Monday, 21 July 2008

Who says kids aren't competitive?

For the past couple of decades - or so it seems - a debate has been raging about whether or not it is right and proper to allow children to compete against each other, in races, football teams, highway code quizzes (does anyone else remember these?- I was never on the team but was totally in awe of my classmates who had swotted up on the highway code and could recite whole tracts of it), and all manner of other childhood pastimes, such that the outcome leads to winners and losers.

Minis' football in the UK very conscientiously refuses to admit to having a winning team in its events, which means that teams who become over-excited by the fact that they have scored 5 more goals than their opponent will soon have their joy and exuberance stamped out as every single member of both teams receive a medal for taking part.

In recent years my children's school has shown minimal interest in putting on Sports Day, claiming that it traditionally shows the highest rate of absences out of any other day in the school year. Hmmm - I wonder which came first, pupils' alleged non-interest in the event, or teachers' lack of enthusiasm for sport?

Last year my husband was most digruntled at having taken time off work to come and watch our son sit on his bottom for three-quarters of an hour, waiting for his turn to jump up and down three times on the spot. The poor man was so incensed that he even offered to organise a long distance race (well 3 circuits of the school field) for anyone in the school who wanted to take part. To his astonishment and fury, this offer was rejected on the grounds of health and safety.

Nevertheless, the format of this year's Sports Day was considerably different from the shambolic event of last year. I'm not sure if the words my hubby had with the head were anything to do with it at all.

This time every child was given the choice of which races they wished to take part in, and everybody got the chance to run a long distance race at the end - if they so chose. The atmosphere and level of engagement in the children was unrecognisable in comparison with last year. There was a real buzz on the playing field and children took as much pleasure in supporting their team mates as they did in winning.

For me this showed that children are completely capable of making the right choices for themselves, rather than being politically correctly herded and manipulated. Whenever this happens all the joy, spontaneity and good will is leeched away and children are left looking bored, feeling fidgety, and privately arranging with themselves to be off sick this time next year.

I have written beofre on the dangers of not allowing our children to experience what it is to win and lose. Ever since my daughter could speak there has been a constant jostling between the kids for the winning position. Such exchanges as "First one to clean their teeth is the winner - I win" and "Last one in bed smells of snakes" (?)have become part of the soundtrack of our family life.

So children are in my opinion naturally competitive - and - given the opportunity, naturally gracious in defeat (except perhaps in the case of siblings, or children who have been made to feel utterly unloved by touch-line parents who get completely stressed out at minis football matches). The more we give our children the opportunity to compete, the more they are learning, and the more their confidence and motivation builds.

Last week was a great winning week for our son. Not only did he win his golf competition on Sunday, he also won a Lego modelling competition at youth club, and a school Design Technology competition to build a hat out of newspaper. These are important land-marks in his development, and deserve to be celebrated, if only to remind him that competing is more than just taking part, it's all about winning (and losing) too.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Stop this muddled meddling!

I was most put out by the news of Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who last week won an employment tribunal against Islington council, citing "bullying and harrassment" as she refused to officiate at same sex civil partnership ceremonies on religious grounds.

What next? A judge being exonerated for failing to convict a serial rapist because, according to his religion, rape is an acceptable way to treat women?

Civil partnerships for same sex couples are now legal in this country, therefore a civil registrar is duty-bound to officiate at such ceremonies, regardless of his or her own religious convictions.

To be fair, Ms Ladele's victory was more to do with allegedly having suffered harrassment, and with the carefully argued fact that the tribunal found her actions not to have in any way impeded the provision of services to the homosexual community of Islington.

Of course it is wrong for anyone to be discriminated against, whether for their sexual preferences or their religion, and I do not condone bullying if indeed that took place. But to sanction someone's exemption from official duty on the grounds of their religious prejudice, just because the council was able to find a satisfactory "work around" solution, strikes me as morally arbitrary and rather dangerous: "Prejudice is usually wrong, but prejudice on religious grounds is OK - especially when the perpetrator is not indispensable to our function."

This entanglement of religious opinion, legal sanction, human rights and civil duty is a symptom of the extremely confused reasoning that becomes inevitable when the political landscape has ill-defined boundaries between church and state.

In a secular state we would not allow our common sense to be hijacked. Our lifestyle choices, such as what religion we belong to, would not, in the eyes of the law, be allowed to influence our attitude towards the lawful needs and choices of others.

The alternative is a doomed future of increasing political correctness, endlessly tip-toeing around each other and spending inordinate amounts of time and money trying to accommmodate everyone's preferences.

Where our lifestyle choice is incompatible with the public function or service we have chosen to pursue, then we ought to take responsibility for ourselves and step down from our public role, rather than expect the public office to flex and shift to our particular demands.

Now where's that subscription form for the National Secular Society?

Monday, 7 July 2008

Born on the Fifth of July!

My sister-in-law gave birth to a baby girl in the early hours of Saturday morning, having spent most of the previous week in hospital waiting for labour to start. What a relief! And what a wonderful gift the new baby is.

I really spent the whole of last week on tenterhooks, jumping out of my skin every time the phone rang.

But she's here now, safe and sound - and I'm going to meet her later this week. It is so exciting to have a new baby in the family, a little cousin for our two, and for it not to be mine!! I'm looking forwards to lots of cuddles and fun, AND to not having my sleep disrupted! Excellent.

One thing I learned BIG TIME last week is how difficult I find "not knowing". Not only did I "not know" when the baby was coming, my head was also done in by "not knowing" about the job I've applied for. The pressure really started to build up, as the void of not knowing left me vulnerable to day-dreaming and being totally unproductive. I didn't even manage to play a full round of golf!

In turn this restlessness led me to lose connection with my hubby and the kids, and as usual this caused me to experience seering pain in my body, particularly in the form of mouth ulcers, and stiffness in my neck and across my shoulders. It's been one heck of a domino effect, but I'm pretty sure the main culprit is the phenomenon of not knowing, and not being OK with that.

Thankfully I had the good sense to stop wrestling with it on Thursday and chose instead to go round to my friend's house to celebrate her birthday with her. It was great to get together, to chat and laugh and let off steam with each other. It was a great way to open a safety valve. Meetings like that always make me feel so grateful for my friendships - and always slightly guilty that I don't see more of my friends.

Unsurprisingly then on the same day I found out that I HAVE got an interview for the new job. Knowing this somehow felt like some kind of reward for dealing with "not knowing" in a different way. Rather than fight it, I gave in to it, and went to spend a lovely day with my friend. I used the time far more productively, and as a result, received the outcome I was hoping for. Thankyou universe, or whatever you are. Maybe I should go off and read the Secret now?