Friday, 1 December 2017

Lost in Translation: School Uniforms

For this here blog re-launch, I have decided to also dip again in the always fruitful Lost in Translation segment, this time tackling an issue which first caused me intense bewilderment before I just gave it up altogether. 

School uniforms.

Put yourself in my shoes: I grew up in a school system where school uniforms were all but unheard of (including in religious schools) and where teachers could - they mostly didn't, but they could - wear all kind of eccentric garments (my favourite remaining to this day the epic complex-landscape-with-houses-etched-across-a-brownish-trouser-suit that my Latin teacher used to wear - it was epic, you should have seen it). And yet, the common issues used as arguments for a school uniform were and still are also absent:

- people (yes, including teenage girls) dress according to the weather
- their clothing is typically modest
- the behaviour of students is certainly no worse than in England
- kids have no trouble feeling like they belong to their school and that other children who are not from said school should therefore be shunned (yes, they are able to work that out even without the help of designated blazers)
- bullying over clothes is no worse than in the English schools I worked at (sorry to break it to you, but English kids are just as able to pick on be-uniformed peers, they just make fun of how clean the uniform is or focus on bags, shoes and hair-dos).
- they seem to be able to recognise and follow or rebel against arbitrary rules just as well as the British

So I really struggled to see the point of adding to my already heavy workload as a teacher by having to pretend like I cared deeply whether the students were tucking their shirts in, wearing their clip-on tie, asking me before they took off their blazers, and following the one million rules on how to wear your hair up or down (because if your hair is down it will get caught in stuff and you will DIE, as demonstrated by the astronomical rate of death-by-hair recorded amongst French kids).

I had to remind myself constantly to Be cross! It's disrespectful! Don't forget to make them fix their clothes! when really they looked just fine to me. I listened to countless parental hand-wringings over even the smallest issue - clip-on ties were a particular favourite: When are they going to learn to tie them if they don't have to wear a real tie as part of the uniform? as one anguished parent once asked (I don't know, you could always, maybe, just show them?) - Luckily I knew how to answer that one: I just needed to look grave, shake my head and utter in hushed tones - I'm so sorry, it's a health and safety issue you see... - 
I had teachers explaining to me that they once worked in a school where the kids only had to wear a polo-shirt and jumper rather than a shirt and blazer, and the behaviour.was.appalling, Isabelle, APPALLING! (everyone knows that all behaviour issues are solved by clothing, as the immaculate behaviour of toddlers wearing their Sunday best amply demonstrates.)

In the end I did acquire the automatisms needed to berate the students appropriately, but I never managed to care. I collected  reason after reason from as many sources as I could in an almost anthropological effort to try and see the point of it all, and whilst I can give you as many reasons as the day is long, don't believe in a single one of them. Sorry England. I tried ever so hard! 

But I can't even escape it now, because now I am a parent myself, and belong to groups of other parents, and they love to care about this stuff, to the tune of 100s-long comment-threads on Facebook at the slightest provocation. So, as this is my blog, I am going to take matters into my own hands. It's not going to be easy to hear, but it's for your own good Britain.

Wait. First you will have to come a bit closer, because it's a secret and we are about to stop pretending:

Are you ready?

Ok, maybe go make some tea first, to steady your nerves.


Ok, I'm about to take the plunge, hold on to your screen.

Here goes: the only actual reasons why your kids wear school uniforms is because 
a- it looks nice
b- that's how it's kind of always been

That's it. 

So, my dear anguished parent brethrens, you have my official permission to stop caring. It doesn't actually matter any more than the weird rule about not sitting on the grass patch on the left in the Jardin du Luxembourg whilst the one on the right is totally fine.

It's probably easier to just follow the rule, but you don't have to think there is any reasonable argument behind it. 


Now we can start fighting about attendance rewards instead.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

PSA: Bunyan Is a Grumpy Old Fart

Urgh. I am now midway through The Pilgrim's Progress, thanks to some still going strong new year resolutions. Spoiler alert: Christian just got to the Pearly Gates and earned his crown of gold, robe of white and wings (apparently), but now I have to face his entire family following on his tracks on the whole dreary journey.

(If you are wondering why I am inflicting this to myself, here's why).

I cannot wait for it to be over.

So, could someone please tell me why it has value? I mean, I am pretty sure all the clichés he uses about Heaven etc are clichés because his book had such an impact on his time (a bit like how Shakespeare is full of quotes), and I am bearing in mind it is an allegory, (an actual one -just ask Tolkien what he thinks about them) and trying to see it as a great historical document, but really!

Christian is just the most hateful character you could imagine, and he is not selling protestantism to me (suddenly feeling very cosy in Joyce's definition of the Catholic Church as "here comes everybody"). By-Ends does not hold the correct opinions? Let us cheerfully speculate on how he will fall to his death in the hill of Lucre! Ignorant is Ignorant? (the cheek of the man!), Let's talk to him a bit, then cheerfully watch as he is refused access to the Pearly Gates and bundled off to hell.

Plus the million of numbered lists of reasons expounding on how So-and-so is not saved, Such-and-such went wrong, and how good it is to be on the righteous path oneself whilst all these other people err.

So, before I gouge my eyes out, will someone, anyone defend Bunyan to me so I can find some slither of enjoyment as I plough through the book?

Friday, 6 January 2017

I left it too late

I was aimlessly musing through this quiet blog (no particular reason for it, just shifting priorities) after I had some random new comments recently. And a thought struck me.
I happened upon the "Conversation with Maminou" posts, the hopeful intro, the many unpublished and unfinished ones, the couple I did end up publishing, and it made me so incredibly sad.

You see, all that I said and hoped for in the intro was true. Maminou is an amazing font of knowledge, of specific knowledge that I need, as a floundering mother and homemaker who needs to re-invent the wheel every step of the way. It was true that the transmission was lost because my own mother leads a very different life with very different priorities. I was about to spend two weeks with her, just her and my little family and I was hoping to get all the transmission I could.

And I tried.

I asked and I asked.

And Maminou tried to answer. But often she couldn't. Already the first signs of the confusion and memory loss meant having a conversation with her was a halted, circling affair. Often she got worried, taking my questions for demands that she do things for us. It would have been cruel to push too much, when I know for a fact,that for years she had wanted nothing more but to tell us about our ancestors, her life on the farm, everything.

But I had, already, left it too late. And that is a bitter thing.

Now I mostly communicate with her through letters. Letters are forgiving. You can re-read a letter as many times as you like, it doesn't get tired of telling you the same thing, over and over again, because you keep forgetting it, over and over again. Phone calls are difficult. Family gatherings are difficult, because Maminou still wants to organise them, but then she forgets when she was supposed to do it, what she was to bring, or which of her children are hosting. And already, without the holding power of the matriarch, the extended family is disintegrating. Factions among uncles and aunts, one sibling left out, no second chance given because Maminou is no longer able to see it, and tell them to be nice to each other.

This extended family which gave me so much joy growing up is now mostly a source of grief and anger. No-one outside of the family is now holding you to a fair standard of behaviour with your own family, so, unsurpisingly in a fallen world, people behave badly. And blood used to be thicker than water.

I do not want to start mourning Maminou. She is still here, and so long as I write them down for her to peruse at her leisure, she can and wants to hear our news. She is still the Maminou I 've always loved so much. And I know mourning in advance doesn't do any good. When my grandfather died after a long disease which gradually robbed him of all his faculties, we thought the parting would be easy. But it wasn't. Because when he died, he was given back to us as he had been before and we had to grieve all of him anew, as well as our own behaviour for failing to keep on seeing the whole of him until the end.

I do not want to mourn Maminou now, but it is still a bitter, bitter thing that I left too late to really get to know her.

I hope I remember this.