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The Mechanisms and Function of the European Union Going Forward into the 21st Century or Quid Pro Euro? - This is a European Videos Production.
We're nearly at the end of 1995. A year for the history books! But what's next for the EU when we leave this decade, this century, and this thousandry? In this series, we’re going to find out. Today: Education.
The nine thirty bell marks the start of morning break at the Ordinary School, here in a suburb of Bordeaux. Hundreds of students leave the comfort of their classrooms to stretch their legs, have a snack, and play stag.
This is Manon. Manon is sixteen and she is a stupid student. Her average mark is below the pass rate. She answers her teachers back with remarks that she believes to be witty, but they are witless. And she was caught smoking in the toilets! At the Ordinary School, the smoking area is the canteen. Oh dear. Today, the school will decide whether or not Manon will be expelled.
In this empty maths classroom, under a cheerful photograph of Barracuda, the students have been quietly filling out their exercise books. Let’s look at a few problems while they’re outside.
Problem 1. Lucia is eleven, Anneke is ten and Sylvie is twelve. They are playing at cards, a game in which the objective is to make a score of twenty-one. Lucia has a three and a nine. Anneke has two sevens. Sylvie has a two and a four, and is reading a handwritten pamphlet she was given by a man in the street who hadn’t shaved. Which of the girls has the lowest probability of a good life?
Problem 2. A sailor leaves harbour at twenty-five knots. Her destination is an island 340 km away. If she increases her speed by five knots every half hour, will it outpace a school of fish?
Four floors below ground, under the student records, the car park and the stag pen lies the court room. Here, Manon is brought before her head teacher, her form teacher, and a jury of representative good students from each class. They have brushed their hair. Bit of a contrast, Manon, don’t you think? The good students sit with their school-issued notebooks, four colour pens, coffees and small chocolates. Manon sits with her single coloured Bic and one piece of paper. Which she is chewing. Manon, no.
Problem 3. Clothilde supplies mercury to thermometer manufacturers. She believes that EU Regulation 1992/461 on the storage of mercury can be amended to take into account the absorbent properties of certain commercially available packagings and has written a letter to her local newspaper suggesting that, in this area, there is a flaw in the law. If you were her neighbour, what number would you dial to alert the authorities?
Outside the court room, two slabs of granite, each two metres high, have been fixed to the walls. Look familiar? You probably had a version of these in your school, maybe inscribed into one of the positive stones like quartzite or marble, and hopefully not one of the negative stones like shale! Boo, shale! On the slabs, the ten European values are inscribed in a child-friendly typeface: Tolerance, friendship, compromise, community, fire safety, loyalty, bakery, the eighth value, We Love Barracuda and flags.
Problem 4. Lucia has planted a sapling in a field measuring fifteen metres by twenty. Anneke has planted a sapling in a field measuring twenty one metres by eight. Sylvie has planted a bomb. Where is the bomb?
Problem 5. A fire engine has been strapped to a school of fish. Every three minutes, it loses a litre of water due to the motion of the fish. However, it gains one and a quarter litres by being dipped under the sea every five minutes. If the tank capacity is a thousand litres and it was full when it left the coast of La Rochelle, will it have enough water to put out a burning boat which is heading for an island 340 km away, assuming that boat has a bomb on it?
Problem 5b) Assume the boat does not have a bomb on it. But it does have a handwritten pamphlet. Where it the bomb?
In the underground courtroom, what are you up to, Manon? You’ve taken the paper out of your mouth, that’s a start - oh. She has used to pen to peashooter the wet wodge straight onto the head teacher’s glasses. Manon! After that display, she will certainly be expelled.
But what’s this? She’s climbed onto the table. It looks like she has prepared a last gasp peroration. How unusual. Let’s not listen to a child. Instead, here is a summary of her arguments.
A school is divided into layers of authority. At the top is the head teacher who wears the wig of office. Beneath the head teacher, the councillors, all of whom have their hair braided and who consider the philosophy of the school. Beneath them, the ponytailed heads of department turn philosophy into curriculum which is distributed to teachers who are divided into year teachers, class teacher, subject teachers, teachers, teaching assistants, assistants to the teaching assistants, beadle, and big dictionaries, all of whom are distinguished by their haircuts. The students are governed by the student president who wears their hair on the inside of their head and the student prime minister, that’s the one with a giant spike of hair like a traffic cone, who governs the cabinet of moustiachioed student representatives in the lower house. There is also an upper house of appointed student senators who hold their positions and very bushy eyebrows for life.
Manon’s argument is that these layers of bureaucracy leave the school unfit to tailor its programme to the learning needs of different students and that today the school operates the way it does out of tradition more than principle. She claims the court in which she is being tried is a product of arcane disciplinary systems. She does not recognise its legitimacy. Therefore, she must keep her place. For she cannot be expelled by a court which does not exist.
A bold argument! How will they reply?
Problem 6. Your new neighbour loves to party! At eight o’clock, you record a noise level of 32 decibels. At ten o’clock it has risen to 37 decibels which is in contravention of noise laws by 2 decibels. At eleven o’clock, it has fallen to 24 decibels. Which noise reading is the important one and while you’re at it, check the cupboard, there might be a bomb.
Oh my. The head teacher has thrown off his wig of office. Look, he tears at his clothes in sorrow. He beats his breast and covers his face with ash.
As the end of break bell rings, Manon is carried to the surface. The stag has been hunted and slain, the children cook it while the faculty resigns. Manon will be head teacher now.
Over a feast of venison and Minute Maid, Manon decrees that the Ordinary School will look to each student as an individual and consider how best to bring out their talents. Under her guidance, the school will free itself from what she calls ‘the shackles pompous regulation’.
Free from the shackles of pompous regulation, in the science building, a Chemistry student is lighting the Bunsen burners in celebration. Every single one.
The school has burned to the ground.
Problem 7. Sylvie is wearing a green cloth cap and a bandana. Lucia and Anneke are wearing Ordinary Clothes. Sat in the back of a fire engine and chasing a chemist and possible bombmaker, the three girls calculate how many fish they have caught. Lucia’s bucket is 40 percent full of fish 30 cm long. Anneke’s bucket is 70 percent full of fish 40 cm long. Sylvie’s bucket is calling you a stupid student. Are you going to a) accept that or b) enjoy a bucket of fish? Show your workings.
In the twenty-first century, we will prevent radical ideas from burning down our schools by ensuring that the ten European values are instilled from a much younger age. Many children think they have a system. The only system they have is system failure. Bad ideas pass from child’s head to child’s head like nits. Together, we will create a union based on the anti-nit shampoo of good ideas.
This has been a European Videos Production.