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Songs: Didn't We Learn A Load Of Old Shit?

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I heard somebody say
That the schoolchildren today
Cannot conjugate their German verbs
Well I've been to Germany
And as far as I can see
Johnny Deutschlander's no better, maybe worse
And I've also found the French
Can't recite pluperfect tense
And Ils ne sont pas too bothered about that
And these days it seems to me
GCSEs appear easy
Because 'O' levels taught us pointless useless crap

Didn't we learn a load of old shit?
The 'O' level was much harder 'cos there was no sense in it
Oh, didn't we learn a load of old shit?

I can build a 3 inch wooden box
It's not a skill I've used a lot
I can name four types of Glacial Moraine
I know what Gavrillo Princip did
The foreigh policies of Pitt
(the younger), Canning, Wellington and Castlereagh
And if it's the Zeider Zee
You want to know about the come to me
Cosines, sines and tangents, cosecs, secs
Bring me a shrimp and I'll describe
Its exoskeleton, but why
They thought I'd need to do that's anybody's guess

Didn't we learn a load of old shit?
The 'O' level was much harder 'cos there was no sense in it
Oh, didn't we learn a load of old shit?

The Old Sod within me says
I had to do it - so should they
Knowing full well I'd swap places if I could
Learning how Norwegians farm
It didn't do me any harm
But then again it didn't do me any good
We're bitter and jealous because
They get to have more fun than us
But there's one arena where we'll always win
They do not know obscure facts
Or dates of battles from the past
Can't quote from Shakespeare, or remember names of Kings

Whilst we all learnt a load of old shit
So we'll always be triumphant when it comes to the Pub Quiz
I guess that's why we learnt a load of old shit
Whoop-de doo for thirteen years of old shit


Published by Wipe Out Music Publishing

This song was prompted by the rather ACE TV series "That'll Teach 'Em" on Channel 4, where a bunch of normal modern school children who'd just finished their GCSEs got a four week crash course in old fashioned 'O' Levels, supposedly to either prove or deny the constant claim of Old Sods that GCSE's are far too easy, and don't compare to the exams We All Had To Take.

I must admit that, until I saw this programme, I was very much on the side of the Old Sods, but seeing it turned me right around. I mean, YES, patently 'O' Levels WERE much much harder than GCSEs, but it soon became apparent that this is because huge chunks of the 'O' Levels were completely and utterly bloody pointless. For instance, English Literature concentrated far more on learning HUGE CHUNKS of text to be regurgitated, rather than much attempt to understand, let alone ENJOY, what was going on. History, similarly, was a whole load of parrot learning of dates and times - I think my year was the last to actually DO 'O' Levels, so we did get a nod towards "Investigative History" in the lessons, but still most of the exam was just a lengthy memory test.

I did Geography 'O' Level. At the time we used to taunt our teacher constantly by asking what the POINT of it was, and though I must admit Adult Life has shown me that a lot of MATHS is EXTREMELY useful (I was briefly RE-Old Sod-IFIED when I discovered Young People Today don't learn long division!! That's the HANDY bit!), I have yet to find ANY point in ANYTHING I learnt in those long long dreary lessons. Similarly the Physics, Chemistry and ESPECIALLY Biology we sat through means nothing to me now.

The moment that REALLY convinced me of the pointlessness of The Olds Ways was when the arsehole of a French teacher complained that "They couldn't even conjugate their French Verbs!!" Now, i CAN conjugate French Verbs (je suis, tu est, il est etc etc) because we did it again and again and again and again for YEARS to the point that i GAVE UP and didn't take 'O' Level, but this has never ever done me any good whatsoever, and now in France I just sort of point at things I want to buy in shops, and hope for the best. I spent two whole YEARS of my adolescence learning the different ways to say "the" in German (der die das, den die das, etc) and have taken NOTHING ELSE away with me... well, I can ask for directions to the street of the railway station, but am a bit stuck if anyone ever replies.

Later in the series Norman Tebbit turned up and, of course, said that Standards Have Slipped (as he is a mean old bastard) but, probably unintentionally, DID say something nice, in that The Kids Of Today are STILL as good as in his day. I think this is true, and I also think it's telling that those of us who talk about doing 'O' Levels always say "We HAD to do it!" - we HAD to do it, not that we wanted to, or ever would have done of our own volition, because it the things they made us learn we so bloody pointless.

And that's where the song came from, began the morning I set off on holiday (October 1 2003) and finished off nearly a fortnight later on a Sunday morning when Charlotte was out (October 14th, Chrono-Fans!). It means I can't sit in the pub and DECLAIM the fecklessness of today's youth quite so much, but it is, i think, CORRECT. It's ALWAYS easier to learn something that makes some kind of sense, and/or that you can see the point in doing.

The other weird thing about all this is that the programme kept saying "In the 1950's..." and then described EXACTLY the way that I was taught between 1981-1986 when I did MY 'O' Levels. It had used to be a Grammar School until a few years before I started, and had only just stopped compulsory Latin. At the time everyone thought this was a Brilliant Thing, I wonder what I might have learnt if we'd been taught in the new way?


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