Some girls wander by mistake

Posted Sat 11 Feb
4 comments so far

It was a cold morning, the train was late. Neither of these two things are uncommon. But it was bitterly cold, more so than normal. As opposed to just walking out of the station in my usual state, I decided to wrap my super-long Tom Baker-esque scarf around myself, and pull up my hoodie, and snuggle in for my walk to the office.

Recently, I have been traipsing round universities with my eldest male child. Now, parsing that confuses me on many levels, the most obvious one being how did I get to the stage where I have a child who is anywhere near old enough to be thinking about this, meaning leaving home within the next six months or so. Invariably, one of the aspects all of them have focussed on has been benefits of their course and college on the future employablity of the student.

Nothing majorly untoward about that. I can wrap my scarf around my face, over my nose, and the ends still reach to my stomach, meaning I get maximum benefit. And then pulling my hoodie’s hood (hence the name, the hood part of it gives it away) over my head, means the scarf over my nose and mouth stays in place. All snuggled up, toastie warm, out of the carriage and down the platform I go.

This merely feeds in to something I have been considering for a while now, and I still get to wonder why I am so orthogonal to the perceived wisdom of the Age. What is the point of education? To enable you to be able to spend the next forty (or more) years of your life in the same arena? In order to top-load what I want to say (yeah, top-loading four paragraphs in, though only two in the non-italiacised sequence), I don’t believe in any way that the point of education is for it to be useful to your job prospects. (Now wait, I don’t wish to pepper this with caveats, what if someone isn’t academic, what if…this isn’t aimed at answering those questions. Live with it.) I will restate that: Time spent in education shouldn’t be forced to apply to the rest of your life. Use it in the rest of your life, or not.

At the barriers, it depends what sort of mood I am in whether I put my card in the machines, or just show it to the person on the gates to let me walk through. Paranoia never sleeps, and even though both the train operator (and the Gubbmint) have assured me the gates only let you through, and no journey-recording shennanigans are going on, I don’t believe them. If it were me, I would be recording all that stuff. Think of what you could do with all that data. But if they were recording it, the full force of my vitriol would be aimed towards them. For great justice.

You study to further yourself, to see what you are capable of, not the narrow-focussed grind you do to give you the resources to be what you want to be. You are not defined by what you do to get money to feed your family, you are more than that. When I am asked ‘what do you do?’, my usual response is ‘I am a husband, a father, a physicist, a photographer, a philosopher, a low-tech engineer, a high-tech fiddler, a theologian, a musician, a fighter, a runner. Oh, you meant what do I do to fund all that?)’)

Why would I study for any other reason? (Why do I still study, other than for that exact reason?) Your life outside of education is longer than that in it, and what you do end up being employed to do can, should, will, might bear no relation to those years in the books. But you will take it with you forever. Why spoil the whole experience with constant reminders that once you are set free, you will be shackled for a longer time in the daily grind.

At the barriers, then, preparing myself to sidle through (carrying my camera and all lenses with me at all times me I do need to sidle, no wide-load jokes, please), I was taken aback by someone addressing me. This is London, no one does that. Yes, I address people, but usually only because they need correcting on some point of theology or other. Wait, there is hi-vis involved in this, the signal of petty officaldom. Woop, woop, it was the sound of a police.

For years I have held interviews, and I work on the principle that it doesn’t matter what your background is. Be that education, personal, experience. If you come across well, have that elusive ‘spark’, and will be a cultural fit and get on with everyone, that counts for lots more. If you have that, chances are you can pick whatever you need up. And my working life has been like that, I have meandered amongst many different areas, none of which I was prepared for before I got there. It interested me, I applied, got the job. (I should say I do a good interview, if I am in the mood. Feel free to get in touch. Oh, you already have, and I turned several down, but that won’t go on much longer, though those are different stories.)

‘Where are you going?’ he asked. Well, see, the thing is, you shouldn’t take me by surprise. In any way. bosh Backfist to the head. But control means I stop short, having just seen it is you. Back to the police, though. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked. Only once, I am repeating it for literary effect.

So why the constant reinforcement of preparing for (working) life? Just like the ‘economy’ must always show growth. The older I get, the less and less I understand why the engine of the Western world is obsessed with this. Growth isn’t synonymous with progress, and progress isn’t synonymous with greed, and greed isn’t always good. This is not some hippy manifesto, I am not advocating we all move to Όρος Άθως (just me, maybe) and contemplate the universe, as much as I dislike trinkets, I do like a trinket. But I like my trinket to last, and as long as it is useful to me, it lasts. And my education has lasted with me, me now being out of education longer than I was in it.

I glanced up at him, my head at its usual he-is-thinking angle. ‘Interesting question, you know, I don’t really know. I have been asking myself that for a while. I have always drifted, not in any direction. Having said that, I am not sure I, or anyone, in the sense you mean, needs a direction…’

Why are we hung up on priming our children for being fed into the working world? There is more to get out of study than having the ‘skills to prove to an employer you should be hired’. Study for fun, study to expand yourself. Sure, if it helps you to get a job, that is a bonus. If you want to continue work in that field, then sure, a good idea. But why make it a focus? Are we all that shallow now that nothing else matters? Where is the surprise in life, the finding the nooks and crannys you didn’t know where there? Drifting isn’t aimless, or pointless. But why does anything need a point?

My response was cut if not short, pulled up, although not in any rude way, as the peeler laughed, looked at me again. ‘You have come down on the Cambridge train, right?’, smiled, and beckoned me on through, leaving me once again pondering on the meaning of direction, progress, growth, and why these are so important to post-Enlightenment Western culture.

  1. Thank you Mr Bolan . You have succeeded in perplexing me (a little) and amusing me (a lot).

    Perplexed as to the meaning of ‘orthogonal’, new word, thanks for that.

    Great post. Worth waiting for.

    Sat 11 Feb, 9:18PM

  2. Thanks Mary, that is about exactly what I want from life, to perplex and amuse :)

    Mr Bolan
    Sat 11 Feb, 10:14PM

  3. But education isnt free, it costs a hefty fucking fee. What is the state’s incentive to fund it if not to sponsor future growth and tax revenues etc.

    Or are you suggesting that the cost should fall on the individual themselves? Look at the uproar from the recent increase in fees. It’s almost like people believe they are entitled to higher education.

    There is only a certain volume of pure academics (putting aside those in the sciences and engineering and the ir contribution to R&D and ‘scientific progress’) that a state can support as they contribute little to the economy. Just like in previous times there was a limit on the number of monks and nuns a country could support.

    The chances are then, the majority of graduates are going to have to get a ‘real’ job to pay the bills. Is there not a benefit to acknowledging this and planning ahead for what happens after university?

    Is ‘employability’ such a bad trait? We both studied subjects which allowed a great deal of choice of vocation after university. Personally I could have taken up any number of graduate schemes in the various city firms, the public sector, R&D firms; gone into IT or a similar problem-solving related industry; taken a law conversion course….

    You mention your enlightened approach to interviewing - unfortunately this is not shared by the majority of firms. Particularly when starting out your degree is an important part of your CV, and will be taken into consideration.

    Surely in order to enjoy the ability to pick, choose and change careers we want as much ‘employability’ as possible for a graduate? Of course for those fortunate few who know exactly what they want to do then a focussed &/or vocation degree may be the best course and damn the ‘employability’ aspect.

    Learning for learnings sake is never a bad thing, and we are free to pursue that for the whole of our lives but I dont think it is bad thing to have at least some perspective when it comes to a degree. It is something which has the potential to have a big impact on the arc of our working lives.

    Anyway enuff trolling.

    Sun 12 Feb, 8:57AM

  4. Some of the trolling is easily swerved:

    I wasn’t talking about it to create an endpoit of a nation of academics. In fact, you mention both yours and my backgrounds as a kickoff to many different jobs. That is partly my point. I certainly didn’t take my degree with some cynical plan to get a better job. Sure, it helps, and sure, not all employers are enlightened and require a degree to get past the door. I find that sad. A waste.

    If a related, employability-driven society were the natural destination, we wouldn’t have a political class of PPE running the country. Which wouldn’t be a bad destination, if truth be told….

    I get your trolling, nicely done, but alas you have framed it within the current parameters, and that was what I was trying to get at, I don’t think those are in anyway completely valid.

    As for the cost, and the benefit to the State (or worse, the nebulous undefinable ‘society’) again, why is that important? The new loan scheme isn’t unaffordable, especially if you are using third level education as some springboard to employability.

    I shall meet you in the pub upon your return from your jaunt funded by….your education that allowed you employability. And kick your ass.

    Stray Taoist
    Sun 12 Feb, 9:32AM

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