Bedroom furniture for young girls with the brand name Lolita has been withdrawn by Woolworths following complaints from parents
Easily the most startling fact in this farce was that nobody at Woolworths knew of Nabokov’s great novel, ‘one of the best known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature‘; nobody had seen or heard of either of the two films (the James Mason/Peter Sellers pairing, directed by Kubrick being far better than the later Adrian Lyne version); and nobody at the company was even remotely aware of the enormous popular cultural impact of Lolita. According to BBC radio news this evening, Woolworths staff had to look up Lolita on Google to discover what the fuss was about, which might have given them a little shock.
The blunder by Woolworths comes at the end of a week in which the UK’s examination authorising body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), announced that companies such as McDonalds, FlyBE and Network Rail would be permitted to deliver accredited training qualifications that would supposedly be equivalent to the 16+ school certificates, GCSEs, the 17+ Advanced Level courses, and even University Degrees, a suggestion that seemed greatly to disappoint the critic Bonnie Greer when she was asked to comment on the proposals on the BBC’s topical current affairs panel show, Question Time. She questioned vocational training and offered her preference for a general, liberal education that would, she claimed, encourage students to think for themselves.
Greer seemed reflexively collectivist, a left-behind remnant of her generation’s high watermark and a representative of all those who still share her mindset, for whom it would surely be anathema to admit the possibility that private provision of at least some education, vocational or otherwise, might not always and forever be a priori worse than that provided by the State. Consider Woolworth’s buyers, marketeers, salespeople; all of them inhabiting a shrunken mental universe in which one of the most interesting writers of the 20th Century never existed, this controversial book was never written and the subsequent very highy regarded film was never directed. Can we trust private companies to put together meaningful courses if their employees are so detached and uninformed as the staff of Woolworths?
I think we can. Most of these depressingly ignorant employees would themselves have been educated at State Comprehensive schools, schools that eject 20% of their pupils onto the labour market each year unable to read. What proportion of them will have been taught at all about the literary canon, or have been introduced to a cultural heritage beyond, for example, the badly-daubed mural tribute to murdered rapper Tupac sported on the walls of one West Midlands school (a miserable 34% of pupils with 5 A*-C at GCSE, but all conversant with West Coast gangsta rap)?
Unlike the American-born Greer, I passed through State schooling in the UK, an early disadvantage I have been attempting for years to remedy, and I have taught in several State schools. I know that many of the mainstream QCA-approved courses are a meaningless sham, introducing children to little that is useful, or even of passing interest – an achievement made possible by the combination of bureaucratic centrally-planned course specifications on the one hand and uninformed and poor teaching on the other. It is not plausible that the content, or the teaching, of privately-organised and highly vocational courses could be significantly worse than those currently delivered to many students in most schools.