We live in a changing world – no shit, Sherlock!
Last year I had a meeting with the leader of the nursery school my youngest boy was attending. The school is a small cheerful place and the attendants are lovely, and meetings like these were a chance to hear how your wee one is progressing; all pretty informal, so not something to dread. That was until my last visit when I was assured that at 3 – 4 years old, all children at the nursery school were developing the skills they would need for careers in the future.
Let me just reiterate that incase you missed it. Some policy-wonk thinks it a good idea to encourage skills for working life among nursery school children.
I knew that the previous Labour administration had floated the idea that primary school children as young as 6 should be encouraged to think about future employment prospects. And I had, of coursed, advised my first-born (who was at that time five years old) that should anybody ask him what career he had in mind for the future, he should say without hesitation that he wanted to be a Jedi Knight.
In my own line of work as a university lecturer I am encouraged to embed ‘employability’ into my teaching, but Jesus, I never imagined for one moment that there were such sick, twisted, fucks out there who’d force such nonsense upon infants.
I stood in that once lovely nursery, looking forlornly at the building blocks and sand-pit, now stripped of their childish innocence, signifying only the ugly machinations of an adult world that can conceive of kids as nothing more than little economic units to be pressed into production. Fuck, I was depressed.
Then I looked at the children gathered around the dressing up box, putting on little costumes – miniature police and nurses’ uniforms, Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam costumes – and I noticed my own child dressed as a bear. Bollocks!
Happily he has survived nursery school and last month started the local primary. New uniform, all spick ‘n’ span. Lovely. Until we received a booklet all about the curriculum. It’s the sort of literature that government departments produce that are meant to reassure you that they have everything under control and everyone’s best interests at heart. In this instance it struck fear in me. On the opening page I learned that: “We live in a changing world. Our children will have more career choices than we did. To succeed, our children need to be able to respond to change and apply their knowledge and skills in a range of situations.”
Behind the bland gov-speak lies a message: our children are the equivalent of cannon fodder for the economy.
It’s when governments and institutions feel the need to state the blindingly obvious that I worry – ‘We live in a changing world.’ You’d be worried if we didn’t. You’d think there was something up if history stopped and everything stayed just as it was. I’m sure our parents and their parents (our grandparents, in case you’re struggling with that) knew that the world changed, moved on, kept rolling round the sun. So when some government pamphlet feels the need to mention it I know that I’m being softened up for something. And so I am. The message is that my child (and your child) need to malleable little pawns or face social oblivion.
When I first encountered this sort of horse-shit at university in the guise of ‘employability’ I was, quite frankly, confused. Employability? Had universities been producing unemployable people for decades and we’d only found out now? Were there masses of graduates without an inkling of how to get work. Of course not. Employability isn’t really about helping people get jobs it’s about instructing them in the ways of a new economic order where they need to internalise notions of flexibility and precariousness. It’s about producing a subjectivity that doesn’t expect security and welfare – a person who can embrace their own alienation.
WE LIVE IN A CHANGING WORLD.
STAND BY FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.
BE READY TO RESPOND AS COMMANDED.
So as the youngest paddled off into his classroom for the first time, I had rather mixed feelings. The first day of school is always a landmark occasion: a right of passage, if you like. But I also felt like I was feeding him into a machine that doesn’t appreciate or care for his humanity just his utility.