Paul Hopkins Column: The generation blame in the time of the pandemic
If ever young people had, or needed, reason to let off steam and go awry as students did in Galway and elsewhere last week, then it is the year of living with the coronavirus that has provided such reason.
First the school closures and the months of uncertainty over the Leaving Cert, the Junior Cert having been scrapped altogether, and then, eventually, the agreement on a so-called assessment, but with teachers' marks being overwritten by some sort of soulless algorithm. Then the dumbing down of many of those fortunate to afford fee-paying tuition, followed by the 'right of appeal' that really wasn't a right of appeal.
Finally, the fiasco that was the revelation that the assessment of our students and their attainment or not of a place at college was deeply flawed. Add to that the dearth of opportunity to earn a few bob because of lockdown, or to simply gather in groups as the young do, and small wonder some steam — okay, a lot of steam — was let off during Freshers Week, and public health protocol ignored. Young people, by nature, take risks and we all have lapses of judgement.
The debacle over the Leaving Certificate could have knock-on effects for next year’s exams if school-leavers are forced to defer courses, according to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which says there’s “a lot of anger” among students. The coding mistake means 6,100 Leaving Cert candidates will now be awarded higher grades following a review of the flawed algorithm.
Not only were students kept in the dark over the errors but, by all accounts, Cabinet ministers too.
In the final analysis, fixing the coding errors will not give pupils the points they deserve because the entire process has been flawed and unfair from the onset. The consequences of all this for young people and their futures are frustratingly unknowable, beyond the fact that their lives will be, in some ways, profoundly different from what they might have been.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn says, rightly so, that Ireland has developed a “blame culture” around Covid-19 which is now focused on young people and their house parties and Freshers Week activities.
It seems like young people always get the blame, and not just in the time of coronavirus. It's part of the human condition that the older generation are forever down on the younger one. It's partly fear, partly self-flattery, and partly delusion, and it’s been happening for thousands of years.
The old fogeys who love to sound alarms about the fatal defects of the young always seem to forget how the story turns out: The next generation is fine. Capable. Better, even. Some will come unstuck, sure, but others will step up to the mark and carry the world forward, notwithstanding the very real challenges of climate change.
Everything we know — everything we have ever relied upon, or been impressed by, or loved, or desired — was created by a generation who had been dismissed by the one before it. If we had worsened over generations, rather than improved, we’d have nothing. We’d still be banging our heads against the passage tombs of Newgrange.
So why do they keep knocking the young? And why can’t we stop the cycle of each generation being unfairly dismissed, only to grow old and repeat the same mistake? Simple: Because we’re afraid. Afraid of being found out. Afraid of the next generation being better than we were. Of having more.
Man's earliest writings are littered with being down on the young. From 600 to 300 BC, texts of the ancient Greeks complain of children becoming tyrants, contradicting their parents and wolfing down the best food at the table. Ronan Glynn's comments about 'blame culture' should come as no surprise.
We bring a new generation into this world, only to convince them of their shortcomings so they can lay the same charges against the generation after that. We send our children into the future, only to tell them the greatest moments have passed.
Whether my generation, the children of the Sixties, have had the best of all possible worlds is for another day's debate. But perhaps we did, in terms of education, travel, medicine and technology. That may not be the future world of today's young, with its lurking dangers and growing uncertainties.
As the Argentinian poet and writer Jorge Luis Borges puts it: "The future is inevitable and precise but may not occur. God lurks in the gaps..."