A Glimpse of Truth

Back to school after Christmas break: new rules, old madness. Post-Christmas  on-line staff meetings  have reached unbelievable levels of senselessness this year. Here is a sheer example.

Principal (smiling): Welcome back to school. Can you hear me? Yes? Good. I have had some problems with my connection this morning……So, we are gathered here today to implement the new dispositions from the Ministry of Education which have just been dispatched……

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Maria) : Here is yet another scam! To be sure. Ready?😤

                                          ( Mick) : You bet!😤

Principal:  (keeps talking)….. the teaching activity will continue in presence, with the obligation to wear FFP2 type masks.

Teacher WhatsApp chat ( Mick) : with 220.000 cases per day, in presence!!!😤

                                            (Susan) : they want us dead!😲

                                            (Maria) : wear the mask and go to war, well , I mean, to work! 😆

Principal: (keeps talking ) …….yet, I am afraid  we have no such masks at the moment. We have piles of boxes full of chirurgical masks, actually, nobody wants to wear, but I am confident  FFp2 masks will be sent soon.

Mick: Soon, when?🤔

Principal ( a bit annoyed): I don’t know. Soon!

Mick : That means never.😤

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Marco): Good point, Mick!

                                           (Susan): so it is mandatory to wear masks we are not provided with!

                                           (Maria) : What did I tell you?

                                           (Lory) : I have been wearing FFp2 masks since… ever, so  far nothing new .

  (Marco): all right, but if it is mandatory at work, I expect  my employer  to      provide for them.🤨

Pricipal: (still talking)“that is all………..Do you have any comment?”

Teachers (at unison) : Nope.😑

Principal: (hesitating) And…….there is the question  of  the recess. Starting from tomorrow students will be allowed to consume their  meals only  outside school. As a distance of at least two meters is to be  guaranteed……

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Maria) : two meters?🙄

                                            (Lory) : Can you figure the scene?🤣

                                            (Marco) : it may work only if we were provided with a whip too!!

                                            (Mrs Tink) : or if  we made marks of the ground!

(Susan) : or  if we played green light/red light like in Squid Game!

(Mrs Tink ): I would enjoy to be the doll! That would be really fun.

(Mick) : a class a  thirty should require a 150 square meters to keep such distance, multiplied by 26 makes……………3.900 square meters!😧

Principal (keeps talking): ………. the mask outdoors can  be  lowered only for the time strictly necessary to eat meals .

Mrs Tink: What if it rains?😒

Principal: In case of rain, students  will remain inside the school premises.  Of course, they won’t be allowed to have their meals, unless  the two meter  distance is  kept.

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Susan) : so now you need two meter distance to eat, after having  abolished school distancing. This is madness.

(Mick) : I will never be in class while they eat, for sure.

                                               (Marco) : This is just ridiculous!

Principal (scanning the screen) Any questions?

Teachers ( at unison) Nope.😑

Principal: ( talking her time) Yet.…we have studied  a way to save  recess………….😏

Teacher WhatsApp chat ( Mick) : Have they? I can’t way a second more!🤨

                                             (Maria) : Are you ready for another chaotic procedure?

Principal: First of all, the rooms occupied by the students are to be carefully ventilated….

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Marco): nothing new, what have we been doing so far?

                                           (Susan): there is more , for sure.

Principal (keeps talking) : ……………. student could  have  their  snacks  in turn….. in alternate rows,  and …. in each row………..every two desks . Of course, they will never  have to move from  the assigned station and they will be allowed to lower their masks  only for the time necessary to eat.

Mrs Tink: but as we have only 20 minute recess,15, actually, or less if you consider the time we need to have the rooms ventilated, they would have only 3 minutes to eat, more or less.😮

Principal: More, Mrs Tink,  as there are many of them quarantined  and follow classes from remote.

Mary: But they will come back from their quarantines sooner or later!

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Mrs Tink): I don’t give a damn, I will let them starve .😈

(Susan)     : So will I.  What have we become? Guardians? Cops? Janitors?

Principal (cutting short): ……talking about quarantines, I want to remind you that with two Covid cases in the same class, on-line teaching must be provided for those who have not had their booster dose yet . In  case more than  120 days have passed  since the vaccination cycle has been completed or virus recovery, the quarantine will last 10 days and it will be possible to come back to school only after being tested negative.

Mick: And what about the others?

Principal :  All the others will continue the  activities in presence wearing  FFp2 masks for 10 days . If the cases in the same class are three, on-line learning will be provided for ten days for the entire class.

Teacher WhatsApp chat: (Mrs Tink) More than 120, less than 120….I am lost!😵

                                           (Susan) My head spins.😵😵

Mick: but what about the matter of privacy? We had been clearly told at the very beginning  of the school year that we were ABSOLUTELY forbidden to make enquires  in matter of vaccines, and now I am entitled to pry even  into the timing of their choices!😠

Principal: Things change!

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Mick): for worse!😠

Principal: One thing more….😇

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Susan): it’s not over yet!

                                            (Maria): this is a nightmare!😲

Principal: well, in case, you, dear teachers,  haven’t  had  your booster dose yet  and more than 5 months have passed since your last jab, if  you are quarantined (hesitates) …ehm… you  won’t be paid……ehm…. for the time you have to stay at home (coughs).

Mrs Tink: What?🤬 You mean that if a couple of these brats from one of my classes are infected, I  may end up quarantined  and unpaid, despite my booster dose has been scheduled for the end of the month,  because more than 5 months have passed?

Principal: It is the law.😑

Mrs Tink: it is the law of two days ago, nonetheless,  my Green Pass won’t expire before February.

Principal (smiling): Sorry I can’t hear you. There must be some problems with the line again. I see you want ask que…..que……..stions, but , really………. I can’t hear……………. you. (The image freezes. The principal vanishes).

Teacher WhatsApp chat: (Susan) :This is outrageous!😤

                                            (Mick ) :This cannot be endured!😤

                                            (Maria) : This cannot be borne!😡

                 (Mrs Tink )  : This …….ahhh…I see  there is a chance I might anticipate my jab on January 20th   6:15 p.m.!

                                           (Susan): It’s today!

                                           (Tink) : So, I have only 20 minutes…. Byeee!!!🥺

 After all the show……oopss…… school must go on.

Kafka and the Travelling Doll

What is better that a good  story to make you feel in harmony  with the entire universe at least for a while? “Kafka and the travelling doll” is a beautiful story penned by Spanish writer Jordi Sierra I Fabra,  which, in a way,  throws a different light on Prague-born author Franz  Kafka (1883-1924). Kafka has always been pictured as a gloomy and pessimistic sort of  man, but Jordi Sierra  shows us his sensitive side narrating  an episode which  occurred to Kafka just a year before he died. It is not important to know whether it truly happened or not: it is just heart-warming.

At the age of 40, Franz Kafka, who never married and had no children, was walking through Steglitz Park in Berlin, when he met a little girl who was crying because she had lost her favorite doll. Kafka tried to help the little girl find the doll, but without success.

Kafka told her to meet him there the following day to continue the search. The next day, when they still hadn’t found the doll, Kafka gave the little girl a letter, which, he claimed, was written by the doll that said:

 “Please don’t cry. I went on a trip to see the world. I’ll write you about my adventures.”

That was the beginning of a story that continued until the end of Kafka’s life. During their meetings Kafka read the doll’s letters about her adventures and conversations that the little girl found adorable.

Finally, Kafka surprised the girl telling that the doll had returned to Berlin and handed it to her ( of course, he had bought a new one). But the girl was disappointed:

 “It doesn’t look like my doll at all!”

So, Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll had written:

“My travels have changed me.”

The little girl hugged the new doll and carried her happily home. A year later Kafka died. Many years later, the now adult child found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka  there was written:

 “Everything you love will probably be lost, but eventually love will return in another way.”

Malaussène Scheme

Haven’t you ever wished to have a Benjamin Malaussène in your family or circle of friends? That is, somebody always willing to take all the blame, even if it is you who has been caught with your hands in the cookie jar? Well, in case you have never heard about him, Benjamin Malaussène, is the protagonist of Daniel Pennac’s  popular saga of crime thrillers, and he works as ……scapegoat. Actually, he is in Quality Control of  “the Store”, but de facto he is the person called upon to take the rap when customers come in with complaints. It works more or less like this: Malaussène manages to assume all the blame, confessing his guilt in such an affecting way that customers take pity on him, so, “the Store” doesn’t have pay for any refund, and everybody is happy.

Being the scapegoat is Benjami’s fate outside “the Store” too. Even if the situations he finds himself are caused by a series of interests and precise logics which have nothing to do with him, he ends up hopelessly guilty. This scheme, which I would like to call Malaussène scheme, is fun on books, but when you realize that what you call fiction is nothing but the reality, you start to look at it with a different eye. In short, the scheme in constituted by the following 3 main steps : 1) spotting a problem, 2) finding the scapegoat, that is, demonstrating that somebody/something else caused the problem, 3) using the scapegoat as means to go back to the status quo ante or simply to upset the status quo, as scapegoats can be used both ways. The field of application I want to use to demonstrate how this pattern works is the one dearest to me: school.  

Step 1: PROBLEM. Every year in Italy there is a learning assessment that we call INVALSI.  It is aimed at measuring the level of competence in Italian, Mathematics and English of different groups of students: in essence, it photographs the state of health of our school system.  Well, it seems the  Italian school system is far more than sick, it has a foot in the grave, actually. Just to give you an idea 44% of high school students do not reach satisfactory levels in Italian , 51% in Mathematics, 51% in English-reading and 63% in English-listening in 2020/21. The figures for Italian and Mathematics are shocking, as for English, well, everybody knows there are no good English teacher in Italy, so, no surprise.

Step 2: THE SCAPEGOAT.  If data were  taken seriously, after such an outcome new strategies would have been studied, and quickly, but, of course, effective strategies have a cost,  particularly, if we think that there have been no investments on the school for decades here. Furthermore, I wonder whom the strategist might be, as I detect no such mind capable of drawing the guidelines of the new school or somebody who is not  in the pay of political forces. As it was crystal clear that there was no intent for a change and , of course, no money on the table, a scapegoat was necessary to justify such a downfall.  It  was not so arduous to find one, but  quite the opposite, it was handed on a silver  platter.  Since these were the first tests after the outbreak of the pandemic, the designated scapegoat couldn’t but become what had characterized education in the years of Covid 19: on-line learning.

Step 3: THE  SCAPEGOAT  EFFECT. Hence, on-line learning has become the source of any ill regarding school and more. Is a student depressed? It’s because of on-line learning. Anorexia or bulimia? On-line learning. Demotivation and frustration? The same answer. Even when talking to parents, on-line learning has become the perfect justification to any behaviour and achievement below the expectation, thus demanding indulgence on my side. The consequence? On-line learning has been banned. We are about to go back to school with more than 200.000 Covid cases per day, in small classrooms with about 30 kids, with no ventilation system working and with the most absurd plan to follow in presence of  Covid cases in class. In short, 6 months of on-line learning in two years have caused a drastic drop in the levels of competence of Italian students and mined their psychological stability. Is it to be believed?

THE VARIABLE. Scapegoats cannot always work, as sometimes significant events, let’s call them variables, happen.  These variables contradict mainstream narration so manifestly that they can neither be overlooked nor hidden.  The fact in questions was the selection of magistrates held from July 12 to December 2 2021: out of 5,827 candidates only 88 passed, and most of them were “rejected” because of the written test. The writing skills of the aspiring magistrates were regarded poor, as there were not only technical but also grammatical deficiencies . We are talking about candidates who have a university degree and a master at least and, this is no small detail for what I want to demonstrate, they must have been in their early thirties, so they could not be the product of on-line learning, but rather the clear effect of years of policies made of cuts only and reforms at zero cost. For years all the methods concerning education have constantly converged to one main goal: inclusion. What’s wrong with inclusion, some of you may ask? Absolutely nothing, it  is a very daring objective, but the only way we have to include all, and avoid what today is considered a mortifying selection, is by lowering learning standards. There is no other way, no other miracles can be done, unless governments decide to invest on education.  Hence, in order to avoid depopulation, universities couldn’t but lower their learning standards too. And this is the result.

You may now object that all this talking didn’t but demonstrate that scapegoats are ineffective. Quite the contrary. In case of variables, strategies have only to be integrated a little: you overwhelm means of information with contrasting data, thus creating chaos and wait till the event is forgotten. And this is how we keep proceeding to nowhere.

Propaganda, Mysteries and Slip-ups

“Art. 36 .It is necessary to prevent direct or indirect discrimination against persons who are not vaccinated, for example, because of medical reasons, because they are not part of the target group for which the COVID -19 vaccine is currently administered or allowed, such as children, or because they have not yet had the opportunity or chose not to be vaccinated. Therefore, possession of a vaccination certificate, or the possession of a vaccination certificate indicating a COVID-19 vaccine, should not be a pre-condition for the exercise of the right to free movement or for the use of cross-border passenger transport services such as airlines, trains, coaches or ferries or any other means of transport. In addition, this Regulation cannot be interpreted as establishing a right or obligation to be vaccinated”( REGULATION (EU) 2021/953. 14 June 2021).

“The habit of thinking ill of someone/something is a sin, no doubt, but very often you guess it right” was of the most famous mottos of Giulio Andreotti, who was a shrewd protagonist of Italian politics for more than half a century. So, yes, I am a sinner because I thought ill, when I read the Italian translation of EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation, published in the Official Journal of the EU, and I realized that the reference relating to the choice of not being vaccinated was missing. Yet, that part was not missing in the translations of the other EU countries and this makes me an awful sinner even more. It was just a slip-up, we were told. Nothing more.

Propaganda is a truth devoid of facts, some useful omission here and there, which makes the narrations of events slightly, conveniently different, but still remaining a truth. Words, images are chosen carefully, so that to impact on the irrational part of our brains, evoking fears or sometimes a sense of emergency. This new “emotional” truth is so effective that we are prone to accept it just the way it is. It does not mean to be discussed. A recent example? The narration of the  lockdown of the unvaccinated in Germany.

In Italy we have been bombed by all media for weeks and weeks on how effective the lockdown of the unvaccinated in Germany was, so effective, that after few weeks the rate of infected people had dropped drastically. So we were told. A miracle. No article actually explained in what this lockdown of the unvaccinated consisted. That was omitted. Everything was let to one’s imagination and my imagination associated the word lockdown to the very first lockdown, when queuing at supermarkets was one of the few chances to be in the open air, as we couldn’t even move further than 200 meters from home for a walk. Those were the days when at 6.00 p.m. we all gathered together to sing our frustration from our balconies, as if we were part of a propitiatory rite. This is what the word lockdown evokes to me, and many others have interpreted it the same way too, as more and more articles and comments started to claim to do as in Germany, that is, to lock all the rebels in their homes and throw the keys away. This is what we believed. For a while.

Germany is not that distant from here, so it has been inevitable in the long run to get reports which mined the authenticity of mainstream information. Different voices stated that in Germany the measures were similar to those adopted in Italy, although modulated in a different way, concretely in three levels, which overall offered more flexibility than the Italian system. Hence, there was no such lockdown for the unvaccinated. It had been proposed by parliamentarians in Austria, but rejected in Germany. Furthermore, the reported drop in the number of infected was incorrect and mostly due the a reduced number of tests.

At this point, whom should I have trusted? My thirst of truth brought me to disturb Aladin, who blogs at Lampmagician and lives in Germany (he was on vacationwhen I called him, actually), and he confirmed that such lockdown never existed there. This means that whatever we read should be subjected to intense investigation before being accepted as real, as today’s information is nothing but an endless ocean made of truths and lies, which are presented to us with same aura of credibility.

Hence, not only Italy and Germany adopt similar measures, but, and this is not a small detail, in Italy, the unvaccinated are not allowed to go to work, even if they make a test every other day. Vaccines are not mandatory, they say, only, you cannot work without the pass which proves you have had your two -and now three – doses. When I booked the booster jab, it clearly appeared on my screen, I was acting by my “free” choice, which was pretty annoying, as for teachers full vaccination has been mandatory since 15th December 2021. The article n°1 of our Constitution says that: “Italy is a democratic republic, founded on work”, but you may lose that Constitutional right if you refuse to be “voluntarily” vaccinated.

So, yes, I think ill and I am a sinner. Pretty soon the obligation of vaccination will be extended to all working categories, which could also be a good thing, I don’t mean to discuss vaccines here, but my fear lies in the fact that we have legitimized a method, that is, if you don’t do what it has been decided you lose your freedom and constitutional rights and, in my opinion, the word which better explains what’s going on here ends in –ism.

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.