Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bad news for French schools

This month, the English language newspapers here in France have revealed some unpleasant aspects of the French education system. One paper reports on the findings of a far reaching study which found that school children were racist, homophobic, sexist and held negative views about disabled classmates. What was more, these views were often coming from and being reinforced by the teachers.

Meanwhile in The French Paper, my news story on smacking in French schools made the front page. It was a story I'd wanted to get out there for some time but it took an intelligent editor and a brave parent's testimonial to make it happen.

Smacking has been banned in French schools for over 100 years but it still goes on. Staggeringly, one teaching union says it is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence - particularly in nursery and primary schools. Whilst researching the article, I talked to a number of parents whose children had been smacked. I  also lost count of the number of forum postings I encountered discussing the mistreatment of pupils in schools - teachers, dinner ladies and school bus drivers were all implicated.

To me, smacking children just isn't on. Especially not in a school situation. But I can see how it happens. When I was a newly qualified teacher, I started out with high ideals based on things I'd been taught in college. However, I was quickly told that a lot of what I'd been taught (such as the value of learning through play) wasn't practical in a classroom situation. I didn't let go of my ideals but until I ran my own nursery, I had to toe the line. I had no choice. Luckily for me, the philosophical differences were to do with how to educate rather than discipline children.

Now imagine you are a new teacher in France. You've been taught in college that smacking is unacceptable then you start teaching. One day, you are faced with a difficult child and you turn to your fellow and more experienced teachers for advice. If they tell you the solution is to smack, what do you do? Some, most perhaps, will simply do so. It isn't right, but I can see how this culture of violence in some French schools is perpetuated.

A lot of British expatriates describe France as being 'like England forty years ago'. When it comes to the education system, I think, sadly, they may just have a point......

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My new Dordogne newspaper

It has been ages since I last blogged. Can't really put my finger on why it has been quite so long but I do always seem to be busy.... Much of my time has been taken up with finishing my novel (I say finished, it still needs proof reading but it is v.exciting nonetheless) and writing for newspapers.
The biggest excitement on the journalistic front is that, together with Richard, we've created a new on-line newspaper. It is called Dordogne Today and gives me a chance to write about all the things that are going on in the Dordogne that don't get covered by the English Language newspapers that I write for. It is nice to have the freedom to write what I want and because I can update it everyday, I can cover the news as and when it happens - unlike a monthly newspaper....
Take a look here:

Friday, February 26, 2010

The world needs people like Heather

How many of us would put ourselves out for a cause? I care deeply about a lot of things and sometimes I do more than just talk about them. My husband and I took part in two Stop the war marches in the hope of preventing the invasion of Iraq, I sign petitions to try to end world debt and prevent global warming. I click daily on the Hunger Site. I write articles which I hope alert people to the truth. But I know it's not enough. My voice alone won't change things. But, like everyone, I balance my desire in wanting to stop wars, end world hunger, save the planet and unearth unpalatable truths with a desire to live a happy balanced life.

So when I watched 'On Expenses' the other night, a dramatisation of the expenses scandal in the House of Commons, I was bowled over by the actions of Heather Brooke. Heather, a U.S born journalist, spent five years relentlessly applying for the release of politician's expenses claims under the freedom of information act. She didn't stop although her quest clearly put a strain on her relationships and dominated her life. The results of her actions are now well documented and will have far reaching effects. She is not alone. Not quite. A minority of people will relentlessly pursue causes, whether it is uncovering M.P's expenses or speaking out about being tortured or falsely imprisoned. And the world needs people like them for it is their actions that ultimately improve the lives of every one of us and I take my hat off to them.

Today I phoned somebody to ask for an interview. It was the fourth time I'd phoned. I'd been fobbed off on the previous occasions. After a little arm twisting/persuasion, my interviewee agreed to meet me. He called me tenacious; which made me smile, I guess he has never encountered a Heather........

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ever lost for words?

Apparently there are more words in the English language than in any other. So how come you sometimes find yourself struggling to find a word to explain exactly how a character feels? I suppose the answer is in part because the English language has so many nuances; there are so many words to choose from to describe a feeling that when we can't find one that fits exactly, we're surprised. In French, where there are far fewer words, writers do not expect to be able summarise complex feelings with one word and construct whole sentences to get their point across.

Here's an example of what I mean. A while ago, I wrote a story in which one of my characters (a giant boy) discovers he is short sighted. When he looks at the letters on his eye test chart, they are all fuzzly. Not a 'real' word according to the OED but one that perfectly expressed to me, another myopia sufferer, how text appears from a distance when I haven't got my specs on.

So, imagine my delight to discover that I'm not alone in the pursuit of word creation and that alongside the standard British dictionary are a number of on-line dictionaries of words that people have made up to fill the gaps that they've found in the English language. One in particular caught my eye. It's called Pseudo dictionary and is full of hilarious and useful words. Here is the link: . If you're struggling to find a word you might just find it here.

Meanwhile, I'm using fuzzly as often as I can in the hope that it might catch on and one day find it's way into the Oxford English Dictionary. If you'd like to use it too then feel free, have a word on me...............