|Illustration by Rima Staines|
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.