Tuesday 25 October 2016

The importance of 'shruggability' in this circus

Frank Coughlan watches the highs of the morning turn to afternoon gloom before the day is ultimately dismissed with a shrug

Published 09/06/2015 | 02:30

Frida Ni Dholain and Dearbhla Dolan of Loreto College, Cavan, look over their Maths papers yesterday afternoon
Frida Ni Dholain and Dearbhla Dolan of Loreto College, Cavan, look over their Maths papers yesterday afternoon

This Leaving Cert business changes quickly. I don't mean year on year, but from day to day and even paper to paper.

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At lunchtime on Friday, Jean, who had just emerged from a Geography exam she had been fretting over since the age of the glaciers, sent us an uplifting text.

She was succinct but triumphant: 'I aced it'.

Happy days. Or maybe just happy half-day. Because by the time she got home that evening there had been a new shift in the tectonic plates, Maths I, it seems, was a total 'mare.

Gloom. Well, only a bit to be fair. There was a shrug of the shoulders and then the head was stuck into the fridge: 'I'm starving'.

I'm glad she is so balanced about the whole circus (and a circus it is) because we all hear the stories of the tears and the stress that travels in the wake of this noisy juggernaut as it rolls into town every year frightening the children and scaring the parents.

I can't have any claim on her smarts (well, a bit maybe) and none at all on her self-discipline and focus (I still haven't acquired them for myself) but I can claim, I think, some modicum of credit for the shruggability she has brought to the proceedings. Because shruggability in these testing few weeks is crucial.

I suppose part of this is down to the fact that Jean is our youngest and we've been through this two times before.

By the time you've come to your third you do manage to get some things right. It's more to do with the enduring Law of Cop On than any consciously learned wisdom. So that helps.

But then I have never believed that the Leaving Cert is some sort of World Cup without the bribes; a giant show-off contest where only the brightest, most privileged (that does come into it) and the most disciplined can survive.

The rest, according to this template, are doomed to a life of under-achievement, bad teeth and buying second-hand bangers that fail the NCT. When I was doing the Leaving things were different, of course.

The mid '70s are not so much a different country but a different planet entirely. Points in those days were things that Kerry got too many of in Munster finals and not everyone wanted to be a senior counsel by the age of 30, or turn a tech start-up into a rival of Amazon by their 21st.

Back then it was the civil service, or teaching, or the guards or myriad forms of nepotism (a big thanks to my dad here).

There were even things called apprenticeships where you could learn a trade. Remember them?

We studied, of course (when I say 'we', I'm referring to my generation and certainly not myself specifically) and we were warned by stern finger-wagging Brothers that the time wasted watching foreign games on Match of the Day would be better used studying Peig.

Our lives depended upon it, we knew that. But nothing like it depends on it today.

Now an all-right Leaving Cert is not much use. In a world where companies routinely seek out PhDs to fill fairly mundane roles, a few of the oul' honours and being good at the sums doesn't have much traction.

That's just the way it is. And must be.

Jean will be all right. She's worked really hard and she is, by nature, very focused. But she's never lost sight of what this is really all about. And we've never given her reason to think that The Biggest Exam Ever will define her, make or break her or, most crucially, convince us to think any less of her.

Today it's Irish II and Biology. She is sitting across the dining-room table swotting them up now in a very shruggable mood. She finishes on Thursday with her favourite Business ('going out on a high'). After that she has her Mad Holiday with the sixth-year gang to look forward too.

She tells me they're going on a tour of great European cathedrals. But I'm not sure I believe her. I hope she has a blast.

Irish Independent

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