Today let’s talk about the Leaving Cert (and its ugly little brother, the Junior Cert). Let’s look at the sort of minds that are rewarded by the system and the sort of minds that are punished by it. Given that the Leaving Cert is the closest thing we Irish have to compulsory national service, it’s an experience that we all have a view on.
In the past few weeks, listening to all the talk about the perils of “groupthink” in Ireland, I couldn’t help feeling that the Leaving Cert has a significant role in this.
The Banking Inquiry, for example, is full of the very people who upheld groupthink suggesting that the problem in Ireland was the very groupthink that they were propagating in the first place!
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
But if groupthink was the problem and these guys – the head of the Central Bank, the accountants and the regulator – were its chief proselytizers, where did it come from?
I believe it starts early in the education system and has, as its graduation day, the Leaving Cert.
When I think back to my Leaving Cert time in school, I remember there were fellas whose mammies stood behind them with a mallet when they were filling in their CAO forms to make sure they ticked law, accountancy or medicine. The holy of holies of this type of Irish mammy was to have her son in the professions.
This was what she had strived for all these years and “success” would be made concrete by the son’s entry into university and from then on the conveyor belt towards professional respectability and full membership of the middle classes.
Most of these lads were decent enough characters and went on to become partners in law firms, doctors, senior managers in the banks or department bosses in the big accountancy firms.
They were never risk takers or particularly adventurous. They knew that the system rewarded obedience and conformity and both these attributes lead to class respectability.
Today these types of fellas form a central phalanx of Ireland’s professional class. They have become the “insiders” in Ireland. They have grinded away, kissing ass when necessary and are now rewarded for their good behaviour by an equity partnership and a board directorship or three.
This endemic conventionalism as the guarantor of professional success is a crucial component of the Irish class system. The Leaving Cert can also be viewed as the annual perpetuation of the class system, particularly the professional classes.
At the Banking Inquiry, the exclusively male coterie of apologists – all of whom, I’d wager, got stellar Leaving Cert results – claimed they fell victim to “groupthinking”. Groupthink was therefore portrayed as an alien ailment that afflicted them, rather than being a creed which they enforced, sneering at anyone who had the audacity to think differently.
But maybe you can’t blame them? They were simply doing what they had done since they were in school. They were conforming to conventional wisdom.
The public scorecard of such intellectual conformity, which breeds conventional wisdom, is the Irish points system.
The Leaving Cert and the Junior Cert both reward a certain type of intelligence and punish another type. The conventional type of academic intelligence that is rewarded by the narrow-gauge exam structure, which is nothing more than a giant memory test and rewards the organized, structured brain that can make lists and systemically regurgitate the information in a systematic way.
I am not so sure that life – with all its ups and downs – is so generous or in awe of the systematic brain. As I get older, it seems to me that one of the central characteristics that distinguish people from one another is durability. This is an inner resourcefulness, which may or may not be heightened by encountering failure in school at a young age.
The child who can deal with failure at an early age might create strategies to circumvent conventional failure and develops these coping strategies earlier than the academically astute child.
The child that is used to academic failure from early on turns into the adult who accepts that they might not always be right. The children who are always told they are very clever in school tend to develop into the adults who never doubt themselves or their positions. This is how positions become entrenched and are so hard to shift.
Because of the nature of our education system, there are hundreds of thousands of brilliant Irish people walking around today who believe that they are stupid. How many exceptional people do you know who will say to you “I hated school”?
They hated it because it hated them.
Worse still, there are many people walking around Ireland who believe they are very clever when in fact they are very stupid.
These are the guys who ran the place over the past 15 years. Because the conventional man promotes people like himself, it’s not surprising that the system propagates itself at the top.
The system also fosters a type of conventional, linear intelligence. This is the type of mind that cultivates a ‘single-answer’ narrowness. We all know that there is rarely a single answer to anything.
At best, we could teach children to question, to realize the need to be flexible.
But our education system teaches them that they will be rewarded if they don’t question, if they learn one or two answers and if they are not flexible, but conformist. In a changing world, this is entirely inappropriate.
The odd thing about the new economy that we find ourselves in is the fact that the “job for life’ is gone. It’s a new journey. Resilience and resourcefulness are two valuable traits. How to recover from a setback, how to deal with failure and how to figure out what’s coming next are the questions that need answers.
In short, the most important aspect of everyone’s career these days is to know if you have a coping strategy.
I’m not too sure the Leaving Cert makes any effort to prepare our teenagers for this journey.
Spot on David! The LC does nothing to help develop ‘real’ skills to deal with life. It creates ‘T-shaped’ personalities. A depressing process for a lot of teenagers who don’t see its relevance.
Quote: ‘ The Banking Inquiry , for example , is full of the very people who upheld groupthink suggesting that the problem in Ireland was very groupthink that they were propagating in the first place ‘. If there is one thing that education does it robs you of that simplification ( quoted from Pro Richardson Oxford re: terrorist) .she maintains that terrorist have an over simplified view on issues . If this logic is followed then those that were in the Inquiry and claiming ailments that afflicted them are ‘terrorists’ .We should seek an opinion from Pro Richardson on this… Read more »
David, I can’t believe I am doing this but this morning I am throwing myself at your feet. You have just written the best piece I have yet seen on what ails Ireland – it’s education system. It creates a ruling elite that worships the petty gods of obedience and conformity.
Irish economists and politicians have been treating the symptoms not the disease. You are the first economist with enough insight to correctly diagnose the underlying disease. Unfortunately the cure will require the slaying of one big dragon – the Catholic Church. Good luck with that.
George Mombiot writing on a similar topic:
“How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates”
It gets even worse.
The PISA international system of ranking second level education education is based on the effectiveness of rote learning. This is the reason why East Asian countries that foster a Confusian-based conformity to society such as South Korea or Japan score highly on these rankings. Globalised groupthink wont create the next Google or Facebook.
Its NOT the leaving cert Dathi.
Do you want to know what it is?
Substitute the mord Corporatocracy for Matrix!
Hi David, Interesting article. I think this is not just limited to Ireland and is relatively common across the globe. China is following the same path that you describe except instead of mammy’s and daddy’s choosing a university course they start choosing what and where their kids study from primary school onwards. University degrees are almost exclusively chosen by parents. It’s amazing that parents here seem to think their kids can only succeed by being the brightest in their class particularly given that many of them have succeeded with little or no education. Lately, one of my wife’s colleagues in… Read more »
[…] “Today let’s talk about the Leaving Cert (and its ugly little brother, the Junior Cert). Let’s look at the sort of minds that are rewarded by the system and the sort of minds that are punished by it. Given that the Leaving Cert is the closest thing we Irish have to compulsory national service, it’s an experience that we all have a view on …” (more) […]
Mike I don’t believe broadening the Irish language to music and dance would have made any difference. I remember when Riverdance was first broadcast in the Eurovision I was in a pub in Omeath in Louth, near Newry. I think this village used to be Irish speaking until not all that long ago. I was waiting to be served and the telly was up behind the counter. Nobody was paying a blind bit of notice and you couldn’t hear yourself think anyway with all the chatter. This was men doing much of the talking and it was worse even than… Read more »
Just to add that Seamus Tansey (listen to him playing the copper plate) used to tell of the days you’d be chased out of Sligo town if you picked up a fiddle snd apparently in Mulligan’s in Dublin even Liam Clancy was told to button it when he started singing!
David I agree with bits of this (the professions are a menace in some ways), and I can of course see where you are coming from, but overall I think you are completely wrong. The conformism which Ireland suffers from (and in a more pronounced way than our European neighbours) is psychological and is linked to the extraversion of half the population (as everywhere in the world). I am convinced you support progressive education because it is a plank in the overall progressive platform or world view which first caricatures and then dismantles the past, a doomed utopian project. The… Read more »
I do not fully agree with those who say that PISA rankings in Asian countries are high because their societies are taught conformism and cannot think critically. While the conformistic hypothesis may be true, in my opinion it is mixing up the cause and effect. First of all, the Asian countries did not always score well in those ratings and not all Asian countries do (for example, Thailand’s scores are atrocious in all areas). Furthermore, it just happens that those Asian countries which top the rankings happen to be the countries where free market reforms had been introduced. True, conformism… Read more »
A series of economic reports not found in the mainstream. Provided to you for educational purposes and your further understanding of how you are lied to and deceived each day.
I think this article raises the issue of conformity in the irish education system and especially the leaving cert. The fact that many of the most successful irish people did not have high levels of education is very true. But is this the case internationally for example in Britain and Germany. For example look at the education levels of european leaders like David Cameron or Angela Merkel ,Cameron has a first class degree in philosophy and economics, Merkel has a PHD in Chemistry. But our politicians are teachers and solicitors, in other words conformists just like our civil service. High… Read more »
When and if one reads the prospectus for GLD one finds that there is actually no requirement for GLD to hold and store any physical gold at all. While there may be some physical bullion held by GLD it seems that most of it is making its way easward and being used to supply demand for physical. What is left is a proxy to buy gold if they feel like it. Thus much of the demand for gold did not result in gold being purchased. What was purchased is now being released to meet current demand and subdue the actual… Read more »
I would suppose that groupthink if itself was caused by the education system’s fostering of conformity, is far removed from being a cause of any significance of ‘the banking crisis’. It seems odd to persist in the view that there was a crisis. The outcomes of events and decisions made in finance and banking from 2007/8 onwards are not the result of chance or necessity but rather of design. The transfers of wealth into private hands and of debt into public hands, the surge in income inequality, the record corporate profits and the attacks on social services to mention a… Read more »
Q Euro. Ever expaqnding debt laid to the feet of the taxpayer.
“”If this is what happens when government gets out of the way, then government should get out of the way more often. Humans everywhere, given freedom to make their own choices, will usually make good ones. We don’t need government to turn chaos into order. Most of the time it will happen anyway. This is but one small example. We would see many more if government were not so all-pervasive. “”
– See more at: http://www.thedailybell.com/news-analysis/36336/Fishermen-Flout-Law-Save-Lives/?uuid=6F800609-5056-9627-3C5071902B060BF2#sthash.J0wTOV5F.dpuf
The next time you complain about the politicians remember you voted them in!!
My first blog post in a year and a half but I had to write about this issue as I feel strongly about it:
“The corruption and hypocrisy of John Delaney”
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.”
“Something wicked this way comes”
The bond market bubble has a hick-up. Goodby pension funds and endowment funds.