Random musings from the front line (well, more like the support trench, or perhaps the castle 10 miles away, supping Chateau Lafite with the General Staff) in the battle for curiosity, inertia, grammar and a Dachshund called Colin.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Cream of the Nation's Youth?

Duh - I wonder if Colonel Nelson Mandela had one of these at Waterloo?"One of the many fascinating and rewarding facets of my varied and interesting work is that I have the privilege of working with young people on a regular basis, all of whom are students at two of the finest Higher Education establishments in the UK."

Effectively, that is the precis of the testimonial part of the job description that was forwarded to me when I was nominated for my current job, and I was genuinely relieved that my predecessor seemed so satisfied in his work, as it would have been awful to have to take over from a disillusioned short-tempered cynic...

Unfortunately, and I am ashamed to admit such an enormous failing, I had completely missed the sarcasm employed by the disillusioned short-tempered cynic who used to do my job when he wrote those words. What he meant to have written was something along the lines of:

One of the many frustrating aspects of my time-consuming and underpaid compulsory posting is having to tolerate the ever-changing whims of the ungrateful and immature products of a failing education system, as they are processed by one of the worst universities in the world.
Those of you (both of you, I should say) who read my blog have realised that my career is of a nautical persuasion. In keeping with the anonymity that blogs allow, I shall not elaborate any further as to my exact line of work but (unfortunately for me) the truth is slightly more mundane that I would otherwise wish, and I am currently anchored on the campus of a red brick (more "white tile", in places) university. At the beginning of every academic year (ie now) I am called upon to sit on an interview panel convened by the faculty in which I work, assessing new undergraduates' knowledge of current affairs, general knowledge and overall "potential" for future great things.

So, it came to pass that last week I sat behind a desk asking 50 or so fresh-faced (and not so fresh-faced) new students such insightful questions as "Where are the Conservatives holding their conference?", and "Who is Donald Rumsfeld?". Apart from the initial shock that most of my interviewees were born in 1987 (aaaaaaaaargh), the largest surprise to me was the sheer narrow ignorance of the world in general that most of these people displayed. Without giving you an entire run-down of last week, here are some of the comments and answers that supposedly intelligent young people (all of whom were awarded at least ABC at A-Levels in order to be accepted onto the course in the first place) gave to the board:

  • Q. Who is Walter Wolfgang?
    A. Was he the character played by Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf?
  • Q. How many people are in the UK Armed Forces?
    A. About 3 million?
    Q. Er - no, you're a little out there.
    A. OK then - 3 billion?
  • Q. What was the last book you read? (Most people replied "The Da Vinci Code". Sigh)
    A. FHM
    Q. I was thinking more of a novel...
    A. Oh. (long pause) Does the Highway Code count?
  • Q. (Having correctly identified 2005 as being the 200th anniversary) Tell me about the Battle of Trafalgar.
    A. OK, so you had a General in the Army, called Nelson Mandela, who fought the French in a big sea battle at Waterloo that was called Trafalgar.
  • Q. What was the biggest news story that caught your eye this week?
    A. Kate Moss taking drugs.
    Q. What do you think about that then?
    A. It's a bloody disgrace - her dealer will never get any trade now 'cos he'll be followed by the papparazzi. Poor bloke.

And so it went on. I was - in turn - amused, frustrated, saddened and (at the end of 3 days) resigned to it. I don't offer much in the way of social commentary about this, other than - what went wrong? When did young people stop caring about what's going on in the world? And surely half these half wits would be better off doing something vocational and useful, rather than getting horribly into debt for 3 years just so New Labour can meet their arbitrary 50% figure for 6th formers going to University. I need a cheap taxpayer-subsidised drink.

14 Rants & Replies:

Blogger WordWhiz said...

Very funny! You've got quite the sense of humor. (humour?) Nice to know you suffer with the same frustrating teens we endure over on this side of the pond!!

10:36 am, October 12, 2005

Blogger Wyndham said...

Those answers remind me of the late, great Sir Les of Dennis who, every time he's interviewed, has to trot out his favourite Family Fortunes answers.

"Name me a long-legged bird..."
"Naomi Campbell!"
Cue studio laughter. Sir Les of Dennis mugs to the audience and thinks gleefully of his future It'll Be Alright On The Night XXII repeat royalty payments.

3:16 pm, October 12, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

The difference is, Wyndham, that these particular answers were given in good faith. Unless I'm the victim of an elaborate undercover TV show where young actors are trained to give monumentally stupid answers in the hope I blog about them!

4:37 pm, October 12, 2005

Blogger garfer said...

These fuckwits should be sent to workhouses, not told that they are graduate material.
Q What's a footnote?
A Is it a tattoo that you get done on your ankle?

8:18 pm, October 12, 2005

Blogger patroclus said...

Hmm, as I recall, my (taxpayer-funded) student days in the early 90s were spent in a non-stop frenzy of drinking, smoking, shagging, consuming all manner of narcotics, rioting, getting tear-gassed in Park Lane and attending all-night raves. It shows. I don't know who Walter Wolfgang is, either.

5:06 am, October 13, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

Ah, but Miss P, I bet that before you did all those things you were still the inquiring type with a fairly good smattering of general knowledge and current affairs. Such as who Walter Wolfgang is!

5:16 pm, October 13, 2005

Blogger patroclus said...

Oh, er, *him*. Cough. I knew that. In my defence, I do know who Gordon Moore is. Does that count?

6:57 pm, October 13, 2005

Blogger Sal said...

when? consider how rotten the society already was, to so resoundingly leap upon the opportunity to be able to hold the State responsible for every major part of life and hence themselves Not Responsible, by voting in Attlee in a landslide in 1945. it's nothing new, mate.

10:28 pm, October 13, 2005

Blogger Sal said...

(sorry, not sure how good your history is. attlee introduced formally the "free" nanny state)

10:29 pm, October 13, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

I knew about Atlee, but that seems to label everyone born after 1927 as being ignorant. I would prefer to think that this is a recent development, thus allowing me to feel smugly superior about the very narrow generational gap that exists between myself and the "little darlings" with whom I have the pleasure to work. Otherwise, I must be dumb.

12:01 pm, October 14, 2005

Blogger Sal said...


from my (aussie) perspective, very few people are aware of anything outside their world. the questions you cite here just show different worlds, not a difference in approach. what's important to them is not important to you. and they have a very different set of resources made available to them compared to when you grew up. libraries, for example, don't really exist in england any more, nor do sporting facilities. and schools' history curriculum is in a practical sense restricted to postWWII for most of the UK's students, according to a teacher ex-gf of mine.

and what happened to england's public toilets, for that matter? a question asked with crosslegged bewilderment by 9 out of 10 tourists.

1:11 pm, October 14, 2005

Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I know who Bobby Moore is (was). Does that count?

Merkin - you've quite shattered my illusions. I had you down as a jolly nautical jack tar, dancing hornpipes on the heaving seas with a clay pipe in your gob and occasionally getting marooned on distant tropical islands full of girls with not a lot of clothes on.

'We joined the navy, to see the sea...

And what did we see? We saw the sea.'

1:37 pm, October 14, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

Sal - The Isle of Man has some plentiful fantastic conveniences - highly recommended..

Mark - repiece your shattered illusions - you had me down correctly. Unfortunately, I am on temporary secondment....

2:49 pm, October 14, 2005

Blogger Juggling Mother said...

Sal- libraries still exist, but at very limited hours - but I beg to differ on sports venues, these are on the up & comparitively cheaper now than 10 years ago.

Still I agree that these answers show a difference in interests rather than total apathy (in most cases). Ask them their opinion on the smoking law & I'm sure they'll be able to answer at great length!

Also, possibly not the right course for current affairs - try politics, law or media studies for that. Young People "of the nautical persuasion" are probably hoping to get away from land as much as possible anyway!

7:02 pm, October 20, 2005


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