Welcome to h-a-p-p-y valley

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Imagine a world where everyone is constantly being nice to everyone else. A world where nothing bad ever happens and the sun shines all the live long day.

Imagine a place where people constantly smile because they are h-a-p-p-y, and are constantly h-a-p-p-y because they smile. Imagine a workplace where everyone works together as one big jolly team, and as a result things just go on getting better and better.

Imagine a college where the students are polite, considerate and industrious (and of course h-a-p-p-y). A college where those same students are continuously winning awards, on receipt of which they unerringly declare that it was only possible because of the help and support they received from their teachers.

Now, doesn't that sound just like the college you work in? Come on, you know it does. You know it, because every week, fortnight or month (depending on the particular interval at which your college newsletter is published) you are told it does in glorious Technicolor.

Viewing a selection of such publications (as I have in recent weeks) makes for fascinating reading. And what jumps out at you from every page is that although they originate from a host of different colleges, they are all describing the same place!

Every college in the land, it seems, is suddenly awash with joy and contentment. And, with careful planning and resolute management (not to mention the hard work of the dear old lecturers), they will be even more joyful and contented in the future.

Why this should be is not difficult to discern. Because the function of these newsletters is not so much to inform as to enthuse. To glow. And while the colour mentioned above doesn't actually exist in most of them (colour printing being too expensive to waste on the staff) the prevailing style of writing makes it seem as if it does. This is a style that is curiously located somewhere between Enid Blyton and Pravda. And if Noddy may not actually be enrolled on a class in little red car maintenance, big brother (or sister) is certainly watching benignly over everyone.

Of course college newsletters are not the only good news publications you come across in our line of business. Education is awash with them - many emanating from government-funded organisations - all telling us how wonderful said organisations are. And it's not just education either. These days the part of London where I live looks more and more like Dodge City under Wyatt Earp than the beat that Dixon of Dock Green once trod. Within a stone's throw of my home there have been three horrific murders in the past month, two of them involving firearms.

There then pops through my door The Londoner, a freeby direct from the office of Uncle Ken, billed as "News from the Mayor of London". Page one tells me that "Police numbers reach an all time high", while the lead on page 2 declares: "Street crime down by 29 per cent". All right, so I voted for the man, but I didn't realise at the time that I was voting for his news sanitising unit as well.

In the midst of all this, one can't help but wonder if the propaganda barrage really has increased of late, or is it just that we notice it more now?

By chance I unearthed the other day a yellowing document from the college where I was working in the late 1970s. The first thing that struck me was its title: College Newsletter. Today they all have trendy one-word titles like Slam, Grab, Tell, Speak or Listen - though the one from the leafy suburban campus called Parc clearly has an editor with a subversive sense of humour and a lively interest in backslang!

What also I couldn't help noticing, was how amateurish this journalistic relic looked by today's standards. There was a section called poets'

corner, for instance, where "Les from print services" struggled to find rhymes around the theme of staggering your photocopying orders. (For the record he managed borders, hoarders and "bloody mourders"!) And the principal, who seemed to have written at least half of the cyclostyled pages himself, clearly hadn't been on any of those self-presentation courses that turn today's bosses into caring, sharing clones. "I'm the leader, you're the led, do as you're told or you're out on your ear" was the prevailing tone.

But while the presentation has become that much more slick and professional, has the product described really improved so much in the past 25 years?

Everything in the garden - our gardens - is rosy, we are constantly being told. So have we all just dreamt that there are now fewer of us doing more work than ever before? Or that the hours are longer and the pay less?

To put it another way, does FE-spin really work? Do we, the consumers of Slam, Bang or (Cods)Wallop really feel cared for, shared with and thoroughly invested in? Are we, in short, h-a-p-p-y?

Are we hell!

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