Inside the Box

After a recent report on the education system in Wales, it was decided (in a nutshell) that none of us can spell, count or read. How education authorities reached this decision I do not know, but I do know the outcome; artistic and cultural studies have been slashed from many curriculums. My comprehensive no longer offers drama for children under 14 – it can only be studied from GCSE level – and the children of key stage three (those in years 7, 8 and 9) have only one art, French and music lesson a fortnight. Although I felt this was an unfair victimisation of some of my best loved subject areas, I did understand that maths, science and (of course) English are integral to ones general academic development. Yet what message is this sending to, often insecure, children? In cutting artistic and cultural programmes from the core curriculum, we are not only undermining the intelligence of children whose strengths do not lie inside a test tube, but we are also shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. What is the use in mass producing a certain way of thinking? Those in power in fifteen years time will be facing a problem with “aah, yes. Let me just pop back into my box and then we will get started.” We should be encouraging a freedom of thought, a creative and expressive way of forming new ideas or picking up the pieces of old problems. Quite frankly, we are the fools for not noticing how short sighted it is to cut out language and art programmes; we universally cringe when our athletes or celebrities are interviewed by a foreign journalist and do not even know how to introduce themselves in the target language. We also tut at anyone who utters phrases like “who even is Picasso? Is that a footballer?”

Growing up with only the skills to light a Bunsen burner, find X and underline the pronouns will only go so far. X is just a number. Words are just thoughts given an outlet. We should be teaching our next generation to use those numbers to create, or find the words they love and repeat them with different tongues. Give the words a song, or give their meaning a colour on canvas. Turn the numbers into counts for a dance of self expression. Talented kids are not ours for the moulding. We are lucky enough to have free education in our wonderful country, and I do fully support the in erase in literary studies, yet we are only scratching the surface of what teaching really means; education should encourage confidence and tolerance, inspire questions and motivation to be the best at what you love. To quote “Catch-22”, “it is neither possible nor necessary to educate people who don’t ask questions.” The arts not only encourage but require this; it is not about a retention of factual knowledge or algebraic manipulation, but inquisition. Why do the Spanish/German/French etc celebrate in that way? What inspired this artist? How can I learn to improve my own skills, find my own voice? What is the story behind this piece of music? It is these thoughts, these frames of mind that we must not let dwindle. Give the children a chance to escape the box in which society seems to be hiding them. This is a plea, if nothing else, from a child of the arts; please do not let creative minds stop expressing themselves. Don’t descend into the abyss of technology and forget that some of our most celebrated people are the writers, the painters, the musicians and actors, because they all felt like their work was worth putting in the hours to produce. This is the message we should really be teaching. 

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Nationality: how should we define who we are?

Is it where we are born? Where we are raised? My mother tells me

“do you feel Welsh? Then you are.”

my tongue may be Welsh, but my mind seems to be English; I can’t count the times I have turned heads with my apparently peculiar turn of phrase or opinion on the country I am encouraged to hate. (Context: the Welsh ‘hate’ the English. It does make things a little difficult sometimes.) 

this is because my father is an English, ex-public school boy from an agricultural background; I was raised not to waste, to work hard and speak correctly. However, it is my mother who confuses my self identification; she was born in Sierra Leone, to a Caribbean mother and Irish father. My maternal grandparents met in Granada, as my grandfather was a surveyor. They travelled the world, to the extent that my aunt, and namesake, was born in a country that no longer exists.

Such does pose some issues. I don’t honestly know how to react when people ask for nationality. I can cope with ‘so where are you from?’: I simply name the town in which I have grown up. Yet it would be interesting to learn how other people would define children like me; an old English family one side, yet a myriad of cultures from the other. Is my mother African because she was born there? Or is she Caribbean because that was the prominent influence in her cultural upbringing? In reality, she calls herself English, as she lived in Durham from the age of 6. Yet when I asked my aforementioned aunt on how she viewed Africa, she simply replied with ‘home’. 

i want to reach out to anyone else who feels like they are a stranger to their own identity. Those who feel like they do not have a true sense of place; perhaps it is for us to decide, for us to pick a nationality, any identification, and create our own mirror image. Own the confusion. 

Or, failing that, use it as a go-to piece of information when forced to play ‘2 truths and a lie’ because, honestly, I don’t think I will ever be able to stop myself from breaking out in a cold sweat when faced with the “ethnicity” section of a survey.