Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Queen for a Day

Illustration by Rima Staines
It is possible to write about one's own birthday without writing about oneself? A way around it would
be to focus on the other central character in the drama of one's birth and ponder one's mother. My mother was only twenty-four when she gave birth to me, and she was terrified, but later she philosophized, "I've had a baby at twenty-four, and I've had a baby at thirty-four, and at twenty-four, it's easier." She has said this so often, her children all can repeat it exactly, right down to the punctuation, even though it is technically inaccurate. Either that or she had six babies, not five, and carelessly left one at the supermarket between the fourth (at age 32) and the sixth (at age 36).

Giving birth to me at twenty-four was quite an accomplishment in my humble opinion. None of her children went on to do anything so momentous at the tender age of twenty-four although my brother was tolerably fluent in French (as was my mother) and very handy with computers by that age. Fertility experts are given to pointing out that it is also easier to conceive babies at 24 than at 34, which is something they might wish to tell high school girls, not panicked thirty-something women who read the Telegraph.

It's all very sad that the last political leaders who were famous for hoping to shore up their nations by encouraging women to have more babies were Germany's Hitler and Romania's Ceaucescu. This makes anyone else who might suggest it feel a little shy--except Vladimir Putin, of course.

(The famous Andrew Cusack, on a flying visit to Edinburgh, asked this weekend if the mistress of the Historical House was interested in studying any new language, and Benedict Ambrose begged him not to encourage her before she admitted that she had some hankering to learn the Russian basics. Naturally, the Russians are dying out as rapidly as the rest of the Europeans--they never really recovered from the hideous massacres of the Second World War--but the thought of endless miles of  fields and cunning little dachas appeals. One imagines ending one's days as a 90 year old subsistence farmer /babushka, feeding the chickens and boiling beets. What neighbours there are to come to the funeral [if, indeed, she does not just totter to the edge of the grave she had the foresight to dig] will remark upon her strange accent and habit of singing a foreign song [i.e. Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver] whenever it snowed.)

The solution to the fertility problem may be free university tuition to all men and women who put off higher education until they are thirty.  As this is my birthday, please indulge me in my social engineering. My planned society looks like this:

Education of European Citizens

I. Babies at home/private daycare until parents go to uni at age 30.

II. State-funded university daycare for children under 6 of university students. Curriculum: family life, sharing, table manners, colours, shapes, seasons, time.

III. Elementary school from ages 6 to 12. Curriculum: arithmetic, science, divinity, reading, handwriting, music, drawing, painting, French (for English*) or English-as-a-Second-Language, history, geography, physical education with martial arts component, family life. (*Heritage language, e.g. Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, compulsory for children in applicable nation.)

IV. High school 12-18 (boys and girls in separate schools). Curriculum: maths, science, div, classical philosophy, literature studies, including composition, music, drawing, painting, modern languages, history, geography, physical ed (still with martial arts component), marriage and parenting studies. Optional but available: Classical languages, computer programming. Prerequisite to philosophy: geometry.

V. Vocational training 18-20 (men and women in separate institutions). Students may opt out of state apprenticeship programs to be apprenticed to family businesses instead, but will be required to take the state exam in the applicable trade/business. All programs to include work-family balance training. Cash bonus for graduates of Early Childhood Education. Alternative option: military.

VI. Marriage, early parenthood, work from ages 20-30. (Family allowance to parent who opts to remain home with child/ren.)

VII. University from age 30. State funding for all who apply for the first four-five years. Graduate education after 35 merit-based. Maximum full-time university education: ten years. Alternative option to soldiers: OTC.

Singles will note that the pressure on singles to marry before 30 will be greater than ever. However, this pressure will fall once again upon men, whose interest in women will be whetted by eight years of educational separation. The fact that they will be in work from the age of 20 is an added inducement to family life. And as most human beings are conventional, they will just want to do what the other men are doing, whatever they say to the contrary.

University graduates in the Arts who behaved foolishly, lazily and wickedly in our twenties, and have ruefully come to the conclusion that undergraduate education is wasted on the young, will appreciate the idea of citizens delaying higher education until the age of 30. Scientists, however, may point out that scientists tend to make their best discoveries before the age of 30. My society may have to make allowances for this.

At any rate, the option of dramatic career change is there. If a citizen dreams of being an archaeologist, that's lovely. He or she will spend two years learning some related trade (like using very fine brushes to clean paintings, statues and fossils), do something immediately practical (like museum conservation) for ten years, and only then indulge himself or herself in reading about dinosaurs or long-dead peoples.

However, if after twelve years of highly specialized dusting, the citizen wants a complete change, he or she can apply to study something completely different, meeting with a career adviser while choosing courses. The career adviser will take into consideration the citizen's hobbies. Obviously a painter-duster who studies French in her spare time is more likely to excel in French Literature--and go on to teach French--than the painting-duster who stares open-mouthed at the telly from her child/ren's bed-time until her own.

The martial arts component is to instill physical and mental courage in citizens, male and female, instill compassion and respect for enemy combatants, and give them the sand to leap upon foreigners who behave exceedingly badly in public.

Well, that's a nice surprise. Instead of focusing on my beautiful self--whose birthday it is--this blog post is almost entirely concerned with the reordering, fertility, enrichment, happiness and survival of European society via education and job training. Which is all one wants on one's birthday besides, of course, world peace and Polish cookbooks.

Update: If a family member who has not already lavished the birthday girl with gifts is wondering what might make a nice Christmas/birthday present, Geometry for Dummies has just taken my fancy.


  1. Happy Birthday!!!

    Your society sounds interesting. Why the cash bonuses for Early Childhood Education, though, specifically? Here in the US, at least, it's hard to get a job in that field because there are so many people who have that degree/want to work in the lower grades. Cash bonuses for teachers for upper-levels and/or who are willing to teach in poor schools would be more useful, I think.

  2. Well, this is for Europe and the whole point is to make it child-centered, and I thought making early child-care (as the trade you do in your twenties) a priority trade would be a good idea, since what it means here is not school teaching but daycare for the under-6 children. Teaching elementary school at any level would probably need university training, so I don't envision schoolteachers being younger than 35.

    B.A. pointed out that there's a lot of involvement of the state here, and the 10 years of trade work a form of National Service, but I think it would be pretty awesome if to be young was to be a blue/pink collar worker, and university education was a reward for having been a seriously and obviously contributing member of society, through work and having babies, for ten years.

    B.A. also said there was no trade that helps you to be a philosopher, but I think all trades could help you become a philosopher!

    1. Oh, and also it would be great if "to be young" meant to be the parent of babies and little kids. As this is a fertility-focused society, boys and girls are brought up with characters and skills they need to be good spouses and parents.

    2. All trades certainly help in becoming a philosopher!

      My concerns are the involvement of the state, how would a woman who marries young and keeps having babies ever get to uni, and how much my (overpriced) college Ed has helped me as a mother. Though, some of that help is due to the fact that through it I unlearned much of the false things I was taught when younger. So that might not be necessary if education through secondary schools was grounded in truth.

    3. Europe, as I experience it, is already staggeringly socialist and statist, so I am just reworking it to encourage the birthrate--in a way that does not suggest in any way that women are baby machines. The idea is to start having babies when women are at their most fertile (and men at their most, um, energetic) and delaying uni until the age of 30. It shouldn't be a problem having babies after the age of 30, if you're in uni in my society, for you take the babies with you to school, visit them between classes, feed them, whatever. (We noted on a post below that the largest group of women having abortions are at the current university age. Take them out of uni until they are grown up, and this won't happen. Married women of 30+ with kids nearby, and maybe their husbands in the next department, are not going to be getting drunk at keggers to "lose their inhibitions" and "experience real life.") The university daycare is absolutely key to my plans.

      Most definitely, education through the secondary schools will be grounded in truth, with a heavy emphasis on building characters than can sustain marriages and the challenges of parenting. It would be strongly about family as building block of nation (and nation as building block of a peaceful Europe), and deeply suspicious of the potential tyranny of individualism which (before my reforms) was a strong factor in the suicide of Europe.

      If your education up to the age of 20 has left you unable to sustain a marriage, raise a family and earn a living with an in-demand trade, than what good is it?

    4. I'm clearly in the minority but my ideal of family life does not involve both parents leaving all day or daycare, even close by.

      . If a woman of reasonable fertility marries at 21 or 22, she'll be on her 5th or 6th kid by 30- shouldn't that baby be with her siblings?

    5. That's fine. Although the 18-20 trade training is enforced by law, nobody HAS to go to university at 30. You can put it off until later if you like. (Everyone gets a minimum of five years. Technically you could be a stay-at-home or part-timer until you are 70 and only THEN go to uni. I don't know why you would, though. It would be better to "retire" at 65 from your trade and THEN cash in your coupon for five years of uni. I think many mothers would wait until the last child was in school before going, so that means a lot of bright-eyed 40 frosh. Also, stay-at-home mothers get an allowance (in part because they are not using the excellent, pricy, state day care service): really, my state is trying to do its best for mothers and children while not blighting women's intellectual and career hopes.

      I don't see the objection about the kids not being together. When I was in Grade 9, all my brothers and sisters were in different places. Meanwhile, all under-school age children get to use the university daycare, should their parents be students.

      So if we have Susie (picture-duster now training to be a French teacher) and Greg (sanitation engineer now training to be a marine biologist), age 30, and they married at 23 and have three children, the 6 year old goes to School, and the 4 and 2 year old go to Uni with Mum and Dad, put in the university creche for as long as Mum and Dad are on campus. Susie and Greg can pick up the children and take them home whenever they like, and the schoolbus brings them their 6 year old at 4 PM. Ideally it wouldn't be much different than leaving the kids with a friend with kids while doing errands.

      I have distinct memories of part-time uni daycare for me and my eldest brother, even when my mother was a stay-at-home mother. She liked the extra time to herself to do chores (etc) and

    6. we were close to my dad. Nothing bad happened, and it was a nice break for my mum. My memories are mostly of the water table, which I thought the most awesome thing I had seen in all my three years of life.

  3. Happy Birthday!

    Not sure I agree with all your society ideas; it is much harder taking up study when older and after a break away from study. And how 30+ students would cope with 8 kids with the oldest entering their teens while studying is another matter to ponder :D

    Of more serious concern would be knocking a decade off the useful life of a uni grad. If medical doctors start a decade later, so you cut their working life from 40 to 30 years you need 1/3 more doctors to treat the same number of patients over their working life. Solves unemployment I suppose...

    But certainly, schooling teens on parenting & family skills would be helpful. No-one ever talked to my cohort about marriage etc when in our teens or twenties.

    Contrary to myth, many guys are quite pro-marriage at a young age (16+), but simply can't afford it, and girls aren't interested in marriage generally until their late 20s, by which time guys have given up. I know a church couple in their early 20s who discussed marriage - her parents said they were too young. Sad really, as both were quite mature for their age.

    Perhaps there would be less parental objections of 'you're too young to marry' if there were older childless aunties drafted in to nanny the extra children your young marriage scheme would bring? :)

    Anyway, don't stop the alt.society ideas. Always good to imagine how things can be improved, especially on birthdays. :)


    1. My society's retirement age will be 70, minimum. As everyone gets to choose from a series of trades and then get an automatic state-paid "second chance" to train for a new career at 30, hopefully there won't be 62 year old clock watchers just dying to stay home and do nothing. My dad is 75, and he's still working. He loves his work. I want a society where people have five children and love their work. Like, um, my parents.

      Guys would be more able to marry if 1. they were educated for useful trades and working at them from age 20. And girls would be more amenable to marriage if people stopped telling them only dumb girls marry young. At the same time, though, schools currently do not train children and teens to be good spouses and parents, so there is good reason right now for parents to discourage their immature "kidults" from early marriage.

      Another goal of my society is to make sure the majority of citizens are adults by age 20. Real adults.

  4. I'm commenting on such a small detail of this thought-provoking post that this probably counts as off-topic, but I just wanted to say that, thanks to a Canadian ex-girlfriend, I must be one of the few UK readers who actually recognised your reference to Gilles Vigneault (just as I enjoy Hilary White's occasional allusions to Cub; they were on the same mixtape!). Sorry, please carry on with the conversation.