Song On My Mind XIII

My friend Aaron recently got a glockenspiel. Always quick to make seemingly random connections, my mind reached back into the past to grab an indie song featuring the glockenspiel and played it endlessly on my mental stereo system.

After several futile attempts at Googling for the song, I gave up and sent a voice recording of me humming the song to a friend. Bingo. The song is called Blood by the Middle East, an Australian band who broke up several years ago. It is at various points charming, haunting, soothing, uplifting and touching. It is a great song.

Learning to Teach (Superhero Perspective)

I recently spent four weeks teaching in a comprehensive high school in Sydney’s south. It was my first ever teaching experience, and it was intense! Two things that hit me early on:

  1. lot of preparation goes into each class (e.g., lesson plan, PPT slides, finding resources, making worksheets, designing activities, etc). I’m sure it does get easier over time as you build a portfolio of things to draw on. It also depends on whether you want to be great, or whether you are content with being mediocre.
  2. lot of things are happening all at once inside the classroom. In addition to ‘delivering’ the content, I’m trying to familiarise myself with names/faces, monitor behaviour, formulate questions to ask students, respond to input from students, keep track of time, keep track of environmental factors — good teaching requires expertise in multi-tasking.

What I also began to realise as the weeks went on is that the process of learning to teach is like being a superhero who begins to discover and explore my superpower. Teachers have tremendous power over students, both in terms of how they learn and how they behave. Think about it — we have the power to control people. “Line up outside, two straight lines.” “Open up your books and write this heading.” “Turn around now. Look at me.” “Write down three things you learned today.” “Pick that up. Put it in the bin.”

Being an effective teacher requires having the confidence and capability to exercise power over people. This brings me to a really great quote from Haim Ginott, a child psychologist and author who wrote this about the power of teaching:

I have come to a frightening conclusion.

I am the decisive element in the classroom.

It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.

I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.

In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.

Lots of things have being proposed to improve/reform the education system — money, syllabus, testing, technology, parent choice; the list goes on and on. Ultimately however, learning happens in the classroom, as facilitated by teachers. Developing the knowledge, skills and motivation of teachers is paramount; and also, I would suggest, their character. As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

Song On My Mind XII

Confession time: I have fallen into the addiction that is Hamilton the musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda and co have produced an astonishing work of art—more accurately, a series of small pieces of art—on the fascinating life of US founding father Alexander Hamilton.

It is bold, wondrous, uplifting and highly educational. With each re-listen I uncover more of the plots, themes and elements that Miranda has deftly weaved throughout the musical—love, war, friendship, rivalry, betrayal, fatherhood, loss, legacy, and more. This is a soundtrack that richly rewards multiple listens. It is crazy good. Here is an emblematic song that tells of Hamilton’s rise:

 

The Reasons for Trump

If you’re reading this, chances are that you are (i) intelligent, (ii) well-educated and (iii) bemused by what’s going with Donald Trump. If you’re at all into US politics, you have probably seen this video of John Oliver demolishing Trump. It sure feels good to ridicule this outrageous and dangerous public figure. One can also derive some righteous anger from blasting Trump’s supporters for their hypocrisy and short-sightedness.

I can’t help but think that these feelings—superiority, self-righteousness, smugness, and yes, schadenfreude—are just empty calories. The Trump phenomenon is real. Nobody took him seriously, and now he’s on the verge of becoming the Republican candidate for President of the United States. His supporters (albeit only 40-45% of Republican voters so far) are real people, with real grievances.

I think 2016 is a genuine turning point in US history, with monumental implications for at least one side of politics. Instead of ridiculing or dismissing Trump and his supporters, we need to understand what’s going on.

Below are some articles I’ve encountered over the last couple of months that shed light on the Trump phenomenon. Some of them made me feel uncomfortable. I hope you will be able to bear with some discomfort as well—if you’re a liberal reading about a conservative perspective; if you’re an atheist/agnostic reading about a Christian perspective; if you have a pro-immigration stance reading about anti-immigration sentiments; if you have grown up in prosperous, metropolitan environments reading about life on the ground in struggling towns and communities hollowed out by globalisation and outsourcing.

If you have the time, please take a look.

On the favourable environment created by broad changes in media and technology

On the failure of the elites

Among the angry, the voiceless, the dying

Personal testimonies

  • A life-long Republican and conservative writes an open letter explaining why he no longer considers himself part of the conservative movement, as the Trump phenomenon exposes the movement’s past failures and present delusions
  • A Christian author and preacher makes the bad, awful, no good, terrible confession that he likes Trump—Trump is not honest, but he is honest about who he is, and he effectively channels something:

    [T]he rage and desperation of a people who know they don’t matter anymore. Whose lives and wellbeing have become a blight, an embarrassment, who are now disposable. Yes, they have may been a privileged people once, knowing the order of the world arising from the great struggles of the first half of the 20th century was arranged for them, and may be struggling for privilege again, but they also know politics has told them — economically and socially — “lie down and die.” That they are white, and crude, and prone to brutality and violence, frequently not very compassionate or empathetic, all-too-often confused by the world, and that their religion is simplistic and mostly idolatrous, all that makes it hard to sympathize with them. (I find it hard.) But you leave people behind at your peril. You can tell them to “lie down and die,” and some will. But many won’t.

 

A lot of people in America are hurting right now. And rightfully so. Conventional politics have left them—more tax cuts for the rich on the one side, demonisation and dismissal as bigots on the other, and a consensus on more globalisation that, however great it is for humanity in the aggregate, makes their lives objectively worse. In their rage and desperation, they turned to a dangerous figure in Trump.

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

 

Crony Capitalism, N+1 Edition

A couple of years ago I read a book by sociologist Arlie Hochschild called the Outsourced Self. The book is an account of Hochschild’s investigation into how the logic of the market—commodification, efficiency, promotion—was creeping into more and more intimate parts of our lives. While I consider some of what she encountered to be problematic but probably a net-positive overall (e.g., online dating, nannies and helpers), there are other things that are genuinely disturbing (e.g., “household consultants”, commercial surrogacy).

Today, I encountered two examples of capitalism encroaching into spheres where it probably shouldn’t, with horrible results for society (and great results for the enriched few).

First, conservative outcast David Frum examined the state of super PACs—organisations that have been blessed by the US Supreme Court to raise (mostly from a few rich donors) and spend vast amounts of money on political campaigns. Frum focused on Jeb Bush’s doomed campaign, whose super PAC astoundingly raised over $100 million. The result was bad enough (and perhaps provides a hopeful counterexample to the notion that money buys political success). However, what’s really fascinating is Frum’s account of those who benefited most—the consultants who feasted off the bonanza while accomplishing nothing for the hapless Bush.

Second, defence attorney Greg Toucette fired off a tweet-storm about defending a young black man (YBM) from a reckless driving charge, and the photo that saved his client from the blatantly false allegation made by the police officer. It was an illustrative example of the horrendously broken criminal justice system in the US. One of the underlying causes: local governments straining under the economic damage inflicted by crony capitalism of the recent past and perversely using the criminal justice system as a revenue source, thereby immiserating thousands (millions?) of mostly young, mostly poor, mostly non-white people.

Sad, but true.