Friday, 23 December 2011

Most people in the UK have never studied philosophy. A movement to change this is gathering speed, with top philosophers and educators campaigning for philosophy and wider reasoning skills to become a central part of the curriculum.

Philosophy is a respected subject in many European schools, with all children in France, Portugal, Spain and Italy studying the subject for at least one year.  Philosophy is also popular in private schools and with home educators in the UK, with many independent schools offering afterschool clubs based on the subject for children as young as seven.   So why is it so absent from most of our education system?
The Philosophy Foundation, an organisation created to promote the teaching and study of philosophy in the UK, has released a set of resources aimed at schools, to help them to introduce the subject into lessons.  Peter Worley, co-founder of the foundation,set out his beliefs in a statement earlier today;

“We need to make Philosophy a regular feature of school life. It’s a shame that young people don’t get the opportunity to engage with some of the great ideas of the past. They still have relevance today and children have their minds stretched by exposure to big ideas, and pick up invaluable thinking skills that can be used in any context.

“The stimulation and intellectual excitement schoolchildren get from Philosophy only underlines the critical gap in our education system we continue to suffer from.”

The joy and satisfaction of considering the “big questions” is something that is being lost, which schools focusing too hard on subjects that can produce measurable results, yet it is notable that you have much better chances of seeing philosophy being taught at a private school, where statistically, the pupils are much more likely to end up in positions of power.  Should it not be a priority for those of us committed to increasing working class representation and social mobility to make sure that our children are given the tools of reasoning and debate that the rich kids get?
I am not advocating an abandonment of the creative and effective parts of the current curriculum – I’m no Gove.  I am however adding my voice to the many that are asking for our children to be given the chance to access the world of skills and knowledge that is currently being kept only for the elite.
We need to teach our children to question and to think about the way our society is structured, and what better way than through philosophy?

Monday, 19 December 2011

Where I have been


I know that reading my blog probably isn't the top of anybody's to do list, but I may as well update - I've been a bit quiet over here as I have been setting up and sorting out The Camel's Hump, which is a group blog I am involved in.

The Camel’s Hump is a magazine style blog, featuring articles, comment, reviews, interviews, comedy and art from a team of contributors and guests.  There will be strong opinions, a blatant lefty bias, irrelevant asides and swearing.  Despite all that, we aim to entertain and inform.  Hopefully.

We are still looking for regular contributors and guest posters to add to our list.  If you have something that you think we want, get in touch.

I will carry on posting here - apart from anything else, I want theis blog to have as much of my writing on as possible, as some kind of record - but for the moment most of my time is taken up over there.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Just another Manic Monday

So, I'm a bit manic today.  This is a very, very mild one, but I thought I would take this as a cue to explain what mania actually is.  Too many people seem to think it is simply feeling happy, which it really isn't.

I get different types of mania, and they are of different severity.  Most are quite slight - I will just be a bit jittery and giggly, might be a bit more creative and have trouble sleeping.  Nothing I can't handle, and in fact these can be quite useful as I am much more productive.

Sometimes though, and these are getting rare now, I get a severe one where I can no longer function at all.  Most are somewhere in between.

If I am "on my way up", as I put it - ie at the beginning of a mania, I usually start to notice my thoughts jumping about a bit.  I start enjoying art and music more, I dress in brighter colours and my sex drive starts increasing.  I become more outgoing and spontaneous, and I generally fidget and move about more.

As the mania continues, I start to breathe faster, talk more.  I twitch and tap and stroke things - walls, fabric, leaves - I become super sensitive so it all feels really interesting.  I eat and drink less and start staying up really late or lying awake in bed.

I have too many ideas to fit in my head and start leaving myself notes which, when read back, make very little sense.  I have music running in my head constantly and hum or sing along.

I feel like everyone is watching me and I am the focus of everything.  Colours are brighter and everything is beautiful, almost unbearably so.  I start talking out loud to myself in public.

Everything seems more vivid and super real.
I stop being able to stop myself saying what is in my head - I tell passer bys that they are beautiful, I talk to animals and trees, not because I think they can hear, but because I have something to say and I can't keep it in my head. I laugh out loud at conversations I have with myself.

Usually around this point I start to lose awareness of what I am doing.

If things carry on, I start finding the extra sensitivity overwhelming.  Every little sound is magnified so I either seek complete silence or try to drown it out with really loud music.

 I might decide that I can't cope with feeling all these feelings and try to isolate myself, wrapping myself up tightly in blankets in the dark so as to reduce the amount of senses that are overwhelmed.

Even things like looking at some textures starts to feel painful.  I have a constant knot in my stomach that can only be slightly relieved by moving about, by drinking and dancing, by shouting and flirting and jumping and running.

If I do one thing or stay in one place for more than a very short time I feel trapped.  I start going for long walks, just because to stay still seems impossible - I walk until my legs hurt too much to walk any more.

Being the focus of everything takes a sinister tone.  I still laugh out loud, but I feel compelled towards more laughter, more activity, more attention.  At the same time I am losing all my inhibitions.
I feel like I, and only I, have the answers to the world.  In fact, I must be getting messages from God, or the cosmos, or something.  I start hallucinating.

I see myself heading for disaster almost as an outsider, and I am powerless to stop it.  Sometimes I will ask for help and then run away from the help when it comes.

I somehow feel on top of the world and terrified at the same time.

I'm afraid I get vague there, as I don't really remember anything of any of the really severe ones after that.

My point being that the standard happy/sad image of bipolar goes nowhere near covering it.  Nowhere near.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Writing about more stuff and a blog hop

So, I'm loving this blogging lark. Since I started this blog with the idea of just keeping a record of my writing for other places, I have discovered that I actually really enjoy writing under my own rules and on subjects that happen to interest me. Over the next few weeks I'm hoping to vary my posts a bit more, have some guest posts and so on - would love to hear your thoughts.

One of the most inspirational blogs I have been reading is the excellent Salt and Caramel - a brill blog that covers all kinds of subjects, but without becoming self indulgent.

Anyhow, she is running another blog hop doodah, so here is my contribution...

"Four Finds.
Simply post four new or established blogs that you have found, that you enjoy reading and would like to share with others. These blogs can from any genre – the more varied the better. Crafts, Parenting, Politics, Social Media, Gadgets, Food, Entertainment…"
Purple Persuasion
A blog about bipolar and all that comes with it.  Chatty and informative.

Diary of a Benefits Scrounger
Popular and regulary updated blog, covering welfare benefits, disability and other political issues

Think Left
Blog with a variety of contributors, covering left wing politics, with plenty of useful stats and facts.

Bastards of Shop
Very funny and well written blog, covering the dubious joys of working in a small off licence.  Not been updated for a good while, but still well worth a read.

There you go!  Join in, pass it on, link back to Salt and Caramel and say I sent you.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Just because

letter fail from sunderland council housing benefit office

Hi, Sunderland Council.  I am blogging this because. 

Just because, OK???

Sometimes it is nice to get a letter in the post for no real reason, just to say hi.  Nice to know they are thinking of me.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Real life protest for the hardest hit

On Saturday morning, I will step out from behind my keyboard and join in with my local "Hardest Hit" protest and march, and I ask you to do the same.

protest sign held by protesterResearch by Demos has shown that the coilition's cuts will leave 3.5 million disabled people lose over £9.2 billion by 2015.  These are the people who are often already on the edges of society, and are by no means the richest.

These figures only include the direct cuts to benefit, and the negative effects of cuts to other services are likely to be felt much more keenly by the disabled and ill than anyone else.  Disabled people tend to be much more likely to be users of NHS and social services, and face more problems in accessing many other services, such as policing and education.

With only 20% of people with severe mental illnesses in employment, the mentally ill are one of the groups who will be most affected, facing the double whammy of stigma and financial penalties.  The cuts will also acutely affect those with physical and learning disabilities, as well as the families and carers of disabled people.

This Saturday the 22nd of October, protests and events will be happening across the country, with disabled people, their carers and supporters letting the government and media know that we will not be ignored.  Find your nearest event, and details of how to take part online, here.

The Newcastle event will begin with a march leaving Bigg Market at 10.30, walking to The Monument where a rally will start at 11.30.  More details can be found on the Facebook page or by emailing

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Princess Poppy and the Patriarchy

As a proud feminst mother of two small girls, I try to strike a balance between letting my daughters join in with the culture they live in and protecting them from the more harmful parts.  This has been pretty easy up to now, but this September brought a whole new set of challenges, when my eldest started school...

Every week, along with the usual reading practise, numeracy tasks and games, the children bring home a school library book to share with their family.  This choice is left to the children, from a selection, and so often some pretty odd books can be sent home, but it is all there to foster a love of reading, so fair enough.  A lot of four year olds will unfortunately not had very much exposure to books and reading before school, and so simply holding and enjoying a book is an important first step to literacy.  As I have worked both in public libraries and book sales, I know how hard it can be to find books that are acceptable to the reasonably aware adult, but usually the most horrifyingly un PC can be weeded out.

So, when my daughter showed me her latest school library book - “Princess Twinkle and Other Princess Stories” - I cringed a bit, but settled down to read it with her.  She had chosen it herself, and while most of the book was far from what I would want my daughter to read, I trusted that it couldn’t get too bad.

The book is a collection of stories and poems, featuring princesses in various adventures and situations, all well within the stereotype of helpless pretty girl, but nothing jaw dropping.  As I read it, I substituted a lot of my own words, but more for my own amusement than anything else - badly written children’s books can be very boring.  Then I found the story entitled “The Perfect Princess”

“The Perfect Princess” features Princess Poppy.  She is introduced as a very messy little girl, and pictured climbing a tree in jeans and a t shirt.  She does have long loose hair, a crown and appears to be wearing lipstick, but is overall dressed like a normal little girl.  Wonderful, I thought - this must be the story where all the stereotypes that have made up the rest of the book are challenged.  Poppy is then pictured at the breakfast table, as her parents tell her there is to be a garden party.  Poppy asks to be able to wear her jeans, but her mother refuses, saying she has to look like a “proper princess” and be “pretty”.

So, up to now I am thinking this is the story where the princess shows everyone that is more important to have fun than dress up.  Maybe there will be an amusing incident where a “pretty” princess rips her dress, but doesn’t care, because Poppy has shown her how to have fun climbing trees or whatever.

Poppy is then shown getting ready for the party, putting on her t shirt, jeans and trainers, then giving herself the thumbs up in her mirror, saying she doesn’t care what people think, because being a messy princess is more fun.  As she stands in front of the mirror, her posture is strong, she is smiling at herself and she is surrounded by her sports equipment.  She looks confident and happy.  This story could go well.

Here is where the story gets worrying.  As Poppy leaves the palace to go to the garden party, she spots Prince Harry.  As soon as she sees Harry, she decides that she doesn’t want to be a messy princess any more, and runs back inside.  So now my four year old is being told that a confident, beautiful girl, in clothes that make her comfortable and allow her to play football and go skateboarding, is not suitable to be at a party with a boy.

Polly goes back to her room, and changes into a frilly dress and high heeled shoes.  When she returns, Harry is enchanted, calls her beautiful, kisses her hand and invites her for a game of croquet.  The children are pictured surrounded by love hearts.  So, here is the reward for changing how she dresses- she gets the guy.  We don’t know if she changes how she behaves, beyond a picture of her playing croquet nicely on a lawn instead of climbing a tree.  The most important thing about Poppy is how she dresses.

The last picture features Polly’s parents looking on approvingly.  “At last, Poppy had become a proper princess!”

The rest of the book was bad enough, but this story was so blatant it shocked me.  Children of this age are highly impressionable -they are learning so fast that everything becomes a learning experience.  They are discovering where they fit in the world, what is expected of them, what to aim for.  Poppy was there to show my daughter that she should forget about playing active sports, having fun, being her own person, and should focus on getting herself a nice man.  Worse still, the way to get this man is to change everything about yourself, and that is a good thing.  Messy is bad.  Fun is bad.  Pretty and sweet is good.

It worries me to think that this book was published in 2003, and nobody anywhere in the publishing and purchasing process thought to change it.  I’m hoping that it has found it’s way into the school library by accident, because otherwise I despair.  Sadly, I suspect that the school is simply too short on funds to be able to pick and choose what books are availiable.

There are so many good children’s books out there, many of which challenge the princess stereotype without being boring or preachy.  For example, the excellent Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, or Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole.  These books are a pleasure to hold and to read, with gorgeous illustrations and entertaining text - why submit children to rubbish, especially when they are at such a vital age?

This post is an edited and more detailed version of a previous post on this blog  
Reposted on Think Left