Image difference

The longer I work in a secondary school, the more I realise how much the public image of a school matters. I’m really fascinated at how diversity fits with a schools image. Many schools report they ‘value diversity’ or ‘celebrate diversity’. More often than not they mean cultural diversity, actually I would say almost exclusively (thanks to the New Zealand Curriculum statement) diversity really just means ethnicity. But this is where things get interesting and a little perplexing.

Alongside this schools are charged with supporting young people to develop a strong sense of their identity. Again this seems on the surface to be just fine, except when other forms of diversity start to ‘contaminate’ the pristine, clean cultural definitions. This is the most popular image used in school advertising across the county, a picture of smiling faces of various ethnicities. For simplification, the rhetoric goes something like this:

  • We love diversity – so you need to all wear a uniform, and wear the correct one for your assigned sex, oh and no other outward signs of individuality like piercings or hair colour, style, length…but we want you to be yourself.
  • We celebrate diversity – but not pride week, no you can’t have an LGBTQ+ group – people might object and that would make the school look bad. But we will do pink shirt day because being anti-bullying looks good for our image.
  • We value diversity – but let’s make sure students with unique needs are siloed off so they don’t disrupt the learning of others.
  • We are inclusive of diversity – but our common room isn’t accessible.
  • We encourage diversity – so long as you’re not failing NCEA and making our stats look bad.
  • We welcome diversity – but we are a single sex school so you have to have the right body parts to attend.
  • We embrace diversity – so long as you manage your anger, fear, sadness and frustration and behave the same as everyone else.
  • We recognise diversity – but if you are bullied for being transgender this might not be the school for you, you’re asking for special treatment and it’s just too hard for us to adapt to the 21st Century, bathrooms have always been this way, actually we’d prefer not to know you exist at all.
  • We support diversity – only if you behave in ways that keep everyone comfortable, so don’t be too gay…
  • Basically – we accept diversity – so long as you’re not different.

None of this is ever blatant, it is a quiet dismissive attitude, an omission in policy, an intentional avoidance, an awkward silence, or a flustered defensiveness. Because schools are now brands with an image to uphold (sounds a bit like political parties). Diversity is messy and complex and while education is locked into the neo-liberal politics of advanced capitalism, a schools image will often be prioritised at the expense of a fuller definition and recognition of diversity.

Advertisements

WAMU – a new political force…farce

Weeks on from the Green Party leadership kerfuffle, I’m still reeling and wondering about the deeper philosophical implications for future politics. Naaah fuck it…time to take (hypothetical) action.

I’m keen to start a new political party, but I have some strong beliefs about what it will take for anyone to join me. The We’ve All Messed Up (WAMU) is not for the faint hearted. While other parties frantically bury their indiscretions, anyone wishing to represent WAMU will be expected to have fucked up in the past. In fact if your history shows a squeaky clean record from your late teens to early 30’s I’d be suspicious.

WAMU is focussed on playing the issues not the person (the equivalent of playing the ball not the player in football – it’s a dirty tactic). Our fuck ups will be the first thing the public will know about us. As its possible leader, I am proud to say my shenanigans did lead to be booked by police, protesting. We put up flyers before a big rugby game in Dunedin indicating the link between domestic violence, alcohol use and rugby. I was involved in numerus fees protests, in the early 90’s. I took out a student loan and spent some of it on a mountain bike! I gave people free hair-cuts with my clippers with absolutely no training. I smoked marijuana and yes I did bloody inhale and it was fantastic – just really bad for the food budget. One flat had a kids play house out the back and a friend stayed in it for a few months, and yeah the landlord found out and wasn’t happy. I also lied about my religion in the census one year, I said I was a jedi but I have to confess, I’m only a padawan – busted! So there – plenty of stuff that would tarnish my potential to run for any current political party.

WAMU understands that taking risks, pushing the rules and at times breaking them is healthy. Being afraid to get it wrong and always obeying authority is not freedom – it is totalitarianism. Much like all those people salivating over the demise of Meteria Turei calling for her to be tarred and feathered or hung drawn and quartered – well – maybe the 21st century version, it’s the same mentality – fear based politics.

WAMU is calling out to ordinary people and those up there on their high horses to climb down for a moment and get real about the messiness of life. I feel sorry for young politicians – trapped having to keep that squeaky clean image up, fear not – WAMU will be there when your rebellious phase finally hits, we will embrace you should your party turn its back. Our party mandate will be simple: The past present and future all matter but only two of these we have the ability to influence while the other serves as a platform to launch from. The best foundations for this platform are life experiences that push the normative codes of society.

WAMU – giving the middle finger to petty personal politics and promoting palm in face practices to prevent pathetic pompus pricks perpetuating pretentious policies.

(disclaimer…I needed to ‘p’).

Not another statistic

It’s been a sobering week. I love my job, but it is bloody hard sometimes. It’s one of those moments I dread  as a school counsellor, hearing that a young person you have supported has taken their own life. I’ve been through this before, thankfully not a lot but it never gets easier. I’m sad, angry and frustrated – sometimes things do not get better! Yet this is what we tend to tell people, it will get better…what if it doesn’t? I reflected all week, trying not to give in to despair. I think something left unanswered is just how much emphasis there is on the individual ‘getting help’. I’ve said it before – expecting people to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is not the answer. Somehow – my grief is more a profound sense of inevitability, a hollow aching grief that ‘it didn’t get better’ – we were served notice, but will anyone take notice of the larger systemic and societal shifts that need to enable people to want to stay checked in to this life.

We live in a time where showing compassion, love and vulnerability are seen as weakness. Where harshness, hate, separation, fear and rejection are normal. It is especially sad when these ideas become part of systems meant to support our most vulnerable – in an election year, this seems even more evident and strangely indicative of a profoundly sick system, more intent on point scoring.

While it never gets easy hearing about young people checking out, I know that suffering and feeling in continual pain is no quality of life. The tragedy is we have yet to create an abundance of love, acceptance, inclusion, safety and respect for children and young people. This is a level of social and cultural poverty that I find deeply offensive and will continue to challenge.

Joining the dots

I’ve been following the NZ herald series on suicide, not closely, working as a school counsellor gives me some insight to the phenomenon but I am always cautious about my own understanding, even with close to 15yrs experience. But the Herald series is a bit like throwing out a series of dots from which people can join to form a picture. Here is where I’m a little unsure just which dots are standing out, how they are being joined and what picture/s are emerging. It’s tragic, compelling, emotive and unfortunately political. The dots could be seen as key ideas, some backed by research, others personal experiences, experts like (Sir) Peter Gluckman are mixed in with Mike King. Much like a join the dots activity I did as a kid, if there are just a few dots they have to be joined carefully and in the correct order to get the picture, more dots gives more detail. Sometimes you didn’t need to see the numbers to join them correctly – but at other times connecting the 2 with 8 really threw things off and you got a duck instead of a bunny. And this is where I think some of the discussion on suicide has gone – into duckbunny land.

I’ve read Gluckman’s report, it’s worth reading but how many people will actually bother to pick up his dots? He suggests the key work needs to be done much earlier than secondary schools, but also that adolescents is a vulnerable period regardless. There is a link between communities that have a low sense of worth, less hope for a future. I am saddened at the risk for Maori and other communities such as LGBTQI+ youth, this is where I think schools continue to ignore the dots and avoid responsibility for creating safe, genuinely inclusive (including bi-cultural values) environments. When principals deny queer young people safe places to meet (i.e. not allowing students to form gay-straight alliances), be valued members of the community– they increase risk. When schools fail to provide trained, qualified counsellors because pastoral care is not seen as valued – risk increases.

You see a couple of dots that people keep ignoring or leaving off the page, is the spike in suicide with the rolling out of ‘Tomorrows Schools’ when secondary schools could opt to not have counsellors in favour of the rather vague idea of ‘providing adequate guidance’ – and there are so many weird, vague interpretations of this. Key also is the gradual rising of the school leaving age, with university entrance now requiring completing level 3 (7th form for old school people). So if a young person is able to consent to their own medical treatment at 16, surely we should be enabling them to access mental health support as well, and schools that do not employ trained counsellors deny young people a potential lifeline.

Because every day, I talk to young people who have lost hope, who feel adults they have turned to have freaked out, got angry, dismissed, not believed them or blamed them for what is going on. They have thought about suicide, might be ready to die, but they somehow managed to get to my office. They aren’t making this shit up, they are survivors of bullying, sexual abuse, rape, family violence, they are from all cultures, they are LGBTQI+ and they had a free resource available, a fence at the top of the cliff – a trained, qualified, professionally affiliated counsellor.

It’s election year though, so I say this to all politicians – Stop ignoring these dots because they do not fit your convenient picture. Make a commitment to resourcing schools and agencies at the coal face of this work. Stop political point scoring around education, especially with vulnerable populations. No more dots are needed, just draw the lines FFS.

Choice Uniform

Ok, its been a while since I blogged and I am probably going to piss people off or take the warm fuzzy glow off something that most people are seeing as a move in the right direction when it comes to enabling flexibility of gender expression in schools. My Facebook feed went crazy a few days ago with the story of the Dunedin intermediate school that was eliminating gendered uniforms. This move is seen as revolutionary, some sort of highland fling needs doing as kilts and skirts blend boys and girls in a new gender neutral utopia that allows students to freely express themselves.

I want to be excited ‘yay’. I want to be optimistic ‘maybe other schools will do it now’, I want to be supportive ‘it’s important’. Right, now that I’ve got that out of the way – time to get realistic and bit more critical for the sake of actual change. So stop reading now if you want the warm fuzzy version.

Has this school actually done anything earth shattering? No. They are talking about adding long pants as an option and culottes, which are about as functional as stubbies. If guys choose to wear a kilt…it’s a kilt, not a skirt…duh. This is the same as wearing any other form of cultural dress. Get guys in culottes and then I’ll be impressed.

There is no such thing as gender neutral – because neutral is masculinised – pants or shorts. So what we are talking about is not feminising or enabling feminine expression. KILTS ARE NOT SKIRTS!

It is an intermediate – these are still ‘kids’ – show me a high school – or better a single sex school that does this and I will be convinced, more so if it’s a boys school.

If people think students now have ‘freedom’ to choose – think again, the gender norms still apply and when boys can grow their hair long, girls can cut theirs short and not shave their legs and it be ok – THAT is the other uniform rule that has to be broken. When a girl can wear short hair and not be asked if she is a boy or a girl that will be the sign of change.

Finally – a truly radical move from schools in New Zealand these days is to NOT have a uniform. I went through primary and intermediate without a uniform, I think I am ok as a result. Show me a school that moves from uniform to no uniform and that will be radical and ground breaking

Uniforms perpetuate the idea of gender, regardless of flexibility – there is still an absent but implicit assumption that there are feminine and masculine uniforms.But good on ya Dunedin North Intermediate for listening to students, that is worth celebrating. but wait until you guys get a good southerly up those kilts and I reckon there will be a quick run at the uniform shop for pants. And no modern uniform should have culottes they are worse than gender neutral they are gender dysfunctional.

 

Spoke Too Soon

Well I thought 2016 couldn’t get any weirder then Lance Armstrong slips into NZ. Poor Lance, he probably had no idea that Kiwis pride themselves on having an opinion on everything – but especially anything to do with the USA. I’d hedge a bet that people here know the American constitution better than the Treaty Of Waitangi.

I’ve followed cycling and triathlon since my teens and Lances career fell in step with my own timeline, although that is about as far as the connection goes. One exception, we have both ridden with Cameron Brown, legend in NZ sport and probably one of the most respected athletes in his field of Ironman. In truth I was a sucker for Lance, read the books, had the wrist band…and I vehemently defended him when people said he couldn’t have won without drugs. But I suspect I’m like many people who had to wake up and smell the EPO.

So…here’s the thing. Lance is here to do business. He is going to be in a commercial for Lion Breweries. He’s probably going to be paid a shitload of money. He’s going to ride his bike with a select group of elite riders and do a jaunt around the water front with others. Good for him, there is nothing about his trip that is remotely about putting things right with people he screwed over as a professional cheat. There are good, hard working, ethical people out there, like Stephen Swart who’s careers were absolutely destroyed by this guy.

I get that people think he has paid his dues, and we should all move on. I get that people respect his charity work. I get that Cam Brown wanted to ride with Lance and for his son to meet him, Lance should have been equally as impressed but somehow I doubt the papers in the US will devote any attention to his jaunt down under. But Cameron…dude…lets get real. Lance is a megalomaniac who sacrificed other’s lives to get where he got to, people are probably going to feel strongly about you hanging out with the guy. Putting it out there on social media and not expecting a shit storm of opinion is naive at best. No, I am not a ‘hater’ – I understand my discomfort with sociopathic behaviour. No Rick Wells – he is not an ‘axe murderer’ but he certainly slashed and burned his way to the top, no one physically died but there has been plenty of other kinds of carnage left in his slip stream. It’s not about who has a right to comment – cyclists or not – this guy stands for something more than sport now, and that is why ‘associating’ or being with Lance is never going to be outside of the past. And there are other more respected commentators who share a similar perspective.

You see, I respectfully disagree with people who say he has been punished and we should all ‘forgive’…if not forget. Natural justice is just that – there are consequences beyond sanctions imposed. To have broken trust so intentionally and without genuine remorse for such a long time and in such a grandiose and public way means Lance will have to do more than pedal a few kms, pose for photo ops and turn up when it suits him. Coz that’s the point – this is still a narcissist masquerading as the knight in shining armor, every decision he makes is what is good for him. When in reality it’s tarnished and the polished act is started to mirror only what people choose to see. Again, if people only want to see his ‘good side’ his redemption – fine, but that does not mean the damage has been repaired, and that is what I think a lot of people are calling for – but could perhaps articulate that with a little less vitriol.

The US only has room for one megalomaniac and he is sitting in the big chair. Who knows maybe there is a spot at the round table for Sir Lance Lies-a-lot in Trumps fantasy of world domination. He’s a good spinner, knows how to win at all costs. Perhaps politics is his natural calling. Although if he had to true his own political wheels, I suspect the delicate turn of nuts might not be his thing and the wobbles might give way to the odd lose spoke.

Wonder if Steve Swart got his phone call…I feel a Bieber song is appropriate here.

Quaking up

A week of *shaking

Fear, shock and anger

Fault lines drawn and blame jolting and dislodging people from places

Disbelief – people never saw it coming

The quiet tension building, opposing forces strain

Rumbling, grumbling, giving way, a landslide

Staring in disbelief as the numbers come in grief and shock wondering when it will stop

Ground giving way seeking safety and shelter

Isolation communities divided

Assessing the damage and strengthening supports but still the aftershocks

Salvaging hope in the ruins of familiar structures

Some may need to go, be torn down, too unstable and uncertain

But the doubt creeps in, what is deep underground hidden and unknown

As the pieces are picked up and the rebuilding begins

Analysis, understanding, awareness, this no comfort for many

Shattered lives and lives still on edge a daily call to know more, to understand to do it better to survive and thrive together

(*The political world wide quake of the US elections and Culverton-Kaikoura earthquake this week)