(just tell me when it stops…)
It’s been a while since I last posted, mainly because work has not stopped. The summer months are not normally known as crazy season in Tutoring Land. As much as the myth of contemporary tuition has one toe in reality – what with high hourly rates and parents panicking about the education of their spawn while they’re still teaching the alphabet – tuition remains, like ice-cream sellers and Santa Clause, a seasonal occupation.
If tuition were plotted on a stress-o-meter there would be a murmur of concern between September and December, an agitated buzz of anxiety from January to February, moving into full frontal nervous collapse until the end of the exams in June. Like the school year, which it trails alongside like gulls along a chip van, the industry of personal tuition has always experienced something of a desert come the summer.
Recently, however, this summer vacation has vanished. Agitated concern now seems to be the default position across the year. It is difficult to pin point exactly where the cause of this lies, but when Michael Gove opines that the 6 week summer break is too long, you can be sure there is a political dimension to the demonizing of holidays as dangerous aches of feckless idleness.
And politics is merely following where money leads, for despite having recesses wide enough to drive the House of Commons through, most MPs seem to view their state breaks as a chance to catch up with the infinitely more lucrative pursuits of their private careers. With insomniac money incapable of sleep, it seems none of us is to be permitted the opportunity for a healthy doze. Thanks to globalization and the endless possibility of digital connection, who hasn’t found themselves increasingly ‘on-call’, answering emails through the night and organizing their calendar while feeding the kids as they take this one call on the loo?
The pressure to compete in this unending race, to avoid being covered in yesterday’s opinions, listlessly sinking to the bottom of the broadband connection in an effluent of ambition, might be presented as the need for the people of Britain to leave behind the fiscal and ideological mess of European Union; to martial themselves and keep in step with the marching success of plastic capitalism that is Chimerica.
But scratch the surface of techno-immediacy and there is something familiar, hard and Puritan about the need to work until your pre-pubescents are on medication for stress-related depression. Dismantling the welfare state, state education and the NHS, seems to be nothing more than the desire to remove the safety net to make sure people’s sense of life is properly apoplectic; turning it into a terrifying struggle, where failure to succeed along brutally mercantile lines is met with certain death.
According to a report published by the Timewise Foundation this week, out of a sample of 1000 employees, 75% of people who work part-time said they felt they had hit a brick wall professionally and were over-looked for promotion because they had opted for greater flexibility and more time. Employers, so it seems, don’t want part-timers who seek to balance work with family and outside interests. Instead the turners of the global market only want people who are prepared to sacrifice their all to ensuring nothing else matters.
And while many of us struggle to cope with either the unending elastic of expanding responsibilities or the financial paucity of part time work, the pressure drips down into the cots of the next generation. Parents have been coming up to me in the street, over-hearing conversations, or seeing me with one of my pupils, and almost assaulting me into coming to work for them. They grab my arm, wide-eyed with tales of how their son is struggling to care about his exams. Their pubescent daughter wants to hang out with friends, they gasp, as though the thought should have been surgically removed somewhere around her last family holiday to Disneyland. Their grip remains unremittingly tight. Summer it seems, is no longer the chance for people to relax, merely the next stage of the battle plan, assessing the front of the next exam before their child is safely capable of manufacturing the appropriate level of panic at their economically-fraught situation by themselves.
Even in a heat wave the children must learn. This is where it starts, this is what it means to be alive: you must strive, work, accomplish, or you are done for.
It is a Puritan message without the hope of salvation. It is the philosophy of terror at its most intimate and domestic; the very nightmare with which parents and guardians all around the money-driven, hashtag-trailing, exhausted globe are lullabying their babies to sleep.