values

Ticked off

I currently work at Epsom Girls Grammar, a public school with a proud history and one that cannot sit in isolation from our brother school – Auckland Grammar (AGS). After celebrating its centenary last year, EGGS is looking to the future to consider what the next century will ‘look like’ for ‘girls education’ as will AGS for ‘boys’. Perhaps one of the starting points for any educational institution ‘looking to the future’ should be to locate its values and image, particularly ideas of ‘tradition’. By locate I mean what century these are drawn from. Which is why this article about AGS building unisex bathrooms in a bid to be more inclusive of transgender students raised my eyebrows in a way that might have given away my age more than the growing silvering of my hair.

So why the eyebrow raise? AGS has been on a journey toward the rainbow tick. The rainbow tick is a certification process to ensure work places are gender and sexual diversity inclusive. On the surface, this seems ideal and robust, having measurable outcomes sounds like progress. However, I do have some genuine questions for some of the implications of getting diversity ‘ticked off’ as compliance. I am not suggesting bathrooms are a token gesture, but I am a bit cynical about the meaningful impact these will have for becoming more ‘inclusive’. Maybe it raises some pertinent questions about the idea of single sex education.

For a start, why in the 21st century are we holding onto single sex education? The gendered ideas that excluded girls from education then ‘allowed’ them to access seem archaic yet are often still used to justify segregation. I’ve heard it first hand when EGGS staff discuss assumptions about how boys and girls learn differently .

One argument is that parents that want single sex schools and sometimes religious beliefs insist on segregation. I think there will always be a place in the private and special character schools. I wonder if a more accurate statement is one of style and culture. Discipline, hierarchy, power, punishment model and versus relational accountability and mutual respect. Neither is better, and they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In their polarity form (sometimes mirrored in single sex schools but not always) they are clearly different models of learning. So I think the question of ‘who is peeing where with what plumbing’ becomes irrelevant in an school that defines it’s character on its ways of relating to other human beings. This paves the way for AGS and EGGS to drop their biological criteria for attendance in the future. These schools could then advertise these more openly and allow parents to choose what model of learning and relationships they would prefer their children-young people to be exposed to rather than ‘you have these bits – you go here’ (let’s not even go there for intersex young people…that would blow the sex/gender binary to bits).

When I discuss the idea of attending an ‘all-boys’ school with young trans guys at EGGS there is a lot of face pulling and shoulder shrugging. They seem unsure of the level of support they would feel and their sense is that the gender fluidity present around them would be lost and they would need to comply with a model of masculinity to be accepted. So providing gender neutral facilities does not ‘tick their boxes’ of an inclusive, safe, school. My suggestion for AGS (for what it’s worth) is ensuring you are providing for current trans AGS student needs. The denial of any current trans students is just as problematic for me and I would rather see energy put into ensuring mtf (male to female) trans students needs being addressed, or is that too challenging for notions of maleness and masculinity?

Yes building bathrooms is a step and I want to be hopeful about AGS’s journey toward being more open and accepting of gender and sexual diversity, and I still think EGGS has work to do (uniform especially). My experience tells me one important step for students is to have a support/social group up and running – supported by the principal, student leaders and to have ongoing, genuine consultation happening of the queer AGS/EGGS community – including parents.

Redefining men and masculinity in the 21st Century is potentially the greatest and most challenging building project – the blueprints are all there but if people are determined to keep with the traditional bricks and mortar approach then those bathrooms will be about as inclusive as saying ‘we have ramps so we are inclusive of disabilities’ and I’m not even sure if AGS has ramps.

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Spaced out – a blog rant because it’s been a while and I’m a bit rusty

(Disclaimer: This is my first blog in a few months, I have dropped/sprinkled some f-bombs but I’m hoping they fit the ranty style)

I love all things to do with space; fact, fiction and everything that has yet to be classified. So I was there watching the live stream of SpaceX fist true payload test flight yesterday. Let’s just say it was more exciting than the cyro test for the James Webb telescope.

In years to come it will be interesting to see what people recall of Elon Musks – SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, more significantly the ‘dummy payload’. I used to be a bit meh about Musks plans of getting to Mars, I felt there were things we should tend to here first (like a lot of people I suspect). However I think once humanity gets to Mars and realises what a shit hole it is (sorry Mars, you lost your magnetic field, had your atmosphere stripped, your oceans boiled away and more than likely the only life is bacterial) it will hopefully be the wake-up call needed to stop shitting where we eat.

But back to that payload – the cherry red Tesla Roadster with Starman at the wheel, blasting out David Bowie I have to say ‘classy dude…nice choice’. For everyone wringing hands about ‘space junk’ (here comes the rant) CHECK THE FUCKING TRAJECTORY! It is metaphorically the same as me going to a river picking up a stick and chucking it in a stream to see where it might end up out at sea, then people screaming about polluting the river. It is (was!) headed for Mars, not orbiting earth, but overshot (too much power Elon – I feel myself channelling Scotty from Star Trek ‘I’ve given it all I’ve got captain’) and is going to make it to the asteroid belt – yes a massive collection of debris. They had to put a payload on the end to test it. Picking a car as others have said is a better representation of actual payloads – not the usual block of concrete or steel. Why not test and have a bit of fun? The Starman suit is also a genuine suit soon to be used so – yeah – it also serves a purpose…and it’s FUN! It should not have to be an ‘either/or’ choice when it comes to science and technology pushing ideas or the environment. Tesla has invested research into alternative energy – again – how about checking with other big companies about their commitment to sustainability.

Speaking of sustainable, the rockets – reusable. So to all those complaining about pollution, space-junk etc, how’s your recycling going? Sure Tesla might get some marketing out of it – and why the fuck not! He took a huge gamble.

No – of course the car is fucking next to useless in space, orbiting Mars – wherever – so is a massive piece of steel and concrete. Oh and let’s not forget there are meteors bigger than The Roadster hurtling toward daily, so please (to those concerned hand wringers) STFU about shit from space – space is full of stuff, all sorts of stuff and who knows some of that stuff might have come from previous Mars civilisation wondering if it could send someone to Earth….ponder that.

Next stop – the Flat Earthers…not sure when I will get ‘round’ to that. I sphere I may go round in circles.

 

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.

I’m out

Suicide is a sensitive topic and the media has bravely gone there with gusto over the last few weeks. I understand why, NZ leads the OECD – our stats are nothing to be proud of. People are desperate to know why, to work on prevention, to fix this epidemic, to grow resilience, to start conversations that make space for people to express their feelings.

All important steps. All these things need to happen, and schools do need better resourcing. Which is why it still baffles me that trained, qualified counsellors are not a requirement in our schools. That there is no mandatory requirement or ratio. There are recommendations and guidelines but given the seriousness of the need the government and MOE need to rethink their ‘hands off’ approach to mental health and well-being in schools.

You see it all comes down to section 77 of the Education Act which states.

“the principal of a State school shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that … students get good guidance and counselling”

It does not say how this will be delivered or provided. And many schools under financial constraints deem non-teaching staff too costly. So while some schools have trained counsellors, they might be split between multiple roles.  Many schools have no trained counsellors. I’d like to see the government take the lead for once instead of hiding behind notions of self-governance. Young people deserve better than ‘good guidance and counselling’. But I’m still not satisfied.

As someone working on the front line I have a privileged access to what pushes young people to the edge and to consider the option of being ‘out’ of existence. While I addressed many of these in a previous blog I want to mention something of the chronic despair I am noticing – regardless of individual circumstances such as bullying, abuse, struggles with identity, connection, emotional distress. I think it speaks to a generation who are very aware of social, political, environmental and economic circumstances.

Some young people are looking at a world in crisis and going WTF? They cannot just find their way in the world as they go – they are expected to have it all sorted out by the time they are 15-16, to make all the right choices at the right times. They are saturated with the problems of the world and told they are the hope for the future. FFS society is holding a gun to their heads and telling them to enjoy the thrill! Some young people recognise how sick the system is that perpetuates the cycle – the monetary system, the neo-liberal capitalist drive to consume at all costs. The systems of fear and division and they are like ‘I’m out’. Suicide is not just about individuals – it is about creating the conditions on which staying alive is worth it!

To me this is the greatest challenge facing society – to look at suicide as more than an individual choice, but a about a systemic failure to create a world worth being in, a world where young people say ‘I’m in’.

Hard conversations start in silence

I sat with a young person today as they processed what was probably one of the hardest stories I have heard about sexual assault. The young person had the courage to speak up but they are doubtful the offender will plead guilty and they will have to testify in court, reliving the trauma and distress… justice? And after a week of watching the media salivate over the Stanford University – Brock Turner rape case I can’t help wondering if the very systems constructed in deliver ‘justice’ disable rather than enable change, both on a personal, societal and cultural level.

On a more pragmatic level, how is that alcohol is still getting off scot free? Here is a substance that has enabled so much harm to occur and yet it remains somehow immune to suspicion as a mind altering chemical. I’d like to put alcohol on trial. There is so much evidence against it but it must have a pretty good defence team.

It has managed to maintain its innocence while enabling other substances to be demonised, to the point where any conversation that aligns it with non-legal chemicals is ridiculed. Our culture demands the right to intoxication by alcohol. Nearly every event, celebration, social occasion uses it. With its harmless qualities being promoted, accepted and endorsed and sex being such an awkward encounter – thanks to our collective embarrassment, shame and insistence on outdated gendered notions of entitlement around desire, we’ve got the perfect conditions for what occurred. To be clear though, I don’t think alcohol is the reason for what happened, I’m trying to understand the process of normalisation that seems to occur around its use/abuse. I wonder if we treated alcohol in the same way as any other drug – not separating it out for a start, we might be able to ask different kinds of questions about its effects.

And while it might be in another country I don’t think New Zealand should be doing any ‘tut tutting’, Roast Busters anyone? Here is a random thought – what if we had as many drink-sex adds on TV as drink drive ones? Why not? And why not throw condom use in there while we are going with the ‘hard’ topics. The other really difficult conversation is navigating transitional experiences for young people (anyone up to the age of at least 25 I reckon). Teaching sex-sexuality without a context of mediating desire, vulnerability and other expectations or constraints including heteronormative ones will simply drive the same old assumptions along, rehash them and enable justifications based on gendered entitlements to continue.

I’m not holding my breath for change, because we simply refuse to put ourselves on trial, our own attitudes, beliefs and values. Hard conversations with ourselves.

Staying grounded on Earth Day

How do you celebrate Earth Day? My Facebook feed is a mix of dire warnings, and warm fuzzy hug a tree type messages. I guess what it comes down to is Earth Day is an attempt to pause and think. But what to think about? The catch for me is the meaning of The Earth how it is understood in terms of our relationship to everything else. Humans have a habit of seeing everything as serving our needs to survive. This anthropocentrism is most entrenched in our current global economic and political structures. So for me I am wondering about the constraints on our thinking and relating to the diversity of life. I’m curious about the other cultural and ancient views of harmony with life that have been forgotten or suppressed and who’s interests this has served.

Science is keenly invested in finding answers with climate change being a bit of a well-worn path of common concern. But as Cary Wolfe and Karen Barad note:

‘Notwithstanding the diversity of possible reasons, the stakes in managing and accounting for these conceptual configurations are significant, for how the fault line of discrimination between the human and the nonhuman/animal/environment is drawn also motivates the reasoning behind claims for which life forms deserve more equitable kinds of moral treatment.’

So my call is for the brave step into something ‘epistemic vulnerability’ (Jennifer Logue) when some forms of knowledge are seen as dangerous or threatening there can be a shutting down, she notes that:

‘By examining ignorance as a defense, the activity of its process becomes clear. We can see non-knowledge is consciously constructed, used to leverage authority, close down community, and exonerate the culpable in a range of different legal and cultural arenas. This ignorance is a series of carefully constructed forms of not knowing that are used to protect power.’

So I am putting my certainty aside about how to ‘save the planet’ to question my own assumptions and beliefs about what it needs saving from. I’ll also compost more just to be on the practical side.

Articles referred to:

Chiew, F. (2014). Posthuman Ethics with Cary Wolfe and Karen Barad: Animal Compassion as Trans-Species Entanglement. Theory, Culture & Society31(4), 51-69.

Logue, J. (2014). The Politics of Unknowing and the Virtues of Ignorance: Toward a Pedagogy of Epistemic Vulnerability. Philosophy of Education Archive, 53-62.

docile rating

I’ve never been a huge fan of the decile rating system of schools in New Zealand. So when the government announced it is considering doing away with them I was a quietly optimistic for about a 10th of a second. Decile ratings are divisive and should be reviewed.  But I’m not convinced the idea of individual risk factors being used to target funding on an individual level is going to turn the tide of under achievement. It is yet another move to distance the stated intentions of economic and social policy from its effects. It’s another clever example of neo-liberal policy wrapped up in rhetoric around targeted funding. There are some pretty interesting criteria being proposed for defining those students ‘at risk’. Some are a little baffling, but probably are statistically accurate as I am sure there have been people crunching numbers in order to bring us such revelations.

Even if the decile rating system is disbanded it won’t change socio-economic segregation and stigmatising of particular schools based on demographic and dare I say it assumptions based on ethnicity. Education is precariously place in the society and the landscape of political manoeuvres.

However I wonder if we could replace the decile rating with a docile rating. Schools that teach to a 19th and 20th century curriculum and maintain a ‘bums in seats’ compliance model of learning would rate highly for docile learning. Those taking risks, enabling all kinds of energetic expressions and the presence of emotions with a valuing of novel and unique approaches to relationships would rate low in docile.

Businesses and employers would know what kind of ideas young people had experienced and how their thinking and ways of relating to diversity might have enabled or constrained their perspective. Docile ratings would be independent of the incomes of families and would reflect the commitment of a school to break free of traditional models and modes of learning.

Extra negative points for not having a uniform and having a play-ground at high school.