13 June 2019
‘Resilient’ vs ‘Flaky’
UK losing its lustre
By Lynda Goetz
‘Brand UK’ losing its lustre, says Google boss. This was the front-page headline in The Telegraph’s Business section on Wednesday 12th June, above an article detailing how Google’s UK head, Ronan Harris, felt that Brexit uncertainty was making it harder to sell ‘Brand Britain’ to the American tech giants. However, in a week when the Queen has praised the ‘resilient generation’ in her speech for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and we have admired the characters and attitudes of the nonagenarians who fought in their youth, perhaps it is more than simply Brexit which is the problem.
Twice in the last week we have had further examples of the over-sensitivity of the younger generation. It would appear that any connection (however remote) to something they find difficult to deal with should have resulted, at the very least, in them being given a ‘trigger ‘warning in advance. The first incidence was reported in connection with an AQA English GCSE. This contained an unseen text from H.E.Bates’s novella, ‘The Mill’, on which entrants had to comment. The story, written pre-war in 1935, tells of a servant girl who is sexually exploited by her employer and who falls pregnant. Although the actual passage used in the exam did not contain any detail of the abuse, a number of students looked it up after the exam and were prompted to complain. According to The Sun, which first ran the story, one said “I’ve heard people came out crying after the exam. People got triggered because of this extract”. Another is reported as saying, “Whoever signed off today’s English exam needs sacking. You owe students an apology.” AQA apologised, but denied that the passage was inappropriate.
The next paper to cause a problem was a Maths paper set by the Edexcel board. The question read: “There are 84 calories in 100g of banana. There are 87 calories in 100g of yoghurt. Priti has 60g of banana and 150g of yoghurt for breakfast. Work out the total number of calories in this breakfast”. It seems that this was, at least for some of the pupils, an unacceptable question given that ‘exams are primarily taken by the 15-20 age group who are also the most likely to suffer from eating disorders’. Another added that the question ‘triggered me so much… I was about to cry’. Pearson, who owns Edexcel, reviewed the question and found it to be valid. They suggested that any student who thinks that their performance might have been impacted should get in touch via their school.
I am tempted to wonder how those who landed on the Normandy beaches view this extreme sensitivity. I am well aware that most of my generation have not been tested either, but as we were largely brought up by those who had lived through World War II there was, on the whole, a reasonably no-nonsense approach to that upbringing. That those now in their sixties and seventies were effectively the first privileged generations of the post-war era has not escaped notice. The Pill and ‘Free love’ were all part of the Sixties and Seventies and many never really knew of the bravery of parents because it was not part of their culture to talk about it. Now, although ‘keeping it all inside’ is not encouraged, it does seem that those who were unwilling to talk about or share those horrendous wartime experiences have, as the Queen said, a resilience which is lacking today. Zoe Strimpel writing in Sunday’s Telegraph said, “I’d like to think that some of our teenage boys (she presumably didn’t mean to exclude girls and all the other genders) presently fretting over GCSEs would be capable of such extreme grace and courage. We can’t know and I hope we’ll never have to find out”. Let’s hope not. The chances of them living up to those old soldiers seems, on present showing, pretty remote. The news, also out this week, that the Army is unable to secure enough recruits even for the downsized army of today, does not encourage optimism. Although the recruitment campaign run by Capita, calling for ‘snowflakes’, ‘phone zombies’, ‘binge gamers’ and ‘selfie addicts’ resulted in an increase in applicants when the ads were run at the beginning of the year, when it actually came to joining up there was less enthusiasm and numbers were down again from last year; at 6,315 far short of the 10,000 needed.
Whilst it is completely understandable that today’s generation do not have the (possibly naïve) gung-ho attitude to war and patriotism displayed by their ancestors over three-quarters of a century ago (many of whom signed up at an age when today’s children are being ‘triggered’ by GCSE questions), it does not always seem like progress when what was regarded in the past as education is now seen as a reason for trigger warnings and apologies. Moral courage and commitment should not be seen as old-fashioned values.