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Posts Tagged ‘politicians’

Michael Gove makes me want to cry.

I know I am always banging on about education, but I am so dreadfully afraid about what will happen to our schools post-general election, whoever ends up getting in. Maybe it comes from being a newly qualified teacher, a friend and seasoned teacher of 15yrs tells me not to worry, as ‘it all comes around and goes around’. I think that’s what I am worried about.

Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary says he is ‘unashamedly traditionalist when it comes to the curriculum’ which apparently means a return to teaching discrete subjects (maths, english and history) and

children sitting in rows, learning the Kings and Queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That’s the best training of the mind and that’s how children will be able to compete.’

This old school approach runs counter to the more flexible current educational thinking which encourages cross-curricular ‘joined up learning’ via topic or theme-based teaching, as espoused in the thorough Rose Review of primary education published last year.

Writing in the TES last month, John White claims that Gove sees progressives such as Rose as ‘his enemies’ who have denied children the advantages of a traditional education. Gove seems to be one of those narrow minded types who think that because they thrived under a particular system of education then it is appropriate for everyone. What he fails to realise (or maybe he doesn’t care?) is that that same system failed a great many people, and has been soundly rejected for good reason. As White points out, ‘It’s a pity that the schooling on which Mr Gove so dotes did not free him from the fetters of black-and-white thinking.’ Modern education should be developing children’s thinking skills, encouraging them to achieve deep learning by discovering things for themselves rather than to be spoon fed facts to rote learn. Group learning, interacting with peers and managing relationships is vital, not sitting still and staring at a teacher. What good is learning a poem by heart, other than to be able to recite it as a dinner party trick 30 years later?

Gove’s determined traditionalism and wish to return to the restrictive National Curriculum of the late 80s (which in itself harked back to the curriculum set out for new state secondary schools in 1904) also completely ignores how the world has moved on in the past few decades. We now have access to facts at the tap of the keyboard; if we want to know the order of the Kings and Queens of England we can just Google it. A ‘knowledge-led fact based curriculum’ is totally missing the point of the modern age. Children will be better equipped by learning to think for themselves, not the least to navigate through the myriad of (mis)information they receive from advertising, TV and newspapers. They need
to discover and celebrate their true selves to help them to find their place in the world as productive and happy adults. Gove despises these “airy-fairy” goals but then again he believes that children should learn about the ‘glory’ days of the British Empire and that “Guilt about Britain’s colonial past is misplaced.”, a view so outdated it is laughable.

Except that I am not laughing.

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Yesterday on International Women’s Day, I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend about feminism and motherhood after reading this article.  It gave me a lot to think about because I’ve spent the last three years feeling pulled between being a feminist and taking the traditional ‘woman’s role’ in our household.

I’ve been the one who has looked after our daughter and most of the housework since she was born.  I cook the dinner, it tends to be more or less ready when my husband walks in from work, I do the washing and I plan our holidays. I never thought I’d be the kind of woman who thought there was any pride to be had in looking after a family, and yet here I am, loud and proud. (I should add here in case Lordblahblahs thinks I am doing him a dis-service, that he more than pulls his weight in the home in the evenings and at weekends).

Badinter’s viewpoint is, in my opinion, naive, and well, bollocks, frankly.  I simply can’t see how taking a few months or years out of work to care for your own children can really undermine a lifetime of education and employment.  As my friend said, if she’s that bothered by women pureeing a bit of butternut squash or changing nappies, why isn’t she instead championing family friendly policies at work, equal pay and better childcare etc.?  I’d go further and say why aren’t we championing the right for men to take equal time off (if they choose)?  Where’s the cultural shift towards fathers working flexibly and, ahem, don’t men have any say in their children’s upbringing?  We can’t just have children and leave them to bring up themselves after all, surely both parents are equally responsible?

Mostly, I want to cry:  why, why, why are the soft skills of looking after each other – whoever is providing the care, and surely the foundation of family life – not given the same value as the more easily measurable skills of who got the best bonus, who has the biggest house, who drives the biggest 4 x 4?

The way I see it, being a mum to pre-schoolers (because that’s all I have experience of so far) is a bit like any other job really.   You can make as much of it as you want.  Some will leave their kids with a bag of crisps for breakfast while they watch Jeremy Kyle.  Others will read all the latest research papers, plan their days with military precision to make sure they are fun-packed, educational and that their kids have nutritionally balanced meals every three hours, with lots of interaction and play in big groups as well as lots of one on one time with mummy.  Most of us are somewhere in the middle.  The vast majority of parents, whether we work full time, part time or not at all, are engaged with our children, we want to give them the best start in life and most of us want our children to be well rounded, compassionate individuals with good self esteem who will go on to contribute to wider society.

Being at home with a child doesn’t mean my brain will rot.  I can still read the paper, I can still do evening courses, I can still *shock* talk to friends about their lives.  Just as I never focused only on my (paid) job, I can still be interested in the world around me and not obsessed with how many phonetic sounds my daughter understands,as long as there’s a smile on her face when she’s happy and she has someone to talk to when she’s sad.

So, I read the papers over the weekend, like I do every weekend, and my word, the world seems to be in a depressing state for women.

First off, only 10% of directors in Britain’s top 100 companies are women and some of them have no women at all on their boards.  None of them have a female majority.

In television,   it’s not just whether you’re a woman or not, it’s how old you are.  If you’re a young woman you might be able to have a soft role in a soap or as a bit of fluff, if you get to 40 and still employed, you’ll be lucky.

It seems even Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown – both intelligent women in their own right – are seen as extensions of their husbands.  Ed Vaisey has suggested that Samantha Cameron voted Labour in the last election – which she denies, but if true, surely she’s entitled to vote for who she wants at each and every election (I know, I couldn’t do it either, but I’ve heard of stranger differences in a marriage)?  Just look at Sally and John Bercow!

Melissa Kite of the Telegraph thinks that Sarah Brown should be ‘riding her husband to rescue again’, because she is more personable than he is and doesn’t have her own agenda, unlike Cherie Booth who had the audacity to have her own career as well as being married to the then Prime Minister.

Even the good news that Kathryn Bigelow has won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – she’s the first woman ever to win a Director’s Oscar.  What???  So we’ve only got another 80 years to catch up!

Elsewhere in the tabs, we read about the Doormat Wives.  John Terry’s wife Toni Poole has forgiven his transgression – from what I can gather, sleeping with his team mate’s girlfriend and paying for her to have an abortion is just the tip of the iceburg for this man’s hideous behaviour .  Cheryl Cole apparently blames herself  for the fact Ashley couldn’t learn his lesson the last time he sent sleazy texts to a kiss and tell merchant.

I read this stuff and I wonder who we are trying to kid, women should have equal rights, but they don’t, and that’s to say nothing about domestic violence, rape, women dying in childbirth, genital mutilation or the many other issues affecting women in this country and around the world.  Nothing has really changed since I was studying A Level Sociology all those years ago (19 to be precise).  What am I going to tell my daughter when she asks me about equality issues?  What is the best way to bring her up to know that she doesn’t have to accept it?  Am I a good enough female role model (she obviously can’t look to television, celebrities, politics or the workplace for examples)?  How would I parent a son? These are the real things that trouble me, as a feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, not whether I remembered to put on a hot wash.

(and I know I sound like a bit of a miserable old bag, so I’ll post a blog later in the week about all the things that are great about being a woman in 2010!)

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What Should We Believe?

Did you hear about ‘tangerine gate’? Twitter is all a giggle about how a hoax call to a LBC radio show by Robert Popper, in which a factory worker recalls seeing  Gordon Brown throwing a tangerine into a laminating machine during a visit, was reported as serious news in the mainstream press (e.g. Daily Telegraph, The Sun). It was even, oh irony of ironies, mentioned (as fact) on the BBC news quiz ‘The Bubble’ in which the panel tries to figure out if news items are true or completely made up.

The call itself is hilarious and well worth a listen. And it is always amusing to see journalists with caught out in this way. I understand how these things happen, especially in this instant 24hr news culture where stories develop quickly and articles appear online within minutes of events happening. But come on! Journalists failed to check basic facts about the story, like when it happened and whether the Prime Minister ever visited the factory in question (which factory?!). the newspapers failed to mention that the information came from a phone in show. The Daily Telegraph even quotes its source as The Sun, just to cover its own backside. So yes, it’s lazy journalism and we can point and laugh at their stupidity.

But what alarms me is the tendency to just roll our eyes and say ‘well you can’t believe anything you read in the papers’ and move on. Why are we so resigned to being treated like this? Why is it acceptable to print misleading lies? The Daily Telegraph really takes the biscuit in this case for saying ‘one factory worker told The Sun….’ Er, no he didn’t. Even The Sun didn’t claim to have talked to anyone directly about the story. So it’s OK for The Telegraph journalist to just make that bit up to make his story sound more convincing?! It might seem a small thing, but how do we know what to believe? What about the other incidents of Gordon Brown’s bad behaviour? I complained in my earlier article about this of the impossibility of finding out the truth once spin doctors and journalists start in on a story and this just goes to show what lies the press feeds us. And this is the one we know about.

Of course, we must also worry about the truthiness of twitter and the interwebs. How do we know it was really a hoax? I haven’t seen any reports of tangerinegate on the news sites this weekend. Maybe journalists are busy carefully checking all sources before offering a retraction. Regardless, I doubt any of them are going to apologise to Gordon Brown. Or to tangerines.

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The International Monetary Fund yesterday said that our economy is too fragile to cut public spending.  Quite significant news, I believe, given that the economy is the central issue in this election campaign.  I’ve read about it only in the Guardian and the Mirror.  It seems the Daily Mail think maternity leave is more important, the BBC are running yet another day of bullying coverage and seem to have ignored this.  I’ve complained to the BBC about the easy ride they are giving Cameron – because this shoots his plans to pieces – and whatever your political persuasion, you deserve to know the facts.  What do you think?

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Wow. What a whirlwind of accusations and revelations we have been treated to in the last 24 hours. What with Andrew Rawnsley ’s allegations that Gordon Brown is prone to nasty hissy fits, followed by the extraordinary remarks of the boss of the ‘National Bullying Helpline’ indicating that Downing Street staff had called for help and all the attendant twittering and analysis, it is hard to know where to start.

Issues raised:

Character of PM, workplace bullying, breach of confidentiality of callers to helpline, potential dodgy dealings of said helpline, poor journalistic practices by BBC who ‘broke’ helpline story.

My thoughts:

GB’s fiery temper has not been a secret (see Private Eye). Is he a bully or ‘demanding’ and ‘passionate’? Depends if you believe the journo or the spin. At this stage I don’t suppose we will ever get a clear picture. Obviously workplace bullying is vile but there are many vile practices that take place in politics that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere. Witness jeering and sneering of MPs in the House of Commons, hardly ideal workplace practice. It’s also interesting to contrast the attempts of Mandelson on TV yesterday to spin GB’s ‘volcanic’ behaviour into something admirable with attempts to portray him as a romantic family man.

The weighing in of Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline is bizarre and disgraceful, in my opinion. This by the Guardian on Ms Pratt and the NBH makes interesting reading and the twittersphere is full of murky ‘facts’ about the dubious nature of their charitable status and conflicts with for profit services. But even if we disregard all that and take her statement at face value (that she was so angered by Downing Street denials she had to speak up), the shocking betrayal of confidentiality beggars belief. One board member has resigned over it, and Ann Widdecombe (a NBH patron) has criticised her actions, and rightly so. She has damaged the relationship between agencies who seek to address bullying issues and those they seek to help, and for what? You have to kind of consider John Prescott’s theory that ‘lt’s all been a publicity stunt for her company’ since she is all over the news media today and of course now Nick Clegg and David Cameron are weighing in, calling for an enquiry amongst other things. Urgh. And they wonder why the electorate are turned off by politics.

It’s interesting that all this should come up because I was thinking of writing something on bullying after having read this blog post about how we should talk to our children about dealing with bullies. The advice tends to be to ‘talk to a trusted adult’, something that I have said to my own daughter when she tells me soandso doing suchandsuch in the playground. The sticky part is how do they know who to trust? Often simply ‘telling the teacher’ can be seen as telling tales and young children may not always be able to articulate what happened clearly enough that the teacher realises the seriousness of what is going on. As for parents, it seems hard to get a realistic picture of what is happening at school with often only a garbled child’s version of events to go on. This makes it very hard to know when and how to speak up on your child’s behalf.

Obviously, communication is key and I try to regularly talk to my children about playground incidents, good and bad. For the school’s part, one key to combating bullying is for teachers to develop a relationship of trust with their pupils as well as a sense of community in the classroom. In this kind of environment, getting to the truth of potential bullying episodes is going to be an easier task.

Its not like bullying is confined to the younger generation though and it seems dealing with it doesn’t get any easier either. With workplace bullying for example, who can you trust? The betrayal demonstrated by the NBH is hardly going to help the situation, is it? It’s also a shame that the electorate won’t get a realistic picture of what is or was going on in Gordon Brown’s office now the warring parties of journalists and spin doctors are muddying the waters. I suspect that bullying of one kind or another is endemic in politics. It makes me want to send the whole pack of them to the Headteacher’s office.

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The last few days have seen lots of political activity. Brown the Bully. A future fair for all (complete with carousel??). Give labour a second chance. James Purnell standing down. It may well be a couple of months until the election – but the campaigns are all up and running, posters are being parodied, and the political machine is running in top gear.

But what of substance is happening? There have been the efforts of labour and the lib dems to solve the problems of social care for the elderly – hampered by the conservatives and their castigation of the ‘death tax’ – but very little else. Is this election going to be driven by personalities? I hope not, as neither Nick Clegg, David Cameron or Gordon Brown have much personality!

I want to know who is going to stop meddling in schools. Who is going to pull us out of Afghanistan. Who is going to stop funding homeopathy on the NHS. Who is going to increase funding in higher education. Who is going to improve the lot of my family, and who is going to tax us to the high heavens.

So enough of the posturing, the tears, the softly softly interviews, the accusations. Can we have something of substance to debate please?

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Listening to David Cameron, so you don’t have to. Yes, gentle reader I have fallen on my sword and listened to David Cameron being interviewed on Woman’s Hour in a follow up to my comments on Nick Clegg’s appearance (is it an appearance on radio?!) here. Its worse than that actually, since I lost the Word document I used to make notes the first time and had to listen to him a second time. Does anyone feel my pain?

Joking aside, I did try (honestly!) to keep an open mind about the whole thing and weigh what he said with an impartial eye. As impartial as it is possible to be with being anti-Tory that is. General summary: he came across to me as a pompous slime and said hardly anything of substance. Contrast with Nick Clegg who talked quite precisely about specific Lib Dem policies. Cameron was all for the sound bite and waffle which sounds ‘good’ but when you concentrate a bit harder you realise he isn’t saying anything at all.

For example, Jenni Murray probed him on his policy of reintroducing tax breaks for married couples. All he managed in response was to reiterate the phrase that he intended to ‘recognise marriage in the tax system’. What does that *mean* exactly?! He was so sincere about it, he said it twice. I still didn’t know what it means. He did make the slightly interesting point that it was better than ‘rewarding’ couples for breaking up by increasing their benefits as happens under Labour (is that true? I dont know), but as I touched on in my previous blither about this here, I am not sure financial considerations are really uppermost in peoples minds when they are considering marriage.  When challenged with the notion that endorsing marriage might make single mothers and cohabitees feel like ‘second class citizens’ he started blithering on about how fantastic single mothers are and how the Tories will help them by increasing money spent on Health Visitors. Hmmm, thats not really the point.

The most interesting part of it for me was the talk about increasing the number of women MPs in the Tory party. It currently stands at 18 (9%) and Cameron hopes this will increase to 60 after the next election. He no longer rules out all women short lists to achieve his aim of making the parliamentary Tories look more like the general population demographically. He then moved seamlessly into talking about minority candidates, which suggested to me that its more about appearances and the Tory ‘brand’ than anything else.

Still, it the Conservative party were truly gender and colour blind, as they claim, they wouldn’t have to try so hard to get a mix of candidates [see also the Joanne Cash debacle on how all this is going down with the local constituency party]. I am all for equal opportunity representation of course but I wonder how much of it is just another cynical move to win women’s votes. It wont wash with me though; we all know though that just because an MP is a woman, it doesn’t mean she has women’s best interests at heart (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?).

Other points of interest:
1.    Cameron denied running a nasty election campaign, reminding us that the first run of Tory ad posters featured himself (which hilariously brought to mind all the airbrushing satire at http://www.mydavidcameron.com).
2.    He denied pandering to demographics. Apparently he had just come from an interview with some lads mag (or similar) and had described himself as liking darts, Guinness and something else laddish I cant remember (and no, I am not listening a third time). Contrast with his pitch to us mums as a good old family man. Jenni Murray said ‘chameleon’, I say ‘opportunist slimeball’.

So, yes, not impressed. I am feeling slightly sheepish at my unashamedly partisan view though, since I did intend to be even handed, I really did. I left a ton of stuff out too, about the so called Labour ‘death tax’, about the proposal for an ‘internet forum’ for parents to complain about inappropriate sexualisation of children and about the expenses scandal. I would love to hear from those with a view different from mine, or from anyone who wants to comment on something I missed. If you can stand it, you can listen to it from the link here.

Listening to David Cameron, so you don’t have to. Yes, gentle reader I have fallen on my sword and listened to David Cameron being interviewed on Woman’s Hour yesterday in a follow up to my comments on Nick Clegg’s appearance (is it an appearance on radio?!) here. Its worse than that actually, since I lost the Word document I used to make notes the first time and had to listen to him a second time. Does anyone feel my pain?

Joking aside, I did try (honestly!) to keep an open mind about the whole thing and weigh what he said with an impartial eye. As impartial as it is possible to be with being anti-Tory that is. General summary: he came across to me as a pompous slime and said hardly anything of substance. Contrast with Nick Clegg who talked quite precisely about specific Lib Dem policies. Cameron was all for the sound bite and waffle which sounds ‘good’ but when you concentrate a bit harder you realise he isn’t saying anything of substance at all. For example, Jenni Murray probed him on his policy of reintroducing tax breaks for married couples. All he managed in response was to reiterate the somewhat meaningless phrase that he intended to ‘recognise marriage in the tax system’. What does that *mean* exactly?! He was so sincere about it, he said it twice! I still didn’t know what it means. He did make the slightly interesting point that it was better than ‘rewarding’ couples for breaking up by increasing their benefits as happens under Labour (is that true? I dont know), but as I touched on in my previous blither about this here, I am not sure financial considerations are really uppermost in peoples minds when they are considering about marriage. When challenged with the notion that endorsing marriage might make single mothers and cohabitees feel like ‘second class citizens’ he started blithering on about how fantastic single mothers are and how the Tories will help them by increasing money spent on Health Visitors. Hmmm, thats not really the point.

The most interesting part of it for me was the talk about increasing the number of women MPs in the Tory party. It currently stands at 18 (9%) and Cameron hopes this will increase to 60 after the next election . He no longer rules out all women short lists to achieve his aim of making the parliamentary Tories look more like the general population demographically. He then moved seamlessly into talking about minority candidates, which suggested to me that its more about appearances and the Tory ‘brand’ than anything else. If the Conservative party were truly gender and colour blind, as they claim, they wouldn’t have to try so hard to get a mix of candidates [see also the Joanne Cash debacle on how all this is going down with the local constituency party]. I am all for equal opportunity representation of course but I wonder how much of it is just another cynical move to win women’s votes. It wont wash with me though; we all know though that just because an MP is a woman, it doesn’t mean she has women’s best interests at heart (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?).

Other points of interest.
1. Cameron denied running a nasty election campaign, reminding us that the first run of Tory ad posters featured himself (which hilariously brought to mind all the airbrushing satire at www.mydavidcameron.com).
2. He denied pandering to demographics. Apparently he had just come from an interview with some lads mag (or similar) and had described himself as liking darts, Guinness and something else laddish I cant remember (and no, I am not listening a third time). Contrast with his pitch to us mums as a good old family man. Jenni Murray said ‘chameleon’, I say ‘opportunist slimeball’.

So, yes, not impressed. I am feeling slightly sheepish at my unashamedly partisan view though, and I did intend to be even handed, I really did. I left a ton of stuff out too, about the so called Labour ‘death tax’, about the proposal for an ‘internet forum’ for parents to complain about inappropriate sexualisation of children and about the expenses scandal. I would love to hear from those with a view different from mine, or from anyone who wants to comment on something I missed. If you can stand it, you can listen to it from the link here. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/01/2010_07_thu.shtml)

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