The Education Department is unwell

Hmm, happening again, isn’t it? My failure to achieve a blog a week, I mean.

It is hardly for lack of material. To be honest, it was more because I wanted to think about anything except http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=33383, having been involved since the first complaint to a politician. Eventually, I am unable to tear myself away or to cure my compulsion to go and punch a wall in sheer frustration at the idiocy of our Education Department.

I get particularly angry at the ministerial statement that; “Scripture Union delivers Lovelife but with no religion in it”. Even for those Christians who can believe in transubstantiation this would be a bit of a stretch.

I refer any interested readers to the main Scripture Union website in the UK, which has boasted for several years that switching from visiting schools to offer specifically religious services (such as leading worship at assemblies) to pitching to provide secular educational curriculum items has led to increased opportunities to evangelise in schools.

In the time I have had personal reasons to worry about such matters, SUMT(Scripture Union Ministries Trust) has been employed by the Manx Education Department to deliver three such programs. In addition to Lovelife, these were a joint living history experience with Manx Heritage to recreate the lives of mediaeval monks at Rushen Abbey and a transition program for children moving up from junior to high schools.

No objective observer of any of the three who has spoken to me considered them as even barely adequate. The transition program, in particular, has been a disaster, the full scale of which will only be known to the Samaritans, Childline, a few dedicated teachers and youth workers and the island’s mental health services (if the last named can be said to exist either).

It is also irritating that this increased evangelising is at taxpayer expense and not, as before, voluntary activity ultimately paid for by Christians who happen to believe it desirable.

It is even more irritating that SUMT are providing tuition in topics of which they have no more specialist knowledge than any passing member of the public. Indeed, a major part of the problem which such education was supposed to address in the first place is the blinkered views of evangelical Christians.

What part of this is the Education Department having trouble with? Can I suggest they set it as an English comprehension test in schools, in which case hundreds of local kids could help them to the right answer?

We may have moved on from a situation where, in 1999, the island demonstrably provided the worst RE tuition in the British Isles to one where children have a reasonable chance of learning something of major world religions. But this mostly happened because non-Christians were finally able to play some part in RE and curriculum planning – despite an education act which is hardly more fit for purpose now than it was when superficial changes to RE provision were introduced.

While we still have a ludicrous situation where the chair of the Education Department’s REAC (Religious Education Advisory Council) is appointed by a church in another country rather than the Manx government, and children are legally required to attend the odd act of communal Christian worship which is of no relevance to almost all, even I would be prepared to admit some improvement.

The most useful one might have been that evangelicals who used to regard it as their right to enter schools freely and harangue children have found it harder to do so. Sad, then, that at a stroke all the advances of the last 15 years have been reversed.

But then the Minister quoted is no MENSA hopeful. He actually entered government after failing as a postman, and his first act upon being given a government post in another department was to try and close the island’s two main post offices, sell them off to developers and, in the process, put former colleagues close to retirement out of a job and rob them of their government pensions.

Oddly enough, the previous Education Minister was also a failed postie, and now I think of it I cannot recall any Manx Education Minister with a university degree.

But back to the main story….

In the business world, people who do not deliver a service do not get paid. In the case of the Education Department parents pay upfront for a service that is not delivered, then the Education Department compounds the error by paying outside agents who also do not deliver.

It seems we now have to deal with this by teaching our children to be patient and polite when trapped in a classroom with people whose understanding of the world is so obviously limited. In this case, as the only benefit seems to be to the alleged teacher (who for all I know might get some therapeutic value) I would have thought there is a reasonable case for the pupils being paid to sit through them, rather than the current arrangement, which certainly brings no benefit to any pupil, and may well do further harm to the troubled ones.

But two questions still remain.

(1) When is the Education Department going to provide the sex education classes which have become vital because of the pig-ignorance of the type of swivel-eyed loon now being employed to teach them?

(2) If they are not, when are they planning to refund parents for a service not delivered?

Charity ends at work

Ah well, a bank holiday instead of a day at work on Monday. Thank goodness for that.

Because it is so bad at The Unpleasantness that most days I never know whether to take instruction from one of our perpetually multiplying “line managers” or check if their nappies are full. The saying “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” hardly covers it. Everyone around me seems to be (mis)managing like their lives depend upon it.

The most worrying thing is that somebody else’s might. Though as nobody is encouraged (or even allowed) to be aware of a world beyond the spread-sheet they currently check we will never know about that. They probably think Myopia is one of the lesser known offshore tax havens.

But I shouldn’t be so disparaging of these lovely folk. Why, only yesterday they proudly announced their latest corporate charity scheme.

In a nutshell, this is that people should walk or run about more, monitor themselves and ask others to sponsor them for doing so, and the most prolific over-exercisers (rather than fund-raisers) will get prizes. For an office overrun by sharp-elbowed, cretinously competitive sports nazis, turning the need to appear charitable into a competition was seen as the perfect solution.

It got even sillier when one of the jocks suggested that, in order to get the miles up, the company should hire an exercise bike so that the numpties can pedal in their lunch hour. This will cost in the region of £100 per week, plus there is the logistic problem of what every other lycra-clad lummock does for the hour once the first has nabbed the bike.

Neither was it explained how a finite number of people in a workforce can each sponsor the other or (more importantly) how anybody knows that the exercisers aren’t just lying. Be honest, if your profession is accountancy – and specifically hiding income from tax authorities – would you ever be capable of NOT lying, or of accepting any figure a workmate quoted you as true?

Anyway, in due time we can be sure that a number of smug faces will be photographed holding one of those massive cheques with a figure plucked out of thin air written on it. That happy picture will then appear in the local press, discreetly distanced from the advertisement for our services, thus negating the idea that offshore finance ruins lives.

Never mind the government, here’s the refugee aid program

Those who know the “real” me are aware I supported a modest proposal to settle one Syrian refugee family a year to the Isle of Man over a period of five years. The proposal and figure was intended (using the same ratio of refugees to national population) to match David Cameron’s promise to rehouse some Syrian refugees around the UK. The families were to have come from a specific, well supervised and monitored, refugee camp, and would have been subject to exactly the same rigorous checks as those the UK government would take.

Well, the world knows what happened to the UK promise, and recently Manx people also discovered that our own government were even less interested – even though Manx civil society would have done all the work and government was simply asked not to get in the way. Because if you try to do anything to buck the trend for institutional xenophobia on the Isle of Man, you expect such knockbacks.

Oddly enough, our government either sees nothing wrong in (or turns a blind eye to) the way, say, the London property portfolios of Middle Eastern dictators are overseen on the Isle of Man. That, after all, is strictly business. Oh, and it also means, for instance, that Manx government ministers and their staff can travel (at public expense) to the Dubai offices of a frivolous Department for Economic Development PR scheme to attract Middle Eastern investments (without any awkward questions about human rights or industrial scale corruption).

So anyway, as you’d need a ouija board to start a conversation with most Manx politicians or civil servants (assuming they even have souls), those involved in the original proposal have moved on.

Now, there’s a great scheme called From Syria With Love (see http://fromsyriawithlove.com/ ), and one of their projects is http://fromsyriawithlove.com/from-syria-with-love-art-exhibition/ , a collection of paintings by Syrian children living in refugee camps in Lebanon. And it’s coming to the Isle of Man. You can see the whole thing in Noa Bakehouse, Douglas, where it will be for two weeks between 25th March and 8th April.

Baraa Essay Kouja, the founder of the charity , and himself a Syrian refugee, will also be here for four days. You can catch his public presentations on Saturday, 1st April at 2.30 PM and Sunday, 2nd April at 10.30 AM and 7.45 PM. Baraaa will also be visiting secondary schools on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th to give talks about the refugee camps, the Syrian crisis and the children behind the pictures.

Framed prints of exhibition pictures will be on sale for £15 and there is also the opportunity to order unframed prints for £10 which will be available to collect one week after the exhibition closes. 100% of the proceeds goes directly to small scale projects in the Lebanon camps and at displacement points on the Syrian border.

You know, it’s almost a shame we can’t get anybody that efficient, hard working or imaginative running Manx government enterprise schemes. Because by my back-of-the-envelope calculations that’s a success rate about 100% higher than the Dubai scheme, which has produced no genuine new Middle Eastern investment. Most of those shady deals have been quietly in place here for two decades or more already, which is why by now they’re so complex and opaque that they rarely show up on the radar.

Anyway, excuse my cynicism. All I really mean to say is, go, see the exhibition, engage with a few local people who actually want to be part of the human race for a change. Maybe you might even want to lend a hand to what they’re doing.

Schmuck down

Last Sunday I was at the local Holocaust Memorial Day service. This shouldn’t be a cause of merriment, except when it offers a chance to mock people with irrational prejudices and too much power. And especially when I suspect the joke was created by those who are too often their victims.

As a rule, I avoid sick-fests which pass for national remembrance ceremonies, especially faith-led ones. I despise bigots and freeloaders on any day of the year, so why would I waste time watching them pretend to show remorse for tragedies, while denying their role in causing them?

Holocaust Memorial Day, though, is slightly different. Firstly, it didn’t originate as a church service, secondly the organisers do all they can to prevent it just turning into one, and thirdly they are genuinely interested in stressing that such pointless hate still goes on.

They are handicapped by politicians who will not attend any national ceremony unless it is led by a priest, and also by the tendency of professional religionists to jump on any grief bandwagon. Despite this, some of the organisers have used the service to point fingers at hatred in all its forms, and have twice given me a chance to do the same.

So, in turn, I try to support them and, in being there, make the point that this is not just another empty prayer-fest and that the non-religious cannot be shut out. This year I wasn’t a speaker, so made myself useful by chauffeuring some people who were there to sing in a choir.

It is also quite funny watching the various churches jockey for a role in the day. One aspect is the competition to host it (as the government won’t make a public building available). This sees the different denominations take a turn but, according to their place in the religious pecking order, most still get barred from leading the service. Then there is the competition to do the various bible readings. By tradition, the Governor does one and the Chief Minister used to (but now gives a short, non-religious, address), which leaves one for another church leader from one of the minor denominations.

And this year it really couldn’t have been a less appropriate church leader, or a worse speaker. This one is “lead pastor” in an obnoxious evangelical cult with seriously dodgy links and, for the last two months, at the centre of media speculation after it emerged that his church aggressively pumped the congregation to buy him a luxury house. I suppose the choice was made before the story broke and, being so brass-necked, he probably refused to withdraw to preserve the dignity of the day. On the other hand, as his cult’s reputation has always been far from spotless, you have to wonder just how clueless his fellow faith leaders are if they proposed him in the first place.

Well, at least we had a chance to find out if he truly was the kind of charismatic who manages to part the gullible from their life savings. All I can say is, if this charmless windbag really did, there must be a substantial number of Manx people with double digit IQs and no link to the real world.

Originally from “Norn Eyeland”, he is just as loud as Ian Paisley, but slyly chose to avoid obvious comparisons by adopting a weird mid-Atlantic accent, like some pretentious 1970’s DJ. Inevitably he chose a passage from Leviticus which, equally inevitably, was totally irrelevant (seemingly only chosen because it mentions the children of Israel) and very, very long. Looking round the church, it was hilarious watching the assembled clergy cringe as he chuntered on and on, and on, shouting louder, and louder. When he finally stopped there must have been a full two minute pause before the next participant felt brave enough to continue.

It marks the first time such a solemn occasion left me desperately biting my hand to avoid laughing out loud. I almost suspect that an arrogant bigot and his supporters were set up as the punch-line in a very wry Jewish joke.

Whatever, but on the way home one of my passengers and I had to wait until I’d dropped off the god-fearing before pulling into a layby to shriek with laughter.

Oy, yoy yoy…what a schmuck!

Not saving the children

At this time of year there’s an event in the lobby at Ronaldsway Airport called the Festival of Trees – or something like that. To be honest, it’s organised by a major charity I have no respect for, roping in smaller, similarly pointless, others, so yet another non-event I ignore.

The general idea is that the little charities pay an entrance fee to Save The Children and build Christmas trees reflecting their work. The public then votes on the best tree and the winner gets a prize at a glitzy shindig attended by the kind of idle rich lame-brainer who goes to that sort of thing because….. well, they have nothing better to do, I suppose.

Though they are never the prize-winners, some trees can still be quite inventive. For example, a year or two back one charity which donates toilets to villages in developing countries made a “tree” out of toilets. I mention this one specifically because nobody took offence at a quite literal example of lavatory humour or demanded it be taken down.

And this year one of the trees was a joint effort by two groups (one of whom is Amnesty International) promoting a modest scheme to bring a few Syrian refugees to the Isle of Man. The proposal is that if Cameron can promise to resettle 20,000 in the UK over five years then, working to the same scale, maybe the Isle of Man could take 25. That’s just five (or one family) a year.

Not a big ask, especially when over 100 people have signed up offering a room. Also, to my certain knowledge, two owners of finance sector companies – one a member of the British Board of Deputies of Jews, the other a child refugee from Budapest in 1956 who was overwhelmed by the sight of Syrian refugees there while visiting relatives two years back – have offered to rent houses.

So, the tree explaining all this was built around a combination of life jackets and pictures of famous refugees such as Ann Frank, with the message “Refugees Welcome” around the base, snippets of information and a few links urging people to sign a petition which will go to the Manx government in late January. Not exactly an ISIS recruiting drive, I think we could agree.

I’d forwarded a few pictures of it to friends, urging anyone who passes through the airport to take a look, maybe even cast a vote for it. ‘You can’t miss it’, I’d told them, ‘big orange lifejackets everywhere and REFUGEES WELCOME signs in big red letters’.

Some people then went out of their way to look and came back puzzled. After going round the lobby a few times, they finally spotted the lifejackets, but nothing about refugees, just some Save The Children leaflets on a totally unrelated matter. When pictures of the exhibition opening appeared in the local press, what was left of the “tree” could be seen in the background and, yes, it had definitely been tampered with in a major way. Without the refugee material it made absolutely no sense. No wonder nobody noticed it.

So what happened? The first suspicion was that airport management, knowing that the Governor was due to open the exhibition, had assumed he might take offence. Nope, asked around and there was definitely no government tampering. In fact some airport employees had quite liked it when it first went up and had signed the petition online.

Which leaves the awful thought that the censoring must have been done by someone who, in theory, is concerned enough about the plight of children in war zones to want to help. Or at least, hold social soirees to raise money for other people who, in theory, are employed to do something practical for such kids.

Fundraisers for a major development agency deliberately sabotaging a campaign of the world’s most respected human rights group? That would be obscene. But what other explanation is there?

Unless one emerges, I would have to politely suggest that anyone with a shred of decency should boycott a “charity” whose fundraisers, contrary to what it says on the tin, do not seem remotely interested in a practical project to save a few children from psychopathic dictators who think nothing of bombing their own subjects – even in hospitals where they’re being treated for their injuries.

Remembering in silence

A desperate e-mail sent to members of the island’s national choir last night nicely illustrates the huge gap between a popular public myth and reality.

Next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, when – if you were to believe the hype – the nation turns out en masse to mourn fallen soldiers from the two world wars. Except that it doesn’t, and hasn’t in several decades.

I have to admit, the pictures in the papers will look impressive. But remove compulsory attendees from the emergency services, boy scouts etc., plus the paid attendees (politicians, senior civil servants, clergy…) and you’re left with a handful of nonagenarians and their carers. Even some previously compulsory attendees are now refusing to turn up. For example, head teachers used to send pupils to represent each secondary school, but these days most kids feel no link, and parents who share that view are refusing to make them go.

But then, Remembrance Sunday was never the proper time to remember the war dead anyway. That is properly Armistice Day, at 11 AM on 11th November, a tradition instituted by government in response to an angry 1919 grassroots campaign which, because of events in Russia, it was feared would turn into civil insurrection if not addressed. This campaign also suggested war memorials by popular subscription, which again national government subverted by building the Cenotaph and local governments repeated around the UK. Another key point is that the Cenotaph was a deliberately non-religious monument (to reflect that non-Christian soldiers from around the empire also fell by the million) and Armistice Day was also not overtly Christian for the same reason.

This put out the established churches, who expected to “naturally” lead the nation’s mourning, until years of secret lobbying by bishops eventually produced the Remembrance Sunday format. Then, gradually, civic authorities were encouraged to place less emphasis on Armistice Day (which, inconveniently, was also usually a working day) and to focus on Remembrance Sunday (which wasn’t – especially before the Sunday Trading laws changed).

All of which makes that desperate e-mail even sadder.

The thing is, the outdoor national Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Douglas is preceded by a church service in St. Thomas’s, and both are recorded live by the nation’s radio station; and this is where a problem arises. Listening to the recordings in recent years, it has become patently obvious to the broadcasters that those in church either don’t know the hymns or are just not singing. So, a hymn that everyone of my age learnt at school is announced, the town band strikes up….and nobody joins in. Dead air – a broadcasting nightmare

What to do?

Well, the plan is to recruit volunteers for a scratch choir, which will be placed conveniently next to the band and close to the microphones. If enough turn up, the false impression conveyed – at least to listeners who obviously can’t see what’s going on – will be of a nation lustily joining in traditional hymns to remember noble folk who died saving all that’s decent. But even this desperate plea might fail.

Because one condition of church attendance – even for potential choristers – is to contribute to a British Legion collection. Paid attendees are not expected to cough up, get their poppies provided, and after the church and Cenotaph services will sidle off to a government reception with free food and alcohol. The vets, their carers and any voluntary attendees? Nothing.

If I was the kind of person who would waste an hour of my life listening to yet another demonstration of national hypocrisy – or local radio at all – I would almost be tempted to tune in to find out what happens. But I’m not, so I’ll be laughing in my sleep instead.

And before anyone accuses me of mocking the war dead …..

On the 11th of the 11th at 11 AM, I will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. Which means a day off work, unpaid, and no free drink.

Charitable basket cases

I think I may have compassion fatigue. Can you get tablets for it, I wonder?

For a couple of months or more, I’ve been counting down the days to a short, much needed holiday next week – the only break we will get this year. My wife and I make no bones about the fact that our “day jobs” bore us to tears, and we only suffer them because there is nothing else. People ask why we have never tried to get a public or voluntary sector job, then look puzzled because we burst out laughing.

The thing is, those who ask share the odd delusion that the people who manage Manx public sector departments are educated liberals, and that those who run the charities which feed off them are similarly fair minded…..

(… the bang you may have heard was me falling off a chair, and if I can stop laughing I may discover a broken rib. Must stop doing that.)

On coming to the island in 1983 I was turned down for two voluntary sector jobs working with young people – for one of which I was the only applicant, as the entire project was based on free and friendly advice I’d given the founders over the course of the previous two years (having been introduced to them by my parents). For that job it was because I would not declare myself a Christian, for the other (with the local branch of a well known UK children’s charity, where again I was the only qualified and experienced applicant), it was because the interviewers thought that any man unmarried by 25 must be gay, and therefore, in their sadly addled minds, a paedophile. I then rendered myself unemployable by any other branch of the Manx social services or their bottom feeders until at least 1991 with a letter to the papers in which I mildly suggested that homosexuality should no longer be a crime.

Similarly, shortly after coming here my wife applied for a government job teaching English as a Foreign Language, and received a reply saying they wanted a native speaker. This reply, by the way, was full of basic spelling and grammatical errors.

As a joke, she sent it to our old friends at the English Language department of a Hungarian university. This prize example of Manx government correspondence is now used as a first year exercise for new students to whom English will be at least their second (often third or fourth) language.

It’s regarded as particularly funny because, unlike 99% of Manx people, such students and their tutors know that one of their core text books was written by a Manxman, Randolph Quirk. Mind you, along with his equally well known Manx classmate, the English literary critic Frank Kermode, he left the island for university in the late 1940’s and never came back. So you thought the Manx brain drain started in the 1980’s?

I could go on ad nauseam to list incidences of routine Manx government and charitable organisation racism, sexism and general stupidity me and my better half have encountered since, but is there any point?

Which for employment purposes leaves only the finance sector, where the joke is that, whatever the other faults, nobody cares what race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or class you are from as long as you can do the job faster, cheaper and more efficiently than competing firms. Fact – I work daily with female, gay, Asian, Indian or even Middle Eastern and black African managers who are astonishingly clever, dedicated and effective at running billion dollar enterprises, yet they also could not land a junior job in the kind of public sector drain the taxable income they generate (i.e. almost all Manx tax money) goes down.

Of course, knowing what incidental damage your clients may do to the world we have a moral dilemma, which we solve by doing only what we must while showing no initiative which might save such clients money or open up new opportunities. Then we go home and try and salve our consciences with good works, which is even more frustrating.

The root of the problem is something which a fellow worker on a well known pacifist magazine outlined to me back in 1978, (at the time, that magazine was embroiled in a rather famous official secrets trial, which, to be fair, may also have affected my public sector employment prospects). This is that people who set up charities, radical campaigns and community projects never ask the only important question, which is “How are you going to put yourself out of business?” In other words, how will you solve the problem you set up the project to deal with?

The funniest thing is that he was taught to ask this question in his previous employment, as an RAF technician, while the worst example of a failure to ask it, years later, might be Tony Blair embarking on a Gulf War without an exit strategy.

Put like that, it seems an obvious question, and perhaps the most well meaning but naive could be forgiven for overlooking it. But they are only a small part of the problem. The bigger problem is disaster careerists, for whom the explanation and “solution” is just an excuse for action they have decided to take anyway because…. well…. it keeps them in a cosy job.

I really got to grips with the wider implication of this in Belfast in the early 1980’s while working for a small arts group. The thing is, Northern Ireland at the time was being flooded with UK money for charitable schemes in order to keep society going.

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Services ran a workshop to help small charities apply for public funding and also fundraise more effectively from the general public. They were absolutely blunt about the reason for the workshop, which was that there was only a limited budget for either and that major charities, run by career professionals, quite ruthlessly regarded it as a market from which they would first drive all small fry before wiping each other out if necessary.

Sod the powerless who, in theory, these professionals are there to help. Victims are a marketing tool, an excuse for funding, a lifetime job complete with a final salary pension, and nothing else.

The other aspect of this was the approach of the two allegedly warring communities. The Republican hard line was that anything that hurt the British state economically was good, so claim benefits, don’t seek work, and don’t pay taxes (including indirect ones like TV licences). The unofficial Unionist one (at least via the respectable front of their churches) was that if public funding for dubious “community projects” could be claimed for “church workers” on “bridge-building schemes” (a poor joke, given that such churches were the main conduit for sectarian hatred) then grab as much as possible.

In time, this led to an entire generation of sectarian bigots learning how the system worked and moving from one government funded “temporary” scheme to another without ever evolving or changing their daily routine. Effectively, most of the evangelical movement in Northern Ireland was underwritten by UK tax money for two decades, and the gravy train was only stopped by the peace process.

And the Manx link to this is that as the peace process became inevitable, rather than possible, people who had learnt to milk the system moved here and cleaned up in a society where the politicians and civil servants were not even clued up enough to ask basic questions. Yes, those very village idiots who thought that homosexuality and paedophilia are one and the same thing, and that kiddie-fiddlers never go to church.

So eventually, to take but two Manx examples,the irony is that the worst cause of homelessness is a homelessness charity, and the reason older people do not have access to social services is the charity nominally intended to take over a government duty to provide them.

As an angry disabled friend used to say to me, “Charities are always run by such helpful people. In fact, they will do anything to help you except get off your back and stop using you as an excuse for an OBE or a pay-check.”

And as I quipped to friends when one of these evangelical atrocities first appeared, what we now need are charities to protect the vulnerable from Manx charities. In a few nicer cases, it is simply the cluelessness of the over-privileged simpletons who can choose to work for them. But increasingly, there is nothing innocent in such malpractice.

Meanwhile, take it as a rule of thumb that whenever they deign to give “guidance” on how the public can help victims of social problems (of which their ignorance and opportunism are major causes), then the only sane and humane thing to do is the exact opposite.

And for the sake of your own sanity, to have fun doing it.