Property boom and educational bust

By , 26 March 2010 7:03 pm

Anyone hoping to acquire news of scandals for the basis of some novel or play would, I fear, be sadly disappointed by the college that I work at. Unless I am extraordinarily blind and deaf, the worst I can come up with is a little bit of lax timekeeping and rumours of slight indiscretions after excessive alcohol indulgence at Christmas parties. The gossip is astonishingly, even mind-numbingly, bland. (And that is no bad thing.) Yet what does surface during coffee and lunch breaks on a recurrent basis are the loud grumbles and moans about the falling abilities and reluctance to learn of many of our students. Now this is a most difficult and debatable matter but it is undeniable, as I’m sure I have commented before, that reading – that most fundamental of skills – is in an astonishing and almost terrifying decline. Indeed, we may only be a few years away from the end of the book age.

It is interesting to try and tease out what has happened with our once literate culture. It is undeniable that there have been major cultural and technological changes so that among the young those oh so dull and boring books have been replaced by the far more enticing matters of texting, the web and DVDs. And the less you read, the less you want to read. Yet there is more than this and we have had some interesting discussions in our office about how you could reverse the trend. There has been general agreement that one very helpful thing would be for young children to be regularly read to at home. Yet here we come to a significant problem; children do not get read to because many households are either single parent or (more commonly) there is no spare time for the parent to actually read to the child. And why is there no spare time? The answer is that both mummy and daddy have to work in order to pay the mortgage. And here friends, as elsewhere in the mess that is modern Britain, we come to what is surely the most iniquitous thing to have happened for a long time; the ‘boom in housing’.

Somehow, during the 60s (maybe earlier) domestic property in Britain no longer became a roof over your head but a commodity to be bought and traded. House prices rose and those who had bought houses were happy because they made money out of what is surely a human right. And as the prices rose, people bought houses for no other reason than it was a good investment. And with an increasing demand for houses, some of which were never fully occupied, house prices were inevitably pushed up. Of course, in order for anybody to afford houses meant that the wages had to rise so that British goods somehow became more expensive and other nations managed to steal our markets. It became financially almost ruinous for a wife to spend too long looking after the children so, as lamented above, both ended up working with a resultant stress on family and children. I suspect that the phenomenon of booze-fuelled British youth, now, one gathers, as widely feared across the continent, as our armies under Marlborough and Wellington once were, is largely attributable to this cause. Now we find that the average house price in Britain is well over £100,000 and we have a son and daughter-in-law in central London paying nearly one and a half thousand pounds a month just in rent. Our Chancellor has just announced the easing of the tax duty for first-time buyers on properties over £250,000!

The law of unintended consequences has once more worked to terrible effect. Interestingly, no one seems to have any idea of how to put the genie back in the bottle. Yet I cannot believe that they were not those, and no doubt a number of them were Christians, who quietly said when this whole process started that ‘this will lead to no good’. Were we silent because we felt we were naïve? Or were we silent because, at least in the short term, we saw profit for ourselves? And perhaps more worryingly, what other disastrous social trends are we quietly and dully allowing to happen that will give the next generation some more pieces to pick up?

6 Responses to “Property boom and educational bust”

  1. george says:

    So for those of us who want to read more, not less, what should we read? what’s in your top ten reading list?

  2. Matthew says:

    Hello Chris, been a while since I’ve commented. After reading the following, “It is undeniable that there have been major cultural and technological changes so that among the young those oh so dull and boring books have been replaced by the far more enticing matters of texting, the web and DVDs.”, I’m wondering what your take would be on the book series that attempts to resurrect some of those classics, but give them an “exciting” new dressing that may appeal to audiences today. “Pride and Prejudice – and Zombies”, as well as “Sense and Sensibility – and sea monsters” takes these classic books and attempts to jazz them up. See the following link if you or your audience is curious:
    My wife and I (my wife having read all of Jane Austen’s work) are appalled by this trend – which by all accounts, seems to be picking up momentum. It even appears that Hollywood may attempt to turn it into a movie. I’m reminded of your own Lamb Amongst the Stars books where characters began twisting old works in order to make them better, or more suited for their modern tastes. Speculative Fiction paving the way for reality once again? :)

  3. ChrisW says:

    Hmm. Two responses requiring two separate answers. George, well I could give you a list of my top 10 but the sad truth is that I’m not actually doing a lot of reading lately. What with college work, the blog, doing the odd sermon and trying to get some thoughts down on new books, reading has sort of slipped off the agenda. Its my loss. What I would say though is that it is always worth reading quality writing; stories that tell a tale and tell it well. I have very little time for modern experimental fiction; probably because I have no desire to be a laboratory rat. if you are at all planning to write, then I think it is incumbent upon you to try and read the best in the genre, rather than the worst. There is no point in reading bad writing; you will only acquire poor habits (bad) or feel superior ( probably even worse).

    Matthew: you can probably imagine my response. We seem to be unable to produce great art so all we can do is tinker with the achievements of the past. It seems the literary equivalent of scrawling a moustache on the Mona Lisa; the sheer effrontery of it is amusing for a few seconds and then we are just irritated. What truly appalled me was some comment about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I think it was from the editor) saying that this would ‘help introduce Austin’s timeless classic to a new generation of readers’. There are words for that sort of thing and it’s not on a Christian blog site. He/she could have been honest and said ‘hey we’re just trying to make money from this’ but to wrap it up as being in defence of art struck me as appalling. Sometime I really ought to blog on the cult of the vampire….

  4. Matthew says:

    I’ve read some great works recently that I’d recommend.

    For the theological minded: “The Narnian” by Alan Jacobs – if you’re curious about what motivated C.S. Lewis. You may wish to follow this with “Lilith” by George MacDonald (published 1895). An author of early allegorical fiction which C.S. Lewis sites as a “master”.
    For deep thinking and words laced with impact and gravitas, many puritan writers like Jonathan Edwards are very satisfying.

    History: Peter Padfield’s “Himmler” was a heavy, but fascinating read into possibly understanding the mind of atrocity.

    Modern Fantasy: Cecilia Dart Thornton “Bitterbynde Trilogy”, starting with the “Ill-Made Mute” – beautiful language and writing. I’ve read nothing quite like Thornton’s work, which in many ways makes me think of the flowing, lyrical qualities of much earlier authors.

    I’m currently reading what I often think of as the sugar sweets of writing – Science Fiction. Alastair Reynolds has captured my attention, and I’ve enjoyed “Century Rain” and “Chasm City”.

  5. Catherine Brislee says:

    Hmmm… recommend a book. Isn’t that a bit like saying “I have decided to take up Zoology; can you recommend an animal?” (However, thanks for the sci-fi suggestions, Matthew, have you tried Kim Stanley Robinson? And you’ve read ‘Lilith’! I thought I was the only one!)

    I read because my parents read to me, my parents read a lot themselves and often discussed books with us kids, and I always got presents of books at birthdays and Christmas. So I guess that’s parents, parents and parents. I think I was very lucky in that my family spent time together when I was a child and we all talked to each other (and argued!). Everyone’s lives are so busy now that even the best parents must find this hard to manage. I hadn’t thought of this as connected to expensive housing – it certainly makes sense.

  6. K says:

    If you’re looking for a good work on a troubled Christian, I suggest The Ambiguity of Good by Saul Frielander, if you can find it in your local library. It’s about S.S. officer Kurt Gerstein, an evangelical Christian in the 1940’s. Gerstein joined the S.S. to sabotage what it was doing, but in order to try to save millions, he ended up being responsible for the death of thousands. Truly heartbreaking spiritual biography.

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