Staff only: Today's straight-A geniuses don't even know the basics
According to recent reports the number of perfect Leaving Certs with six A1 grades has risen by 500pc in recent years -- shocking, considering that a guy in my brother's class (let's call him Lucas O'Bréinbosca) only managed three As 20-odd years ago... and he's now the professor in an Oxbridge university. Oh yes, and he also plays piano, guitar and flute and while still a student was offered a contract by the manager of a famous Irish trad band. Never mind that, apparently he's a drooling slack-jawed thicko compared to today's Leaving Cert hot-shots.
As a graduate and teacher I'm not surprised that grade inflation has run rampant in Ireland. You should see some of the kids we've sent on to university from my school, thanks to Irish universities' desperation to be seen to do something to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
That's not to say that in this age of (kind of) free third-level education, they have all been disadvantaged -- plenty of the kids we send to college are from families a lot more comfortable than some of their teachers, struggling with three or four kids of their own on one salary. They just happened to attend a school that has been designated 'disadvantaged'. Neither am I suggesting they were all complete meatheads, but some of them . . .
The best way to illustrate the difference between O'Bréinbosca's generation and today's is that so many of them arrive in 1st Year to us not knowing what a margin is. Yes, that line you used to draw down the edge of the page. We have to teach them how to draw one, write the date and the page number of the exercise on the top of the page. This is a lesson that is routinely taught and just as routinely ignored.
And no wonder, as we now live in a world where there seems to be no regulation and no standard way of doing anything. Kids take their example from the world around them and there seems to be very little that suggests order and consistency.
Take, for example, speed bumps. In Ireland they can range in size from a pimple to an Everest-like incline that requires the fitting of an oxygen mask before attempting to drive over it.
Capital letters? Take footballer's names printed on their backs -- all in lower case. Same for film titles, actors' names in the credits, even book titles. Don't even mention the grocer's apostrophe.
No wonder one of my pupils labelled a photo of Nelson Mandela as 'Uncle Ben'. Another wrote: "Hitler got an Iron Cross because he couldn't afford a gold one." Terrible problem getting decent bling in the trenches. Also: "In 1916 they blew up the ILAC Centre."
It's up to us adults to show them the clear light between right and wrong, correct and incorrect; not to shrug and say, "that's good enough".
Let's start by insisting they draw a proper margin.