It has not been a good couple of weeks – clearly the fault of Mercury retrograde (it's not really going backwards but Earth is overtaking its trajectory). And as astrologers know, this is a time when communications go haywire and issues repeat themselves.
So: shower spectacularly conked out. Car tyres needed adjustment. Energy bills continued to show the old address. And to crown it all (not that 'crown' is a good word for us Republicans), I've now caught a second horrible cold and chest infection from my dear granddaughter, just after I shook off the previous one. Olivia bounced back after 24 hours – me and her dad have had fever, sore throats, chest and sinuses, and a general feeling of misery.
Now, if I were a positive person, I could rationalise all this. I have another shower (this house was designed for clean freaks as it has a 'family bathroom', an ensuite – housing the recalcitrant shower – and a downstairs toilet) and the wonderful Niall from beautiful downtown Banchory has agreed to come and sort it out – probably with a new one but I'm not thinking about that yet! Ditto wonderful Grahame sorted out the tyres and refused to take money as 'air is free' – although his time isn't. After much email coming and going, Octopus Energy sorted out my address anomaly. At the time of writing, I am still coughing, sneezing and feverish – but it's not Covid as I tested myself.
My problem is that essentially I'm not a positive person – I do try to think of 'those worse off than me', while the late Mr B used to explode: 'I don't flipping well care about them – I care about my
problem'. And so I found myself addressing the universe and asking it if it could see fit to making something nice
happen for me. Yet there are a hell of a lot of people who are really worse off and don't have anything positive happening at all.
I can well understand why such people start to take drugs. If you have no job, no purpose in life and have grown up in a dysfunctional family, your regular injection of whatever drug is available is your happy place. It's seen as the universe's way of giving you at least one pleasant experience that day. And if there's nothing else on offer, why not?
But as I used to tell my son when he was offered drugs, governments – especially of the right-wing variety – are delighted if young, disaffected people take drugs, as it prevents their realising that by taking political action they can change things for the better. If Marx did indeed say 'religion is the opiate of the people', he might now suggest that opiates are the people's religion.
Some people, like Darren McGarvey, aka Loki, have bucked the trend. He is proactive in speaking for the disaffected when other members of his family have fallen foul of the legal system. Interesting that in Norse mythology, Loki was the trickster god, like Hermes/Mercury in the classical pantheon, who got what he wanted by turning reality on its head and not accepting the role that was offered to him. There are probably many more people like Darren who, with a bit of help, could become proactive in creating a fairer society, but sadly the rich kids who are 'career politicians' have the wherewithal to grab power for themselves and hang onto it like grim death.
Trying to be positive, I am cheered by the number of young, and not so young, people who are refusing to be taken in by the way the current royal family seeks to channel the monarchy archetype, recognising it's more than an anomaly that so many people are struggling to pay bills, yet an obscenely rich individual is expending millions on an outdated and moribund institution.
It seems like every year at this time I see a significant number of comments on the various internet platforms about the futility of the exam system and how it doesn't measure ability. Of course it doesn't – it just measures the ability to pass exams. Same with IQ tests – IQ is not a signifier of intelligence but of the ability to score highly on IQ tests – written by people with 'high IQs'. Thankfully, we are now giving much greater recognition to the idea that some people are 'neurodivergent' and learn differently from the majority. Yet why do we stick to an outdated system that only measures short-term memory and the ability to think like the examiner?
I can admit it now – as I don't think the powers that be will come and dig up my garden (although actually it needs a bit of digging over) – that when I worked in higher education we had to devise 'model answers' for every question, and to mark them accordingly. Except that I didn't – if the students had read my question in a different way and had some interesting points to make I would pass them. The same thing must have happened in my son's Higher English exam. Being dyslexic, he needed me to explain the plot line of the frightful Sunset Song
and, quoting my slightly biased opinion, he wrote: 'This dysfunctional family should have been referred to the 1900's version of Social Services'. I can only think the marker shared that view for he passed the exam.
Seriously, it's surely better to have a system like Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) where a student is either competent or not yet competent, and the responsibility is given back to them to demonstrate their competence in whatever way suits them and the subject they are studying. And having to 'defend' your work in an oral exam, as PhD candidates have to, would be more labour intensive but it would remove at a stroke the ability of students to cheat. It would also make them feel they were part of the assessment process rather than having it imposed on them. Maybe any educator reading this could tell me why it couldn't work?
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant