I work hard. I work at least six hours a day, as well as caring, cooking and poorly-cleaning for a family.
I write this blog first and foremost; have been trying to get paid for it for at least eighteen months. I’ve invested, foolishly, a lot of savings in this blog. Partly, because I thought I could make a difference. Partly, because I simply love writing – in much the same way as you may love breathing.
But it’s not all I do. I mark online. I’m giving more and more video-conferenced English classes too – and thinking about it, in a by-the-by sort of way for a moment, it’s funny how teachers like myself spend their lives trying to resist doing what they’re good at (I was, after all, a full-time language trainer for most of my adult life when in Spain); how teachers like myself look to be writers, editors, homemakers or simply taxi-driver-parents – anything but the teachers they surely should accept is their lot.
I’m telling you all this because of another blogpost by Chris Dillow. In it, he says:
[...] If it’s rational for someone to settle for less than their (perceived) perfect match in the dating market, it should therefore be reasonable for someone to settle for less than their dream job. And, in fact, millions of us do so. [...]
He goes on to argue:
[...] There is, across the western world, an excess supply of labour. Some would-be workers cannot get a match at all. So, if it’s rational for everyone else to settle for less than they’d like, shouldn’t it also be rational for the least attractive potential workers to settle for not getting a job at all? Just as our friend says: “don’t chase Alison King; you’re only making yourself miserable wanting what you can’t have”, shouldn’t we also tell the least productive workers: “don’t make yourself miserable wanting a job that isn’t there”?
Many years ago, in 1999, I lost my teaching job of the time. I waited for a couple of years, retraining – looking to do something “exciting” instead. I finally alighted on the idea of online publisher and did a Publishing Master in Madrid. I was trying to be imaginative and different in my pursuit of a totally alternative way forward.
Everyone at the time told me: retrain as a teacher; get into the Spanish system; get qualified for institutional life.
I didn’t want that.
I wanted the gently megalomaniac tinge of selling culture across frontiers.
In the end, that didn’t work out either; they were right and I was wrong. I even got to the point where I believed Microsoft and the American government were interfering with my Internet connection and data, especially as I spent most of my time vigorously trashing them in a blog – no longer online – on the subject, mainly, of the Iraq War.
So it was that I was judged paranoid and medicated. That was in 2003. How wrong I was to sustain such a falsehood. How wrong we now know I must have been.
And ten years later, after a year of miserable income (you can tell I’ve just done my tax return), of digging deep into savings and many family disagreements, I’ve returned to the idea of doing what I always did well all along: teaching, one-to-one, on a personalised and personalising level.
To use Chris’s terminology, I’ve finally – ultimately – settled for second best.
But whilst he concludes the following …
But let’s be clear. Anyone who seriously wanted to improve the well-being of the nation would stop prating about “changing the culture” to encourage people to seek work, and do the precise opposite.
… I would say something slightly different. I would say what we need is a different education system. An education system capable of managing our expectations cruelly.
A short anecdote, if you will, to explain what I mean.
My daughter has just started her first ever work-placement. She’s never worked for a boss before: to date, all she’s had in her life of that sort of thing have been teachers, parents and elder brothers. She’s a very intelligent young soul: she taught herself how to read Spanish; she taught herself how to edit videos; most recently, she taught herself how to draw extremely elaborate sketches of magnificent proportion using little more than pencil, paper and hours of dedicated leisure time.
She is a born learner. She is as bright as a button. She knows her mind – and is utterly unable to suffer fools gladly.
She doesn’t get on well with all her teachers, but when she does, she knows exactly why – and exactly how to explain what the process involved happens to be. She will always provide evidence to back up any opinion she has.
She is the most evidence-based fifteen-year-old I know.
Sometimes it’s terrifying.
She is most definitely a young woman of a consumer age. Her expectations on how life should function are high: software shouldn’t be difficult to use; gadgets shouldn’t mess her around; activities shouldn’t be boring; life shouldn’t lead her to waste a single second of her time.
Now put her in her first work-placement: the corporation in question is well run, professional, correct and welcoming. Yet her upbringing, her consumer and empowered end-user mentality, means that a day’s worth of shelf-stacking really hasn’t met with too much of a thumbs-up on her part at all. Couple that with an induction process where the computer software kept on crashing, and we can see why a habitual iPod and smartphone user might question the validity of real-world bespoke in-house environments like these.
We can see why someone with such high consumer expectations should begin to wonder if the world of work isn’t an example of second-class citizenship.
And so we return to Chris’s conclusion. My alternative take? Maybe what’s really to blame here – what the current British Coalition government is really in the game of effecting – are the high expectations that not only our consumer society raises but also our blessed and empowering education system.
Yes. Exactly that. In their pursuit of land-grabbing markets across the globe, corporations have taught us all to “believe in better”. Too much so, in fact. Too much for the jobs the future will offer us. As automation takes away the need for specialisation and skill, all we have left for the most highly educated market of working-people in history are the drudge jobs which, in truth, my daughter’s work-placement represents.
An objective and brutally pragmatic examination of the country’s needs in a post-globalisation era would suggest we need an education system capable of managing and communicating the following expectations:
- Aspiration for everyone is unrealistic.
- Most people will have to settle for second, third or umpteenth best.
- Working poverty must become the norm.
- A staggered – where not staggering – employment path is inevitable.
- Illness will strike us all down one day – with financial implications of a most serious kind.
- Software will not work to our benefit where government is involved.
- Education will not improve people’s job prospects.
- Paid education will not improve people’s job prospects.
- A meritocracy is a chimera – always has been, always will be.
- Young people like my daughter will only experience excellence if they can afford to buy a new gadget.
- Every other experience will involve severe and inevitable disappointment.
- And as long as our education system continues to encourage our youth to aspire, our youth will inevitably suffer sadly – and badly – in a cruel delusion of richer people’s making.
Now just look at all of this. I look at it myself. I realise that the last year where I have frittered away precious savings on silly virtual mutterings has essentially, probably, more than likely been a middle-aged man’s final workshy-riven flailings. Not workshy in the sense of hating work; rather, in the sense of being shy of the kind of work that requires you to resignedly settle for umpteenth best.
If you look at the above list of twelve terrible expectations, you will I am sure realise that practically all of them are currently being re-engineered by our government. All twelve, in one way or another, form part of their shopping-list of actions: these are the remade expectations they’re looking to impose on our next and most malleable generation.
The best-trained, cleverest and most ingenious generation of young people we have had the privilege to witness … condemned to a life of shelf-stacking and stock-taking by a world which pursues excellence only in the area of MP3 players; a world which is unable to see the virtues of expanding the envelope of life itself; a world which only measures achievement in terms of micro-managed productivity worksheets and tick-box exercises various.
A world where drudge and political fudge replace the beauty of splendidly engineered imaginations.
That’s what the Coalition government has been about all along.
That’s why I have to confess: in a way, yes, I have been a workshy man.