Posts tagged: reading

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there have been major cultural and technological changes so that among the young those oh so dull and boring books have been replaced by the far more enticing matters of texting, the web and DVDs.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?

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