Monday 28 November 2005

Baby On Board

It's not uncommon, at least where I drive, to see a "Baby On Board" sign stuck to a car's rear window. I've been wondering. What does this sign really mean?

I've somewhat assumed up to now that it means, "Please don't tailgate me as I have a fragile occupant in the car". In that case, the sign has no effect on my driving as I don't tend to tailgate anyone. Doesn't seem to effect anyone else's either.

Or does it mean, "Watchout for random things thrown out the windows?". Not too helpful. More likely it means, "Driver hasn't slept well and may drive erratically". However, in that case, the sign should be on the front window. It could mean, "I have a baby in the car and that's why I'm driving so friggin' slow". But in my experience, cars displaying "Baby On Board" don't drive slow. They're usually on hatchbacks with a harried mother stepping hard on the gas pedal. Maybe "Baby On Board" is just a form of proud display by new parents? Misguided but harmless I guess. It could also mean "Don't park close to me as I might bash my door into your side trying to get my baby in and out of the car". This seems to be the most useful meaning and I certainly avoid parking next to anyone with the "Baby On Board" sign.

Tuesday 22 November 2005

Energy Security

I predict that "Energy Security" is going to be one of the big political and media catch-phrases over the next decade. It's inevitable as the oil supply can no longer meet market demands and energy prices keep rising. It will become paramount for each country to establish stable sources in order to protect its economy.

You could argue that the US occupation of Iraq is a move to ensure energy security. Chinese corporations are beginning to buy foreign energy companies. The UK is edging towards a pro-nuclear policy. Dirty fuels are back on the table as an option. And no where will be off-limits when it comes to searching for the last patches of oil.

And no one knows how much oil is left. Certainly the UK has run out of North Sea oil and will soon be a net importer.

Be ready for some nasty politics as competition between nations increases. And in a world based on globalisation, if you don't have energy security, you don't have food security either.

Thursday 17 November 2005

Food Poisoning

Arrgghh! The kids and I are down with food poisoning. Been sick for two days; what a pain. We believe it was some chicken I bought last Monday. Definitely fowl play!

Friday 11 November 2005

Learning for Sustainability School Conference 2005

I attended the Learning for Sustainability School Conference put on by a local education authority yesterday. It was aimed at people in various local educational roles and since I'm a school governor, I got an invitation. There are many groups promoting sustainability and the conference was an effort to bring these many groups together.

Sustainability is all very well and good but I was very sceptical about how it could be integrated into a learning environment. If we want to achieve sustainability, I believe it needs some pretty radical changes and not just some greenwash in a classroom. How far were they willing to go?

Turns out that Education for Sustainability is already defined as part of the UK National Curriculum :

Education for sustainable development enables people to develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future. (The National Curriculum, 1999)

Not bad. Can't really argue with that.

The proposition at the conference is that Education for Sustainability must be pursued by a whole school approach where the entire ethos of the school is based on seven principles:

  • Interdependence

  • Citizenship and stewardship

  • Needs and rights of future generations

  • Diversity

  • Quality of life

  • Sustainable change

  • Uncertainty and precaution.

It's not just a taught subject. It's a way of threading together multiple topics. It's a perspective at which to look at everything that's done. It's an ethos and organisation prinple for the whole school.

The WWF has developed a useful education framework called Pathways. In their workshop, there was some inspiring case studies of schools that had fully embrassed this sustainability ethos (St Crispin's). It provided a nice roadmap for how to move a school forward. Meanwhile, the local borough is trying to embrace and extended this framework and promote it to the local schools. I need to read it still. There are some other interesting initiatives such as EcoSchools and FACE.

I even had a chat with a Senior Countryside Ranger about natural play and that article I had read in the Ecologist. He basically agreed that school grounds were generally not be used effectively.

I warmed up to this entire effort but had one concern. I raised the issue of ethical consumption with one of the speakers from Ofsted, Leszek Iwaskow. Was teaching about ethical consumption part of the sustainability agenda? I was impressed that he was all for it and even used it as an example in a later talk. It would be a great way to engage kids in secondary schools.

Sometimes, I do feel that Education for Sustainability smacks of "here, kids, we've had a party, spent your inheritance and don't have the political will to do anything about it so you better start thinking about how you might fix it". But it's better than the status quo and might raise a generation that has the political will to make the difficult decisions ahead.

Meanwhile, maybe they should add survivalist courses to the National Curriculum. If it's all too little, too late then they might just need it.

Tuesday 8 November 2005

Bonfire Night at Windsor Race Course

Guy Fawkes Day was last Saturday; there were fireworks displays all over the neighbourhood. We took the kids to the Fireworks Extravaganza at Windsor Racecourse. They had a big funfair which was outrageously expensive. The bonfire was huge and so far away you couldn't even feel the heat. The fireworks were good but I've been spoilt after being a regular at the Vancouver Fireworks Festival.

I wouldn't go to it again. I've decided Bonfire night is more fun at a smaller local level. You should be able to get close to the fire, light sparkerlers or maybe a firework or two yourself. The point is to be a participant rather than a spectator.

Actually, after watching the Timewatch show on the gunpowder plot, I now realise how un-PC this 400 year old celebration is and the burning of the Guy is a real anachronism.  He wasn't even the ring leader; just the first to be caught and tortured. You could call them terrorists that committed treason. However, the state was viciously persecuting Catholics taking innocent lives along the way. You could call them freedom fighters striking at their oppressors who refused them any political engagement. Same old story.

Kids With Mobiles

My daughter recently turned 10. Her big present was a mobile phone I bought second-hand off ebay (a Nokia 6100). Needless to say, she's been over the moon having acquired such a "grown-up" device. I'm sure it gives her bragging rights with some of her friends but she's not allowed to take it to school - school rules.

Honestly I'm not a big fan of raising techno-kids despite being a geek myself. I've refused to buy any of the handheld gaming platforms no matter how cool they are. The tamagotchi's were a mistake but thankfully their batteries have died. There are better things kids should do with their time and imagination. A mobile phone was previously out of the question too.

However, the mobile phone is more for myself really. I figure I can now feel more at ease letting her roam out of sight knowing I can call her anytime. I'm not sure that's freedom or just a really long leash.

As an aside, I lost my mobile a few weeks ago and have now got another one I bought off of ebay (yeah, I'm shopping on ebay a lot now). I'm on the same number as before. If you want R*'s number, drop an email to me.

Tuesday 1 November 2005

Battery or free-range children? A generation supervised.

Tim Gill published an excellent article in the October 2005 Ecologist magazine entitled "If You Go Down To The Woods Today" that I found very thought provoking. Can you recall your favourite place to play as a child? I've asked quite a few people this question and the answer is almost invariably somewhere outside and away from adult supervision. It was just somewhere you mucked about.

The article goes on to attack the current status quo of tight supervision of children in highly structured play environments. The underlying concern is that if the current generation is not so engaged with nature in childhood, how well will they fight to protect the environment? It's an interesting question and the article concludes with stories of communities that have ripped up playgrounds to plant natural play areas for kids to play in. It makes me wonder what other ramifications there might be with this kind of childhood.

Two issues raised by this article have really resonated with me: 1) freedom to roam and 2) unstructured outdoor play.

It's totally true that my kids have had far, far less freedom to roam than I did growing up. I roamed the neighbourhood far and wide. My kids stay within our property. I grew up playing around ponds, woods, creeks and hills. My kids have a small landscaped backgarden. It's rather boring so they play inside instead. Sad isn't it? I feel guily that it's my fault.

Of course it's not only my kids that are raised like this. All their friends are much the same. Some might have the advantage of a larger property or local streets with very little traffic. It does seem to mark the whole generation. Maybe what we have is a generation of paranoid parents fed fear by the media. I don't think the streets are less safe than before.

So now I'm struggling with thoughts about how to give back some freedom to my kids and get them outside just mucking about. It's worth reading the article and Tim Gill's website on rethinking childhood.