Not on your life. There was a girl on my bus home today. It was five-thirty, and she got on the bus with her suitcase, so I can only infer that she is a first year, going home for reading week. When she got on, there was nowhere for her to sit, so she had to stand at the front of the bus, directly in front of three boys who were sitting in the laid-back, ‘my-balls-are-so-big-I-can’t-possibly-sit-with-my-legs-at-anything-less-than-a-45-degree-angle’ pose. Cool kids. Or trying to be. And the girl was nervous. She seemed like the nervous type, with her fingernails bitten down to the quick. And as she stood there, desperately trying to keep her balance as the bus hurtled round corners and braked a little harder than was comfortable, she just seemed to get more nervous. She reddened. She kept pulling her sweatshirt down over her hips. She kept brushing her hair down over her face. She was chewing the inside of her cheeks. She was a pretty girl, lacking the half-a-centimetre of pancake make-up that half the female students seem to apply to their faces every morning, but she was obviously anxious and, it seemed to me, insecure. I don’t know this student. Never seen her before in my life. But what I wanted more than anything was to go over and tell her she’d be okay. To stop stressing about her hips. To not get freaked out by boys trying to be cool. To realise that one day, it wouldn’t all be such a big deal, and that she’d laugh when she realised how much it had once meant to her. I didn’t though, partly because it would probably seem overly creepy, and partly because I realised I was projecting. Reading the memories of the insecurities of my 18 year old self in her, when everything was governed by hormones. When everything was monumental and life-altering and personal. And then I became even more convinced that, fun as it was, there is nothing in this world that could convince me that I’d like to be 18 again. My insecurities are so much easier to hide at 35.

So, I hear a lot about how public sector workers, and teachers and academics in particular, ‘wouldn’t survive a minute in the real world.’ Hmmm. No-one seems to be able to explain to me, however, what this real world is and why ‘my’ world is imaginary.

This academic year I have taught students about integration, cultural understanding, how to apply for jobs, how to choose the jobs you apply for, how to read newspaper articles critically and understand the issues in formatting and language choice which are designed to influence the reader. I have taught them the basic principles of translation and interpreting, how to read films and novels and plays actively, instead of sitting back and disengaging their minds and consuming without critique. I’ve taught them about the urban planning and demographic issues facing a world where – it is estimated – 75% of the population will live in cities by 2050. I’ve taught them about the digital divide, and how to read, write, understand and speak a different language. I’ve taught them about the issues raised by globalisation when talking about human rights and environmental technology, about diaspora and hybridity, about identity and ‘Othering’, about business ethics and the role of trade unions in Germany’s economic life.  I’ve taught them about contemporary European politics and history, about Russia and its relationship to Europe, about Berlusconi and the Western Balkans. I’ve taught them about environmentalism and regionalism. I’ve taught them about marketing that has led to Germany currently having its lowest unemployment in 20 years. I’ve taught them about the Nazis and the aftermath. I’ve taught them how to analyse poetry and films and cabaret songs. I’ve taught them how to write convincingly, how to organize their thoughts logically, how to present in public confidently. I’ve taught them how to read exam papers, how to meet deadlines and how to deal with consequences.

I’ve also listened to, advised and consoled them about relationship break-ups, life decisions, bereavements, unplanned pregnancies, family problems and all the other issues which make up their very real lives.

So could someone please tell me what there is about this that is in any way imaginary and in any way less worthwhile or valuable than anything done in the private sector? Please?

Okay, so I haven’t been here for ages. And one of those reasons is that I have been incredibly busy due to a shift in my job responsibilities. This is a positive shift – it bodes well, or as well as anything can these days, for the future. I have been made year abroad coordinator for the German-speaking countries. It’s a lot  of admin, which is a pain in the arse, but it’s a good position to have. I’ve lost some of my teaching because of it, and had some other teaching alterations due to other positional shifts within our section, so I’m teaching on the fly, which I generally don’t like to do, and rapidly researching when I get the chance. I’m working a regular 60-70 hours a week at the moment. It’s insane.

A long introduction, but necessary, because it explains why I fell for it. The bait, that is. On Facebook. One day, I’ll learn to ignore the posts of old school companions who I haven’t seen for more than 16 years that insult or offend me. But not yet. Apparently. The post in question related to teachers and their putative inability to survive in the ‘real world.’  And it’s this term that pisses me off. Something rotten.

Those who claim to live in the ‘real world’ can’t actually define it, nor can they actually tell me why teachers and academics live in a ‘fictive/imaginary/unreal world. It usually has something to do with long holidays and short hours. Ha! Maybe that’s why I’m so tired – all 70 of the ‘unreal’ hours I’ve worked for the past seven days are fake. Of course, there is no mention of rather meagre wage structures or the lack of bonuses and overtime payment in the tirades against these people that live in the ‘fictive’ world of education – they are equally imaginary of course.

What surprises me is that all these ‘real’ people actually continue to send their children to these ‘fake’ schools. Send them down the coalmine instead, or out into the fields. Or into retail. That’s real.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, introduces his theories by pointing out that by walking along Fifth Avenue in New York, he will see more people in a couple of hours than his ancestors 2000 years ago would have seen during the course of their entire lives.  This got me thinking. What would my ancestors think if they had to ride the buses I ride on everyday?

What would they make of the pensioners who hang around shivering at the bus stops in the morning, waiting for the magic hour of 9.30 to arrive, so that their free bus-passes become valid?

What would they make of the organised mid-morning trips to Loughborough for groups of adults with learning difficulties and their chaperones?

What would they make of the children, imprisoned in the confines of their push-chairs, desperately trying to drive their mothers to the very brink of sanity by throwing everything they can onto the floor?

What would they make of the university buses in the early mornings, filled up with students yawning, hair still wet from the shower, plaintively ignoring everyone else while nodding along to the rhythm of their MP3 players, and the girl, standing up because there are no seats left, who in her day-dreams forgets to pay attention when the bus goes round a roundabout at speed and ends up doing an exotic pole-dancing move while trying to keep her balance?

Or the mid-morning uni buses, still full, but this time with a slightly smellier cohort: the student who has obviously spent hours applying bucket loads of ‘product’ to his hair so that it has that ‘just got out of bed’ look; the student next to him who looks and smells like he clearly has just got out of bed; the slightly giggly groups who still reek of alcohol at 11am and are quietly hiccuping to themselves; the post-graduates, eagerly reading up on South African poetry and Heidegger?

What would they make of the late evening buses filled with exhausted people desperate to go home and all jealously guarding the seat next to them with their bags so that the drunks don’t sit next to them?

I have no idea what my ancestors would make of all this, in part because I don’t know what to make of it myself. I am pretty sure, though, that despite the smells, the coughs, the over-crowding, the waiting in the cold, it is far more interesting than sitting in a car every morning to get to work.

The semester started today. The Narnia-esque fog that blanketed the city lifted to reveal a gorgeous, cloudless, blue sky and finally the business of teaching could commence. I’ve had one class so far, and have another this afternoon, and then five more this week, and possibly two further classes added to the load next week. Still, I’m not complaining for once – I have work and it’s work I like.

I don’t really like the first week though. It’s full of stopping and starting. Classes are – by and large – nothing but answering questions, distributing module handbooks and assignments and trying to get students (or should I say clients?) on side and enthusiastic about the year to come.

Today’s classes were/are level 2 / second year classes – students I already know and like, names I’ve already learned. Tomorrow I’ll have about 60 newbies across two classes – I feel that my record of learning all names by the end of the first week is about to fall.

Most people who know me know that I’m a leftie. I believe that human beings function best within a society, and that societies in general should be inclusive. I believe strongly that governments should be responsible for ensuring that all members of the society they govern have equal rights and opportunities and should not be penalised for being poor, for being of a certain ethnicity or gender, or for being sick. I judge a society’s success not by the amount of land and other communities it governs, not by the amount of money generated within that society, but by markers such as literacy, life-expectancy, social mobility, the percentage of the population which lives above the poverty line, and the provision of equal access for all sections of society, regardless of race, gender or financial prosperity, to education, freedom of expression and faith, and healthcare. And although not perfect by any means, I believe that the United Kingdom’s performance in these areas in the past 60 years has been relatively solid.

So, reading the news the other evening, I came across an article on the BBC website in which the vice-chancellors of UK universities expressed their fears and projections for the future of arts and humanities at their institutions, and it doesn’t look good. There seems to be an imminent 75% cut to government subsidies for arts and humanities teaching, with the remaining 25% phased out by 2014. What this will mean for students is that fees will at least double just to cover the teaching costs, and as such, students who cannot afford £7000+ a year will not go to university to study in arts and humanities courses. Students who can afford it will continue, but there is significant evidence to support the suggestion that those students tend to come from private schools, and have already had an introduction to arts and humanities; students who come from state funded schools, particularly students in poorer areas, may not have had the opportunity to study languages, philosophy or politics at those schools for financial reasons, and now they will be denied the opportunity to study them in higher education. Arts and humanities – history, geography, languages, media and cultural studies, philosophy, psychology, English, linguistics, politics and international relations – will become subjects only available to the rich and privileged.

The importance of arts and humanities education cannot necessarily be measured in terms of economic output, and therein lies the problem. In a political environment in which the Conservative Party have committed themselves to eliminating the structural budget deficit within four years, despite the Liberal Democrat empty rhetoric about politics for the long term, all areas of public spending are facing immediate cuts regardless of the long term impact. The easy things to cut – certainly in education, but also in other areas such as health and transport – are long-term projects, projects which don’t necessarily fit into a simple mathematical equation of “engineering student = future engineer”, projects which cannot easily be measured as ‘profitable’. Within this ridiculously short-term and dangerous rush to reassert the Conservative agenda, arts and humanities seem to be an easy target.

Today’s Observer suggests that the situation is even worse and that fees could be raised to £10,000, essentially denying any prospective student who doesn’t come from a wealthy family or who balks at taking on their own ‘structural deficit’ to the tune of at least £30 000 by the time they’re 21, the opportunity to study at an institution of higher education.

The fundamental problem with both the ‘privatisation’ of education in general and the reduction of arts and humanities education in particular is the lasting damage it will do to this society and others we come into contact with. The human race is incredibly complex, due to their vastly different languages, faiths, cultures, histories and identities. Without understanding these differences, these complexities, any country that tries to interact on the global stage will be unable to function effectively. The arts and humanities work towards increasing this understanding – as a German teacher, you don’t just teach the language, but about the country, the history, the culture that informs German identities and informs relationships between Germany and other countries, and as such inform your students not just about Germany, but also about their own society, their own history, their own identity. By denying arts and humanities education to wide sections of society, these same wide sections will not be able to bring, as employees, this understanding and awareness to any company that has links with other countries, and therefore become far less employable, at least in the sectors of the economy which pay higher wages. How this contributes to the government’s claim to put ‘fairness’ first is beyond me, and I can’t help wondering what UK society will look like when only rich people can afford to go to university, when public libraries are shut down or moved to pubs, when museums are closed due to lack of funding and when, as a society, we are unable to contribute in any way to global progress and understanding.

So, having spent days, weeks, months stewing about this and marvelling at my impotence, while revelling in my useless arts and humanities education by calling up random quotes in Ancient Greek, I’ve decided that maybe I should follow Rob’s example and start to read zombie stories to prepare myself for the inevitable, inexorable march towards cultural death and social devastation.

Tomorrow I head out on the first part of my journey towards the dreaded Saturday hen do. It is dreaded for many reasons, not least because it’s the first I’ve ever been to, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with such gender-specific ‘entertainment’. When I think ‘hen-do’, I am assaulted with memories of witnessing various hen parties while I was in Liverpool, full of screaming, bright orange women wearing L-plates and little more, snogging strippers and giving their underpants away to anyone who asked for them. It is also dreaded because it’s taking place at Ascot, somewhere I have no desire to go and absolutely no affinity with. The third reason it’s become such a huge source of stress is that it’s costing a hell of a lot of money, and working where I do, that is becoming increasingly limited.

However, after much to-ing and fro-ing, including being halfway to typing an email saying I couldn’t make it, I have decided that compromise is important and I’m prepared to make some:

  • I will go there and have fun.
  • I will not sulk.
  • I will not grumble about the cost and I will laugh at jokes and participate in g-rated games and present giving.
  • I will not try to get myself thrown out for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.
  • I will not wear my ‘power to the people’ t-shirt.
  • I will take advantage of the open bar, but I will not get obnoxiously drunk and get myself disinvited from subsequent wedding.

However, there are some compromises I’m not prepared to make:

  • I will not be guilted into going out for the evening do afterwards.
  • I will not lick anything off anyone.
  • I will wear neither dress nor fascinator, regardless of implied dress code on the information leaflets. If you say smart, you get smart. Nothing more.