Tag Archives: Life

Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude

I came across this piece on English-language Germany news site TheLocal.de:

Family puts kids in charge for a month

A German author and his wife put themselves to the biggest test of their lives last year by handing over the family power to their two children for a month. The biggest challenge? Managing the budget. Continue reading Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude

Preparing to succeed

by Rocpoc, on Flickr

Sudbury and traditional schooling have something in common: they agree that young people leaving school should enter the world well-prepared for a successful life. For Sudbury schools too, this includes professional life – and that’s a good thing.

When talking about Sudbury schools, one point seems to get people a little worked up, at least in Europe. It’s not unusual for Sudburians to talk about students preparing themselves for a satisfying and successful life, including getting a good job. In progressive circles in Europe, a lot of people frown on this; “getting a good job” shouldn’t be so important to us, right?

I think this is all basically a misunderstanding. People don’t like to hear about school preparing children for the job market because traditional schools say they do that – but we don’t mean the same thing.

Continue reading Preparing to succeed

Ignore the young

State education is no longer about making sure students acquire key skills – it’s only about giving the adults the good feeling of having really given it a go.

Traditional schooling and Sudbury schooling have one central idea in common: the result of schooling should be that young people are prepared for life as adults.

The similarities, of course, more or less end there.

One difference I find very curious. Continue reading Ignore the young

Everything’s political

Oh, you don't care about politics? That's cool, the rest of will decide you future for you.Everything you do is political, because not trying to change anything is simply working to keep things as they are.

There’s a song by Skunk Anansie called Yes, It’s Fucking Political. I don’t it hear often, but I’m hearing right now. When I first heard it several years ago, I don’t think I really understood it. “Yes, it’s fucking political! / Everything’s political!” Seemed kind of vague. I only really understood it a few months ago, reading an interview in unerzogen magazin with a couple who decided not to tell anyone outside the family about their young child’s biological gender. The point was made there with incredible clarity, and I’d like to argue it here. Continue reading Everything’s political

Solidarity: for all or none at all; Colonialism: still here

Display of Fairtrade products at the Derbyshir...
Image via Wikipedia

Bjarne argues that while we don’t need a planned economy, we do need an economy that takes people into account and acts fairly and morally. I tend to agree, but I am not sure how this is supposed to look. I would argue that global fair trade must come along with a strong domestic safety net, or not at all, and that financial exploitation is only one aspect of a bigger problem.

Unintended consequences of fair trade

What were to happen if every developed country in the world simultaneously passed good labor laws that applied not only to workers in the country, but also to workers employed directly or indirectly by companies in that country? In other words, what if the first world would suddenly apply the same standards when it came to those it employs in the third world as it does to those employed domestically?

Like any change in a complex system, this would have all kinds of different consequences, some of them unintended. For one, this would, with 100% certainty, mean that almost all goods and services sold in the first world would become a lot more expensive to produce, and somewhat more expensive to consume. This would hurt the middle and lower class hard: they would no longer be able to afford to consume nearly as much as before, at least in the short term. In the long term, this would give companies in the first world less of a reason to employ people in the third world, meaning more people in the first world would have jobs. This would, in turn, also mean that the first world would produce more goods and services, increasing exports. So I imagine it might actually balance out eventually. (I’m trying to think like an economist here – tell me if it’s working.)

A conclusion is simply where you stopped thinking

So in the short term, making world trade fair would harm everyone in the first world but the rich – massively. This is, of course, a bad thing. Should this be our conclusion then, that fair trade is a luxury and forcing it upon society would punish “our own” poor? No, of course not, that would be near-sighted. Rather, I think fair trade is a good argument for social solidarity and a strong safety net in the first world.

After all, there is an enormous amount of wealth in the first world. The existence of poverty is not a force of nature but an aspect of our economic system. With tools as simple as progressive taxation and a basic income guarantee, we could tweak our system to protect all individuals in society from the chaos of post-industrial life. And if we can make sure that even a large, across-the-board spike in the price of goods would not harm anybody too much, we can afford to trade fairly with the developing world.

In other words, global solidarity and domestic solidarity are interconnected. Only enforcing fair trade would harm the first-world poor in the short run. Only guaranteeing economic security in the first world would come at the continued cost of the third-world poor. In fact, presenting the two as separate could be seen as a subtle factor in why neither is terribly popular – if you really care about the basic rights and conditions of all people, why should you want to improve conditions for the poor at home but not elsewhere, or vice versa? But if we consider the two to be one package, one thing, inseparable, suddenly the parts all make sense.

Schooling the world for the wrong jobs – colonialism is alive, and kicking the third world in the face

But fair trade is not enough for the third world, either. The western corporate colonization runs much deeper than that.

This summer, at IDEC@EUDEC in England, I had the opportunity to watch a very difficult film, Schooling the World. What I learned is that what we know as conventional schooling in the west is being forced upon communities in the developing world which have no need for this form of education, nor for the content taught in it – essentially the same content as taught in the first world. Young people there are being trained for western jobs and academic careers where there are none, in communities which have their own way of life, requiring neither. The young people subsequently have no real choice but to move to big cities, where there is at least some chance of finding a job they are qualified for – but there there are still not enough modern jobs for everyone. Imagine being a young adult faced with the choice between poverty in the big city, where you have a chance of finding a job you are somewhat prepared for, and moving back to the countryside, where you might not even speak the language (as many schools forbid native languages and enforce the use of English and/or the state language) and would have to learn traditional crafts from scratch in order to be useful.1

Bringing “modern”, “high-quality” education to the developing world – often motivated by the best of intentions – is destroying cultures and forcing young people to either work for first-world companies or actually move to the first world. And if this is not stopped, universal fair trade could be a disaster for the third world as well, at least until developing economies are able to offer the jobs domestically that “modern” education requires for its graduates.

Exploitation of low or non-existant standards in the developing world is in the end only one facet of what western colonialism has become in the “post-colonial” era. Although the colonies are gone and the developed world’s mindset has shifted, it has not changed completely. In our arrogance, we help the developing world mainly in ways that help us more, and there are many, many fronts to fight on for a more just world, with freedom for all. The past is never gone, no matter how much we wish it so, and we have to be curious, brave, and determined if we are to find and root out its poisonous remnants wherever they may be.

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Footnotes

  1. It’s worth noting that radical democratic schools would not have the same effect, as their content is whatever the people present bring in – not a curriculum designed by someone from the city. []

Will work for money

This is not a post about the IDEC@EUDEC conference, nor about my likely-dead iPhone.

Yesterday, after about 23 hours in a bus, we arrived in Leipzig, back from the terrific IDEC@EUDEC conference in England. We both still had (and have) a bit of a head cold or flu, which was going around at the conference and hit me a few days before the end, so we were altogether extremely exhausted upon arrival. We decided to spend the day in bed, watching movies and shows and napping occasionally, holding out until nightfall for the real sleep.

When we finally did go to sleep, Sabine was feeling nauseous, and so she put a bucket with a little water next to the bed in case it was needed. We slept like two large stones.

When we woke up some time before noon today, I noticed a tall lamp was lying horizontally on the floor. Soon after, however, Sabine held up my iPhone by its charging cable, dripping with water from the bucket. It had just spent some unknown number of hours in the water.

The iPhone is now drying (in a box of rice), now and for another day and a half, before I risk trying to turn it on. But it’s not likely to recover. I’m relieved the combination of power cable and water bucket didn’t do any further damage, really.

I’m sad that my dear iPhone is (probably) dead. I use it a lot, I haven’t had it for all that long (just over a year), and most of all, I can’t really afford to replace it right now. I recently bought a very good new laptop, one I expect to use for a few years, but which depleted my bank account and then some.

I’m living beyond my means, on bank credit, and that’s what this post is really about.

Don’t get me wrong. My debt is tiny, so small it should be insignificant. But it’s not, because I live on a very low income, and small sums seem pretty big when you live on a low income. And the reason I live on such a low income is that, due to my studies and activism, I haven’t found time to make money. My main source of income is the federal German student support program – which is a pretty good deal, considering it’s only around a dozen hours of painful bureaucracy a year, for which I receive just enough money to live at a reasonable standard of living.

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the big role money plays in, basically, everything that goes on in the world. I don’t have any big conclusion to share on the global issues, but on the personal level, it has already become clear to me that I will have to find a way to seriously increase my income if I want to live a fulfilling and active life. That’s not to say that I like or favor the monetary systems of the world as they are today. I rather don’t. But as long as the world is organized the way it is organized, and as long as I insist on living in a city, using the latest technology, and trying to change things in the world of people, money is going to be vital.

This isn’t all that bad, because there are always things I enjoy doing (even if I only enjoy them a little) which I can get money for. I just stepped down from EUDEC Council to focus on my studies and finish my degree, and that’s what I’m going to do from now until the end of February, but after that, I see a whole world of possibilities spread out in front of me.

The most obvious option is to work for EUDEC. As I’ve mentioned, EUDEC is working on hiring a paid coordinator, to make sure things work smoothly without relying too heavily on volunteers. I’m probably going to apply for that position, and if it works out, it would be a real dream job (and a good deal for EUDEC, I think).

Another obvious option is translation. I’ve done translations occasionally, I know several translators, and I know that if ever I need to just find any work I can find, translation will always be possible. The downside, as all translators know, is that the stream of work can be less than steady, leaving you without an income for months at a time, sometimes.

One other thing I’ve already done occasionally and would enjoy doing more of is public speaking. I was thinking of doing a speaking tour in March or April 2012, just after I finish my studies, trying to cram in as many talks as I can in three to five weeks. It would give me a financial boost, a chance to work intensively on my speaking skills, and an opportunity to get to know new people and new places.

What do you think? Is a speaking tour a good idea? Any reason it might be more trouble than it’s worth? Do you know of someone who might want to invite me to speak around that time?

Any input appreciated.

 

Photo by Monika Wernz.