Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Was Life Really Better in the 1970s? The good, bad and downright ugly
Every day we read that our children will be the first generation to be less successful than their parents.  We're told hard work and  good qualifications  won't be enough to secure them good jobs  and a roof over their heads anywhere within commuting distance of London.

1970s food groups
Their conclusion? Life was better in the 1970s and we won't see its like again.  I wish someone had told us that at the time.  Born in the mid-sixties I spent much of the '70s thinking- is this it?   My parents had missed the note telling them to entertain my brother and I.  The internet was still twenty years away.  We had three television channels. Choice was so limited that there was a non-ironic kids show called "Why don't you switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?". For any of you unlucky enough to have missed this cultural wonder, here's a clip. Most days my mother told us to go and  'play in the garden'.  If we grumbled, she explained the boredom would encourage our creativity.  Something had to.

The Clangers
There were rays of light such as the gentle world of The Clangers.  Inspired by the moon landing, the series kicked off in 1969 and became a favourite. It was my tea time treat - watched with a jammy dodger.

Last week I was catching up with a school friend.  We were reflecting on how these childhood influences have affected us. After a successful career and with two children growing up, she's just taken three science A levels.  Impressive. And particularly because our friendship was  forged in the bottom O level maths stream.  We were both so bad at maths that when I scraped through my exam my parents were delirious. We were also banished from the lab where our peers were studying chemistry and physics. Aged 13 science became a strange land.
So I have spent the past 30 years believing I was just useless at maths and science. Somehow I've run multi-million pound budgets and my eldest child is an accomplished scientist with a Masters in Engineering.  I put this down to luck and my husband's C-grade in A level maths.

So how on earth did my friend manage to pull off this amazing academic coup? Simple she told me.  We were taught badly. This time she benefited from a supportive group of mature students battling to beat their childhood hang-ups. She experienced modern teaching methods - and she blossomed.  Now she's pursuing a new career.

But school did have a big upside.  We were taught to believe we should go out into the world and build careers.  That nothing should stop us (apart presumably from good science qualifications).  And I took that idea and ran with it.

And just as I don't think the 1970s were the perfect past everyone wants us to believe, I don't believe the future is bleak for our children either. For one thing, the Clangers have been brought back after 45 years by the wonderful Michael Palin.  For those of you who remember the adventures of tiny clanger and the soup dragon - you'll love this.

We were encouraged to build careers but had so few options to choose from.  Medicine was out due to my appalling science record and that left lawyer,  journalist or teacher.  Or PR as I later discovered.

But all that has changed. The  concept of today's youngsters as a 'lost generation' is a myth. They will be able to build their own careers in a way that would have been unthinkable for us.  The most valuable growth jobs tomorrow are jobs most of us haven't heard of yet.  And if they want to feel superior, they can even raid the You Tube archives for 70s television clips.  And send a prayer to the inventors of the internet.

1 comment:

  1. I admire your optimism Sally :o) While our children have benefitted from a more sophisticated education (I can't bring myself to say 'better' in that so much seems to be learning to a predefined plan nowadays) than us, I can't help but feel that the opportunities for work in the real world are fewer and further apart. In the 70s if you wanted to work there was work for you at the level you were qualified for, unfortunately that does not seem to be the case today - .

    The 70s also had a freedom of spirit which is conspicuously lacking today, and, in my world at least (journalism), there was equality in pay, conditions and respect. (Actually that's a lie, when I was the News Editor for a local paper I discovered that a woman reporter in my team was earning quite a bit more than me).
    Agreed that TV was pretty rubbish, but we knew no different and Morecambe & Wise and The Sweeney were gratefully received!