The politics of education

I am a bit behind on my reading for my university course. The marks for my first essay came back, I got a very respectable 76 percent, and the second module has begun, which covers the sociology of education. Apart from the fact that my textbook hasn’t arrived yet, so I am reading scans of the chapters on my computer (aggh!) I find myself turning to the internet to confirm or check my ideas and thoughts about the readings.
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The main point is that in my view neoliberalism is moving society towards a state of feudalism. Its disguised as a democratic and fair system, where the most intelligent and capable get the opportunity to rise to the top of the pack, but in reality this isn’t the case.

Put in the simplest possible terms, if you have a decent breakfast in your stomach, if you wake up at a reasonable time before school starts in able to prepare without stress, if your parents are also mentally and physically healthy and don’t take their frustrations out on you, if you have comfortable quality clothing on, if you didn’t spend an hour in front of the tv before school, you are going to be able to get more out of the school system. Before you even enter the school gates you have a huge advantage over less privileged children

Social stratification is a necessary part of society, but you cannot claim that a system is fair when it is not. You cannot ignore the environmental and home factors and say that everyone has an equal chance. You cannot improve a system by piling more resources onto the top end, because, as many people have stated, a society is judged by how it treats its weakest members. There will always be the stronger, the more powerful, even in a socialist society there will still be some elite, but clearly the smaller the gap between rich and poor, the better the results will be overall.

My textbook (well, the scanned pages) is telling me that most western societies at present have an open social stratification, but in my opinion, due to the process of globalization and neoliberalist reform, it is becoming more and more closed at a frightening pace.
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I am both looking forward to and dreading writing the next essay, because I have a lot to say, and I have to figure out how I am going to back it all up. And I have to get through these readings without going off on tangents and getting all angry about politics. In addition, I am thinking all the time about what these ideas mean to me both as a teacher and as a parent.

Gefangenis! Or, things were different in my day

Thursday afternoon, we are on our way to a ballet lesson in the city. We take the bahn and then get in the elevator. An elderly man gets in with us. As the doors close, Miss4 squeals “Gefangenis!” (that’s the German word for prison). The man looks at me with surprise and exclaims in German “She knows that word already?!”
I smiled and shrugged, wondering if he had any idea of how little kids talk to each other these days. Perhaps he assumed we had a family member in prison, hence her familiarity with the subject.

Fast forward three weeks later, we are biking through the park on a sunny afternoon. There’s not a road or another bicycle in sight. Another elderly man comes walking in the opposite direction. He stops and says to Miss4 (in German, of course) ” Don’t ride your bike too fast. The police will come and put you in jail. And when you are in jail nobody will help you, and you will have no Mum.”
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Firstly, shes just learning to ride her bike, and we are doing it in the park so she can experiment and test out riding a bit faster, turning corners, etc. Secondly, what the heck are you doing instilling the fear of god into a four year old child, and putting the idea in her head that someone could come and take her away and she would never see her mother again? Thirdly, its completely untrue what he is saying. Not only are four year olds exempt from incarceration (in Germany, at any rate), but lawyers help people in prison, and they still have mothers.

As soon as he was out of earshot, I told Miss4 he was a crazy old man and didn’t know what he was talking about.

I had a run-in in the supermarket years ago, the first day I took Miss4 (then Miss1) out in a forward facing pram. An old man berated me for having her forward facing, and I ask him if he was a children’s doctor, since he knew so much about it.

I am over being angry at old people who have no idea. They are going to be around forever. I have figured the best tactic is to shrug, keep walking, then deal swiftly with whatever psychological damage they might have inflicted.
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“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.” Mark Twain

8am Saturday morning, somewhere in the suburbs of Cologne…. I’m sitting watching the Disney channel with Miss4. I’m not a fan of cartoons, and I hate the Disney channel. It could potentially be filled with oldschool Mickey Mouse, Tweety and Sylvester, Tom and Jerry, but instead its a scourge of ridiculous newskool cartoons, plus it has Miley Cyrus *sadface*. When it started up, the first thing they showed was a really old Mickey Mouse cartoon, 5 minutes long. Then came the new stuff, and I haven’t seen a glimpse of Mickey Mouse since then. But sometimes my husband gets up and switches it on for her, so I sat waiting for the program she was watching to end so I could then stage a Berenstain Bears intervention.

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Anyway, the previous evening I had offered cooking fish fingers and fries for dinner. Another top parenting move, I know. Here’s my excuse, guys, are you ready for it? – I work 30 hours a week, my husband does around 60 hours so can’t really support me much with childcare and housework, and I handed in my first university assignment in 16 years on Thursday night. Exhausted would be the correct term. If it makes it any better, we spent 4 hours on Saturday biking in the park, at the playground and climbing trees. That makes it better, right?? Doesn’t it?

Slack parenting aside, lets get back to the story. Miss4 said she didn’t want fish fingers and fries. She wanted cheese toasted sandwiches. Also easy and quick, so I made her those instead.

But the very next morning, during this TV session, an ad came on for Superman fries. Not fries shaped like superman, or spiders, or anything even remotely to do with it. The only thing they had to do with Superman was a picture of Superman on the package. Miss4 jumped up and said “Mummy, can we go to the shops and get those chips?”. I said they were exactly the same as normal fries, which she had rejected the day before, and I just got a blank stare.

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I don’t know how to explain to her that a picture of a cartoon character on the packaging has no real influence on the product inside. Miss4 can identify when something is advertising or not, but its clear she doesn’t understand properly what advertising actually is and what its for.

These days the advertising is so penetrant that there doesn’t even need to be the slightest relation between the product and the cartoon character advertising it. Put a picture of a princess or batman on the package of anything, and it becomes a princess or batman thing.

I probably could have gone to the kitchen, cooked some fries, bought them to her and told her they were Superman fries and she would have happily eaten them without questioning it. But I hate that kind of deception. What can I do to shake this deep relationship between products and cartoon characters?

Obviously the best thing to do would be to ditch the tv, but if I do that my husband will divorce me. And even then, the influence from kindergarten is really strong. A perfect example – we borrowed the Cars movie from the library. Two days later, she started referring to it not as Cars but as Disney Pixar Cars. I can only assume that she went to kindi and told some kids what film she had at home and they corrected her on the title. Every single time she talks about that movie now its Disney Pixar Cars.

It’s a small triumph to get Miss4 to eat Planes movie yogurts instead of Ariel ones, cos of the whole “boys things and girls things” obsession (which is actually easing off a bit in the last time, as she is making some really good friends who are boys – hence the Superman things being OK – she explained to me that Superman is for both). But the truth is, she wont touch a yogurt that doesn’t have a cartoon character on it. I have tried a million different options, from fresh fruit to jam mixed with plain yogurt, but anything that doesn’t come in bright package with a figure on it will be vehemently rejected. I don’t think you can even actually buy kids flavor-orientated yogurt without this kind of packaging. And when you get a four-pack with a different character on each pottle, there’s a good chance that Ariel is gonna get eaten first, and her Dad the king will end up floating round the fridge til it expires.

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If anyone has any tips for combating this bombardment, please share. Cos its really getting on my nerves.

Right, we are off to play with sticks in the forest now.

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Learning about learning

Oh gosh! Its been so long since I posted. And pretty much the entire reason I haven’t been doing so is because I have been working 30 hours a week in a kindergarten for the past 6 months. My entire perspective on how Joanna’s kindi experience is going has been intricately entwined with the learning process I have been experiencing on the job and I sure as hell am not going to start blogging about my work on the internetz! But…. I have started studying education! Distance study, through Massey University in New Zealand. The fees are much more than here in Germany, but I can study in English and after a good few years away from studying its a nice way to ease back in.

The great thing is that I’m actually really interested in the topic, so it’s not just a matter of getting myself qualified, I’m getting educated in a field I am really fascinated with.

At the moment the course is covering the history of education in New Zealand. It picks up with the 1877 Education Act, through Progressivism, to the end of the 20th Century. When Tomorrow’s Schools came in, not only was I in the school system, but my mother was teaching at the time. The outrage and frustration with the new system was all around me, and its so interesting, but it also makes me quite angry, to read and discover just exactly what took place and why. To put it bluntly, those darn right-wing politicians broke a really good system, by ripping out the back-bone, the Education Board, and turning schools into small businesses.

Since then I haven’t been so in touch with the current system, but have heard bits and pieces about NCEA from my mother, who is still teaching in New Zealand. It sounds quite awful.

In my opinion there is far too much focus on testing, assessing and measuring, and not enough focus on curriculum, teaching methods, teacher support, and child development.

A school principal is an educator, and shouldn’t have to be a manager. They should not have to bear the burden of running their “business” in addition to leading a group of teachers and students. And, in a similar tone, the Minister of Education should be an educator, not a politician. Politics invariably affects education, but I believe there needs to be some protection in place for the true nature, goals and ideals of education, so that every new bunch of politicians that come along with big new ideas can’t go messing around with the system. So much reform attacks teachers.

I have a pretty strong opinion on the subject so I hope my first essay due next week doesn’t get too emotional!

Wish me luck!
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The collection connection

I read a few different blogs and I am subscribed to a parenting newsletter.  I read the occasional book or magazine, and generally try and absorb information about raising children in a fairly random fashion.  I know that I am generally on the right track, at least in my own ideas of what parenting should be.  I am happy with how much child eats, her behavior is not out of line for a 3 year old, temper tantrums are a part of life, but she doesn’t hit me (although she did go through a brief phase of trying it out) and I feel like I am nipping most problems in the bud when they arise.

I try and let my daughter have space to do her own thing, not hover over her too much, but also spend some time engaged in activities that she wants to do.  We talk about things that have happened in the past, and things that will happen in the future, and there are certain things that always happen at the same time (Ballet on Thursdays, singing and ice cream in kindergarten on Fridays).  J’s Dad loves to snuggle on the sofa and watch cartoons on weekend mornings, so when I am on early morning weekend duty, the TV doesn’t go on at all.  To hear the words “Mum, I need an apple” brings joy to my heart, even though we have arguments about chocolate on a regular basis.

But still I think it’s important to read about parenting, for two reasons – my child is constantly developing, and what was not relevant a month ago could be right on the button today, and there can always be something I have missed.dolls1

It’s always nice and affirming to come across a list of “Things you should be doing with your 3 1/2 year old” and be able to tick all the boxes.  A few weeks ago I came across such a list via in a parenting newsletter, and I read through thinking “yup, doing that already, yup, yup, yup..” until I came across one point which hadn’t occurred to me.  It was collecting things.  Collecting anything means you have to learn about the thing you are collecting.  Whether that is comparison and sorting, creating memories – recalling where you collected each particular item, there are many benefits.  And encouraging a collector doesn’t necessarily mean you are cultivating a hoarder!

Reading this point co-coincided with the arrival of a book we got given – Stina by  Lena Anderson, which is unfortunately ridiculously priced on amazon.  It’s the story of a girl who visits her grandfather every year at the seaside, and collects things she finds on the beach.  During a big storm, an old cabinet is washed up on the shore, and she takes this gift from the storm and stores her collection in it.  It’s a very sweet story, and my daughter loved it from the first read-through.

A short time afterwards, she stopped on a walk in the forest and picked up a stone.  If I hadn’t read the tip and the children’s book, I would have probably told her to leave it in the forest, but instead I whipped out a shopping bag and gave it to her.  She collected a small number of sticks and stones, and when we got home I gave her a shoebox to keep them in.5940432350_fe66c0f967_o

She was delighted by this, and very exited to have a box with things that she had picked up herself.  I only have to take care where she collects the things from, that its not from the gutter or from a dog-wee soaked area, but this is easily solved by going on specific collecting walks in the forest near our house.

I am so glad that she is collecting sticks and stones, and not plastic horses or something else expensive and tasteless.  Also, sticks fit in so well with the whole Winnie the Pooh pooh-sticks thing.  A9804 collecting sticks-n

This fits in so well with the Montessori concept, as she can sort and compare sizes and colors.  She can also paint the rocks and add googly eyes to them.

This hobby is slightly tricky to do in the city, because of all the trash that’s around, but by steering her towards the places where the nature is a bit more pristine we can avoid a lot of nastiness.

Its something that she can own 100 percent.  I am so very glad to have read the right thing at the right time, otherwise I would have possibly overlooked this opportunity altogether.

If you guys know any other good children’s books about collecting, please post them in the comments below!