Friday, 15 February 2019

On #HomeEducating and #Scaremongering

The above post has really got me going. I am so tired of the scaremongering surrounding home education and 'children slipping through the net.' The educational net has holes in it, can you not see them? - this is the educational new net in the UK. My eldest son attended a state school in London, where middle class children were tutored within an inch of their lives to get into the private schools. Those that were skinter became Christians in year 5 in order to get their kids into the top church school. It was the working class kids that 'slipped through the net.' They had no choice about the schools they went to, though the ones in North London where we lived were the best of the lucky dip that was state provision in the mid nineties. I know of a clever estate kid who is dealing now. I also know of a clever kid who went to Oxbridge and is now caning drugs and 'taking time out' from Oxbridge. Why? I won't pass on what I know as I haven't spoken to him personally, though my son has. He is not the only privately educated kid who is screwed up. I know many of them – this is not necessarily the fault of the school. I was a TA at a top North London private school where I helped in year one. These kids were ‘selected’ at 2. I was gobsmacked at what an emotional mess so many in the class were. Many of them were brought up by nannies. Some weren’t very bright, but they all passed into the upper years it was a done deal given these parents had helped bankroll the system since nursery, though I'll wager those kids were very stressed as they went along. Children need their parents to be actively involved in their education and their lives - some kids are in school from breakfast club to after school club - this is state care.

The clever working class kid might have done very well had his teacher been able to prepare him for a grammar school the likes of which are now nicked by people like Nick Clegg and Tony Blair - working class kids don't get a look in to those as they would need to be tutored for the exams and as teachers can no longer prepare them for the exams, these kids don't do them. Of course there are exceptions to all these cases, but this is what I have observed over my time of being a parent for the past 22 and a half years.

As for the cases of children being abused by non-state provision – where is the evidence for this? Is she referring to the unregistered Islamic schools, where girls are reported to suffer educationally? I have only heard of one case of a home educating family being abusive - the case of Dylan Seabridge– where a home educating family was done for abuse. But we all know of the many Victoria Climbie or Khyra Ishaq cases that slip through the traditional school nets

I began home educating when we were transitioning from London to Wales. As part of my research on home ed. I met other families whose older children impressed me with their emotional maturity and general all roundedness. My eldest who was gifted and thus way ahead in early years was bored out of his bracket by age 9. I couldn't get my son into the local state primary school. It was the late nineties and the population of London had swelled to an extent that the system was groaning. He went to a church school in North London. He thrived the most when I took him out of school for 3 months to take him on field work (and backpacking afterwards) when I ran a charity based on the Thai/Burma border in the camps. He played football with kids on crutches and mucked about in a boat who had landmine injuries and joined in with art therapy/language classes. He doodled his way (in both senses) and was later offered interviews at UCL, Goldsmiths and Chelsea. He chose Chelsea, despite my begging him not to and bored, dropped out after a year, but he is making music, and art and working as an extra on films and television and gardening in order to keep himself as an artist. He came out in the wash basically, though his T-Shirt may have come out tye dyed – not, he would never wear a ty-dye t-shirt – but you catch my Drift.

This statement is a wind up to an ex-rock and roller, off roller like me: In July last year, Longfield told the Observer that she was "conducting an urgent analysis of confidential government data" to "establish how many off-roll children are drawn into gangs", adding "some are educated at home while others go to pupil-referral units (PRUs) – both are associated with worse educational outcomes". I suggest an urgent rethink? Off rolled kids are more likely to be protected from both. My son, who began school in 2001, was offered a secondary school where the Asian and Somali gangs were clashing to the point that a police presence was necessary daily; and dangerous enough for me not to send my kid there as I was afraid he's be carrying a knife before long. Had he been a girl, I might have made another decision. I didn't know what to do. I won't wax on as I have written about this part before. Had I not found the academy that I did in the nick of time, I would have fought the powers that could have arrested me with my bare hands before sending my son to the school provided. They might have arrested me! How bloody dare they, given the provision at the time! See the retrospective mother-monster I would have been? From what I hear, things remain patchy in London, though better in Wales (less kids) though parents still move their kids around and complain about provision – particularly for special needs.

In her above quote Longfield insinuates that home educating is a ‘dangerous’ thing. Where is the statistical analysis to back this up? In my experience of being around home educating families, the children emerge to universities doing very well indeed. I suggest she couples up with an educational clinical psychologist pronto. She sounds as if she is making this up as she goes along. Are we, as home educating parents unable to make the right choices for our children? There is an underlying subtext that this is an abusive move. Longfield says that off roll educating is associated with "worse educational outcomes," I would like to see where her data comes from in terms of cultural and religious demographics – and I would like to hear her saying out loud what these demographics are in very varied field indeed. The home educating children I know  are all doing very well. My children are highly creative and thriving. We don't do targets, but I am confident they are ahead in most if not all things for their age group. My five year old who makes things that fly, radios and tinkers with circuit boards and other techy stuff (he has the time) is much quicker at mental maths and pattern recognition than me. He has been doing age 12 Lego since he was for years. Crucially, they have time and all limits are off in terms of learning. Children in early years need the right brain creativity, empathy, socialising and exploring side to be fully developed before the left-brain analytical, side responsible for numeracy and literacy takes off at age 7. Creative children (and all children should be creative, it’s part of being human, but without being themselves for a good 7 years they cannot be). My other son knows way more about the natural world than I do and draws beautiful, detailed pictures thereof; the 9 year old makes her own clothes, cooks, paints and generally makes stuff at an astonishing rate. Her painting is outstanding. All are highly creative and just get on with stuff: imagining, inventing, making, is all par for the course.

Kids need time to dream and explore before they are regimented by systems that too often crush creativity - as the mother of an artist this was my soapbox long before I discovered that home ed wasn't just for hippies or crazed witch hunting Christians – though it's people like Longfield who appear to be doing the 'witch hunting’ now.  My children are learning Welsh and other languages as well as history, geography, science and biology all taught with creativity, and can hold a conversation with an adult or any peer from 2 - 100. Crucially, they are not tested or bracketed, they benefit from tailored one to one education from their father and me and they have loads of time to explore their own interests. My children are kind and polite and they mix happily with other children across a range of classes, and they don't need to worry about bullying or not getting on with a teacher or peer, or being stuck in a class that may be duff for a year. We are also saving the tax payer hundreds of thousands of pounds. Time for a rebate? It’s certainly time for a rethink and a longer view Longfield (oh the irony) and co.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

#Anger #Activism and #Charity

Having watched a powerful clip featuring Terry Waite: I have been mulling again on anger and activism. Happiness too, joy even, of which more in blogs to come, but I am going to focus on the emotion of anger for now, not least due to ongoing events in my own life - thanks for that Mommie Dearest and cohorts. 

Anger is a valid emotion in the face of injustice. If we weren’t angry about the evil that humans do to other humans, there would be no peace at all and the world we would all be worse for it. Think of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple when the church was being used as a market place. Or of Wilberforce’s fiery speeches.  Anger is a powerful generator for activism. There are glowing humans who put their lives on the line: Mandela; Ghandi; Martin Luther King - these are the rare ones, the ones motivated to act sacrificially for their communities. Some of them start out well and then go wrong: Winnie Mandela; Aung San Suu Kyi. Of the latter, I was once 'involved' in a trendy charity event presided over by a woman that could not pronounce Suu Kyi's name and knew diddly squat about what was going on in Burma. As I was running a charity that benefitted the Karen people of Burma who are still being killed en masse by the Burmese (but the press weren't and aren't much interested in them for some reason) and as such I knew a fair bit about what was going on 'out there,' said lady and I went for a walk in Regents Park where I coached her on pronunciation and gave her all the info she needed. She needed stories though. I attended a dinner at her place where I told them stories told to me by people who had been affected by the regime, to her and members of her committee. They agreed to let me show a film that I had made where I interviewed dissidents but did not show their faces. I had the camera focus on their hands; on the bits of paper they smuggled in and out of prison to write on; on their voices singing, or speaking as we showed their feet that had walked where most people would fear to tread.

After the event at which the actual people who were suffering, were not named, I was handed another concession: a bucket to fundraise while people were drinking wine. The lady basked in The Lady's (ASK was known at the time as The Lady; she's not very lady like now though is she? No. she is in bed with the regime) reflected glory. Was it about her? No, luvvy. Was it about me? No. I had been to the camps and met the people. I know my ego is a no-no in the whole affair and must be kept in check, and really, to be honest, having formerly lived in North London for 30 years, I'm used to champagne socialists: those who express outrage on a variety of pet topics from poverty to immigration, but would no more put their money where their mouths are than discontinue shopping at Waitrose. Needs to an end: She and her organisation got her publicity, and I was able to show a film I had made with dissidents who were on the run from the Burmese regime. Sad that the people in the film remained faceless, but ASK was the poster girl at the time and as is so often the case with posters, they get ripped off the wall. Everyone got their helper's high in the end. Not sure anyone got it though. 

I do not pretend to know the hearts of all that take part in charity events, but I reserve the right to remain cynical of some. The people in the film I showed that evening were the heroes - real forgotten folk heroes, who, for their people's sakes are still battling the regime, and have been imprisoned and tortured. The event I highlighted seemed more about the organisers than the people in the film that were risking their lives for their communities. Charity is so often trendy, and monies raised are so often misspent, and those that work for them are often overpaid and those that need the money desperately, do not get enough of it. We have all heard about Oxfam's abuses on the field. For the record, I worked unpaid for the charity for the years I worked in the sector and all the money went directly to the people we were helping. As a single parent, I gave my time for the charity, given I did not have much cash, but I still supported orphans out there as I still do in #Zimbabwe - all of us here are comparatively rich. And if you'd like to join in please contact me and I will tell you how.

There are a lot of folks who look good, doing things 'for charity.' I know of people (happily no longer in my life) who run or jump out of planes for charity but are evil masquerading as good. But what is charity? It usually does not mean the fundraiser coughing up - they ask other people to dig deep (and can you say no when asked at work in front of your colleagues?) so that they can get fit and look good in the photographs in both senses. Middle class gap year students, raise funds to fund their trips abroad where they get adventure but not actual hardship. Sometimes charity means tax relief; sometimes publicity (don't get me started on Bono and co. and Bob Buggeroff - U2 should pay your taxes before lecturing us on poverty): it sells a book and it makes people look good. Do Africans know its Christmas? I would say so, given millions of them are Christians and are familiar with the notion of sacrifice, not least the ultimate one of the cross. There are plenty of us plebs that give to Africa, India and South-America, some of us even monthly, but celebs make a song and dance and a duff tune arranged for all for us, because they are donating their time and promoting an album, albeit one with a manipulative bum note. I'd like to slap them with a mouth tax as well as making sure they pay their actual tax before howling at the rest of us. Consider the troops on life watch, protecting people in Africa and the Middle East, while their families wait at home, and consider too, people like Terry Waite. 

Activism is something else entirely and is best left to the rare ones amongst us who understand what sacrifice really is. Activism involves sacrifice for the greater good - for that of a people group, or for the good of humankind. I know some of these people, thanks to the years I worked for the Karen people of Burma. Recently I watched footage of one such man as he ran directly into bullets to rescue a Yazidi child who was clinging to the body of her dead mother. The ground was decorated with the dead. This man regularly goes into Burma with his family to rescue people. He is an ex-special forces ranger, so he is skilled; but he is also a cross carrying Christian - in that he practises what he preaches: he takes his wife and children into operational areas with him; he stays with the people when they are under fire. I am in awe of this man, appropriately called David. He has been up against the might of the Burmese army and more recently that of ISIS. David, is I know, motivated by love in action - his Christian belief. He is honest and upright, and a simple man of prayer. He does not care about political correctness, he cares about people. And he is prepared to risk his life for the one. Christlike indeed. 

To be continued...

Monday, 4 February 2019

Joker in the Pack: A poem for #WorldCancerDay

Joker in the Pack

It’s World Cancer Day
Hip hip hooray
For those who’ve kept cancer at bay
There is light
And another day

For those of us
Who have lost
A relative or two, or three
We cannot count the cost
Cancer is the devil we fear
Made manifest, bodily, clear

For those of us
Who hold the hands
Of sufferers throughout the land
Who sit besides the beds of those
For whom the devil randomly chose
We salute you every one
From Macmillan nurses
To mother’s sons

I’ve thought about it long and hard
As I’ve shuffled my deck of cards
Cancer is from the devil
And not from God
Align with the devil, at your peril
Fight him with all that is good
Make him see you’ve understood
Refuse to shake his hand
Scare him off until he’s off the land

There is an ace in every pack
Also a joker, primed for attack
From the greatest to the small
The devil wants to eat us all
(A mutual enemy, for tall and small)
Fight him, with your will
And, for research, with your cash

Meanwhile, as you breathe your sigh of slight relief
Embrace every day, this is chief
Leave all that is toxic, send it away
Even mother, brother, sister, wife
Leave all of those who’ve harmed your life
The only life for which to pray
Or the one that will hold sway
Is the one with meaning
Your quest and mine
Presided over by father time

But hurry up, the cards are calling
No righteous cells left to consume
Once cancer has left the room
Here am I with a salutary shout:
Disobey the cultural rules
That make people behave like fools
Find time to think about what it’s all about
A life misspent is a waste of time
And really is a heinous crime

Thursday, 31 January 2019

#Chemotherapy Monster

Chemotherapy monster is scary. He (we'll call him 'he', for lack of a better pronoun; 'she' is too close to the bone). Speaking of bone, I can feel chemo monster gobbling at my bone marrow as I write: feeding on me day and night - I apologise in advance for any rhyming - I've been writing a lot of poetry lately. The form, with it's cutting blade, is the most suitable for what is going on in body and mind and spirit. Chemo monster must be kept in check, lest he run amok; he will take as much body, mind and spirit space as you will allow him. You have to allow the body access. The body, if you nurture it just so, will later fight back. You will not meet chemo monster on a walk in the park, or on any outing you are on for a lark. No, chemo monster sluices through your veins. With a dark metallic bite. It likes to haunt and scare. And not just at night. Given it’s own way it would keep you in shadow all day…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me... If you don’t believe in God you must cling fast to the good or the bad will take you down, quick.

Chemo monster carries death to fast growing cells: the soft stuff (a sentence becomes a many hyphenated, slippery thing); it rips at your throat and rips through your bone marrow. It is like having long metal trains slicing through your veins. You know the cold steel of death is clattering through you and left unchecked, it affects not only your body, but also your mind and spirit with its gritted death drive. If you're prone to depression, you really have to watch that it doesn't carry you far, far away. Sometimes it brings ghastly headaches; at other times one features in one's own projectile vomiting championships. How does it feel? Like you have been visited by an alien species intent on taking you over. Last month was hard, this month less so. I hate the catheters in the hands of the cheery nurses, that carry the drip, drip, quiver, quiver, drip. My hands and veins carry the bruises and the strain. Sometimes dark humour quips out. Sometimes I keep it real: After a nurse has loudly proclaimed my weight as I step of the pre-chemo scales: Thanks for announcing my weight not only to my husband, but also to the assembled, I say to medical staff and bemused headscarf wearers flipping through the magazines that keep their own dark dreams in check.

What is hard? I feel my life has been stalled. My life is ruled by Chemo Monster and his diary, dates and demands. You shall not work for 6 months…you shall not drive yourself…you will eat these steroids that inflate your face and make you race…The #1975Inheritance Act case, that began in December 2015 (3 years!) with a surprise (calculated?) and very public family attack has still not gone to court, which is like having had a divorce but waiting for the settlement, or like a recurring nightmare: Why Grandma, what big teeth you have...oh and how fanged these other wolves at the door are....all the better to eat you and steal all the contents of your basket, little Emily-Jane...and then, to turn you into a basket case forever…see the will…it’s written in blood…your blood… The divorce brought relief, but the case is not closed. See, the other, and more painful things in life do not go away. The cruelty of human beings to one another - these things become more acute in life and death situations. You just have more time to think about them. Here lie the long teeth of chemo. But oh, does it separate the wheat from the chaff and the silly from the meaningful. The endless stream of self important guff and nonsense on social media and in the culture.

So how am I managing? I am married to the finest person I have ever met. This is no exaggeration. He's managing everything. I am managing my body, mind and spirit, of which you now have insight. And doing what I can: trying to keep up my spiritual practises; educating the children - fun and engaging and creative; blogging, writing poetry. The thing that needs to be managed most is the mind. It must be reeled in, or it will go where the body wants it to go. If one focusses on chemo monster, he will block out the light completely and you will live in it's shadow. As my husband tells me, you must choose life on a daily basis. For me this is sometimes a mechanical thing. When chemo monster clouds my mind with dark thoughts I have to seek out the light: the faces of my children; the texts of friends; the laughs; the art; stimulating conversations with my brilliant husband; a walk around a castle; the sunset; the early daffodils that speak of hope.