Sunday, November 29, 2009

When money can't buy you class

It might surprise you, but most kids with anti-social behavioural problems come from richer homes and a lack of parental supervision is the biggest cause, according to a Barcelona study by Foundation Jaume Bofill.

Looking at children between 7 and 12 years of age it was found that while Catalan families are generally “doing well,” a main reason for children’s bad conduct was affluent and “progressive” parents ‘contracting out’ their responsibilities to “school, out-of-school courses, domestic help or other relatives.”

El Mundo’s article on this study quoted Javier Elzo, the coordinator of the research as saying “It is not true that troubled children particularly come from single-parent families, hard-working mothers, re-constituted families, separated parents, or other models different from the traditional one.”

He also stated that the so-called ‘troubled families’ include those characterized by being acquisitive, as well as immigrants who are not integrated into society.

Immigrants who have become integrated are part of the group that Elzo found “dedicate more time to their children.”

His conclusion was that for kids to have “pro-social conduct” it is best to be brought up in a “united family, which allows children to express their feelings with parents reinforcing correct behaviors and supportive discipline.”

My own experience here as a teacher of mainly rich students (older than those in this study) at an expensive private international school, is that it is crucial to show them that in the classroom you are not just another of their servants. This gets their respect and real behavioural problems are then very rare.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Local is best

I think part of the reason why the banks in Spain did not end up getting as much criticism as British banks was because (at least in Catalonia, where I live) some of the smaller ones that are called "social banks" are much more genuinely "local" (even though there are those such as Santander, a mega-bank.)

There is an old fashioned honesty to my bank (Caixa Penedes) where they know us by name. There are about a dozen branches in the town of about 30,000 people. If one branch is busy you can just go to another one only a few minutes walk away.

I think banking of this kind is less likely to abuse the systems.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An up-coming reading

Along with several other local writers, I'll be reading some of my poetry at this event in Barcelona's Gothic quarter on Sunday 22 of November.

Modern Spain, according to Muñoz Molina

…"Ideology is often a form of laziness, a reason for learning nothing.

…What I see is a new crop of complacent anecdotes, adventures of old men who prefer to inhabit a realm of vague nostalgia undisturbed by introspection or the awareness of any error, any regret. This blurs the grandeur that the Spanish Communists possessed: that of choosing, when Franco died, the road of concord and reconciliation, shedding their ossified Soviet baggage, to put their intelligence and generosity to work in the construction of a new democracy. Justice can only be done to such lives in one of those biographies — the ones that Spaniards can’t be bothered to write.

A quote (well worth repeating) from Antonio Muñoz Molina in EL PAÍS, Saturday, November 7, 2009.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spain's shame

Last Christmas in Spain six women were killed. On average in the previous year there was a woman slain every five days in this country.

One of the most significant factors here is that immigrant women account for 45% of the dead. The particular difficulties and pressures that immigrants have, account for only one of the reasons for this figure.

Antonio Garcia, a member of the coordinator of the Association of Men for Gender Equality said "The problem is essentially male…We need to change the mandates of machismo [ultra-male attitudes and behaviour.]”

One judge stated that "The solutions will come with our children. Meanwhile, we can not stand idly by.”

I believe that Spain is probably the best country in the world to live in and that domestic violence is a huge problem in many societies. But until there is a big improvement in levels of domestic violence, this wonderful land will be terribly and unnecessarily stained with the blood of women.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The trust at the bottom of the garden

People trust each other where I live.

I’m not talking about the kind of confidence where no one needs to lock their doors. I mean that you don’t see that look of suspicion in the eyes of a stranger that you consistently do in England, for example.

I think that in Western Europe most people trust those around them.

There seems to be a basic belief that the men and women next to you are not out to cheat you or somehow do you wrong. And this is despite terrorism, theft and selfish outlooks on daily display, in addition to a media that feeds on reporting crime

Of course this unstated faith is regularly abused. Maybe routinely so. Yet it continues.

I live on the outskirts of a medium sized town of about 25,000 people in Catalonia, northern Spain (or southern Catalonia, depending on your outlook towards the independence movement here.)

Behind my apartment building there are large grapevine plantations and paths running through them. Every day people walk there, jog, or take their dogs for exercise

But there are no fences.

It would be easy and cheap to put fences around these fields but nobody has felt this to be necessary. Thousands of euros of vineyards lie apparently unattended and unguarded.

If this was in Israel or near an English town would it be the same?

My guess is no.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Spanish intellectuals seeking a way out of the economic crisis

More than 250 prominent figures from Spain’s cultural and education communities have signed their names in protest against the current economic crisis.

They have called for more regulation against the market forces of finance and real estate speculation. Their belief is that this would be in the common interest.

This Friday they will be putting forward a manifesto for financial reforms that guarantee social equity and decent work that provides “worthy and sufficient " wages.

Their group, in alliance with Cándido Méndez from the UGT [General Trade Union for Workers] believes that sound labour laws are the best foundation for economically sustainable growth.

They have also made the sensible suggestion that the State could increase social services as a "powerful force" in the economy.

I am happy to live in a country where the term ‘intellectual’ is not an insult (as it usually is in Australia, for example) and where the vital activity of public debate is not just left to politicians.