... for how to make everything better.
Some ramblings that have been wandering around my brain for five or ten years, finally nudged onto
I have a theory of how to improve society, get children better educated, reduce truancy, etc. But given that it involves in some ways turning the clock back fifty years I know it ain't gonna happen.
My plan: Everyone goes to school till they're fourteen; you get taught to read, write and add up, a bit of critical thinking, a bit of how to spot bullshit a mile off, a bit of history in a very macro "this is why it's relevant" kind of way, some basic geography, science and statistics, a bit of how to cook, sew, build and repair things, and rather a lot of how to contribute to society and manage your health, your finances - should you ever have any - and your house and your children ditto. (Oh, and if your "first language" is not English, you're encouraged to see it as an advantage rather than a disability, and they find ways of helping you share it). Because it’s really astonishing how little of any use they actually teach most people in the first ten years of compulsory education, and I'm sure they could cram in a lot more if they didn’t have to worry about league tables and exam technique and the kind of stuff that's only useful if you're going to do a degree in the subject.
So then you leave school at fourteen and you spend between four and ten years doing whatever jobs, menial or otherwise, an untrained fourteen-year-old can do - bearing in mind that until relatively recently (1930s) almost everyone left school at fourteen and I don’t think today’s ninety-year-olds have suffered that much from it.
During this period you do your growing up. I know for a fact that I could have done a lot better at university - like getting the first they told me I was capable of instead of the 2ii I ended up with - if I hadn’t been growing up at the time and learning to cope with finances, housekeeping, relationships etc at the same time.
Then the really important bit: everyone who wants to has the absolute right to go back to school for up to four more years free education, going into chosen subjects in more depth, designed to fit them for particular jobs or for university. (And in the meantime someone, somewhere, has a long hard think about whether the country really needs every single nurse, every single journalist, every single teacher, accountant and art historian to have a degree).
So you get to do your growing up while working at the kind of job you never have to revise for, or think about out of hours. You do your hours, you go home, you go out and do stupid teenage things with your mates, you pay your rent and you buy stupid teenage stuff with money you’ve earned for yourself. And by the end of your four to ten years, you know yourself a bit better, you know whether you are suited to more education, and you know whether you would rather have a boring job that allows you to have a (possibly poverty-stricken) life, or whether you would prefer a higher-paying job that is your life. (I’m sure there are many points in between, but those are the two I’m familiar with).
So there you go - my big idea. Of course, the old-fashioned seven-year apprenticeships (from about age fourteen to twenty-one) in some ways provided quite a lot of what I’ve described here. That system was never tested by modern educational theorists, though, and it only worked for about five hundred years, so we mustn’t assume it was necessarily a good system.