London U3A - Topical Topics Catherine Osborne's suggestions

Catherine contributed these suggestions on Valentine's Day (no significance)


Since Ken is at his wits end to find ever more speakers for the Topical Topics class, I think we should help out either by finding speakers ourselves from amongst our acquaintances in other classes, or by giving talks ourselves. We don’t need to talk about our careers or give a story about some incident in our lives if we don’t wish to. We can choose a topic that interests us or that we feel strongly about. We can find out more about it, perhaps on the internet, make some notes, then share our findings with the group. It doesn’t need to be very long and you don’t have to produce pictures if you find this difficult. There are usually plenty of questions to fill up the time. In any case the class can finish before 12.30 if necessary. I’ve made out a long list of possible current affairs topics as well as general topics to help stimulate ideas. You’ll probably be able to think of a lot more.


It has been argued that buying your own property is going to become increasingly difficult. House prices, especially in London, have gone through the roof. Demand far exceeds supply and the situation is getting worse as the population in the UK expands. What has led to this state of affairs and what can we do about it? Should we build more high rise flats, encroach on green belt land, encourage people to emigrate or move to less crowded parts of the UK? What do we do about the plight of the homeless, the lack of social housing, the high rents? Are young people destined never to own their own property, unless their parents are rich, because paying high rents uses up almost all their income?

It appears that those societies which are more unequal with regard to income, also have more crime, more illness and more discontent. Why should this be so? And should we strive for a more equal society? Is relative poverty in a society where there are people earning millions of no moral significance? Should we return to a more progressive form of taxation, or should we rely on the `trickle-down’ affect?

Social Mobility
Is social mobility declining? Is having rich or middle class parents and good connections more important today than it was in the fifties and sixties for such advantages as getting on the housing ladder, going to a good university, getting a decent job? What factors have caused this change and can anything be done about it?

The Population Problem
With universal education and use of contraception the world population should eventually stabilise. However, by that time, it might be too late to undo any damage already done to the environment and to society in general. What are the effects of overpopulation, and what can be done about it?

Old Age
What shall we do about the care of the growing population of the old? Will there be enough young people around to support them economically? Should people be made to save for their old age, and continue to work, if they’re fit, until they’re in their seventies? What do we do about all those who have become sick and immobile and need support? Should we think again about voluntary euthanasia?!

Care of the Mentally Disabled
This has changed a great deal over the years. In some respects it has changed for the better. But there are still problems. Some have called Care in the Community `Care in Chaos’, others have seen it as an improvement. How does it compare with the old mental hospitals of the fifties? How do we ensure that people with mental disabilities are properly cared for? Should psychotic sufferers be sectioned?

Why is there a shortage of prisons and why is there so much violence there? Are there perhaps too many people in prisons, and too many categories of crime? Would it be better for those prisoners who present no great danger to other people to be given supervised work in the community? Should foreign criminals be deported rather than imprisoned here? Could education and training be given to recidivists to enable them to drop their criminal activities? Should help be given them once they are discharged so that they don’t feel forced to commit more crimes in order to survive? Should a proportion of prisoners’ pay be used as reparation for victims of crime?

Should drugs be decriminalised? Drug pushers and addicts are filling our prisons. Addiction leads to crime, with addicts having to steal to pay for their drugs. Decriminalisation has advantages and disadvantages. Is it feasible?

There are positives and negatives. Many economists claim that it’s good for the economy, but is it good in times of recession, when there are not enough jobs to go round and when, as a consequence, there are more social security payments to be made? What do we do when there is a shortage of housing and when new houses can’t be built fast enough? What do we do about the extra traffic on the roads, extra pollution, extra waste to dispose of? And are rich foreigners coming to live in London of such benefit to us? They have caused house prices in London to go through the roof, pricing ordinary Londoners out of the market.

Multiculturalism v Integration
Does multiculturalism lead to cultures deliberately isolating themselves from the mainstream, and can this lead to hostility and even conflict between cultures?
Many Muslims have complained that they are vilified and marginalised – not considered a part of British society. If this is so, why has it happened? What can the British do to correct this situation? What can the Muslims do? Would more effort to integrate on the part of some Muslims help to correct a lack of understanding on both sides as well as a tendency to over-generalise about a whole group of people?

Freedom of Speech
Should people be prosecuted for racial or religious insults? What about insults regarding people’s age, weight, appearance, gender preference, `class’. Where should the line be drawn and why? Should unpopular marches be banned when it is thought they are likely to cause trouble or to aggravate an inflammatory situation already existing, e.g. anti-Islamic marches; Irish-protestant marches?

An Over-Sexualised Culture
Are we an over-sexualised culture? The publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, followed by the Christine Keeler scandal in the sixties seemed to open the floodgates for a more permissive attitude towards sex . Films and books have become more overtly sexual since censorship rules were dropped and views about sex have in general become more liberal. But have things gone too far? Today we are not easily shocked. At the same time, a politician caught having an affair creates a scandal that often forces him to resign even though it has no bearing on his ability to do a good job. Are those in high office expected to be above the laissez faire influences of society?

Sex Education in Schools
Teenage pregnancy was rare in the fifties before sex education began. Does sex education promote promiscuity rather than the reverse, sparking off a desire to experiment? Are there fewer teenage pregnancies, fewer sexual diseases following sex education rather than more? The reason might be that the way it is taught is wrong. Or perhaps the media, including the internet, wipes out any value that sex education might offer.

Are children of today over-protected and how far does this take away their freedom and independence? Should protection be tempered with commonsense? There is more traffic on the road than there was, and more reports of child molesters, problems that cause concern. Perhaps lessons in road drill would help. And with regard to stranger danger, statistics show that attacks by strangers are rare, and that most molestation occurs at home or with people known to the family. There is a tension between protecting children and fostering their autonomy. Should we try to eliminate every risk when there are already decreasing opportunities for children to develop self-reliance.

Celebrity Worship
Has worship of God been taken over by worship of celebrities? Are celebrities’ doings as interesting to readers as journalists believe, and is this interest fuelled by journalists themselves? Do they earn too much money, receive too many honours, have too much influence in society? Are they necessarily good role models?
Is celebrity worship unhealthy? Does it cause discontent amongst the young, making them feel that you have to get on TV and become a celebrity, otherwise you’re a nobody.
Could we do with more old-fashioned values such as strength of character, kindness, doing a job to the best of your ability? Is there too much focus on celebrity and the rewards of celebrity?

International Affairs
The Palestinian-Israeli situation. Will the conflict ever end? How could a compromise be reached that would be fair to both?
The rise of China and India. The impact on other countries.

Global Warming, shortage of water and other resources together with excessive population growth, could lead to catastrophe for the human race, with extreme migrations from poor to better off countries.


Other Cultures
Have you ever lived in another country, eg. Israel, France, America? If so, perhaps you would like to talk about the cultural differences between that country and this one in, say, education, politics, social norms, attitudes to children, the poor, the rich, family values, etc. You might have lived further afield and can talk about life in such countries as Africa, China, Japan.

The Life and Work of a Chosen Novelist, Poet or Dramatist
Unusual aspects of his life or work. His influence. Your view of him.

The Stage and Lives of Actors in Shakespeare’s Day
Theatres of the time. Types of actors; what they were paid

The Life and Work of a Scientist
His discoveries. His influence

An Important Scientific Discovery
e.g The discovery of anti-biotics

An Important Invention and what it led to

Health/Medicine in Medieval Times
Eg. Lack of sanitation; the bleeding cure

A History of Public Health

A History of Mental Illness/Asylums
Eg. From Bedlam to Care in the Community

Great Reformers of the Victorian Age
Eg. Robert Owen; Lord Shaftsbury

Class Structure in Victorian Times
The decline of the landed influence; growth of the middle classes; working classes

Religious Movements in the 19th Century
Eg. Church of England; non-conformity; agnosticism

A History of Education in Britain
Eg. monasteries, Edward V1 schools, public schools, dame schools, etc.

Musicians/Artists of medieval/modern Times
Examples of their work. (Ken thinks he's got this one taped)

Back to the timetable

"Topical Topics" meet on Wednesday mornings at 11:30 in Room 2.21 during term time.
For more information & to make talks offers, please e-mail Ken on this link.

Contact: Ken Baldry at 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY Telephone +44(0)20 7359 6294 or e-mail him
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