7th October 2005 at 01:00
You don't have to be Welsh or even speak Welsh to be part of the Cymru community, Bill Hicks finds

Now that we've all settled in for the new term and everyone is getting on famously, it seemed a good time to tour some of the remote corners of our virtual realm.

Don't get me wrong: the TES website has been a global offering from the second we unleashed it back in December 1996. Many of our busiest correspondents in those days were expat Brit teachers in the US and Australasia. The Teaching Overseas forum is still one of the noisiest places on the site.

But we also have more local matters to deal with, which is why this stately progress begins with the TES Cymru forum. It's easy enough to get to, and you don't have to be Welsh, or even speak Welsh, to take part. (But of course if you are, and you can, so much the better.) One poster was worried about the language, fearing that "I've got sod all chance of getting a job as I'm not a fluent Welsh speaker". The advice came in that you wouldn't need to be fluent to teach in secondaries in many areas, but that in primaries you'd have to "teach Welsh and use it 'incidentally' but this should be relatively straightforward if you put a bit of time into it now".

Meanwhile, ally was "just wondering if there was anyone else from Pembrokeshire on this forum". Marvellously, there were several positive replies. Malfunkshun, for one: "Hello ally... yeh... me. How ya doin?" Then along came athrowesda, and then etoile, and then CaderIdris. It was good to see the forums working their old social magic. Good luck, Pembrokeshire people.

I felt an intruder there and, moving rapidly on, stumbled into a less happy valley. The title was bad enough: "Who the hell would seriously want to work in Wales?"

Inside, it got worse: "Ugly towns, terrible transport links, beaten people and a cultural desert... and they actually tell you that you HAVE to be a Welsh speaker!!! Who is doing who the favour?!"

The poster went on to claim that the Welsh were as "racist" towards the English in Wales as the English were towards Jamaicans in the 1950s.

Suddenly, we're back in the rank waters of nationalistic wind-up that you might not expect to find in a teachers' chatroom, had you not been monitoring them for years.

Thanks, Enw, for this attempt to salvage things: "da iawn greenfields, we are a very friendly, welcoming country. There are bigots everywhere, but they are definitely in the minority."

A minority on our forums too, but a high-pitched one. Many ask, why give them a platform? Well, we operate on a crazy old Pete and Dud philosophy of better out than in. If we thought we could end bigotry by deleting every half-baked notion that upsets someone, we'd get out our machetes and chop away. But we don't. Much better to leave them exposed, and thus to be pecked to pieces in open debate.

But we have to operate within the law. At what point, we'd like to know, does the online form of bar-room joshing between English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish teachers turn into incitement to racial hatred?

Answers on an email please.

Meanwhile, a poster usurping the name Baudelaire was inciting something:

"Let's have a heated debate. Come on then. Who's up for it? Or is this really the most boring and pointless room here?"

He was met by Welsh Goth: "OK so what's your problem? What's the debate about? You start." Then TheoGriff tossed in a grenade: "I popped into Scotland to see how quiet they are, and to my shock-horror surprise I discovered that they have a whole super-forum, with 10 separate sub-forums, all to themselves! Now is this fair that one part of our Celtic brotherhood should have so much more than the other part?"

Good point, TG. I don't suppose this is the last we will hear of this.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

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