Saturday, 27 November 2010

How boys become men: advice for quiet dads and over-protective mothers ...

I have just read a fascinating book by a New Zealander lady who worked for fifteen years as a prison officer in prisons for young men. (He'll Be OK: Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men, by Celia Lashlie.) She was commissioned by a group of private boys' boarding schools in New Zealand to carry out a large research project, 'The Good Man Project', interviewing pupils, parents and teachers in about 25 large schools across the country.

Her aim was find out what is going wrong, and right, with the raising of boys.

This book presents the conclusions of 18 month of intensive 'action research'. In action research, the focus is on collecting testimonies and opinions from large numbers of people, and then coming to general conclusions. The result is chatty and easy to read. There are no tables or graphs.

There are some interesting conclusions, especially about the role of men in guiding adolescent boys through the most difficult time in growing up (around age 14, the author says) and the way in which men are not in general fufilling their role, often because mothers won't let them ...

My experience as a Headmaster certainly tallies with what Celia Lashlie found: contact between school and home is usually managed by the mother and the mother is - in most cases -  the main decider in all matters relating to her son. It is also my experience that most mothers are not prepared to step back as boys approach the key period of 13-15, and and that most fathers are not making enough time to be with their sons, go fishing, play football, and the rest. (Lashlie hints that while women talk with their sons, men spend time with them, and that this is the male way: non-verbal communication sometimes works best. Women, suggests Lashlie, have trouble understanding this.)

There are some useful reminders about what is and what is not normal for a teenage boy. For example, we need not worry when they suddenly go quiet and uncommunicative. Lashlie explains why, as well as offering suggestions about how to support them through their trials, whilst still giving them clear guidelines and rules.

She suggests that once they have reached 16 or 17, if we have got it right, then one can ease off with the rules and sanctions (this is my experience also as a Headmaster.) But around 13-15 she says you need 'an electric fence' to keep them under control! (I agree there too.) One amusing passage about punishment suggests that one should isolate the one thing they love the most, and then take it away from them. I suppose she is talking about MP3 players, IPhones and the like ...

Celia Lashlie sent her own son to Catholic boarding school for a while. But this is not a book that takes an especially Christian view. It does take a fair and humane view, however, and tries not to fall into the trap of political correctness. Catholic families (especially mothers) could benefit from reading it, especially if they are worried about their sons.

Interesting and challenging reading, especially for father and mothers of teenage boys.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Well done, Monsieur le President

I saw President Sarkozy on the television the other day, being savaged by three interviewers at once. I had never seen anything like it. Three against one didn't seem fair. But Sarkozy equalled his performance in the interview just before he was elected, in which he showed up Segolene Royale for the sanctimonious old volcano of hatred that she is.

Sarkozy is a bit of a chancer, but he is a survivor also. And his public speaking gifts, born of his time as a lawyer no doubt, are impressive.

One issue he tackled was the high taxation and social security in France that made the country uncompetitive in the European market. He cited Spain as an example of a country in which even a socialist government was realising it had to keep tax and social security low in order to let the economy compete. All of this was of course completely rejected by Royale and Co. afterwards.

Sarkozy actually promised not to increase taxes, but instead to replace only one in two civil servants leaving for retirement from now on. Hurray! Perhaps that means the end of the stranglehold of the French communist bureaucracy (which survives, and runs most aspects of the country, whoever is in power.)

Today in my email inbox I received the following junk email, sent out to thousands of French business managers. Judge for yourself if Sarkozy is right to fear an exodus of French business to countries with a smaller state and lower taxes/social security.

"... Vous souhaitez vous installer à l’étranger ? Développer vos affaires vers l'Europe ? Rejoignez les chefs d'entreprises qui se sont implantés soit :

En Espagne, où les charge sociales n'excèdent pas 260 euros quelque soit le montant du salaire pour un dirigeant,

Ou en Tunisie où les sociétés totalement exportatrices de biens ou de services sont exonérées de toute imposition.

Pour toutes informations merci de contacter ..."

I think that hundreds, if not thousands, of French companies are already looking at the arguments for relocation, so Sarkozy had better 'carry on regardless' and get on with his reforms in the 18 months he has left. Even if the socialists get into power again they will not bother to reverse his changes. Bonne chance, Mr le President.

Incidentally, Sarkozy, a Hungarian imigrant's son, also had something to say about the need to limit immigration if cultural and social integration is not working fast enough. Those who noted the President's remarks that he doesn't want 'an Islam in France' but rather a 'French Islam' (ie. integrated and accepting values and traditions of the country), might like to know that Mr Sarkozy's full name is Nicholas Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa. His Hungarian ancestor was enobled by Ferdinand II Habsburg for his courageous service against the Turkish agressor in 1628.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Poland's whodunnit: paranoia or are they on to something?

A number of years ago I visited Poland and stayed in a special hotel attached to the parliament, as a guest of one of the deputies. It was an interesting experience: there was a gas mask under the bed - only one, even though we were two friends sharing a room, so thankfully I never had to face that dilemma, and in any case the instructions were in Polish and Russian neither of which are my strongest languages ... The only MPs around at the time (it was a recess for the parliament) were draped in gold bling, and looked decidedly unparliamentary. The old coldness and reserve of communist times was still tangible, especially among the staff ... and when I took my Polish friends out for a couple of bottles of Russian champagne (for the price of a London cup of tea) it felt like a revolution for them.

The country was in the throes of an identity crisis. Catholic or progressive; nationalistic or mulitcultural ... it was a long list of dilemmas. And on the country's western borders the Germans were busy buying back all the land conceded after World War Two. The whole of this new 'lebensraum' land was filled with garden centres, advertised mainly in German, selling garden gnomes which, apparently, Germans smash up each New Year in order to make way for new ones.

There was not much talk then of threat from Russia. Russia was humiliated then by all the prestige she had lost after the fall of communism. Even as we looked down from Lenin's gift to the people of Warsaw, the towering, Cathedral-like, Palace of Culture, we did not guess that ten years later, the eyes of worried Poles would be glancing furtively towards the east again.

A friend of mine, a young law professor, not known for his devotion to conspiracy theories or rashness, sent me these links to an English-dubbed version of a recent Dutch documentary, which explores the theory that Poland's loss of 95 of its leaders in a tragic plane crash may have been something more than an accident. Perhaps you had better watch these before the successors of the old KGB get youtube to take them down. Or am I being over-dramatic?

Links: (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

Friday, 5 November 2010

Was Shakespeare Irish?

On this blog I have discussed before the vexed question of whether Shakespeare was a Catholic. Listening to the following rendition in 'Original Pronunciation', the Bard certainly sounds very Irish, which is almost as good ... enjoy: