There have been occasions when I have found myself arguing with the radio. Now before you say anything, yes I do know that it is completely irrational to get involved in a debate with an inanimate object, even when the broadcast voice has become the source of some annoyance. However, I sometimes find the experience cathartic, even though I know it has no real impact. Having over the course of thirty eight years of marriage become accustomed to this somewhat eccentric ranting, Sara normally sighs and raises her eyebrows at this familiar and largely harmless behaviour, or at times when it seems to be verging on the extreme she may remind me that whilst the voice from the box has raised my hackles, my own contribution to this non-existent dialogue will have absolutely no effect whatever.
Before you become alarmed by the strangeness of my actions I should, in my defence, state that this aberration is not a daily occurrence. Most breakfast times in the Rose household are passed quietly over the muesli, listening passively to the morning news without recourse to such idiosyncratic dealings. Unfortunately yesterday’s breakfast was not passed so quietly.
Perhaps you, like me, may find some expressions that have passed into common usage within the English language particularly grating. The kind of expressions that particularly irritate me are those that damn with faint praise and often have a hidden barb – “she did very well – for an older woman”, “a good performance – for a boy from the back streets of Liverpool” – you get the idea. In recent years one such expression is “stacking shop shelves in TESCOs”. For those of you who may possibly be unaware, TESCO is the name of a large chain of supermarkets to be found in most towns and cities across England. Let me be clear, I have no difficulties with TESCO or any other supermarket chain for that matter, but I have grown weary of the implications that have become associated with the phrase “stacking shop shelves in TESCOs”. The reason for this is simple; the expression has become synonymous with failure. The implication of the expression is that if you are completely useless, incapable of doing anything else, you are likely to end up stacking shelves in the supermarket.
Yesterday I heard the expression twice. In the first instance, on a morning radio news magazine programme a politician stated that young people were making bad decisions in choosing what they should study at university. Too many are apparently choosing esoteric subjects such as drama and archaeology with limited career prospects with the result that many could well find no better employment than “stacking shop shelves in TESCOs”. On the same day, but a different radio programme a journalist suggested that many young people leaving our schools today have such poor levels of literacy and numeracy that they are unable to acquire “decent” jobs and were likely to find themselves (yes, you guessed) “stacking shop shelves in TESCOs”.
Why is it that these two seemingly trivial comments have got me (as Sara would say) hot under the collar? Well, let me explain. In the first instance I have never believed that studying for a degree should have a purely utilitarian purpose. Whilst it is important that young people attend universities to gain the skills required to become doctors, teachers or engineers, preparation for the work place is not the sole function of these institutions. Whilst there may be fewer opportunities to employ graduates of ancient English, Sanskrit, medieval history or palaeontology, the importance of maintaining and increasing knowledge in these areas is essential in ensuring that we continue to be able to interpret the world in which we live and gain new understandings of the development of civilisation. Students gaining degrees in these apparently “esoteric” areas of study are also developing transferable skills of learning, investigation, interpretation and communication which mean that even if they do not find careers directly labelled with their areas of study they are still able to make a contribution to the societies in which they will live and work.
It is however, a second consideration of this abominable expression “stacking shop shelves in TESCOs” that gives me greater cause for concern. When customers arrive at the supermarket I am sure that they want to find that the shelves are well stocked in an orderly manner, with goods well displayed and easily accessible. The people who are performing this task are providing a service to their community, for which I suspect they are poorly paid. If this task was not done I would imagine that many customers, and possibly this would include those very politicians and journalists who appear to see shelf stacking as a worthless occupation, would complain bitterly.
In our modern society we need highly skilled medical personnel, dedicated teachers, compassionate nurses, truthful politicians and honest bankers. I would contend that we also need waiters, auto rickshaw drivers, street cleaners and yes, supermarket shelf stackers who are committed to their work and proud of the service they provide to their community. If we as a society begin to accept that it is right to demean those individuals who offer these kinds of services, perhaps we do not deserve to have those services provided to us. Rather than belittling their achievements why don’t we all make a point of saying thank you when next we see them at their work.
I thought, (I hear some of you saying) this blog was about inclusive education! Hasn’t this piece rather wandered off track? Not at all, I would argue. I wonder – if we are committing ourselves to an education that is inclusive, don’t we perhaps need to ask questions about how well prepared society is to adopt more inclusive attitudes?
Incidentally, before I am accused of giving too much publicity to TESCO, I should perhaps point out that Sara and I do our weekly shopping at Sainsburys.
Today’s blog felt a little bit like arguing with the radio. Glad to get that off my chest, – very cathartic!
All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio goo goo
Radio ga ga
All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio blah blah
Radio what’s new?
Radio, someone still loves you!