That the whole zeitgeist of the time feels like a mad seesaw or Dr Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu is too obvious a point to make, making us all miss-step and doubt our capacity to plan or make any progress anywhere. People cope by not listening to the news, not talking about the news, ranting endlessly about the news, making up news or succumbing to despair. In this we have a lot to learn from the common or garden adolescent. Such a youth may be clueless, confused, misinformed, brilliant, tentative, furious, doom-laden, perspicacious, happy or sad within a day, or an hour, or a conversation. They’re like this because they’re detaching and rebooting synapses and suchlike all the time. It’s exhausting and maddening for the child and witnessing adult, but at least we know what it is. Politicians, largely over 25, have no such excuse.
I sit to write this in the green canteen, the home of the XFN Study Hall. Not a cheesy radio station, XFN stands for expectations, effort and engagement and is our latest way of tricking and training the reluctant of year 11 into working. Starting in September, we identified 50-odd who needed attention and kept them behind to work for an hour every day. We measured them and released those who’d responded to treatment after 6 weeks, adding others who’d lost the plot or showed no capacity to find it. That was where the fun started. Some of the originals were glad to be out of it, but some wanted to stay. Some didn’t want to stay but their parents wanted them to, some weren’t invited to join but volunteered to join the crew – lured by the custard creams? – and some have parents who want them to join no matter how well they work under their own steam. Some approach with the brisk step of enthusiasm, some have to be lassoed, some adopt a mournful drooping air to demonstrate that the effort required will not be easy to generate. Some come with a current love interest and hardly mind at all.
And they all do it in the developing knowledge that they are competing for every mark, for every grade with students everywhere, and that no matter how hard they work they might not get the 4 or 6 or 9. I tried to explain this to an interested non specialist representative of the intelligentsia last night. The logic eluded him. So you’re telling me that 90% might not necessarily be a grade 9? It might be 91% one year and 85% the next year? How does this help? How do you know what to tell them? ’. Good questions, sir. Come and watch us at work.
So the excitement and torture of adolescence is compounded by the swings and roundabouts of comparative outcomes: the excesses and exaggerations of press and the politics butt up against the despair and uncertainty of the way we live now. Last weekend another interlocutor, in the west, told me how posh Greenwich is, and Camberwell. And, in fact, Peckham. And everywhere else in south London, well-known fact, poverty’s over, children of austerity not in need. What are we all going on about? Good lord. Where to start? With the facts that the deprivation in London looks less because that in the north has got so much worse? As one might say to an opinionated but lazy A-level student: interesting view point. Come back when you’ve balanced the facts and we’ll talk then.
Scepticism and clarity are required skills of the day job. We have to hear the pronouncements of the young through the ears of age. You say you want to go to the toilet, but I think you’re just trying to avoid work. You may indeed have left your homework at home, but chances are that your bedroom is a stranger both to book and biro. You say you were prevented from getting to school on time by a tiger on the pavement, but it hasn’t been on the news so we’ll assume you weren’t. You promise to start revising for the mocks, but every indicator in the universe suggests that you won’t get started before you’re 25. It’s not that we don’t believe you, just that we’ve heard it all before and we know better than you do what you might possibly mean, and why. We trust and disbelieve at the same time, supporting and punishing, interpreting.
I hope that the election allows us to think. I hope it is conducted plainly and honestly. I hope that it is focused on the good of all and the best for a happy, safe and united society. Heads have been sent about three versions of the public sector advice about not being partisan in our professional capacity during this time of increased trial, so I hope our trustworthiness is repaid in kind. I hope we can go forward, safely towards some sort of peace together.
Two year 13s dressed in black were so obsessed with an argument about graphs that one walked into a wall and the other into me. I said, loving the graph-work, but have a care for the fixtures and the elderly. I know you didn’t mean it but there’s more to life than winning an argument. Is that bipartisan enough?