Friday, August 18, 2006

You're A*

A level results are the highest ever. There are now so many ‘A’ grades, there is talk of adding a grade higher than ‘A’ called ‘A star’ to distinguish the very excellent from the merely excellent. They already do this for GCSEs (A*) so the silly precedent has already been set. It is therefore too late to be saying ‘hold on a minute, why add a letter to the front of an alphabet that already has twenty-six’. This is about twenty more than will ever be needed for a grading process at school level.

I understand the whole thorny issue of ‘F’, representing as it does that unspeakable ‘F’ word that can never be uttered in discussions about children and their achievements. Fine. (There’s a reasonable ‘F’ word – ‘you’ve done fine dear’). Fine. Why don’t they skip ‘F’ like they do in buildings where they don’t have a thirteenth floor? Go straight to ‘G’ – representing ‘good’, ‘great’, ‘grand’, ‘gifted’ even. I agree with the concept that everyone should get some recognition for completing school. Surviving the excruciating embarrassment of it all deserves a medal. Perhaps the ‘success-deferred’ pupils could get a little button like the stickers they give out at Wimbledon saying something like, ‘I queued for the tuck shop.’

Having created this unsafe and inequitable world, we seem obsessed with concealing its true character from children. They are going to find out about it at some stage and, likely as not, be completely ill-prepared for the obstacles they face. It has a nasty air of sycophancy about it too. If I were seventeen, I think I’d find the propensity of adults to rush up and tell me how great I am distinctly creepy, (whereas now it would be most welcome). I doubt that my parents even knew where I went to school, and that is as it should be.

Having stripped life of any genuine juvenile challenges, we now have to fill every available open space with climbing walls and paint-balling centres. There are now even attempts to discredit the ‘gap year’ tradition of young people doing charity work in developing countries on the vague grounds that it’s an uncomfortable vestige of colonialism. I may be mistaken but I thought colonialism was about genocide and exploitation rather than distributing food and purifying water.

Universities are concerned about the rise in students commissioning other people to write their essays. This territory used to be the exclusive prerogative of the wealthy dim who weren’t ever going to cause any harm because they’d be royals or go into the diplomatic service in countries where wars are expected to occur regularly. In fact they were usually an asset because they could be counted on to start wars over virtually nothing. Now the hoi polloi are getting in on the act, there are fears that seriously stupid people with no genetically-sound excuse will rise to the top without anybody noticing.

There is something very sad about not wanting to participate in your own education, particularly at tertiary level where it starts to get interesting at last. Of course writing essays is laborious, even when it is something you’re passionate about. Immediately you sit down, your capacity for logical argument evaporates and you can’t remember anything other than what happened in the last episode of ‘24’ at which point you wish you did Media Studies rather than Particle Physics. But you start writing and it eventually comes good, (in my case around the fifth draft). If you don’t write your own essays you’re going to miss out on those glorious moments when fragile self-belief gives way to genuine insight and you dig out ‘an original thought’. The ghost-written dissertation is never going to provide you with that air punch. In my sadder moments I sometimes unfurl my yellowing BA. I can’t imagine what it would be like, as a sentimental tear forms to have to utter the words, ‘Good old Essays-r-us. Those were the days’.

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