Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Greg Melleuish, old bludgers, the young trapped in classroom cages and a sensible proposal for intergenerational fairness

You know, about the only decent thing the Rudd government did - and I'm sure the commentariat will agree - is to extend the working age, so that you can't begin collecting a pension until you hit age 67, rather than the current and long standing age of 65.

After all, I'm told that Bismarck's old age pension program didn't kick in until the age of 70, at a time when the average life expectancy in Prussia was around 45 years. Now there's a pension scheme! 

That's right, send the buggers out to work for a couple more years to teach them a lesson. After all, the commentariat has been in a rage for the whole week about the way the budget is passing an unfair intergenerational burden on to the young, sending national debt up to a level where they'll never be able to repay it. Growing up with a debt burden big enough to induce deformity of the spine and a permanent stoop.

So punish the oldies, and if they get recalcitrant, hook  them up with quality steel, and send them out to work in a chain gang.

Oops, did I get that so totally wrong. Sorry. It's a scandal what this government has done, and without so much as a by your leave.

The most extraordinary aspect of the budget was the announcement that the retirement age would be raised to 67 progressively from 2017 to 2023. This means that while the first half of the baby boomers will be allowed to retire at 65, the other half, followed by generation X, will have to work for a couple of extra years, presumably to ensure that government can afford the boomers' retirement, in particular their burgeoning medical expenses.

At last, a voice for the silent and dispossessed old farts, in the form of the ever reliable George Melleuish, with Better early than late.

Rather than make poor old folk work longer, his much better idea is to get kids out of school and university and ship them off to the salt mines when they're in full possession of their youthful vigor.

Instead of wasting time with six years in high school, cram all that knowledge stuff into them harder - like the way you get a decent pate by force feeding a goose with corn - and then when they're at university, make sure those lazy academics work full time instead of going walkabout over the hot summer months.

And then by sending them out to work - so they can escape from the classroom and have a bright future working in a hamurger store as second pimpled frier in charge of chips - they'll not only make a decent wage, but they'll keep old folks in the style they're accustomed to. 

Now there's a knockdown argument for intergenerational justice. Sorry, let me pause a moment for the good old days of the chimney sweep, when you could send a child in amongst the soot and nobody gave a second thought about it.

Ah yes, the old caged classroom theory of education, where students are so impatient with the whole sorry business that they just want to run away from their teachers, and do anything, anything at all, so they can run wild and free, and be as dumb as fuck and ill informed and completely incapable of logical thinking as they like. All this talk of apprenticeships and learning and such tomfoolery is just window dressing, when what we need is efficiency. 

The smarter solution would be to provide young people with the opportunity to escape from the classroom and to gain employment. The truth is that the earlier they start working, the earlier they can retire. To achieve this aim it is necessary to achieve greater efficiencies in the education system at school and university level. It does not mean lowering standards but raising them, ensuring that students are taught well and effectively so that they are able to achieve the dignity that honest employment gives them.

And while we're at it, once we've let them out of their cages, away from those giant child-minding centres we derisively call universities, let's make sure they don't bother studying totally useless subjects like history and politics.

Oops, sorry, I'm having a really clumsy day, got that wrong too:

... it would appear to be pointless increasing the student participation rate in universities if such a move does not ensure that these students leave university with an enhanced level of skills. There is no point in simply turning universities into giant child-minding centres that expand their numbers in such areas as cultural studies. Such a move would be a cheap and easy way for universities to deal with the proposed increase in student numbers, but it would benefit neither the students nor wider society.

Cultural studies! Wash out my mouth with soap and spit that vile term into the sink of real life experiences. What a waste of a life, to be interested in culture, when we all know what Australians want is a beer, a play on the poker machines, a meal at the club and a group grope in a motel. And enough moola for the odd pie with sauce, and a ute.

One of the respondents to the column could see through the socialist claptrap involved in keeping kids in school. No chit chat about the clever country please, or preparing kids for the brave new world they will face. Keeping them at school is just a way to empower the teachers' unions, and nothing at all to do with education.

As for those bloody university students, one had the cheek to write in and say he spent the summer working so he could pay for his degree. Clearly too dumb to understand he could starve in an elegant bohemian La Boheme kind of way while getting through quickly and building up a handsome HECS debt. (I know, I know, it's a cultural studies kind of metaphor, but no one will understand it see, so it's perfectly acceptable).

But the lowest blow was struck by a parent of a student at a sandstone university complaining about academics writing columns for newspapers in a double dipping way - while their child couldn't get email responses or papers marked in a timely way.

Clearly (s)he doesn't understand that education is just a rort, or a form of pain, or a penance, or a classy form of babysitting, and the sooner we can all escape the classroom cage, how much happier we'll be. The young can accumulate massive superannuation from starting to work at an early age, say by becoming an unskilled garbage collector, and the old just put out their paw for some ... well cash in the paw.

What's that you say? You can do a degree in garbology these days? We're all doomed, but maybe not so much because of that, but because I never thought I'd see academics using terms like caged classrooms to describe the educational experience. 

If teachers have a contempt for the teaching/learning process, then why bother? Little wonder the students treat the education experience as a form of suffering, and instead of talking about the dignity that honest study might give them, the only solution is to send them out in the world to learn the hard way.

Come to think of it, that's as powerful argument for abolishing universities and schools as I've heard in recent times. Time to embrace the slogan "the dumb country" with renewed bushy tailed, bright eyed optimism ...

Sorry excuse me a moment. Picks up piece of chalk and hurls it at Tompkinson: "I say Tompkinson, stop nodding off/using that ruler to hit Jenkinson/hurling spitballs at the ceiling, and explicate the connotations in this poem by William Blake." Aside in a whisper: "Damn you cultural studies, damn you to hell for trapping me in this gilded cage of hallowed learning."

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep,
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lambs back was shav'd, so I said.
Hush Tom never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair

And so he was quiet & that very night.
As Tom was a sleeping he had such a sight
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack
Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black,

And by came an Angel who had a bright key
And he open'd the coffins & set them all free.
Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind.
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Tho' the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

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