Monday, 25 June 2007

Please don’t try to have sex with me.

That’s what 16-year-old Lydia Playfoot is very openly telling people through the medium of a small, silver ring. This shiny, innocuous circle has cause a huge amount of debate, and, no doubt, a huge amount of free publicity for The Silver Ring Thing.

There are a few issues this case. The biggest of which is freedom of expression. Schools should either allow you to express yourself and your ideas, or not. Those ideas can range from your religious convictions to your sexuality.

For some reason, religious freedom is given a greater priority over other forms of freedom of expression. Playfoot's ring is mainly a statement of a sexual nature. But why are turbans acceptable and her ring isn’t? Are the school trying to say that they only value a child’s right to express their religion and religion alone? Do only members of organised religion deserve the privilege of self-expression? Are all other ideologies somehow unimportant? Would a pin depicting support for a charity be disallowed? What about Make Poverty History bands?

And what exactly is acceptable as a religious expression? The school claim they’d allow her to wear a cross, but would they allow symbols of Satanism or other such cults?

Using that argument, Playfoot stated that since Sikhs can wear turbans and Muslims can wear hijaab, she should be allowed to wear her ring as an expression of her faith in Christianity. Now, whether or not this ring is a requirement of her faith is open to debate. What interests me is the fact that schools (and other institutions) try far too hard to accommodate minorities. I once went to school with henna on my hands and my teachers didn’t say a word. If my friends painted their nails, they were handed some acetone and a cotton ball. Nobody questioned whether decorating my hands was a religious requirement for me, they just assumed or were too scared to say anything for fear of offence. Playfoot, on the other hand, is having her motives behind wearing the ring scrutinised just because it's a lot easier to ridicule Christianity than it is any other faith. There is far too much positive discrimination in schools, and it is grossly unfair.

How can her school disallow her quite discrete ring, whilst they let other students wear very obvious declarations of their religion?

On the other side of the debate, there’s the issue of the philosophy behind the ring, and whether or not a promise to God helps you keep your virginity for longer. I don’t know if it does, but I do know that abstinence only sex education is highly ignorant. These sorts of initiatives work to scare you into not having sex and will particularly detail how unreliable contraception is. That means that if the people involved are eventually tempted, they’ll be more likely to engage in unprotected sex than those who’ve been educated about contraception. I admire Playfoot’s convictions at such a young age, but I hope that she doesn’t deny herself a well rounded sex education just because she thinks she won’t have any. I also hope that all this publicity around her ring won't cause her embarrassment if she eventually decides to take it off.

I do resent the notion of "purity" that she is putting across, by implying that anyone who does have sex is somehow impure. It's almost the reverse of people making fun of other people for being virgins. Again, I respect what she is doing, but not at the expense of saying that all those who have sex are filthy buggers with no self respect. It is perfectly possible to find a balance in the middle of virginity and indiscriminate sex.

And now that I've flirted with the debate, I'll just put the whole thing in perspective. At the end of the day, it's a frigging ring. It's barely noticeable and threats of expulsion over it are absolutely ridiculous. The court case itself seems to be a pointless waste of time (and donation money), especially as Playfoot no longer attends the school. This whole media circus reminds me of the Shabina Begum case, which was equally as ridiculous. She was also being used for a publicity stunt (by her brother who is a member of HuT), as is Playfoot by her organisation.

What people wear is still taken far too seriously by some.

Monday, 4 June 2007

£400k for this?!

I see "brand consultancy" is where the money is, then. Anybody want to post up their own logos for the 2012 Olympics? Just one rule - you have to use Paint. None of you posh brand consultants with your fancy £400k logo designing stuff are allowed to post.

Here's mine. :)

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The wrecking of British science.

Nobel laureate Harry Kroto wrote a brilliant piece in the Guardian today about the dwindling numbers of scientists within the UK.

He states that:

Thirty per cent of physics departments have either been closed or merged in the past five years. What is one to make of the deafening silence of ministers when, last year, the small Sussex chemistry department - a fantastic department to work in, where I stayed for some 37 years and which has housed some 12 fellows of the Royal Society, three Nobel laureates and a Wolf prize winner since it was created in 1962 - was under threat of closure? It was only through the concerted efforts of staff and students that a U-turn occurred.

When the University of Reading announced the closure of its physics department, I remember thinking how shocking it was that this was allowed to happen. In a country where students can study some ridiculous subjects (fashion accessories, packaging, adventure, to name a few), it's somewhat shameful that we can't keep the pure sciences alive.

Kroto goes on to say:

The personal reasons for choosing a science education are also overwhelming. A Royal Society of Chemistry/Institute of Physics study found that graduates with chemistry and physics degrees earn, for the most productive 15-20 years of their working lives, some £15,000 more annually than most other graduates. They earn thousands more than those studying psychology, that seductively popular subject diverting a large proportion of our best young people into dead-end, uncreative careers. It is actually a triple whammy, as the government gets greater investment return in tax from this better-paid workforce, and there are science and technology industries for graduates to enter. The chemical industry posts a £50bn annual turnover with a £5bn profit. Which is more than can be said for law.

The problem is, few science graduates actually stay within the scientific field. Most end up in jobs such as IT, which may give them a chance to use their transferable skills, but inevitably move them further away from a world of science. In my personal experience, most people on my course wanted to be investment bankers - indeed, many of them are now working in finance. Fresh graduates with a steamy loan to pay off are ultimately attracted by money. When the real world hits them, they begin to lose all their desire to change the world and just want to earn money and get on with their lives - even if it means selling their souls.

Finally, Kroto mentions:

The scientific method is based on what I prefer to call the inquiring mindset. It includes all areas of human thoughtful activity that categorically eschew "belief", the enemy of rationality. This mindset is a nebulous mixture of doubt, questioning, observation, experiment and, above all, curiosity, which small children possess in spades. I would argue that it is the most important, intrinsically human quality we possess, and it is responsible for the creation of the modern, enlightened portion of the world that some of us are fortunate to inhabit. Curiously, for the majority of our youth, the educational system magically causes this capacity to disappear by adolescence.

Science education in schools is disgustingly drab. As a tutor, I find myself teaching children who neither understand science, nor want to understand science. It's "hard" or "geeky" or "boring" or "means nothing".

As well as being taught in a decidedly unimaginative fashion, science has also been dumbed down to the point of ignorant within some schools. In its terrible obsession to breed achievers, the government hasn't realised that its A grade pupils know absolutely nothing. At some point along the system, the top students realise this and are probably so disillusioned by the system that they believe university will hold the same unsatisfying answers for them.

I believe science education is in serious need of a revamp. The only problem is, nobody in government is willing to stand up and do something about it, and when they are, it will probably be too late.