Black Friday. There I've said it, just the once. Media sources have once again highlighted the occasion but not really queried how such an unfortunate phrase has come about. Yet, in the current enlightened climate, one that must be ripe for change. In the meantime, it represents the start this month of a highly-anticipated period. Highly anticipated by Scots retailers that is, as they attempt to claw back some of their dwindling sales suffered during the pandemic.
It's all supposed to culminate in a so-called frenzy of a shopping day on Friday 27 November. We're all supposed to rush out to the shops at some unearthly early hour and form a disorderly queue in high streets to hopefully land a new personal computer for a pittance or new bed for a fiver. Of course, nowadays it can be all done online and there appear to be discounts on offer all month long. In fact, all year long, as the joke goes that the only time there isn't a DFS mega-sale is on Christmas Day.
It started in the United States but, to be expected, spilled over to this side of the Pond. Why 'black' though? It has been said Americans have no sense of irony, but that's a rash generalisation. Apparently, it all happens after Thanksgiving, as the story goes. After upwards of a year operating at a loss, ie 'in the red', stores can supposedly catch up and grab a profit, ie go 'into the black', as holiday shoppers blow their bucks on discounted merchandise.
But why those colours? Traditional accounting. Think of all those Dickensian accounts bench scribes: they always used a black-inked quill pen for profit and red ink for loss. A practise that's carried over to this day. So, on the face of it, there really shouldn't be any problematic undertones. It hasn't stopped growing calls to have the term renamed or shelved altogether. Even some retailers dislike it, with 'Big Friday' a suggestion. Another is change it to 'Green Friday' to reflect climate change values, or 'Friday of Colour', making it inclusive.
The big high street names have no alternative other than to physically sit out the virus at a time when consumer expectations via online have intensified, leaving organisations scrambling to assess the way forward for the retail market. How about 'Cyber Friday', given that the pandemic has forced the vast majority of us to shift online probably permanently? We already have a 'Cyber Monday', so just switch the days.
Although I can understand (and agree with) Eileen Reid's
outrage at the way in which society discriminates against working-class students, I wonder if it is entirely fair to lay this so firmly at the door of schools? The odds are stacked even before youngsters come to school. True, it's fairly evident that the comprehensive secondary school system is significantly out of touch with the young, both in their ways of learning and their concerns about their future. For example, it seems bizarre to punish students for 'missing school' when they go on climate change protests, since that concern is precisely what (in the aspirations of the so-called Curriculum for Excellence) the young should be doing as 'responsible' 'citizens in society' when faced with a failure to acknowledge the serious nature of an imminent threat.
However, the situation is that many students coming from a background of poverty are already behind in the scholastic race when they come to school. Taking examination results as a measure of a school's success, any attempts to compensate for this are doomed to failure by a national examination system which essentially places students in rank order of performance. Whether you take a simple average, or a median, there will always be students who necessarily fall below the average. That's what 'average' means. So it's no surprise that students who start school with both financial and social capital have a head start in the race to better examination performance. When you have private fee-paying schools in a locality, this skews the intake of the state schools towards those who start the race from some way back from the starting line. That some students from state schools manage to win the race is a real credit to them and their teachers.
It has been said many times that education cannot be expected to compensate for systemic failings in society. Yet the mantra 'closing the gap' in educational performance continues to be used by politicians as a smokescreen to disguise their failure to address the real problems in society.
If you would like to contribute to the Cafe, please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org