Victoria Jelinek


XIX: Why the British Don’t Like Trump

Ignorance is loudSomeone asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”



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).

 

 



XVI: Villains & Monsters
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana
An article to me from an English friend with the simple:
I believe England is lost…
My response:
I’m sorry my dear. It’s sad and it’s terrible. And, it’s exactly what’s happening in USA with Trump & ilk. And, it’s what’s happening throughout Europe with these cynical, right-wing, would-be power players taking advantage of ignorant, angry, fearful populations to espouse nationalistic, anti-immigration, Euro skeptic rhetoric and falsehoods & whip them into a rabid frenzy.
I fear Europe is the next to fall, and then we are all lost. May the gods help our (collective) children, because it’s going to be very ‘dark’ (backward, violent, repressive) for a generation or two if everything the EU symbolizes (peace, collectivism, human rights, environmental and consumer protections, freedom of movement, etc.) is compromised in these upcoming elections…
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/13/nigel-farage-brexit-party-event-terrifying-glimpse-future
HITLER/JAEGER FILE


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

 



December 18, 2018 VI – Brexit talk

“No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.” Vladimir Lenin

Brexit SimplifiedI went to see Three Men in a Pub the other day in town. They’re three English men who create podcasts about current events that are aptly recorded in pubs. The topic for the evening was Brexit. It was held in an imitation of an Irish pub. Despite having lived in France for ten years, and knowing many of the expatriate community even by sight, as I looked around at the room, I didn’t recognize a single Brit present. There seemed to be none of the families who have homes here and children in local schools. Instead, the room was full of men who were drinking a lot of beer. There were four women, including me and the barmaid (who exclaimed loudly to a customer, “I don’t know what this is about! I don’t know a single thing about politics!” I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t be proudly broadcasting that these days love – it makes you look foolish. But, then again, perhaps, that was the point?”). Unfortunately, there was only one of the three men from the podcast, but he bravely outlined the argument against Brexit and the activism that he and his colleagues have been doing in response to the 2016 referendum. I’ll recount what he said, as well as recreate the environment in the pub as well as I can from the notes I scrawled over the course of the evening:

There is nothing grown or manufactured in the UK that can’t be made elsewhere more cheaply. Most folks don’t realize that Spain takes the UK’s garbage. The Welsh farmers who almost unanimously voted for Brexit don’t realize that Europe can find sheep elsewhere. Moreover, the tariff for Welsh lamb is currently 0%, but with a no trade deal, it will rise to 40%. Great Britain can’t feed itself. It’s possible that the UK could create 75% of the food needed to feed its population, but not the rest. 60% of Great Britain’s overall trade is with the EU. Currently, a single ship has 60k containers on it, and with the UK exiting the EU, each ship and each container on it will need to be checked by customs authorities in Europe. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough space to safely store the goods – particularly perishable goods, while the respective authorities check the shipments, nor are there finances to hire the man power to do this. As a matter of fact, Amazon (as in Jeff Bezos’s company) bought much of the warehouse space left in the UK over the last few years, and with the inability to export to Europe or elsewhere soon, the UK will need the space to store goods and Amazon will be right there to charge a fee for the service.

1.7 TRILLION dollars in trade agreements with 46 countries will be eliminated once the UK is out of the EU. To get back into these agreements, 45 of the countries have to say “Yes” to the UK, and Moldova has already said “No” to the UK joining. By leaving the EU, the UK is pulling out of 759 trade agreements – and by pulling out of these 759 trade agreements, those holding the agreements will sue the UK because they’ll want their money back for investment not realized. Recreating 759 trade agreements will be a “complete palaver.” The biggest hope is a trade deal with India or Paraguay in order to avert a 4% knock on GDP per year, which is “hilarious, given their respective situations.” The government and Leavers claim a trade deal with the USA is “in the works.” At this, the host rolled his eyes and then asked the crowd the likelihood that anything salient would come from that – at least anytime soon – given the man who’s currently in the White House. Leaver hopes that the commonwealth will agree to trade deals with the UK have “little promise” because the commonwealth is poor. In fact, putting all their wealth together, there are less financial possibilities in trade with all of them than through trade with a single country such as the UK, France, or Germany.

“Not everyone who voted to exit is racist, but everyone who’s slightly racist voted to Leave.” Moreover, a referendum is “advisory”– it shouldn’t be taken as legally binding. If a “regulatory election” had happened instead of a referendum, there would have been another election because of all the “irregularities.” For example, what is the source of all the money the Leave campaign had? What part did Cambridge Analytica play in propaganda efforts? There have been 45 years of peace throughout Europe and now this. Putin and Trump want to destabilize Europe and Europeans are falling for it. Already Poland, Hungary, Italy and France (of recent) have strong right-wing movements that want to see their respective countries pull out of the EU. Even so, the Remain campaign garnered 48% of the vote and they were “asleep,” with “shitty leaders,” providing “shitty information,” and there wasn’t a single leader that was popular, nor were any of the Remain activities organized. However, if a referendum was held now, “It’d be another story altogether,” because Brits are actually aware of what the consequences of leaving the EU are. According to the deal that Teresa May has recently negotiated, Brits may be able to stay and live in one country, even retire in that country, but they won’t be able to move to another country or do trade in another country without that country’s permission. The politicians are placating people rather than educating them about the facts.

Adding to the melee, Brits aren’t willing to talk about religion or politics, so no one is talking with each other. A no-deal with the EU means no trade deals with anyone (a few angry, drunk men began muttering that this information is “absolutely fucking false”). The World Trade Organization provides “basic deals” only. In Geneva recently, regardless of whether there is a deal or not, he discovered there would be 12-18 months for the agricultural production in the UK to survive. (At this point, men starting interrupting and arguing with him, and with each other, whilst a fat, greying long-haired English man squished my leg against the bar where I was sitting with a bar stool that he was leaning on for support and didn’t hear my squeal due to his inebriation and his focus on the increased tension in the room. I pushed him physically aside and he didn’t notice).

Before the ‘one man in the pub’ could continue, several men started openly and aggressively arguing with him and with each other. Their arguments were along the lines that farmers in the UK would “Rise to the occasion” and create more agriculture “If needed…” they’d “certainly” rise to the challenge of needing to produce food and trade for the British people (ever wonder why it is that the English seem to be the only ones that say they’re “British?” The Irish and Scots don’t generally use this, opting, instead, to say they’re “Irish” or “Scottish” respectively). There were statements called out that the UK “loses” 140 million a year in subsidies to the EU, to which the speaker replied, “Excuse me sir, but the UK gains much more in subsidies annually…” but he was cut off by more grumbling proclamations straight out of the Leave campaign’s playbook. The “Q & A” that the speaker then proposed essentially involved questions and statements surrounding economic tourism: one man, a builder, worked in Spain, then Italy for another season, and now in France, what would happen to him? Another works as a van transfer driver and is “hoping for the best” regarding Brexit, that he can come out to France “every once in awhile to ski and work…maybe apply for a temporary visa…” (I smothered a chuckle at this, knowing how difficult it is to receive visas to work and live in a given country). The ‘conversation’ then became more unruly, fuelled by beer and testosterone. There were no questions and answers, just men vehemently asserting that the “cost” of being in Europe was much greater than leaving, that the “independence” that the UK will now have outside of the EU is much greater than the dependency they had while in it. (It was grimly amusing to me, too, because before each of these statements, the respective men would begin by saying, “I didn’t vote to leave…BUT…” and then accompanying the aforementioned statements, they argued about the need for an “independent parliament,” and “no more back breaking subsidies paid to Europe,” and less “problems” with the “threat of terrorism” by refugees). An Irish guy reiterated what the speaker had said about the trade options facing the UK after Brexit, then pontificated for a bit about its being “normal” in Ireland for this sort of “political nonsense.” The same men who had been openly snorting and sneering at the  information about what the trade deals meant for the UK, were acting as orators at this point and answering questions from the room put to the speaker, who was too polite to cut them off. A few men, always beginning their statements with “And I’m not for Brexit…” went on about how the referendum was “democratic” and that it was “a democratic process” that “needs to be respected.”

At this point, the speaker attempted to focus their contentiousness and get them back ‘on side,’ by saying something about being “banned” from the USA in an attempt to get the audience on board with a common enemy. Meanwhile, the folks around me began giving each other advice about how to stay in a European country, “Get a residence card right now…it’s good for ten years…” One member of the group said that if you apply for a French passport, you’re “automatically” allowed to stay while it’s being processed, to which another replied, “That would be good, ‘cause I don’t know which country I want to go to next.” Another group around me bragged that they still pay their taxes in the UK despite having lived in France for a few years, and that they’ll “just” go back to UK if they need anything just like they always do, and if necessary, they’ll work in the black. (I again wondered where all the Brit folks were who have homes, who have children here who go to school, who pay their taxes in France — sic, as I know that many Brits do not pay French income taxes. They will be effected more than these single men renting apartments if they have to leave, sell their homes, uproot their families, move their pets…).

The speaker again gained control of the room. He said that the UK is an aging population and without immigrants, there aren’t the youth necessary to work and pay taxes. That there are 180k vacancies in the NHS right now, so the NHS will have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries, where corruption and credibility is an issue, “especially with medicine,” to provide doctors and nurses. The same applies with teachers – there are a “raff of vacancies” throughout the UK for teachers, and, again, “We’ll have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries to fill these posts.” (I then couldn’t hear the speaker because the people next to me were discussing what they had for dinner. A woman in their party complained that if she had known she’d be “forced” to listen to “political talk” then she would have stayed at home and watched telly. On the other side of me, there was a ‘discussion’ between men about their various misinformed ideas about what it “really” means for trade, as opposed to what the speaker had said, and how to “dodge” being expelled from the country). A man received ‘the floor’ from the speaker and said that he’s not a Brexiter, “of course,” but he has issues with an EU army, EU regulations, and the lack of a representative in the EU parliament, but he enjoys being in the EU “because we can be.” (He also enjoyed speaking into the microphone a lot during the Q & A. I didn’t hear what the speaker’s response to these erroneous assertions were because the barmaid was laughing very loudly at something a man had said to her). Another guy took the microphone and was talking about patriotism, a “duty” to country and “identity,” to which the speaker responded blandly that we all feel an affinity to our “home country.”

The speaker then took the opportunity to say that the buildings, spaces, parks, etc. in his hometown of Liverpool have all been regenerated and renovated thanks to EU money. To this a man called out that the “Beatles yellow submarine money” (Festival Park) was sponsored by the UK parliament, and not the EU “by the way!” The speaker then talked about a 1947 agreement made by the UK to take refugees, and the fact that the UK did help start war in Syria in the first place. Now, there are no refugees ‘streaming’ into the UK, as the propaganda will have you believe, but there is rising racism. He told us about how he had travelled to Syria and spoke with refugees who are teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and who just want to stay home but it’s too dangerous. (Behind me the men talked about how all the ‘Paki’s’ can just go home. How this guy-the speaker- is a “tosser” because he thinks he knows everything but he hasn’t even mentioned the war in Yemen).

I decided it was time to leave. I supported something different happening in my village. I tried a local beer that was okay and I don’t generally like beer. I have material for a ‘background flavour’ piece on a hot topic that I’ll write up for my blog. And, I see first-hand the men and women who supported Brexit, because these are a micro example of them – a lot of very strong opinions, doggedly held onto in order to support overall constructs of reality, and despite their constructions lack of factual fortification. They’re not concerned with an overall picture of global events, or political and social foresight into how it effects societies as a whole – they’re concerned with how it affects them individually. A problem that we increasingly observe throughout the world, as we see the rise in nationalism and right wing fervour in many countries, and despite these same elements claiming to be collectively oriented. I find myself feeling that it’s an affront that these ‘secret’ Brexiters are in France profiting from the country. I comfort myself that hopefully France is gaining some income from them, even if it’s just their bar bills at pseudo English pubs.

Having spent 13 years in England, and another two years in Scotland, I familiarized myself with pub culture in Great Britain (and then some). My opinion is that one only begins to know a Brit after spending a half-decade or more in their company. Hence the popularity of their pubs and the amount of alcohol they generally consume. I believe it’s in a pub that the very stratified society fractures, the politeness, the ‘chin up’ stoicism dissolves and, in my opinion, it’s where the greatest sense of humour in the world is on display. While this evening at the “Brexit debate,” provided me with further evidence of my assumption that it’s in a pub that the English relax and become more equitable, it did not support my belief that it’s also where their humour shines. Perhaps it’s as Ricky Gervais notes in his stand up show Humanity: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean that you’re right about the political opinions you hold; offense is about feelings and feelings are personal. Politics isn’t.” Or it shouldn’t be. But what Brexit has revealed is that there are very deeply entrenched feelings in the UK about what it means to be British and also historic feelings of suspicion towards Europe that are embedded into that identity.

***Just saw this article in The Guardian newspaper today about Brexit & ski resort jobs (though I DO believe there’s a two year transition period after March 2019, so nothing really changes till 2021?):

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/18/brexit-thousands-ski-resort-jobs-at-risk?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other



December 10, 2018 – Intention
December 10, 2018, 12:33 pm
Filed under: In Vino Veritas, In Aqua Sanitas | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Since the days of Greece and Rome, when the word ‘citizen’ was a title of honor, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities.” Robert Kennedy

Cascadia flagIt’s very hard to see the willful ignorance globally. I’m so impatient and sad that most people aren’t ‘connecting the dots’ between what is happening in one part of the world (politically, socially, philosophically, and practically) with another. It seems many aren’t noting the similarities between politicians, actions, ideas, and media coverage across the planet. Despite differences in nationality, culture, creed, religion, it’s all shared global phenomena. For example, it amazes me that the British news media continues to give airtime and credibility to hardline Brexiters like Boris Johnson who has been utterly discredited, allowing the ignorant millions who voted Leave to persist in their delusions, thereby preventing British society as a whole to face the facts and move forward. Likewise, the American media continues to lead the news cycles with coverage of Trump’s erratic behavior and lines straight from his mouth, consequently reiterating and perpetuating the nonsense that comes out of it and is so destructive for the USA and the world as a whole. Similarly, the French media, historically skeptical of the president’s office, are covering the Yellow Vests in France ad infinitum in a sensationalistic manner. Subsequently, those backing them, including Trump, don’t understand the context of the situation even as they’re jumping on the bandwagon of the movement. It’s all so confusing, divisive and horrible that it does my head in.

If I were queen of the world, I’d eliminate tax free havens, I’d tax the hell out of fossil fuel enterprises to fund clean energy incentives, I’d enforce tax laws and funnel the money to bolstering public education and social services, and I’d eliminate ‘dark money’ from all campaigns globally so that corporations and the super rich could not effect public policy.

However, as this won’t happen, and in an effort not to become more depressed by the madness that I’m seeing everywhere, on social media, in the newspapers, in television reports, and then perpetuated by those around me, I’m going to chronicle what I see. Short observations on a variety of subjects that, I hope, reflect aspects of this ‘brave new world’. I’ve decided to title all the entries “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas,” or “In wine there is truth, in water there is health,” not out of pretention, but because it suits. I drink wine most days, and the Latin expression seems to be a good ‘umbrella’ philosophy for how I envision the series. The idea, from the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, is that if something was decided during a council while drunk, then it must be reconsidered when sober. These cultures believed that no one could lie effectively when drunk. I like the complete phrase that incorporates the later portion, “in water there is health,” because, ultimately, I think that politics today, and, arguably, since the beginning of time, is full of hubris and the ‘only’ thing that ultimately matters is the natural world, hence the allusion to clean water.

Who am I? A native Oregonian. An American citizen and also a French citizen, who has lived in Europe for the last twenty years by choice and through great effort. A woman who has traveled the globe, living, working, studying in countries such as Scotland, Zimbabwe, Germany, Mexico, England, and France, as well as the American states California, Washington and New York (and obviously Oregon). I’ve been married three times, to an Iranian man, a German man, and now a Danish man, respectively. This doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ person, just a bad Catholic. I’m certainly not great at conventional relationships, though I’m making an effort now. I’m not a dilettante, though I’m well read. I worked my way through all of my university degrees and travels, as a waitress during my undergraduate degree, and then in the film industry and as a content writer during my graduate degrees. Now, I’m a schoolteacher and mother to a seven-year-old son. I live in France with him, my Danish husband, my border collie, and a ginger cat that adopted us several years back. I’m a flawed individual, of course, with constructs that sometimes defy logic, and, my observations, here, will likely be focused on the Northern hemisphere, which isn’t complete. But I’m also bright, sensitive, passionate, and, obviously, modest.

Here goes…