Sunday 20 August 2017

Can't get a job? Then just build an international airport next to you

We should stick to building things we can't afford and don't need and leave the Leaving alone, says Cathal McCarthy

RAISE your mugs! Slainte! Whether that was a recession (your neighbour lost his job) or depression (you lost your job), I'm announcing that it's over. It's finished. Get out of the house and go down the town or out to the shopping centre. Breathe free. Laugh out loud. Buy something.

How can I be so sure that it's over?

Last Tuesday, the Irish Times reported that "a plan to build an international airport in Co Offaly has cleared the first hurdle after a decision by An Bord Pleanala to grant it 'strategic infrastructure' status".

There are plans to build an international airport in Offaly. International. Airport. Offaly.

Picture the scene. Mikey and Mary come home to the traditional thatched duplex in Windsor Downs, a visually stunning development on the outskirts of Banagher overlooking the tyre dump where the hotel and golf course was to have been built.

Mary: "Any luck?"

Mike: "No. Mattie McInerney said he might be able to get me a few days topping turnips down in Roscrea next month -- €5 per hour and a free high-vis vest. What about you? Will they give you more hours in Cutie Claws doggie grooming salon?"

Mary: "No. Monica says it's terrible. She might have to let me go. What do you want for your tea? There's one gherkin left in the jar. A bit of the pot noodles from Monday. And some of the fig rolls that you thought the dog had licked but said not to throw out anyway, just in case."

Mike: "Do you know what we should do? We should build an international airport out there at Tubber.

"I could easily see it catering for two million passengers by 2020. Give us a look at the pot noodles."

The news that we're building an international airport somewhere in Offaly when we can't fill any of the f****** airports we have now is all I need to know to be able to say, definitively, categorically and unambiguously, that the recession -- or depression, whatever -- is over.

We've got our mojo back. And the world had better look out. Because we're back, baby!

And we won't forget all of those misery guts who had the temerity to lecture us about living within our means and not to be going out and buying huge swathes of Bulgaria to build holiday apartments for taxi drivers.

They can stick their projected tax takes up their current expenditure chute.

We're back. And this time, it's personal.

Some of you will be embarrassed by all this. Not me. I like the fact that there's a streak of insanity that runs through the Irish, like the line down a skunk's back. I like that. I don't want to be a conformist, low-fat, Scando-Brussels mini-me. We still have a bit about us. When we could be bothered -- which isn't often -- we get some big-picture stuff absolutely right. And we're generally smart enough to leave well alone the stuff that isn't broken.

One of the things I think we did get right and should certainly -- that's if if we have the brains -- leave alone is the Leaving Cert.

If you share that currently unfashionable opinion then you should be sitting up straight and paying attention.

Because I believe that at least one of the changes being suggested would rob one of the State's most significant achievements of the integrity that gives it its value and forms its reputation.

I think the incorporation of course work into the calculation of a final grade would inflict possibly terminal damage to the reputation of the exam, and would lead to unbearable pressures being exerted on teachers.

The Leaving Cert derives its prestige -- both national and international -- from its stand-alone status and resolutely uncorrupted and incorruptible construct. Yes, it's gruelling and stressful. And I, too, hate the idea of young fellas and girls cracking and splintering under the pressure. But the concept of a final, State-sponsored and organised series of examinations is, without a doubt, the best engine of social mobility that a civilised and serious society can construct.

Very many eminent Irish people blab about the need to address the deep-rooted inequalities that undoubtedly exist in our society.

Precisely the way not to address those is to devalue the gold standard of an examination that, probably for the first time in their lives, puts the surgeon's son and cleaner's daughter on a level playing pitch, if only for those three hours of the exam.

I know, I know. You'll cite the example of the 'grind' colleges, where the children of those who can afford it are 'boot-camped' through the Leaving Cert, directed by the best teachers and the best subject 'crib' notes money can buy. Not too many from Darndale or Moyross getting those kinds of breaks, you'll point out. That's perfectly correct, but it misses the critical point: for the two weeks of the exam itself money actually doesn't matter at all.

What your Daddy does, and how much money he has, doesn't matter.

And my point is precisely this: the moment we concede that 'course work' or any form of continuous assessment can somehow be incorporated into the Leaving Certificate, we are fatally weakening the integrity of the exam.

Please don't pretend that the wealthiest and most influential people in our society won't try and 'convince' some teachers that it might be better for everyone concerned -- particularly the school's accountant -- if their little darlings were to be given the highest possible marks for their course work.

After all, schools are always looking for donations -- there's always that ski trip to St Moritz to fund.

In case all that is too subtle for you, let me make myself plain: I would have a strong suspicion that where teachers are empowered to award marks for 'course work' in an examination as important as the Leaving Certificate, that the teachers concerned will come under impossible levels of duress from parents and, quite possibly, principals and governing bodies.

There is no need to mention names here, but if I'm paying €10,000 per annum to a school, and I know that they have the ability to influence my young fellow's chances of getting into Medicine in UCD, then it is naive -- if not wilfully stupid -- to imagine that I will not be exerting as much pressure as I think I can get away with. I would do it, and I'm a paragon. Imagine the lengths to which some of the gombeens and gobshites that we've seen trotting across the courtyard of Dublin Castle and the business pages would go. It's a dead cert. Or it certainly would be.

There's another very valid reason for excluding 'course work' from the calculation of a final grade in the Leaving Certificate. And this reason applies in the schools at the other end of the social spectrum: the schools where the funding for ski trips isn't the first priority.

There were, and are, very many superbly clever kids that went to the kind of secondary schools where it wasn't necessarily the best social -- or survival -- skill to conduct yourself in a manner that merited marks for 'course work'.

The present structure of the Leaving Certificate suits those kids perfectly: they can keep their heads down, avoid the attention of the sharks circling the shallows for swots and then pitch themselves perfectly for the series of exams that mark their graduation from our secondary system.

By the time the bullies realise they've been 'had', it's too late and the kid has been airlifted out by the CAO.

No. If you feel like doing something mad; if you feel the blood rushing to your head then have a think about building an international airport. There's at least three counties left that don't have one. And if we're going to go down, then let's go down in style and singing. All together now.

Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away.

Sunday Independent

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