Sigur Rós are one of those bands that provoke long, sombre, painfully poetic tributes from people who have either forgotten – or would rather avoid – the truth that they are four blokes in a pop group who like getting drunk and making a racket. When I mention to the gently hungover guitarist and singer Jónsi Birgisson a quote from an American magazine that described how his “angelic falsetto coasts like a hang-glider riding the breeze to the edge of the sea”, he and bass player Goggi Hólm almost fall off the sofa laughing.
“I just don’t understand why anyone would even write that,” Birgisson says, noisily stirring a cappuccino.
“This person should hear our sound-checks,” Hólm nods. “They are fucking crazy. We just play all these big heavy metal songs – nothing is played straight.” There are no pellucid, glacial towers of crystalline something or other then, I ask?
“No!” yells Birgisson. “And no golden tears falling from heaven, either. It used to be difficult for us, five interviews a day full of these very intense discussions about frozen landscapes and all of that, and we can’t explain or describe the music any better than anyone else; it’s really only the feeling that comes from it in the end that matters.”
When Leaving Certs come out of their exams like ‘I’ll never have to speak French again’ and ‘I’ll never have to do Maths again’ and ‘I can forget everything I learned in the past 6 years now woo!’.
It’s like we don’t teach people the intrinsic value of education in any way. It’s like people see secondary school as a means to an end and nothing more. Yes, the Leaving Cert is a load of bollocks for the most part, but its intentions are good. The point of learning is not so you can pass and exam, the point of the exam is to test what you’ve learned. But by basing CAO points on the Leaving Cert, we made the exam a means of getting into university, and so we made senior cycle learning all about getting out of secondary school and onto college. Ironically, the Leaving Cert and the way we learn for it set us upreally badlyfor college, just so you know.
If you really never want to speak French again, you don’t have to. But it’s a shame that you’re saying that on the day of your Leaving Cert oral exam. People act as if your school just makes you learn things ‘for kicks’. As if the teachers all sit around a table at the beginning of the year and laugh about all the ways they’re going to sadistically torture us with homework and assignments and exams during the year, just because they can. Why do we learn French? Because we have to. To pass an exam. To fill the foreign language requirement for university. Um, you’re kind of missing the point of education a little bit.
Everyone will have things they don’t like about school, that goes without saying. And yes, there will be subjects you’ll very happily forget. But I get the distinct impression that the people I go to school with (indeed, a large proportion of students in school in Ireland) don’t understand the value of education. They see it all as a means to an end. A way to pacify your parents and teachers.
Do you realise how incredibly entitled and ungrateful it sounds to step out of your Leaving Cert and say ‘now I can forget all this’? Of course most people won’t forget the important stuff they learned, but the idea that people leave school with this attitude annoys the hell out of me. Don’t you realise how incredibly lucky and privileged you are to go to school in the first place? Especially the girls in my school, which is fee-paying. Yep, your parents spent in the region of €30,000 on your education in the last 6 years (€4000 on fees, plus books, stationery, uniform items, school trips…it all adds up) and you come out of it saying ‘can’t wait to forget all this’? Would you ever take a step back and listen to yourself?
Some kids would kill to go to school half as often as we’re obliged to. There are parts of the world where girls can’t go to school just because they’re girls. And if they’re lucky enough to make it to school, they go to a classroom packed with maybe 50 kids or more - if they have a classroom at all - where they learn with no books, no writing materials, maybe a slate if they’re lucky. That’s the world we live in, and you take your cushy, expensive, highly advanced education for granted. I know it’s hard to really appreciate how lucky we are to go to school, but the least you can do is to not act like it’s all meaningless. That’s not something you should have to be taught.