Leaving Blurt

At times the Republic of Ireland feels like a foreign country to me. OK, so it’s a foreign country where everyone speaks the same language as me and people look pretty much the same, and the landscape looks pretty similar, and there are loads of cars with northern registrations, and you can get BBC as well as RTE, but…even so.

There is one practice in particular that makes me feel like a refugee from planet Normal. I’m not talking about the fact that they sell Buckfast in brown bottles here instead of the normal green -a disgusting practice altogether, to be sure- but the annual media frenzy surrounding Leaving Cert week.

I feel excluded from this collective bout of national anxiety. I don’t remember reading, hearing or watching anything comparable in the British national media about ‘A’-level exams. And it wasn’t because I was studying too hard either. I imagine it is because students sit ‘A’-levels across a longer period of time and according to different timetables depending on the examination board, so the possibility of pressuring the student population into a state of panic via the media isn’t so great.

Here, even I’m feeling the pressure, and I don’t know a single person who’s sitting the exam. Article after article appears with tips on study skills, how to cope with the stress, and, of course, and how to maintain perspective. Naturally enough, it becomes the core subject for Radio DJ shite-talk.

The other night a news item was Mary Hanafin giving tips on the Leaving Cert. I don’t recall Gillian Shepherd doing that for me. Although in fairness, her press release asks people to keep things in perspective.

“Perspective?!!”- rages the average parent – “After shelling out god knows how much on grinds for the youngsters?”

The term ‘grind’ is revealing. Only a masochist would desire to be ground, and only a sadist would happily offer it as a service, and there are plenty of sadists out there serving the sado-masochistic tendencies of parent and student alike. ‘Grind’, with its connotations of force, oppression, and industrial machinery, seems to me the antithesis of the word ‘educate’, which basically means ‘to lead out’, rather than to cram in. Yet the grind is what parents pay for in order to make up for the education not provided by the state.

It seems to me that there is a wider process at work here, where young people are being transformed into goal-orientated automatons, whether through parental anxiety or external pressure. I was talking to a taxi driver a couple of weeks ago who told me he had given up coaching 8 and 9 year old kids at soccer, because a group of parents had come to him saying they wanted regular meetings to track their children’s progress, and for him to fill out periodic reports on how well they were doing.

He told them, rightly in my view, to fuck off and get a life.

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June 2006
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