There is Always a Bright Side

Here comes the time of yearly wrap up, and now that I think about it, I have really no  particular achievement to share. This blogging year has been pretty much  the same as the previous one: not many posts written, same amount of visitors, the “Mythical Method”” is still the most read article, which makes me ponder a bit, actually, as that means that I have been unable to write something as interesting or useful since 2014, ah, yes, I have one thing worthy to be mentioned, I reached level 10.000 of Candy Crush, which makes me a world class player indeed.

 I have nothing more to say about  the topic, but  I would like to make a wrap up still on the positive side  of this pandemic year –  there is always a bright sight even in the darkest moments -,  as resilience made me develop new interests, habits, opportunities,  some of which will not be altered, I hope, when everything ends, because it will end someday.  So, here is my top five list of facts, for which I have to thank Covid 19:

N°5 I  SAVED  A LOT OF MONEY ON MAKEUP .  As I wear a mask most of the day,  lipstick has become useless. Why should one put on something nobody can see and that, besides, stains the mask?  Talking  about stains, the first time I saw a friend of mine taking off her mask, I found it so repulsive, as there were not only the marks of  red lipstick left on it,  but also those  of brown foundation. No need to say,  I immediately dropped using foundation myself. When we wear masks, after all, only our eyes can be seen, so make up must focus on eyes mostly, any other effort is a waste of time. On this purpose I have watched an endless gallery of tutorials on how to obtain a glam,  sexy  smokey  eye effect with lots of glitter, which, I might rightly define chic, but not that fitting for one day at school. What a shame.

N°4 MY SKIN QUALITY IMPROVED DESPITE MASK ALLERGY. I have spent a fortune on masks as I soon developed a tremendous mask allergy, which took the form of a sort of acne or rosacea on my  nose and cheeks. After many months of skin disaster, during which I had to use topical antibiotic and cortisone,  I came across a blessed cream : Ceravè ( I don’t know if it has the same name outside Italian borders). Well , “cera” is the Italian word for wax and this is exactly the effect produced on your face and body: a soft , moisturising wax which forms a barrier between skin and mask. I have not had a single blemish on my face since I started to use it.

N°3 STAFF MEETINGS AND SCHOOL MEETINGS OF ANY KIND PLANNED FROM REMOTE ONLY.  Schooling has been in presence these last months, but all meetings have been planned from remote to avoid dangerous school gatherings. This means  I can now  enjoy a certain freedom during these inexorable rituals, which cadence teachers’ lives , as they have  become the occasion to put into practice all those little tricks I have learnt from my students during  online classes: freeze  effects when boredom reigns, so you sneak out  and make a coffee;  disturbing noises whenever you are asked to give your comment;  pretending the line does not work if you are caught unprepared because you were somewhere else, or just quitting unseen if the session  is too prolonged.  

N ° 2 I  LEARNT NEW TEACHING TECHNIQUES. During online classes months, I had to reorganize my way of teaching and communicating in order to be more effective, as the atmosphere and learning environment is not the same as sitting in a classroom with lecturers and classmates. I imagined that my words needed to go hand in hand with images in order to be catchy. Hence, I have learned to use GIMP, a cross-platform image editor, to make my power- points as attractive as possible. I have now become addicted to GIMP. I could spend hours and hours refining, cutting, colouring, giving effects, editing pictures. GIMP is my new totem.

N°1 THE KITCHEN HAS DEFINITELY BECOME MR RUN’S KINGDOM.  Weren’t my husband named Mr Run, he would certainly be known as Mr Cook. Cooking has always been one of his greatest passions, which he develops to such a level of accuracy and perfection , that could actually be considered a professional on this matter to all effects . We have dozens and dozens of pots, pans , the most disparate cooking tools, one of which, in particular, has always  been the target of my mockery,  as to my eyes  it completely useless – we have two actually – : a sort of big plastic spoon with a slit, with which you can divide the yolk from the egg white . It is a must have, he assures. When lockdowns came to an end and I was back to school in presence, as my husband was still allowed to work from home,  I thought it had arrived the right time to make a definite handover of kitchen responsibilities. Nobody  has ever regretted my cooking talents so far, if there had ever been any.

That’s all for this year. I hope we will be able to see the end of this endless tunnel as soon as possible. Happy 2022 everyone!!!

That’s How Schools Become Covid Super-Spreaders

Schools are  Covid super-spreaders and this a truth which could be universally acknowledged if there were not so many attempts to deny it. Why? Because schools cannot stay closed for long, no matter how fast the virus spreads. On this purpose, we are given the most extraordinary procedures on a daily basis, which, however, underestimate one question: those who are in charge to think and plan believe that students observe rules in the same way North Korean parliament does, when Kim Jong-un attends sessions,

while they should likely reason more on the Italian parliamentarian model of behaviour to get something right.

For example, making the use of  masks mandatory for students is a good thing, but it would be really effective only if they kept them stuck on their mouths. This means that those teenagers should never move from their seats and pull their masks down to make themselves heard by the nearest mate sitting 50 cm far as soon as you turn your back or nibble food when unseen. Only in this case this measure has a chance to work. The perfect scenario school advisers have in their mind cannot happen, because it is not in the youngsters’ nature to be diligent statues and I am not Kim Jong-un. Those thinkers don’t have a clue of what happens in a school and how difficult it is to deal not only with adolescents, but  also with  their families, who are overwhelmed by a great deal of issues these days.

Let’s take one of those families as example to make myself clear. It is seven o’clock of a December morning and the silence of Mario’s home is broken by an: ” aaaachooooooo!!” It’s Mario. Mario’s mother hurries to see her boy and realizes that he has a cold. Yet, he does not look unwell, but she does not dare to take his temperature: if Mario were 37,5 , he should remain at home as school procedures recommend. She has the entire day scheduled. Her husband has already left for work. What can she do?  She decides to read the horoscope: “After 3 years Saturn is aligned with Jupiter again”. “Uhmmmmm, it must be a good thing”: she thinks. Mario is sent to school.

It 9:30 a.m. and Mario sits right in the centre of a classroom with about 30 kids and myself. The boy looks sick and pale and has a pile of tissues on his desk. He must have a cold, but I realize he is not the only one. I feel surrounded by the invisible enemy, which must house in at least one those visible kids, I am sure. Then, my attention is caught by Mario again. To my horror, I see the boy take off his mask and” aaaaaaaaaaccccchhoooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!”

Mrs Tink 😱😱: Mariooooooooo, what the heck are you doing? Why did you take your mask off while you were sneezing? Why do you think are masks for? You didn’t even put your hand before your mouth! Are you nuts?

Mario 🤧: I didn’t want to spoil the mask, I have only this one with me.

Mrs Tink 😠: but we have thousands of masks, you can get as many as you need .

Mario😥: But Teach ! I don’t like them, they look like underpants and are smelly! Couldn’t I have one of yours? Yours look different .

MrsTink🙄 (lying): Ehm, this is the only one I have got. Mario, you look feverish🤒, go and have your temperature measured.

I call a janitor who takes Mario to the Covid room. The janitor comes back:

Janitor : Mrs Tink, Mario has a temperature of 38,2, but he swears he is absolutely fine and wants to come back.

Mrs Tink🤯: Good heavens, lock him in! Get someone to call his mother, so she can take him home.

Mario’ s mother comes to get her son. She is quite annoyed. Parents are always annoyed when they are called in, as if we were not taking care of their children’s health, but acting out of spite. The kid was fine the morning she says 🤥. The following day Mario is not at school, and we are informed he is Covid test positive.

Last year in such a case remote lessons would have been organized, but this year things have changed. For worse. If there is one case in a class the entire group is to be tested as soon as possible and then again after 5 days, but they are still admitted to attend lessons in presence. Only if there are 3 cases in the same class the lessons will be from remote. In the meanwhile panic is generated, some parents prefer not to send their children to school to skip Covid tests and the risk of being quarantined too. You have also to take into consideration that these days, after the new Covid surge, being tested, means a queue of hours and hours here. 

Christmas queue in Rome

Thank God, Christmas has arrived  to give us a break or this is what I thought. On Christmas night, exactly at 0:05, an email has informed me that Piero, who was seated next to Mario, has been tested positive. I will be sent the procedure to follow soon, as the very last day of school I was heroically with them to play “tombola” 🥳( a Christmassy Italian Bingo). What did that song say? No more heroes anymore!!!

Merry Christmas!

This is the most wonderful time of the year.  It has always been so since I was a little girl to me, and this is not for Christmas in itself, but because all my “events” are concentrated in this part of the year in a fabulous bacchanal which stretches from my birthday on December 3rd to Christmas, name-day on the 26th – as Mrs Tink’s name is actually Stefania – to go to New Years’ celebrations and the coming of the Befana  on the 6th of January. This was still the most wonderful time of the year even when I realized  that as I was growing older, rather  than receiving a present for each singular celebration it had become customary to get  1 present for all of them together. A bigger one, I was said. A big scam I thought. This is still the most wonderful time of the year even when I look back to past Christmases and I realize that at least half of them  have been unpleasant if not tragic. Yet, I never associate tragedy to Christmas, just I can’t. This is why I am determined to make this Christmas, any Christmas the most wonderful time of the year despite all the presents I have not received, bad thoughts and above all the hard times we have all been sharing for too long. I wish you all to have a fabulous time anyhow. Merry Christmas. Tink.

Together

In a previous post, at the beginning of this outbreak, I had stated  that the experience of disasters often promotes social changes and the coming together of communities in order to help one another, as the presence of a common enemy, like this virus, reinforces the impression of being an active  part a community. And, this is how it started: together. Despite the shock, fears and heavy lockdowns, we all gathered singing together from our balconies, showing our rainbows of hope, hands together, brothers and sisters from all over the world saying: everything will end well. We truly believed so. I did. However, after almost  two years, not only the battle against Covid hasn’t ended yet, but that feeling of brotherhood seems to be lost. What went wrong?

After such a long time it is natural to feel psychologically worn out and restless. We all have the impression to have been caged in an invisible prison unaware of how many years we have ahead to serve this sentence. Pandemics have been a constant threat  in the history of man, and for centuries they have been tackled more or less in the same way: quarantines, social distancing, lockdowns. It  has also been very  similar the growing sense of dissatisfaction and intolerance with which people endured those restrictions in the long run, as despite all those measures, future was still shaky. Vaccines have constituted  the only solid difference from previous pandemics, our wild card, but it is exactly on this matter that the most insane radicalization in the perception of reality has happened.

A war between pro-vaxxers  and anti-vaxxers, whose tones and fury remind me of the religious fights of the 16th century, has broken out most violently and I am talking about religion on purpose, as during debates I notice that dogmatic approach to the question of vaccines, which  is  more typical of faith rather than science. The means of modern communication, I have to say, actually help our natural propensity to polarisation. We have got used in time to grabbing meanings quickly stopping at headlines, which are impactful on purpose, thus avoiding the effort of going beyond  the first paragraph of an article. This is how information becomes misinformation. Such superficial approach, in fact, tends to a simplification of the reality, which offers no different interpretation from:  black or white, pros or cons . Yet, “A truth is rarely pure and never simple” warned Oscar Wilde, but it cannot be denied that this approach has resulted  into a radicalization of opinions: you are with me or against me.

Politicians have made their good part in radicalizing the situation even more. At the beginning of this outbreak governments couldn’t but navigate by sight, trying to avoid the rock of an economic crisis and protect the health of people at the same time. We were still all together on that ship then. When vaccines were made available, things changed. Hailed as the panacea for any problem: the end to the state of emergency, school openings, the saving of global economy, lives and more, vaccines became totemic. It was at that point that the most unexpected turn in the narration of this pandemic from almost all governments took place: all of a sudden we were not all together against the ominous virus any longer, but those who refused to be vaccinated and those who questioned the totem were the new enemies, the scapegoats of any possible future failure.

In short, I , Mrs Tink – fully vaccinated – was relegated to the side of no-vaxxers, flat-earthers, virus deniers and such, because I am unable to read the reality as either 0 or 1. I don’t want to discuss science, I am not qualified, but I want only to make a point on what we know for sure on how these vaccines work today and draw a conclusion:

CERTAIN OUTCOMES 

 1. After 1, 2 even 3 jabs I can still be infected and pass on the disease, as vaccines do not provide full shield.

 2. People who were previously protected because of a prior infection can now be quite vulnerable to getting reinfected and passing on the disease.

POSSIBILE OUTCOMES

1. The vaccines’ protection against severe disease holds strong .

At this point I don’t think it is blasphemous to state that vaccines have not worked as hoped. Reports suggest that large indoor gatherings of fully vaccinated people can become super-spreader events, but governments, and Italian government in particular, keep  passing off responsibilities to the small minority, who has refused to get the jabs. All the others, who have been provided with a Green pass or Covid pass which allows free outdoor/indoor  circulation –  without the necessity of wearing masks – , have been told to be bulletproof, therefore, as far as we know now, free to catch and pass the disease all the same. This measure is particularly odious in Italy, as, if you are not vaccinated you are suspended from work, hence, our constitutional rights are at stake here.

And now it’s about Christmas. Just in time to “celebrate” yet another variant , which , as far as we know, compromises the effect of vaccines and most antibody therapies . We have been recommended to stay at home, avoid family gatherings with more than 6 people, wear masks, keep distanced etc. again . This Christmas, the same as last Christmas and, if governments don’t understand than we must fight this thing together, educating people rather than blaming them, the next too. Alone.

On Flashbacks and Flashforwards

I don’t know about you, but as tv series addicted,  I have grown annoyed with the massive unnecessary use of flashbacks and flashforwards in storytelling. “ How to get away with Murder” drove me absolutely crazy because of the exaggerate use of this technique, thus making the narration somewhat predictable and BO-RING. Let alone “How I met your mother”.  After yet another flashforward in season six I had to wait till season eight to finally know who married who. Two entire seasons! Even a couple of days ago, while watching “Harlem”, the black, LGBT version of “Sex and the City”, the most unnecessary flash back –  an entire episode which meant to give light to some absolutely superfluous truths – was placed in the midst of the story. I understand that they want us to be glued  to the screen, but if these interruptions to a chronological narration are not skilfully planned, the outcome is just boredom rather than revived interest.

Flashbacks, in fact, help  find  the sense of a particular situation of the present, revealing  details  or  secrets from the past. While flashforwards provide anticipations. Their function  is  to enhance curiosity, as you are allowed to see a small fragment of the future, but as it is only a small part of a whole and being devoid of its context, it  is meaningless, but intriguing enough to make us want for more. Yet, their use should be dosed, pondered, otherwise flashbacks and flashforwards cannot but be downgraded to useless special effects.

The point is  that if you mean to write a story breaking here and there the chronological order of narration, there must be a good  reason to do it and you should figure the impact on the watcher.  On this purpose, I would humbly suggest to these screenwriters  the reading of a masterpiece of literature where there is an excellent use of flashbacks and flashforwards: “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte  .

When the novel begins 95% of the story has already taken place. The first narrator, Mr Lockwood,  is “hired” only on the purpose of arousing our curiosity, but  as he is a total stranger to the events, how can he perform his duty? Just telling what he sees. In the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights, in fact,  Lockwood only describes people and tells us his impressions about his neighbours: the atmosphere of Wuthering Heights, his meeting with his rude, hot landlord named Heathcliff, the bunch of sullen, mysterious people who live there, whom  he can’t detect  how they are connected one to another, the night visit of a ghost and more. It is the detailed report of  his experience there, that triggers a great quantity of questions in the reader, but this narrator won’t be allowed to give the answers. This is the reason why Emily Bronte calls him Mr Lockwood, as to remark  that “unlocking” mysteries is not  his function here, but quite the contrary.

As Lockwood cannot tell us more than his impressions, a second narrator is needed. Somebody  who knows everything and can unravel the thread of the story, and Emily Bronte’s choice falls on Nelly Dean, a witness of the events. Being the governess of Thrushcross Grange , where Lockwood resides, Nelly is able to satisfy all his curiosities, therefore, she tells him the entire story starting from the beginning. From this moment a long flashback  begins, which stretches from the arrival of Heathcliff when he was a little boy to the present events.

I have to say  that the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights are so rich and extremely powerful  in narrative tension that after the initial fireworks the chronological  narration proceeds in a sort of slow “diminuendo” rather than “crescendo” in emotion, despite the many twists in the story.  It is very likely that the necessity to enliven the end of  the novel  could be the reason why Emily Bronte employs the flashback stratagem in her the last three chapters too. Lockwood, in fact, comes back after six month absence and he is told the latest, shocking  news by Nelly, which includes: Heathcliff’s death, his reunion with his beloved Catherine after death – as their ghosts have been seen wandering in the moors – but also happier outcomes. Hence, Emily Bronte not only manages to engage once again her –exhausted – reader, but also balances the structure of the novel providing it with and effective “finale”.  

Read the classics, dear screenwriters, read the classics!

Lady Bracknell’s Wisdom

II do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.” (The Importance of Being Earnest)

Far-sighted  Lady Bracknell had wisely identified the virus which would have endangered her world made of privileges one day: education. Masses could not constitute a problem so long they were kept ignorant, hence, untouched by schooling which was spreading in the 19th century. Just  like any other virus, Lady Bracknell thought it needed to be circumscribed otherwise: 

“… it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.” (The Importance of Being Earnest)

Hence, if education  were effective in England as elsewhere,  it would threaten the established order, Lady Bracknell feared. And the grand lady was right to be worried, because this is exactly what happened in the following decades of the early twentieth century. Education actually tampered worldwide ignorance  making no distinction amongst gender, social class and colour of the skin, thus providing access to that “social elevator” thanks to which anybody could be allowed to reach a station different from where he was placed at birth. Till something changed. Lady Bracknell, as conscience of the advanced “Western civilization”, made her voice  be heard again: “ Are you really  sure that increasing to such extent the number of educated people would result into an improvement of mankind? Can’t you see the dangers of giving anybody the tools to fully understand the schemes on which societies are founded?  You mean to fight ignorance, and this is commendable, but then, in such world of cultivated people, who would accept to stay at the bottom of the social ladder– unless you admit  immigrants in your “advanced countries”, who, on the other hand, once part of the democratic educating system you planned, would also expect to advance socially eventually? “

When these kind of doubts started to surface towards the end of the twentieth century, it was too late to  go back. The right to education  for anybody could not be discussed or circumscribed again to station, gender etc. , hence, other ways should have been found to satisfy that conscience with its ominous speculations.  Eventually, three strategies were detected : a) re-defining the objectives of education and educators; b) proving that education was not the only “social elevator”; c) lowering learning standards.

If the sacred fire of teaching placed you in a school, because you romantically thought to educate, forge personalities or simply to  give the basis for future opportunities, I am sure you have grown a bit disappointed, like myself, as today  a teacher is mostly required to be an entertainer. The quality of courses is measured on how lively and fun these are perceived . That is why we are kindly suggested  to get a degree at the Barnum Circus Academy , which we eagerly do and you know why?  For fear of being labelled with scarlet letter “B” of boring. If you demand neatness, correctness, insight you are BO-RING. And what about the knowledge of dates and rules? SACRILEGE!!!! Knowledge has no longer reference points such as time or space, it ..floats in the air.  After all, is it really important to know when  the French Revolution  took place? Isn’t all the effort to memorize dates a waste of  time ? It seems it is, underestimating the fact that, for example, while memorizing you could notice that the date in question is  a sequence of 789 (1789), thus stimulating the neurons which rule associations and being able even to create nets of knowledge. In fact, I could also venture to say  that 100  years before another important revolution had taken place: the Glorious Revolution and compare the two. With one effort, two dates and two revolutions.  But it seems I am obsolete in having such expectations and this why the majority of our students roams in “meaninglessland”, as they  have grown unable in time to give the necessary  time and space frame to what they apprehend. Those dots of knowledge, if not connected, end up inevitably engulfed  by the abyss of ignorance.

Of course, any measure of learning,  such as tests or more, must take into consideration the sensibility of the student, who must never perceive that measurement as too oppressive or frustrating . Homework is mostly seen unnecessary and pointless and should never conflict with the truly useful time our students spend in their many activities. When I try to make my point asking if Usain Bolt would have been such a champion anyhow without training , they are all aware that talent is not enough to reach such goal. “Well, learning is the same”, I reply . “What did you say?” Ah, BO-RING.

Maybe they are right. I am boring. After all, our society has opened to a myriads of “working” opportunities which are not strictly connected  with schooling. The new “professions” such as youtuber, influencer, footballer, tiktoker etc. provide this generation with what they believe to require : money and visibility. Here in Italy, for example,  being a “tronista” has been one the most craved “positions” amongst the youngsters these last 20 years. A “tronista” is a young  man or a woman  who sits on a throne for weeks till she/he decides to pick one among the many suitors who are, episode after episode, eliminated. If this is what they have in mind, how many chances do I have to make them be interested in what and epiphany is, for example? Epiphy…..what?

That is why, we teachers have given up in time. We have given up tilting at windmills preaching effort and dedication  and accepted to do what we are demanded : lowering learning standards and we did it, no need to say, with the approval and great satisfaction of parents or at least the majority of them. Those parents believe that the aim of education is just getting the diploma, what we call here contemptuously “a piece of paper”. That diploma is nothing but a toolbox ,and what makes the difference is the number of the tools you have collected during the school years, rather than the box itself. If the toolbox you are given is just an empty box, unless the student in question is a youtuber, influencer, footballer, tiktoker, “tronista” or any other excellence of this “social” era , he’ll need money and time to obtain those tools, in short, those who have means and connections can anyhow manage their way in the world , while all the others will be left behind to follow their dreams of effortless success.  So, after more than one hundred years it is reasonable to say that Lady Bracknell’s fears have been crushed: the privileges of the upper classes are secured today more than ever. The wise lady can look at the future with great confidence.