It's been a while since I've had a good old rant on The Bauble, something that is just posted to get things off my chest. Thankfully, after reading the newspapers today, I have just the thing to rant about. One that I am surprised to learn is still a problem in the education system, nearly ten years after I encountered and ignored the problem myself.
The word is "Voluntary".
The dictionary definition of this word is as follows:
Voluntary: done, made, brought about, undertaken, etc., of one's own accord or by free choice: a voluntary contribution.
Oddly enough the definition contains the word "contribution" in it, which brings me to the rub of the rant.
It is nearing the end of the summer holidays and most children are looking at the calendar with dread as the start of term fast approaches. Parents are looking at that date as well. But whereas they should be watching it with hope of soon being free from the little rascals running about the house they too are looking at it with dread.
The cost of putting a child through Ireland's "free" education system is coming in at one thousand to fifteen hundred a year. Per child. This is a mixture of things, such as the school specific uniform that sells at double, sometimes treble, the cost of a generic one. The books that bring out a new edition every single year, even though the changes made are mostly just typos that you would suspect a person put in on purpose to justify the need for a new version of the book the next year. These are costs that cannot be avoided in most cases.
But the one that I love/hate the most is the "Voluntary Contribution" that most schools look for, but do not fully understand the wording of.
I get that schools are underfunded these days. Hell they have been for years, so it is understandable for them to look for ways and means to get a little extra cash to help with the day to day running of things. But there is a difference between looking for extra cash and demanding it be paid, but implying that you are paying out of the goodness of your heart.
As I pointed out above, the word "Voluntary" means to do something of one's own accord. Yet every year parents are sent letters home looking for three hundred, four hundred, sometimes even five hundred euro as part of a "Voluntary Contribution".
Those that don't pay up? Well they get sent reminders. Like it's a loan from a bank and you missed the last few payments. Or that somebody called "Jimmy the Tulip" is going to be paying you and your knees a visit.
My own experience with this nine years ago led to an interesting argument with my class tutor, who just so happened to be an English teacher as well.
I was taken out of class and asked why my parents had not paid the "Voluntary Contribution". I replied that I never told them about it, because money was tight at home as it tended to be with every family. This was met with a very stern look and the sentence "Well you have to pay it."
Now, as the lady friend can atest to, I am something of a bastard when it comes to using sentences very precisely. Or paying attention to words used in a sentence to get a very specific meaning. I simply asked her why I had to pay. I was told because it is a contribution that aids the running of the school.
"Fair enough," I said. "Then why is it not a 'Mandatory Contribution' as oppose to 'Voluntary'?"
This caught the weapon of a teacher (bitch never liked me anyway) off guard a little. Teachers that are in the profession for years are used to always being right and never questioned. Certain schools are known for having students that fall into two categories. Those that study hard, obey the rules, and get the grades and those that are there because the law says they have to be until they reach a certain age.
I tended to fall into the small group of people that were there to learn, but learned so well that I didn't just blinded accept stupidity merely because it was coming from a teacher. Oddly enough my best mate had a similar mentality.
Mrs. English Teacher decided that obviously what was wrong with me was my hearing, so she simply repeated the sentence again. That I had to pay the contribution.
"Well," I replied. "I don't think I will be doing that. Because why would I pay money to a school where the teachers don't understand the definition of the word 'Voluntary'? It would be like paying for a car that had not wheels or engine."
This was deemed to being a cheeky shit, which to be fair it was, but it had to be done. A trip down to the Principal's office resulted in a repeat conversation more or less, with Mrs. English Teacher chiming in for all her worth. Again I just pointed out that the House of Jester had decided to not volunteer any contribution because it could not afford it. Again I was told that the "Voluntary Contribution" had to be paid. Again I pointed out that the very definition of the word voluntary meant nothing had to be paid.
After half an hour of this back and forth circular argument I think both educators realised that they had either A) Done their job too well if a person had learned the meaning of a word or B) Were dealing with a stupid little bastard.
The matter was dropped and I returned to class.
Which was why I was so surprised to see that the school I once attended was mentioned in the newspaper as one of the ones that is still demanding a "Voluntary Contribution" from students. To avoid being made look foolish themselves surely they must have figured out that all they need do is change the name of the contribution. I particularly liked the paragraph of the article that said schools are now taking on a policy of naming and shaming those students that haven't paid this Voluntary fee.
To those students I would say this: Ignore the bastards. Or better yet take each and every teacher that tells you you have to pay the "Voluntary Contribution" and enroll them in an English course of some description, one that will teach them the meaning of the word "Voluntary". Maybe then they will figure out what word they need to use in order to get the money they want from parents.
They say that the education system is getting dumber and easier on children these days. With teachers that don't understand the simple meaning of some words in the English language it might not be the curriculum that is getting dumber.