Saturday, 8 January 2011

Grumpy Old Woman?

January seems as good a time as any to have a bit of a moan about how life is changing! Or at least to express some concern about what kind of values are creeping into our everyday dealings. Am I getting too old to adapt or should I be worried? I have encountered three things which have given me pause for thought recently.

The first was reading a report that the Musicians' Union have given advice in a training video that touching children can expose teachers to charges of inappropriate behaviour and therefore teachers should avoid all physical contact with pupils. Although some music teachers now insist a parent is present for lessons, many may be in one to one situations with pupils. I can understand the dangers both from the child's point of view and the teacher's. However, I just can't see how you can teach things like how to hold an instrument or a bow, or hand and arm positioning, or aspects of breathing without ever making physical contact. This is madness! Michael Gove, the education Secretary, accused the MU of playing into (I'm not sure if he intended a pun?) a culture of fear. What is our increasing fear of any contact at all outside (and sometimes even inside) the family doing to our children, to their spontaneity and creativity, to their emotional development, to their proper, healthy sense of being at home in their own skins and bodies? Medics and hairdressers, therapists and coaches find ways to ensure that physical contact can be monitored and professionals trusted or chaperoned. Touch is one of the five senses. Without it, we experience sensory deprivation. Isn't it time that we made sure we employ it properly in education too, so that children can be taught skills appropriately, comforted when they need it and, above all, so they can learn to be physically confident and spontaneous? 

The second incident occurred when I learned from a friend that large quantities of well stored, unopened and unused nursing equipment and sealed medication could not be returned or re-used when no longer needed. The remote possibility of tampering, whether deliberate or accidental, renders all these extremely costly resources fit for nothing other than scrapping. As I surveyed the boxes, I couldn't help feeling that there is something deeply wrong with our priorities. Is it the threat of being sued that makes the unlikely possibility that hygeinically stored and re-used equipment will cause harm carry more weight than the scandal of throwing away costly items that, in many countries, would be gratefully used? The drugs industry is deeply dependent on oil and contributes a great deal to the twin problems of the peak oil scenario and carbon emission. I quite see that there are issues around infection control but, as with my first scenario, I object to an approach to the problem that refuses to see the sheer madness of the situation and accepts waste without question.

The third scenario was described to me; in a secondary school class, the students had been talking generally about greeting people and being helpful and how far you could reasonably be expected to go, in the context of Jesus' sayings about going the extra mile and sharing the coat on your back. The teacher's comment was that it was OK to do these kinds of things in school, but they should be avoided out of school. Again, one immediately sees where the teacher is coming from in terms of protecting children from strangers. But these were 15-16 year olds and I find myself asking, is there a point at which it becomes too late, or at least very difficult, for people to reconsider the habits of non communication which are being so well taught, early in their lives, for protection? How and when and where do people move into a zone where they may choose to question some of these values? They may decide for themselves that spontaneous communication with other people, with the risks that always involves, is a vital part of what it means to be human and to respond to the humanity of others - a means of deep joy and unexpected friendship?  

Of course, I can see both sides in all these situations but my gripe is about what all this adds up to. I don't relish living in a society that (a) fears and abuses touch, (b) removes all risk to our own wellbeing at the expense of the environment and of other people who live in places where resources are scant (c) supresses and teaches people to avoid natural communication even where there is an element of help or kindness.       

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