Elegy

This is hard to write. Trigger warnings all over the place.

An old student of mine took her life this time last year. I think about her often. This is to her.

My first, temporary response to the news of your death was relief. Because I was sure the bad news was going to be the Worst News and then I thought I was being told you were only going to be late to the writing meeting. Relief is what I felt. Then your friend went on with the news and it hit me that it was indeed the Worst News and I felt confusion. Confusion before grief.

I looked up how you had died and it took some time because the news were being responsible. Even though your death was news worthy, they kept it out of the headlines. Suicide can spread you see. If the news report a suicide in a certain way, young people can ‘catch’ the compulsion. So, you were a person under a train where ‘all signs pointed to suicide’. Not a fifteen year old girl. Not a K-pop fan. Not a funny, shy and fiercely intelligent young lady. A person. Who died and stopped the trains for a few hours.

I want to smash everything at the thought that your impact on the world was a few hours delay on the trains. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

If I could have told you this somehow:- That genuinely and honestly this adolescence shit does get better even though it is pretty grim for a long time. Would that have made any difference? Could it have done?

Your mother opened a Facebook memorial for you and posted all your gawkiest childhood pics. Just like when my friend died of leukaemia and her mum played Bon Jovi at the wake. She kept calling you a ‘princess’ and ‘beautiful’. You were beautiful. Oh my god, the hearts you were about to break, girl. But that wasn’t the best of you. It wasn’t the most remarkable thing about you. It wasn’t YOU.

Maybe you were a princess inside but that is not what I associate with you at all. You weren’t some fucking girl in a big dress and a tower waiting for some boy to make you a woman. You were a bad ass. You were quietly subversive. You were hilarious. You were a little bit nuts in a good way. You were bookish and shy. You were fierce and brave.

And the way you took care of your friends and the fun you had.

So. I do not know what happened to you and why you felt the way you did. I wish I could have helped you. I wish you had accepted help from anyone at all. I don’t understand what happened. I did all the research I could. Exhaustively searching the internet for clues. Some meaning in it all. Eventually, I just talked to your friends and they told me that you were on an upswing. That you waited for a time when you were feeling the best, so you could never get so low again. We visited your grave. A day of three people not believing what just happened and not knowing what to say to each other.

A teacher at my new school put up a sign in the staffroom “Teaching is the ultimate act of optimism”. I don’t think I agreed with it until now. I taught you and I tried to make your life better. I hoped against hope that you would go on to have a great life. And you won’t. You died as a child. You didn’t get to see that all these thoughts are an illusion. That they pop up and try to pull your strings. But they are nothing. They are brain acid burps. Depression lies.

9z versus China

The Danish national broadcaster had a show about how Danish teenagers compared with Chinese teenagers after 9 years of school. It came out around about the time of the lockout. I have only watched one episode.

Comparing school systems is a great interest of mine and there is much to be said about the differences/similarities between the Danish and the Chinese system. I am not going to touch those issues here though.

What I found overpowering about the show itself was how Danish the people behind it were. I can imagine if a French team had made the show, or Brazilian, or Japanese:- Comparing Denmark and China still but coming without the cultural baggage of being Danish. That would be a show I would love to watch. The show did not have the self-awareness to address this weakness of a lack of self-awareness.

If I had been in control, I would have changed a lot of the presentation.

For example, the show starts with the first school day in both schools. The Danish school is shown, with singing and flag waving and dancing. Then the stark lines of Chinese children standing in the playground chanting “We are proud to be Chinese”.

If I had been in control of the editing, I would have put it together to show the similarities and not the differences. Flag goes up in Denmark, flag goes up in China, teacher chants slogans in China, teacher sings slogans in Denmark, children standing outside in Denmark, children standing outside in China, children look happy in Denmark, children look happy in China, children look bored in China, children look bored in Denmark.

Another thing I would have changed was the panel of “experts” called on to answer questions about both the Danish and the Chinese system. They had the head of the teachers’ union and some guy from a Danish university. Not one Chinese educational system expert was called on. (Neither in the sense of someone in Denmark who has made it their life’s work to study the Chinese system nor in the sense of a Chinese person involved in running the Chinese educational system.) The questions about the Chinese system were addressed to 12 year old Chinese girls and Danish men.

Not to mention, the Danish university “expert” did not even have a very good handle on what goes on in the Danish system. In one part, he claimed that children from all levels and backgrounds are together in their class, resulting in them having a better understanding of the breadth of Danish society.

Except. Denmark has private schools. And Denmark has special schools. So, apart from the children who go to private school and the children who are in special school, the Danish classroom is a cross section of Danish society.

He just repeated cultural myths about Denmark without being aware of how poorly he understood his own country. So, I took his pronouncements on the Chinese system with more than a pinch of salt.

How can a tv programme claim that the Danish system sets Danish teenagers up as being better critical thinkers than Chinese teenagers when it cannot demonstrate critical thinking in the actual show?

The teenagers were asked some “general knowledge” questions, to show how ignorant the Chinese children are. The questions were

“Who were The Beatles?”

“What is a teenager?”

“What happened on September 11th 2001?”

The children were not asked

“Who is Teresa Teng?”

“What do we mean by adolescence?”

“What was the Cultural Revolution?”

Also, the icons to show the children’s performance have little cartoon figures with flags as t-shirts. The Chinese ones are bright yellow faced and the Danish ones are pink faced. (This is despite the programme going to extraordinary hamfisted lengths to establish that the Danish class in question has a lot of brown people, to pre-explain why the results will be so bad… because of diversity of “social” groups)

What the actual fuck, though? Both have slitty eyes, so I guess that’s progress of a sort, though the Chinese eyes are the slittiest.

Cartoon depiction of Chinese and Danish child
I facepalmed so hard, my hand got bruised

In conclusion, an interesting concept for a show, ruined by the lack of cultural understanding and critical thinking by the programme makers. Prejudices go unchallenged and are presented as self-evident truth, when a little digging would have found reality to be a lot more nuanced.

Forms of Protest

Given that the government has colluded with the KL to force an ultimatum, contrary to the Danish Model, and that this lockout was planned from Day One, I am not really sure which forms of protest would actually “work”.

In Denmark, the only legitimate forms of protest are:-

  • A letter to the editor
  • A march with banners
  • A “happening”

And obviously, these are not going to light anyone on fire. That’s why they are the only legitimate forms of protest!

Other peaceful (but essentially outlawed), forms of protest include:-

  • Sit ins
  • Blocking entry to places
  • Chaining yourself to things
  • Living in a tent city

I would never do any of those because I could get deported. I would almost certainly be pepper sprayed. There could be “train tracks” (where police keep protesters tied up for hours on end in the street)

A lot of people have suggested that teachers defy the lockout and just teach. This is what would happen if the teachers defied the lockout and just taught:-

  • First they would need to contact the students/parents to let them know it was going on. They are not allowed to contact them. They are locked out of the email system.
  • If we step foot on school property, we would be trespassing and the police could be called
  • The school could instantly dismiss us because:-
  • The school will lose ALL the money the boroughs send them (and not just the money they are not sending to pay our salaries)
  • The school would be fined
  • The school would be blockaded
  • The individual teacher, who is not getting paid by their employer, will lose their financial support from the union.

Now, what if ALL the teachers did it. As an action. As a protest. Now, bearing in mind, not all the teachers agree on everything, so it would be quite the task to get ALL of them on board… If ALL the teachers did it, perhaps the consequences would not come immediately. Perhaps, the police would not be able to attend every school. But the boroughs are saving MILLIONS every day in not paying us. They would be very excited to be able to save the rest of the money they pay schools. Very excited indeed.

The KL would not be shamed into stopping the lockout by this action. They have been promised a big fat bonus for doing this. If they do not keep this going, they stand to lose a lot for their budgets.

Will the government be shamed by teachers teaching in defiance of a lock out? Considering that the unions are trying to secure the principle that our time is worth paying for, I am not sure working for free really gets that message over. I am not sure the government would do anything other than say it was regrettable that schools were fined… and they really really think that their proposed changes will make sure everyone can read when they leave school. Like they always say.

I think they have let this go too far. They hope to starve the teachers into submission and they hope that parents will turn against the teachers. But I think they have just shown themselves up as bullies and incompetents. I think when this is all over and we can go back to school, the politicians are the ones who are going to lose overall.