Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Tuesday 10th October 2017

FOR at least two years, probably longer, there has been a niggling uneasiness if not genuine worry that many of the things which make my eldest grandson such a joy to be with might be squeezed out of him like an orange pip when he started primary school.

I should not have been worried, I should have been completely petrified, because after a year in a reception class which he loved and always tried to be the first into every morning he has spent only a couple of weeks as a year one infant and already his sense of humour, inquisitiveness, insatiable appetite for knowledge, ability to soak up information like a sponge and his pure joy in finding things out are not really considered the most important assets by the one size fits all state education mincing machine which seems to value the ability to pass tests much more.

They say that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy and for too many small children their love of learning does not survive its first contact with school. It is not the fault of the schools, or at least they say it is not.

They are caught between the hammer of government deciding not only what is to be taught but also to an increasing extent how it is to be taught, and the anvil of Ofsted inspectors who, no matter what they say to the contrary, are just the Government’s education police ensuring that our kids are taught just as their grandparents were 50 years ago by rote, by test and by fear of failure. Reception class was good at stimulating my grandson and in among all the games and the enjoyment they did a pretty good job of getting him to read.

His writing, which he is less keen on however, needs plenty more work and yet at still only five years old he now has a series of words to learn every week for a written, yes written, spelling test every Friday. This is madness personified. This boy shares several traits with his maternal grandfather (that’s me), one being his ability to remember every fact he ever heard and the second a fear of failure.

Whenever asked what made me a good teacher (which I hope I was) the answer was always “fear of being a bad one”. So fear of failure can be a spur but it is also a curse. I have lost count of the things I should have had a go at doing but that fear always made me find an excuse to avoid the challenge. It was that fear which made me pass up an opportunity to be part of the team presenting one of the most popular television programs of the 1970s — and I’ve never shared that with anyone before.

Yet it was only around the time of the last year in junior school, with the impending 11-plus, that the worry about failing first raise its ugly head in my life but these little people have it dropped on their shoulders at the age of five. It will remain and grow there under the current system until they break free of it at 18 and start learning things for themselves.

Children are children with their individual strengths and weaknesses and their own anxieties. They are not little economic units in waiting with education serving only one purpose and that is to produce future drones (workers) by mirroring that of China or South Korea. Our children are, in learning terms, all different shapes, but we insist on forcing them through the square hole of education whether they fit or not. I would do anything to protect my little guy but I cannot protect him from our own education system and I fear for him.

He can reel off the required spellings orally but he has to write them and at the moment it just isn’t there and so he is born to fail. Failure for him will mean withdrawal and shutdown and the system may well lose another boy just because he doesn’t fit the mould.

THE subject of the younger generation having a harder time than their grandparents was raised on the news yet again last weekend. Apparently it is the baby boomer generation which can afford foreign travel, eating out and has the cash to buy skinnylattemochiato-frappechino coffees while the millenials are struggling. Oh bless, let them drink tea I say.

This is not a criticism of 20 or 30-something year olds but it is a critique of misguided attitudes towards the older generation by the news and current affairs media. The chap on the news didn’t actually appear to know what a baby boomer is and seemed to include anyone above their mid-40s in that demographic group.

Being a young media type, his university broadcast journalism course will have educated him on the benefits of teeth whitening and getting everything you need to know from Google but unless Wikipedia specifically mentioned that there was a huge increase in births after the men returned from six years of war in 1945 he just won’t have had the general knowledge to figure it out for himself.

I am a baby boomer as are millions of others in their 60s and early 70s and we are, according to every news item which mentions (criticises) us and our retired lifestyle, rich beyond the dreams of avarice. If we have, as the BBC seems determined to have everyone believe, mountains of disposable income, then why doesn’t anyone appear to want it?

You would think that every manufacturer and retailer this side of the Pecos would be scrambling for our cash and advertisers would be doing everything they could to tempt us to part with our riches. Instead, watch any of the interminable adverts on the TV or read them in magazines or newspapers and you quickly realise that only people aged between 25 and 35 buy motor cars.

Only women aged up to about 40 buy food and shop for clothes and unless you have a body like Venus in a bikini you never think about taking a beach holiday — those with wrinkles cruise up and down rivers in Germany instead.

Older people do, according to off-peak television advertising, spend a lot on incontinence products which they wear (discreetly) while riding stairlifts on their way to sit in those chairs which tilt forward to pitch granny into the grate where she breaks her hip and so will, thereafter, need to buy a mobility scooter.

So much for the so-called grey pound. Baby boomers may have money but no-one seems to want it, but that is to be expected because once you reach 65 in our society you become invisible anyway.

ON Tuesday, the Daily Mirror had as half of its front page a headline claiming that the effort to bring back holidaymakers stranded by the Monarch Airlines collapse was the biggest rescue effort since Dunkirk. If ever there was an ill-informed, crass and plainly ignorant piece of journalism this was it.

How in the name of hell, which Dunkirk was, can anyone compare tanned tourists lying on a Spanish beach probably hoping to be stranded for a few days more with tens of thousands of our defeated, battle weary, exhausted, starving and above all frightened troops lining up to be bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe and shelled by artillery on the beaches, not knowing which would come first, rescue, capture or death.

If anyone has struggled to comprehend this column’s criticism of the clear lack of knowledge constantly on display in our national media then perhaps this example of a totally inappropriate historical comparison resulting from ignorance might help clarify the point.

Such ignorance is inexcusable and shows total insensitivity and disrespect for those who experienced the hell of Dunkirk, whether as a trapped soldier or a rescuer come from the sea. To compare the two is an insult to all concerned and a misuse of history just to write a stupid headline.

If anyone has not seen the film Dunkirk released a few months ago I commend it. It is not an easy watch but should be recommended viewing in schools and compulsory in all newspaper and TV newsrooms.