ME, MYSELF, AND I, E.G.

My friends, here is a most extraordinarily awkward avoidance of “me”, from an announcement of an AGM delivered today via e-mail:

“… receive and approve our Treasurer’s Report, receive and discuss reports from myself, our Artistic Director, and … ”

Huh?

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THE DREAD OF SUMMER LEARNING LOSS

Imagine, studies show that during the summer break kids forget a whole lot of what they were taught in school.

According to On Line College, scores in standardized tests are lower in the fall than they were at the end of the school year in June. That’s because kids have usually lost at least two months-worth of math computational skills. (I don’t dare ask just what two months-worth might mean, but I can’t help wondering. Do mathematicians measure their skills in months?) Oh well, as if that weren’t bad enough the kids have also slipped two months or more in spelling and reading. According to The New York Times article This Is Your Brain on Summer, “Summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of underachievement in our schools.”

Oh heck! Just when I was beginning to enjoy it.

Golly, what are these kids doing all summer? Just goofing off when they should be practising math and spelling? Or is it just that what they have been “taught” matters so little to them that forgetting is perfectly natural and to be expected? I’ll bet they haven’t forgotten how to play soccer.

As you might expect, the suggested remedy is more school. Cut out summer vacation completely or provide more school during the summer. The usual philosophy is: If it isn’t working, give them more of it.

Nevertheless, school people bemoan the fact that the first couple of months of the school year are spent in catching up. After all, those standardized tests are lurking there ready to pounce, so the kids had better get brushed up and ready or else the school will look bad in the comparative ratings. However, do not fear, various experts on Summer Leaning Loss have emerged and are providing helpful tips to remedy the problem. Sarah Macoun, educational psychologist with the University of Victoria, in a CBC interview, suggests “Do a little bit of math” and “Keep reading”. I guess kids don’t get out during the summer and build forts and race tracks the way we used to, and, school has apparently turned reading into such an unpleasant chore that books are to be avoided at all costs. As someone once said, the surest way to stop a runaway horse is to bet on it, and accordingly, the surest way to kill interest in anything is to threaten to have a test on it.

But Professor Macoun also has her soft side; her Tip Number Three is “Have fun.” “[Kids] are learning specific facts and skills when they’re in the classroom, but it’s really important that they’re applying those to real life situations and that they’re having those less-structured experiences.” Imagine! You have to apply what you learned–or forgot– in school to “real life situations.” There’s no escaping it.

Finally, As Ivan Illich puts it (in Deschooling Society): “A major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.” and “Schools themselves pervert the natural inclination to grow and learn into the demand for instruction.”

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WHY THE FRASER INSTITUTE LIKES PRIVATE SCHOOLS

In the previous post (FRASER INSITUTE SAYS PRIVATE SCHOOLS ARE OK), I pointed out how we were told repeatedly that any notions we might have of private schools as expensive and elite were uninformed, misguided, and incorrect. Furthermore, private schools provide us with choice. Just think, you can choose between sending your kids to any of the, relatively uniform, public schools in the city or to one of the private schools that may offer just what you’re looking for in the way of religion, academic emphasis, or educational philosophy.

The Fraser Institute, I said, exists to provide appropriately slanted “research” to support and legitimize right wing government and corporate agendas. So what is the agenda supported by promoting the “choice” offered by private schools? And why should government support private schools to make them more “affordable”? It’s not exactly rocket science to figure out that the Christy Clark Liberal government favours a two-tiered school system just as they favour a two-tiered medical system—not mention the various PPPs (Public-Private-Partnerships) that they enjoy and promote.

The “choice” offered is simple: Take the under-funded, trimmed down public school (or health system) paid for by your taxes, or pay handsomely for a private school (or a deluxe medical clinic). The more you pay the more you get in the way of prestige. It’s an excellent way to reduce taxes, especially for the wealthy and for corporations, and to cut down on government funding for and “interference” with public institutions. It’s the “small government” that the right wing conservatives love so much.

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FRASER INSTITUTE SAYS PRIVATE SCHOOLS ARE OK

The Fraser Institute has released a study (A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada, June 29, 2016)

The study informs us that private—they prefer independent—schools are really just for regular folks who happen to think their kids should not mingle with the riff-raff in the public schools. The study is quick to reassure us that “Contrary to the common caricature that they are enclaves for the urban elite, independent schools parents come in a wide variety of types and serve many educational preferences.”

And, of course it’s OK—even desirable—that the government provides funding for these schools because they provide such a valuable “service.” (See “Independent Schools Getting Money,” The Tyee, May 17, 2016) But, hey, haven’t I paid taxes so I could send my kids to a public school? Then why am I also paying taxes to support private schools? Oh yes, remember how often we are reminded how important it is for people to have “choice”—especially if they can afford it. In a Fraser Institute press release we are told that “It’s time for British Columbians [to] understand and recognize the tremendous value and choice provided by independent schools to the education system and to families across the province.” (emphasis added)

The Fraser Institute research report reiterates (ad nauseam) the message that we are mistaken if we think that private schools—oops, independent schools—are only for some (vaguely defined) elite. We are re-assured that the research “ … seeks to address the persistent myth that independent schools are of one dominant type serving a single sort of family. Contrary to the common caricature that they are enclaves for the urban elite, independent schools [sic] parents come in a wide variety of types and serve many educational preferences.”

In case you missed the point, we’ll tell you again–and again:

“Rigid typecasting of independent schools is more myth than reality. In Canada, the lingering stereotypes are not reflective of the landscape.”

“Furthermore, it is vital that lingering stereotypes and common caricatures of independent schools be questioned for their accuracy. The broader implications address government stances toward educational diversity and choice … “ (my emphasis again)

“[Parents] are choosing schools that differ in many ways from one another, the vast majority of which do not conform to the prevailing caricature that private schools in Canada are exclusive enclaves serving only the wealthy urban elite.”

The Institute’s press releases hammer home the message:

“The widespread misperceptions of independent schools in B.C. impede honest debate about the benefits of these schools in the province.”

“The numbers tell the tale. Old myths about independent schools in Canada simply aren’t supported by the facts. They are not defined by exclusivity. They exist for parents and students who want something other than what they can find in public schools.”

And in case you still have any doubts:

“The evidence examined in this study leads to a clear finding. Rigid typecasting of independent schools is more myth than reality. In Canada, the lingering stereotypes are not reflective of the landscape.”

And while we’re at it let’s get in a little jab at the government-run system:

“Independent schools are also almost always self-managed, relying on leadership and management internal to the school, rather than the echelons of specialists resident in public school board offices.”

Hmmmm.

But wait a minute! What would it cost for me to send my kids to a private school? Say I have three kids, all of elementary school age. I could send them to the Vancouver Waldorf School, which seems to be the least expensive, at a minimum of $3,720 per child. This would cost me $11,160 per year. Or should I prefer a Montessori School, the price jumps to $5,050 per child or $15,150 per year. If I’m living over in Shaughnessy or Kerrisdale, I can choose to send my daughter to Crofton House for a mere $18,950. Most private school fees range anywhere from $15,000 to over $25,000 per year. At least there’s choice.

Sorry to say, folks, I could never have afforded even the Waldorf School. I’m sure the Fraser Institute people would not consider $11,160 a year a tuition fee for the elite, but it’s far beyond the means of average wage earners trying to provide food and clothes for their kids. Maybe I just don’t understand what “elite” means.

As you might expect, the conclusion is that independent schools merit support from the government (my taxes, that is). After all, the Fraser Institute exists to provide appropriately slanted “research” to support and legitimize right wing government and corporate agendas. Well, look who’s paying for it: According to journalist Murray Dobbin, 31% of the Fraser Institute’s revenue comes from corporations and 57% from “business-oriented charitable foundations” such as the Donner Foundation and the free-market-oriented John Dobson Foundation. In addition, a report stated that the Fraser Institute received $120,000 in funding from oil giant ExxonMobil a.k.a. Koch Brothers.”

As you can see, the Fraser Institute is well funded, and having lots of money gets you attention in the media. Fraser Institute reports are announced as “news” in the papers and on radio and television. If you’re waiting to hear an alternative view, forget it. The views of the left-leaning think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, rarely enter the picture

You might like to know, too, that the Fraser Institute is opposed to Canadian gun control laws. Studies prove …

Maybe if I had been properly trained in an “elite” private school I would understand. Damn!

 

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ME, MYSELF, AND I

Have you noticed how some people avoid using the word “me”? I guess they were told in childhood that it is impolite to refer to oneself in the first person objective case. As in “gimme, gimme, never gets”? As an example, I was recently offered “Here is a photo of Mary and I.” (Names changed to protect the guilty.) I doubt that this person would ever say, “Here is a photo of I.” Or, if self-effacement is the name of the game, perhaps they would never allow a solo picture to be taken. But then if such a photo were taken, they would have said, “Here is a photo of myself,” as though “self” is somehow a separate, ever-so-genteel, entity from “me.” However: “I took this photo of myself, but Mary took this one of me.”

Here are few more examples of the self in action: “That article was written by myself” or “Mary and myself had our pictures taken.” (Correctly:” That article was written by me.” “Mary and I had our pictures taken.”) There are many perfectly useful applications of “myself”, for example: “I’m going to get myself a new suit” or “I’ve planned this party just for myself.” “I’m going to sit right down and write myself a letter.” You can see that “myself”—a reflexive pronoun—can be an intensifier or a way of putting yourself at a slight distance. However, this is neither appropriate nor sensible when simply referring to an action done to or performed by “me.” To set the record straight, the reflexive pronoun (myself, herself, himself, itself, oneself, yourselves, themselves, etc.) refers back to the person already named in the sentence. For example, “Mary cut herself.” or “I photographed myself.” Therefore, the reflexive pronoun cannot stand by itself as a subject or object of a verb or preposition.

It helps to remember that English is best spoken (or written) directly and simply. Just use plain old Anglo-Saxon grammar. I think I’ve already railed against the use of “at this point in time” instead of “now.”

There are a few grammatical aberrations that have become acceptable: The use of “they” to refer to a single person (see above). It has also become acceptable to reply to the question, “Who is it?” with “It’s me,” using the objective form of the pronoun rather than the more stilted sounding, but correct, “It’s I.”

Then there is “Please give that letter to him and I.” Have you also heard, “Him and me are going steady. “

Enough said!

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CANADA’S HEROES, SUNG AND UNSUNG

Canadian news media were full of prideful announcements when Milos Roanic defeated Roger Federer “in a breakthrough semifinal performance that will be remembered as a watershed moment in Canadian tennis.” It is notable that Federer, known as “the Swiss superstar,” had never been defeated in the final four at the All England Club at Wimbledon. “It’s a pretty special recognition to the state of Canadian tennis and it’s not just me,” Raonic said.

At the same time, another Canadian, seventeen-year-old Denis Shapovalov, won Wimbledon’s boy’s title by beating out Alex De Minaur, an Australian, in three sets. Shapovalov, who is from Richmond Hill, Ontario, said, “Canadian tennis is moving forward a lot. Hopefully it doesn’t stop here. Even the next generation can see it’s possible and start working hard and we will have more Grand Slam champions in the future.”

These young men are talented and hard-working at what they do, and they certainly deserve their notoriety and our admiration, but what about two other young Canadians who have advanced to some of the highest positions in the musical world? Media were almost entirely silent.

Nikki Chooi, a young violinist from Victoria, B.C. has recently been appointed as concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. This is one of the most prestigious positions in the world of music. Not only is the Metropolitan Opera among the four or five major opera companies in the world but its orchestra is also recognized as one of the finest. Chooi, born in Victoria in 1989, has performed with orchestras throughout Canada and around the world. He made his debut, at the age of twelve, with the Victoria Symphony. He went on to study at the Juilliard School in New York, and has performed with orchestras throughout Canada and around the world. Reflecting on his appointment with the Met orchestra, Chooi said, “It’s a dream job. The orchestra is known to be … one of the leading ensembles in the world, and just to think that I’m about to be a part of it this coming September, it’s crazy to think. It hasn’t settled in yet. I’m still on cloud nine.”

Another Canadian appointed to a top position at the Metropolitan Opera was Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a young conductor from Montreal. The forty-one-year-old French-Canadian conductor succeeds James Levine, who held the position for forty years but retires at the end of this current season. Nézet-Séguin made his Met debut in 2009 conducting Bizet’s Carmen – a “bracing, fleet and fresh account of the score” from which “the singers benefited immensely,” wrote the New York Times’s reviewer. Nézet-Séguin has since conducted Don Carlos, Rusalka and La Traviata there, and opened the 2015-16 season with Verdi’s Otello, about which the Wall Street Journal wrote: “If the action on the stage sometimes flagged, there was plenty in the pit, where the superb conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, etched a high-tension dramatic arc.” “Becoming the music director of the Metropolitan Opera is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me,” said Nézet-Séguin. “I believe [it] is the greatest opera company in the world with the best principal singers on the planet.”

Why weren’t these appointments major news items? If Wimbledon is the Metropolitan Opera of tennis, then surely the Met is the Wimbledon of opera! Go figure.

 

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SPORTS, ARTS, LIFE AND IMPENDING DEATH

I was hearing this morning that sports teams have the possibility of covering uniforms and jerseys with advertising. The National Basketball League appears to be the first to adopt this practice, thinking it’s a good idea that will generate around $100 million in new revenue. What with the relentless promotion of sports on radio and TV, it’s not surprising that corporate interests would see an audience there for their ads.

Many people have read and commented on Louis Menard’s article (The New Yorker, May 16, 2016) “Show them the money”, addressing the issue of sports and money in a review of two books: “This Is Your Brain on Sports” (Crown Archetype) by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers; and “Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution” (Simon & Schuster) by Matthew Futterman. I found many of the statements made by Menard pertinent, although I have to say that nothing was really new to me. For example: “For everyone knows what the social role of sports is today. It is, via commercials and endorsements, to sell stuff. And everyone knows what makes that possible is television.” The Super Bowl is the outstanding example; seconds of advertising time sell for millions of dollars. With viewers numbering well over 100 million, you can see why advertisers are eager to occupy even a second or two of the telecast. Imagine how much more exposure a corporation could get with, say, a recognizable logo (e.g. the Nike swoosh) on the backs of players. The possibilities are staggering.

As an amusing but deadly accurate sidebar, I am reminded of Stan Freeberg’s 1958 radio skit “Green Christmas” in which avaricious corporate admen enthusiastically co-opt the messages of Christmas in order of promote their products, even to having the Wise Men bearing gifts of brand-name spices to the Christ Child.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiHlJWvFCys  Freeberg’s barbed arrows of 1950s irony would have be turned into nuclear missiles to target the marketing practices of today.

By the way, it’s also well known that television programs are only there to deliver an audience for the commercials. The mind-numbing sitcoms and game shows serve this purpose admirably. But we know that television viewing is in decline, and Menard points out that the actual audience for sports programs, aside from mega events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics (what an advertising fest that is!), are aging and dwindling. In fact, fewer than four percent of the population of the United States regularly watches sports on television. This is not a big enough audience to attract big-time advertisers, but there is a trick to make you pay for it whether you watch or not. That involves the cable companies, who bundle sports channels along with whatever it is that you might actually be willing to pay for. You may be aware of how assiduously the cable companies figured out how to hoodwink consumers after the Canadian government ruled that they had to provide a $25 choose-your-channels service. Corporations are reluctant to give any real choices to citizens and customers. It looks more and more as though they don’t have to.

Advertising has as its purpose the selling of goods that we didn’t know we needed or wanted. Need I mention that this is a lesson we are taught in school from the earliest age? After all, isn’t a whole lot easier just to do what we’re told rather than to struggle with the mental gymnastics required for making informed choices? And the duller and more ignorant the populace the easier the selling job.

Maxim Gorky pointed out, in 1928, “Sport has a single clear purpose: to make people even more stupid than they are.” Not that sports necessarily make us dumb, but the constant emphasis on sports—and on popular music—through the media preclude the delivery of information on other aspects of human endeavour. Don’t let anyone know about the accomplishments of composers, musicians, and other artists, and pretty soon the public will forget that they exist. After all, advertisers of toothpaste and deodorants aren’t about to place their logos on the backs of symphony musicians or pay artists to include product placements in their paintings. The arts are there to challenge the mind and to explore the infinite range of human emotion. Tough stuff for a public anaesthetised by mixed martial arts and the latest pop tunes.

In a 1948 essay “The Dehumanization of Art” José Ortega y Gasset says, “Cult of the body is an infallible symptom of a leaning toward youth, for only the young body is lithe and beautiful. Whereas the cult of the mind betrays the resolve to accept old age, for the mind reaches plenitude only when the body begins to decline. The triumph of sport marks the victory of the values of youth over the values of age.” As in sport, popular music is dominated by the young, and with its simple harmonies, persistent rhythms, and electronically enhanced instrumentation, it offers little of musical, poetic, or emotional interest. At the same time, many of the greatest—and most challenging—of classical music compositions were written by composers of advanced age and accumulated experience. Need I mention Verdi’s astonishing ebullient comedy “Falstaff”, written when he was 79!

But, as Menard points out, the sports industry is primed for decline. Tickets, merchandise sales, and broadcast rights do not generate sufficient money to support the industry. Hence the emerging reliance on advertising. But the prospects there are limited, based, as mentioned above, on the aging and dwindling audience. I’m sure you’re familiar with the image of the sedentary middle-aged, overweight, beer-drinking sports fan yelling, cursing, or cheering at the television. (“Hey, Honey, bring me another beer.”) Not an enticing prospect for product identification. According to 2008 North American statistics, about 60% of sports viewers are men, and of these, nearly one half are over the age of fifty. The only sport that appears to attract a younger crowd is major league soccer, and we know from European events what that leads to.

Talk of aging and dwindling audiences naturally starts me thinking about what’s happening in the world of classical music. According to statistics from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts the portion of concertgoers under 30 fell, from 1982 to 2002, from 27 percent to 8 percent. In 1937, in Los Angeles—and we can assume elsewhere—the median age of attendees at symphony concerts was 28! In 1982, the median age of concertgoers was 40 and by 2008 it was 49. Those of us working in the field of classical music are told all the time that audiences are dying off and not being replaced. If it’s true that the same is happening to sports audiences, it is in spite of massive advertising and media promotion. This makes classical music concert attendance look pretty good, because classical music is virtually ignored by the media—also by schools, where sports are promoted and funded, while music and art programs are always the first to be axed by budget cuts.

Incidentally, an accomplished classical musician stands a better chance of making a living—well, at least part of a living—than a person in sports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics there were 11,710 people in professional sports earning an average wage of $80,490 per year. In music (musicians and singers) there are 37,090 people earning a median annual wage of $71,500. This certainly includes people in popular and folk music, but there are over 1,000 symphony orchestras in the U.S. (more than 30 in Canada) including the major orchestras (New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles) that pay wages over $100,000 per year to their core players (usually 70 to 90). The few very high-paid athletes and high-paid musicians put an upward spin on the averages. Many of those 1,000 orchestras are either non-professional or low budget. It’s important to note, however, that a musician can have a professional life lasting 40 or 50 years, whereas an athlete’s working life is necessarily limited to a few years by physical constraints. Fund an athlete and you’ll get a couple of medals and several years of product endorsements; fund an artist and you’ll get a lifetime of achievement.

But the marketers know where the money is, so they will support the activities that appeal to the lowest common denominator in society, and those will probably not be found at the symphony concert, in the opera house, or at the art gallery. Perhaps the arts will simply die off along with intelligent discourse, thoughtful reflection, and social criticism. It will be a sorry loss and humanity will be much poorer for it. What will happen to sports is anybody’s guess, but with vigorous promotion from the marketers, schools, and media, as well as a public that idolizes youth, failure is not on the horizon.

Some time ago I posted a much longer piece about these same issues. It can be found here, if you’re interested: https://tdurrie.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/art-who-needs-it-anyway/

Here’s a link to Louis Menard’s article in The New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/the-professional-sports-bubble

And further to Gorky’s statement about sports, here’s a fascinating article by sports writer Frank Fitzpatrick
http://articles.philly.com/2016-05-30/sports/73429115_1_college-sports-higher-purpose-sports-fan

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