Saturday, October 20, 2012

A rant about the state of things today

I attended a school assembly with some relatives recently, as one of their children was receiving a certificate. The last time I was in a school assembly was at some point in the 1980s, where nobody received a certificate, and parents weren't allowed to attend. Instead, the terrifying Mrs Cheeseman would bang out hymns (containing lots of thees and thous) on her piano, daring us, just daring us not to sing enthusiastically enough. At least once a week she would bang her hands down on the keys in rage and then spend five minutes shouting at us that we must try harder. After more hymns, and prayers, if we were lucky, we'd get an inspirational story, usually The Good Samaritan. And if anyone had a birthday, they were allowed to come to the front and take a disgusting boiled sweet from a big plastic jar.

So I wondered how much school assemblies had changed since my childhood. The answer is - a lot.

The parents (and me) were all seated at the back of the school hall, and the children filed in. There was no 21st century Mrs Cheeseman playing the piano. There wasn't even a piano. Instead, music was piped through loud speakers via the internet, all manipulated by a 9 year old DJ. After the children had sat down, a song was sung. And no, it wasn't "Oh Jesus I Have Promised (To Serve Thee to the End)" or "Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let it Begin With Me)". Instead it was this.

As I am aged 105, I have never heard this song before, and as the "inspirational" lyrics progressed, my jaw started to fall wider and wider open.

Standing in the hall of fame
And the world's gonna know your name
Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world's gonna know your name
And you'll be on the walls of the hall of fame

So rather than being brainwashed by singing gentle songs about being humble and kind and wanting peace on earth, instead, today's children are brainwashed into wanting to be FAMOUS and A CELEBRITY! It was one of those moments when one of society's missing jigsaw pieces fell into place and I realised, "Ah, that's why!"

That's why he's so rich.

There was only one mention of God in the song, and that was in the line "You could talk to God, go banging on his door", which was held up as another example as how wonderful YOU could be. Somehow, I don't think God would be too impressed if you went banging on his door - but welcome to the 21st century God, you'd better get used to it - cos today's kids are loud, proud and are gonna hang out with you as part of their celebrity, name-dropping posse. It's gonna be you, them and The Beckhams.

I'm not remotely religious and think that like most things, religion can be used as a tool by misguided or nasty people to oppress others, but after hearing all these children screaming about how they could be the best and the world's gonna know their name, I would have welcomed a couple of hymns about what a nice guy Jesus is, and how it might be a nice idea to try to be a bit like him.

Then the certicate giving started. And oh, what a lot of children received certificates, for things like "trying REALLY hard" and "always giving 100%". The teachers gushed over their pupils in a way which I found embarrassing and even mildly creepy. The parade of certificates went on and on, until it started to feel as if more children received certificates than didn't. It was difficult not to contrast this mutual appreciation society with Mrs Cheeseman, impossible to impress ("You're ALL HOPELESS!"), telling us we're not leaving the assembly hall until we get the song right.

And next, it got even more weird and creepy. It was the "talent show" portion of the assembly. Various children got up and performed dance routines to "The Hits of Today". One routine stood out in my mind, as three girls, aged around 9, gyrated to a piece of R+B nonsense, the girl in the middle wearing a crop top that exposed her midriff.

I'm glad I don't have any children, because I would be constantly at their school complaining. I guess imbibing children with self-esteem and a competitive nature isn't awful, but it all seemed so... American. The messages I grew up with - be modest, put others first, be decent - have been replaced by "crush the competition and get 'em to notice ya!"

I expect I am hopelessly out of touch. After I subjected her to a rant last week, one of my students said to me "GET OFF MY LAWN!", likening me to grumpy Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.

I used to admire the image of Clint Eastwood as the silent avenger in those Spaghetti Westerns. Now, when I see him shouting at an empty chair, I just feel sad. But I guess that's the route I'm going down.


Michael said...

loved this post. Had me tittering over my wholemeal muslei

Paul Brownsey said...

I still rage to remember the nonsense at my grammar schools (1950s) about loyalty to the school and loyalty to one's 'house', it even being suggested that one was letting down the Old Boys who had died in the trenches if one did not care to turn up on Saturday mornings to support the school rugger teams. One gets the impression that at least the tots don't get that sort of thing in the dreadful new world (as distinct from the dreadful old world) of self-esteem-at-all-costs (leading the horrible children to think that whatever they do must be fine'n'dandy, if not excellent), sexy gyrating to pop songs and aspiring after FAME--not, it would appear, fame for doing something good like curing cancer but just, like, fame.

Paul Brownsey said...

Oh, and I forgot to say that a local newspaper had a gushing report about a local school which staged a come-to-school-as-a-celeb day for the primary kids.

That will get them wanting to be brain surgeons and writing great literature.

Child abuse takes many forms...

Lubin said...

There must have been a point when the old school values were dying out but the new ones hadn't taken on yet - a sweet spot perhaps. I place it at around the 1980s - and I think that's the first time I've ever argued for that decade!