Tuesday, 30 November 2010

All The Little People Need Education

It seems weird in a way that it was 10 years ago that I sat my first GCSE. I can't say I really revised for it (or the rest of the ones I took). I'm allegedly of above average intelligence (although sometimes my personal life REALLY makes me doubt that) but even I can see that GCSE papers now are easier than the ones I sat 10 years ago. I remember being told how important the results were, the fact that we would need them to get a job or to get into further education. My particular 6th Form apparently required B grades in a subject to take someone on for their A Level course (only it was then changed to AS and A2, but the same rule applied) with a required 5 Bs total to gain entry. I was therefore somewhat shocked when they seemed to renege on that and allow people with D grades into the 6th Form. No, I kid you not. I'm assuming they were admitted on a case by case basis so if someone got something like A, A, A*, B, D they'd accept... Being 10 years ago my memory is somewhat hazy now but I do recall vaguely that these people with D grades were generally not that bright and had been in the intermediate classes rather than the higher ones.

I was told by my Maths teacher that I wouldn't get above a C. I only submitted one piece of Maths coursework instead of the normal of 2 (because I couldn't be arsed), sat the higher tier paper and walked away with an A. In a subject that I am completely crap at. English was a case of "read stuff and then write something semi-intelligent about it". As I've always read and written a lot, this caused me no great hardship. I found languages easy to pick up and so again, this caused me no great issues. I do remember there being an issue with Physics as our teacher was diagnosed with cancer about half way through Year 10 and we were left in the hands on stand in teachers, very few of whom taught science subjects. We were generally left with textbooks and told to do exercises. I heard that everyone in my class got a D on their Physics coursework. We still had a substantial amount of A*s and As in Science (back then we did the Suffolk Science Double Award instead of individual grades in Chem, Bio and Phys). I honestly can't say that any of the GCSE courses were that taxing. A lot of people did revise tons and got worse results than myself and I know I am somewhat of an anomaly. One of those people who you really hate because they slack off, put in no work and get good grades (don't worry, AS Levels got their revenge on me), but the point is that I also recall a lot of the people I sat exams with got out of the exam room and said "Bloody hell, that was much easier than I expected".

I just went and had a gander at the AQA site (the exam board for my English GCSEs) and looked at the new style anthology with it's millions of extra new features that my generation never had. Back in my day we had a softback A4 book of about 60 pages or so which would invariably end up dog-eared, torn and mostly illegible by the end of the 2 year course. We were also allowed to take this into the exam, however our notes were meant to be very limited. I don't know how exactly this was regulated, I'm assuming had anyone had anything out of place they would have had it replaced with a spare from the front. In any case, it was quite simply a book or poems which we would occasionally sit in class and discuss, much to the boredom of most people. It certainly made me want to stab Carol Ann Duffy. Having said that, I was the sort of person who wanted to respond to questions like "Why do you think the author is trying to get us to sympathise with the subject of this poem?" with "The bloody author is still alive so I suggest you ask them yourself". Don't get me wrong, I LIKE poetry, I think poetry is very pretty. I can understand interpreting works by those who are no longer alive if they have never stated what their work is about. I see very little point in asking questions about the work of an author who is still alive. Technically a piece of text (or art in other mediums) can be interpreted in more than one way. If no definition has already been given, then sure, allow people to freely interpret. If there is already a "correct" answer and you're trying to see how many people can spot it, I think that's actually quite unfair. This coming from the person who got an A* in English Lit (and no, I didn't actually tell the examiners to bugger off and stop asking me pointless questions on my paper).

You see, the joyous thing about GCSEs is that the most obvious answer is generally the correct one. THAT is how you get away with questions about seemingly obscure interpretations. The materials that they get you to study have glaringly obvious themes and topics. This is probably part of the reason I got told that one of my essays was degree standard when all I did was pick a very vague and obscure theme from both Wuthering Heights and 1984. I don't believe my work was that advanced, more that the teachers were shocked that someone could think that much outside the box rather than going for something blindingly obvious. A lot of people (as my class was mostly female) picked two love stories. The idea behind the "wider reading" component of our course was to get us to read one pre and one post 20th century book, then write a comparative essay on some aspect of the books. I didn't really want to do something boring that would end in the examiner having a "WELL DUH!" moment. Having just had a little look on teh interwebz, I've found the following (which I have added a couple of annotations to):

What texts go well together?
It is possible to find some works of literature with very close connections, but it is usually quite sensible to find works that have a common theme or general subject. One very good idea is to write about texts in which relationships are important (/headdesk). Not surprisingly, this will allow you to write about very many novels, plays and poems, as this subject is a favourite of many writers.

What texts should you study?
The possible combinations are infinite. What you study will reflect how far your teacher wants to prepare and direct you, and how far you are able to work independently. Some teachers want to make sure that you approach the subject in a very structured way, while others are more ready to let different pupils take different approaches. Examiners are comfortable with both - they are very ready to give more credit for work which is obviously done entirely by the student. (Well that explains a lot...) They are less comfortable with schools where all the students write the same things in the same order. And you will find a range of tutorials on this site for texts which you may wish to combine.

Now, I wasn't actually presented with anything like that. I remember we had a brief which said something along the lines of what we were and weren't allowed to use. It didn't really give any guidelines. I recall quite a lot of people asking for help in classes with this essay. I er... didn't. As I recall when I studied my GCSES, my high school had decided to close the library in preparation for development of the new ICT block. The central library in the city was still a smoking shell after a fire. Internet back in 2001 was... well, not amazing and not everyone had it. I knew that my personal use of it back then certainly wasn't studying and even so, there were very few resources online. All I remember doing was thinking about books I had read and what was the most obscure comparison that I could do. After about 5 minutes of thought, I came up with the 1984/Wuthering Heights combo and went with it. After sitting down and reading the bloody books again. If you were lucky, you could POSSIBLY find a copy of York's notes for a book to help you work out what was going on. I didn't have the time/money to try and track them down personally but I know a few people who did.

Back to my initial point: kids these days (and of the past 5 years or so) have had a lot more media to hand when it comes to revision. The epitome of help for us was finding a revision guide book. Nothing more is being asked of them than what was being asked of the people who sat exams alongside me 10 years ago. The National Curriculum has been restructured for many subjects to make them easier (not being rude but probably because of the amount of non-native children who have come into England and can't perform as well). Therefore I suffered somewhat of a minor heart attack when a friend of mine posted a link to an article with the following quote:

Only some 54 per cent of the country’s children manage to get 5 A*-C grades, including just English and maths.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

As you may know, I did a course this summer with a lot of people who were a good 5 years or so younger than myself. Not to be rude but the majority of the people were below my standard. Sounds petty but looking over their work I'd see a lot of errors that I wanted to correct with red marker pen. Everyone managed to pass a Level 2 qualification in Literacy (and the Numeracy paper too). This qualification is the equivalent of a GCSE C grade.

In my personal opinion, the problem isn't with the schools so much. It's with the parents for not taking more of an interest in what their kids are doing. I remember reading Wicked! by Jilly Cooper and thinking how lovely it was that one of the parents sat a GCSE along with his son. I tried making the point to someone that as they suffer from learning difficulties and have free time on their hands, their pregnancy would be an ideal time to do some literacy courses so they can help their kid before it starts school so they get a decent start. This got met with general apathy.

But you see, because parents are being less involved/interested, the kids themselves lose hope. They see mummy sitting on the dole doing nothing and what have they got to aspire to? Sure, there are exceptions to this who see that picture and think "I want better from life", who will be self-motivated and achieve. There are those who have the self-motivation and won't achieve due to various reasons (lack of ability, lack of support, being held back by said parents). You get so many people who are sat on their arses on benefits with no motivation to achieve, thinking that life for them is going to be being discovered on the X Factor or getting famous through Big Brother, therefore they don't actually have to work for any qualifications. They don't realise that for most people, that will never happen. They don't care because they know that they will be able to live off the state. In fact, many would prefer that because it guarantees them housing. Sure, this country is quite messed up at the moment. But I'd rather be claiming JSA with some decent qualifications than none at all. Long term futures seem to be things that a lot of people don't think about.

Of course, I can't say for definite what standards of teaching are like these days but after looking at the league tables I can see this much: my old high school had a 39% A*-C pass rate in 2001. In 2009 it was up to 64%.

Ugh, enough education related ranting for one evening. It disgusts me too much to think about it now.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Everywhere Death Row, Everyone's a Victim

As most of you are PROBABLY aware, 11th November is Remembrance Day. The idea being where we spend some time thinking about those who lost their lives in combat over the years (most notably, but not excluded to, those involved in World War I). Contrary to popular belief, WWI wasn't started by the Nazis, Americans, Muslims or Saddam Hussein. The trigger was actually the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Yugoslav activist. Everything spiraled from there with there already being a lot of political unrest in Eastern Europe. But I'm not really here to give a history lesson.

What has shocked me today has been people's attitudes. Now, whether you are a pacifist or back up the military on every decision, you can't fail to agree that the world would be a very different place today without certain conflicts having happened. Sadly, humans are a very primeval race at heart and violence will always be present. It's biologically ingrained. Sadly the armed forces can't be tamed by presenting them all with a copy of Black Ops along with a lifetime supply of booze and women. I may not agree with certain conflicts that have happened, but I do appreciate the sacrifices that were made for my freedom. Note: this does NOT mean I advocate the war in Iraq which I think is way past it's end date and we should be allowing the country it's own freedom.

It came to my attention that earlier today there was a certain conflict in London involving some Muslin extremists (note EXTREMISTS!) who decided to burn a poppy while spewing some hate towards the British armed forces.

Taken from Express.co.uk:
ISLAMIC protesters sparked fury when they burned a giant poppy, chanting “British soldiers burn in hell” during yesterday’s two-minute silence to honour war dead.
The hate-filled extremists screamed “British troops are murderers” and “There will be no security for Britain while troops remain in Muslim land”.
Calling themselves “Muslims against Crusaders”, they clashed with police while 50 members of the English Defence League staged a counter-protest near the Royal Albert Hall in central London.
Police kept the two sides apart, but as the two- minute silence started one Muslim yelled out, “British soldiers go to hell”. One of the group held up the poppy, set it alight and threw the burning symbol of remembrance to the ground, while others, some masked, chanted “British soldiers burn in hell” in front of horrified onlookers.Three men were arrested at the scene – two for public order offences and one for assaulting a police officer. One officer was taken to hospital with a head injury.
Onlookers were appalled by the ultimate insult to the war dead and soldiers still risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. One said: “It was a disgrace to be burning poppies on Remembrance Day. It should be a crime to chant things like that. Those people are despicable.” Another said: “It was outrageous.”
And parents of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan later branded the grotesque protest as “atrocious”.
Christine Bonner, whose son Darren was killed by a landmine in Helmand province in 2007, said she could not believe the incident.“I’m disgusted. There are people like myself that at 11am today were remembering the lives of our children, and then there are some people doing something so hurtful as that. I think it’s atrocious.
“We’re talking about individuals who have died for their country.”
Tony Philippson’s son James was the first British soldier to be killed in action in the Nato operation in Helmand province. He said: “I don’t see the logic of it. Why could they think that soldiers of any nationality shouldn’t be remembered?
“My son went to Iraq with the Marines fighting for Muslims to get rid of a tyrant so they could have some freedom.”The Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, said: “These protesters should be ashamed of themselves. People will be sickened. The lack of respect for people who have given up their lives for freedom is appalling.”
Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, of Birmingham Perry Bar, said: “It’s just absolute nonsense. These people have no regard or respect for the people who are prepared to give their lives for the country, and if they don’t like it they can hop it and leave. They have these rights to protest that are afforded to them because people have given their lives up for those rights.
“To have these people behave like this is absolutely ridiculous. It’s complete nonsense and despicable.”
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “While these are a handful of people claiming to speak on behalf of Muslims, many more Muslims will join fellow Britons in remembering the sacrifice of our Armed Forces.” During the incident the protesters held banners which read “Islam will dominate” and “Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell”.
Asad Ullah, of Muslims Against Crusades, said: “We find it disgusting that innocent people, innocent children, have been killed in an illegal and unjust war and we are demonstrating against that.
“We want the Government to pull the troops out from these countries and to stop interfering in our affairs.”
He added: “I have no respect for the silence as it represents the murder of millions of Muslims. By burning the poppy we wanted to upset people and we wanted them to hurt. If you hurt for two minutes you can understand the hurt we feel every day for our murdered Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Muslims Against Crusaders organiser Abu Rayah, from east London, said: “British soldiers are mass murderers and your politicians are oppressors. By wearing poppies, you condone mass murderers. This protest was for thousands of Muslims killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Amusingly, soon after reading this article, I found this article about a new Iraqi government.

I'm aware that the idea behind the armed forces staying in Iraq was to create some stability for this government to form. However, I do think that it's something we (Britain) should have been much less involved in considering that we a) have a VERY large Muslim population compared to America and b) we didn't instigate this war. That was the beloved Dubya who decided to drag Tony into it. Why the hell we persisted, I don't know. Surely it's obvious that there will be very little in gratitude on any front and all that will happen is unrest on home soil? Oh wait...

Thing is, this is what has happened in the mean time:


... 479 comments to be exact. Some of the things said truly shock me. People think it's OK to be racist because of some extremists? That would indicate they know it's not every Muslim but fuck it, they're going to generalise anyway! Some people have tried to do the reasonable "Look kids, this is how it actually is..." and are just plain ignored. Of course, being the internet I'm not sure how much is just plain trolling. Something tells me not as much as I'd like.

For those who aren't aware of the symbolism of the poppy:

Long before the Great War, the red poppy had become a symbol of death, renewal and life. The seeds of the flower can remain dormant in the earth for years, but will blossom spectacularly when the soil is churned. Beginning in late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders became the scene of stupendous disturbances. Red Poppys soon appeared.

In 1915, at a Canadian dressing station north of Ypres on the Essex Farm, an exhausted physician named Lt. Col. John McCrae would take in the view of the poppy strewn Salient and experience a moment of artistic inspiration. The veteran of the South African War was able to distill in a single vision the vitality of the red poppy symbol, his respect for the sacrifice made by his patients and dead comrades, and his intense feeling of obligation to them. McCrae would capture all of this in the most famous single poem of the First World War, In Flanders Fields.
The doctor's work achieved immediate universal popularity which was subsequently reinforced by his own death in 1918 from pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried in a military cemetery near Calais on the English Channel, thus becoming one with those of whom he wrote in his famous poem. Probably by the time of his internment, John McCrae's verse had forever bound the image of the Red Poppy to the memory of the Great War. The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of World War One and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans. An American war volunteer, Moina Michael, helped establish the symbol in the US where the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion also embraced the Red Poppy tradition.

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

So... the dude who said he burned the poppy because it symbolised mass murder... Yes, it did. The mass murder of those who lost their lives in WWI.

I've actually been to this place:

(This is Ypres in West Flanders where a lot of the bloodiest fighting took place in WWI. Heard of Passchendaele? That was the 3rd battle of Ypres.). Did it make me think? You bet. I went as part of an "extra" school trip back in '00, before 9/11 even happened. I guess it's part of what has given me the mindset that so much fighting these days is so futile. To see field upon field of graves and to know it was only a small number of those who died... It was truly breathtaking and one hell of a smack in the face.

Oh and the Armistice/Remembrance Day REAL reason?

Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day) is on 11 November and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compi├Ęgne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.
In many parts of the world, people take a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. local time as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million people who died in the war.
n the UK, beginning in 1939, the two-minute silence was moved to the Sunday nearest to 11 November in order not to interfere with wartime production should 11 November fall on a weekday. After the end of WWII, most Armistice Day events were moved to the nearest Sunday and began to commemorate both World Wars. The change was made in many Commonwealth countries, as well as the United Kingdom, and the new commemoration was named Remembrance Sunday or Remembrance Day. Both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are now commemorated formally in the UK.

I seem to be a bit on my high horse about this but to me, 11/11 has nothing to do with Afghan, Iraq, Ireland or the like. It doesn't really make me think about who the armed forces have dragged over to the Middle East now. Their fighting has nothing to do with the freedom of my country. The motives behind recent conflicts and those of the Great War are entirely different. Sure, it's sad that people have lost their lives in conflicts since WWI&II BUT can I just point out one TINY thing here? National Service was abolished a long time ago. You don't go into the army expecting everything to be dandy and for all your limbs to stay on. You KNOW there's a high chance they won't. It's like driving along at 100mph in a car with your head out of the window. Sure, you might be ok and not hit anything, but the chances are that you probably will. I'm sorry if I don't sound all bleeding heart and hate the awful nasty people who our brave young men are fighting and know that it's OBVIOUSLY their fault for putting down landmines. I'm being realistic. You know what you're signing up to. Back in the day, a lot of people didn't know that they'd be gassed. They had no idea of what they were getting themselves into. These days people do unless they are severely mentally retarded (in which case, they won't be allowed in the armed forces ¬_¬). The British Army even goes so far as to say that a person has to be clear of any physical and mental disabilities for 4 years before they will be accepted (well, that's ME ruled out :P).

Anyway, tl;dr version:

Racism is retarded, people need to learn facts about things before opening mouths.