Saturday, 28 January 2017

Cutural differences - cultural values!

A couple of months ago, the 16 year old daughter of a friend of mine defined middle-aged for us as 35 to 40! Suddenly my children were middle-aged. Presumably that makes me ancient! Now I hear people talking about the possible swan song of either Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer as they face each other in the final of the Australian Open. After all, both players have been around for a while and are over thirty. In fact, I think Federer might even fit into my young friend's definition of middle-aged. Everything is relative.

Remembering that I used to use Nadal as part of introductory activity in an AS Spanish course I taught ( biographical details of the then up and coming teenage tennis player), I checked up on his details: born in 1986! So at the most he is 31 now and he seems to have been around forever. So he must have been only 22 when he won Wimbledon in 2008. The television coverage showed him climbing up through the spectators to reach the private box where King Juan Carlos was watching. He and his monarch exchanged a huge hug! At the time I wondered how our queen would have reacted to a young sports star climbing up and hugging her. Cultural differences! Spanish values and British values!

Buying the newspaper this morning in the local shop, I ran into an old friend. Our daughters (now middle-aged, remember) have been best friends for almost thirty years. My friend, despite being my age, is still working. She teaches jewellery making in community education and each time she considers retiring, they ask her to do one more course ... and one more course ... and one more course. At that rate she could still be going when she is eighty!

She is growing a little tired, however, not of the teaching per se but of all the peripheral stuff, the evidence-gathering, the form-filling that goes along with it. Most people on her courses are there because they enjoy it; it's a hobby and a way to meet people with the same interests as themselves. So why, she wonders, do they have to produce evidence of meeting certain targets as if they were on a degree course? And then there's the small matter of funding: she receives a pittance per student to buy the materials needed for the course. And so it goes on!

More importantly, she wonders, why does each course have to start with a session on British Values? She understands that this is partly another funding issue. Some of the people on the course are asylum seekers and have poor English. The college has to show that they are following government directives. And so she does a session on British Values, discussing things that the home-grown, native-British members of her class have no idea about! But another box is ticked! And some people are put off the whole idea and don't bother coming back for the next class!

Out in the wider educational world, teachers in schools are asked to report un-british activity. So when a little boy, one of a pair of brothers aged five and seven, told his teacher that he had been given a toy gun as a present, his teacher wondered if she needed to report it. The boys were of mixed Indian and Middle Easter heritage. Goodness me, did a toy gun indicate the beginning of radicalisation? The police were called in and the boys were questioned after school, a process involving keeping them away from their mother for two hours! In the end it was decided that the toy gun did not constitute a threat.

The boys' mother was understandably upset. They are being brought up with no religion and at home they speak English They have picked up a few words of their father's language but now feel afraid to use it outside of the home. Their mother overheard one say to his brother, "You can’t say foreign words at school, because you don’t know who you can trust". How very sad to have to feel so aware of the need to be careful at such a young age.

Significantly, the boys are in a minority of non-white children in the school. Would the teacher have reacted in the same way to a similar story from a white child? Would the teacher have reacted in the same way if s/he had greater experience of experiencing other cultures? The local authority concerned has agreed that this was a case of racial discrimination and will pay damages. The mother will not be taking the case any firther as she cannot get legal aid!

Personally, I would not have given my five or seven year old a toy gun in the first place but that's a different question. Presumably the primary school teacher involved is supposed to be teaching her class British Values! That's clearly a bit of a struggle!

 What a crazy world we live in! More hugging is obviously needed.

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