virus is dangerous;   we must self-isolate, we must protect ourselves – so why?

Essential mistakes have been made:

The health gurus suggest that only older people or those with underlying health problems are in mortal danger, so the young and fit, if the odds are no higher than the chance of getting a rather severe dose of flu will be tempted to gamble.   The possibility of passing on infection matters relatively little to those who, for the most part, live at a distance, physically and emotionally, from their elders.  Besides, we are being advised to exercise, aren’t we?  In a city, the streets aren’t safe, so where else can that happen but in the parks?

In UK anyway, the National Health Service is continually crying wolf.  Every winter the population is treated to threats of inadequate staffing, long waiting times and tragic outcomes, that somehow omit to mention the prevalence of expensive agency staffing and the manner in which specialists apportion their time between NHS and private practice.  Are most of us unaware of these inconvenient truths? And then, of course, there is personal experience, which largely runs counter to the media blast.

UK consumer credit is at an all-time high, so I can only imagine the pressures upon those who are nominally ‘self-employed’ or who work in the ‘gig economy’.  Living costs in big cities are phenomenally high and millions live at the absolute limit of their means, or beyond.  A government loan is no answer for them – it is simply additional debt.  They need to work or face homelessness.

Finally, there is an issue of trust.  It is no surprise that Australia, whose Prime |Ministers’ chances of dying in bed equate to those of medieval British Kings, should regard sententious warnings from politicians with cynicism.  Nor is it likely, so hot on the heels of the Brexit debacle, that the British should be easily persuaded of sincerity in a politician.  Throughout most of the First-World, the press is the willing bedfellow of those with the most power to deflect it, propaganda is rife and there are no steadying voices.  All journalism is sensationalist, all journalists will sacrifice truth for a story.

Few aboard the rusting hulk of ‘democracy’ feel in a position to trust the rudder.  The idealistic young, aboard the fleet yacht of simple solutions have delivered their verdict, and unless the statistics hit blitzkrieg proportions, as they have in Italy, who’s to say that they are wrong?

Personally I am in favour of quarantine (I will not use that rabble-rousing and etymologically incorrect term ‘lock-down’);  but then, I am over 70 with underlying health issues, so I would be, wouldn’t I?   Even so, threatening me with fines or arrest if I raise my head above the parapet is hardly likely to win my heart.

Standard Assessment Tests

Today the nation’s 6-7 and 10-11 year olds (years two and six) will set off for school knowing they have got ‘exams’.

Whether it is reasonable to ask that children so early in their educational development MH900439442should be subjected to pressures associated with standard assessment testing is an open debate.  It certainly deserves a carefully constructed reply.  And we can discount anything issued in statements from the relevant government departments, such as:  ‘These are merely assessments, they will not impinge upon your child’s prospects for future education’ and ‘There is no cause for concern’.

Yeah, right.

‘Don’t worry’ is a standard treatment.  When you hear it from an elected official; worry.

And if we are asked to believe that every child who sallies forth this morning will not do so with their equivalent of that same official platitude ringing in their ears, that is the strong ‘encouragement’ of their ambitious parents, we are being accused undeservedly of naivety.   In a child’s world, parents are officialdom; anxiety to please is a pressure, and competition is a test of those friendships and attachments so important at this formative age.

When will Academia finally admit it does not understand its own market place?  When will ‘elected’ politicians accept that not everything is determined by a league table or a series of ‘targets’?  It might be great for modern marketing, but it is not for kids.

In a sense, I have a stake in this.  But at the same time I have to emphasise I am somewhat unusual in my antipathy towards ambition and material greed.   So, in another sense, I have no personal axe to grind.

When I was a child of ten or eleven, there was an instituted testing system called the ‘Eleven Plus’.  All children of my time (other than those in private education) took this test, and upon its results went on to Grammar or Secondary School education.  I failed it.

Did that shape my future education?   You bet it did.  Did it prejudice my career choices?  Absolutely.

It was another twenty years before I sat another test to uncover what apparently someone, somewhere, missed.  I took the Cattell IQ test for British Mensa and passed with an IQ of 160, placing my IQ rating in the top 0.5 percent of the population.  At the time, as for most of my adult life, I was running my own business.  It did not affect me then, nor does it now.   This year I resigned my Mensa membership because I have been inactive for some years.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I enjoyed my education, probably because it did not stretch me to the maximum.  I have spent the rest of my life trying to compensate for that deficiency.  I became the head boy of my school and took a number of examinations when I left, but they alone could not help me recover the lost ground the Secondary Ed. label produced.  I repeat, it did not matter so much to me.  I was a child of the ‘sixties.

I am upset, nevertheless, to see our education model slithering surreptitiously back in the direction of that late ‘fifties early ‘sixties model.  For some reason we feel it is essential that our education targets match those of China or Japan, that somehow we have to ‘lead the world’ in education.  Our case is not the same.  Our children are not, by and large, striving to rise from abject poverty, and the society waiting to welcome them is not so narrow it can only encompass an intake of youthful genius.  The extreme danger is that it will become so.  One of the immense advantages of Western civilisation is its sense of breadth and balance.  If we lose that through an attempt to embrace Academia as a growth industry rather than a service we risk narrowing our personal focus.

Therein lies insanity.