The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Tale of Two Holiday Pageants (and Happiness)

Some days leave you with so many impressions, which in turn touch all manner of tangents, that you just don’t know where to begin (or end.)

So why not begin here: ‘Twas a couple of days before Christmas and my two youngest brothers had their school holiday pageants on the same day. Since I happen to be visiting them in Stockholm, Sweden I had the great privilege of attending both, not knowing at all what to expect.

First up was the end of term ceremony of the youngest brother. He attends an English language school, Engelska Skolan Norra (the Northern English School), since his parents wanted to make sure that his bilingualism stuck after the move from London.

The pageant was held in a so-called ‘free church’, i.e. it is not part of the Church of Sweden. The Immanuel Church is a modern building that is neither here nor there, has international ties, is multi-confessional and hosts services in Swedish, English and Korean. As far as I can tell, it has no specific ties to the school itself.

From our seats high up in the rafters, we were treated to a veritable potpourri of music and a message of happiness. The first grade kicked things off by hoping that those of us who celebrate it, “Have Ourselves a Merry Little Christmas.” It was more than adorable. And so was the third grade’s “Christmas Rap”, especially the two tough dudes in the front row, who showed the rest of us where it's at!

Dionne Warwick's version of this wonderful song ranks right up there with Aretha's.

We then got to hear a Christmas Poem, a piano allegro, and school band renditions of “Wonderwall” and “I Say a Little Prayer (For You)”. For the sentimental among us, like yours truly, seeing young kids singing some of your own favorite songs can help but touch your heart. The school choir then wrapped things up with “From All of Us To All of You” and “One Smile”. Here’s the chorus of the latter, written for the occasion, which we were asked to sing along to:

One smile makes you go on living.
One smile, one pair of eyes,
can make you see it through paradise

Well, I certainly left the hall with a smile across my face, and went off for some coffee ahead of the older little (though this 14 year-old is soon taller than I am) brother’s pageant.

This one was held at one of the grander churches in Stockholm, the Engelbrekt Church. As it happens, it is located on a hilltop just a block from where my own mother grew up, where we would visit my grandfather up until mid 1980s. This church belongs to the Church of Sweden (which was the official state church until 2000) and this is fitting considering the school whose ceremony it hosted that afternoon.

Engelbrekt Church,
Michael Meissner

Enskilda Gymanasiet (EG, Enskilda High School) is a former private school that is now a beneficiary of the school voucher system. For those of you not familiar with this concept – certainly a major issue in the U.S. – this is hardly the time and place to start, but feel free to do so. It is certainly odd that this idea has been realized in Sweden of all places, but that’s a tale for another time.

Anyway, EG is a school with some tradition; dating back to 1913 it is definitely a very Swedish institution. The pageant was not an ‘end of term’ but a ‘Christmas’ ceremony and had a distinctly religious tone to it. Following a psalm, a priest welcomed the crowd before a Christmas prayer was offered by a student.

The centerpiece of the pageant was a Christmas show on the religious origins of the holiday. It was interesting and different from my own experience, which was much more akin to the vibe of the morning pageant.

More psalms followed, including “Silent Night” and then the ceremony concluded with a welcome? nod to modernity. A George Michael-heavy Christmas medley featuring “White Christmas” but also “Last Christmas” (click at your own risk) and “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time” (Bob was knighted for this?) But even this somewhat dodgy touch brought a grand old smile to my face. The 1980s always do…

Instead of going off on the aforementioned tangents – getting caught up in my own vagaries regarding educational policy, religion or identity – I’ll end here. The swamp is a tad dry, and just like its guardian angel, it needs regenerating. So I am signing off for a week or two, wishing everyone the happiest of holidays with friends and family.



Blogger Give 'em enough rope said...

Well, at long last, some subjects where I feel I can offer something: Babies, religion, identity and education! Please DO go off on these “tangents”, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.

Congratulations on the new addition to the family – your oldest little brother must be very proud, very excited and very tired! But it might offer him and his wife some hope to think that, judging from your holiday pageant post, very small children grow up to be 14 years old in… well, about a week??

Anyway, on to my point(s). I think the fact that the school voucher system has been implemented in Sweden of all places is not so strange but actually fairly obvious. What better way to make parents THINK they have a choice, where really there is very little? Especially when those parents are citizens who are relatively unaccustomed to real choice—and judging from my conversations with Swedish parents recently, frequently hanker for the days when life was not so complicated and there was only one school, one day care, one electricity supplier…

The voucher system also seems like a very convenient way to evade responsibility on the issue of improving the school system, because if anyone complains, you can just tell them to pick a different school. Parents can spend their time poring over school prospectuses (should that be prospecti?) instead of lobbying politicians for action.

In reality, of course, very little choice exists for anyone outside of Stockholm city limits, and even for those who reside within, a voucher school is still not the same thing as a private school. The freedom of choice is still very much limited by the current government’s idea of what the curriculum should contain.

Having said that, living under the tyranny of a territorial based state school system is not much fun either. In many areas of the UK (and in the US, by the looks of things) you can be looking at two identical homes sitting right next to each other and if the school attendance area border happens to fall between them, the difference in value can run into tens or even hundreds of thousands.

In inner cities where finding a “good” school for your child is not a question of snobbery but could make the difference between education and effectively no education, this creates a horrible situation. Those of us who do have a choice have to decide whether we want to break our financial backs on an overpriced house or on private schooling, and those who don’t have a choice … well, they don’t.

The resulting segregation is self-perpetuating, and every time the local government attempts to solve the problem by redrawing the attendance area map, families in the area quickly regroup and everything is back to square one. Until the REASONS why children differ in educational performance are addressed, no amount of moving vouchers around, or redrawing maps, will change the fact that people segregate.

Anyway, to me, it’s just one big muddle of state intervention either way. How can the state’s involvement in educating the very same citizens who will in future be responsible for electing or rejecting it amount to democracy? (And who needs democracy anyway? But that, I guess, is a different story!)

11:55 PM  

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