With all the concern about how to manage the academic selection tests, I was inclined to join the voices on Twitter that said, in effect, I failed, but I'm okay now. Because I was entered into the 11-Plus in 1962. The markers determined that I hadn't done well enough and I was sent to a Christian Brothers' secondary school.
There I was taught woodwork and metalwork alongside Latin and Irish, among other subjects. The thinking seemed to be that I might yet turn out to be a joiner, or a priest. They were at least keeping their options open.
After that, they directed me more towards mainstream academic subjects, English and English literature, maths, additional maths and Irish. There was a token effort to teach me art and music and to make me fit in the gym, but there was nothing like the same concentration on these. I suspect the school thought I would probably be a civil servant.
On a visit to the school after O-Levels, the principal took me aside for special advice. "Learn to type," he said. That was good advice. Then I reflected a bit more on this statement I had so lightly made, that I had "failed the 11-Plus", and realised it is not true.
The fact is that the 11-Plus was devised to select out those children of my generation who were intellectually superior and who would get best value out of an academic education.
It was the 11-Plus which failed, because it didn't recognise that I was as bright as the boys who were being sent off to St Mary's, the grammar school; indeed, a damn sight brighter than some of them. As were all of the boys in the class I was in.
The exam that failed me was held a long time ago and I can't judge the current selection procedure by what was done then, but I doubt that it is really possible to assess among 11 year olds which will later be best suited to work that requires a computer and work that requires a spanner. I doubt that that is the intention, anyway.
The outworking of selection is that some children are directed towards grammar schools and some are classed as failures and sent to other schools with that brand on them.
Since that is the result and this is determined by smart people who no doubt passed the 11-Plus themselves, then one must presume that that is the intention. And that the price to be paid for the success of some is the humiliation of other children.
I would prefer that we had an education system which operated on the same principle as the NHS and directed its resources and energies primarily at the areas of greatest need.
In that case, if we were doing any selecting at all we would be finding those children who are most disadvantaged within the system and helping them first, instead of demoralising them and sending them to the back of the queue.
Selection of the bright, and concentration on them is the wrong approach to educating children and the proof is in the poor outcomes.
We brag to the world that we have a superior education system, but roughly a quarter of our young adults have difficulty reading and writing and this has not been getting better.
Grasp of elementary grammar is a challenge even for several of our MLAs. It is routine to hear some of them using phrasing like "should have went", or "I done".
Maybe that is just our regional, working-class dialect and it is snobby to criticise it, but given that one of the objectives of the education system is to teach standardised spoken and written English, this lapse into dialect by our ministers must be indicative of failure within that system.
No doubt many teachers and principals are delighted to have schools of clever, well-mannered children, whose parents believe in education and support them. But this is like clinics selecting healthy patients to ease their workload.
Our grammar school system is like a private school system for those already advantaged and one paid for by the state, through the taxes of the very people who are rejected. This abnegation of responsibility to weaker pupils isn't exclusive to Northern Ireland and isn't determined by selection alone. Even within the comprehensive system in England there are schools which are considered good and schools which are failing. Parents will struggle to get children into the better schools, of course.
People move house and go back to church to get their children into a good school. Why wouldn't they? But what sort of society comes from mass illiteracy, such as we have created through a failure to concentrate on the weakest?
Routinely in elections, large numbers of people do not vote. What if 10% of the electorate doesn't vote because it can't read the names on the card? What would that say for the quality of our democracy?
Today, we look at the calamitous outworkings of social media, the fostering of prejudice and conspiracy theories. The antidote to that is universal education.
But maybe educated people would ask difficult questions and be harder to corral within such definable political camps as we have today. The result might be too democratic for some to stomach.
I suspect we know very little yet of how to educate a population. School, as we have known it, has been a good way of containing children and keeping them out of danger and freeing their parents to work.
The pandemic has challenged us to find ways of educating them without bringing them together.
The system for many is better than it was when I was young.
I learnt faster after school than during it. The actual stock of information that I absorbed there is quite small, apart from basic literacy and numeracy which are, of course, invaluable.
I got a lot from my English teachers. The rest was a pain.
So, we need a system that encourages people to keep on learning through life and doesn't allow people to think that schooling and learning end with youth.
None of these thoughts provide an answer to how the Executive is to manage the current crisis.
But I would like to hear political voices emerge with greater clarity and strength demanding an end to selection and a revolution in education that prioritises teaching all children to read and to write and which measures its own failures before its own successes.
Why do we always do this in Northern Ireland? We allow what is the relatively straightforward issue glaring us in the face to get dragged into a much bigger ideological stooshie. And the inevitable result of introducing unnecessary politics, dripping in decades of mistrust, grudges and prejudices, into an issue that requires immediate action? Nothing.