Monday, November 30, 2015

Behind the Barcode

Sometimes I buy a real bargain at the shops and, while glowing in the knowledge that I've scooped a win, have a niggling feeling that maybe my win was someone else's pain.  Perhaps these awesome shoes were made by someone as young as my own children in conditions that are appalling. Behind the bright lights of a well-styled local store, what might I see if I could look all the way back to that garment's origin?

Well, here's a handy help in that: Baptist World Aid has produced 'Behind the Barcode'.  A quick click there and you can download (free) either or both of the Ethical Electronics Guide or the Ethical Fashion Guide. Both guides give you a report card on companies according to their approach to labour rights and an indication of whether they are paying their workers a 'living wage' (a wage large enough to actually live on).

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Ad round up

I always enjoy seeing the Christmas advert productions that come out at this time of year.  They are obviously a Big Deal in the UK.  I loved the Sainsbury 2014 ad.  This year Sainsbury has done a Mog story - maybe you know the Mog books if you have kids.

John Lewis had an awesome penguin ad last year.

This year, they went for a man on the moon theme.  It didn't really do it for me.

But, the spoofs are awesome - the Star Wars version especially.

Hunting around, I found two other awesome ones from previous years.  This Apple one is great.

But I think this one is really awesome.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The parrot and the freezer

A good joke sent to me by my Uncle John this week:

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary.

Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to 'clean up' the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer.

For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.

Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behaviour".

John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude.

As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behaviour, the bird spoke up, very softly "May I ask what the turkey did?"

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Consuming education

I've been thinking lately about consumers and education. Over the years I've been teaching, I've noticed the language of consumerism has become increasingly present in the way education is discussed and debated. Parents talk about education in terms of a product and want certain results from their "investment". Words like "client" or "customer" have occasionally appeared where previously they had no role. People swap schools - very quickly in some cases - when their desires are no longer being met.

I have some concerns.

There are dangers in representing education primarily in consumer terms.  Yes, most of us contribute financially in some way to the education of our children (public, private or homeschooling all usually require some financial investments). But does the involvement of money mean we should look at education in same terms as other products we buy?  Is it different to buying a new car?  Or a house?  Or signing up to a broadband contract?

In truth, education has some very different characteristics to most goods and services. For starters, it's a relationship. Parents are entering into a partnership, not buying a product.  And the "product" is not a product at all.  It's the nurturing of a person who is unique and who responds differently at different points in their development. When education gets reduced to a product that's purchased, performance becomes a thing that we buy and in turn we reduce our children's progress and development, and finally they themselves, to an outcome.

Children are not outcomes to be bought.

If education is a product we purchase, the temptation is to start to run education from within that paradigm. The decisions we make (as educators or parents) become about choice, market value, maximising enrolments, delivering desired results, customer expectations and service standards.

What's wrong with that?

It's not wrong to expect standards from our educational providers. They should be held to account for time and money spent and consistently sound teaching and learning practices are important. But that's not the same as seeing education as a product to be purchased or being driven by a need to forever draw in more consumers.

I wouldn't want to argue that we should never talk about results and expectations and accountability. But it's really important that a consumer mindset doesn't become the driving force in our educational decisions, both as educators and as parents.  Parents seem to push more and more in this regard. I think it's partly a generational change in attitudes. It's hard for schools not to be drawn into that way of thinking and start reflecting back to the parents the language and ideas they are exhibiting when they approach schools as consumers.  It's really important that schools educate their school community about what education means and about the nature of a partnership - rather than a product - when it comes to their children's education.

I imagine education isn't the only field in which the rise of consumerism has disrupted relationship-based services and created new tensions.  Medicine and health care?  Churches?  Social services?  The product-marketing-purchase-consume-repeat cycle has become so embedded in how we approach our resources that it is almost the default approach. But it needs to be held in check or it risks annihilating much more important ends.