Sunday, 16 May 2010

Children of other lands

Hmm, I seem to be blogging again. I think I can keep it up provided it doesn’t become too much of a commitment -- like shaping my periods into elegant prosodies, checking my (deteriorating) spelling (I’m constantly, almost predictably, writing the homophone instead of the word I mean -- what’s that a sign on?) -- in short, if it doesn’t take too long. More of a jotter.

Anyway, no more next week. Off to investigate Berlin.

Deep Sussex yesterday, for an outdoor party. Old house from which the land (the Weald) falls away on two sides, down, eventually, in the far distance, to dense oak woodland and then, at the horizon, rises into the lovely outline of the South Downs. Oak country, hazel hedges, but terrific horse chestnuts -- great-rooted blossomers, tha’ knows -- and also the odd ash, and I can confirm that the oak is out well before the ash, though oaks of one species are out before the other (I don’t know which is which: I understand Britain has two native species).

I knew some but not all of the people. One young man who I had known for a few years from earlier visits and who had been an IT person doing one-off contract jobs was now writing prestigious reviews of children’s books -- of which he had piles of review copies, some of which he read to an eager audience of children there, age 6 and under. Brilliant with kids, lovely to watch.

One person was married to a Catalan man; they’ve had two children in Barcelona. She and the children were at the party and were delightful. She told us they can go to school at three, free, and that it’s quite formal -- they sit at desks -- but that the teachers, like Spanish people generally with children, are kind.

Which makes me ask, what makes the Spanish (and Italians, I've noticed) particularly kind to and delighted with children? Is it Catholicism? Is that they’ve industrialised less completely and more recently than the British? And have they always been that way because the story I keep reading is that until, say, Rousseau Europeans were pretty indifferent and callous when it came to children, regarding them rather as chattels and investments. I imagine that story’s simply wrong, or true only in certain parts of certain societies. Enlightenment welcome on this.

Also present were a lady who’d come to London from Russia 20-plus years ago and her son, now taking A levels in a London comprehensive. His take on school was interesting. He’d started out at at private school and had moved to the comp in year 9, where he’d found the standard much higher. His teachers on the whole have been brilliant -- dedicated, expert, enthusiastic. (For the record it’s Queen’s Park Community School.) But he was glad he’d escaped SMILE -- a popular junior maths programme -- by attending a traditional private school; he reckons if he’d done SMILE he’d now be having great difficulty with his A level maths.

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