I’m not a stranger to song/singer analysis. You’ll recall I had a particularly scathing post about John Mayer a while back, and my friend, Liz, analyzed the nuances (or lack thereof) of Taylor Swift’s character.
As some people know, I am currently studying to become a high school English teacher in Texas. This involves a lot of repetitive reading about how we should probably focus more on engaging students in school, and less on lecturing at them. Turns out they learn more if they’re emotionally invested. Who knew?
Anyway, as a fun activity, I decided to grade a couple songs as if they were student essays. Starting with Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Click to enlarge!
I didn’t bother doing the rest of the song because it’s just “Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon” repeated a bunch of times.
So the thing is that – while that was fun – I haven’t graded any other lyrics. I was going to do Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because no one who can easily shake off negative comments goes on to write an entire song about all the “mean” things that are said about them for the world to hear (Irony!). But that seemed like low-hanging fruit. Ol’ Tay-Tay’s already suffered our wrath, as you saw above.
This activity left the subject of education knocking around in my brain. It feels important to get a few things written down, even if they’re obvious. At the end, as a thank you for reading my wall of text, I have presented you with a drawing of an Ice Chinchilla, which was commissioned by my friend, Liz.
- If the goal of schooling is to increase student knowledge and understanding, then the current model is waaaaay off base. A fifteen-year-old can memorize all the significant dates related to the American Revolution. S/he can regurgitate facts onto a test and get a good grade, but that does not mean that s/he understands this conflict. The student likely has no feelings about the American Revolution one way or the other. Because s/he has learned that the goal of school is to get A’s, not to understand the content. Along those lines…
- Our methods of assessing students are crap. We live in a country where C is average, but only A’s mean anything. That means we are pressuring our students to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get top letter marks. As I said in point 1, this rarely requires genuine understanding. Just look at the term “Standardized Test.” It is literally a test that measures students’ abilities to fit into a mold. At the beginning of the year, all students start with an A in their classes. The best thing that can happen for them is for their grade to remain exactly the same. Most likely what will happen is their grade will drop. This is expected to motivate them. All I see is a practice in futility, neatly packaged with buzzwords. “If you don’t do well here, you won’t get into a good college.” How about this? How about every student starts with a zero. Not an F, mind. A zero. As they do assignments, they get points. At the end of the year, the number of points they have can be translated into a letter grade. It’s not a perfect system, but you’ll notice with this design, the only direction students can go is up. Instead of losing, they’ll be working to gain. Every day, every semester, every class.
- It turns out that every person learns in a different way. This means that a significant portion of “Special Ed” students might not need drugs or a psychological diagnosis. Maybe all they need is someone to approach teaching in a different way. It’s hard to cater your teaching methods to suit the needs of a fifty-student class, but we can start by abandoning the “Sit still, shut up, and listen” model. From where I’m sitting, “Special Ed” is a lovely euphemism for “We’ve given up on you.” That probably does wonders for kids’ self-esteem.
- You’ve heard this all before. Studies that prove kids aren’t learning in school have been coming out for decades. Kids aren’t learning. Kids aren’t motivated. Kids aren’t supposed to be put through test after standardized test. It’s common knowledge at this point. As far as I can tell, we as a country have gone, “Oh, look. Schools are failing our children. What a shame,” and then moved back to reading the morning paper or whatever. Just shrug and move on, America. Your education system is a mess. Oh, well! It happens. Right? No! No, damn it! I have read paper after paper from people saying we’re in the middle of a “paradigm shift” and “we need school reinvention, not school reform.” (See writing by Ornstein and Hunkins for more details about school reinvention) By “paradigm shift” do they mean that about 0.5% of the schools in this country have made changes to the way education is accomplished? That’s not a shift. That’s not even a blip on the radar. So why aren’t we seeing real change? Well, for one, politicians love using education to boost their numbers. They throw out buzz words, cite the studies that I’ve been reading for my classes, and promise change. Then they introduce new standardized tests or cut more music programs. Meanwhile teachers are left floundering in a system that forces them to dish out education like it’s a punishment.
- No more complacence. Educators need to band together. Families need to support them. We need a separation of school and state in a lot of ways, because educational policies are being instated by people who have never stood in a classroom full of bored sixth graders. As an individual, all I can do is try to beat the system one classroom at a time. And write ineffectual blog posts about it. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do more. If enough individuals decide to make real changes, maybe it’ll have a ripple effect.
I don’t know.
Here’s a chinchilla.
For those who just joined us, please read the previous post, which is part 1 of this story. To recap, I interviewed Alex, an American, and his/her spouse, Sam, a UK citizen, about the dehumanizing process of applying to live together in the UK. I’m also including screen caps from a video game called Papers, Please
, (created by Lucas Pope) as it is scarily relevant to the situation detailed in these two posts.
Q: Alex, at this point I’m going to say, for the record, that you are not a certified expert in law, immigration, foreign affairs, etc. That being said, I want to go back to what you mentioned before. You said you and Sam were prime candidates because you speak English and you are a heterosexual couple. Does this mean people are being rejected on the basis of their language or sexual orientation? As a follow-up: Isn’t that illegal?
ALEX: Well remember that gay marriage wasn’t made legal in the UK until last year. Before that point, I know that immigration was a major point of debate for same-sex couples, as it is in the US. Still, there’s a separate category for them, with its own requirements re: proof of the relationship, joint financial responsibility, etc. I see this entire application process as unduly burdensome and a complete failure at actually detecting sham marriages, and I imagine it’s even more so for couples up against widespread discrimination. This whole process, which for some takes years, is decided by one UKBA agent and his or her mood. S/he cannot say, “Your application is rejected on the basis of your sexuality,” but they can say, “Your application is rejected on the basis that you have not provided sufficient proof that this is a genuine relationship.”
Vague guidelines, social prejudice, and public anxiety are what discrimination feeds on. Anecdotally, people from the Middle East and Africa seem to have more problems getting in than people from the US, whether they have the money or not. This is not surprising. These regulations are very recent, and a response to the UK’s cry for pointless immigration caps, usually implicitly targeting Middle Easterners.
Oh, here’s another thing: This system is blatantly ageist. As we’re both young and still in education, we don’t have the necessary qualifications for A) Sam to get a work visa and live with me during the application process, or B) for us to start earning the crazy amount they require. So what they’re saying is, if you’re young and still being educated, fuck off. You don’t deserve a family life.
The whole system, if we assume (highly generously) that it is a good-faith attempt to only let in genuine families, is geared towards educated and qualified people in their 30s or 40s. Not people like us, who don’t generally communicate via email, who can’t get high-paying jobs yet, and who haven’t joined our finances together. Which, come the fuck on. Just try and get joined finances when Sam doesn’t even live here permanently.
Q: Sam, how much would you estimate you have paid, including visa fees, airfare, etc., in the past two years alone on traveling back and forth between the US and the UK? For the record, you have to travel so often because you can’t get a visa that will allow you to stay with your spouse for longer periods of time, correct?
SAM: Yes, that’s correct. I’m not completely sure about the overall costs because there’s a lot to consider. The flights alone have cost several thousand dollars, but that doesn’t account for living expenses here in the UK. Since I don’t drive and don’t get to choose where I live, transport costs hundreds cumulatively. Food is expensive because I don’t have my own kitchen, thus can’t manage a proper food budget. I need a portable computer for work so we have had to invest a couple of thousand dollars in that. The visa fees are not much in comparison, though I was forced to go to an early morning interview in Belfast for my last visa, which cost considerably more in transport and accommodation. So it’s hard to measure, but it is a lot.
Q: I suppose I shouldn’t have said “can’t” get a visa that will allow you to stay longer. It would be more accurate to say you aren’t allowed a longer visa, yes? The difference being that you are an upstanding citizen with no criminal record, so you are not being denied on the basis of your own faults or actions.
SAM: Yes, it would be more accurate to say that. Longer visas don’t exist for someone in my position, in that I’m not studying there [in the US], I’m not working in one of the small number of “shortage” industries, and I’m unwilling to be apart from Alex for the processing time of a marriage visa, which can take up to a year. There are no other options for me.
Q: I’d like to ask a general question, similar to what I asked Alex. What are some thoughts you want to share? Anything that comes to mind. Especially anything that you feel the general public should know.
SAM: Well my experience of talking to other people about this is how little they understand it. Most are constantly surprised that I’m forced to be apart from my partner of 6 years, my spouse, because of this. It’s not simply that the process is time-consuming, expensive, and complicated, though it is certainly all of those things. It’s also that it’s deeply violating in a very personal way. Our relationship isn’t really ours anymore, it’s wholly dependent on the demands of total strangers who don’t and will never know us, yet want access to the most intimate details of our lives so they can judge whether or not our love is real. We’re expected to play the part of what a couple should be in their eyes, a role that is not only painfully restrictive but also constantly changing, without warning. I feel like people need to be aware of how painful this is, and how much worse it must be for those not lucky enough to be in our position, supported by friends and family in a lot of ways.
Q: This may seem like an obvious question, but for the record: Do you love your spouse?
ALEX: Obviously. I love him/her deeply. I didn’t even consider marriage before her/him.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary wants to make it harder for British citizens and those settled in the UK to bring their spouses, civil partners and indeed other family members to the UK.
Sam: Yes, very much. S/he completely changed my life, and made me want to spend my life with him/her when no one else ever has.
Once again I beg you to share this blog post and/or the previous one. My heart goes out to the various divided families that are struggling to live with each other (and stay with each other). The previous post includes links to websites where you can help by donating to this cause. I am going to post them here as well.
Thank you so much for reading and for bearing with me as we diverge from the fun, light-hearted path this blog usually takes. We’ll be back to Mini-Bex shenanigans soon.
A special thanks to Sam and Alex for taking the time to share their story with me and with my readers. It is my hope that this blog post and the above websites will help to make a difference, not only in Sam’s and Alex’s lives, but in the lives of many others.