Victoria Jelinek


XVIII Logos, Pathos, Ethos

Snoopy thinking

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. Abraham Lincoln

An (English) friend from Geneva dropped by my house yesterday with her new (English) beau and he’s a raging Brexiter and Trumpster. I’ve actually never had one in my home.

I remained calm (throughout) when he brought up politics and declared “Trump is getting things done” and repeated slogans as point-of-fact. I asked what Trump has specifically done? He replied that Trump has “drained the swamp,” and is “doing something about illegals,” and,  justifying his support, declared “Trump hasn’t done anything worse than Obama or Hilary Clinton did…that Hilary Clinton was on her way to jail when she was running for office” (“Lock her up!”). I tried to ask questions based on fact to prompt specific responses about each of these subjects from him. For example, when he said, “Drain the swamp!” I asked him how he defines the “swamp,” ‘cause the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was involved with 28k home foreclosures in 2008, in which his company Goldman Sachs and he made a handsome profit; ‘cause the Education Secretary (Betsy Devos) is a billionaire with no experience educating but who is a large GOP donor; ‘cause Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is an ex-coal lobbyist. To which he replied, “You get your information from your sources, and I get mine from my sources.” I said, “This doesn’t have to do with media or social media sources…these are matters of public record.” To which he repeated, “You have your sources, and I have mine.”

I then asked him what else Trump is doing? He said he’s “doing something about illegals!” I asked, “You mean those camps in which a private company, the Corley facility, owned by the GEO Group, which is the nation’s largest private prison company, who are profiting from running detention centers under government contracts that cost the US taxpayer $44 million dollars a year, and who donate large amounts to the GOP party and Trump’s re election campaign? He said, “It’s nothing Obama and Hilary didn’t do.” (I’m not sure what HILARY Clinton has to do with any of this, really, and the argument that “they do it too!” is so infantile, but I digress). I said, “But there are international laws in places that protect those seeking refuge while due process of law is followed.” He said, again, “You have your information sources, I have mine.” I asked, “Is your source Fox News?” He said defensively, “What if it is?” I said, “Well, it’s a right-wing propaganda machine that was set up by Rupert Murdoch to meet his own agenda, which is to make colossal profits and maintain the status quo of white, male empowerment.” To which he sneered that I “probably” watch CNN and read “The Guardian” newspaper. I replied, “I don’t watch CNN, but I do read “The Guardian,” among other global newspapers, and “The Guardian” is sponsored by its audience rather than corporate advertisers and private investors.

At one point he said that the CIA and the FBI are run by “the Left” who are out to “get Trump,” and that climate change is a “theory.” To this I replied quietly, “It was a theory, but now it’s scientific fact.”

But I left it at that, and when they said, a short while, later, “Oh, we really should get going…” which is normally the cue for the host to say, “Oh! Have one more drink or something more to eat!” I stood up immediately and said, “Yes.” And quickly spirited them both to the door, shook their hands, and closed it behind them. I’m aghast that I had a person so uncritical and uninformed in my home. And I’m perplexed as to why my friend is dating this person. (She’s an educator!). But this morning I couldn’t sleep in the wee morning hours thinking about this man’s ‘arguments’ and how this blurring of what is fact and belief has become so commonplace. That people are increasingly becoming so unreflective and undiscerning in their general thinking. That we’re seeing a lack of debating tools in arguments. I would claim that in political ‘debate,’ we’re seeing a complete breakdown of sane discussion. My heart is heavy today. In my early morning mind, before the sun rose, I thought of all the things I would have liked to have said to this man in the form of questions and facts based on public record, but which I didn’t do out of respect for my friend. Also, perhaps, because I’m not sure that a person like this is motivated to listen to anything that confronts his constructs of reality. I sensed that this one wouldn’t listen to counter information because his manner and his words denoted a belligerence that borders on aggressive hostility to certain groups (women, the wealthy, intellectuals, the French, despite living in France). However, so that I can expunge it from my head, I must write up all the things I would have LIKED to have mentioned to this man yesterday evening.

I would start with some basics: What is the definition of ‘fact’? (A thing that is known or proved to be true). What is “true”? (Something that can be proved and seen repeatedly over time in the same way each time). What is the definition of ‘belief’? (An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof). Do you believe in the Law of Gravity? (When you throw a ball in the air, it will come down. Gravity keeps things on earth from spinning off into space). Is the earth round or flat? (It’s round and spins on an axis that rotates around the sun). How do you know these things? (Through exhaustive quantitative study). What is a ‘public record’? (Public records in the USA come from agencies such as The Department for Motor Vehicles, the Department of Labor and Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, etc.). I am not referring to any media or social media sources when I address the boyfriend’s points, below.

“Drain the Swamp!” It’s a slogan. What is a “slogan?” A slogan is a short, striking, memorable phrase used in advertising. What is the purpose of advertising? To sell you something. If its purpose is to sell you something, should you be wary of its “truth”? Accordingly, using public record only, let us examine Trump’s declaration that he has “drained the swamp!” starting with Trump. What is the experience he has that prepares him for the office of USA president? Unlike Obama, he has no formal or professional training in law, activism, history, geography, and politics. He has changed his political affiliation three times (Democrat, Independent, Republican). Personally, he inherited $413 million dollars from his father. He built Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino for $1.2 billion dollars, declared bankruptcy on it (and consequently did not pay the workers who built the 2010-room hotel and casino), and then sold it for $50 million dollars. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is a nebulous advisor in the White House, is a clothing manufacturer (with no manufacturing done in the USA) and her husband, a de-facto advisor, is formerly a real estate developer who is millions of dollars in debt to Deutsche Bank. When he was inaugurated into the White House, Trump settled a court case brought against Trump University for fraud to the tune of $25 million dollars. Trump’s election campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the man responsible for Trump’s “win,” has recently been jailed for fraud. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, often described by Trump, himself, as his “fixer,” has also been jailed for fraud. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has a net worth of $300 million dollars from investment banking. He left a job at Goldman Sachs to run the treasury department of the USA. Betsy Devos, the current Education Secretary, who has no experience educating and whose family has a net worth of $5.8 billion dollars (from Amway), has the experience of being a large donor to the Republican Party. Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a former coal industry lobbyist (which is a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators. And “Legislators” are people who make the laws of the land).

I could go on-and-on about a conflict of interest and lack of ethics in this current administration, all based on public record rather than any news source, but I don’t have the inclination to do so here. I DID, however, mention a little of this to the boyfriend, and he said, “Everyone does it. Hilary Clinton was doing ‘pay-to-play’ for years and on her way to jail when she was running for office.” I asked him, “Then why isn’t she in jail now?” to which he replied that she has paid off the FBI and CIA to keep her out of prison and has “powerful backers.” (If she’s so powerful, why isn’t she in the White House? She did win the popular vote). Again, not sure why what she does matters, and this argument is akin to an child’s, but I did say to the boyfriend, “It doesn’t matter who else does it. The office of President or Prime Minister is the highest in the land and that person should be held to higher standards than the rest.”

The boyfriend then stated that once that “traitor” Mueller’s report is in “ashes,” then Trump will be “cleared” of the allegations mounted by “the Left.” I didn’t mention that Mueller is a Republican and a decorated war hero, unlike Trump who was a draft dodger (as was his father – all matter of public record). I asked the boyfriend why Trump hasn’t made his tax returns public in order to show that there is not a conflict of interests entering office, such as banking or Russian oligarch’s campaign donations as “the Left” asserts? The boyfriend said “Lots of presidents haven’t declared their taxes!” and “There’s no law!” I said, “Name one president who didn’t declare their taxes and/or personal income and expenditures.” Again, his response was that he has his “sources” and I have mine. Actually, there’s an obscure 1924 law about revealing one’s finances in the bid for US presidency, and the only president in US history NOT to declare their personal income and expenditures was Nixon. Once again, I refer one to public record.

Let us move on to another statement, “He’s doing something about illegals!” What, exactly, IS he doing? “Nothing Obama and Clinton didn’t do!” Yes, Obama deported a large amount of illegal immigrants. However, Obama respected the UN treaty on Human Rights Law, which is an agreement that member States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect, and to fulfill human rights (their safety, security, right to dignity). Under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, the Department of Justice began to criminally prosecute all suspected illegal border-crossers for illegal entry, even those who crossed for the first time. Families now undergo separations when parents or adult relatives are charged with unlawful entry. Obama did not do this and he did not oversee detention centers in which basic medical and sanitary services were not being met. Seven children have died in US custody in 2019, compared with NONE in the ten years prior. Again, a matter of public record. More than 11,000 children are now being held by the US govt. on any given day, up from an average of 1,000 in the previous ten years. This administration has also cancelled recreational activities for the ‘inmates,’ which violates US law for any prisoner or detainee. (I did mention a little of this to the boyfriend who said, again, that I have my sources, and he his, but added that Hilary Clinton was involved with “human trafficking.” I assume he was referring to the claim that she had been running a child trafficking business from the basement of a pizza parlor? I chose not to entertain this allegation by him).

Additionally, Trump’s own father and mother were immigrants who sought refuge – like these people currently at the border with Mexico – upon arrival to the USA, but were not housed in detention facilities. Melania, Trump’s current wife, worked illegally when she first arrived in the USA, and later, lied about her formal education on her application for a Green Card. I would also refer this boyfriend and any other ill-informed person, to research history books and historical public records about the origin of the slogan “America First” in the 1930’s, as well as the birth of the “Southern Strategy” in the 1950’s in order to more fully understand the context for this current administration’s directives.

Finally, this boyfriend stated that Fox News is “no worse a propaganda machine” than “The Guardian.” While I will concede that “The Guardian” does have a leftist bias, it is funded entirely by its audience, the people. Meanwhile, Fox News is founded by Rupert Murdoch and fed by advertising dollars of corporations and the likes of major GOP donors, such as Bob and Rebecca Mercer and the Koch Brothers. The boyfriend had no idea who these people are. (I did not inform the boyfriend that it was, in fact, President Clinton who made it possible for the birth of the right-wing media in the USA by eliminating the law that stated all public media outlets must state BOTH sides of an argument – a tragic lack of foresight). Meanwhile, it’s illogical that there is a “liberal media” pumping out propaganda to the “the Left.” Lamentably, corporations and excessively rich men who rely on advertisers and tax cuts own most media outlets in the USA. Which is why one must look at a variety of information sources in a discerning fashion – local newspapers where a story originates, a variety of global news outlets, radio, podcasts, public record, and one must also have some knowledge of history in order to form one’s political opinion. Simply ‘puppeting’ slogans such as “Drain the Swamp!” and “Lock her up!” and “Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers!” without anything specifics and facts to base one’s case on, is why we’re seeing the (cyclical) catastrophic rise of right-wing nationalism and distrust in public institutions (which begs the question – who might want the general public to distrust the public institutions designed to protect its citizens?).

I didn’t explain the Electoral College to the boyfriend when he said that Hilary supporters are just “bitter” about her loss. And, I won’t even broach the subject of this boyfriend’s claim that “climate change is a theory,” “a hoax,” because it’s so inane and I want another cup of coffee this morning. Coffee – something I’ll miss immeasurably when, and if, idiots like this man, and the fossil fuel and agricultural industries don’t finally realize that it’s their sorry selves on the line, too, with global warming. By the way, these aforementioned industrials do know climate change is real, but they pay millions of dollars each year to lobbyists in order to keep governments ‘in line’ with business-as-usual, which supports their personal profit-seeking, and people like the boyfriend believing climate change is a ‘hoax,’ in order to keep operating. And no, unlike what the boyfriend stated cynically at one point that “all” corporations and “rich people” evade taxes and avoid laws, and, furthermore, that “taxes aren’t important,” none of these statements are true. All rich people don’t avoid taxes. These actions are not normal, usual, and it is not consequently acceptable to evade taxes. Taxes ARE important for the functioning of a society, or we wouldn’t have public health, housing, education, roads, welfare, police and fire services, for example. But, once again, I refer one to the public record of a standard dictionary of language, and the definition of “collective” versus “individualistic,” and ask the question, who might benefit from limiting taxes paid to governments? From there, I refer one to a local library to read a bit about economic philosophy and the theory of “trickle down economics.” From there, incidents in history when this economic model has been used and how well that has worked out for a given land and its people.

However, as this piece focuses on American politics, I must say that I do NOT think that the Democratic Party is much better than the Republican Party, at least historically. In this, I can agree with the motivation behind many of those who chose to vote for Trump in order to disrupt the status quo of governance. The Democrats set the stage for the current USA order by becoming too Centrist. By not paying attention to their constituent’s values and desires that they fight for policies that are farther left than center. Arguably, however, this is due to the campaign ‘machine’ that requires large ‘war chests’ of money, and money generally comes from large corporations and more of the same type who are supporting and protecting the Trump administration. Therefore, Democratic politicians make deals and compromise values in order to do SOMETHING democratic…certainly, the Democrats have been an opposing force to all that Trump might have done, but, once again, they’re in-fighting for power in the run up to the nomination, and the DNC will likely support the most Centrist as the Democratic nominee, thereby showing that no lessons have been learned. But, this is not the subject of this essay. I say it in closing to acknowledge a rotten system to be sure, the specifics to support my argument will have to come in another diatribe I write in my head one pre-dawn morning.

(Gods I hope that getting this out of me this morning works as a catharsis and that my first thought tomorrow morning is NOT the end of the world as I see it – which is the decline of critical thinking).

 

 



XII: Fighting Despair

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Birch treesEven as I write this I know that I must continue to maintain hope for the sake of my young son and all that I know is excellent, beautiful, and good in this world. Intellectually I know there is so much. But emotionally it’s getting harder to believe this. I increasingly feel more impotent, discouraged, and disdainful with humanity and its actions. Not just what I read in various news outlets, but what I observe around me every time I leave the house. My sense of humor is failing me. I’ve noticed in recent months that I don’t laugh my big, open-mouthed laugh any more. This is stupid, too, ‘cause losing one’s sense of humor only makes matters worse. I’m not sure how to maintain strength, hope, and humor when all of the things that give me hope and joy (tolerance, kindness, intelligence, collectivism, excellence and the magnificent natural world) seem to be diminishing. I write this today in the hope that it will serve as a catharsis. In the hope that I’m not alone in my thinking.

So, here is the litany of global events that have happened in the last two years that, in my opinion, reflect societal values and are consequently undermining my belief that this world is fundamentally a righteous place:

Syria, with the aid of Russia, prompts a mass migration of immigrants to the EU, which in turn emboldens racist, xenophobic, & nationalistic ideology throughout Europe, threatening the basis and formation of the European Union.

England & Wales, as a result of a misinformation campaign (Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Farage) withdraws from the European Union and takes Scotland and Ireland with it.

With the aid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Russian interference, Donald Trump takes the USA White House.

Emmanuel Macron narrowly beats the right-wing Front National (since ‘rebranded’ and going stronger than ever in time for the European Elections in a couple of weeks, aided by the Yellow Vest movement).

Jair Bolsonaro is elected in Brazil and vows to ‘open up’ more of the Amazon to industrial interests.

A fascist right-wing party is elected to lead Italy. With Viktor Orban of Hungary, they call for leaders to be elected in the upcoming EU elections who will reduce immigration (wolf whistle for ideology that defies EU principles).

Germany has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since the Third Reich.

Spain has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since Franco.

Sweden narrowly maintains a Socialist government, as does the Netherlands, in relatively recent elections.

There are mass shootings in the USA almost weekly. There is encouragement to shoot immigrants by Trump. Immigrants looking for shelter stateside are separated from their families, caged, and “lost.” The meat and water that the populace eats and drinks are contaminated due to decreased FDA and EPA protections, as well as the loosening of controls on industrial practices. The American administration is attempting a coup in Venezuela, and alienating democratic countries that the USA has had global alliances with for a hundred years.

Public education around the world is under siege. Teachers work for noble reasons or they don’t know what else to do. Students and their parents increasingly value education as a means to get into a ‘good’ university in order to get a ‘good job,’ in order to earn a lot of money, rather than for learning in-and-of-itself. Arts and humanities are being cut throughout the world, even as they define civilizations.

The wealthy elude taxes that keep infrastructure present for everyone. Multi national corporations elude taxes. The poor resent taxes. Income inequality grows more disparate, and this in turn affects our collective gene pool (subsequent lifestyle habits, healthcare resources, educational opportunities, etc.).

And climate calamity is on the horizon.

What is the global response? It’s open season on wolves and bears – necessary creatures for healthy ecosystems. Trophy hunting laws and endangered animal protections are eased. The hyper rich want their wildlife pets to signify status. The Chinese still think rhino horns are medicinal. Poaching is rampant. Nature reserves are under attack. Japan has re-introduced commercial whaling. The Faroe Islands continue to have an annual ‘ceremonial’ whale slaughter. The Arctic melts but short-sighted people just want jobs on oilrigs and fishing tankers. Habitat destruction and deforestation are destroying animals and insects essential to life itself, as well as plants that make medicines that keep humans living longer than ever before.

Industrial and corporate interests dominate governments and cultures. Governments throughout the world continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, which in turn continue to spend millions of dollars each year to lobby against clean energy and to keep consumers addicted to their goods. Pollution is literally choking humanity, making our children sick, and killing our natural protections against this.

Today, despite the rest of Europe – France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands – fighting for 95% reduction of emissions by 2050, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Germany rejected the motion. Reducing pollution and promoting sustainability is not in the interests of the powers that control many countries and their societies. And without governmental laws to MAKE people change their habits, there will be no real change.

And it’s not histrionic to say that if this doesn’t change, it means that we humans will then die after much suffering. We will face water scarcity, food shortage, illness, and war over resources…droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes will render populations homeless…animals, insects, and natural landscapes will be eliminated. But the planet will live on. Yes, we humans will take many of the current animal and natural species with us to our extinction, but eventually there will be new ones, and new forests, and new life. But it won’t include our children or us. Certainly not our children’s children.

What do we do? We continue to consume more than we need and to waste too much. We continue to have a lot of children. To eat a lot of meat that requires a great deal of land to harvest (not to mention what happens to the poor animals). To order things online that are shipped across the world because they’re ‘cheaper’. To buy disposable clothes, toys, plastic, goods of all kinds because we simply want them, they’re cheap, we don’t care what’s happening to the earth or to others, and because the measure of ‘success’ is material. We continue to drive huge, petrol/diesel guzzling cars. And fast, despite signs asking us to slow down ’cause speed effects emissions. We fly more than ever before in human history ‘cause we can. Finally, led by anger and fear stoked in mainstream media, we vote with our manufactured feelings rather than our reason. We vote for our own individual interests. Or we don’t vote at all.

This diatribe has, indeed, worked as a catharsis.

Even as I withdraw more these days and my humor is limited, I know that hope is not lost. The fight is not foregone. Feelings have not completely overridden reason. There are righteous folks fighting for all of us every day. Yes, Putin and his ilk are ruthlessly greedy for domination. Political leaders and would-be political leaders will exploit the anger and ignorance of the masses to their own end, creating backwards, unproductive societies for a generation or two. Most people will avoid their taxes unless they’re punished. Humans won’t want to reduce their creature comforts or to look directly into the face of their destructive habits. And humans without material goods will continue to want them. I don’t have any real power to affect the world on a macro level (if only – boy would I be good at being Queen of the world! Obviously modest).

What I CAN do is to focus my energies personally and politically:

  • Personal life appreciated and a moderate lifestyle maintained – mostly ‘tick,’ though this can always be improved upon.
  • A rewarding profession that helps the world in some way – mostly ‘tick.’
  • Living according to my values – exalting beauty, excellence, intelligence; modeling curiosity, kindness, and tolerance; cherishing socialism, liberalism, and conservation – not quite a tick because I’ve been wallowing in anger and resentment towards humanity in general for awhile – but I am working on it.
  • Voting for candidates who I believe will address at least a portion of the aforementioned injustices – tick.
  • Supporting causes and action that will fight for conservation of the natural world (as well as humanity in general) – tick.

 

 



IX Public Education

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Pacific NW Oak TreeThe state of public school systems throughout the world is generally deplorable. It’s disheartening to consider how this reflects societal values and it’s frightening to consider the implications of this culturally now and in the future.

I spent a year observing classrooms in England, the USA, and Switzerland before I decided to re-train as a teacher. What I saw in public schools (not “public” in the English sense) was alarming: overcrowded classrooms, horribly behaved students, excerpts of books taught rather than entire books because there isn’t enough time or motivation to teach the entire book, and teachers privately asking me how to get ‘gigs’ writing literature guides, as I did at the time, rather than “having” to teach. I remember crying one day as I walked back to a friend’s house in London after having spent a day observing classes at a local academy. I felt, then, as I do now, as though there is little hope for future generations given the incredible challenges for public schools as a result of the lack of social and governmental support for them.

Because the quality of training, support within the schools for teachers, the general behavior of the students in the classrooms, and the curriculum of the international baccalaureate, I did my practical training at a private school in Switzerland while I simultaneously completed my pedagogical certifications at a school in England. When I graduated, I went to work at another private school in Switzerland for the next four years. Having seen the kids through their courses and off to university, I decided to take some time out. I was fed up with the level of privilege I saw, and what I perceive to be the growing inequity in society between kids with money who are able to have superior educational experiences (such as smaller class sizes, teachers paid well and consequently not “burnt out”, and a level of general expectation from both parents and administrators that education is key to success personally and professionally) and kids who do not.

So, I offered myself up as a substitute teacher in a local high school where I live in France. It wasn’t teaching literature, as I was trained to do and which I am passionate about, but, rather, English as a foreign language for an eight-week placement, full-time, 200 kids per week. Even so, I was excited to get in there and to bring IB philosophies to students who had not likely been exposed to it before. How naive I was. The kids did not understand that the games I played with them in the classroom had learning objectives. They were so unused to play and autonomy, that they became over-excited and consequently disruptive, thereby destroying any possibility of an appropriate learning environment. My desire to reason with them, to model respectful and open-minded behavior, was seen as weakness to the majority of them. Most were only responsive to base punitive measures. My carefully constructed lesson plans which integrated visual, oral, written, and kinesthetic activities, were never completed because I spent much of my time each class, each day, managing poorly behaved students. Exercises that I assigned that involved their having to create, imagine, make connections between ideas, were simply too difficult for most of them to do. They preferred rote exercises and prescriptive worksheets. The majority of them do not value education – they want to be ‘celebrity bloggers,’ or ‘international sports stars.’ When I tried to reason with them that IF they became, for example, a professional sports figure – and that’s IF they were good enough and opportunities presented themselves – their careers would be over very early. What, then, would they do to earn a living? I was met with blank looks to this question. When I tried to speak to them about how ‘celebrity bloggers’ should be able to write, to observe and to process cultural trends, they could not see the connection. This doesn’t surprise me, given that many of the parents don’t value education or encourage respect for teachers. For example, one English parent over a casual dinner told a friend of mine shamelessly and stupidly that her son had pretended NOT to speak English “just to mess with me,” his substitute teacher. The child of a friend of mine at the school (who was not in one of my classes) wants to be a filmmaker when he grows up but does not know what a literature class is OR the point of being able to deconstruct stories in order to make good films. His parents, likewise, also do not make the connection. Another parent of a very naughty child in one of my classes simply rolled her eyes at her daughter’s continual misbehavior and said that she never did “go in” for school. (She has already been held back a year and she’s 12). Another parent told me that literature and the arts are “useless,” and her child – who was in one of my classes – refused to do “extension” work in literature (while I taught fundamentals of English to the French kids) ‘cause “there’s no point to it.” Under the influence of parents like this, ignorant of the role of education on the quality of their children’s lives and for the betterment of society collectively, who don’t value respectfulness towards teachers or peers, opting, instead, to reward Darwinian competitive behavior, and who believe sport, and maybe science and math (which of course trump the humanities and the arts), then it’s no wonder that their children have the values they seem to, behave in the classroom as they do, and require constant ‘sticks’ to maintain order, rather than ‘carrots’.

But here is the crux of the trauma for me – my colleagues and the school, itself, should have known better. As it was, most of my colleagues at the school were disdainful of me, opting, often, to put on English language films for their classes to watch (to students who couldn’t spot a verb if it bit them or string together a rudimentary English sentence, much less understand a film in English) and saw me as a disruptive idealist who didn’t know how to teach “properly” and who made them look bad. The administrator’s gave me zero support: I had no computer in the classroom, no way to project images, no sound system, no books, no dictionaries, just, literally, chalk and a chalkboard. Adding to this, I would intermittently be moved to random classrooms when there were visiting seminars or intermittent meetings, thereby disrupting any rhythm I might have had, as well displacing 200 students in the process. Wouldn’t it make more sense to assign the visiting class to another room? Each week, I would write up a brief report of the material I had covered in each class as well as the comportment of the students, and then send it by email to the Vice Principal and the teacher I was ‘covering’ in order to keep them informed. Over eight weeks, I did not once receive even a response of ‘received and read’ to any of my Saturday morning emails, which would have been a simple courtesy. When I completed my contract (a mighty challenge as I frequently wanted to run screaming from the school) out of professional courtesy (and even as I had a date with a very large cocktail), I went to the Vice Principal’s office to shake her hand, let her know I’d tidied the classroom, returned the keys, and was finished. She made me wait outside her office for twenty minutes while she chatted and laughed with a friend, then she limply shook my offered hand and did not say a single word to me – not a ‘thank you’ for teaching kids who had had NO teacher for five months before I came in, or any kind of acknowledgement for the hurdles that had been placed in my path by the school itself, my colleagues, the parents, and the students.

With the parents, administrators, and the teachers themselves – often absent for months at a time with no substitutes in and without any recourse to their positions and accompanying wages – disrespectful, over-extended, exhausted and ‘calling in’ their lessons, or, ironically, too ignorant and lazy to exemplify the ideal of being a lifelong learner, it is no wonder that the majority of children aren’t motivated and enthusiastic about learning. For the last few weeks since I left this school, I have had an existential struggle: do I ever want to teach again? Having been treated with such disrespect every day, all day, for these weeks, how can I regain the confidence that I am, indeed, worthy of respect? And if I can’t regain that confidence, how can I ever command a classroom again and consequently create a positive learning environment? With parents who don’t give ‘a fig’ about education, much less the humanities, who implicitly and explicitly indoctrinate their children with the same notions, what hope is there in communicating its importance to their children? Why bother?

However, the fact is that in several of the classes, there were students that were interested, engaged, and who appreciated my efforts. I know this because they made ‘goodbye’ cards for me, I received many hugs upon departure, a few classes stood up and applauded me and then shook my hand as they filed out of the classroom, and one child cried. Even so, exhausted, saddened, and angry, I have perversely turned this positivity to negativity because I now criticize myself for not protecting THESE students when the foolish students were being disruptive. I should have kicked these kids out of the classroom. I should have been harsher to them in terms of punishment. But I was operating under the arguably misguided ideology that they, too, were worthy of my respect and patience.

Upon reflection, I suppose I’ve learned a few things, both good and bad. I think that I can’t work in a public school system because there are little resources financially, many parents often view school as a ‘necessary evil’ or a type of day care, so there is little support there for one’s efforts. This breaks my heart because I have ALWAYS been a staunch advocate for public schools, believing they’re the lynchpin of a successful society. I also feel that I’m a coward, walking away from a necessary and important fight to educate children for a better world. In a day and age where politicians and the general public are complaining about public school teachers asking for a living wage, and are braying idiocies such as “They already get their whole summers off!” and “They leave work at 15:30 each day!” I should be trying to fight the good fight by attempting to effect change, to reach a few, bright, motivated students, modeling idealism, curiosity, and a life spent learning, both formally and personally, as the true measure of success. But I can’t at this moment. I feel injured and confused. Right now, I don’t even want to speak to people outside of my closest friends and my immediate family, because I’m horrified and saddened by where society’s values seem to be, and, subsequently, the cultural trajectory we’re collectively on. Where fame and money are the ultimate measures of ‘success.’ Where intellectualism is seen as a ‘bad’ thing. Where kindness and sensitivity are signs of “weakness.” Where it’s okay for children to be impolite to their elders because their parents don’t discourage this behavior and are unwittingly creating narcissistic, entitled future adults.

Also unsettling is that my son is destined for the same public school that I worked in and saw close-up. There are no private schools within practical proximity, so going to a private school would require uprooting him from a gorgeous environment and an ideal lifestyle, where he learns so much about the natural world. Moreover, my husband argues that our son is, and always has been, a good student, a respectful child to his teachers and elders, and that the onus for fortifying his general education is, ultimately, on us, his parents. There is reason to what he says, and I think that I’m up to fighting this righteous cause…But what about teaching again? I have always honored the profession and I once loved doing it. I know that I was an effective teacher and that I changed many of my student’s lives because they and their parents have told me so repeatedly. Do the few who I am able to inspire through my love of literature and the disciplines it touches upon (geography, politics, philosophy, culture, film, history, psychology) become the fortifying force that keeps me ‘in the game’? Do I keep teaching despite the troglodytes I encounter, or, perhaps, because of them? Do I return to teaching in private schools – even as my own son is not in one and even as I ideologically don’t condone them – because the comportment of the students is better, the resources and support available to teachers is good, and I’m paid exponentially more than what I get paid in a public school? Or, is this being complicit to a global system that actively does not want the masses to be able to think?

ADDENDUM:

A few English friends have seen this piece as an attack on the French system and the ‘heart’ of France itself, without my considering context. This was absolutely NOT my intention. As a result, I have included my response to one such friend’s feedback:

This is in no way an attack on the French system or government. (I love this country with all of my heart – AM French too – have chosen it over all the other countries I have spent years of time in!).  I had hoped that by mentioning initially that this is about public school systems globally; the observations that I did in Europe, UK and USA before becoming a teacher; that I reference English parents’ behavior/statements regarding their kids here; and my general, philosophical questions about income inequality and private versus public resources and morale, that this essay is about public schools versus private schools (with the theme of income inequality and consequent motivation and opportunity), rather than a specific system. I have used the French system because it’s a recent experience. It’s an example, but by no means the only one I could use and, given the aforementioned, doesn’t really matter which one I would use because their ultimate root – in my opinion – is still the same (income inequality, consequent resources/pay/motivation/morale and practical learning).
 
Also, if I were to have gone into the ‘nitty gritty’ cultural complexity of  “Why?” the French system (or any other public school system) is as it is, it would be another essay (or would be very convoluted. A virtual treatise. Or academic 😦 ). For example, as you note, speaking about the way the French “channel” kids into specific professions, could also apply to a certain extent anywhere, based on more subtle socioeconomic aspects. For example, I went to secondary school in Scotland, and lived in England for 13 years, and I would argue that while it’s not, perhaps, as overt as the French system with their (very early) channeling, the Scottish and the English “channel” their kids, too, by having most leave at 15 – like the French – to learn trades and do unskilled labor (like the French) and the rest go on to college then university. And then, as you note, the uni that they end up going to in the UK effects their work prospects (as well as the accent they end up using). I would also question the motivation behind England’s intention to test under-fives now (me thinks this is very dubious…about financing elements and “channeling” possibilities). In the USA, again, while all kids MUST go to school till 18 (or receive an alternate high school certification), the reasons for inequity in the public school system there also goes back to economic realities. Yes, the American Dream exists for a (very) few, exceptional (and lucky) lower class and middle class (by US standards, not “middle class” by UK definition) folks, but I would argue that, ultimately, it comes down to their family’s social and practical resources and consequently the public school resources available to them. And, again, where Americans go to uni matters a lot and the price is extortionate, even for mediocre uni’s (such a bloody Socialist me).
As for my colleagues at the French school, I also met a few that were lovely and tried to be helpful…but I suppose (and perhaps here’s where working in Hollywood for so long may have ruined me), mentioning them detracted from the general experience and point, which, in my opinion, comes down to income inequality and consequent lack of financial/practical support for public schools, teachers, and the kids who go to them. I will, however, reflect upon your points and, perhaps, adapt this to another essay (or make it one of many in a book? Perhaps write about elements of my time in Switzerland teaching? Perhaps include observations as a student in various places? Hmmm…).
Thank you, v.

May 2, 2019: An article from The Guardian on education and general poverty, which is NOT unique to England or the UK. It’s an epidemic throughout the world.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/30/staff-fantastic-but-can-fight-pupil-poverty-incoming-president-headteachers-union?CMP=twt_a-education_b-gdnedu

 



Factfulness – a review of the book

factfulness book coverStatistician Hans, Ola, and Anna Rosling’s book Factfulness is about the progress that mankind has made over the last century and continues to make. The book proves that the world is not as bad as we sometimes think because we are bombarded with negative news about the state of current affairs. It’s accessible, interesting, and inspiring — filled with anecdotes and stories that support the facts and contribute to the book’s relevance.

I understand why it’s a bestseller. People are hungry for positive, factual information and this book provides it. I appreciate its efforts and the facts it conveys. I frequently consider the short test at the beginning of the book, when I discovered that my construct of world affairs is negatively biased. And, it’s interesting to contemplate why this is — we humans are compelled by dramatic events, and the media capitalizes on this historic compulsion in order to attract and sustain our interest. It’s a relief to discover that globally more people are literate than ever before, and more children are immunized than ever before. It’s interesting to discover that infant mortality is exponentially decreased across the world, and, in general, life spans are longer.

However, I’m not convinced that more humans being born, and more people living longer are “good” things. The Rosling’s focus for the book is human “progress.” The notion of a second and third world, a “them” and “us” perspective of the western world and the developing world that is out-dated. Populations across the globe are increasingly armed with clean drinking water, motorbikes, cars, appliances, mobile phones, televisions, and the ability to take holidays with their families. This book heralds these developments as achievements, and I understand that, indeed, they are in the sense that it’s more just that most people now have the opportunity for a higher standard of living. But, I believe this abides by the capitalistic notion of what “success” is, which is the ever-increasing accumulation of material wealth at the detriment to the natural world. More consuming by the ever-growing human population means there is more destruction of forests, rivers, agricultural lands, land historically needed by animals to live in, and, overall, contributes to increasing pollution in our oceans and in our atmosphere, as well as to the destruction of ecosystems. Little is said over the course of the book about the effect that this human “progress” has on the environment, which I argue is of more pressing importance.



December 10, 2018 II – The Yellow Vest Movement

“I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French.” Charles de Gaulle

Macron as a traitor on the vestI once said to a French doctor during a visit to her office that I’m so grateful for the French healthcare system. Like England, where I had lived for thirteen years, there is universal healthcare. Unlike England, one must be a resident of France, pay your taxes, and while the state covers 70% of your healthcare (100% for your children), you must have private insurance to cover the rest. A visit to a general practitioner will cost you about 23 euros and to a specialist, about 60 euros (of which 70% will be returned to you). Similar to the USA, and unlike England, in France you can choose your general practitioner and they will refer you to specialists of your choice. Moreover, the French have effectively integrated methods based on medicine, or ‘hard’ science, with non- traditional methods, such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, and nutritionists.

Back to the visit with the doctor and my compliment to the French healthcare system. She, in turn, was grateful for my appreciation. She told me that on an average visit, about a half-hour in duration per patient, she earns 10euros, with the rest being reimbursed or going to fund the collective ‘mechanisms.’ She didn’t have a problem with this, telling me she wanted to be a doctor to help people and she is. However, she said it’s frustrating because the French patients are never satisfied with the system. For example, when the Carte Vitale* machine doesn’t work and she must consequently give the patient a brown form+, they complain about having to cover the expense of an envelope and stamp in order to send the form and get reimbursed for their visit.

My point? While the French argue that they are collectively oriented, in general, they are not. They do not seem to care that their participation is necessary to maintain the heavily subsidized welfare state – public schools, universities, extracurricular activities++, school lunches+++, CAF** and housing subsidies, healthcare, retirement, etc. To sustain these services means paying a modest fee for them, as well as paying taxes, in order to support the whole system and the vulnerable within society. Many here begrudge paying anything even as they feel it’s their right to receive these benefits, which they complain are too little, and many people actively work to undermine the system. While a large part of me appreciates the French cynicism, and I agree that the super rich seem to avoid all fees, the average French knee-jerk cynicism also frustrates me. Having originated from a country where the cost of an emergency medical service without good health coverage could mean that you and your family lose your home due to the expense of it, or you have to take two mortgages out to fund your child’s university education, I’m grateful for the services in France. So, I consequently pay my taxes and all fees without question, even as I’m lucky that I do not use most of the services on offer. This does not mean that I don’t see that it is ‘apples and oranges’ to compare France – a noble, socialist state – with USA – a staunchly Capitalist one – and the subsequent services available in each.

However, France, like the rest of the world, is polluted due to fossil fuel consumption, deforestation, consumerism and waste. Where I live, many children have chronic coughs that the doctor’s dismiss with a sad shrug, saying “C’est comme ca…” On higher particle days, the kids aren’t allowed outside to play. Originating from France is the Paris Agreement, a global agreement to collectively reduce carbon emissions. In response to this, Macron’s administration put a nominal tax (literally a few cents) on diesel and petrol in an effort to curb its use. Many in France are very poor, earning an average income as teachers and police officers, of 1200euros per month. In rural areas of France, driving is necessary and these extra pennies mean a lot. However, in France, there is a 10,000-euro rebate when you convert your existing diesel car to an electric or hybrid car. Most don’t know this, and when they do, they argue that the cost of electric and hybrid cars is still too expensive. That’s true when you’re earning 1200 euros a month and have a family, even with CAF and governmental subsidies, but it’s a substantial offer. Arguably, all new technology is the bastion of the middle class and the rich, but as with all new technology, it will become more affordable, and we must begin the process somewhere of conserving our environment and our collective existence. Perhaps Macron’s administration should have begun with taxing the manufactures of the vehicles, yes, but there is an argument that by doing this, these manufacturers would withdraw a lot of manufacturing from France, which would also create a problem with a loss of jobs and income. Perhaps France should have built efficient public transit that uses clean energy that the people could use in order to discourage the use of their cars? But where would the money come from? Perhaps the taxes should have been placed on the fossil fuel companies, and the EU should enforce this collectively?

But I encourage people to ask themselves several questions: Is it not suspicious that many involved in the Yellow Vest movement are from middle class families? Is it not suspicious that at the same time that the Yellow Vest’s are claiming to be for the everyman, they are destroying the property of those working and having businesses? Is it not suspicious that what began as a protest about the increase on the cost of diesel and petrol, is now about wages, taxes, housing, retirement benefits, cost of living, etc.? Is it not suspicious that the average person involved with this movement is calling for the ‘head’ of Macron, a “banker,” rather than also seeing him as the Classicist, a man who spent more time studying the Humanities – literature, history, economics, philosophy? Also, a man they voted for. Is it not suspicious that the Yellow Vests have thus far refused to speak to the prime minister unless the meeting is filmed? Is it not suspicious that by reducing the speed limit on the highways, thereby limiting nasty emissions that prompt climate change, which the government has done, is not adhered to by the people themselves? Isn’t the nasty transport of goods by trucks perpetuated by our ordering goods online in order to avoid paying more for these same products?

I understand that many in France voted for Macron as opposition to the Front National, and that many view him as unforgivably arrogant (an irony, given that the French are stereotyped as arrogant). I also understand that people are frustrated and poor. That there is abhorrent global economic inequality. I agree with the suspicion that corporations and a superrich class of people are dictating global politics and laws, perpetually squeezing public services and the working class for their own increased profits and the perpetuation of their lavish lifestyles. I respect to some extent that my compatriots are noting this and protesting. However, the Yellow Vests are a fragmented and violent movement that is being manipulated into a frenzy by the same powers the participants are protesting. Macron is not the enemy. Nor are foreigners or refugees. Big business and tax evaders are the enemies. Macron is pro European, actively building bridges between member states, which is important because a united Europe is much stronger than a divided one, despite the rhetoric that cynically opposes the union and capitalizes on people’s fears and anger by creating scapegoats. While he may have been a banker briefly, he’s a truly cultured man and that means he understands context and the long game. He’s a man who has benefitted France as its president by increasing the profile of France through his efforts and his charisma, making it once again a power to be reckoned with (which happily coincided with the World Cup 2018 win). He has openly criticized Trump, rising xenophobia, and nationalism disguised as patriotism. He is actively arguing the need for climate action, even as arguably it is not nearly enough. These are great things socially and practically. He has served as the opposition to rising ignorance. His presidency has increased tourism to France and consequently bolstered the economy, and it has brought France back to the forefront of negotiating tables throughout the world. And now he is being undermined in these efforts, which will not benefit France or the European Union collectively. Is it not suspicious that this undermining occurs after the USA has officially dismissed climate change and Brexit has destablized the EU?

Yes, there is much more to be done about economic inequality, strife, and the environment. There is credence to the argument that letting even ‘little things’ go is a ‘slippery slope’ to creating an individualistic, capitalistic society like the USA. Yes, Macron is from the privileged class, and there is rising and unforgiveable economic inequality, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to stop condoning those culprits activities? Focus one’s efforts? Demand that companies such as Amazon and Google, for example, pay their fair share of taxes to operate in Europe. Demand that the taxes on the super rich in France (and the rest of the EU) are enforced. Demand that campaign financing is absolutely transparent so that there is not a conflict of interests. Tax the hell out of fossil fuel companies throughout Europe. Pay your own taxes so that your kids can continue to have benefits when they need them. Stop buying products online and support local businesses rather than these same ‘dark forces.’ Stop buying services or products from international companies that are contributing to economic inequality by creating monopolies and not paying their fair share in the societies they operate in. Stop driving so much. Stop eating so much beef, and buy it locally when you do eat it in order to undermine the big business agriculture has become. Use the subsidies and loans available to convert your homes to clean energy and your cars to clean energy.

I hope that Macron is able to face down the agitation and keep a steady hand on the tiller of the country. We shall see what he says tonight when he makes an address after the fourth weekend of riots in Paris. As it is, the Rassemblement National (Marine Le Pen’s party, the National Rally, as they have rebranded themselves since their defeat to Macron) is on par with Macron’s En Marche to represent France in the European elections in May. May the gods help us all and may reason and concerted effort prevail.

*A Carte Vitale is given to residents who pay their taxes or need special assistance. It is swiped through a machine at a doctor’s office so that reimbursement to the patient is immediate.

+A brown form is a sheet that is dated and signed by the doctor that the patient must fill in with their name and health number, and then send to the state’s Assurance Maladie (Health Insurance) for reimbursement.

**CAF supports childcare on a sliding scale, from 20c an hour up to 4euros an hour for baby and children’s day care and after school support. They also provide subsidies for families to take holidays around France each year. They also enable a mother to take three years off when their child is born, by giving her a monthly allowance. They also give a family a one-time fee upon the birth of a child that ranges in size, to a monthly stipend for each child to a certain age. The assistance the CAF provides is seemingly endless.

++Extracurricular activities in my village include taking the kids regularly to do a week of alpine skiing with instructors, as well as Nordic skiing, swimming lessons, museum visits, all subsidized by the commune.

+++School lunches for the elementary school children are three course events – salad, meal, cheese or desert – that are usually locally sourced and bio. And, thanks to Nicholas Hulot’s response to a petition, they are now serving a vegetarian meal once a week in order to ‘put the subject on the table’ about the correlation between meat eating and climate change.

 



The Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name
July 6, 2018, 9:59 am
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20180702-the-epic-story-of-the-map-that-gave-america-its-name

Yet another way France and America are historically connected…

Fr townIronic, however, how few of the French I meet everyday understand this affinity. The French (in general) view the English and the Americans as “the same thing” (the next one who says this to me directly will get the question as to whether they regard themselves to be the ‘same’ as the Swiss-French, given that they speak the same language, which they will most emphatically deny).

What’s worse, is that an anti “Anglais” is spreading throughout France. For example, the little French boy that is my son’s dear friend, told him the other day at school that he “hates the English.” My son’s response was to say that he isn’t English, he’s American. The boy responded, “They’re the same thing.” This did not stop the boy later that day and the next morning from coming to ours hoping to play with my son. I understand it’s the influence of the grandma – she’s a provincial person – but one sees how quickly the kids pick up these ignorant statements, even as they don’t understand what it means (much like those who propagate these types of ideas). I joined a field trip with my son’s class the other week, too, and a teacher had a ‘go’ at me for speaking English with a group of little boys (who are Swedish, Danish, English, and American) when it is a French speaking school. I gently admonished her not to be so parochial, that the children speak two or three languages and easily switch between them depending on their audience – “what a gift! So international!” Later, I heard her gossiping about me to a few of the other teachers, which I chose to ignore.

It also irritates me that the local, everyday French (in general) loathe Macron. Don’t get me started on their flawed “logic” when they  ‘explain’ why he’s so “terrible.” They also refuse to answer my question as to whether they prefer the Front National – and I do ask. Their lack of a response is an implicit response. These people remind me of Trumpsters in the USA with their bandwagon statements, hypocrisy, misinformation, and incomplete information/ideology.

It makes me so sad how the general populace of any place is ignorant of context, history, theory…so limited in critical and logical thinking and reasoning…and so naturally disposed to tribalism (lending itself to xenophobia) and aggression…