There’s a piece of archive footage doing the rounds at the moment. It’s of a sweet eleven year-old girl talking to The Woman From The Radio. After shocking confessions of assault and battery of a boy who she left with a bleeding nose, showing no apparent remorse for having done so, the girl goes on to say: “I want to go all the way to the very top. “
That was Katie Taylor showing remarkable prescience. Little did we all know she would fulfil that prophecy on August 9th 2012 when she won the Olympic Gold medal.
There is a moment in all our lives when we are absolutely sure what it is we are going to do when we grow up. That moment usually occurs before the age of twelve when we get so good at something, so obsessed with one thing, that there is a moment of clarity. For some, like Katie Taylor and other high achievers, these goals remain in the sky like a Northern Star, to be used as a constant by which to navigate their lives. For the rest of us underachievers, visibility becomes obscured by clouded judgement. There are a combination of reasons for this loss of focus. Members of the opposite/same sex waste our time by acting like maybe, just maybe we might be in with a chance before GOING OFF AND SHIFTING SOMEONE ELSE, nature adds some hormones and slowly we come more under the influence of what The World expects us to do. This affects everyone, some more than others.
Nothing more embodies the expectations of The World than the CAO/CAS system. The Leaving Cert results are out next week and this will be a time when many students confirm what they are going to be doing when they grow up – or rather what they are going to waste their time doing before finally, years later realising what they should have done.
The Leaving Cert itself doesn’t help. It actively spooks children into picking something sensible by including a certain Robert Frost poem on the Leaving Cert Syllabus. ‘The Road Not Taken’ is about choices made and not made. It finishes with the chilling stanza:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost was, in this verse referring to his decision to put down Sports Studies in Letterkeny Institute of Technology as his first option even he would “definitely have got Ag Science”. It wasn’t long before Frost reverted back to his true love: writing poetry about decisions. His Letterkenny years were not a complete waste though, as he won a Sigerson and commemorated his time there with the lesser known poem ‘They’re All Mental Lads Altogether In Donegal’
At least Frost didn’t just do something because he had the points for it. The CAO and points race perennially comes in for criticism because it leads to a situation where students are examined on having a good memory and the ability to learn by rote and not on their inherent suitability for the course they’ve picked. This was exposed last year when a sea lion from Dublin Zoo was trained to ‘get Business Studies’.
Of course the points race is not all bad. Without it, mothers would have nothing to talk about in mid to late August. What Points Who Got acts as a useful social glue and warns upcoming children not to be disappointing their mother like Fionnuala’s young one did.
The government could save money on hiring expensive consultants to produce reports on the economy. In order to find out what sectors are performing, just look at the points for that particular area and you can see the macroeconomic picture at a glance. Demand for “Overblown Slogan Design For Crap Housing Estates” degrees has collapsed while you may need 820 points for an “Anything To Do With Cloud Computing” qualification. Indeed, some are suggesting that the demand for Cloud Computing Courses could indicate The Cloud is now in a bubble.
The points system also has a downstream economic effect because, by herding people into areas they might not really want to be in, it creates a huge amount of jobs about ten years later in recruitment, and life-coaching and psychology.
But for anyone who is getting their Leaving Cert results on Wednesday, confirming their acceptance of a place a few days after, don’t worry about bad decisions. As a former civil engineering student turned programmer turned consultant turned manager turned unhappy turned scribbler/comedian, I’ve found most things turn out alright.
As for Katie Taylor, I’m not sure what she put on her CAO. Based on the evidence in her career, she definitely has the points for everything.