Tag Archives: Young People

United?

In all the discussion about Britishness that Lord Goldsmith’s proposal for an allegiance oath yesterday have kicked off, the most interesting thing is that what appears to unite everybody is the thought that it is a totally stupid idea. Looking through the comment pieces in the papers we have “Labour’s oaths and flags do not a nation make” in The Telegraph, “Citizenship: a British farce” in The Times, “They preach citizenship, but are terrified of losing power” in The Guardian and “Let’s be modern and swear an oath to the monarchy” in The Independent.

If you’re wanting a laugh, the “Let’s be modern and swear an oath to the monarchy” is probably the funniest – but in amongst the laughs, it hits the point:

The reason anyone who tries to define “Britishness” gets in a muddle must be because there’s hardly anything that unites everyone who’s British.

Needless to say, aside from the agreement over it being a stupid idea, the papers don’t actually agree over what is actually wrong. The Telegraph article for example quickly goes off in one direction, pointing the finger at the erosion of British institutions and the transfer of power to Brussels, whereas Simon Jenkins in the Guardian looks in the other direction, commenting on the erosion of local democracy – themes that echo an article he wrote a couple of weeks ago that I picked up thanks to Raspberry Rabbit.

Jenkins article then, under the title “Instead of elected local leaders, we have the police” was looking at how he believes local democracy has been nationalised, and that this disenfranchises the local community. Social responsibility, and a definition of communal behaviour is coming from national government, and so we turn to national instruments to deal with community problems. Jenkins argument is that social responsibility and a definition of communal behaviour in the first instance needs to be defined by the local community.

Goldsmith himself highlighted the community as being one of the reasons for his pledge proposal:

“It does make sense to promote a sense of shared belonging, a sense that you are part of a community with a common venture, to integrate better newcomers to our society and be clearer about what the rights and responsibilities are.”

In many ways that is absolutely right, but the simple problem is that people are not part of a sixty million strong British community. There are a number of layers in between, at the lowest level our street, then maybe an estate or hamlet, then parish, local area, county. Taking some sort of citizenship oath in front of some local dignitary, probably at an area or county level doesn’t really address binding local communities together – and peoples concerns are much more local, usually a street or estate level. There might be some common threads in the problems, but often solutions will be different for each local community, so the community needs to come together to deal with those problems, as a recent Panorama highlighted.

The programme gave a good example of how local people improving their community at a local level themselves have made a difference to life in Braunstone, an estate in Leicester, taking the estate from being a place people wanted to escape from, to one where there is a waiting list for housing on the estate. The comparison in the programme echoes Jenkins point – whilst in other examples the community spirit is struggling leaving people feeling isolated, the people of Braunstone have decided how people in their community are to behave, and they are enforcing that themselves. Of course it wasn’t easy, and they have had help from outside – a significant financial investment in facilities, and local government and Police help in removing troublemakers – but at the core is the local community as a whole driving things forward:

“It never ceases to amaze me how a minority can control an area where a majority of people live… all because of the fear factor. If you stick together on an issue they can’t intimidate you.”

It also extends to the fact that being a good citizen isn’t being taught in school, it’s being taught by the community to each other by their actions:

“If everyone on an estate felt that it was part of their rule… just spontaneously to relate to kids… to check their behaviour [and] socialise them, you wouldn’t have half the problems. You might still have problems as kids will be kids to a certain extent but this is what the community is meant to be about – socialising the next generation of kids.”

Trying to teach citizenship only in schools and then having some sort of ceremony to show you’ve passed the course is going to have little effect on the local community and how people relate to it – it is an attempt at an off-the-shelf, top down solution that totally ignores the variety of thorny problems that people have today. Whilst those problems may benefit from top down help, they can only really be solved from the bottom up. Whether Jenkins suggestion that we should be looking to the models of local democracy used in other countries will work, or whether it’s up to local people such as those in Braunstone to take the lead I don’t know, but certainly whilst proposals such as making the countries young people to do some sort of American style allegiance oath may provide for many column inches in the papers, it totally miss the root of the problem.

Can a Choir Make a Difference?

choir_360.jpg

Back at the tail end of 2006, the BBC showed a programme called The Choir, where Gareth Malone, who runs two choirs for the London Symphony Orchestra, went into Northolt High School and started a choir that he took to the World Choir Games in China. The programme was obviously a success, as starting next Friday he’s taking on a somewhat bigger challenge, in that he’s trying to get a choir together in The Lancaster School in Leicester – an all boys school for The Schools Prom at the Albert Hall. The subtitle for the second series, which is “Boys Don’t Singâ€? sort of gives you an impression of the struggle he’s got.

However, before the new series starts next week, we had a one off retrospective programme last night, that looked back over Gareth’s time with Northolt High School, and also asked the same question that I asked in my post about the programme when it was first shown – what happened next?

The programme inter-cut highlights (and lowlights) from the first series with interviews with some of the participants filmed almost exactly a year later. Interestingly, the person they focused on probably the most was Chloe Sullivan, who got a lot of attention first time around. To be frank Gareth had to make a real effort with her. She regularly missed rehearsals, and was frequently in trouble at school. What is fantastic though is that the effort he put in to get her into the choir, and to get her to China does seem to have made a real difference, to the point where a girl who admitted to being incredibly shy, and struggled to even sing solo at the beginning is now in a job working in a job for Hillingdon that involves giving presentations, something she is shown doing. She also says during her interview that being in the choir has made a big difference to her.

That is an answer that is repeated again and again through all the interviews. For some it’s as simple as the fact that they now have a broader appreciation of music. Many have continued to sing, joining Church choirs and other local choirs. Disappointingly there is no comment about whether Northolt High School have kept the choir going – certainly the impression given from the fact that many of the choir members are still in the school, but are singing elsewhere implies that they didn’t, which is a great pity.

The programme also provided a good few amusing moments, especially when they asked the choir members what they first thought when they saw him – much the same as the rest of us I think:

“You’re not from around here…â€?

and

“He looked about ten!�

both being thoughts that I had. Certainly the impression that he really didn’t know what he was letting himself in for going from volunteer choirs with the London Symphony Orchestra to trying to organise a choir in a large, ethnically diverse comprehensive school in London was very clear to me.

Interestingly, many of the choir members were cringing looking back on their audition pieces. On of the sixth-formers who was featured hoped that a change in hair colour before the programme was broadcast would make a difference – it didn’t. Another of the girls, who has joined another choir and said that her experience has had a major impact in what she wants to do with her life, but did a memorable rendition (with dancing) of Tainted Love says that it is the thing that most people tend to remember about her on the programme.

Ultimately what the programme really serves to highlight is what a difference being in a choir can make to young people and their confidence – and definitely what an opportunity is missed if that possibility is not available. Whilst it’s true that there are other ways, and music doesn’t work for everybody, there are perhaps a number of young people shown on the programme whose lives have been either fundamentally changed, or they have opened their eyes to new possibilities as a result of their experiences in the choir. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing how Gareth copes when presented with the boys of The Lancaster School, a look at the school website gives some clues, but from the preview we got at the end of the programme this week, it certainly looks like it will be hard work…

The programme is available on iPlayer for the next few days if you missed it.

One Click from Danger

Hat tip to Ian over at Youthblog for pointing out the Panorama tonight – One Click from Danger.

I’ve blogged several times before about various aspects of online safety, in particular Bebo and Myspace including the irony of the fact that on the one hand we’ve had regular concerned parents asking us not to put pictures of their children on the Church website, and yet the ease with which we could find the profiles of a number of the members of the youth group.

The Panorama tonight showed exactly why I was concerned at some of the profiles – if I could find them, who else could?

I have to say, at points in the programme, my blood ran cold. It started off with two girls who when they were 14 accepted someone who claimed to be a 26 year old woman onto their friend list. It wasn’t, in actual fact it was a 55 year old predatory pedophile, who subsequently used information on their pages to turn up when they were on a school trip. Thankfully the two girls involved, despite being frightened managed to get a picture of the man leading to his subsequent arrest.

But it went on. The programme set up a honey pot – a perfectly innocuous profile of a 14 year old girl, which pretty quickly attracted attention. When it got onto the 16 year old who was essentially selling himself over his webcam the programme was really getting disturbing. Another disturbing aspect was the survey statistics comparing what the children were doing, with what the parents thought their children were doing.

I suspect I’m in somewhat of a minority in that having been around online for a while, I’m well aware of the ease with which people can hide their true identity online – indeed it was at University that I first came across someone who was totally different in real life when two people I knew arranged to meet a girl they’d been chatting to online, only to discover that they weren’t who they said they were – in fact it wasn’t even a girl… Having spent time on IRC when that was a popular online haunt I’ve got a catalogue of internet stories of a similar ilk.

Interestingly chatting about the programme today with a long time friend who was also on IRC around the same time, but whose now husband is relatively new to the internet, it seems that we have a very different attitude to people online. Both of us, although we have Windows Messenger, have the security settings turned fully on – i.e. the only people who can message us are people already on our list. The few people we’ve added recently have been people we’ve met in real life, rather than random online friends. Compare this to my friends husband, who has been randomly chatting to people on Windows Messenger – “how do you know who they are?â€? she asked – “because I’ve seen a picture.â€? came the reply.

A little story for you. Back on IRC I remember one of the regulars having a major crisis as they had built an online relationship with someone in the US, indeed they’d got as far as arranging to meet. The problem was that this person was very insecure about how they looked, so right back at the beginning of the relationship had sent a picture of their cousin, who they thought was much better looking. As a result, when a meeting in real life was a possibility, she then had told her friend that she had a phoney picture, and to send a real one – at which point he had called the whole thing off. It is really, really easy to use a phoney picture to disguise your identity, it is really, really easy to pretend to be something or someone you are not online. As with the IRC story, it could be that two lonely people got hurt, but equally it can be someone pretending to be what they are not. Parents warn their children of stranger danger in the real world, but it is doubly important in the online world. Just because they say they are someone and show you a picture, doesn’t mean that they are who they say they are.

The programme itself will be available online at the BBC iPlayer, and certainly if you’re a parent, or involved with young people at all it is well worth watching.

The programme talks to CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which is a UK wide specialist police unit who also host the Think U Know site which includes resources and advice aimed at various age groups, and also information for parents, and teachers/youth leaders that could be used to talk about internet safety in a youth group situation.

Alienating the Youth

We spent New Year visiting some friends down in Plymouth. One of the topics of conversation that comes up a lot when we talk to them is frustration with their local Church, where it seems that the older members very much dictate what happens, to the point that the uniformed youth organisations are no longer allowed to parade because the older members don’t like having children in Church – indeed it was apparently even a struggle to get a Children’s Crib Service this year. What is even more frustrating is that talking to our friends daughter, she wants to go to a church but doesn’t feel welcome! She is somewhat pinning her hopes on the fact that the current vicar is about to retire and that they might get a more family friendly replacement – so does anyone who have any influence over the selection process in Exeter Diocese? If our village of just over 3000 in Berkshire can get nearly 2000 people of all ages through the doors over Christmas, surely it’s not rocket science to get a city Church with a parish of thousands to not alienate young people who want to come?

Oxford Diocese Young People – Meet the Bishop Afternoon

Ian Explaining Things

Almost eighteen months ago, when we were still helping with the running of the Youth Group, Beth and myself took three of our young people up to Church House in Oxford to participate in the consultation process to choose the new Bishop of Oxford. Although it was never a guarantee, Ian MacDonald the Diocesan Youth Officer, who arranged the original gathering had always been keen to get the young people together again to meet whoever was appointed.

John Pritchard was announced as the new Bishop somewhat later than expected in early December 2006, and eventually was inaugurated in early June. Despite a packed schedule he managed to free up an entire Sunday afternoon, between an engagement this morning, and another engagement this evening to come along and spend time talking to and listening to the young people of the Diocese. As a former Youth Chaplain in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, maybe it’s too be expected that he would have time for young people, but it’s still really great that he made the time to come and spend time with them, and certainly the two young people from St James we took along really enjoyed their afternoon.

The afternoon kicked off with a game of Call My Bluff as an ice breaker – the young people versus the Bishop and one of the leaders. The words alternated between theological words and youth words – although interestingly the Bishop got a goodly number of the youth words, and the young people got most of the theological words too.

After that we got onto the questions. The young people split into two groups and using a copy of the points that had been raised in the original consultation they asked the Bishop about a number of the points that they had been concerned about eighteen months ago. Ian was on hand to keep things on track, and to ensure that the Bishop didn’t fudge any of the answers – however he didn’t have very much to do. Bishop John gave really good answers to all the questions – and some of them were pretty deep and searching. Important things that came out were that the Bishop, much like anybody else struggles with his faith at times, and also his clear focus on servant leadership.

Having answered the questions from the young people, the Bishop then asked four questions of his own. Firstly he asked how they keep their faith focused, then about what it was like being a Christian at school, thirdly a question about what they felt about the Church and finally what they saw as the big issues facing the world in the next century. As before, the youth leaders were there as enablers, and not to express their own views, and again with a broad bunch, the ‘not a Liberal’ point came up again – not surprisingly from the same young person who brought it up last year. This time it had evolved somewhat into a comment about the ‘liberal-minded secularism’ in the Church of England.

I think the reason why, from my standpoint towards the liberal end of the Church, it is frustrating is that the way it has come across both times, whether intentional or not is that essentially that ‘liberal’ is somehow a dirty word – and you really want to say, not least to defend our young people in the room, “Hey, some of us are Liberal!”. First time around the underlying point this young person was talking about was press coverage, and I disagree pretty strongly with the idea that it is liberal Christians that get all the press coverage – it doesn’t take long to turn up a gem like this article from the Telegraph in July with several Bishops describing the recent floods as God’s judgement on society.

However, I think it struck a chord somewhat more this time as only yesterday I’d had a discussion with someone else about how they wanted to reclaim the word ‘liberal’ in the Church – Brian Mountford says much the same in the first line of his book Perfect Freedom (which is a good and easily readable introduction to liberal Christianity if you want one). It is also worth having a read of the official history of the Church on the Church of England website when considering this as it clearly highlights the strong liberal tradition in the Church alongside the Catholic and Evangelical traditions – certainly in the Church as a whole you are going to meet liberals, anglo-Catholics and evangelicals, and to my mind that is one of the defining characteristics of the Church, that we have such a breadth! Bishop John highlighted this at several points during the afternoon, talking about how one week he’d be at a service where he could barely see the congregation through the incense, then the next week he is in a cafe Church environment, and the next it is totally different again. The key thing being that all share a common core of belief even if we disagree on other aspects. As I said, this wasn’t a situation where I could get into a big debate, but certainly I do think that we need to make our young people aware that there is a breadth of traditions within the Church, and that as they move on, and get involved with things at a Diocesan level they are almost certainly going to encounter other Christians, even other Anglicans who do quite legitimately believe different things to them. As such it is important to respect the position the other holds, even if it differs from our own.

Certainly what is interesting though, is that when Bishop John questioned the point further, it wasn’t press coverage that was mentioned this time. It seems that the frustration with the ‘liberals’ from the young person is much the same with the frustration that many in the liberal Episcopal Church have with the conservatives, that all of the current political arguing is distracting from the major issues – ironically something in common!

Just to underline the point, in answer to the fourth question the young people listed the major issues as poverty, war and Global Warming – all external world issues. As Bishop John said in response, when you consider that tens of thousands of people are dying daily due to poverty, it does put things into perspective. Unfortunately it’s not going to stop the Lambeth Conference spending an interminable amount of time and resources discussing something else…

Anyway, I’ve diverged from the topic somewhat… All in all it was a great afternoon, and a fantastic opportunity for both young people, and new Churchwarden’s like me alike to get to know our new Bishop a lot better. We really felt that Bishop John had been both open about himself, and also open to listen to the concerns of the young people. Ian is going to write up notes from the afternoon, which are going to go to the Bishop, and hopefully will be discussed further. Having said that, it does seem that his next meeting with Ian is going to be devoted to an introduction to the Veggietales as Bishop John hadn’t come across them…

I took a load of pictures, although since the majority of them include young people, you’ll find that the public gallery is a little slim! The full set of twenty-five is as usual available through Flickr to those with the relevant access, and pictures may appear in Diocesan publications online and offline over the next few weeks.

What’s in Facebook Stays in Facebook?

Not anymore… Facebook have announced that they are adding a public search facility which in a month will be linked into the main Google search allowing anybody to obtain the name and profile picture of any Facebook member. The search will also provide links to Facebook functionality to allow the retrieved Facebook users to be contacted directly.

True they will only be revealing a name and a picture, but it is still a lot less private than before. You can also restrict search access through your profile settings too, but it’s very much an opt out rather than an opt in.

The growing phenomenon of Facebook is definitely starting to cause concern – Om Malik is quoted in the BBC article highlighting that the move turns Facebook into a de-facto phone book of the internet – he also highlights the risk of publishing too much information on your profile when for example people often use their birthday as a significant bit of information for their banks.

There are also growing issues with regards to the fact that the site was previously aimed at students. This is a definite issue with schools, for example at Beth’s school all of the staff with Facebook accounts were called to a special meeting on Monday to in particular highlight the potential issues with the information staff could put on their profiles, and more importantly how to deal with friend requests from students. The same issues will obviously relate to other people who work with young people, for example youth leaders in Churches. How much information are you putting in – and who else is being linked together? Do you really want what you friends are writing on your ‘wall’ to be visibly by those you work with in a professional capacity?

To some extent we’ve had similar issues with this site, as have other teachers with blogs – we try to ensure that we don’t mention Beth’s school by name, or link to it directly (much the same as I do with my employer), and this site is also explicitly blocked on the school servers. Essentially schools all over the world are going through the same issue, but on a much larger scale. After her experience before Beth has said that she is absolutely not going to get a Facebook account -and as I’ve mentioned before, mine is as slim as it possibly can be.

Update: The Scobleizer article that I linked to in the comments section, and the original article that Scoble was answering are well worth a read too. In particular with the original article it is worth considering the question as to what you reveal to whom by joining a city network, and also taking a look at the range of discussion in the comments. There is also some good discussion about perceived versus actual security, particularly with regards to MySpace and Facebook.

Millions of Dollars Spent, and No Difference

Tonight we had one of our monthly God @ Work (@ The Pub) sessions in the Queens Oak down the hill from St James. This time Becky had been asked to talk about her work, which is as a school nurse focusing in particular sex education. Becky talked about the difficulties of resolving her personal opinions, with what she feels she should be saying to the young people from a professional point of view, and also what she feels her Christian faith should lead her to tell the young people, and the tension between those aspects of her life. As is quite often the case in such discussions the group quite quickly got onto the subject of abstinence programmes, particularly those backed by conservative Christian groups such as the Silver Ring Thing.

This proved to be a somewhat appropriate topic considering an article this weekend reporting on a report on the effectiveness of abstinence programmes by Mathematica Policy Research in the US. Essentially despite the US government having poured nigh on a billion dollars into abstinence programmes over the past decade, this multi-year comparison of such programmes with regular sex education has shown that there is no difference at all in the outcome. It is quite amazing how closely all the major criteria match between the groups on the abstinence programmes, and the control group, and would certainly be seen as a disappointment to those backing such schemes.

In the UK, abstinence programmes are not as widespread, however with our reputation for the Silver Ring Thing do have a UK programme. Looking at what is officially offered an Ofsted report last week into PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) in schools found that young people felt that both parents and teachers were not good at talking about sexuality and as a result they were turning to magazines for help. Barely a year ago, another report said that UK sex education was ‘too biological’. It seems almost inevitable that pressure to run more of these abstinence programmes in the UK is going to come – but are they going to be any more successful?