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Arf a mo. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Arf a mo.

The ever lovely and soignée shezan referenced a query at hp_britglish asking, Had there ever been and could there ever be a woman PM?


As one might expect, a mort of folk have made a meal of that one.  As one might also expect, my beloved Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher has been excoriated, which I’m not writing about, as it certainly never troubled her.  However, as one might also expect, there’s been a great deal of ‘what idiots all Americans are’ going on – no fault of shezan’s, mind you.


Arf a mo.


Before we overindulge in bashing the Yanks, I pause to note that – thanks to Mrs T’s opponents – the, ah, comprehensively educated Briton is no prize these days, either.  They believe, for example, that Willy the Avon Swan’s Romeo was ‘a Catapult who died on the Titanic’ subsequent to his having leapt off of Juliet’s balcony into the swimming pool.  Birnam Wood came to (shall we say) Dunce Inane because the Bard got the idea ‘after seeing the trees moving in Lord of the Rings.’  Alternately, the scene on the Blasted Ted Heath was the result of Macbeth’s ‘a loosanating’: ‘The witches an the dagger weren’t there.  Macbeth had been smoking up and imaged them all’, you see.


As one such, er, student scrawled in the margins of a schoolbook, ‘I’m not fick I just don’t get this, yeah’ – which, under the new AQA guidelines, might be an acceptable answer.*


It’s not only Americans who are getting thicker, and I can suggest a number of culprits responsible for this Anglosphere-wide phenomenon (including a certain fat croquet-mallet-wielding Labourite bruiser who failed his Eleven-Plus decades ago, has since done everything imaginable to justify the prescience of the examiners, and has waged a demented personal crusade against standards and excellence in education ever since, a part of his party’s innate politics of pique and philosophy of envy).


* REFERENCES: The Torygraph, The Times, and the TES over the past fortnight.

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shezan From: shezan Date: June 14th, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Woooo! Another Thatcher-lover on my flist!!!!

And really. My first stories as a junior reporter were on the British car industry (remember British Leyland, anyone?), strikes and sabotage therein; and on the three-day workweek. I used to work for the Sunday Times BM (Before Murdoch), when the printers' union could kill a week's work on a Saturday night and celebrate at the pub afterwards. As far as I'm concerned, they could rename the Atlantic Ocean the Margaret Hilda Ocean, and it would barely scratch the surface of what the woman deserves.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 14th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)


And now the Wets are trying to pretend they never knew her.

Bloody Cameron.
shezan From: shezan Date: June 14th, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ever lovely and soignée, I *like* the sound of that...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 14th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)


... And merit, as well.
aillil From: aillil Date: June 14th, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
‘I’m not fick I just don’t get this, yeah’

It took me about a minute to get this. *giggles* Very sad thing I won't include a session on dialects in my linguistics class, otherwise this would've made for such an entertaining lesson.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 15th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sad, indeed.

We'll want to do something about that. Entertaining lessons last longer in the memory, after all.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: June 14th, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Er... I went to a comprehensive, I'll have you know.

Though the exam howlers are pretty awful (but weren't they always?)
nineveh_uk From: nineveh_uk Date: June 15th, 2006 09:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I had an examiner in yesterday complaining about the medical student who wrote "I don't know anything about X, so I'm going to tell you about God, instead." I hope they fail comprehensively - I never want them treating me!
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: June 15th, 2006 09:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Mind you, I will conceed that standards generally are not what they were. I am frequently appalled by the shakiness of the grasp first years have of German grammar (and these are supposedly the best school leavers). But I don't think that comprehensives per se are the problem. I've known them work extremely well.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 15th, 2006 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

And, you will note, I'm sure...

... that those who will most resent yr success are others who went to similar schools, and those who, although they'd simply DIE, darling, before send one of THEIR sprogs to one, are politically invested in the Doctrine that created the damn' things. THAT is the problem.

(Interesting statistic. Bishop Wordsworth's Grammar School, in the Close in Sarum, outstrips Marlborough on points, academically, and is only 40 points from pegging level with A Small School Near Windsor.)
the_gentleman From: the_gentleman Date: June 14th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was going to suggest that idiots have more opportunities to display their ignorance these days than a decline in standards in general. Then I remembered my compatriots in my English Language A-level. I concede the point.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 15th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sad that you should be forced to concede it.

But I'm afraid that is the world we are stuck with.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: June 15th, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

As the Stupids Trounce the Meek, Inheritance-Wise

Jay Leno, successor to the brilliant Johnny Carson on the fabled "Tonight Show", has a recurring bit called "Jaywalking", where he stops random passers-by and asks them simple questions, with high-larious results.

Can't tell you how this depresses me, but it just goes to show... Our President is dumb as a cardboard boxload of root vegetables, and has the brass balls to be proud of it.

Fall of Western Civilization, Y2K, all that. However, I must admit that I didn't know all your Magg's extra names. Margaret Hilda Roberts is a prefect name for my new giant mutant dollie.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 16th, 2006 11:21 am (UTC) (Link)

It's all entailed, anyway.

Though in some cases, I wonder if itis ignorance or mere inarticulacy. Being glib - the Rt Hon Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, say - isn't always A Good Thing, either.
nineveh_uk From: nineveh_uk Date: June 16th, 2006 10:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Some thoughts.

I don’t normally do debate on LJ – it’s too easy to get riled in a way one wouldn’t in conversation. To be fair to Americans, shocked as I was that my contemporaries might not have heard of Margaret Thatcher, I have no idea if Canada has ever had a female Prime Minister. On the other hand, I know the Philippines and Israel have, so I suspect not. That said,

The National Curriculum was introduced by the Tories. It, along with decades of under-funding of comprehensive education from governments that never believed in the comprehensive ideal, is the problem with modern education. I spent a day in a secondary school recently observing lessons. It was a good school, but the teachers were strangled by the NC and the obsession with 'standards' that began with school league tables. I do believe that schools should be inspected, and bad teachers (and I've seen a few) sacked, but the present ethos is simply unhelpful. Likewise, I don’t absolve ‘educationalists’ from all blame, either, coming from the generation for whom a verb remains a ‘doing word’; the contributing factors to the present school system are many and varied, but money and the lack of interest in seeing it succeed are pretty big factors.

And that said, modern education is still a hell of a lot better than that my grandmother experienced when she left school in the 1920s. In her 80s, she could still beat her English Lit. degree holding granddaughter at Scrabble. Though a highly intelligent woman, grammar school education was never an option: she left school at 14 and went to work in a sweet shop. She felt her lack of opportunity all her life. Dreadful comments never used to get made about Macbeth, because most of the population never read it at school. My parents both attended selective grammar schools in the 1950s - they were average by the standard of the day, and unimpressive by comparison with my bog-standard comp.

I don’t believe in comprehensive education, actually. Given free reign, I would adopt something along the lines of the Scandinavian systems where children go to ‘high school’ at 15 – and they choose the school. There is no more prestige in attending 'gymnasium' than in attending technical college, or the ‘business’ colleges, hence the former are fiercely academic, the latter the antithesis of the secondary modern. Bring back true grammar schools to the UK, where selection is by the children themselves at 14 or 15 according to what’s most appropriate, where the alternatives are properly funded and without stigma (so the parents of a kid who ought to be looking at technician-level employment don't force him into an unsuitable stream for snob value), and with a universal standard of primary education that allows all a shot at what they want to do. Quite how this would work in the rather more stratified society of the UK is another question.

Normal, non-committal service will now resume.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 16th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC) (Link)


I shan’t even pretend to believe in the ‘comprehensive ideal’, myself: any more than do you, in the end. That being so, why fund it, preserve it, fetishise it, and make it a Party shibboleth of the Party you just chose to join? (Answer to that rhetorical question: because, of course, even now, years after the Young Tony was gushing about Marx to Michael Foot, Labour are the party for the resentful – Mr Prescott, notably – and also, separately, of those who, in their passion for a Good Outcome, sometimes feel that Some People Want to be Shot or At Least Re-educated. Please don’t think I’m desirous of a fight or a broken friendship, by the way, in making that latter point, but sometimes what is written in a white – and eloquent, I may add – heat is rather telling, and that passing comment of yrs in yr main responsive post struck me as telling and as coloured by all sorts of historical overtones.)

In fact, I agree with you that local choice, and the availability of actual choices, is wanted, nay, is the only defensible scheme and ever was so. I don’t believe, as a matter of first principles, in centralised control of the NC sort, although with local authorities as they were at the time I understand the temptation to Do Something: but then, I’m a rather Libertarian Tory, not one of the Statist Grandees of the Eden-Home-Supermac-Heath-Cameron stripe (not that poor old Ted ever quite managed to be a grandee, as he so desperately craved). As any farmer will tell you in light of the Rural Payments cock-up and the revelations that, whilst farmers were going bankrupt waiting for their funds, the civil servants in question were jumping off of file cabinets bollocks-naked and shagging in supply cupboards, government departments are viciously useless things. Were matters up to me – ah, that old staple of public house debates – Dora Saint shd have been put in charge of state education with a remit to get it back to the standard it attained in, say, the 1950s. (Or, indeed, under Gladstone, or at least Campbell-Bannerman. It does no good to half-educate everyone as a substitute for educating less than half of them, and even those who left school at 14, say, in the 1920s, were better educated than many a redbrick MA today. And that is aside from the evisceration of the Grand Old Fortifying Classical Curriculum by those who resented the vy idea that Some Bloody Toffs ’Ad Took Bloody Latin at School.) In fact, my wishes in the matter are vy similar to those expressed in yr closing paragraph here, and I submit that Labour are the LEAST likely party to effect that, precisely because of the class resentments that still infect them; I also submit that the greatest barrier to anything sensible, is, the bloody parents themselves and their cult of greed: a cult for wh any given Conservative government is by no means wholly responsible, as, indeed, social mobility has markedly decreased and class stratification has markedly burgeoned under New Labour, and as a result of what may laughingly be called its ‘policies’ (snort).

So we’ll agree to disagree, shall we?
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: June 17th, 2006 08:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmmm.

file cabinets bollocks-naked and shagging in supply cupboards

Wouldn't that be rather painful. Because I work in a public sector office, and , ow, paper-cuts.
nineveh_uk From: nineveh_uk Date: June 18th, 2006 11:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Re. the rhetorical question

Of course Labour are the party of the resentful – they are/were by and large the people with something to resent. I should also clarify that whilst the comprehensive ideal is not top of my list, I prefer it as practised to the grammar school/sec. mod. dichotomy as practised. Re. my other post, no, I don’t think that particular fellow ought to be first against the wall when the revolution comes,* but given that his college was at the time desperate to improve its standing in this particular subject, I bet his colleagues have had something to say to him in hindsight, and have, I hope, conducted a bit of self-examination into their practices given that they have, for one reason or another, so demonstrably lost out in an area they could ill afford.

Otherwise, we shall have to agree to disagree on a whole range of subjects from ed. to the causes of declining social mobility, but if I may finish with a statement on which I feel we may have some hope of at closer concurrence in our views, much depends ultimately on what “education” means and is for. That is the debate that has been conspicuously lacking in this country for the last thirty years, and without which no solution to any perceived problem with it can be a real solution.

*In ref. primarily to the Tolkien Sarcasm Page’s LotR e-text.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: June 16th, 2006 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Factual note: female prime ministers of Canada

They have had one, actually, Kim Campbell, also a Tory, but she was only in power for about ten minutes, after which her party lost all bar one seat (or something of that order)
nineveh_uk From: nineveh_uk Date: June 18th, 2006 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Factual note: female prime ministers of Canada

I remember that defeat - there was a wonderful interview in which one of the two survivors said that at least they could be environmentally friendly and share a scooter ride to work.
eagles_rock From: eagles_rock Date: June 17th, 2006 10:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Wemyss, if I may be so bold, I'd like to suggest a new 'filter' to you; a new way to look at New Labour policies; I don't think 'politics of envy/pique' fully covers what's going on.

New Labour's problem with selective education is that nice middle-class children, such as their own, will fail it. Methods have to be put in place to pacify the middle-class aspiring parents; thus 'parental choice', house price rises around certain schools, false addresses and the absurd amount of tutoring going on.

I had the benefit of a rather splendid Northern Irish grammar school education. Nice middle-class children did fail the 'transfer procedure'; their parents either bit the bullet, naggged furiously to make sure they worked hard and got themselves into a grammar for A-Levels, or sent them to one of the new comprehensives springing up. These had an excellent reputation and are a real fillip to comprehensive education supporters.

But I have no doubt that their success, and the success of existing Norn Irn comprehensives, was down to the fact that parents wanted them to succeed. Everyone in the province knows how good their local primary and secondary schools are; no league tables are required, no pretence of choice. Compare also the Republic of Ireland, where the questions in their equivalent to A-Levels are discussed in the national papers the next day.

Education is seen as the way out; I don't know why that doesn't apply in great swathes of England and why teachers don't push that angle; well, yes, that's unspeakable condescension on a grand scale, but why the difference? Is it just another case of Norn Irn being a bit old-fashioned?

I should add that failing the Transfer Procedure brought absolute heartbreak to many children, let alone their parents; people who survived that and made good still talk about it with no small degree of pain. But I cannot support pulling up the drawbridge after I've crossed; the debate about grammar schools in Norn Irn continues, and if you take out the gross party politics, it is not straightforward.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 17th, 2006 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

All very sensible.

I'm still not quite sure how we got into this discussion, or, rather, how it became the primary focus of my remarks: save that I ought really to know better than to succumb to an irresistible temptation to make a pun upon the word 'comprehensive' and couple it with my unceasing contempt for John Two-Jags Prescott (who, I cannot imagine everyone's not agreeing, IS wholly driven in all things by old resentments).

What is particularly important about yr insightful remarks is that it does rather get us back to the broader point I was making (and making in the context of cautioning against Yank-bashing): at least throughout the Anglosphere, and probably in the Francophone and Hispanic-derived worlds, standards are slipping universally, and want improving. And that's by no means exclusive to state schooling, not when the head of - was it Wellington? - wishes to teach 'happiness' rather than, oh, Classics, say, and David Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Cameron is so obviously thick as two short planks.

Perhaps the solution IS to be found in Ireland, North and South alike.
eagles_rock From: eagles_rock Date: June 19th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: All very sensible.

I'm not sure the answer is to be found in Ireland, though I do think the level of interest in education, were it replicated, would do wonders.

There are fewer private schools (though I've not done an analysis of private places vs. population) to take the moneyed 11-plus failures, and if there were more places, the private schools would probably not want them anyway, as they'd depress their results. (The grammar I attended used to take around 5 fee-payers a year, but this stopped when results tables took over.) So parents may have to make the best of what's on offer to a greater extent than England.

The nature of the education offered has changed too; when I read my old school's web page, I saw they no longer teach Latin; previously compulsory from 11-13. I've not had to translate a word of Latin since I took the O-Level, but I really enjoyed it, still get a kick out of it and don't understand why it's not universally taught, and would rather it didn't become a subject for fee-paying schools only (too late, perhaps?); that feels downright mediaeval.

Yet more - Eng. Lit. O-Level has become optional. I know Prince Charles can be a figure of fun, but when he bemoans the fact that in the land of Shakespeare some children are illiterate, I know what he's on about. This is Ireland, land of Yeats, Bernard Shaw, Wilde, Beckett, Heaney etc. etc.; yes, the set Shakespeare play may be dry when you're 15, but later you may want to see Hamlet/Lear/Othello and you'll be able to read the plays and understand them, and you'll learn your own nation's fine history in the English language.

I don't know if these changes are down to the school thinking they have to 'modernise', the demands of the National Curriculum, budget issues, or, in the Eng. Lit. case, that boys bring the marks down - I've no idea. Of course, discussing Literature with a classful of pupils who are not going to be entered for an exam would be a shocking waste. Best warn for sarcasm.

('Happiness' may not be a bad thing; if only for the novelty of a non-examined class; there may be interesting philosophy to be had there, and who knows what would come out of it.)

So the scope of the cultural landscape has narrowed, but are pupils now better prepared for something else? Do school leavers now have a better grip on what "33% off" means? Or are able to wire a plug, know what elements you need for a nutritional meal and how to prepare it, or are less likely to fall victim to whatever crazy notion sweeps the nation? Given you have to buy a lottery ticket on Friday evening at the earliest so that the chances of winning on Saturday are higher than the chances of dying before the draw, I think not. The use of statistics is certainly an area that could use a little practical work. I'm not sure that the introduction of 'Business Studies' is what I'm looking for (well, I know it isn't), though I am cheered by everyone having to do a General Science course, if not a specific subject.

So this is a 'neither use nor ornament' whinge.

(There was comment in the press about the growing numbers of people taking Religious Studies; that seems to be almost compulsory at my old school, so I'm wondering if it fits some odd Nat. Curriculum requirement?)

Why have exam results gone up until they're meaningless? Why have exam boards let that happen? We used to be told that we were competing against each other; that a certain percentage got an 'A' every year - that was the definition of an 'A' back then. Exam boards are independent, aren't they? And non-profit-making, so surely it's not clamour for 'clients' that drives them? But it certainly seems like it.

The higher percentage going to University, some to study courses of dubious merit, feels to me to have a 'trickle-down' effect that's entirely negative. Certainly doesn't encourage more people to take exams in Physics. Or Latin. Or any failable subject.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: June 17th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
including a certain fat croquet-mallet-wielding Labourite bruiser who failed his Eleven-Plus decades ago, has since done everything imaginable to justify the prescience of the examiners, and has waged a demented personal crusade against standards and excellence in education ever since, a part of his party’s innate politics of pique and philosophy of envy

That's just what's happening over here (NI), except in our case it's an Armalite-weilding ex-Brigadier of the Derry IRA who left school at 15 to become a bucher's boy. Why they gave Sinn Fein Education and Health I cannot understand.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 17th, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)


You and eagles_rock want to chat, it might enlighten the rest of us (see above).
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