Archive for the 'Education' Category

Fool Britania

Like many Brits, I have something of a bi-polar relationship with national pride.

Unlike the US, where people descend into tears at the mere sniff of the stars and stripes, or Italy, where they created a pizza – the Margherita – in honour of the red, white and green of their national flag, in Britain, being proud of your country is at best slightly distasteful, at worst a sign of yobbishness.

To many people in the UK, the Union Jack is associated more with the racism of the BNP or the violence of skinheads than a sense of pride in our shared values. Although many of the tabloids survive on a culture of patriotism when it comes to football or the army, any more general sense of national pride is the subject of derision.

Gordon Brown’s proposals for a British day to increase our sense of civic pride last year were greeted with derision by the press. Possibly because most of the suggested activities involved drinking and sitting on your arse watching morris dancers on TV.

It has long been remarked that Britain’s multiculturalism, one of its finest attributes and itself a legacy of our colonial history, has actually diminished most people’s sense of patriotism. How can you feel a sense of allegiance to a culture as varied as the continents of the earth?

Any pride in our history is forever stained by the knowledge of the atrocities that have been committed in our name. From the the apartheid of South Africa to the continuing violence in Iraq, there are few that would openly admit to believing that Britain’s interventionist stance in world politics is compatible with today’s world stage.

So I was somewhat dismayed to hear, in the pages of the Daily Mail no less, that my old college’s ball theme this year is “Empire”. While I don’t agree with the constant jibes that are aimed at Cambridge in the press, this almost seemed calculated to reinforce the stereotype of a university filled by upper-class, spoilt idiots.

The tag line: “Travel with us to the Indian Raj, an emerging Australia and the West Indies. We invite you to experience the Pax Britannica and party like it’s 1899” – the year the Boer war started during which the British first invented concentration camps – defies comparison.

No one who has ever been to Cambridge could argue that it is multicultural. I remember being told the saddening statistic while there that there are more people with the surname White in the university than there are black people.

But a theme that celebrates some of the most shameful episodes in British history? That offers food and drink from “all over the colonies of the British isles”?

If that’s what the ball-goers really wanted they should have saved their £136 and just gone for a curry down Mill Road.

Great expectations

In 1999 Tony Blair told the Labour Conference: “If we are in politics for one thing, it is to make sure that all children are given the best chance in life.”

A decade on, that dream seems even further away.

Last month, Gordon Brown announced a “national crusade” to improve social mobility for the country’s most underprivileged children.

In a controversial move, discriminating against people on the grounds of class will be made illegal, just as it is on the basis of sex, age or gender. Though exactly how it will be possible to identify such discrimination remains unsurprisingly unclear.

Former health secretary Alan Milburn will head a new commission aimed to widen access to professions traditionally seen as the bastion of the middle classes, such as law, medicine and the media.

So, in the wake of all this government bluster it’s good to know that, on the ground at least, some things never change. The Cambridge paper, Varsity, today published a list that shows the average weekly budget and annual parental income of the parents of students by subject.

And, thank goodness, there are no surprises here. Topping the list with an average budget of £182 and an average parental income of £118,000 are the HAGS: the History of Art Girls.

As in life, following hot on in their heels are the Management boys with an average budget of £171, though the second-highest parental income is in Economics at £117,000.

The group with the lowest parental income are the Education students, on £46,500. Other altruistic professions – the doctors and vets – are average in the parental income groups but sit at the bottom of the tables when it comes to weekly budgets.

All of these are rather higher than the national average salary of around £30k (which has no doubt plummeted since last year). And how many students actually know for sure their parents’ income?

Still, if it shows one thing for sure, it is that we are all still obsessed with money, who has it and how much. I just wonder how many of these students will grow up to have anything like the income of their parents.

The Varsity list in full:

Average weekly budget/Average Parental Income

History of Art £182, £118,000

Management £171, £67,50

Architecture £155, £83,100

Land Economy £153, £74,000

Geography £148, £104,000

Classics £137, £84,600

Economics £137, £117,000

Maths £134, £78,000

Philosophy £129, £57,700

Computer Science £127, £50,900

Oriental Studies £125, £87,800

English £122, £61,200

SPS £119, £77,600

Law £112, £80,000

Music £107, £80,000

MML £106, £62,200

History £106, £74,800

ASNaC £104, £63,300

Theology £103, £74,900

Engineering £92, £68,100

Natural Sciences £90, £64,600

Arch & Anth £89, £52,200

Medicine £86, £62,300

Education £78, £46,500

Vet. Medicine £76, £64,600

 

Born to be wild

I like to pride myself on being something of a time-wasting connoisseur. Give me an afternoon and I will show you how to do sod all, and take pride in it.

But today I realised that I was playing in the junior league compared to the world of academia across the pond.

According to a report in the Guardian, research by a team of American scientists has come to the astounding conclusion that the rise of the novel in the last eighteenth century “not only reflected the values of Victorian society, but also shaped them.”

Researchers asked 500 academics to rate the personality traits of characters from 201 classic Victorian novels and came up with this gobbet of wisdom:

“Archetypal novels from the time extolled the virtues of an egalitarian society and pitted co-operation and affability against individuals’ huger for power and dominance”

As an ex-English student, I am perfectly aware that I may have something of a chip on my shoulder, but this strikes me as the most ludicrous waste of time and money I have heard of since I read about someone sponsored to work out the equation to describe how a ball of paper crumples. middlemarch

Even the most mediocre of A-level student could have told them that. In fact, anyone who has ever managed the briefest flick through a Victorian novel – the examples named being Middlemarch, Dracula and Wuthering Heights – could have picked it up before the end of the first chapter.

Furthermore, it is not only bad science, it is bad literary criticism. The article goes on to explain:

“They found that leading characters fell into groups that mirrored the co-operative nature of a hunter-gatherer society, where individual urges for power and wealth were suppressed for the good of the community”

So, society good, individualism bad, is that what we’re meant to learn from this insightful study?

Well, if the evolutionary psychologists in question had done their homework, they might have realised that history is, in fact, stranger than fiction.

While Jane Austen was carving her “little bit of ivory”, working on the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensiblity, two men were writing an introduction to a collection of poems that heralded a new era in how man understood himself.

The Preface to the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is generally regarded at the beginning and manifesto of British Romanticism.

In it, they reject the studied artistry of their predecessors, arguing instead that poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” composed by a man “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply.” rebel

That image of the haunted individual, isolated by his superior understanding, has played on our imaginations in its various forms ever since.

From the pages of Wuthering Heights to the James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, the image of the lone wolf has become the heart throb of generations.

Aspiration, drive, individualism – these are the features we admire most in today’s capitalist society. We may pay lip service to Mother Theresa, nod sagely at Ghandi, but if it came to the choice, how many of us would, really and truly, chose their lives of sacrifice over that of Warren Buffett?

To say that our genes have been writen by the pages of Middlemarch not only misunderstands fundamental traits of the human character, but also the literature of the period.

As Einstein put it: “The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”


August 2017
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