As a feminist – and particularly as a white, able-bodied, middle-class, financially comfortable, cisgender feminist – I’ve had my fair share of privilege-checking and uncomfortable realisations over the years.
But by far the most unexpected and the most challenging came when I went to a talk at a home education festival.
The talk was about how children learn to read. I swanned in with my autonomous I-learned-to-read-completely-naturally-and-without-lessons background, comfortably expecting to have Radical Things To Say to parents who tried to – the horror! – teach their kids reading as opposed to just letting them come to it when they’re ready.
(Yes, I do have Strong Views on educational methods, why do you ask?)
I sat through the first part of the talk, which was the presentation of a study. Then came the Q&A. And suddenly there were dozens of anecdotes about kids who couldn’t or wouldn’t learn to read for years. Kids who desperately wanted to read but couldn’t. Parents who were terrified that because their child hadn’t learnt to read by age 9, and they’d tried everything, they were failing.
I learned to read when I was four. Words and how to use them have always come to me like breathing.
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In lieu of a post, have a video! This is the first in my new series called the Interesting and the Interested, where I interview people about cool things that are relevant to them. It’s available here on YouTube, and the transcript is below the cut if you prefer to read than watch/listen.
In this one I’m talking to my friend Charlotte about ethnomusicology. We actually talked for about half an hour (to the point where my camera gave up, hence why the ending of the video is a little abrupt!), so there was lots more that I had to cut, but hopefully it gives an idea of what ethnomusicology is about and isn’t too truncated.
Want to be interviewed for one of these? Drop me a line!
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When I was about thirteen, I joined Neopets, a virtual pets website, because my friends were on it and it seemed cool. I joined the guild (virtual club) they were in, and started thinking about designing layouts for the front page, and writing up rules and putting them on my pets’ webpages. To do this, I had to learn HTML and CSS.
It was a bonus that learning to write front-end webdesign languages meant I could help with the website for my family’s business, but I didn’t learn them with that in mind; I started designing and building websites because I loved the process. I loved the pure, straightforward logic of tag nesting and classes and IDs, and the fact that I could type in a few lines of code and make something change colour or shift to the right. I loved solving the frustration of what made an entire page invalid (often, just one misplaced apostrophe). I loved searching through pre-built stylesheets to work out what classes I could target and alter.
Ten years later, I don’t do so much web design. I’m training to be a piano technician – diagnosing and repairing problems in musical instruments.
It might sound strange to say that I never thought of myself as a logical or analytical person.
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I’ve spent a lot of time working at festivals. Usually you’d find me in the kid’s craft workshops area, surrounded by tables of paint and glitter and noise and colour and bits of cord and thread.
We never got paid much, and at the end of a session my back ached from leaning over tables and my mouth felt like it would never work again from repeating instructions.
But I loved it, because I was teaching kids new skills and they usually went away happily clutching something they’d made.
There was one part I hated, though. The moment when a parent would loom up behind their child, open their mouth, and out came the dreaded “What d’you say?”
I’ve hated this since I was little. My autonomous home education background definitely comes into play here – when you live by the idea that if what you’re about to say would be insulting or hurtful to an adult, you should think hard before saying it to a child, it’s easy to see prompting as archaic and patronising.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve started to see prompting not just as annoying, but sinister. Let’s break it down…
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Social media is regularly dismissed as meaningless trivial catch-up on your friends’ lives – so-and-so bought a new collar for their dog, what’s-his-name’s cactus has blight, Cousin Wotsit thinks Pizza Express is a bit rubbish, etc.
There’s all sorts of arguments against this, and let’s face it, no-one’s completely right: a website like Facebook is a two-headed see-saw with “interesting and meaningful discourse” constantly struggling against the weight of “depressing drain on productivity”.
Communication through social media can be maddening, heartbreaking, hilarious, life-affirming.
It can connect us with old friends and it can save lives. It can give us a solace in times of emergency. It can create beauty in unexpected places. And it can leave us sitting doing and achieving nothing for hours, and ending up feeling like shit.
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