Archive for October, 2007

Entry for October 12, 2007

October 11, 2007

HISTORY ON STAGE

A teacher in an American school who was instructing a class of younger kids in civil rights history put a noose round a black girl’s neck to demonstrate what all that looked like in the era of the Klan. The picture of the “lynching class” surfaced later in the Internet. The teacher was tightening her arms round the girl preventing her from sliding further down into the noose. I share the resentment and indignation of the commentators. Especially in view of what happened at Columbia University in New York the other day, when a noose was left on the office door of a black professor. Much can also be said about low teaching culture or tactlessness of the instructor. Although, there was at least one positive aspect about her action (if the absence of the negative may be called positive): she didn’t start burning the cross in the classroom to show how racial fear had been instilled in American neighborhoods.

The subject of my entry today is the methodology in the American classroom. The tendency has been, and still remains, to turn the process of studies into fun and, as a result, to simplify complicated historical or social events and phenomena instead of challenging students with the reality of the problems. Who said that learning must be “fun”? Learning is hard work and the teacher shouldn’t shun away from giving the kids “hard nuts to crack”. One of my university colleagues would make his little son read encyclopedias for adults and, believe me, it did not do the son any harm: he grew into an inquisitive and knowledgeable person. I do not deny that in this culture the “fun”-approach at schools isn’t practiced. At the end of the 1990’s there was a fad of turning classes of literature into debate clubs. The students were split into groups, each group advocating the views and justifying or criticizing the actions of this or that protagonist. “Those who support Natasha Rostova, please, sit in one corner of the room, and the supporters of Andrey Bolkonskiy go to the other corner”, said a teacher working on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Behind the curtain of the heated discussion and “team”-work (no denying, it was real FUN) there were hiding all those who hadn’t even opened the novel to read it. If the best had happened, they might have watched the video-taped screen version of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, but not more. Yes, it’s much easier (and much more fun 🙂 to put one’s head into a noose imitating lynching than to follow all the stages of the ex-slaves fighting for their freedom – from the time when some voters couldn’t even give their last names (many took any surname that went into their heads, often that of their former “Massa”) to the moment when Radicals in Congress, outraged by the night-riding lawlessness, passed the Force Acts of 1870 and 1871, outlawing the “Invisible Empire”. And again to the early 1920s when a new Ku Klux Klan, spawned by the post-war reaction became anti-foreign, anti-black, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-pacifist, anti-Communist, anti-evolutionist, anti-bootlegger, anti-adultery, anti-birth control, but pro-Anglo Saxon and pro-Protestant – with the rallying song “The Fiery Cross on High” and the brutal slogan “Kill the Kikes, Koons, and Katholics”. And all the way into the “stormy sixties” when the clergyman from Atlanta preached Christian love and embraced the non-violent tactics of Mahatma Gandhi clearing the way for black students to university education through the George Wallace chant “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”

No role play or stage-work (I admit, of course, that they may be useful as an auxiliary means) will be able to replace the informative, mind- and imagination-training load of the BOOK. That’s my position.

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Entry for October 11, 2007

October 10, 2007

NO ARTICLE

Peter Grünberg of Germany and Albert Fert of France have been awarded the Nobel Physics Prize Tuesday for their work which led to the miniaturized hard disk, one of the breakthroughs of modern information technology.

Gerhard Ertl of Germany won the 2007 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces, the Nobel jury said on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

German physicist Theodor W. Hänsch said he was overwhelmed by winning the 2005 Nobel Physics Prize but admitted he had long believed his work was worthy of such an honor.

I have googled the Ukrainian phrase: “Science in Ukraine — Wikipedia”. The first response reads: No main article in this category

Entry for October 09, 2007

October 9, 2007

HIGH-ER SCHOOL UNIFORM

My colleague is a law student. She works half-days — only in the mornings. In the afternoons she has her studies at the university. Before she left this afternoon I heard her discussing with her friend on the phone how they would be coming to the university today. The matter is that the administration of the university ordered that all the students should wear a uniform. Those who come in their usual clothes will not be allowed to attend lectures. The students had been made to buy the uniform at the cost of 350 hryvnas (about 70 USD). I do not really know how all this sounds to a representative of a culture other than Ukrainian, but even to me, the one who grew under the Soviet regime, that requirement of the principal’s office is more than strange. Do those Rip Van Winkles realise in what times they are living when they hail themselves loyal subjects to His Highness Goose-Step and PRussian discipline? The young generation nowadays is quite different from what the present-day educators were some thirty-forty ago.

Is the generation so much different? My colleague said that many would wear the uniform not because they liked it but because they were to take their finals this year and they could fail them if they opposed the will of the administration concerning the “uniformity”.

Entry for October 08, 2007

October 8, 2007

COLOURS

My American friend and I were watching the film “Doctor Zhyvago”. After the film finished, Pete asked: “Vitaliy, who are the Reds and who are the Whites in the film?”

Colours are historically and culturally dependent. Literary scholars notice the dynamics in building up colours throughout history. In earlier texts authors differentiated only two colours – bright and dark. Later a third colour came forth from dark red, which was followed by the whole gamut, also covering warm and cold colors. Different cultures have a different number of colour-names that divide the spectrum into parts. For instance six words in English red, orange, yellow, green, BLUE and violet fill the same field of colour as the seven Russian words: krasnyi, oranzhevyj, zholtyi, zelyonyi, GOLUBOY, SINIY, fioletovyi and the eight Ukrainian words: chervonyi, oranzhevyi, zhovtyi, zelenyi, BLAKYTNYI, HOLUBYI, SYNIY, fioletovyi (the Russian and Ukrainian words in capitals stand for the English word BLUE). The British people seem to be the most rational in terms of the language. Although one must admit that Isaac Newton tried to single out a seventh colour between blue and violetindigo. However most people decided not to “see” it. For some inexplicable reason they managed to linguistically distinguish the low-intensity orange-yellow, which is brown.

Various cultures see colours differently. In India blue is linked with Krishna, green — with Islam. Red symbolises wedding in India and means prosperity and luck in China. Also in China white stands for death. In Europe colours are more strongly associated with political parties than in the U.S.A. In post-Soviet countries red is associated with communism, “brown” — with fascism, “raspberry” colour (magenta) — with socialism, orange — with democracy and blue — with conservatism.

Anwering the question about the “Whites” and the “Reds”, one should probably begin with ancient Rome, where slaves wore red hats (to be recognised as slaves), so the red colour eventually started to be associated with rebellion against the propertied class (“the haves”). In revolutionary Russia (1918-1920) first supporters of the legal regime wore white arm-bands to oppose themselves to the rebels.

The existing colour terms are not enough and new word-combinations are coined while mankind is getting more observing. The example of the “raspberry’ color testifies to this. The other examples are aqua (in Ukrainian: “sea-wave” colour), cafe au lait (“coffee with milk”), sandy colour, straw color, etc.

With all that tangle of history and modern times, traditions and latest developments, physics and politics, let’s remember the eyes of those who are our own, close and dear. The eyes which are blue and brown, dark and hazel, grey, green, steel-coloured, kind, warm, good… No encylopedia says that colours may be associated with feelings. But they are.

Entry for October 05, 2007

October 5, 2007

WTD

Today is World Teachers’ Day. It is supposed to draw public attention to the role of teachers within society. This year the focus is on working conditions. The message put across is that better working conditions for teachers mean better learning conditions for learners. Teachers of the world demand a decent working environment, living wages, equal pay and equal rights, initial and ongoing professional development, involvement in policy-making.

The day was inaugurated Oct 5, 1994 to commemorate the joint signing of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers on Oct 5, 1966 (http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/TEACHE_E.PDF) Later there was another UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Educational Teaching Personnel (1997): http://www.unesco.org/images/0011/001132/113234mb.pdf They are interesting documents. For those who are in this profession I recommend to read the Recommendations. It’s like reading the UNO Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ha-ha)

Every year UNESCO launches a public awareness campaign to highlight the contributions of the teaching profession. I wonder, how many people – when you stop them in the street and start asking questions– would know about WTD and about the “contributions”. It’s worth keeping in mind that teachers in the ancient world were slaves. However, teachers are special sort. Do you know or remember the bus-driver who was taking you to your place of work this morning? Or the traffic policeman who was regulating the traffic at a busy crossroads in the city centre? But you remember your first or your best teacher.

My sister told me that many years ago when she was a university student, she arrived at our granny’s place and the grandmother asked her what she (the sister) would become after the graduation. “A teacher”, my sister answered. “It’s good”, the grandmother remarked, “when the Germans came ( in 1941-VB), there were no jobs in the village at all, but teachers were always employed.” A fairly convincing argument, isn’t it?

Yesterday I got a greeting card from my former pupil. After dropping teaching in 1994 I applied to be a translator, but even in that capacity I used to teach occasionally. That was when I met her. Now she is a young lady. At that time she was “just a kid”. My reply follows.

Dear Sonya,

Thanks a lot for your wonderful greeting – for your consideration and

your warm, sincere words.

Yes, we were happy to have worked together. Our cooperation was

what may be called a case of an “educational resonance” – it’s when the

right teacher meets the right pupil, and when both of them think and

work in unison.

I am also thankful to you for making me go through much of English

and German which I was working at when I had been a university lecturer, as

well as for making me re-read those nice literary pieces I had been enjoying

as a budding teacher (Daddy-Long Legs, The Airport, The Importance of

Being Earnest, etc). I strongly doubt whether I will meet another pupil

who will inspire me so much.

Thirteen years ago I dropped teaching and started working for a company.

I have never regretted the step I made. For all that … “My Heart’s in

the Highlands, My Heart is Not Here” (Robert Burns). For me they are the

Highlands of Teaching. And when I was working with you, those Highlands

were being re-created.

Your Mum and Dad were also trained to be teachers. Irrespective of whether they were working in that capacity or not (I know that your Mum was), PARENTS ARE ALWAYS TEACHERS and your parents have received a first-class CTT (Certificate of Teaching Talent) in your person. So, in my turn, I extend today’s greetings to them too.

Thanks again,

VB

Entry for October 04, 2007

October 4, 2007

ELECTION IN UKRAINE – Political Betrayal

First a BBC report:

The politicians from the mass protests of the Orange Revolution appear to be on the verge of reuniting. According to the exit polls, the pro-Western parties of the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and her ally, the President, Viktor Yushchenko, have scored a narrow victory. It’s predicted that together, they have gained the largest share of the vote.

However, their opponent, the Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, is defiant. His party, which is friendlier to Moscow, was the most popular in Sunday’s election, according to the exit polls. Supporters of the Prime Minister are expected to hold a rally in the capital later.

Meanwhile, the Orange parties are due to meet to discuss a coalition agreement. If the exit polls are accurate and the Orange team manage to form a coalition, then Yulia Tymoshenko would become Ukraine’s next Prime Minister. All this is dependent on the outcome of the election. It’s expected that the result could be announced later on Monday.

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When I read the phrase “the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and her ally, the President, Viktor Yushchenko”, I give a bitter smile. Two days after the election in which the total number of votes gained by the Tymoshenko bloc and the Yushchenko bloc allowed these two to form a democratic majority in parliament and start with their programme, the President actually deserted his pro-Ukrainian ally Tymoshenko and made a statement that testifies to his affiliation with the pro-Russian opponent Viktor Yanukovych.

Interestingly, a day earlier the Russian gas monopolist GASPROM made a statement saying that Ukraine owes GASPROM 1 bln dollars and if the debt is not paid in the near future, the gas supply will be cut off.

During her pre-election campaign Ms Tymoshenko was promising to establish transparent gas purchases from Russia, which would remove the danger of Russia’s taking over the Ukrainian gas transportation network and also stop the illegal schemes of cash flow in the oil business.

Have you read my yesterday’s entry? At least three components of those mentioned prerviously are surfacing in Mr. Yushchenko’s statement:

+ Russian pressure (GASPROM)

+ lack of national spirit (Yushchenko)

+ immorality (Yushchenko)

That’s all there is to it.

P.S. After this entry was posted, I surfed into an article in Ukrainian headlined “GASPROM is the Winner of the Ukrainian Eection” (http://www.epravda.com.ua/news/2007/10/4/57168.htm)

Entry for October 03, 2007

October 3, 2007

ELECTION IN UKRAINE – a Captive of the Past

From time to time when I am lost in the forest of political argumentation in the Ukrainian-language media I turn to foreign-language viewspapers and search for news about Ukraine. Instead of speaking about “a digging implement adapted for being pushed into the ground with the foot”, those newspapers call it simply – “a spade”. In view of the current parliamentary election in Ukraine I often think of how all this Babylonish snarl can be presented to a layman in the same “spade-like” way. It might run as follows:

1/ Ukraine, a former Russian dependency with the population of about 45 m people, became an independent country in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union

2/ Right away after gaining its independence the country started building up the elements of its statehood – the governing structures, the army, the Ukrainian school, etc.

3/ The main difficulties in that work have always been:

(a) lack of state-construction experience;

(b) strong dominance of Russia, exercised particularly through its “fifth column”;

(c) lack of national spirit;

(d) the decay of morality (corruption, cronyism, etc);

(e) the fact that less than 50 per cent speak Ukrainian in families, which contributes to the lack of national spirit

4/ The advantages which the Ukrainian nation capitalizes on while building up its state:

(a) high educational level of the people;

(b) in-born love of freedom (probably, the historical memory of the 17-century Cossack state);

(c) a less “russified” Western Ukraine, which keeps fermenting the spirit of national independence;

(d) cultural heritage in the form of its literature, the Ukrainian language, traditions;

(e) the fact that Ukrainian has the status of the only state language;

(f) the fact that about three quarters of the population identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainians

5/ The facts mentioned in 3/ and 4/ brought about the current situation when

(a) the Ukrainian people have become impoverished by being robbed of their savings through the inflation intentionally introduced in the 1990s on the part of the powers-that-be;

(b) most Ukrainian politicians are a covetous clique who disregard national interests and – after being elected – may easily be bribed and desert to an opposing political faction, thus failing the expectations of their voters;

(c) people are desperately looking for a decent political leader who, by appealing either to the West (one part of the electorate) or to Russia (the other part), will “fight for justice” – political, economic, moral, cultural, linguistic, etc

6/ As a result every election in Ukraine turns into a tug-of-war between the pro-Ukrainian (most of them are also pro-Western) part of the electorate and the pro-Russian part, with a smaller percentage of the voters who push forward communist/socialist (which are also pro-Russian) ideas

THUS, last Sunday a “good guy” and a “bad guy” with their teams were elected to the Ukrainian parliament. Who is good and who is bad? Different voters associate these people with goodness and badness differently. The personal file of the persons includes – among other things – the following:

The man

Name: Victor Yanukovych (blue-and-white ruling coalition)

Record of convictions: two times (for criminal offences)

Academic rank: proFFessor (that’s the way he spells it)

Political sympathies: Russia

(see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Yanukovych )

The woman

Name: Yulia Tymoshenko (orange opposition)

A.K.A. the Iron Lady, Jeanne d’Arc

Political sympathies: Europe

(see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yulia_Tymoshenko )

Which of them do you think will become the Prime-Minister? Let’s live and see


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