Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Winehouse v Dylan v Raleigh

English students at Cambridge University have been asked to analyse lyrics by singer Amy Winehouse in a final-year exam. They were asked to contrast aspects of Winehouse's "Love is a Losing Game"" with Bob Dylan's Boots Of Spanish Leather", Billie Holiday's "Fine And Mellow" and Sir Walter Raleigh's "As You Came from the Holy Land" in an examination question.

A university spokesman said English students had always been asked to compare writers of different times. He said the question was "interesting, but not news".

I agree. The lyrics of these songs show how language changes over long periods of time, but essentially show that the nature of human emotion and feelings is the same. An excellent way to engage anyone (especially young students ) in the discussion and analysis of language, I think.
When the Primary Music curriculum first introduced the music of the 60's and in particular John Lennon, I was at first a little taken aback. On only slight reflection, I realised that firstly, I was going to enjoy teaching this immensely, and secondly that it correlated with so many other areas that could be studied and discussed - culture, society, influence of musicians and effect on peer pressure, to name but a few.

I am not a fan of Amy Winehouse, but can see a place for analysis of her words (and possible influence of her lifestyle!) in education.

"Though I battled blind
Love is a fate resigned
Memories mar my mind
Love is a fate resigned
Over futile odds
And laughed at by the Gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game "

One critic said the song conjured up "images of fag smoke, empty vodka bottles and smudged mascara" and was "perhaps the most heartbreaking thing she's ever recorded". I suggest if we did not know the singer of these words, and had not seen and heard the details of her life, then the words would not come over in that context at all.
Heartbreaking, yes, but fags, vodka and smudged mascara? That critic has a strange imagination.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Can things only get better?

Gore Vidal has just been interviewed by Andrew Marr, on his show. What a man !

We know that he is outspoken and critical of the American establishment and politics, but it still suprises (and delights) me to hear his responses to questions that others often hedge around. A definite wit and critic, and of course a novelist to boot. He has just named USA as "a racist, mysogynist nation" John McCain, in his campaign for president is "a complete fool as is Bush". JFK did not go into office in a way that would be suitable for anyone such as Obama to follow (citing Cuba as an example) and Tony Blair is culpable towards the Iraq war, mainly by colluding with the "little madman". I am not suggesting that anyone goes into a name calling routine about anyone - but only if more were outspoken and productive about issues of great importance and voiced their TRUE opinions.
Whether he would be as open and honest in his views if he had been elected to office is questionable. It has been said that we don't really want the "best" people elected. We need them outside the tent pee-ing in, not inside pee-ing out !

Vidal says that he has done what he can to educate about history through his writing of novels, but he can't do miracles. Oh, to be able to say that I had somehow done that (in a miniscule way, compared to Vidal, naturally)
"Can things only get better as far as the USA ?"
He repeated the question and answered "Let us pray".

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Schools Tests "Shambles"

"Concerns about the administration of this year's school tests in England have prompted a call for payment to be withheld from the test contractor, ETS. " BBC News

The Lib Dem education spokesman David Laws has called the situation a "shambles".
Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said that action has been taken "to get things back on track".

But markers and schools report ongoing problems with the test process and there are complaints that pupils' scripts have not been collected from some schools. Some of those who have been trained and are waiting to start marking say the scripts have not been delivered to their homes.

ETS Europe, the company that has taken over this year from Edexcel has said it is addressing the issues and has promised that the results will be back with schools as scheduled by 8 July.

(In 2004 in America, ETS had given 4,000 graduate teachers the wrong marks for their teaching exams and had to pay millions in compensation. Mr Balls said that if he had had information on this earlier then he might have been able to look at it and consider it !)

I have been a marker for Edexcel a number of times over the years, and was approached by ETS Europe this year to mark for them. After a "shambles" with pin numbers to enter their site to register (even though they had all my information) and phone calls to people who I had to keep spelling words to as I spoke, I decided not to mark this year - luckily as it turns out.

But not lucky for the children who's education is being threatened by the continuation of tests that have shown little effect on standards. Also not lucky for teachers who's future seems to be a continuation of teaching for unnecessary tests, just to hit government targets. Targets set by a government who seem to have little comprehension of the real world of education, and marking organised by a company who's approach to these matters, certainly seems to be at the bottom of the class.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

BNP - Maltby's choice for the future ?

There has been a variety of instinct reactions since the recent local elections, where 2 BNP councillors gained seats from long standing Labour councillors in the Rotherham Borough. John Gamble has taken the Brinsworth and Catcliffe seat from the Mayor of Rotherham and William Blair, here in Maltby, from long standing Labour councillor Glyn Robinson. Headlines in local and national newspapers have ranged from “Labour Disaster”, “Damning Indictment”, “Shock Results” Outcry at BNP” to even “Pride and Prejudice –The Fear Factor” in The Independent.

Obviously these headlines, as well as the results, have a resounding effect on people’s feelings and concerns for the implications. The BNP (British Nationalist Party) has long been associated with, and reported as, the “politics of hatred” particularly referring to the importance of race and keeping Britain as a place predominantly, for Britons. The mission statement of the BNP states that it exists to “secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands….We use the term to describe the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great ice-age, and which have been complemented by the historic migrations from mainland Europe.” It goes on to say that these ancestors are the Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and closely related “kindred people”. Perhaps then, not racist completely, but specific about which races they wish to associate themselves with ?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term “racist” as someone who believes that other races are not as good as their own and therefore treats them unfairly. (Personally, I would define it with only the latter part of this definition ie. that someone is treated unfairly because of their race – but that is another story) The BNP declares that they are definitely not racist as racism means “hatred of other races” and that they do not hate anyone.
The issue can all become a matter of words and definitions and consequently become even more confusing for us ordinary Maltby Residents. I went to speak with William Blair at his home and shop on Muglet Lane, to see what his views are and how they match up with the BNP’s.

Mr Blair has been in Maltby for around 20 years, coming from a farming background in Northern Ireland, then working in agriculture before taking over the shop. His wife, son and niece work in the shop with him and are well known to locals.
We sat in Mr Blair’s back garden, on one of these surprisingly hot and sunny days that we have had lately in Maltby, his pigeons fluttering in their loft behind us and his poodle dog brushing against my legs and wanting attention. I asked him if it was OK to question him directly from the BNP policies list that I had and he was fine with that. “Ask me anything you want” he said “I am here to help the people of Maltby and make it a better place to live”.
Because it is a personal issue, I asked first about the BNP’s disapproval of mixed marriages. “I don’t have a problem with that. If you love each other and get on happily, then that’s all that matters”, he said. This is not the BNP’s view, however. They believe in preserving the identity of all different ethnic groups and that a small number of mixed marriages, with mixed race children is ok (how small they do not say). But if it is “encouraged as it is at present by politicians and the media, then the British genotype will be endangered”. They refer to environmentalists preserving animal species in the wild, and ask why this should not also apply to people. They do also say that Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, points out that often mixed race children suffer identity problems. I assured Mr Blair that at my age there was no fear of me bringing more mixed race children into the area and he said that it would be fine even if I did. My experiences with my “other race” stepsons in Maltby, has been enough, thanks !

Mr Blair agrees with the BNP’s views on homosexuality – that what people do in “the privacy of their own bedrooms” is up to them, that they are not homophobic, but that homosexuality should not be “encouraged or promoted”.
He doesn’t agree with not letting “blacks and Asians” into the BNP party –I am not sure why blacks and Asians are specifically named, and neither is he – and here is yet another anomaly between William Blair’s views and those of the party he is representing.
As do many, if we are brave enough to admit it, he believes that the immigration levels into Britain have become out of control and that more forward thinking needed to have been done a long time ago. He would, as the BNP states, deport all illegal immigrants immediately – how we find them all and also the money to do that. neither I nor he are sure. Deport all who commit crimes and whose original nationality was not British – again, how far back in time do we go here to determine “British”. Review all citizenship/residency grants to make sure they are still appropriate, that is, anyone who has been granted citizenship because they have married a Briton, need to be still married. Watch out husband – divorce me at your peril !
Attend to the needs of pensioners before asylum seekers (note here the BNP does NOT say immigrants, but I wonder if they sometimes confuse the two.)
Invest in transport, the NHS, defence, the environment. Stop sending aid to other countries until we have solved the problems with Britain. Change the attitudes of the young people to one of a work ethic and not a take for doing nothing one. Make sure all unemployed people take the jobs that are available or stop their benefits. After all, as Blair says, “We don’t need immigrants when we have all these WHITE people here who won’t work” (my capitals on “white”)

It appears from his own words that William Blair is neither racist, nor wishing to be devisive in any way. He wants the best for Maltby and Maltby people and intends to do his utmost to start with the basics – sorting out the litter problems by regularly putting skips in various areas of the town, repairing fences, doing something about the roads situation. He believes that a lot of the problems that residents feel are the main problems – mainly anti-social behaviour and general apathy of some – can be alleviated by attitude change and a more community based approach to life here. All sentiments that most of Maltby residents share.
People I have spoken to in Maltby quote numbers and percentages and proportional representation as the reason why Maltby now has a fairly elected BNP councillor. Some say that it;s because of recent changes and disruptions with the Town Council.
I asked Mr Blair why he had stood as a BNP candidate when he clearly does not whole -heartedly agree with all their policies. Why did he not stand as an Independent?
“I suppose I am 80% BNP and 20% other”, he says. “Independent candidates are either old Labour people or old Conservatives. What we need is change”.
Let’s hope that our new councillor’s change goes in the right direction, and that the change is for the better for the whole of Maltby. Time will tell.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Concerns are continuing to grow today that the blocking of vital international aid to Burma by the military junta could lead to even greater catastrophic loss of life. There are as many as 200,000 already dead or dying with many still missing.The figure could rise to half a million through disease and hunger if the nation’sarmy rulers continued to block aid to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta area. Condoleezza Rice and the UN has called for Burma's ruling regime to accept aid in the face of the worsening humanitarian crisis.

So what are we as individuals to do in the mean time? I had my debit card at the ready last night after the advert from the Disaster's Emergency Fund on tv, asking for donations. But then I thought, if aid is not getting there is it a well timed contribution?

Of course all donations are necessary all of the time, and some aid is gettigng through but I am wondering whether to donate more than I regularly do to 2 of the charities within the DEF. Am I just being too wary of where charity donations end up or what? What do you think?