Thursday, May 25, 2017

Are Faith Schools Breaking Down Society?

We, the Reasons 2B Cheerful regulars, decided to give it a miss this week, out of respect for the families of Manchester. Another alternative light-hearted post also did not sit well me today. I have been in turmoil since this evil terrorist attack and trying to make sense of where we as a society went wrong.

We need solutions not just platitudes. Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins have offered their no-nonsense plans of action for crisis control. I don't disagree with them but we need to go deeper and examine some of the problems in our society. I am writing from Israel and we have some similar problems here. I'm not talking about terrorism. Terrorism isn't similar, it's the same evil wherever it occurs. I'm talking about religion keeping people apart.

When I was a child I, and most of my Jewish friends, went to the local primary school. Yes there were Jewish schools but not many and in London there were far more Jews in local authority schools than in Jewish schools. The divide was mainly down to how religious you were - the more orthodox went to the Jewish schools, the more traditional and reform Jews did not. 

I grew up hearing stories about Jesus, singing hymns, and celebrating Easter and Christmas in school while learning about my Judaism at home and at after school Hebrew classes. It was the dawn of multiculturalism and we had the local Rabbi come in to talk about Hannuka, Passover, and Shabbat. In our area there were not yet enough other ethnic groups to warrant any further multicultural events.

By the time I became a teacher the local authority schools were embracing Diwali, Ramadan and other Hundhu, Sikh and Muslim holidays. However, over the years there has been a rise in Faith Schools. Most of the Jewish community now go to Jewish schools (60% according to Wikipedia).

There is historical and political background. With the creation of Comprehensive Schools and the closing of Grammar Schools in the early 1970s, there was more demand for Public Schools. True to the laws of supply and demand, competition became fierce and tuition fees rose. The middle classes who prioritized academia  needed an alternative and Faith Schools offered a stricter curriculum than the free for all Comprehensives.

But still there were not so many - only 32 Jewish schools by 2001 when the Guardian shows the Government positively encouraging more Faith schools.

"...according to the Blair government, which believes they [Faith Schools] improve educational standards and wants to see more of them. Previous education secretary David Blunkett said he wanted to "bottle" the ethos of faith schools, and a recent white paper declares: " We wish to welcome faith schools, with their distinctive ethos and character, into the maintained (state) sector, where there is clear local agreement.""

Reading between the lines, I see this as meaning that the State system cannot deal with behavioural issues so it's best if the Faith Schools use their religions to control the kids (and scare the hell out of them as only religion can). By 2011. "about one third of the 20,000 state funded schools in England were faith schools, approximately 7,000 in total." (Wikipedia) And these numbers do not include all the privately funded Faith Schools. 

When he went to University my nephew said that he was looking forward to meeting some people who aren't Jewish. He went to Jewish schools, Jewish scouts. Jewish clubs. Jewish football leagues, and prayed with a Jewish community. He'd lived in London all his life and he didn't know any non-Jews!

In Israel for many years we had very set state-run educational systems - The Ultra-Orthodox, the State Orthodox, the State Secular, and the Arab schools. Recent years have seen the rise of other alternatives. My daughter goes to a "Traditional" School. It would have been so easy for me to choose the State Orthodox school around the corner where I am friendly with many of the other parents and familiar with the community. But in the end I had to vote with my principles and chose the school that teaches Jewish values whilst not pushing Jewish practice. We have Orthodox, Traditional, Reform and Secular Jews, a community of Christians, and some African refugees in our school. I love the diversity and I believe our lives are richer for it. (No Arabs yet but it's a process. There is an Arab-Jewish school near us but only one so far.)

However, one thing Israeli State Orthodox, Traditional and Secular Schools have is a definite nationalistic agenda. All our children have to serve in the army and our survival depends on a level of national pride, love of our country, and national responsibility like no other nation I can think of. Once when I posted photos of Israeli flags hanging from windows, balconies and cars on Independence Day, other bloggers commented that it was strange to them, refreshing even, as in England (though not in Scotland or Wales) flying a national flag can sometimes be construed as sinister or provocative. How sad is that?

America is more into nation building than England. All school children pledge allegiance to the flag, the President, and the Constitution - all non-denominational by law. Further than that I can't comment. I know they have their share of Faith Schools as well and have also been tackling problems of internal xenophobia. 

I am beginning to believe that as comfortable and cozy as it is to have your children in a Faith School within your own community, it might be the undoing of British society. I believe that religion should be a family issue and living in communities around your church, synagogue or mosque is a personal choice. However, the Government provides free education (yes I know we pay for it through taxation) and therefore the Government should enforce a national curriculum to encourage nation building in a multicultural society. Call it a Nanny State if you like but the people of Britain need to know who they are, who takes care of them, who they need to protect, who their fellow citizens are, and what they should be grateful for. 

On facebook yesterday, my cousin's Muslim friend praised her for taking the time to get to know Muslims and become true friends with them. Both women have lived in England all their lives and yet being friends is considered extraordinary. This anomaly has to be addressed from Reception Class up, across the nation. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Love Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus is a little girl growing up in Africa. Amazing Africa. Before we go any further, what sort of life do you think Anna Hibiscus has in Africa? I did a little experiment and asked three people who'd not read the six Anna Hibiscus books by Atinuke. They all answered variations on the theme of growing up in a village, poor, coping with drought and famine, fighting to receive an education as a girl, working on the meagre homestead, etc, etc. One of my subjects forgot that this is a children's book and started guessing themes such as child brides and other horrific practices associated with this.

WRONG WRONG WRONG! Let's start again. Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. She lives in a big city in a big house surrounded by a big walled garden. She lives with her father's family. All of them. Her Grandparents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousins (the big cousins, the middle cousins, and the little cousins). They all have wonderful names like Uncle Bizzi Sunday, big girl cousins Joy, Clarity and Common Sense, and Anna Hibiscus' twin brothers Double and Trouble.

The family are comfortably off and there is a constant rubbing along throughout the stories between African tradition and modern times. This in itself is a subtle lesson in which the Grandparents who grew up in the village, are revered and respected. They guide the family with their wisdom and experience, through all sorts of adventures and dilemmas.

Each chapter of each book tells a story with a moral. But the morals are not the old and hackneyed lessons that are repeated over and over from Huckleberry Finn to Milly Molly Mandy to Angelina Ballerina, et al, such as be helpful and you will get your reward, be loyal to your friends, be honest, be kind.... Yes Anna Hibiscus is all of these but in these books the challenges are completely different to any I have read in modern English children's literature.

For example, Anna's mother is Canadian and she wants to go on a short holiday with just her husband and children, as we do. We see how much harder life is when you don't have your whole extended family on hand.

What happens when Anna wants to sell oranges from their trees outside the garden gate with the other child street sellers? The other children have old and damaged fruit to sell and they need the money to help feed their families. Anna comes out of her wealthy compound with wonderfully fresh and succulent oranges from their healthy, watered trees. You can guess the rest.

She visits her Grandfather's ancestral village and teaches the children to read. With her cousins she rescues a homeless orphan whom they adopt after saving his life. There are real challenges faced in these stories and not one of them has charity workers from the Western World coming to sort them out. Just little Anna Hibiscus and her big, lovable family.

When Anna Hibiscus goes to Canada to visit her maternal Grandmother, everything is a bit weird. Fancy being made to sleep in a room all on your lonely ownsome. I mean that's no fun is it?

Every story is a delight. Every lesson learned is a revelation. You are made to look at the world from a stance you'd never considered before. There is a way of life you've never read about, a culture full of tradition and wisdom and pride. Even a certain amount of sympathy towards the Western World which seems to have lost it's way compared to life in Amazing Africa.

Does this review show my prejudices and maybe even some latent racism? Probably. I'm still working on seeing the world from all angles and Anna Hibiscus was an education even for my adult self.

I was lucky enough to be lent all six books in the series by a pupil who passed them on to me as she finished each one. Thank you Hodaya, your books taught me a lot this year.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Lag B'omer Reasons 2B Cheerful

Our bonfire with our picnic table in the background. 
Lag B'omer
I write about Lag B'omer every year but it happens every year so what's a blogger to do? This year the parents' committee for DD's class organized a bonfire for the civilized time of 5.30 - 7.30 pm. A list went out for the accompanying picnic and of course we were urged to bring any wood we could find to feed the fire.

The list is a funny thing. There are 30 children in the class and the items are all about 20 shekels (4 GBP) each so everyone is paying about the same. But the effort differs according to the item. For occasions inside school there are those mothers who like to bake so the cakes are no problem. There is a mad scramble to donate the disposables (plates, cups, cutlery, napkins, etc...) from those that can't be bothered have a busy week that week. The next to go are the bottles of drink which can also be bought in advance. The tubs of humus and cheese are also pretty popular. Pita bread is okay too though it has to be bought on the day to be fresh. What no one likes is the platters of cut up vegetables or fruit. It's expensive, it's time consuming and time sensitive, and it's hard to transport.

For Lag B'omer it was a felafel picnic. By the time I saw the list it had been up a good 20 minutes. Apart from the fruit and vegetables, the only other item left were 20 felafel balls (hot). I went for the felafel balls and thought myself very clever when I hit on the idea of ordering them from the felafel kiosk around the corner. Of course I was outsmarted by the other felafel mums (there were four of us). One of the mothers ordered 80 felafel balls, another picked them up on the way to the bonfire, and I only had to give her my 20 shekels, Sorted.

Our cooking fire for marchmallows
We went with our old wooden broom handle, an old chopping board that was going mouldy inside, a stack of paper supermarket bags, and some small raffia baskets. I felt a bit pathetic when I saw the already built bonfire set with real logs, shipping pallets, and whole planks of wood from I know not where. (And best not to ask.)

One of the fathers made a small fire for roasting marshmallows (another popular item on the list). I missed the bit where it said to bring your own partially cooked potatoes wrapped in tin foil but I don't think DD noticed them and anyway there were loads of spares.

At the end we found out at the parents' committee all have kids in 6th Grade too, so we didn't have to put out our fire as it was being passed on to the 6th Graders (7.30 - 9.30 pm. Or later, I have no idea).

Israelis know how to do all this outdoors stuff efficiently and I'm happy to go with the flow as long as it doesn't include climbing mountains.

Swimming lessons
DDs summer swimming lessons started this week. It's our fourth year and every year I'm amazed at how much better she is and how much more advanced the class is. I also found out after four years that the man who runs the lessons speaks English. I've been breaking my teeth speaking to him in Hebrew until now. I can manage in Hebrew but life is so much easier in English.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
When we finished Heidi's Children I was dreading getting DD to agree to a new book. She hates change or anything new until she gets there, when of course she loves it. I was thinking of The Railway Children with the promise of seeing the film at the end.

However, on the evening of the final chapter of Heidi's Children, DD asked me, "Have we got the book about the children in the cupboard with a lion and a wicked Queen?" We do have it and I was delighted. Apparently they are hearing it at school in Hebrew and the teacher told them that it was an English book.

DD explained to me about how the children were evacuated to the country during WW2 and I told her about Grandma and Grandpa's evacuation stories. We're well into it now. Of course I have the full set of books in the series but I'm not sure I've got the patience to go through all of them like I did with Harry Potter.

My cousin,  who on her last visit brought us the lemon scented geranium cutting from her garden in Pinner, Middx, was in Israel for a visit. She came round for coffee  the other night and brought me some some seeds for a vegetable garden on the balcony. So I guess I really do have to do it this summer.

As usual I'm linking up with Michelle on Mummy from the Heart for this week's Reasons 2B Cheerful.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Supermarket Chutzpa

Israelis are known for their chuztpa - loosely translated as blatant cheek.

One very irritating habit that happens here in the supermarket, is parking trolleys at the checkout, albeit at the end of a long queue, and then going back and forth filling them so that by the time they have all they need, they are at the front of the queue to check out. We all forget things as we're queuing and no one minds of you leave your trolley to run back and get that one forgotten item, but I'm talking about almost the whole shop done from the checkout queue.

Another ploy is when two people are shopping together and they stand in two different lines in order to take the position that comes up first. The queues in the supermarket are always a big of gamble, like at the airport check-in, you never know if someone ahead of you is going to have a problem and hold everyone up for half an hour. I don't mind that couples stand in two queues as in the end they can only take up one place, I'm just a bit jealous that this is something I can never do.

From archives. I had nowhere near this amount of shopping
Anyway, last week when we didn't have a working fridge at home, I was buying just enough to see us through the weekend before our new fridge arrived on Sunday afternoon. Thus I didn't do the shop while DD was in school on Friday morning, but we went together after school. The place was packed with long queues at all the checkouts except for the express line. There is a clearly visible sign up that says, '10 items or less'. We had about 15 items but some of them were multiples. However compared to the full trolleys in the other queues it was practically nothing.

At that point the express queue was completely empty so I went to it. The cashier looked at my trolley and said, "sorry, only 10 items." I replied, "I'm only buying ten the rest are hers," indicating DD. The woman gave me a stern look. I ignored it. I put 10 things on the conveyor belt. Then I put the remaining things in another pile behind them and gave DD a 100 shekel note (about 20 pounds). I told her, "This is your shopping and you pay for it with this,"

DD was embarrassed but by this time the cashier was laughing. When she'd swiped my club card I handed it to DD for her shopping. The cashier, told me to put it away and she did our whole shop in one transaction.

Sometimes I feel very Israeli.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Al Fresco Reasons 2B Cheerful

DD's friend came over for lunch and they had the first al fresco meal of the season.

Truthfully, we are not very outdoors people and we prefer to eat indside even if the weather is fine. That and the fact that the balcony had gathered loads of 'stuff' over the winter and needed to be cleared, so we'd not got round to eating out yet.

We have lots of R2BCs to look forward to in the coming week. On Sunday evening DD's class are having their Lag B'omer bonfire. Sunday happens to be my day off and Monday is a holiday from school. On Tuesday my college class are out on a field trip all day so I get another day off. On Wednesday afternoon DD's swimming lessons start. So I'm looking forward to a great week ahead.

Mine was a short one this week but you can see more Reasons 2B Cheerful over at Michelle's Mummy from the Heart.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday Tidbits #45 - Food, Sleep, Exercise And Visions

There may be a witch hunt
The Food/Sleep Conundrum
It's 10 pm and 3 hours after supper.
DD: Mummy I'm hungry.
Me: Then you need to go to bed.
DD: I'm not that hungry.

Not (Wo)Man of the Match
DD: The Dodge Ball Tournament was such fun! I loved it! We beat Third grade 2 and Fourth Grade 1! Next we might have to play Fifth Grade! I didn't know it would be such fun, I thought it would be boring but it wasn't!
Me: Did you play in your class team?
DD: No I cheered. I could have played. I had the opportunity to play but I like cheering.

She might be going to Hogwarts....
DD was twisting and turning in my bed, jabbing me with her knees and elbows.
Me: Why don't you go and sleep in your own bed?
DD: No, it's creepy in there. I keep thinking there're ghosts and I have visions of things coming to get me.
Me: Well get on your side of the bed then.
DD: I am on my side. You take up too much room.
Me: Well if you think this bed is too small then you can always go and sleep in your own bed.
DD: I told you I HAVE VISIONS!

Heidi's Children
Marta, the highly strung and emotionally unstable little girl, sells the strawberries she picked because all the other girls sold their strawberries and she was told to do whatever they did. When she gets home she sees that everyone was expecting strawberries for tea and she is distraught. She throws herself on the ground, sobbing and pleading forgiveness. Eventually she looks to the heavens and cries, "dear Lord, please will you forgive me even if the Grandfather won't forgive me?"

DD: Oh perleeeeze! Kill me now. She's so embarrassing!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Broken Fridge Diet

Old Fridge R.I.P.
My old fridge lasted 25 years. I know because I bought it when my flatmate in our completely unfurnished flat, got married in 1992 and took her fridge with her. It then came with me when I moved to my current place 16 years ago. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my old fridge. No bits missing, cracked, broken or bent out of shape. No scratches or dents. Nothing wrong with it except that it died of old age.

This happened last Saturday and last Sunday after school DD and I went shopping for a new one. I wrote about the shopping trip and how we got a free sofa thrown in, here.

Anyway, we had a week of hot weather with no fridge until the new one was delivered today. The freezer was definitely kaput but the machine was still humming so I convinced myself that the fridge part was still a little bit cold.

Luckily I had no expensive meat or fish in the freezer, just bags of frozen (or unfrozen) vegetables and some gluten free rolls for my nephew. I put all these items into the fridge and have been eating my way through them all week. For example, every day for lunch I cooked up a 400g bag of green beans and ate them in a salad with salad vegetables, tuna, cottage cheese, and grated hard cheese. For supper I ate an 800g bag of broccoli with parmesan cheese and some homemade vegetable soup that I'd frozen in jars.

I am writing a book called The Broken Fridge Diet. It worked because I was determined to eat as much of the food as possible so I didn't buy anything out. And it largely consisted of bags of green vegetables. cottage cheese, and vegetable soup.

On Saturday afternoon I had to admit that the sliced cheese was going off. I pretended it was a mature, smelly, blue cheese and finished it off with my nephew's gluten-free rolls that had also defrosted. Have you ever tasted gluten-free rolls? They're disgusting nothing like real bread. I could have cried for my nephew but he likes his egg salad so what is he going to eat it on?

The milk lasted all week - which makes me wonder what they put in it. I eventually threw out a whole 800g bag of green beans, a bag of mixed beans, and two bags of peas.

New Fridge
The new fridge is larger than I thought it was. I set out to buy a smaller fridge than the 525 litre fridge we had. We don't need so much fridge space and I don't have an enormous kitchen. I think what happened was that the smaller fridges in the shop had much smaller freezers. I got scared that my jars of soup and bags of frozen veg, DD's ice-cream, and nephew's gluten-free rolls and pizzas wouldn't all fit. Also, I was only prepared to buy a fridge with an A or B energy rating and the smaller fridges were mainly Cs and even Ds. Oh, and the smaller Electra fridges all had digital displays on the front that I didn't want either.

So I ended up with a Sharp 495 litres, energy rating B. It's only 10 cm narrower than the old fridge and quite a bit taller so it actually feels bigger. They also make more shelves and cubbies than they used to. So far all the food I have fits into the door.

I'm a little bit in love with my new fridge. DD asked me why I didn't buy a vanilla coloured fridge like the old one. (The old one was white once upon a time.) I told her not to put fingermarks all over my new fridge. Five minute later we had this exchange:

DD: Mummy, can you come and open the new fridge for me.
Me: Why?
DD: I want to put my chocolate biscuit in it to eat later.
Me: Why can't you open it?
DD: You told me not put my fingermarks on it.
Me: You can touch the handle to open the door.

Obviously I don't want to cover it in magnets and class contact lists. And the hot plate doesn't fit on top like it used to. I'm going to have to rearrange the whole kitchen to empty the cupboard where the hot plate could go.  I may need a new kitchen.

Finally DD and I went shopping for a few things to put in the new fridge. I bought gluten-free rolls to freeze for my nephew.