Saturday 30 July 2016

Why I wanted to stay - a message too late?

22 June 2016 - I suddenly felt uneasy. I had to say something.      

"I say stay

I’m hoping most of you have guessed that but for the sake not influencing my students I’ve kept quiet and bitten my tongue from time to time. I think now I’ll just give you my personal opinion and why.  
Bottom line is for just two thirds of my working life I taught youngsters aged 11-16 foreign languages. I did it mainly by encouraging friendship. Once the friendship was there, Grammar Grind, the Direct Method, Communicative Language Learning or whichever method was in fashion at the time was just a means to an end. I organised exchange visits. We had access to Erasmus, Socrates etc. and travel into EU countries was easy. Accidents and illnesses were easy to deal with. Yes, our NHS is great.  The Dutch, German and Spanish systems I find slightly better. The Austrian was good – I broke my hand there. I haven’t tried the French. Even those students who didn’t participate actively gained form seeing what the others did. My students learnt to respect and cherish other cultures. My husband, Martin, and I were very involved with a local twining arrangement and got to know several German families very well. We brought our children up to think of themselves as Europeans. We lived for two years in the Netherlands. We feel enriched because of these experiences and would wish them on everyone.     

Even when I started writing and teaching creative writing it carried on. My science fiction novels are about embracing otherness and diversity. And hey, I teach now at university level in an English and Politics and Contemporary History directorate, and have colleagues who are from other EU countries, are married to or have partners from other EU countries, and  / or  have lived abroad or are not British or even European anyway. Martin is also half German. Well, a quarter Jewish if you’re going to be fussy about race. Culturally his mother was through and through German.

For five years at the University of Salford I was the Erasmus officer so looked after those students who came from other EU countries and kept an eye on those of my own studying in other EU countries. The students always gain from this experience. They really grow.

Now we have a lot of students from other EU countries studying full time on our courses. There is the very slightest of language concerns – not even really enough to affect marks and even if it does it’s more than  made up for by the fact that they grow because they’ve made a cultural shift. What is their position on Friday if things go wrong tomorrow?   

My own year abroad was spent in Rennes October 1972 to March 1973 and Stuttgart March 1973 to July 1973. We joined the Common Market and already I began to feel the difference. Personally I don’t see movement within the EU as immigration. It’s more like me moving form Manchester to London. All “immigrants” anyway contribute to the economy. If you’re pissed off about the number of Italians working in London restaurants, go learn Italian and take up a job in a pizzeria in Milan. Learning languages isn’t difficult. It’s hard work, yes, but not difficult. By the way, an EC directive in 1988 said every community member should speak three community languages. This was in part so that you could go where the work was …            
Oh the name changes …European Free Trade Association, Common Market, European Economic Community, European Community, European Union. From market to union. Do we really want to drop a union with groups of people on the nearest big land mass to this interesting island?

Then there are the urban myths and the lying with statistics. I’m so pleased that some of my colleagues signed a petition asking both sides to stop telling lies. I’ve seen the same set of statistics used to justify giving a Grace Brothers-style “You’re all doing very well” pat on the back, and then used ten days later to say “This isn’t good enough. Watch your backs.”

Didn’t Cameron say this “European Army” was an urban myth? We trust Cameron not to lie, right? But even if there is going to be a European Army, and we may not like it, do we really want it to happen without us in it?

We can all probably find examples of bonkers European laws but on the whole they’ve served us well, particularly in the area of employment law and copyright law.  

It’s not perfect. No system is. But at least if we’re part of it we can have our say. (Yes, it is democratic – if you’re proactive about choosing your Euro MP.) We’ve always maintained our own take on it anyway – we still have a border, we didn’t go into the Euro, we ignore that 1988 directive and also the one about 75% attendance at HE institutions.         

I say REMAIN.  

In fact, I’m not sure how much I want to remain in a UK that isn’t part of Europe.

I posted this on Facebook the day before the referendum. Now I know I'm at fault for saying too little too late. And I'm still not happy abut being in a UK that's not part of Europe. Though of course, we haven't actually left yet ....                   

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