Is your body beach ready?

The UK got into a bit of a tizz about an advertising campaign which ran posters in the London Underground lately. I think they might all be gone now – I don’t live in London – but basically, the consisted of a bikini clad model and an implication that you needed to have an acceptable body to be beach ready.

This is drivel of course, but it caused much debate, many columns on websites because of course, people just want to voice their opinion on stuff, and decry other people getting professionally insulted and all sorts of related good clickbait like that.

I found it depressing. I have been known to spend a significant amount of time on the beach and for my purposes, bikinis have been less than suitable.

Here’s why.

1) if you are carrying 24kg of camera equipment, the camera bag will wind up strafing at some point. It also rubs off sun protection cream which means your black Lowe Alpine camera bag does not get sunburnt, but you do, and what’s more, at those points which the camera bag will strafe. Hurty Hurty Hurt.

2) if you are going in the water taking photographs, it gets cold, no matter how sunny. Let me tell you, being cold and sunburned at the same time is a bad thing.

3) Putting on sun cream is horribly messy; invariably you miss bits and invariably you wind up sunburned. My personal preference is to cover up.

4) if you have decent breasts at all – by which I mean more noticeable than the sound of a feather falling in the night – bikinis are low on support.

So if being beach ready bodywise means being able to wear a little yellow bikini, the likelihood is that I will never find one that I feel comfortable in even if I was several sizes smaller because the whole breast thing, you see, and in any case, being beach body ready, in my case, means covering up completely so as to avoid getting sunburned.

In the meantime, the company concerned flog a meal replacement shake thing. I’ve never understood the attraction of them and I’ve never been convinced that they are a healthy option compared to eating a balanced food diet but that’s by way of a diversion. Ultimately, companies which flog things to make you want to change the way you look operate on reducing your self esteem and arguably, that’s what this does. In my view, attacking people’s self esteem is a healthy activity either but your mileage may variable. The issue I had with the discussions is they got down to a “we should be allowed to attack people’s self esteem to make them lose weight because being obese is not healthy”. Which leads me to think that a lot of people who post opinions below the line of major UK newspapers didn’t spend enough time in school. Attacking people in this way does not work for everyone, probably doesn’t even work for many of them at all.

Then there was the argument on whether the model looked healthy or not. I am not willing to make a call on that either. And then there was the argument about feminists and how stupid they were which seems to crop up on a regular basis. Naturally it was noted that the only people who were outraged by this were people a) who wouldn’t use the product and b) who weren’t beach body ready.

In many respects, it was all very dreary. I couldn’t even get behind the anti-campaigns, of people standing next to the poster who very clearly hadn’t been Photoshopped and weren’t a size 0 or whatever. Or the ones who voiced the view that “How to be beach body ready: go to a beach”

Mostly that’s because a) I wouldn’t use the product anyway: if you want liquid food, use fruit, a hand blender and some  yogurt. Throw in some nuts if that’s what grabs you. b) I don’t wear a bikini because they’re not really designed for women with breasts per se and c) even if I did, I couldn’t because I am extremely fair and the safest occasion on which I can prance around half naked tends to involve 100% cloud cover and driving rain. Which doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to be honest, when you think about it.

If I wanted to point one thing out about the whole beach body and bikini thing it would be this: in terms of avoiding sunburn, it is nowhere near as safe as simply covering up. And if you’re going to be covering up anyway, is there any need to half starve yourself by using meal replacement drinks in a mad bid to lose a lot of weight in a short space of time?

Do not buy notebooks

There was a time I got by on one notebook, more or less, if we leave any study aside. I had a diary for my journal and that is it. Journal keeping is popular these days and there are sites which advise you on all sorts of journals you can have.

I started writing a journal more than 20 years ago, long before it was a popular tag on Pinterest and I have them all going back to then. Not currently organised the way I’d like, but there you have it. I’d like to say most of them are in Clairefontaine threadwound notebooks, but this is probably not quite true at the moment. I have not always been able to get Clairefontaine paper, so I estimate – wildly – that about half of them are in Clairefontaine threadwound notebooks, a few are in Paperblanks, and a few are in other random nice notebooks I’ve picked up over the last few years. Picking up nice notebooks was something I did, because I could only get the Clairefontaine threadwounds when I was in a civilised country that sells them, ie, France or Belgium. In fact, I don’t think I saw them the last time I was in Belgium but I wasn’t looking too hard.

You can get Clairefontaine notebooks, lined mainly, in Easons on O’Connell Street. You used to be able to get it in Swords as well. You can get some Clairefontaine notebooks in the Pen Corner. They also have Rhodia notebooks which are owned by the same outfit. I wouldn’t be telling you this if there wasn’t a reason I liked Clairefontaine, and, to some lesser extent, Rhodia. It’s really nice paper to write on – satin, pretty much, and unlike most other papers on the market, it will take a fountain pen without moaning. I have a pen habit which means I have a lot of good pens and about 2 thirds of the good pens are fountain pens of some description. The notebook I am currently using for my diary is not, however, a Clairefontaine threadwound grid notebook. It is a PaPaYa Art notebook, very much designed to be used as a journal by arty people. Every second page is lined. Every second page is blank. I draw (we’ll come to that in a second too) although my journal has generally been 99.99% text. Hand written. Using various pens, be they fountain pens, expensive ballpoint pens, or various other gel and fibre pens I’ve accumulated over the years.

The PaPaYa Art notebook is a hardback notebook, and it is gorgeous. It is called Day Dreaming. It’s the second one of their notebooks that I’ve bought and it will be the last for two reasons, one practical, one personal. I haven’t seen them anywhere lately – I bought the two I have in the Pen Corner – and secondly, the paper in this notebook bleeds through fountain pen ink. It’s basically unusable with a fountain pen. While I have a lot of beautiful ball point pens and am happy to use them for this one notebook, the fact remains that I expect my notebooks to be able to take slightly wet pens, ie, gel pens and especially medium nib Lamy fountain pens. This doesn’t cut it. I’m not going to moan, because to some extent, it’s just a notebook. I will take it out and re-read it in ten years time and think, Oh My God, was I really like that?

But the notebooks in my life are not limited to this any more. On my desk, there is a lovely copybook which I got in TK Maxx – it was one of a set of three and frankly it occurs to me i haven’t seen the other two around lately (hmmmm) – and it has near perfect paper in it and it takes fountain pen paper. I keep it so that I can keep a rough eye on what I’ve been achieving administratively. Every other effort I made to keep track of stuff like that, electronically, other diaries, has not been working. So I rolled that out to a separate notebook, which should basically be disposable. There are two workbooks on my desk, I have no idea why there are two because presumably only 1 is useful at any given time. They are born of a habit I built at my last job and they are technically a mix of a to do list, a calculation/working stuff out book, and an achievements list. Basically, if I am working on a technical project at any given time, I write out what it is I need to do, work how how I plan to do it, and sign it off as done. I used that system the whole way through my recent college course as well and it worked a treat.

I have what is called a common place book which is currently turning mostly into Treasa’s book of quotable quotes. It’s nowhere near full and the main reason for that is that actually other stuff I’d still in there like the odd interesting newspaper column and stuff requires glue which I don’t keep on my desk at the moment.

As I use notebooks for any one of the apparently thousand reasons that I use notebooks for, I find that different notebooks work appropriately for different tasks. This is not, I suppose unusual; they are different tools. I know some people rely heavily on small notebooks. I have a bunch of them. I find I don’t like using them. They rarely get finished. For my desk workbooks, I like what Clairefontaine call A4+ notebooks with perforated sheets. They are often difficult to get. For my journals, we know I like the A5ish thread wound 144 sheet notebooks. For both cases I favour gridded paper, something which has historically been very difficult to get in Ireland. The net result is I’m prone to buy lots of both when I see them, and then, because traditionally in Ireland, nice notebooks weren’t that easy to come across, nice notebooks when I see them. There’s a box in my storage room marked notebooks. I went up to it to day because I needed an A4 notebook for some interpreting related stuff. I tend to prefer spiral overbound notebooks for interpreting note taking – that’s a lay out preference which we will skip the details of for the moment. The box is full of notebooks in different sizes. Looking at some of them now, I can see I bought them, not because they were useful to me, but because they were pretty. This is problematic for me now.

One of them can go to a new life as a sketch book when I’ve finished the frankly horrible practice sketch books I got for pencil sketching lately (they weren’t expensive, they aren’t inspiring and blah). Two of them, no idea what I will do with them because they no longer fit any need in my life at all. There’s an array of Paperblanks and Clairefontaines which can go to diary support when I’ve finished the current one. When I say I am good for diaries for at least 4 years I am not joking. Unless I can find an alternative use for the Paperblanks, I’m not going to be using much Clairefontaine for the next few years on that front.

The Paperblanks notebooks are lovely notebooks, but deep down, I’d prefer to be writing the journal in Clairefontaine notebooks. The fact that they are beautiful makes it difficult to use them for some non-permanent purpose though, some throw out purpose. So I’m conflicted about them at the moment. I may work through the Clairefontaines first and decide later. I may wind up buying another 3 or 4 Clairefontaines to have. I don’t know. I can’t at the moment.

I also liked some of the Pantone smaller notebooks, so because I liked those, I picked up a few of them when I could, because supply is unreliable. And when I saw an A4 sized Pantone notebook suitable for designers I picked it up and never realised that it was really lousily lined. It’s not quite nice enough for me to say I would want it for some durable function. It will go to work at some stage, probably next one to be used before I hit the Clairefontaine A4+s and the couple of Rhodia A4+. I have a handful of A5 sized of both Rhodia and Clairefontaine which are more suited to planners or meeting notes so I will set them aside for that purpose.

And then, there are a couple of notebooks designed to be journals which I have no idea what to do with them because they don’t fit my needs as journals.

When I look at the contents of the box, and the contents of my desk, I realise that I really cannot afford to buy any more notebooks until I’ve worked through some of the ones I have hoarded. I hoard these things because in Ireland, decent notebooks can be hard enough to find.

I used to live in Brussels, and while I lived there, everyone in Ireland used to talk about how hard they’d find it to live close to so many chocolate shops. The street I lived on had three handmade chocolate shops alone. I set foot in them the day before I flew home for Christmas only. And this is the point, I think. When you have a steady supply of something essential, you don’t hoard it.

Ireland has improved on the notebook front lately and PaperBlanks are reasonably easily obtainable in any branch of Easons, and most branches of the Art and Hobby Store, for example. They aren’t cheap. Clairefontaine and Rhodia options are limited but exist. My needs aren’t really filled locally but I have enough of a supply at the moment to mean I don’t need notebooks in any sort of an urgent manner. And not only that, when I am buying notebooks in the future, I need to keep an eye on what I plan to use them for and not just the pretty.

Neolithic monuments in Ireland

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Newgrange is one of the highest profile historic sites which we have in the country and when most people talk about going to Newgrange, they mean they want to see this one.

When I go to Newgrange, I always go to Knowth as well. Yes, you can actually go into the passage in Newgrange, and yes, it’s extremely well done but it’s always very busy.

Knowth is generally much quieter and, on occasion, no matter how busy Newgrange might be, you might have the site at Knowth more or less to yourself. There’s a lot to be said for this.

Knowth is bigger than Newgrange, but it does not look anywhere near as perfect. It hasn’t been restored (or reconstructed) in the same way as Newgrange was, and some different decisions have been made about the site. A key one is the question of the quartz stone. At Newgrange, this was built up as a wall. At Knowth, the view was taken that it was probably a terrace around the entrances. I’ve mixed feelings. Certainly Newgrange looks more complete but….

That aside, the reason I would still favour Knowth over Newgrange is the art. Knowth has significantly more external art than Newgrange and it is stunning.

Yes, the entry stone for Newgrange is iconic:

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but then, there’s this:

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and this:

20150415_160718I find what’s around the base of Knowth simply to be on a scale which is borderline unimaginable at Newgrange.

I didn’t have time to go to Dowth yet and it’s not included amongst the options you can get to from Bru na Boinne. However, if you are interested in neolithic art in Ireland in that area, I would strongly recommend Knowth as a seriously underrated site. It is wonderful. You can actually look down the passageway although access down it is not permitted to the public and you can see some public access work done on the eastern end. You can also walk to the top of it and the view from it is quite impressive.

I find the whole idea of pre-history in Ireland fascinating. If you go to the National Museum on Kildare Street, you’ll find examples of 3 and 4 thousand year old jewellery which contains carvings not dissimilar to some of the carvings on these stones and it’s extraordinarily beautiful. I really do wonder about the societies that were able to access the gold, shape it, carve it. It seems to me those societies, however on a smaller scale than is currently on the case, must have been extremely sophisticated, particularly with respect to their ability to use tools to achieve tasks which would probably challenge us today.

 

 

 

Ties to the past

I was looking for something light to read yesterday evening and I discovered that somehow I had missed an anthology of Maeve Binchy’s journalistic writing, called Maeve’s Times. So I picked it up because growing up, my first contact with Maeve Binchy was the book Light A Penny Candle. I was quite young when I read it, and I have to say it didn’t impact on me quite the way other books of hers did. If I had to pick two which resonated, I would pick Circle of Friends and The Glass Lake.

I am not the greatest fan of the Irish Times. I never have been. It seems to me very much to be a paper which rests heavily on emotional laurels. I never quite got the attraction of An Irishman’s Diary, and I didn’t see why the media world in Ireland saw fit to sanctify the outpourings of Kevin Myers. It was like a whole society that I just didn’t fit into. Much of Maeve Binchy’s writing fits into a narrative of classic Irish Times writers. Many people love it. I have mixed feelings about it. I do believe that a review of her novels would be significant in terms of an assessment of social mores in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. The problem is this collection of opinion pieces and journalism which Binchy wrote over a 40 year career has left me less than sated. I did not find it to be a particularly enjoyable book.

Part of it, I imagine, is a generational thing. Maeve Binchy started writing for the Irish Times well before I was born. Part of it is that I had and continue to have very different experiences. Many of the facets of Irish life that she describes are not my Irish life at all.

More than anything, she writes with an eye that focuses on the melancholy and the negative. There are few pieces in the book which do not end on some note of veiled criticism of some person or other. I found many of the pieces deeply saddening in some respects because the common thread is to be doing something wrong.

Maeve Binchy wrote a lengthy piece in 1994 about a man wishing not to go out because of the constant having to defend not drinking he’d have to do. She wrote at length about how he was wrong, how Ireland had changed and how sure no one would do that to him. The undercurrent the whole way through the piece was how wrong he was, how he didn’t know what he was talking about in this day and age.

The problem is, I have a lot of sympathy for that man. I’ll never know him, and he’s probably 40 years older than me. Given that my experience in Ireland is pretty much that people who do not drink alcohol have a long journey to go before people actually accept that, and this has been my experience the way straight through from 1990 to 2015, I find it difficult to believe that in 1994, there was a happy period when in fact, people accepted that other people didn’t drink. And when Maeve refuses to accept his views on the matter, it becomes clear that whatever the observations are based on, it may not actually be based on listening to other people. She absolutely discounts his experience. I tend to find that quite disquieting.

There are other features of the book which left darts of dissatisfaction. Maeve may have bought a passenger ticket at a ferry port to get access to people waiting for news of loved ones following the Herald of Free Enterprise accident but there is something mildly disquieting about trying to get at people who may not necessarily, want to be got at by journalists.

When you look at the book in a dispassionate manner, there is a strong focus on the gone-wrongness, from the earliest writing to the latest. Mostly, Maeve gives you the impression of people for whom things go wrong, or people whose actions she can cast and judge in a negative life. If I were to take away any message from her book, it is this: that in Ireland, there is a lot of unhappiness and and loneliness in Ireland. I don’t get a good takeaway message from a lot of her columns, be it about Nora and her trips to the airport, or the mother whose trips to Brown Thomas are disrupted by changes to that store. The woman was elderly. There is no person in that story who is given a kindly eye by Maeve, no understanding, no empathy. Just barbed comments about each of the women. More than one piece talked about different women who had become easy women. I realise that I may be looking at things through a very different prism compared to the lens available to Maeve at the time of writing…but one cannot fail to notice the strong stench of judgementalism coming out of the pores of stories about people whose emotional lives failed to be perfect

I found it all rather sad, to be honest. And when I stripped away the sadness, I realise that in many ways, Maeve Binchy did not describe the Dublin I knew. It may be a Dublin other people knew, or used to know. And she certainly didn’t describe the people I knew. Her Dublin may have been small; everyone knew everyone else. It never seems to have occurred to her that this says more about her than it does about Dublin.

 

 

 

Choose Dove Beauty Products

Dove have rolled out a new campaign called #ChooseBeautiful. They’ve linked it with an “experiment” (ie, advertising campaign) whereby they classified two doors as Beautiful and Average and then watched what happened. Lots of women chose average, there were discussions about how it reflected how they felt about themselves, and then Dove suggested women concentrated on thinking they were beautiful. Lots of people on social media are talking about what a great campaign it is.

What people need to remember is this: Dove are not doing this for the good of women. They are doing it for the good of their bottom line. Most women get up in the morning and Are. They don’t expect, and shouldn’t have, to choose whether to go through a door marked Beautiful or Average. If it were me, I’d look at the doors and walk away. I’m not in the business of classifying myself one way or the other and the idea of a cosmetics company running an “experiment (ie, advertising campaign) where they can use my choice as a stick to beat me with (ie, you should choose beautiful, not average) and then use it as a hook for an advertising campaign makes me a bit sick. I don’t use Dove beauty products by the way. I should just mention that.

When I go to a shopping centre, I don’t expect to have to judge myself.

When I go to a shopping centre, I don’t expect to be used as a hook for advertising.

When you make people – not I am not saying women there – people choose a label for themselves, and when you only provide two labels for them, you are making them judge themselves within your framework. That is not a free choice; it’s manipulating their opinion.

Most people see themselves on a continuum, not either or .

Mashable called it a powerful experiment. If it is powerful, it is powerful in that it pushes women again to judge themselves by appearance and to judge themselves in terms of beautiful or not beautiful.

Feeling beautiful is one of those choices that women should feel empowered to make for themselves, every day.

Read more: http://designtaxi.com/news/374402/Dove-Challenges-Women-To-Choose-Beautiful-In-Social-Experiment/#ixzz3WiRKEsVq

But Dove isn’t empowering women. They are forcing women to make a choice between options which they may not on a day to day basis make. They are forcing women to define themselves in terms of their appearance within an extremely narrow choice of options.

And at the end of the day, Dove are not in the business of making women feel good about themselves. They are in the business of making women buy more Dove products.

a Vision for Dublin

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RTE ran a kind of re-enactment historical event in Dublin City Centre today to have a look at what life in Dublin might have been like around 1916 and in the run up to the 1916 Rising. I went into it really to see the tram (I love that tram) and maybe take a few photographs for sketches I might do later. I haven’t decided yet.

The weather was stunning. The sky was a glittering blue, a lot of people came out and there was a terrific atmosphere around the city. Many people were clad in period appropriate garb which looked fantastic, but which must have been stultifyingly warm. There was an Edwardian music stage, a wedding, a funeral, the occasional march of would be rebels. In a way, it was very like those sliding photographs you get today where you can slide from 60 years ago to how a place looks now. You could not get into any of the talks for love nor money. I think, arguably, RTE could call it a major success. I’ pleased for them, and I’m pleased that there was a focus on social history like what were people wearing, what were the talking about, how were things like funerals and weddings organised by people at the time (the wealthier ones anyway). That it wasn’t just a militaristic event.

One of the things which struck me yesterday and which was reinforced by today’s experience is that perhaps, we could pedestrianise O’Connell Street permanently from Abbey Street upwards. It’s a fine wide street and we could, to some extent, turn it into a plaza.

Yes, I know we’d have to re-engineer some of the bus routes but – why not. We are re-engineering the city centre at the moment anyway for Luas re-configuration, and there will be more re-engineering if BRT actually happens (I might not necessarily be in favour of that directly).

Dublin has a dearth of open spaces like squares with cafés. Where we have squares, they tend to be garden squares, like Merrion Square. I’ve long wondered if we could pedestrianise a reasonable swathe of the city centre – there are old pictures of the area in front of Busaras where the Amnesty International Gas Candle currently stands, behind Custom House and the IFSC. But these open spaces, like College Green just have cars and buses going through them.

O’Connell Street looks like it could work though. We could pave it properly as a square and be a bit more careful about who we let open businesses in there and turn it into an amenity for the city. We don’t have to make it the main thoroughfare any more. There are a load of bridges built and if we re-engineered public transport effectively, we wouldn’t even be dealing with as much car transport.

And if we got it to work there, how about making it work in College Green, for example. I’m open to suggestions.

We rely too much, sometimes, on the Phoenix Park for the lung of the city. I just think we could reconfigure the city so that it becomes much more attractive to walkers than to avoiders.

 

on the Dail

When I left the National Museum in Kildare Street yesterday, I overheard a conversation.

A child who was probably somewhere around 9 or 10 years of age asked the adult he was with what that was. That was Leinster House.

I’d like to point out that the child, and the adult with him, had Irish accents, did not demonstrate any evidence of recent arrival from another country.

I’d also like to add that while I don’t expect children to know every major building in Dublin, I am happy for children to ask questions to find out more. It’s curiosity and it’s the basis on which we can make education happen.

I’d like to add that I would have expected a response along the lines of “That’s the Dail, son, where the laws are made”. Because while I might not expect a 10 year old child to recognise Leinster House, I would expect an Irish adult to recognise the building.

So when the response was this:

I don’t know. Some company or other.

I was a bit disappointed.

little gems we should value more

I went to the National Museum in Kildare Street yesterday. It was busy enough, and a significant number of people were tourists, so I guess that is all good.

If I had to leave Dublin in the morning, the National Museum in Kildare Street, and possibly the National Gallery, would be in the top five list of things I would miss. Entry to both is free, and both have places of peace where I can go and find an escape from the messy city outside (seriously, have you seen the condition of the road surface at College Green? The city is aching and in pain  these days).

My favourite individual exhibit in the National Museum on Kildare Street is in the Treasury. It’s a little gold model of a boat and it dates from around the first century of the common era. That’s what we used to call the first century AD but anyway. It is a beautiful delicate little piece, with I think, 7 pairs of oars, and a tiller, and a cross hold for a sail. It is lovely. In my view, for beauty, it out does everything else in this room.

The main body of the museum is made up of Or, Ireland’s collection of historic gold items. Much of that display is up to 4000 years old, particularly some of the torcs, the sun discs and some of the earrings and dress clasps. I never fail to be utterly amazed by the work, the delicate tooth engravings. I could walk down Grafton Street and look at some of the jewellery in our high end jeweller shops and nothing even comes close.

I remain amazed that 1) these things were created and 2) these things might even survive so many years.

I dip into the museum as and how I wish, and while I’ll admit I’m strongly attracted to the Or and Treasury pretty, the point is, we’re very lucky to have it, and have that extent of a collection here.

Education in Ireland

Eilis O’Hanlon has a piece in the Sunday Independent today which irritated me quite a lot. I don’t usually read her pieces so it’s entirely possible she usually delivers her pieces in this well-shot manner. The problem is, as a contribution to the debate, it is shallow, it misses a lot of core points, and instead of dealing with the underlying issue which is how do we best do education, she just lobs criticism after criticism at the teachers. In every sense of the word, she personifies the lack of respect which is common in Ireland for teachers.

There are coal miners in China who complain less about their workplace conditions than Irish teachers. Trawlermen in the North Sea don’t feel so hard done by. Listening to members of the teaching profession in Ireland, one could almost be forgiven for thinking the TV series World’s Toughest Job was devoted entirely to their ordeal.

This is just a great start for opening a dialogue, don’t you think? There is so much bad faith in this, any teacher would be forgiven for getting up from the table and walking away. O’Hanlon is not interested in listening if she’s using this sort of hyperpole.

The thing is, in Ireland, we need a dialogue. About the only thing you can say for O’Hanlon’s piece is that she didn’t talk about Finland. That restraint is admirable. It is possible, that unlike David McWilliams, she realises that this would lead to a wholesale restructuring on the financial side. Finland has few to no private schools, and the ones that do exist don’t get to select on their own terms. And it is entirely possible that she understands that Finland actually set out to set up an equality based system, and the high PISA scores were a side benefit.

The dialogue we need is not about teachers, or teachers’ holidays, or even reform of the Junior Certificate. The dialogue we need is around what we expect and need from education. If you step away from ranking tables – which we should – the question remains: what constitutes a reasonable level of education in this day and age. No one in Ireland discusses that in public, it seems, for all the moaning around Irish, maths, religion, funding, computer coding. There never seems to be any debate around whether the cycle system we have in place is still appropriate: we do primary school up to 12, junior cycle for three years, senior cycle for 2-3 years (it still varies). We may or may not have a transition year. We do not discuss the introduction of specialised teachers at an early stage. We castigate teachers when kids do badly; we allow parents to abscond their responsibilities.

Most of my teenage years were spent listening to kids talking about how we’d never need algebra. When would they ever need to factorise a quadratic equation.

It seems to me there is a narrative that suggests Irish people can only really deal with direct return on investment: I learn to factorise quadratic equations only because I will need to factorise quadratic equations in the future. We teach people stuff in university that can immediately be turned into money. In certain respects, the debate around education in Ireland is extremely shallow.

The thing is, I agree with Eilis O’Hanlon on a couple of points:

Our students are terrible at foreign languages. Proficiency in maths continues to slip.

She says other stuff which I don’t agree with which we will come to later. Yes, I think proficiency in mathematics is slipping. And yes, our students are terrible at foreign languages. However, I ran the numbers last week and in absolute numbers – not proportionally – in absolute numbers, we are turning out more students with higher level languages like French and German than England/Wales is at A-level.

In other words, blaming teachers is an all too facile way of looking at issues. I’d like to see a core aspiration for the education system in terms of identifying what we want out of it. Yes, I’d like people to be maths-capable. I’d like the students coming out of our language teaching systems to be functionally fluent in those languages. Where possible, I’d like to see secondary level subjects to open doors to further study, be it structured or independent.

But more on that at the moment. Eilis makes a couple of assertions:

  • Under European directives, the minimum number of days that children must spend in school is greater at primary than secondary level, when all the evidence suggests that it should be the other way round.

  • In 2010, most shockingly, pupils become the first generation in Ireland to have lower levels of literacy than their parents.

A good journalist would actually provide supporting evidence for those. Where is the evidence that children should spend more time in secondary than at primary level? And what is the evidence that the current generation has lower literacy than their parents?

Eilis O’Hanlon writes at length about how journalism has been upturned by technology. Given that I read that piece on the Independent’s website, I’d expect links to the data backing up those assertions.

At no point in the article, does O’Hanlon outline what she expects of an education system; she purely uses the piece to target and criticise teachers,

Here’s the issue: there are some core problems around Junior Certificate reform; the key one being that big bogey I’ve mentioned: how does it fit into a framework for what we want from education when we never have the conversation about what we want from education.

After that, when you read a diatribe against teachers like O’Hanlon’s one, and you understand that a lot of people don’t respect teachers to be able to teach, it becomes easier to understand why teachers particularly respect the independence and arms-lengthness of a central marking system. If we don’t trust teachers to know best how to teach, why are we demanding that they trust us to trust them to know how best to mark what we don’t trust them to teach. 

There are a lot of issues around education right now. When I was going through the school system, Facebook did not exist. Mobile phones and always on internet did not exist. Your average teenager is not spending their time exploring Wikipedia when Instagram exists.

The demands on young attention have increased massively since I was in the school system, and, I suspect, since Eilis O’Hanlon was in the education system. The extent to which teachers are allowed to be owners of their teaching space has dropped. In an era of data where the vast majority of people are clueless about statistics, there is a greater demand for things like schools tables. But none of this answers the question “What do we want from education?”

Here’s what I’d like. I’d like the product of our education to be young well adjusted people who are numerate, literate, reasonably fluent in at least one foreign language, reasonably able to read a piece of journalism like O’Hanlon’s piece above and criticise its failings effectively. People who are aware of where to find the steps to things which interest them. I’d like them to be tolerant, reasonably fit and healthy. I would like the education system to provide them with options, not limitations.

On the detail side of maths literacy and foreign languages I would suggest that the core supports for that should be in the primary system – I’d tend to suggest we start foreign languages at the age of 10 for example, and specialised maths teaching at around the same age. I suspect that with some discussion, we could look at reconfiguring the primary and secondary schooling stages but that this needs to be seen in the context of what we want each to deliver.

If Eilis O’Hanlon is really interested in improving educational outcomes in this country, starting with teacher bashing is probably one of the least effective tactics to take. A discussion which includes teachers and their concerns would be more constructive than this kind of insulting and dismissive piece of ignorance.

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PS – I am not a teacher. Just in case anyone thinks I’m a teacher railing against negative coverage.