The After Life

‘Never stress over what you can’t control.’

‘Focus on what you can do rather than stress about what you have no control over.’

As much as I distrust the wisdom of self-help gurus and productivity coaches, I’ve decided to take their advice this week. Since I have no control whatsoever over Brexit, I will stop fretting about it until next Thursday, and focus instead on something I do have some control over; my funeral arrangements. Continue reading

When They Go Low…

Two months into the new year, I’m already feeling nostalgic for 2018. Yes, I’ve not forgotten that I once referred to it as an annus horribilis, but that was before I knew what 2019 had in store.

To be fair, so far this year hasn’t been all that bad for me personally, but on a bigger scale, it’s already turned into an out-of-this-world cringeworthy reality show. Except it’s no show, it’s all painfully real.

Yes, I am referring to the current state of affairs in Britain. This week, eight Labour MPs finally defected from their party, soon followed by three Tory MPs. It was a long time coming, and surely no one was much surprised when it finally happened. But the vitriol heaped from left and right onto these eleven defectors has been beyond belief. Social media is awash with trolls cursing the day these MPs were born, accusing them of every crime under the sun. Hate is all around us. Continue reading

Five Points to Gryffindor

While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your House points, while any rule-breaking will lose House points. At the end of the year, the House with the most points is awarded the House Cup, a great honour.

Anyone who’s read a Harry Potter book will recognise these words by Professor McGonagall but rest assured that what follows is not a blog post about Harry Potter.

shutterstock_92359057It was, however, by reading J.K. Rowling’s wizarding series two decades ago that I was introduced to the concept of ‘house points,’ an antiquated system used by many British schools to reward good behaviour, sports accomplishments etc.

Many years later when my children started school I discovered that house points are still very much in use at schools all over London and further afield.

Although I found the practice of giving pupils points for keeping their desk tidy or being polite and helpful quite old fashioned, I wasn’t too bothered by it at first, especially as my children seemed to enjoy the challenge of scoring points for their ‘House’. That was before they discovered that not only were house points awarded, they were also taken away in the event of ‘bad’ behaviour.

By the time she was in her last year of primary school, my eldest daughter was sick and tired of how her teachers used the promise of house points to control pupils, and she had my full sympathy. Even though many British schools claim that using house points helps to foster a sense of community and shared responsibility amongst pupils, in practice, they serve, as a teacher’s tool to reign in students, and to suppress any undesirable behaviour.

Judging by the countless times I’ve heard my children and their friends worry about losing house points if they raise an awkward issue with their teachers, the points system is nothing if not effective.

‘Come on girls,’ I’d say, ‘if something is not right, tell your teacher, launch a protest, do something!’, hoping to instil a smattering of rebelliousness in my daughters but to no avail. The threat of shame and humiliation associated with losing house points keeps them on the straight and narrow.

It’s not that I am obsessing about house points per se, what bothers me most is how they serve to reinforce a hierarchical structure of power within the school system.

For my biggest beef is with hierarchy itself, an organising principle that ranks people in order of importance, authority or ability, and which does little to foster a sense of community, learning and personal development.

Now in her first year of secondary school, my eldest daughter attends a ‘progressive’ school where everyone – teachers, staff, pupils and parents – are on a first name basis. There’s no school uniform, and the teachers couldn’t care less whether or not you’re able to write neatly with a fountain pen. These may seem like minor matters, but as evidenced by my daughter’s transformation since she moved school, there’s nothing minor in their impact.

My daughter herself attests to the positive effect that calling her teachers by their first names have had on her learning. Absent the hierarchical structure enforced by the traditional school system, she feels much more at ease in her relationship with teachers, no longer afraid to approach them with questions or concerns.

Looking back at my own experience as a student as well as my brief foray into teaching, I am all the more convinced that pupils – whether they’re children, teenagers or adults – learn best in a non-hierarchical system, in an atmosphere free from fear and where the relationship between teacher and pupil is both informal and respectful. How crazy is that?



The Adults in the Room

In 1988 one of the most popular films to be released in the United States was Big, a comedy featuring a fresh-faced Tom Hanks as the kid who is turned away from a carnival ride for being too short and subsequently puts a coin in a fortune teller machine and makes a wish to be ‘big’. The next day he wakes up and discovers he’s transformed into a 30-year old man.

I am beginning to wonder if such a fortune teller machine lurks in the corner of a games arcade somewhere in Britain and that the government and parliament are actually made up of a bunch of kids.


For how else to explain the topsy-turvy world we currently inhabit, where elected politicians whose responsibility it is to ensure that Britain doesn’t fall off a cliff are so busy bickering with each other like a bunch of mean schoolgirls, that it looks more likely than ever that they’ll push the country over that very edge?

A world where the real adult in the room is a 16-year old girl with Asperger’s who doesn’t shy away from telling the world’s elite at Davos that they’re hypocrites. A world whose only superpower is run by a gun-loving, bigoted charlatan with a fake tan and where real leadership and wisdom is represented by a group of teenagers who survived a mass shooting at their school in Parkland, Florida and subsequently lead a protest movement against gun violence in the US.

On second thought, comparing the political and financial elite to a bunch of children is grossly unfair to the many kids the world over who inhabit vastly more sense than the adults in charge.

Look at the response to the climate change crisis; while the adults are still debating the issue, thousands of children across the world are following in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old Swedish climate change activist, and organising mass school strikes to protest the lack of decisive action by governments to prevent the earth from overheating.

As for Brexit, a vast majority of young Britons are dead against their country leaving the European Union. They don’t believe in unicorns, and the empty promises of politicians do not fool them. They know that there’s no conceivable way they will be better off in Brexit Britain, deprived of the many freedoms that EU membership bestowed upon them.

My daughter likes to tell me that she’s smarter than I am because a child’s brain is more elastic than an adult’s brain.

“I can think outside the box in a way you can’t,” she says, and she’s right. I dare say she’s right to claim she’d make a better prime minister than the one we currently have.

Judging by the damage adults have inflicted on the earth and each other for far too long, it stands to reason that the older generations ought to give way to the young since it’s our children and grandchildren’s future we’re dealing with. Is it really so fanciful to suggest that children should have a real say in their future, given the mess their parents and grandparents have left in their wake? For the sake of us all, let’s hope that 2019 will see an explosion of young activists unafraid to hold the older generations to account.

You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.  Greta Thunberg