TEACH HOW TO THINK

Wow, I’m getting more and more bemused by the world we live in.

‘Arab Spring’ – communication via social media resulted in the mobilisation of the masses in various Middle Eastern / Arab countries. Egyptians achieved the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, yet recent election results there seem to belie the apparent desire for secular, democratic government separate from military and Islamic control.

Greek elections suggest that the country that appears to have ‘stretched’ the truth in order to satisfy specified criteria to enable it to join the Euro, wishes to remain a part of the ‘Eurozone’ but without accepting all the terms associated with the recent bail out.

Recent UK local government elections demonstrated a significant lack of engagement by the electorate. I could go on and list many other major issues that remain to be resolved – and then I start to think about weather systems – the world is very much in a state of flux.

What I will focus on in this post will revolve around #NeverSeconds.

A few weeks ago I hear an encouraging, but fairly low key news item about a young Scottish schoolgirl who wished to write a blog about her school meals in order to try to raise some money for the Mary’s Meals charity. Before doing this, she was given specific permission to use a digital camera to take photographs of her school lunches to illustrate her blog. All went well, and she built up a good following and began to raise money for the charity.

By now millions will have read about her and know something about the social media tsunami that was unleashed on Friday after her local Council banned her from taking any more photographs, following one newspaper article about her attendance at a seminar on school meals – she was photographed with a celebrity chef behind a flaming pan, with a headline playing on the flambé link suggesting that the ‘dinner ladies be fired’.

I understand that the school had been very supportive but could have helped defuse the situation had they supported the girl by pointing out that she wasn’t responsible for the newspaper headline and refusing to pass on the Council directive. As the storm developed the Council posted a defence of their position suggesting that the blog did not give a true representation of the full range of choices offered via the school’s menu. Around two hours later the Council leader made a live announcement on radio withdrawing the ban. It seems that the Council announcement was made without having first informed the girl or her family.

In a Radio Scotland phone-in discussion today, the situation was discussed and some great points in relation to ‘allowing’ young people to air their views were raised.

I have to say that I was unconvinced by those who suggested that ‘children’s’ ability to publish their views should be restricted.

A wonderful photograph had been circulating on FaceBook earlier that week of children holding a placard with the slogan “teachers should tecah children HOW to think, NOT WHAT to think.”

I found this coming back to me as I thought about the developing situation and implications. The blogger was in reality taking photographs of food that she had bought and paid for, during her lunch break – it was never her job to describe and promote the Council’s school meal policy, she was simply describing and commenting on her choice from the options available to her.

The worst thing that we, as adults, can do, is refuse to give credence to childrens’ opinions simply because they are young, and their opinions are uncomfortable. I believe that many of the current problems in society are a direct result of adults not listening to the thoughts and opinions of young people. They need to be listened to, not simply heard – if we refuse to listen to them, it should be no real surprise if they refuse to listen to us.

Certainly, the range of people who contributed to the media storm extended far beyond the local authority boundaries, but I still find it ironic that many more people became rapidly engaged in this issue than were persuaded to engage in the recent local authority elections in the UK.

I do appreciate that there are legitimate issues to be addressed regarding school students making inappropriate use of digital recording devices/mobile phones in schools, particularly when they use them in classrooms during lessons. The fact that some do abuse such devices should not be a valid reason to prevent others from using them responsibly during their own time to take pictures of food that they have chosen to buy and is in fact their own private property.

I’ve no doubt that a lot of lessons will be learned from this event. One very good thing to come out of it has been that the heightened international focus has resulted in her fundraising target having been massively overtaken and consequently many more young people in Africa will see practical benefits much sooner.

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