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Glass half empty?

Posted on October 18, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Lovely weather we are having, not so?

I can’t stand it! It’s October already and it still feels like the middle of winter.

Oh, so you prefer summer? It’s great to spend those lovely hot days on the beach!

Oh, no. I hate the heat! I can’t bear being all sweaty!

So . . . Did you have a good weekend?

No, not really. There was nothing good on TV

Well, it was perfect weather to do some gardening

You’ll never catch me getting my hands dirty like that – I hate the feeling of sand under my nails.

Don’t you just love negative people?  The kind of people who think that it is their purpose in life to sit in judgement upon anything and everything.  The kind of people who are hard-wired never to respond to any request or suggestion with a YES?

Almost before you have asked whether they could give you the names and contact details of folk you need to get hold of, they have already found two valid reasons NOT to do so. ‘Oh, no. I really couldn’t do that. You see . . .’

Doom and gloom is their preferred state of being.  One gets the impression that they actually get a kick out of shooting every suggestion down or of seeing the worst side of every situation.

Gordon MacDonald, Christian author of such books as Ordering Your Private World and Rebuilding Your Broken World refers to these people as VDPs – Very Draining People. Just spend twenty minutes in the company of such VDPs and you will find your usually sunny or positive outlook changing.  Even worse; work with VDPs and they can have a really damaging effect on your life. Just think about your own situation: identify one or two VDPs in your life and consider the effect they have on you. Now multiply that by two or three and the detrimental result can be quite considerable.

In contrast, I want to tell you about a man who is certain to give my state of mind a lift every day – and I have never even spoken a word to him. This man walks his dog on the slipway alongside the Main Road every morning when I am on my way – half asleep – to work.  He always has a smile on his face and he always waves enthusiastically when I pass – just because I once smiled at him as I drove past.

If you can lift the spirits of a stranger with a mere smile and a wave; just think what you could do if you were intentionally positive in every situation.  Thank people; smile at them; be polite when you encounter those in the service industry – even when they are rude.

I am reminded of the tear-jerker movie Pay It Forward, featuring child star Haley Joel Osment. Despite the tragic outcome of the movie, the concept of paying good deeds forward instead of waiting to repay good with good makes sense.  This kind of positive outlook has to grow – and as much as the VDPs can affect you negatively, so you can be a force for good.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

Posted on June 3, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

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I love the poetry of Robert Frost. Somehow he just gets it! Whether he is talking about life and taking ‘the road less travelled’ to experience the difference that has made, or whether he is commenting about the idiocy of man who believes without question in the prejudices he has acquired in his childhood. Frost clearly understands the human psyche.

Now it’s a big jump from Frost and walls to the ridiculous situation where we find ourselves in South Africa today – or is it?  I have watched with interest over the past while as an election looms and the present incumbents are playing very interesting games to ensure themselves of re-election.

But before I get side-tracked, take a step back with me to the approval of our Constitution in 1996. Internationally acclaimed as a visionary and progressive document, it enshrined the concept of human rights. A government that had emerged from the rigid Apartheid era was determined to see equality for all and ensured that the rights of minorities were safeguarded.

So why is it that eighteen years after our first democratically elected government took power, we are looking at a very different scenario?  Two weeks ago all hell broke loose when a satirical painting depicting our president taking up a stance much like the famous one of Lenin ( but with his genitals exposed) became the focal point for incredible racial tension. The powers that be decided that this was a racial slur upon a leader; that his dignity had been impugned and that not only should the painting be removed from the gallery where it had been hanging, but the courts were called in to have its image removed from the website of the newspaper that had taken it upon themselves to report on this matter.

The artist in question was declared persona non grata despite the fact that his brand of satirical work had been employed most effectively by them in anti-government propaganda items while the previous regime had been in power. The gallery owner was made to offer a public apology for daring to show the painting and much was made in parliament recently about freedom of expression not being a more important right than the right to dignity.

Add to all this the hotly debated ‘Suppression  of Information’ Bill earlier this year, which threatens to put a muzzle on the press and I am left shaking my head and wondering with George Orwell whether some animals are not after all  ‘more equal than others’.

Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past as we refuse to get rid of the walls that separate us?  Will we continue to mouth blithely that ‘good fences make good neighbours’ while, in fact, not seeing that we just don’t know how to allow those who are different from us to simply live?

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To Whine or Not To Whine

Posted on June 21, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

I did not submit a blog last week, despite my undertaking to write one every week as part of my discipline of writing.

Why? I was just so depressed. Once again my beloved profession has had to suck it up at the hands of an education department that mostly doesn’t know its nether regions from its elbow.

Ever since we became a democracy (?) the powers that be have been doing a duck and dive with regard to their demands and expectations of the
teaching profession. I can understand their wanting to move away from a system that perpetuated the wrongs of the past regime, but surely one does one’s homework before throwing it all out?

Instead, since then we have been revising the revisions of the revised OBE system. Every two or three years, amendments are made; an enormous
amount of money is spent; teachers are ‘trained’ by trainers who read long documents badly. Then things carry on for a while and before you know it, the process starts again.

The latest in a string of these is something called CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) – methinks the word Research should have been added after Curriculum 🙂  Once again a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing and very little transparency has educators now facing another spate of ‘training’. One week ago we were told it was going to happen now – in our July Holidays!  Fortunately, our unions were awake and reminded them that we need a term’s notice before they take our holidays away. So, guess what we have to look forward to in September?

Needless to say, we were not a happy bunch of campers.

Until tonight, that is.

I have the privilege of teaching at an amazing school where, although sport is worshipped (we are South African, after all) matters cultural really have an important place both in and out of our curriculum. We are regularly treated to the talents of our various school bands, one of which has won acclaim nationwide in band competitions. Two years ago we produced the South African première schools’ version of the musical of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, playing nightly to full houses.

But tonight I was invited to an open rehearsal of the choir and our fledgling strings ensemble. It is cold, pretty much the middle of winter, but I needed to show my support so off I went. I was entranced. The strings opened with a beautiful rendition of Hornpipe by Handel, followed by a choral piece of Elgar’s. Then some angel voices captivated us with a range of numbers from Domine Deus by Regnart  to A Boy and a Girl by Whitacre. The concluding number was a combination of strings, choir and an additional bass guitar section in a compelling interpretation of Iris by Goo Goo dolls ( from the sound track of the movie City of Angels)

It was only an hour’s performance, but I left there totally transformed. My previously disheartened outlook had lifted and I began to remember why it is that I teach. I have a poster in my classroom that reads, “The Wonder of Teaching is Watching Caterpillars Turn into Butterflies”.

Tonight I saw Butterflies

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Stop Passing the Buck!

Posted on June 8, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

I was a student in Johannesburg on June 16th  1976,,when all hell broke loose in Soweto. I watched in horror when those iconic pictures hit the news of Hector Pieterson being carried in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubo, after he had been shot by the police. I knew then thatlife as we had known it in South Africa was going to change forever.

There was almost a whole generation of students who knowingly gave up their opportunity for education in order for those who followed to benefit from their sacrifices. As students we tried to help them with extra lessons and were thrilled when our efforts enabled some of those disadvantaged youngsters to pass their matric.

I became a teacher and was thrilled when, almost ten years later, I was finally able to teach in a democratically free South Africa. I knew that it would take time for the injustices of the past to be redressed, but I believed that if we all played our part this time would happen sooner rather than later.

It is fifteen years since Democracy yet the Eastern Cape where I now find myself, is still embattled by a hangover from those days of injustice. Other provinces appear to have left the past behind them and are getting on with the business of education, but only this past month the National Government had to step in as they put our Provincial Education Department under administration.

On morning television yesterday I heard the premier of our Province duck and dive when she was quizzed about the reason for this. It is, of course, all the fault of an inherited legacy! There was no transparency in the past – and now they are totally transparent (yeah, right!).

When she was asked about financial mismanagement, it was also called the fault of the past regime.  In her own words, it took at least five years before past matters were resolved (Ok, that was ten years ago – what has happened since then?)

Money that is allocated to a budget but not spent is returned to the provincial coffers. This has happened in the Eastern Cape a number of times. In the meantime, school feeding schemes have been abandoned, ostensibly owing to lack of funds. So too, the school transport system that sees to getting thousands of rural children to school every day.

When are they going to stop passing the buck? When are they going to accept the fact that it has stopped – right at their feet? They can no longer blame the injustices of the past – horrific as they were– for the mismanagement that is happening right now, and for which they are culpable.

Next week we commemorate June 16th again. If the politicians, who came into power on the ticket of addressing the inequalities of the past, cannot do their jobs then it is time to hand over the reins to those who can – but without justifying their incompetence by once again passing the buck to the ‘legacy of the past’. That has just become so old!

 

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