Classroom comedy capers

A brochure for the local Further Education college dropped through my door last week, and I am still laughing.

As it happens, I approve of FE colleges, and I certainly approve of those people, born with few advantages, who are unable to get away to university or walk straight into a job with good prospects at 18 and who use them to slowly but surely pull themselves up in the world. I also like those whose daily existence is necessarily dull as ditch-water, but who still set out to widen their understanding of the world. When I was younger, I was surrounded by people who worked by day or night in coal mines and steel works, but who still read widely, painted, played, sung or acted in amateur groups. In addition, institutions like the WEA were still going strong, and in turn led to a wider take-up of night-classes in stuff we now hardly know about.

Somewhere around Thatcherism the idea of a liberal arts education went out of fashion, and educational establishments were supposed to rebrand their courses as entertainment products … or something. In the Isle of Man, as I remember, this happened around 1990. The result was that the only people doing any night-classes (outside of folk with day-jobs doing shorthand or accounts because finance sector employers hate day-release) were bored middle class and middle aged types, or wealthier retirees. To be honest, divorcees and others with ailing (or non-existent) sex lives also found them a great place to scout for partners.

The inevitable result (when mixed with the island’s propensity for attracting cash-strapped eccentrics as new residents) was that the course tutors, students and subjects got ever wierder as anyone vaguely employable, shaggable or just capable of getting through the day without strong medication and professional help did other things.

One other development was that a generation of folk who, previous to that, enjoyed a sheltered (and financially subsidised) existence within church groups were put on to a great scam by fellow-worshippers then still employed at the college. The scam went like this….

Having problems attracting believers to your prayer group? Faced with a heating bill for your big draughty church if you even run a prayer group?

Why not reinvent your prayer group as a night class, use your mates in the Education Department to get it on the college prospectus, then clean up? Providing you enrol enough punters (easy job, just tell them non-attenders will go to hell) you get an upfront fee as a tutor, and as long as you hit the minimum weekly number the money keeps rolling in.

And if they don’t turn up? Just fiddle your class registration sheet. With nobody but the college caretaker and canteen lady working after 5 PM, who will ever know?

This might explain how, for years, one church minister ran an introduction to theology class at public expense, not only collecting the fees he used to get from his congregation when he ran it at home (plus saving on heating, tea and coffee), but also money from the Education Department and a bogus CV entry as a college lecturer… which in turn proved useful when he fled the island and set up shop in another country without an extradition treaty.

This might also explain how a bogus ‘drug and alcohol counselling’ outfit run by one of the UK’s most notoriously homophobic religious pressure groups can still afford a Manx worker.

Previously, the group relied on a steady stream of income as ‘drug counsellors’ thanks to their closeness to the evangelical founders of the Chief Minister’s Task Force on Alcohol and Drugs. After some disastrous ‘workshops’ where they were openly mocked by teenagers, they started running them for ‘concerned parents’ instead, still with government subsidy.

Then their friend in government was moved to another department. Then the Task Force itself fell apart after one too many screw-ups caused their findings in a Europe-wide survey into teenage drug habits to suggest that the island had more teenage cokeheads than, say, the entire South-East of England. Then even the most gullible concerned parents started wondering why, exactly, they were paying money for swivel-eyed loons to tell them that if their kids were gay or having sex before marriage they would burn in hell.

So now, with no other options on the table, they have teamed up with others rendered unemployable by the collapse of a drug strategy that was always too dumb to work and the last chancers from that project (currently funded by an informal sin tax on the online betting industry, which will soon be lost because, frankly, that industry no longer needs to play nice). Together, this bumbling collection of amateurs and spook-fanciers will rerun the sessions previously offered to gullible parents, this time as two one-night sessions on spotting substance abuse in kids.

As all their ‘facts’ are based on common drug myths from the 1970’s and they generally run out of material in about 10 minutes it would almost be worth paying to watch them.

Oh, we already have.

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