Archive for February, 2016

Love Your Children Well

February 27, 2016

Love Your Children Well

There’s no point having children if you’re not going to love them or do the right thing by them. Many people can’t have children and spend their marriages or reproductive years in torment trying everything they can to have children, so for those of us lucky enough to have children it is incumbent upon us to do the right thing: to love our children well, which does not mean indulgently, but right.

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Children can be simultaneously the best thing about your life and the worse. They can hold a marriage together or break it. Often children are not what we expect them to be, they do not do what we expect either, but we had them, we (mostly) wanted to have them, so we must do right by them and by extension our society.

In the course of my working world all too often I see the consequences of children who have not been loved well, in fact, who have not been loved at all. And while some teenagers are indeed terribly difficult to love, mostly the horrid ones are a product of their upbringing. This is an inescapable fact. I’m not going to embark upon a mother or father bashing tirade – Heaven knows I know how hard it is to be a parent. But we are all the products of our upbringing: like it or not, our parents made us who we are. Through love, neglect, fear or indulgence, we were all made by them. Of course we have the choice to unmake some of what they have done, but it is hard to fight against Nurture. Nature plays a monster part too but Nurture cannot be overlooked.

How do you love your children well? Would a list of do’s and don’t’s suffice?

Don’t

Be helicopter parents – let them simply be once in a while; they’ll never stand on their own two feet if you are always hovering, hovering creating all that down-draft, that simply keeps them down!

Be tiger mums – we don’t need to achieve through our children, they need space just to be

Buy them off with toys and gadgets – really, is that how you show love, is that how they learn the value of things?

Abuse them – either with words or fists or implements- shouldn’t even need to say this but children are still beaten by parents on a regular basis and it doesn’t work at all

Neglect them – it is a form of abuse and perhaps the worst – they feel the lack of love, affection and attention deeply- it does untold psychological damage

Allow them to eat so much shit – really, can’t you manage to cook, to provide them with the basics of care that is a diet that nourishes them and helps them grow? There’s nothing wrong with Maccas and KFC once in a while and a bit of chocolate or some Coke on a hot Sunday afternoon never killed anyone. Ah, but the everyday consumption of food laced with fat, sugar and all sorts of chemicals will.

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Do

Let them know you love them – tell them, hug them, kiss them, show them

Spend time with them – this is the biggest act of love – be with them, do things with them, that they like, watch their favourite movie, play Lego, dress-ups, etc, etc

Take them places – go to museums, parks, the beach, travelling, show them the world through your eyes

Teach them things – how to cook, how to clean, how to mend things, how to plant a flower and look after it; how to build things; with wood, wool and all sorts of materials. Share your love of things with them, let them feel your passion for the ocean, for drawing, for fishing

Make them responsible – make them tidy up after themselves, clean their rooms, make their own lunch, pack their school-bag, do their homework, do some chores around the house

Read to them – right from the start! This is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Then read with them, keep them reading, talking about books – readers are better people – all the studies say so!

Listen to them – oh yes, another biggie. Always take the time to listen to them. You must start when they are little, ask about their day, how was school, how are you – then let them talk and listen. If you do this when they are young they will talk to you through the difficult years, or at least, the difficult years won’t last quite as long. Listen to who they are, what they want from their lives. This will ensure that they are part of your life long after they have left home and have lives of their own.

Know who their friends are – this becomes very important as they get older. Remove undue influences from their lives when you can – don’t allow the sly under-hand child who ignores your instructions back in the house, don’t let horrible children be a part of their lives. If you know who their friends are, if they come to the house you meet them and can see if your child is keeping the right company. Believe me this is a crucially important matter as they get older – dubious friends are the gate-way to drugs, school refusal and failure and you could lose them altogether.

Respect their privacy – don’t go snooping in their rooms, on their devices (although there is a fine line here and you do need to know that they are safe in cyber-space) – allow them to be themselves, to have some secrets. But make it clear about time alone in rooms, time on devices – be aware of the dangers there.

Discipline them – you have to. Don’t beat them, but a well placed smack when they are old enough to understand is important. They need to know right from wrong. They need to know how to behave, about manners, about respect and decency. If you don’t teach them how to behave when they are young you have no hope when they are older and bigger than you. Set your lines in the sand and keep to them.

Just say no – they can’t have everything they want, or do everything they want. You can’t afford it and if you indulge their every whim you will create a monster that you don’t like, that nobody else likes much either.

Let them take risks – you can’t wrap them in cotton wool, why would you? Children run too fast, skin their knees, fall of their bikes. Teenagers take drugs, drive too fast, hook up with stupid boy/girl friends who break hearts. But you have to let them be, have to let them make their own decisions and take those risks. It makes them an adult and hopefully they learn from the stupid things and besides, do you really want them too spooked to try anything new, to never travel, never try new experiences?

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I love my children, they are the best things about my life but they were made into people I like (as well as love) and want to be with by many years of effort; by my beloved and I taking care with them. Yes there were tears and regrets, sulks and the odd tantrum, a few disasters, but overall we have triumph. I think I am a good mum, but you have to ask the kinder, they are the only ones who really know if they have been well loved.

If you’re going to have children remember to love them properly. And that means taking care of them: they are not toys or pets, some accessory to drag out and display, not some prize or way to feel better about yourself. Having children is a serious matter, it is a life-time commitment, it really is and if you can’t do the right thing then don’t have them. Don’t make the world a worse place by creating children who have been abused and neglected because you can’t move beyond your own selfish needs.

Look around you, at the plethora of refugees and asylum seekers in our increasingly divided, destructive world and note how many children are in those terrible camps, on those sinking boats. Why are they there? Those children are in such terrible places because their parents care for them. Their homes and countries are destroyed, there is no life there anymore, only danger and death. Parents in Syria and other war-torn places who care about their children have no choice but to get their children out. They take terrible risks but they are good parents doing all they can for their children, hopeful that they can still have a good life. Wouldn’t you do the same thing for your children? (Images from Private Collection)

Misogyny and Feminism – A View from the Side-lines

February 20, 2016

Misogyny and Feminism – A View from the Side-lines

Misogyny is a real and present danger. It’s just not where the Twitter-sphere and hopped up PC driven university campuses want it to be or say it is. The fight for equality and fairness is not won, not for women, not for many sectors of society. Look away now if you want an easy Saturday morning read – this is a bit of a rant and may well cause offence. Be warned, this is cross as shit-Swiftie. Cross because this is not a world I want for my children, especially for my girls, who should be free to do what they want, be what they want and go where they want without fear of danger and limitation; shaming, trolling or violence.

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Let’s start with some definitions.

Dictionary online says: A misogynist is a person who hates or doesn’t trust women. Misogynist is from Greek misogynḗs, from the prefix miso- “hatred” plus gynḗ “a woman.” The English suffix -ist means “person who does something.”

Wikipedia says: Misogyny (/mɪˈsɒdʒɪni/) is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, hostility, male supremacist ideas, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.

Cambridge English Dictionary says: feminism: what is feminism: the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men

Dictionarycom says: feminism: a movement for granting women political, social, and economic equality with men

Feminism is not about hatred of men and inciting a war between the sexes. Too many women refuse to count themselves as feminists because they do not subscribe to the us v them notion of militant feminism and because they think that because so much has happened in terms of gender equality that the fight is over. But look around you, look at the real misogyny in the world, the causal, the deliberate and the violent misogyny and you must accept that the work of feminism – the heart of feminism, as simply defined above – is far from over. If you want to read some more interesting takes on modern feminism swing by here: http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/all/2015/09/what-does-feminism-mean-today/408616/

It’s pertinent to remember women have only had the right to vote for 100 years or so in the West. That’s not that long ago really and in many parts of our world women’s rights are being eroded on a daily basis. In parts of the world women have no rights at all. How can that be in the 21st century?

Misogyny is tolerated across the planet. We see it every day, just as every day we witness racism and homophobia. Women face varying levels of misogyny on an almost daily basis. There are degrees, of course, but it’s there, all the time and this post only scratches the surface of what women face. I haven’t even gone into the may ways women are treated at work, or casually in their life, but here’s a taster.

 

Media Misogyny. Watch the commercials closely and you will see that while much has happened in terms of racial representation and in attempting to balance men and women being seen as connected to certain products and pursuits, you’ll still see most women cooking in the kitchen, doing the washing and the hoovering. Yes, there are women changing tires on moving cars and going on adventures, but men drink beer, women do the weekly grocery shop, and babies and their futures are highly gendered – boys go mountain climbing, girls become ballet dancers. Women eat yoghurt. Certainly the gendering stereo-typing of commercials is much-much better than it was, but it is still there. It’s casual and probably not ill-intended but still there.

Don’t forget the sports coverage, mate. How many women’s sports are televised, how many are given many column inches in the papers? How many professional women are paid the same as men? Serena Williams is the best tennis player in the world but does she earn what her male counter-parts do?

Shall we touch on Hollywood? Jennifer Lawrence bravely stepped up to the podium on the wages gap between men and women in Hollywood. She was applauded and lauded for speaking out and then slammed. But why shouldn’t she speak out, why do male actors earn more than female? Why isn’t there an Avengers movie about the Black Widow? Why are so many films made for the male audience? Not much equality there, eh?

 

Misogyny of Power. So, the Brits had Margaret Thatcher, Germany has Angela Merkel, there have been other female political leaders but still we can count their numbers on our fingers. Julia Gillard was Australia’s first and only female prime minister and it is hard to argue that had she not been a woman she would not have been hounded out of politics in the vile and detestable way that she was by a macho-blokey misogynistic Australian media and culture. Yes, we’re not into tall poppies but we tolerate far more shit from a bloke than a Sheila and it is to our detriment.

In business, in multi-nationals, in the Tech giants, the real power is in the hands of men. And, in religion too – all of the world’s major religious leaders are men. And most of them don’t seem to like women that much either. The Church of England has had massive issues with ordaining women and I won’t even begin on how the Catholic Church has treated women over the years. Not to mention where Islam sits on the fate of women. But more of that later.

 

The Misogyny of Rape and Rape Culture. Whatever its causes, power or sexual desire, rape is a violent act that is mostly (but not exclusively) committed by men against women. Yes, women can be violent too, and some women do cry ‘wolf’ about rape, but the stats sit on the side of men acting violently against women. What is more disturbing about rape is Rape Culture, the belief that somehow the woman – the victim – is to blame. This idea has been around for a long time and is part of the reason women don’t always report the crime and somehow learn to live with it. Rape is an act of brutality, of violation, both physical and mental. It screws you up, literally. How can you have a successful and loving intimate relationship again, when your most intimate and vulnerable physical space has been violently and deliberately violated?

The power of rape is seen in its use in war, especially recently where Moslem women were raped by invading soldiers, which is bad enough in itself but made worse by the reaction of the returning fathers and husbands, who then rejected their wives (who had somehow allowed this to happen), and abandoned daughters who were no longer virgins and now worthless. Rape is a heinous thing.

Rape Culture is simple: the woman is to blame. Rape Culture reminds us that women are not free, they must behave in certain, socially accepted ways to protect themselves, to avoid attracting the wrong attention. So, women must dress in a non-provocative way, they must not drink to excess, they can’t be out on their own, they can’t flirt a bit too much, they can’t change their minds. (If you want a bit of insight about consent and sex Google the Cup Of Tea analogy) Women have to control their behaviour so as not to inflame or encourage some poor weak man to rape them. Now, the key here is that both sexes lose out. Women are denied the freedoms that men take as writ, and men are painted as being incapable of controlling their baser desires and not being able to understand when women don’t want their attentions. It’s bullshit, isn’t it? I know many men who do not subscribe to this madness either.

Here are some scary stats related to Rape Culture (courtesy Kalavai Venkat at http://indiafacts.org/indias-daughter-and-richard-dawkins-racism/)

*71% of British women and 57% of British men blame the victim of rape.

*Of the younger generation of British, aged 18 to 24, 33% blamed the rape victim if she was provocatively attired.

*A Christian advisory service for women in the USA teaches that a woman who is provocatively attired is as culpable as her rapist.

*An American government agency even advertised that the victim of rape should be blamed if she had consumed alcohol.

The New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne (and in other parts of Europe recently) feed into this culture, this belief that women bring rape, or unwanted physical attention, on themselves. One of the worst aspects of this incident, which was initially hushed up, was that the female mayor of Cologne was happy to blame the women, she was happy to excuse the men, as this type of behaviour was not part of their culture; the poor things were not used to women being out, socializing and enjoying themselves and so saw them as fair game. No. This is shit. This is men violating women and then blaming them for the violation and the misinformed West excusing the behaviour because of culture or religion. This is rape culture at its best, misogyny at its finest. Indeed, not all misogynists are men.

 

The Misogyny of Islam. Why is this being tolerated? Why is the movement against women within Islam going unchecked? I agree with Richard Dawkins, where are today’s feminists on this issue? I don’t normally wade into contentious issues, as you know, but I do wonder what the world has come to when we let so many people, especially women, be taken hostage by out-dated, dark ages thinking and attitudes; where one sector of the population is completely subjected to the desires and whims of the other.

Whilst I lost my own faith a number of years ago, I generally subscribe to the live and let live, tolerant view of the world. I am of the democratic, liberal (small L), left. I am accepting of others and their beliefs and customs. How other people choose to live is fine by me, as long as they don’t force their views and customs on me. But my mind was changed some years ago watching a documentary about somewhere in the Middle East and the treatment of a young girl of 14, who had gone out with a boy and brought shame on her family. But instead of her family treating her with any kind of kindness, or compassion, dignity or justice she was hung from a crane and left to die. I found it impossible to understand what it was that this girl had done that was so terribly wrong, that resulted in her own family, not only rejecting her, but killing her.

I lost my tolerance for Islam watching that program. My tolerance has turned to horror and disgust, and yes, I am talking essentially about extreme, fundamental Islam. What is the world doing about the subjugation of so many people? What did we do about all those Nigerian girls who were captured by Boko Haram to become sex slaves or worse, whose promising lives were taken away from them? Where was the feminist outrage about that? Where are the accusations of misogyny against Islam for the treatment of women, who are being denied education, health care, freedom of speech, of choice, of equality, the ability to vote; who are owned by fathers, brothers and husbands? Why are we so quiet about this? Why are we not more outraged by this? Why is this abhorrent treatment being ignored, or worse, tacitly supported?

The word Misogyny has become a casualty of the PC madness that infests the modern world. Feminism, as a word, has also been hi-jacked – a word too many women shy away from, because to be a feminist now means to be radical and man-hating and to take offence at the slightest breeze of dissent. And now misogynist is bandied about without any care, losing its currency and value. Stephen Fry is not a misogynist, no more that Germaine Greer or Richard Dawkins. To make jokes about women or call them out on issues is not misogyny. Misogyny means very particular things – quite terrible things that we should be fighting against – and when the Twittersphere and other online publishers make trivial matters into battle issues barely worth 5 minutes of anyone’s time we lose absolute sight of where the battle should be occurring.

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Rape Culture and the increasing march of extreme Islam is where the battle front should be for modern feminists, that is where the true misogyny lies – where the real hatred of women is, where women are oppressed, de-humanised, silenced and brutalized. They have no voice and no-one much in the West is speaking out for them either. I can only wonder why and fear for my own daughters in this increasingly anti-female world. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Don’t Abuse Our Staff: Teachers Excepted

February 13, 2016

Have you noticed the signs all over the place, asking the public not to abuse the staff, not to take out their frustration on the people dealing with them? There was one on the bus the other day; I’ve seen them in council offices and hospitals. But they’re not in schools. Think about that. And consider now the recent findings about the most abused professions – those jobs where people are verbally or physically assaulted during the course of their working day. It’s not the police, or nurses, or even those who work in jails. It’s teachers.

A recent survey found that over 40% of teachers have been abused during the course of their working day and many have witnessed abuse of colleagues – verbal and physical. Teachers routinely have chairs thrown at them, are barged, pushed, sworn at, shouted at; each day brings low level contempt, rudeness, aggression, sneering and refusal to follow simple instructions.

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Recently in London a teaching assistant was attacked by a father outside a school because the TA had the temerity to admonish the child for poor behaviour. The father was having none of this, so he followed her and beat her up, knocking her unconscious, resulting in horrifying facial injuries and long-term damage to her neck. This violent man was given a 12 month suspended sentence, to wit, he was let off. What sort of message does this send the public and the profession?

It doesn’t really matter what the causes, what plethora of excuses exist in the world for poor behaviour, the fact is the behaviour of children and young people in schools has dramatically deteriorated over the last thirty years. Blame the parents, blame the teachers, blame food additives and electronic gadgets, blame the governments – it matters not, teachers are not safe at work and most people don’t really give a shit.

It works like this. All schools have behaviour policies. All schools have the right to exclude/expel on limited or definitive bases. All schools have a shit-load of paper-work to jump through for this to happen. Ofsted judges schools on their expulsion rates and if there are too many you get black marks – because excluding students is a mark of failure. The paper-work trail is a nightmare. For a student to be permanently excluded you need a file as thick as your arm. Unless they’ve brought a knife into school in which case it’s all over. But violence or aggression towards a teacher, well that may or may not result in some form of exclusion, it may or may not mean that child returns to your class, you may or may not have to deal with them again. You have to provide all sorts of witness statements because your word is not good enough. I understand there are untrustworthy teachers out there who do things they should not, but most of us do the right thing, yet we are treated with suspicion.

I had an incident recently with an aggressive boy who barged me in my room. I wrote my statement but his version was that I had attacked him. Fortunately for me there was another adult in the room, a TA, who clearly saw what happened and verified my version of events. But really, why would I lie about such a thing? I’m in a position of responsibility, the incident occurred in front of the whole class and had to be reported. In fact, this boy had been increasingly aggressive and defiant over weeks, had been removed, counselled, but his poor behaviour kept on escalating. He was not interested in behaving appropriately on any terms. In the past this boy has committed similar physical ‘attacks’ on other members of staff. Yet he is still in school. His parents support him. He is their angel. So here is an example of what happens to entitled pampered children – they don’t behave, they are ‘consequenced’ as much as the school can, the family does not support (or often is the cause of the behaviour) and so the child returns from their exclusion, is removed to another class and will undoubtedly offend again.

While my current school is pretty good on serious offenders, the truth is these children return to school, very rarely having learnt any sort of lesson. Teachers tread a dangerous path. We have to maintain our cool and calm under extreme duress: we have to remain the adult at all times. Often behaviour management comes down to some sort of mystical dynamic on behalf of the class who decide whether they will or won’t co-operate with you. Rules and procedures only go so far, some students simply don’t care: their purpose is to disrupt, defy and destroy. If you are lucky as a teacher it will be only one student and you will be able to manage them. But if the whole class goes along with the one, or there are many, you’re sunk and you can’t have half of your class removed because they won’t behave. Because if that’s happening then it must be something you’re doing, mustn’t it? If only you’d follow the behaviour management guidelines, you’d be fine…

 

This is what happens. A classroom is a bit like a pack of wolves. If you can establish yourself as the Alpha-wolf, or if you have the Alpha-wolf of the kid-pack on side then you can manage your class, teach your lessons and be safe. If you struggle for authority and the pack smell your vulnerabilities (you’re new to the job or the school, you’re supply, they know the hierarchy don’t support you) then you become fair game. You will face defiance, aggression and abuse. You will not be able to do your job. There won’t be any learning. The students will not make progress and you will be blamed. There is no win here for anyone.

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Teaching is in crisis. Young people are not staying in the profession, older teachers are retiring as soon as they can, or moving to other professions. More and more of those of us who remain wonder what will happen. We are blamed for the ills of the modern world, we are berated by students, parents and Ofsted; tricked and wrong footed by exam boards; dictated to by government ministers who really don’t know the first thing about education; expected to do more with less time and less money, and somehow, somehow remain sane and devoted to the job.

Students take less and less responsibility for their learning and their behaviour. Teachers are expected to bear it all. If a student fails to make progress the teacher is asked why. If a student won’t behave the teacher is asked what they have done to make the child behave. Successive governments have created this situation.

Once upon a time the poorly behaved child was a rarity, now they are common-place. Once upon a time the failing child was held to account for his own failures. Now it is the teacher who hasn’t taught or managed well enough – it is not the child who has failed to learn or own their behaviour.

Perhaps it’s time to switch things back again – to place higher expectations on students for all aspects of their life in school? Learn, behave, bring a pen, become a decent citizen. And let teachers be safe at work, like most other professions. Before there are no teachers left… (Pictures from Private Collection)