Thursday 3 November 2016

Classy Schools and Careers

Grayson Perry: networking

“The clearly glaring gap in the English system is that of social class. The relationship between parental wealth and background and children’s educational outcomes is particularly strong.”
(Becky Francis, Professir of Education and Social Justice)

I hated school. I hated Stockport. The school I went to had perhaps ideas above its station, in terms of the type of school it should be: a grammar school that thought that kind of emotionally illiterate, highly didactic method of teaching was righteous, because it somehow separated the wheat from the chaff. In other words, kids who could learn that way were clever and worthy, and kids that couldn’t were stupid and unworthy. (John Amaechi)

For decades the belief among many educated by the state was that the arrogance and sense of entitlement that is instilled at public school secured the best jobs and highest pay. That has been debunked, however, with a study concluding that those with the best education get the most pay, and that bluster counts for little... Character traits that may impress employers were, in many cases, already held by the children at the age of ten, before they went through the independent school system... Money spent on schemes that built the confidence and aspirations of state-school pupils would be better off focused solely on improving the education they received. (Nicola Woolcock, Nov 2015)

Recent articles complain that a two-tier system at university is expanding the class divide. The richer students live in more luxurious accommodation and never mix with the less well-off in more basic halls. When I was at university in the 70s, there was a small enclave of upper-middle-class students. They thought I might be one of them, but weren’t quite sure. They tried me out, and decided I wouldn’t do – I wore a pink nylon scarf and made friends with whoever wanted to be friends with me. One of my best friends was even American.

Per Toby Young, in the 80s working-class undergraduates at Oxford were known as “stains”. His contemporaries disagree: they were known as “northern chemists”.

And what about when you graduate? Social mobility can only succeed if it fails. What would happen if the entire working class became middle class and wanted graduate jobs? Of course it’s never going to happen, there aren’t enough university places and white-collar jobs for a start. What the middle classes really mean by “increased social mobility” is “We’ll cream off a few more of the really intelligent, useful ones and get them on our side.”

But of course the college tells you that a degree will help you get an interesting, highly paid job. They want your fees. Make sure you aren't being qualified for a field that doesn't exist, doesn't exist any more, or is now over-crowded.

When I was at university, “entrepreneur” wasn’t a career choice. Now it is. It’s passed the parent test. Which is a big zeitgeist change. In other words, if you tell your parents you want to be an entrepreneur, they think, “Great”. Whereas previously, they thought you were nuts. (Public schoolboy and businessman Brent Hoberman)

One of the changes that happened in my adult life was the vanishing of the idea of safe careers. Nowadays, if you say, 'My son is in television,' people no longer grip the chair with white knuckles. (Julian Fellowes in the NYT)

Somerset Maugham’s uncle rejected the Civil Service, not because of the young man's feelings or interests, but because his uncle concluded that it was no longer a career for gentlemen, since a recent law had required all applicants to pass an entrance examination. (Wikipedia)

In my day going into business after graduating – for yourself or anybody else – was just not on the cards. It was never mentioned. At university there was something called the “milk round” (visits from firms which needed graduates), but it was never suggested we should put our names down or even find out what jobs they were offering. It was trade.

Publishing and writing were “gentlemen’s careers”, ie you needed private means to pursue them. Most of the French Impressionists and avant-gardists had private means – and sneered at Douanier Rousseau for having a job. They called him a “petit bourgeois” and elaborated a “funny anecdote” about a dinner given in his honour where he was ridiculed and humiliated. And they ripped off his art.

A hipster is someone who can charge middle class prices for a working class job. (Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks)

Hippies were supposed to live by going with the flow, letting it all hang out, opening their minds, sharing everything, so if they were selling you sandwiches they couldn’t just be selling you sandwiches - it must be a happening, or an experience, or something….

Hipsters have pulled off the same trick: they’ve persuaded punters that their businesses aren’t really businesses but art projects, spiritual experiences, distillations of the zeitgeist, a totally new way of relating, a meeting place of rare spirits – or somesuch garbage. Hipster cafes are cafés, their shops are shops, their businesses exist to make money. The “hipness” is just set dressing, and there’s even a chain furnished from a warehouse full of old school desks etc.

Gentlemen are not supposed to want to make lots of money – you’re supposed to have it already. Nobody ever talks about the advantages of having money and contacts (social capital) when you start out in any business or profession. Or marrying money. Apart from Grayson Perry – he advises going to all art show openings and being incredibly charming to everybody. Add “social skills” and “good looks” to the list.

Here’s some advice from a friend (ML):

I've had a few clients over the years who have started a retail adventure. The thing is it is dead hard to make a living out of a single shop.

a. gift shop near Huntingdon selling all sorts of very nice things, like bits of arty decoration, furniture, rugs. She struggled on until the lease ran out but essentially the shop made a contribution towards the rent and her husband had to find the rest.

b. gift shop near Baldock or one of those hell holes up the A1 in Hertfordshire. Sold nice wicker furniture and other nice decorationy things. Struggled on for a while. One partner left and the other carried on until, apparently, a tear in the space-time continuum caused the whole thing to disappear one day. At least that's how it seemed because it just disappeared.

c. mobile phone shop... They had to pay for the phones up front and wait months to get the sign up commissions.

d. off license somewhere in Hertfordshire, just not enough volume and while she was closed evening/weekend Tesco were still flogging it.

e. video shop in Cambridge. This was in VHS days. They couldn't compete with Blockbuster (who moved in two doors down) but survived for a while by developing a speciality (Kung Fu movies).

They all end in tears. The problem is:
1. If you are selling something mainstream like baked beans or bog roll then you can't match Tesco/Aldi prices because you can't get the discounts from the wholesalers.
2. If you are selling something nice but not really necessary then people don't need to buy it and so you are the first expense to be cut when times is 'ard.
3. Before you get any profit there is the rent/rates/gas/ electric/staff/stock to pay for and they are all hideously expensive.

Was he the one who said that people come in and look at handmade things and go "Ooooh, lovely!" and then go and buy something mass-produced?

I'll say it again: if I had children I'd send them to butler school.

The expanding ranks of billionaires worldwide are creating a new market for more esoteric services: publicists, pilots, nutritionists, super-tutors, floral architects... (And social-media contractors to monitor and curate your children’s online lives. One family advertised for a butler who could drive a horse and carriage to transport his guests.)
(Times March 28, 15)

The arrival of so much wealth provides opportunities to the quick-witted. Careers that might not have appeared  financially rewarding 30 years ago have begun to wear a different face. (Clive Aslet, Times Jan 2015 on the arrival in London of “ultra high net worth individuals”.

Step forward art dealers, estate agents and tutors, says Aslet. But apparently the most popular careers are writer, academic, librarian – is this because middle class young people want to impress others they meet at parties? Working with books gives you a sackful of middle-class Brownie points. If you work in the City, or as an industrial chemist, you’ll never be invited to the right dinner parties, and won’t meet the kind of partner who’ll impress other people at parties.

When I worked as a temp, I wondered why some people kept asking me to come back when I was clearly useless – they wanted someone with a posh voice to answer the phone.

More here, and links to the rest.

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