What you may learn, what you should learn, and what you don’t learn
Editorial note: This journal will now go off line for the remainder of the year, and would-be contributors can save themselves the trouble. How they fill in their time is not my business, though it would do no harm if some of them were to attempt some improvement in their English and – my word, is it necessary to say this! – their spelling. The publications may resume on 5th January, although this is not guaranteed, since it is as yet uncertain how much time may be taken in the disposal of my bonus.
If any barbarians are thinking of galloping to Brussels to lay waste european civilisation, they can save themselves the trouble. The European Commission is there already. As an example of what they can get up to, take the attitude to education. In her policy priorities for the next five years given on the Commission’s website the Commissioner gave broad policy guidelines, and goals. As the first of the broad policy guidelines she offered ‘improving skills and access to education and training, focusing on market needs’. And specifically on the topic of education, her three first priorities are to (a) help Europe compete globally; (b) equip the young for today’s job market; (c) address the consequences of the economic crisis.
If you have just read the previous two sentences you may need to have it confirmed that we are talking about the policy statement of a Commissioner for education! Let us hope that some 450 million citizens will say clearly and loudly that they want a great deal more than that to be listed among the priorities for the education of the next generation. The next generation exists not merely as a money-making machine for the European Union; they exist as people, and they, and their parents, have every right to insist that they should be as fully developed in their human potential, and in the capacities for contributing to a better life (not interpreting ‘better’ in the disgracefully narrow sense of ‘with more figures written in black on the balance sheet) as possible.
In any case, we can be sure that any approach to education along the lines so remarkably stated above is highly likely to be an expensive mistake. There is a well-justified belief that most generals develop great expertise in how to fight the last war. In commerce and economics, too, ‘market needs’ change. One need that is highly likely to shrink is the need for workers. Indeed we are already seeing this as one factor in the high levels of unemployment in western economies. First automation, and then computerisation have meant that factories can now be staffed with a handful of technicians where once they required hundreds of manual workers. (The rejoinder is often made that the technical development leads to overall increase in the size of the economy. This looks like ideological bluster since there is a severe shortage of evidence that the loss to society of those jobs has been a causal factor in the economic development that will have been taking place anyway.) The sudden recent take-off of 3-D printing bids fair to accelerate the process. Imagination, or social inertia, may have fitted a ball and chain to it in the west, but do not bank on this being the case in the new rich emerging nations. After all the breadth of the market in what can be bought from a card-reading machine in Japan (up, or rather down, to second-hand girl’s knickers) amazes visitors. And after 3-D printing, what next? We cannot predict, because the full possibilities of the next new technology are not there in the past, for all that its precursors are. In any case, even if there is a need to develop drone workers, why waste the rich European educational tradition on producing them? There seems from a cynical point of view an odd lack of fit with the general determination to resist unskilled immigration (or rather immigrants who lack printed qualifications).
And just another point, Leonardo not only failed to get an education focusing on market needs to equip him for the job market, he never went to university; he simply had the schooling of an ordinary village boy, and not a very intensive one at that.
In the old days subliminal advertising was a matter of inserting an image or slogan, not chosen on the basis of any particularly perspicacious advice, and exposing it for a twentieth of a second or so in the transmission of a film or television broadcast. Are we really to suppose that in this field, in the years since those fumbling efforts, there has been no government research and no further technical development? Perhaps now far more persuasive messages – or commands – are being passed, with far greater care in their placement, and with far greater strength. Could this be of relevance to the increasing uniformity, in the view of some people, of any given country’s public opinion?
Does the Tea Party’s foreign policy group feel that American westward policy should pivot around India or China? I think we should be told.
I gather that the Olympics bigwigs are puzzling over what new sports to incorporate into their festive jollities, to increase public interest (and boost the takings, dare one say?). I personally would like to put in a word for conkers, a favourite pastime of my own youth, my champion (soaked for two weeks in vinegar before it entered combat) having become a seventy-niner before Hoptrott minor shattered it in the finals of Maybank Preparatory School under-11 championship in the summer of 1943.
Might I, however, urge that there is another avenue open and leading towards the same end which they could explore at the same time. They could keep many of the existing activities, but very easily introduce changes which would make them more exciting and more interesting for spectators. As an example, with modern technology there should be no difficulty about arranging for the barriers in the steeplechase to change height at unpredictable intervals in the course of the race, thus putting the runners to a test of alertness as well as stamina. I wonder if some such ideas could be put before the Committee for their consideration.