I usually write to our high school “graduates” offering bad advice on how to negotiate the perils of the real world, but there’s nothing I can do for Generation D. That stands for Doomed, in case you were wondering. This year it’s your turn.
Are you with me so far? I hope so. Because if you can’t read at the age of six, you might as well give up right now and get a job.
I’ll try to keep it simple because your brains aren’t fully developed and you are easily confused, much like many of our civil servants, who are neither civil nor do they serve. You at least have an excuse, unlike the average 50-year-old blancmange wobbling sullenly in the corner of every office in every department, hoping to reach retirement age without making eye contact or doing any work.
I trust your parents read to you in bed at night. If not, they deserve to be rounded up and sent to a penal colony for reorientation. I was reading the Russian masters at three and look where I am today. Okay, I never made much money and neither of my marriages worked out and most of my friends no longer talk to me, but you can’t blame reading for that. I’m not entirely sure who is at fault, but I know it isn’t me.
That’s your first lesson, kiddos. Never underestimate the power of denial.
Depending on your domestic situation, you will think this is either the best or worst day of your life. If your parents smother you with love and attention, you might not be overly impressed with being taken to a strange place full of strange people and left there. It will feel like the end of the world. If, on the other hand, your parents burn you with cigarettes, you will probably welcome the opportunity to get out of the house for a bit.
At the end of the day, you are likely to feel an overwhelming sense of relief. Happy to have tried this school lark, but glad it’s over. So what’s next? Well, the bad news is that you get to do that every day of the week for the next 12 years. If your tiny brains could grasp the concept of time, you’d pack a small bag and hit the road while your parents are asleep.
Unless you’re very smart and massively popular – two things that rarely go together – you can look forward to what feels like a lifetime of being shouted at by teachers, picked on by other kids and constantly feeling sick, hungry and tired.
It’s a fiendishly long slog and not for everyone. Watch and learn while you’re being driven to school. You might think your most important relationship is the one you have with your mother, but you’d be wrong. You need to understand the relationship between the clutch, accelerator and brake. Make a note of where they keep the car keys. As soon as your legs are long enough to reach the pedals, you’re well on your way to cutting your school career short.
Don’t try to pay attention to everything your teachers say. If you do, your head will eventually explode and you’ll end up working for Transnet. Surround yourself with friends who aren’t as smart as you. The less intelligent are often dumbly loyal and you will be able to take advantage of them. Have one clever friend to help you with homework.
It’s too soon for you to grasp the concept of homework. You probably won’t believe me when I say your house will very soon become like another school that you go to after proper school is over. Your parents will become like parole officers, except they’re allowed to hit you. The interrogations are brutal. Have you finished this? Have you done that? Where is your lunchbox? How did you lose an eye? It’s rough, kiddos.
They’re going to make you wear a uniform so that by the time you leave school, when the world is at war and the poor are roaming the streets with flaming torches, you won’t mind putting on another uniform to defend democracy or fascism or socialism or whatever.
Look, I don’t mean to alarm you. Unless your mother drank a bottle of gin a day while she was pregnant, the odds are that you’ll find school a cinch for the first couple of years. You’ll be doing finger-painting and making stupid things with cardboard and glitter. That’s how they get you. It’s classic frog-in-boiling-water stuff.
One day you’ll be staring out of the window while the teachers drone on about something unfathomable like maths or utterly useless like religious studies and you will be overcome with a sense that you are being groomed for things you don’t understand. You will have discovered that success is almost impossible to achieve and failure is not an option.
Hopefully, by the time you reach Grade 10 you’ll be learning real skills that will serve you well once you walk through those hellish portals for the last time. These would include subjects like hot-wiring cars, pickpocketing, writing untraceable ransom notes, assembling an AK-47 while blindfolded and when not to talk about Bitcoin.
Good luck. You’re going to need it.