From time to time I read a book, an article, or a text of one kind or another, that has me reaching for the Rennies. It doesn't happen often, as I am one of those tolerant chaps, more than willing to switch off the crap detector in the interests of broadening my mind.
Like many other readers of the Observer, I waded through two whole pages summarising the book All Must Have Prizes by that newspaper's journalist Melanie Phillips. Since then I have read the book as well.
At first, I was more than a bit upset at the sustained attack on education it contained, but before long I felt quite excited at the birth of a new genre.
For those who have never read any of Melanie Phillips's vitriol about education, here is a sample from the book: "But the teachers' task is therefore now all but impossible, not least because their own professional culture has become subverted by the self-destructive orthodoxy of moral and cultural relativism, the doctrine that no value or activity can be held to be any better or worse than any other."
No value or activity can be held to be any better or worse than any other? Now I don't know about you, but I have never actually met a teacher who believes anything of the sort. We have 400,000 teachers in our schools, so I wonder where these weird people are who apparently believe that murder, arson, violence, theft, or torture, cannot "be held to be any better or worse" than unselfishness, kindness, friendship, virtue, or loving care.
The "evidence" in the book to support these kinds of assertions consists substantially of dozens of footnotes, called variously Conversation with author, Correspondence with author, or Author's sources. Figures called "political insiders" flit in and out, and there is uncritical reproduction of the views of right-wing think-tanks.
The national curriculum, according to Melanie, was established by what she calls "progressive revolutionaries". Teachers objected to tests because they were afraid they would be seen to have failed.
Yet for the first time in our history, both people in charge of the curriculum and assessment councils were from the Number 10 policy unit. Far from being the cause of curriculum chaos, it was teachers and others working in education who predicted most of it before the national curriculum was ever introduced.
Julian Haviland, in his book Take Care, Mr Baker!, analysed all the responses, - nearly 12,000 of them - to the 1987 national curriculum consultation document. He pointed out at the time that every single respondent, even those in favour of a national curriculum, rejected the model being proposed.
What is exciting, however, is the brand new style of book that All Must Have Prizes represents. The "Melaniflips" genre offers an immense liberation. Think of a few prejudices, quote some of your mates, and you're away. I could scarcely wait to write my very own Melaniflips.
All Must Have Earache A new Melaniflips by Ted Wragg
Don't you just hate loud pop music? Like most peoplel, I certainly do. It can drive you mad2. The vast majority of those who play pop music at a high volume are probably idiots who should be strung up3. I bet the next generation will be born with transistor radios welded to their ear lobes!
I've been looking into the scientific evidence on this one. My mate Alf Dubbins says he thinks it's the long hair some young people have nowadays. If your hair grows too long it bungs up your ears so you can't hear. According to Alf4 this makes it highly likely that your ears will simply drop off and you'll need a transistor radio instead.
In fact, he's got a pal, Fred Gubbins, who swears he's actually seen a lad with a radio instead of ears, when he was on holiday in Skegness5 last year. I've been to Skegness myself, but I've never actually seen the lad in question. But then, I can't stand Skegness ever since a job lot of bird dung landed on my new jacket6 as I walked along the seafront.
The trouble with modern youth is they make far too much noise. They're always chattering in class when they're at school. After they leave, they get a car and everybody7 complains like mad when they turn their car hi-fi up to maximum volume.
I would go so far as to say that the evidence against modern youth is now one 100 per cent solid8. The only answer is for youth to be closed down completely until they've grown up and are as sensible and as old as my friends9 and me.
There is no doubt who is to blame for all this. It's the teachers' fault10.
1 eg D Duck in a Disney cartoon, I forget the title now, when the three little ducks made a lot of noise and he shouted at them.
2 D Duck again, op cit (I think he threw something at them).
3 Conversation with taxi driver, somewhere near Charing Cross, circa April l995.
4 Dubbins, A in conversation with the author and a little bloke in a trilby hat, Pig and Whistle saloon bar, late l995 or early 1996.
5 Gubbins, F postcard to Dubbins, A from Skegness, August l995.
6 Communication with seagull, July 1991 7 My dad, most days from 1956 to 1989.
8 Author's sauce, 1996.
9 Dubbins, A and Gubbins, F again.
10 Phillips, Melanie (1996) All Must Have Prizes, almost any page.