Cheerful China?!

Please forgive the cynicism and angst but let me introduce you to an example of how unpalatable truths are kept hidden from children in schools. Some interesting questions here on the nature of ‘education’: at what point in a child’s education do you tell them about the political and human rights horrors of certain regimes, as opposed to merely the points of cultural interest.

My six-year-old daughter’s teacher has sent home a slip of paper asking for us to help create a mind map to see what out child knows about China..or even china. Topic title: ‘Cheerful China’. Do I hear dark laughter from some readers (in fact…are there any readers..?) As someone who has read books such as Tears of Blood – A Cry for Tibet by Mary Craig, or the equally distressing and compelling Fire Under The Snow Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner by Palden Gyatso, the notion of ‘cheerful China’ seems naive and ridiculous at best. But how to approach this with young children?

When working as an English teacher in the 90s, potentially controversial issues emerged often as part of our study of literary texts. In fact, this is one of the great attractions of studying literature – stories become the mirrors within which we can scrutinise issues about humanity, morality, love, war …whatever. Unfortunately, the prevailing liberal wisdom of the time required teachers to strike a balance between opposing views, to remain impartial for fear of over-influencing young people’s views and ideas. Most of the time my own moral voice was screaming to emphasise the political injustices that swirled around life in the UK at the time. The dying days of the Thatcher and Major governments saw that party continue to shred the fabric of British society and prepare the ground for the economic woes then exacerbated by Blair’s rampant over-spending. But I digress..

The question for educators I want to ask is: at what age and to what extent do you introduce young people to the horrors of  certain regimes: in this case the current and past Chinese government. To state the obvious – China is a miserable place to live and work for many Chinese people. The disgraceful and shocking torture and cultural devastation, nay genocide, visited on the Tibetan population (including many monks and nuns) since Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ makes most sane people boil with rage, sorrow and indignation. And this is only exacerbated more by British governments’ repeated efforts at toadying up to current Chinese leaders because they desperately need their cash. Even under Blair, members of the Free Tibet Campaign who were present at a cavalcade for a visiting Chinese Premier were harassed by officials and required to take off their campaign t-shirts: in our blessed Blighty where there apparently we have freedom of speech.

I could go on – but read the two books listed above and you’ll no doubt feel the same anger. So, back to my daughter’s mind map. Do we suggest she includes important Chinese inventions (silk, rice, toilet roll) and a few china cups and saucers (we have a pretty hand-painted Royal Doulton set of china –  we could include that as an important cultural artifact and symbol of Chinese cultural and political supremacy, because it’s made of china – which has been suggested by the teacher..). Or – should we do an electronic mind map with links to various texts, YouTube videos, campaign websites and images of self-immolating nuns? I know what I’d prefer….

Cyber bullied…but not defeated

Check out this excellent blog by Rhys Morgan, 17, Cardiff. He recently got seriously harassed by representatives of the Burszynski clinic in Houston. You can read the story in The Guardian.

And here’s Rhys’ blog:

Rhys’s Blog.

Raises interesting questions for teachers as well who have yet to discover the power of blogging for learning. How to learn about global citizenship issues.. and never underestimate young people…!

How deep is a rabbit hole?


What are the limits of human imagination? Where does fantasy blend with reality? Is the universe curved? Why do we always lose single socks but never two at once?

The answer we think our daughter was looking for to her original question ‘How deep is a rabbit hole’ is:

It varies depending on the type of ground, how soft the soil is, how high the water table is and how long the population of rabbits has been there. A small bolt-hole could be just a couple of feet deep and might not link to any other burrows. A long established warren (the correct name for a system of burrows) could be up to 3 metres deep and cover a wide area, possibly up to half a mile. The system of interconnecting tunnels and holes consist of living quarters and nesting chambers.

Did you now rabbits aren’t native? They were brought here by the Romans about 2,000 years ago where they were kept for food. They almost certainly died out after the Romans’ reign ended. They were re-introduced by the Normans, who kept them for food and fur. Rabbits that escaped from the Normans then established the large population of rabbits that we know today.

But how deep could a rabbit hole go? A metaphor for exploring philosophical and existential thinking?

Alice fell down the rabbit hole after following a rabbit in a waist-coat that popped down a hole under a hedge. She followed the tunnel which  continued for ‘some way’ and then ‘dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well…either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly…’

Ever had that feeling…..?

Woodingdean well, hand-dug between 1858 and 1862, is claimed to be the world’s deepest hand-dug well at 1,285 feet (392 m).

So, Alice could have fallen down a rabbit hole that went to 392 metres deep or as Alice wondered, ‘Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think–‘

Or – consider this from Morpheus (Matrix maestro, Greek god of dreams):

You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Remember the Jefferson Airplane tune ‘White Rabbit’?

One pill makes you larger 

And one pill makes you small,

And the ones that mother gives you

Don’t do anything at all

How deep are you prepared to go…?

Will Queenie stay for ever?

Another question from the kids:

Will the queen retire or carry on till she dies?

Traditionally in the UK, our monarchs reign until death. Our Queen Elizabeth considers her coronation vows to last all her life. In fact, a royal aide told Britain’s The People newspaper: ‘As far as the queen is concerned, abdication is not an option and never will be. She believes that her vows at the Coronation in 1953 tie her into the job for life – it is her constitutional duty to remain monarch until her death.’

Elizabeth became Queen on her father’s death in 1952. She had watched her father, King George VI crowned on 12 May, 1937 when she was 11 years old.. Sixteen years later, people gathered together to watch the Coronation of Elizabeth on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey. It is traditional to wait a year after the death of the preceding monarch before the coronation of the new monarch.

Where does that leave Prince Charles..?